St. Mary’s was the progenitor of a number of daughter churches such as St Paul’s Church. As always, like in politics, there are different views of liturgy in ecclesiastical affairs. Central to this dissident group’s disaffection, was their disapproval of the replacement clergyman (Rev. W H Fowle) at St Mary’s Church “high church” proclivities, , and they left St Mary’s in January 1854.
Therefore it came to pass that this disaffected group abandoned St Mary’s Church and formed what they initially called the Trinity Church.
Main picture: Holy Trinity Church near Havelock Square
On 10th July 1853, the founding chaplain at St Mary’s Church, the Reverend Francis McCleland passed away. To the vacant chaplaincy the Home Government appointed the Rev. William Henry Fowle, B.A., of Trinity College, Oxford, who had been curate to Archdeacon Denison at East Brent. Mr. Fowle was a man of “very decided Church views”, clergyman of outspoken boldness in denouncing wrong-doing and moreover; he was an able preacher and a ready controversialist. He arrived at Port Elizabeth in January 1854, and presided at the Easter Meeting on the 17th April, since which there are continuous records of the proceedings.
Bishop Armstrong landed in Port Elizabeth on the 12th October 1854 and was presented by the Vestry of St. Mary’s with an address of welcome and congratulation, in which they touched upon many topics of church interest. The Bishop records that though he had to deal with some troubles and tried in vain to heal differences which had arisen, yet he was pleased with the general tone and temper of the laity and felt that there was ground both for thankfulness and for hope.
Schism within St Mary’s
The troubles to which the Bishop alludes were those which eventually led to the establishment of Trinity Church and arose in this way. Archdeacon Merriman, who had the temporary charge of the Parish during the interval between the death of Mr. McCleland and the arrival of Mr. Fowle, introduced in accordance with the rubrics i.e. a set of instructions or rules, the following new requirements:
- the offertory collection throughout the congregation and
- the prayer for the Church Militant. [Psalm 28:9: Save your people, and bless your inheritance: feed them also, and lift them up for ever.
- He also used the surplice in preaching, but this was speedily discontinued as a matter of no real moment.
These changes were much resented by several of the congregation, including the Churchwardens and some members of the Vestry, who on one particular Sunday rose up in a body during the service and walked out of the church.
Personally I cannot understand why these three issues held such great moment with the congregation. What it might have meant was that the church was drifting closer to the “high church” of Catholicism. In any event surely his predecessor, Rev Francis McCleland’s liturgical approach and precepts must have been similar to a Catholic service as the modifications made by Merriman were ultimately of no great import.
New church created
The dissidents amounted to about sixty persons, who met every Sunday in the old Savings Bank and Library building in Kemp Street, where laymen conducted a service and read printed sermons. They appealed to the Bishop of Cape Town against the Archdeacon’s practices and doctrines, which they charged with being “Popish,” but declined to specify any particular errors. They obtained from Sir George Cathcart, then Governor of the Colony, a grant of land (the site of the Feather Market), and began subscriptions for a church, to which they claimed the right to appoint their own minister.
Meanwhile, on his arrival, Mr. Fowle carried on the service as the Archdeacon had done, and Bishop Armstrong would not alter it, though he made many efforts to bring back the dissidents, but it was in vain. A long and acrimonious correspondence in their defence was carried on in the newspapers by Junius (who is said to have been Mr. Harsant, the Independent minister) and other anonymous correspondents, to which the Rev. H. M. White, later Archdeacon of Grahamstown, replied in Eight Letters on Schism (Cape Town: Sammons, 1854).
Ructions caused by Fowle
Apart from Fowle’s stance on the form of the service, Mr. Fowle himself also excited some opposition by the outspoken language of certain sermons, and by his efforts to restore church discipline. Several deaths had then occurred at Port Elizabeth from drink and in the case of one man of good position who had died from this cause, Mr. Fowle affixed a notice to the church-door announcing his intention of refusing to use the burial service. The Vestry of St. Mary’s addressed a very temperate memorial to the Bishop in April 1855 on the subject deprecating this action, as well as the manner in which the intention had been so publicly announced. The Bishop, in an admirable reply, while condemning the use of the church-door as a notice-board, defends Mr. Fowle’s action “in cases of notorious habitual vice wholly unaccompanied to the last by any tokens of repentance,” but recommends caution in deciding upon extreme cases, and hopes that one general rule may be observed throughout the Diocese
A solemn statement by Mr. Fowle elaborating on his difficulties and conscientious scruples in the matter, appears to have closed the subject
Separatists request own Clergyman
The separatists from St. Mary’s had all this time been carrying on their lay service in Kemp Street, but they now wrote home to the new Bishop, offering to maintain a clergyman of their own, if selected by the Colonial Church Society. The Rev. W. A. Robinson, B.A., of Trinity College, Dublin, was selected in this manner, and arrived in Port Elizabeth a fortnight before Bishop Cotterill, in April 1857. He landed on Saturday, the 26th, and, without communicating with Mr. Fowle officiated the next day to the Kemp Street congregation. Mr. Fowle immediately wrote demanding his authority for so doing, whereupon he enclosed a letter he had brought out from the Bishop, sanctioning and authorising him to officiate for this congregation.
