Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Clergyman Wanting in Ordinary Humanity

St. Germanus, Germansweek, Devon
Jennie Burgess arrived in Exeter, via the Okehampton train, one November night in 1883. She collapsed on her way to the Servant's Home and was taken to the nearest hospital where she died two days later of typhoid fever. She said she'd been sent away by her employer - the Rev. John Sutcliffe, M.A., rector of Germansweek, a remote parish just north-west of Dartmoor. The tragic tale shocked all Exeter and the Town Council resolved "that they cannot too strongly condemn the want of consideration for the safety of the public and of ordinary humanity towards the patient herself shown by the course pursued in sending a person so seriously ill with typhoid fever on a long journey by rail and in inclement weather." The Rev. Sutcliffe bridled at the charge. He insisted that Mrs. Sutcliffe had brought the local doctor out but he diagnosed Burgess as suffering from "scrofulous and syphilitic mischief." Of course, then, she would be sent away from the rectory. "We don't think any blame can possibly be attached to us." The idea that the woman's death was, in some way, related to a past immoral life, tempered the uproar. But the Exeter Ladies Association for Friendless Girls promptly weighed in to assert that there was not the slightest ground for any imputation against her character. The controversy passed but the rector of Germansweek was to be involved in many more. Few clergymen could claim to be horsewhipped by a parishioner, burned in effigy (along with his wife) and censured by the Bishop for "general parochial neglect." Still, Rev. Sutcliffe managed to live out his years in the village, and now lies buried beside the church of St. Germanus, "sheltering in a hollow." 

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