Miss Caroline Fox on the late Bishop Phillpotts, 1840


Notes on slips connected with Devonshire.

Trans. Devon. Assoc., 1883, Vol XV, pp. 227-228.


W. Pengelly, F.R.S.

Prepared by Michael Steer

Henry Phillpotts was Bishop of Exeter for a period of 38 years, from 1831 until his death in 1869. He was a controversial bishop, who was very active in politics and spoke out on many topical issues. He was probably the most famous, indeed infamous, Anglican cleric of his day. The Times newspaper, in its obituary notice, described him as “fierce, fiery and intolerant of opposition”. The article, 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.

The following passage occurs in Memories of Old Friends, from the Journals and Letters of Caroline Fox, late of Penjerrick, Cornwall, from 1835 to 1871. Edited by HORACE H. PYM.

“January 31, 1840. - L. Dyke was in the church at Torquay last Christmas-day, when a modest and conscientious clergyman did duty in the presence of the bishop. In reading the communion service be substituted 'condemnation ' in the exhortation, ' He that eateth or drinketh of this bread or this cup unworthily. “Damnation!” screamed the bishop in a most effective manner, to the undisguised astonishment of the congregation."

Though it would, perhaps, be too much to say there was any actual slip in the foregoing paragraph, every reader, otherwise uninformed respecting the incident it records, would certainly slip into incorrect conclusions respecting it.

I was residing at Torquay when the circumstance occurred, and, though not in the church at the time, have a distinct recollection of the event. There is in the Western Times (Exeter) newspaper for 4th January, 1840, a letter, minutely descriptive of the incident, dated " Torquay, Dec. 27th, 1839," which corresponds so exactly with my recollection of the reported details, that I have no manner of doubt of the substantial accuracy of the following statement:

On Christmas-day, 1839, the Rev. E. B. Elliott (author of Horæ Apocalyopticæ and brother of Miss Charlotte Elliott, who wrote the well-known hymns beginning with "Just as I am, without one plea," and "My God, my Father, while I stray") conducted the service at St. John's Church, Torquay - at that time a Chapel-of-ease - and was assisted in the Communion Service by Dr. Phillpotts, Bishop of Exeter. Instead of reading the "Athanasian Creed," as the Rubric directs, Mr. Elliott began to read the "Apostles' Creed," as in an ordinary morning service, when the Bishop exclaimed in a loud voice, "Whosoever will be saved," and, after a pause, Mr. Elliott read the required Creed. When, in due course, he was reading the "Exhortation" in the Communion Service, he substituted "condemnation" for the last word in the sentence, "We eat and drink our own damnation." The Bishop immediately, and with great emphasis, pronounced the word "Damnation," and (but this is not stated in the letter spoken of) required Mr. Elliott to pronounce it also, who accordingly complied. It is scarcely needful to say that the incident was for some time the theme of general conversation.