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Alfred Millard William Christopher (1820-1913)

Obituary in The Times

Canon Christopher

We regret to announce that Canon Christopher, who for more than half a century had been a prominent leader of the Evangelical School in the Church of England, died at Oxford on Monday night, in his 93rd year. 'Till about a year ago he retained his intellectual vigour practically unimpaired.

Alfred Millard William Christopher was born on August 20, 1820. He came of a family of North-country origin which had lived continuously in the county of Durham from the time of Henry VIII. Young Christopher was virtually adopted by his aunt, Mrs Millard, who had no children of her own. His uncle was particularly fond of mathematics, and as a Cambridge man thought Oxford was sadly lacking in mathematical knowledge. To remedy this defect he left a large sum of money to found the Millard Laboratory lectureship and scholarships at Trinity, Oxford.

From the care of the Rev. C. J. Goodhart, then minister of St. Mary's Episcopal Chapel, Reading, Christopher passed, in 1839, to Jesus College, Cambridge, and graduated in 1843 as the 19th Wrangler. He was one of the Cambridge "Eleven" who defeated Oxford that year. The match was played at Bullingdon, and the Canon was fond of telling how he kept up his wicket mainly by blocking, and thereby enabled his side to win the match. He was also one of the Jesus College "Eight," and used to recount with gusto his experiences in this connexion. Jesus had been head of the river for some time, but the victorious "Eight" went down, and Christopher was selected as one of the new men. The boat was bumped every night.

In 1844 he was selected by Sir Edward Ryan to be Principal of La Martinière, Calcutta, where he had 200 boys to educate and train. Mr. Christopher threw himself into the work with all the force of his ardent temperament. The boys were not natives, but Europeans and Eurasians. The failure of Mrs. Christopher's health brought his Indian career to an end, and he came home to England to be ordained. Before returning, however, he made two short mission tours and saw something of the work of the Church Missionary Society. He was ordained in 1855, by the late Bishop Sumner of Winchester, to the curacy of St. John's, Richmond. In that year Henry Venn, of the Church Missionary Society, knowing his first-hand acquaintance with Indian missions, offered him an association secretaryship, and he continued in that post for four years, developing missionary work in his district in an extraordinary way.

In 1859 he was appointed rector of St. Aldate's, Oxford. The church had recently come into Evangelical hands. The story of its transfer from Pembroke College is worth telling. An Evangelical Fellow of Pembroke was sitting in the Union when the Master of Pembroke (Dr. Jeune) happened to say, "Why don't you Evangelicals buy St. Aldate's? I am sure the College would sell." The Fellow took the hint, mentioned the incident to an Evangelical layman, and the money was soon obtained. Dr. Wilberforce on hearing the news came in post haste from Cuddesdon, offering £200 more, but of course it was too late. The living was then handed over to Simeon's Trustees. For 45 years Christopher toiled in St. Aldate's, one of the poorest parishes in Oxford, with devoted zeal and growing influence. He had not been instituted more than three years when the church was enlarged by 300 free seats and restored at a cost of £4,300. Two years later he erected three new schools, and after that he built a mission room and a rectory, and raised funds for the provision of a new church for the suburb of Grandpont in his parish. On these parochial buildings a sum of more than £26,000 was spent during his incumbency.

From the first his sympathies went out keenly towards undergraduates, and in a variety of ways he laid himself out to help them. He obtained for his church services leading Evangelicals of his day, and by means of meetings, first in his rectory, and then in the large rectory room which he had built in his garden, he conducted weekly meetings for undergraduates. Men now occupying important positions in the Church of England attended them during their Oxford career.

In addition to his parochial work, Mr. Christopher was for 33 years the honorary secretary to the British and Foreign Bible Society in Oxford. His love for it was only second to that for the Church Missionary Society. His interest in missions excited by his Indian experiences burned brighter and brighter every year. Perhaps the best-known meeting in Oxford religious life was Canon Christopher's missionary breakfast, to which he invited men of all views from Pusey House to Mansfield. He obtained the very best speakers available, and leading University men were among the regular attendants and warmest supporters. With his own hand he invited the guests, and himself disposed the arrangements with a military precision and exact distribution of the minutes doled to breakfast and to speakers in order that guests might keep their engagements to College lectures. Absolutely deaf, on all occasions when he himself presided he imperturbably carried out his programme. The formidable ear-trumpet which he brandished in the face of speakers tried unaccustomed nerves. But even his infirmities and peculiarities served to increase his hold on public sympathy.

In 1886 Mr. Christopher's merits were recognized by the late Bishop Mackarness when he was appointed honorary canon of Christ Church. Mr. Christopher's career had only one cloud, which soon passed away. A gross libel only served to show the esteem in which he was held by the whole of Oxford. When in self-defence he was compelled to take legal action, the result of which was a foregone conclusion, a remarkable address of confidence was evoked, signed by almost everybody of note in Oxford, both in the University and the city. No greater tribute could have been paid to the worth of the man. He did not do much in the way of authorship beyond editing the life of J.J. Weitbrecht, a well-known Indian missionary at Burdwan, and father of the still better-known Dr. H.C. Weitbrecht. But what he lacked in authorship he more than made up by his constant recommendation and circulation of books. It was one of his most striking characteristics that he was for ever calling attention to books which he considered of value, and he would obtain all possible financial help from friends to circulate these books among undergraduates and even among senior members of the University.

Ever faithful to his Evangelical convictions as a Churchman of the Reformation type, Canon Christopher was always outspoken, but, as Oxford constantly bore witness, it was the outspokenness of the faith that works by love. He resigned his work at St. Aldate's in 1905, and after that lived in retirement in North Oxford; but although in retirement he was by no means inactive, for his interest in everything connected with undergraduate life was as keen as ever. He was a remarkable figure in Oxford life, and it will be long before Oxford will see his like again.

[The Times, 12 Mar 1913]


Owner/Source(c) The Times
Date12 Mar 1913
Linked toAlfred Millard William Christopher

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