The Bishop, who was clearly was imperfectly acquainted with the circumstances surrounding this schism, seems to have been informed that the members of the congregation would attend St. Paul’s, if their clergyman were placed there. But on arriving at Port Elizabeth in May he found that this was not their intention. In their welcoming address, the Vestry of St. Mary’s, expressed their regret that his Lordship had not deferred the appointment of Mr. Robinson to minister within the parochial limits until he had become personally acquainted with the state of the church of St. Mary’s, and protested against the act as contrary to law and usage.
Dispute roils the church
In his subsequent meeting with the dissidents, the Bishop attempted to kill two birds with one stone. Whilst probably recognizing the improbability of this occurring, he endeavoured to persuade them of the desirableness of going to St. Paul’s, and by that means relieving him of the expense of providing a clergyman for that church. but without effect. Much of their opposition to the move to North End, was the distance involved. Whatever the underlying motivation, they were impervious to the rhetoric. The disaffected members voted unanimously against the proposition, and all the Bishop’s efforts to heal the division failed. The Rev. E. Pickering, who had come out with the Bishop, was therefore appointed Incumbent of St. Paul’s with Rev. Johnson leaving for mission work in Sandilli’s country.
The Bishop entered into a lengthy correspondence with the Vestry of St. Mary’s, in which the latter stood upon their legal rights under the Ordinance, and objected to the erection of a third church unless it were at some distance from St. Mary’s, and unless it was vested absolutely in the See, instead of being, as proposed, a proprietary church under private patronage.
At the end of 1858, Mr. Fowle resigned his chaplaincy, and was succeeded by the Rev. E. Pickering, whose successor at St. Paul’s was the Rev. S. Brook. Mr. Fowle returned to England. The appointment of Pickering did nothing to resolve the impasse between the dissidents and St. Mary’s Church.
Temporary church built
The Trinity Church congregation in 1857 erected a temporary church in Baakens Street, on part of the site granted to them by Sir George Cathcart. This building, of which they took possession in January 1858, cost £450, of which £372 remained as a debt upon the building. Ironically to defray this debt they were obliged to resort to the once-objectionable weekly collection. Notwithstanding their prodigious efforts, this was in all likelihood merely a temporary arrangement. What lends credence to this assumption is that shortly afterwards yet another church was constructed. This building, together with the ground upon which it stood, was afterwards sold to the Town Council for £1500, as a site for the market.
The disaffected congregants from St. Mary’s would now achieve their ultimate goal: A church of their own. They built a handsome church on a site next to Havelock Square on four plots of land donated for that purpose by Henry Maynard, a wealthy merchant in the town. Designed by F.M. Pfeil, it was opened on 1st April 1866. A spire and a schoolroom, both designed by James Bisset, were added in 1873 and 1883 respectively. After commencing construction of the school building in July 1882, on 29th March, the memorial stone was laid shortly after its completion by Mrs. W.E. Paddon. Roger Ascham, who wrote the Grey School Song, was their first organist.
The stained glass windows were manufactured in Britain and transported to Port Elizabeth aboard the H.M.S. ‘Balaklava’. The church was never destined to receive them as the Balaklava struck the struck Roman Rock off Summerstrand on 14th May 1867. She began taking in water rapidly and a special pump belonging to the P.E. fire brigade was dispatched by tug in an attempt to save her, but she suddenly sank in seven fathoms of water. There was just sufficient time to take the crew aboard the tug and nothing else.
