EARLY METHODISM IN NEWFOUNDLAND

by Hans Rollmann


3.

COUGHLAN'S ORDINATION AND CALL TO NEWFOUNDLAND

After his ordination by Erasmus and presumed separation from the Wesleyan fold, Coughlan on 4 October 1764 registered an "independent" meeting house --something always avoided by Wesley- - in the parish of St. Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey, Surrey. Here he was listed simply as "Preacher of God's Word" and eventually contacted by those Newfoundlanders who sought a minister for their newly erected church in Harbour Grace. It appears that a Calvinistic Congregationalist dissenter in Conception Bay, formerly a member of Reverend Asburner's congregation in Poole, took the initiative in introducing formal religious services in Conception Bay and thus may also have encouraged the building of a church in Harbour Grace and the subscription for a minister among the residents. Reverend Samuel Greatheed, relying on first-hand information, presumably provided by John Jones (no relation to Dr. John Jones, the Methodist), the Congregationalist minister in St. John's, writes in his "Life of the Rev. John Jones, Late of St. John's, Newfoundland":

The building of a church in Harbour Grace prior to Coughlan's arrival is independently verified in a letter of 6 November 1764 by Rev. Edward Langman, the S.P.G. missionary in St. John's.

The dissenting connection with Poole becomes even closer through the involvement of the Cornhill banker George Welch, whose signature was under a letter requesting of the Earl of Dartmouth, then President of the Board of Trade, a recommendation for Coughlan's ordination to the Bishop of London. On 22 November 1765, the inhabitants of Harbour Grace and Carbonear had authorized the Harbour Grace merchant George Davis, who at the time kept a residence in London, "to procure and agree with a Protestant Minister of the Gospel, to come and reside among [us]" for an annual salary of 100 pounds. This plan was put into action in April of 1766 when George Davis and George Welch asked the Earl of Dartmouth to recommend Laurence Coughlan to the Bishop of London in order "to get him Ordained & settled at Harbour Grace which we shall esteem a great favour as we think he may be a great Blessing to the Colony." George Welch was a prominent dissenter in London with close ties to the independent Congregationalists in Poole and the Kemp family. In fact, Welch was related both to Rev. Ashburner and the Kemps, who were active lay people in the dissenting congregation at Poole and principal traders with Carbonear.

Also the channelling of the ordination request through the Earl of Dartmouth may have been of significance. Dartmouth was not only President of the Board of Trade but also a benefactor of dissenters, especially the Calvinistic Methodists around Lady Huntingdon. Indeed, Cowper's "one who wears a coronet and prays" secured the ordination for several dissenters, including John Newton, a preacher who -- like Coughlan -- had previously been ordained by the Greek bishop. In Coughlan's case, the Bishop of London did not ordain himself but gave permission for ordination to the bishops of Lincoln and Chester. On 18 April Dartmouth sent Coughlan together with his letters of recommendation to the Bishop of London. In Dartmouth's own communication he mentions that a ship in Poole was waiting for Coughlan and "will sail as soon as he gets thither." The Bishop of London, on 25 April, granted dimissory letters for Coughlan to receive deacon's orders from the Bishop of Lincoln, which took place on the following day, 26 April. And on the next day, the Bishop of Chester ordained Coughlan priest. There is no indication whatsoever --as has become received opinion-- that Coughlan was in Newfoundland prior to his ordination in 1766. His preaching in Bermondsey precludes this. Also previous experience there would certainly have been mentioned in the correpondence regarding his Anglican ordination. After the Bishop of London signed a missionary bond, Coughlan, his wife Anne and their daughter Betsey, set sail for Newfoundland from Poole sometime in April of 1766.


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