Charles Wellington Furse, M.A. [Obituary]

Trans. Devon Assoc., vol. XXXII, (1900), pp. 42-43.


Rev. W. Harpley, M.A.

Prepared by Michael Steer

The obituary was read at the Association’s August 1900 Totnes meeting. Archdeacon Furse, (born Johnson; 16 April 1821 – 2 August 1900) was Archdeacon of Westminster from 1894 until his death. He was the third son of Charles William Johnson, of Great Torrington and his wife Theresa Furze. In 1854, he changed his surname from Johnson to Furse, to inherit from his maternal uncle John Furze (Furse). He was educated at Eton and Balliol and was ordained in 1848. He claimed descent co-laterally from Sir Joshua Reynolds. His son, the celebrated Charles Wellington Furse, ARA during his short life-span demonstrated such skill as a portrait and figure painter that he forms an important link in the chain of British portraiture that extends from the time when Van Dyck was called to the court of Charles I, into the 20th century. The obituary, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

Charles Wellington Furse, M.A., Canon and Archdeacon of Westminster, was educated at Balliol College, Oxford. His ministerial career began at Clewer, where he was a curate of the revered warden, Canon T. T. Carter, and was closely associated with the early development of the sisterhood movement there. In 1863, on the presentation of the Lord Chancellor, he became Vicar of Staines, and was made Rural Dean. While there he was attacked with a very serious illness, and was ordered to live in Italy. Here he cultivated his natural perceptions of art, which coloured all he said or wrote with a subtle play of imagination that gave originality and distinction to his appeals to the conscience. These perceptions were a natural as well as a cultured gift; perhaps from family sources he inherited some of the charms of his tongue or his pen. With this preparatory training for the important office to which he was called by Bishop Mackarness, he became the principal of the Theological College at Cuddesdon, and there he proved himself to be not only a great evangelist, but a pastor pastorum, a well-stored teacher, and specially a man of sound, practical wisdom, able to form and guide the minds and hearts of the young men in those trying times when the Church was split up into two distinctly hostile camps.

After many years of good and hard service in that post he was preferred by Mr. Gladstone to a canonry of Westminster in conjunction with the parish of St. John's, and in both spheres he made his mark upon all classes alike, upon the working men and women of the parish, and upon many highly-educated frequenters of the Abbey.

Canon Furse was a man of great variety of interests - literary, political, social, military, theological. But his chief distinction lay in his religious character. Besides a great and touching humility which grew with years, his religion had two conspicuous notes - firstly, he was full of personal devotion; secondly, and most markedly, he was full of love and sympathy. It may be said he was an ideal father. He poured himself out in such unremitting and intense affection to each and every member of his family as to bind them all in an indissoluble bond to one another and himself. And this warm-heartedness extended far beyond his family to friends of all classes and kinds, and to his family's friends and his friends' friends.

He joined the Association in 1899, and being connected by family ties with the neighbourhood of Great Torrington, he was elected a Vice-President for the meeting held there that year. He died August 2nd, 1900. His body was taken into the Abbey on the night of Friday, August 3rd, and lay before the altar in Henry VII.'s Chapel, where his friends gathered, and the Holy Eucharist was celebrated next morning. The interment in the cloister followed at midday.