ANSPACH, LEWIS AMADEUS (baptized Louis-Amédée), Church of England clergyman, schoolmaster, jp, and author; b. 22 April 1770 in Geneva (Switzerland), son of Jean-Louis Anspach and Jeanne-Marie Audibert; d. 1823 in London.
Lewis Amadeus Anspach was brought up in Geneva where his grandfather, the religious writer Isaac Salomon Anspach of the Palatinate, had settled. Lewis was educated at the Académie de Genève and studied classics, theology, and philosophy with the intention of entering the ministry of the Reformed Church. He left Geneva in December 1792 and travelled to England as tutor to the sons of a London merchant. In 1795 he retired from his tutorship and successfully applied to the bishop of London for ordination in the Church of England. His application had the support of the pastors of both the Swiss and the French Calvinist churches in London. He experienced no difficulty in moving from one denomination to another, and acted as curate of the parish of St Martin Orgar for £30 per annum, presumably eking out his income by teaching, until he received a better offer as a schoolmaster in Newfoundland.
The school to which Anspach engaged his services had its origin in the desire of some St John’s merchants for a private school at which their children might receive an education superior to that otherwise available on the island. In December 1798 the group had informed Governor William Waldegrave that they were prepared to subscribe some £273 for three years, and asked that he secure in England the services of a Church of England clergyman to superintend the institution, together with a master to instruct in the classics and a mistress to teach English, needlework, and French. Arriving in St John’s on 13 Oct. 1799, Anspach was befriended by John Harries*, the missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, who accepted his assistance in church, remarking that “in preaching his foreign accent was almost entirely lost.” After disputes with the subscribers to the school, arising from the unwillingness of those with few children to pay a subscription equal to that of more prolific parents, and a consequent lawsuit which was settled in his favour, Anspach simply completed his contract as schoolmaster and then began a career as a missionary.
The SPG, disregarding a request from some inhabitants of Harbour Grace for the appointment of a Mr Dingle, presumably inclined to Methodism, appointed Anspach. Encouraged by Harries, he had applied, urging his “strict conformity with the Church which has honoured him by receiving him as a Minister.” In the populous area of Conception Bay he busied himself as a missionary for the next ten years, and built schools at Harbour Grace, Bay Roberts, and Brigus. Since the time of Laurence Coughlan* the mission had been bitterly divided and the work of the church hindered by frequent squabbles between Methodist and Anglican. Under Anspach this situation eased and by 1810 he was exulting that “the sectarian spirit has in a very considerable degree given way to the spirit of unity, and there is no other Protestant Place of Worship.” Because of his own very Protestant background, he may have appealed to a wider spectrum of belief than did more orthodox Anglican missionaries, and unlike most of them he did not complain of lack of local financial support. He could not “speak too highly of the kindness” he received “from every class of inhabitants . . . and of their attention to religious duties.”
Anspach was also a justice of the peace in the Conception Bay area. Before his arrival there, he noted, the administration of justice had in fact been in the hands of one “magistrate of the old school,” who had refused to institute the reforms in the court system brought in under Chief Justice John Reeves during the 1790s. Anspach seems to have been an efficient and thoughtful magistrate. He prepared A summary of the laws of commerce and navigation, adapted to the present state, government, and trade of the island of Newfoundland, which was published in London in 1809, and A systematical review of the laws and regulations relating to the trade and fishery of Newfoundland, which came out there the following year. A close and curious observer, he also compiled a mass of manuscript material, including a diary, relating to his experiences and reflections which he “had some thought of arranging with a view to publication” when he returned to England.
Return to England he did towards the end of August 1812, but not to the Church of England. He was worried about the education of his children, and with some regret he accepted a position which his friends had secured for him, that of pastor at the principal French Reformed church, in Threadneedle Street, London. Huguenots had been in England since the time of the Reformation, maintaining a network of French-speaking churches of the Calvinist faith but keeping up friendly relations with the English church and king. Indeed, the ministers of the principal church were always in Anglican holy orders and licensed by the sovereign. It was a post of considerable importance and prestige. In it Anspach pursued a quiet and uneventful ministry until his retirement in 1821.
Meanwhile, he did not lose sight of his intention to publish his projected book on Newfoundland, and “determined silently to consign over the produce of my labours to a number of manuscripts . . . more immediately connected with the situations which I had held there, and which I had accumulated during the leisure hours that could be spared in the winter season, consistently with my public duties. I persevered in this determination.” By the end of March 1818 the finished manuscript was communicated “to a literary friend,” and it was published in London the following year as “printed for the author.”
Anspach’s History of the island of Newfoundland was the first general history of the country; and if the first ten chapters, based as they are on printed authorities now long outdated, are of little value today, the six concluding chapters, in which the author deals with a period that fell within his own knowledge, retain a continuing value. The work as a whole belongs to a genre (to which Sir Richard Henry Bonnycastle*’s 1842 study is also related) in which a general history culminates in descriptive chapters on natural history, climate and meteorology, natural productions, and the like. In Anspach’s case, such set pieces are frequently informed by personal observation, and the work concludes with a highly original account “Of Character and Manners of the . . . Inhabitants of the Island of Newfoundland,” which is nothing less than a pioneering essay on the social history of the region. Much of the theoretical background which Anspach brings to the subject is, as one would expect, classical, but he displays also a thoughtful reading of Montesquieu, and above all he presents a vivid and lively personal report. And if the point of view is often that of an establishmentarian to whom “the public mind” of St John’s seemed “poisoned” by Thomas Paine’s Age of reason and Rights of man (notwithstanding the refutation of those works by the bishop of Llandaff), Anspach’s History, like the record of his varied service in Newfoundland, everywhere bears witness to his diligence, probity, and intelligence.
Anspach died in 1823, thus ending a career which had spanned two churches and two cultures. He was a product of the 18th-century religious climate, stressing the moral duties of religion and treating denominational differences lightly. seeking in the colonial church a career which would have been difficult in England, he proved to be a major publicist for the island which he characteristically commended as having “unobserved and unknown . . . silently distributed subsistence to a considerable portion of the inhabitants, and particularly of the poor of both hemispheres.”
Lewis Amadeus Anspach is the author of A summary of the laws of commerce and navigation, adapted to the present state, government, and trade of the island of Newfoundland (London, 1809); A systematical review of the laws and regulations relating to the trade and fishery of Newfoundland (London, 1810); and A history of the island of Newfoundland, containing a description of the island, the banks, the fisheries, and trade of Newfoundland, and the coast of Labrador (London, 1819). A German translation of this last work appeared under the title Geschichte and beschreibung von Newfoundland . . . (Weimar, [German Democratic Republic], 1822); and a second edition of the English was issued in London in 1827. One of his unpublished reports, preserved among the Duckworth papers at the PANL (P1/5), has been put out in mimeograph form by the archives as Duckworth’s Newfoundland; notes from a report to Governor Duckworth (St John’s, 1971).
Arch. de l’État (Genève, Suisse), État civil, Genève, reg. de baptêmes, 29 avril 1770. Guildhall Library (London),
© 1987–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Frederick Jones and G. M. Story, “ANSPACH, LEWIS AMADEUS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 27, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/anspach_lewis_amadeus_6E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Frederick Jones and G. M. Story|
|Title of Article:||ANSPACH, LEWIS AMADEUS|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1987|
|Year of revision:||1987|
|Access Date:||March 27, 2023|