The First One Hundred Years

On another page, we give the history of the building of the Church, which was completed in 1855.

Of course, that is only half the story, so now we would like to give you a (short) history of the early life of the Church since it was built; which largely means mentioning all those people who devoted so much of their time and energy to help keep the Church active and alive over the first 100 years!

After the Church was built, the history of the Church is mainly based on the ‘official records’ which have survived.  These include notes of Vestry (church council) meetings, as well as the Parish Register – we have the original folio which goes all the way back to the 1850s!

Recognisable family names in the early pages of the parish register include Richard Conrad Dinzey, baptised in May 1855, and Eleanor Lucretia Romney, baptised in February 1856.

The first ‘founding members’ of the Church included Sir Richard Dinzey, William B Hodge, Charles Beal, WA Haddocks and Bror August Ridderhjerta.  These families continued to be involved in the Church for the next 100 years and their names are also to be found in the Anglican section of the cemetery in Saint Jean, across from the Airport. 

During the period 1855 to 1884, there was no permanent priest on the island, so for the most part the services were conducted by lay persons – in particular Richard Burton Dinzey.

The Dinzey family played a major role in the Church at that time and for the succeeding decades.  On the Vestry council, Richard Burton Dinzey succeeded Sir Richard Dinzey and became the warden of the Church in 1860 until his death in 1918 at the age of 87 – a reign almost as long as Queen Victoria! 

Joseph Dinzey was also initially involved, but left for England to enrol in a seminary, only to return to the Caribbean later as curate in a neighbouring parish on St Kitts. 

The first priest to the Anglican community on St Barth was the Revd Thomas Allman Rock, who stopped at St Barth in 1845 on his way to his new post as rector in Anguilla. He became the first of the visiting clergy for St Bartholomew’s.  After Father Rock, who sadly died before the Church in Gustavia was completed, there followed many visiting priests from the neighbouring British islands, including Archdeacon Hugh Willoughby Jermyn, the Revd Henry Warneford and the Revd Charles Culpepper

Prior to modern times, it was only for the period between 1884 to 1904 that the Church had resident clergy:  the Revd Henry Ernest Olton, the Revd Jas Rogers, the Revd Henderson Bell and the Revd Anderson Edwards.  One of the main reasons for the discontinuation of a resident priest was that the French Government stopped paying a stipend to the Church, which had been agreed when the island was handed over by Sweden to France. 

The Church’s finances at that time were not in good order!  Prior to 1904 the Church records show that it relied heavily on loans/gifts from the resident clergy and thereafter from the Dinzey family - to cover such items as repairs to the shingle roof, as well as paying for accommodation for the visiting clergy.

After 1904, the Church again relied on its lay readership – notably Richard Burton Dinzey, and the priest would only make visits from Anguilla once or twice annually or when summoned for a marriage or funeral.  These include: Archdeacon Harry Emanuel Blomfield, the Revd Richard Canning, the Revd James Clement, the Revd N. Davies, the Revd Louis Spinks and the Revd Anthony Turner. 

Although, as can be imagined, this was not always an easy task. For instance, when Charles Dinzey lay dying, the anchorage in Anguilla was inaccessible due to bad weather, so a boat was sent instead to St Kitts to summon an Anglican Priest.  He arrived just after Charles Dinzey had died, but in time for the funeral the next day.

Between 1923 and 1924 there were no clergy visits due to the influenza quarantine on Anguilla; but in 1925 a visiting priest noted that his boat made a ‘record passage’ from Anguilla to St Barth – completing the voyage in ‘just 10 hours.’

Between the wars, the parish continued with small numbers, relying heavily on two Dinzey spinster sisters, Robertina and Juila. 

Miss Robertina Dinzey was a frequent lay reader for the twenty years from 1914 to 1934.  And Miss Julia Dinzey also was important member of the St Bartholomew’s  during a large part of the twentieth century, until her death in 1959, at the age of 89. 

During the Second World War, the Vichy Government controlled St Barth and clergy from the British Islands were unable to visit.

Post the Second World War, the lay readership continued to lead the services, and notable helpers mentioned in the letters and notes of the visiting priests were Reggie Assent, Ida & Olive Hughes and May & Alice Romney.

Then came the jet planes and the advent of early tourism to the island, but that is a whole new chapter for another time.

This history is largely due to the work of Porter Henry and Lena Jonsson, with help from Bishop Ted Eastman and Clarion Romney

N.B. The list of names mentioned does not purport to be complete. If you know of anyone who should be included please let us know.