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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

Bishop Stanley

Bishop Stanley and his familiy

Most people visiting the cathedral will approach it from the West Front. Once inside the chances are that they will turn around and look at the enormous West Window filled with Victorian stained glass. However, it is unlikely that they will know why the glass was put there. It was as a memorial to Bishop Edward Stanley who died in 1849. He was born in 1779 as a member of the Stanley family of Alderley in Cheshire, where he was later the rector, becoming Bishop of Norwich in 1837, where he lived in the palace until his death.

'A typical Victorian family'

The Stanley family may be regarded in some respects as typical Victorians, and yet each member of the family, in their own way, was a remarkable individual. The bishop himself was much beloved of his diocese, although his liberal principles, such as his advocating more tolerance of Dissent, and strangely modern point of view got him into trouble with the more reactionary members of his flock. In particularly, the family friendship with the singer Jenny Lind ("The Swedish Nightingale"), who used to come and visit the family at the palace, was disapproved of; a singer was not considered suitable company for a bishop! He is said to have said that there was more religion in Jenny Lind's fingers than in half the clergy of the Diocese. Another family friend was Dr Arnold, the famous headmaster of Rugby School, where the Stanley's sons were educated. In 1848 all of Europe was in turmoil and there was fear of revolution in Britain: a regiment of soldiers was marched from Brighton to Norwich, and Edward Stanley went to the Home Office in London, wanting to have a man of war stationed at Yarmouth.

Edward and Catherine Stanley had five children; Owen, Mary, Arthur, Charles and Catherine, each one of whom is of interest in their own right.

Sailor and marine biologist

Owen joined the Royal Navy, serving on H.M.S. Terror during its expedition to the northern part of Hudson Bay. The ship barely survived the winter, at one point being forced 40 ft up the side of a cliff by the ice. In the spring of 1837 an encounter with an iceberg further damaged the ship, which was in a sinking condition by the time the captain was able to beach the ship on the coast of Ireland at Logh Swilly. On his return to Norwich his father took him to visit cases of scurvy in Norwich gaol, asking him his opinion on their treatment. In 1846 Owen sailed for Australia as captain of HMS Rattlesnake, with the purpose of surveying the seas around the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait. The Owen Stanley Range, the mountains in Papua New Guinea, are named after him. Also on the ship was T.H.Huxley, who was what we would term a marine biologist: he wrote a paper on Medusae (jellyfish) which the bishop, who was President of the Linnaean Society, was instrumental in getting published. Owen would send cases of bird and shell specimens back home, where the family would assemble in the front hall of the palace to open the treasure chest, and would marvel at a little oppossum in a bottle. Owen died on his ship in 1850 from an "epilepltic paralytic fit" and was buried in Sydney.

Nurse and Philantropist

Mary was something of the black sheep of the family. In the 1840s she threw herself into "good works" as many Victorians did; in Norwich she was involved with a home for factory girls and also had "her Valenciennes lace workers" who made lace "quite as good as that made in Belgium". Later, in 1854, she went to The Crimea in charge of fifty nurses under Florence Nightingale, working in the naval hospital at Therapia, and elsewhere. Her work there was much the same as the more famous nurse, but is not as well known. Not all the family approved of this kind of work. What finally put her beyond the pale, however, was her conversion in 1856 to Catholicism, her "perversion to the Romish Church", which caused some family members to express their wish to never see her again. After her time in the Crimea she continued with her philanthropic work, establishing savings clubs, an industrial laundry and creating employment for soldiers' wives in the production of army uniforms. During the "cotton famine" of 1861 in Lancashire (caused by the American Civil War) she spent some weeks helping Mrs Gaskell distributing aid to the unemployed weavers. She died in 1879 at the age of 66.

The other children

Charles joined the army, in the Royal Engineers, and was stationed at Hobart in "Van Diemen's Land", or Tasmania, as we know it, where he helped the government in the establishment of the colony. He died suddenly in 1849 from gastro-enteritis. Arthur (Arthur Penryn Stanley, to give him his full name) became Dean of Westminster and was a favourite of Queen Victoria. He is well known for the books he wrote, which included a biography of his parents.

Catherine married Dr Vaugham, who was the headmaster of Harrow School. She died in 1899.

The extended family

On the eve of his seventieth birthday Edward Stanley wrote that he "should like indeed to see Owen and Charlie once more, and our family circle assembled". These two sons were in Australia, without the benefit of the methods of communication that we have. Within nine months Stanley was dead. A member of the family wrote about "Poor Owen and Charles, and to think of the unconscious letters that will come from them for months". In the event it was the other way round - Charles had died in Hobart two weeks before his father! Within six months Owen had died in New South Wales.

Owen Thompson

July 2008