Notwithstanding their prodigious efforts, this was in all likelihood merely a temporary arrangement. What lends credence to this assumption is that shortly afterwards yet another church was constructed. In this case it was on the current site next to Havelock Square on four plots of land donated for that purpose by Henry Maynard, a wealthy merchant in the town. Designed by F.M. Pfeil, it was opened on 1st April 1866. A spire and a schoolroom, both designed by James Bisset, were added in 1873 and 1883 respectively. After commencing construction of the school building in July 1882, on 29th March, the memorial stone was laid shortly after it completion by Mrs. W.E. Paddon. Roger Ascham, who wrote the Grey School Song, was their first organist
In the 1890s Port Elizabeth suffered a bout of conflagrations. The underlying cause was the of the pyromaniac actions of the deranged Frances Livingstone Johnston. In 1897, Trinity Church was next on her to-do list. On the night of Saturday 1st April 1897, she did her worst and Trinity Church was burnt down with only the tower and the school room surviving intact.
What is not recorded is whether the rebuilding plans of William White Cooper conformed largely to the original design or whether like St. Mary’s Church which had also recently been enflamed, he took the liberty of improving or embellishing the initial design. What is stated on the churches website is that “the Gothic building with magnificent stained glass windows that stands today dates back to 1898.” Hence one can safely assume that the current church bears little if no resemblance to the original church.
Sir Alfred Milner, one time Governor and British High Commissioner, laid the Foundation Stone in September 1897 and in the following year, the new edifice was dedicated by Dean Holmes of Grahamstown. It was at this point that the Church was re-christened with his current name: The Holy Trinity Church. The first ministers of the original church were Rev. W.A. Robinson (1857-1863) and then Rev. H.I. Johnson (1863-1873), also Rector of the Grey Institute.
Like many other institutions in Port Elizabeth, the Holy Trinity Church decided to commemorate those of its congregants who had fallen during the Great War. To this end, a war memorial was unveiled on 24th April 1925 for the nine members of the congregation who had fallen in the line of duty. The unveiling was performed by Major Tebbutt Whitehead.
Holy Trinity was only constituted as an Anglican parish in 1930 finally being consecrated in 1957, the centenary year.
Holy Trinity Church was declared a National Monument in 1993.
Port Elizabeth of Yore: St Phillips Church on Richmond Hill
Port Elizabeth of Yore: St. Mary’s Cemetery
Mosenthals: A Metaphor for the Fortunes of Port Elizabeth
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Brickmaker’s Kloof
Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Enclosed Harbour Scheme in the 1930s
Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Harbour prior to the Charl Malan Quay
Port Elizabeth of Yore: St Mary’s Church
Port Elizabeth of Yore: New Church in Main Street
Rations, Rules and other Regulations aboard the Settler Ships
Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Earliest Photographs
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Empire units in P.E. during the Boer War
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Defences during the Boer War
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Memorials to the Fallen in War
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Fire Damage to the P.E. Advertiser in 1913
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Albany Road
Algoa Bay before the Settlers: Sojourn by Henry Lichtenstein in the Early 1800s
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Captain Jacob Glen Cuyler
Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Growth of the Population
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Murders most Foul
Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Phoenix Hotel
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Echoes of a Far off War
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Main Street in the Tram Era
Lost Artefacts of Port Elizabeth: Customs House
The Great Flood in Port Elizabeth on 1st September 1968
A Sunday Drive to Schoenmakerskop in 1922
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Horse Drawn Trams
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Trinder Square
The Sad Demise of the Boet Erasmus Stadium
Interesting Old Buildings in Central Port Elizabeth:
The Shameful Torching of Port Elizabeth’s German Club in 1915:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Cora Terrace:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Grand Hotel:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Whaling in Algoa Bay:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: White’s Road:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Slipway in Humewood:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: King’s Beach:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Russell Road:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Sand dunes, Inhabitants and Animals:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Horse Memorial:
Port Elizabeth of Yore: Target Kloof:
The Parsonage House at Number 7 Castle Hill Port Elizabeth
What happened to the Shark River in Port Elizabeth?
A Pictorial History of the Campanile in Port Elizabeth
Allister Miller: A South African Air Pioneer & his Connection with Port Elizabeth
The Three Eras of the Historic Port Elizabeth Harbour
The Historical Port Elizabeth Railway Station
Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine
“The Collegiate Church of Parish of St. Mary Port Elizabeth” by Archdeacon Wirgman & Canon Cuthbert Edward Mayo (1925, Longman Green & Co, London)