Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Tale of Two Clergymen

"Holy Trinity," Shanghai (courtesy TimeOutShanghai.)
By all accounts, the Rev. Charles Henry Butcher (1833-1908) was a very exceptional man. Highly educated, a fellow of Durham University, Butcher had been a curate at the church of St Clement Danes in the Strand. In 1864, he was chosen to go to Shanghai to help establish the first Anglican diocese in China. Before leaving, the 31 year old Butcher married Margaret Gardner in Notting Hill. 

In China, Butcher's duties were extensive, including overseeing the construction of the first Anglican Cathedral. He and Margaret, we are assured, lived on "most affectionate terms" until 1871 when she returned to England for "her health." She went to South Yorkshire where her brother was the vicar of Tickhill, near Doncaster. Sadly, however, the Rev. Mr. Gardner died in his vicarage in 1872, leaving Mrs. Butcher behind with the new curate, the Rev. Frank Chorley. 

It took a long time for a letter from Yorkshire to reach Shanghai in 1873 but Margaret wrote to her husband to admit she no longer loved him and was living with the Rev. Mr. Chorley in London. The usual servants were found (employed?) to testify to the sleeping arrangements in Tickhill and, since, in Gordon Square. The decree nisi was issued without any defense being offered.

The new cathedral in Shanghai, built to the "ambitious Gothic designs" of George Gilbert Scott was dedicated in 1876. "With its stout pews, stained-glass windows and 2,500-pipe organ, the red-brick Anglican church provided a cloistered haven in an exotic, untamed place." [LA Times 27 Feb 2011] The Rev Butcher was the first Dean. But he left Shanghai soon thereafter for Cairo where he spent the rest of his life as Archdeacon of the Anglican church in the Egyptian capital. In 1896, he remarried a Lincolnshire clergyman's daughter, Edith Floyer. Even in Egypt, the remarriage did not escape the attention of "Father Black," the clerical gadfly, who wrote to the Church Times to announce:  “Allow me to draw the attention to the fact that the wife whom Archdeacon Butcher divorced is still living!”

And indeed she was. Margaret Butcher had married the Rev. Mr. Chorley very soon after her divorce. Chorley remained listed in the clerical guides but, given the scandal, found no church employment for several years. In the 1890’s – he was a curate at St. Mary’s in Bury St Edmunds, where, after his death in 1900, he was remembered "for his kindly disposition, gentle manners, and generous readiness to spend and be spent in the service of his high calling, making him beloved by all who knew him.”   

Butcher died in Cairo in 1908. The cathedral in Shanghai was damaged during the Cultural Revolution and converted for various public uses but has been restored and since 2006 has served as the "main church and headquarters of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement" in Shanghai. 

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