BLACKMAN, CHARLES, Church of England clergyman and school administrator; b. c. 1798 in England; m. Julia Williams of Newfoundland, and they had four children, including the Reverend Thomas John Mark Willoughby; d. 16 March 1853 in St John’s.
Charles Blackman arrived in Newfoundland in 1819 as tutor to the son of Governor Sir Charles Hamilton*. When he decided to seek ordination he encountered difficulties: Newfoundland, which did not yet have a Church of England bishop, was under the authority of Robert Stanser*, bishop of Nova Scotia, who was in England for reasons of health, and Jacob Mountain*, bishop of Quebec, refused to ordain Blackman in 1821 because he did not have letters dimissory. Nevertheless, Blackman read services in the St John’s outharbours during the winter of 1821–22. Early in 1822 he returned to England and was admitted to the ministry on 1 June. He then travelled back to Newfoundland as a missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Although he was assigned the district of Ferryland at that time, he spent the winter at Torbay, north of St John’s. In August 1827 he requested a transfer; he had first sought Harbour Grace, but he agreed to go to Port de Grave.
A man of considerable ability and eloquence, Blackman confidently expected promotion and applied for a variety of positions, such as the Harbour Grace mission in 1827, a schoolmaster’s post in St John’s in 1834, and the archdeaconry in 1840. To help secure these offices, he tried to use the influence of aristocratic relatives in England, such as his niece’s husband, Lord Rayleigh, but it was to no avail. In 1839 he was even passed over as successor to Frederick Hamilton Carrington, the incumbent at St John’s, in favour of the Reverend Thomas Finch Hobday Bridge, of whom he later said, he “will be helped and the services of others will be kept most studiously in the background.”
In 1841, however, Bishop Aubrey George Spencer* did make Blackman principal of the newly formed Theological Institute in St John’s which was intended to provide professional training for missionary candidates recruited in England and Newfoundland. On 7 July of the following year he was also appointed perpetual curate to St Thomas’ Church, a function he had been fulfilling since 1838, and garrison chaplain. With the translation of Spencer to the Jamaican see in 1843 because of his health, Blackman renewed his campaign for promotion in an attempt to succeed to the bishopric. Once again he failed. The new bishop, Edward Feild*, soon decided Blackman was incompetent and a liar, and declared to Ernest Hawkins*, secretary of the SPG, “he does not enjoy my confidence in any way.” Feild complained about the administration of Blackman’s church and he thought the theological students were unsuitably trained and undisciplined. He found Bridge more competent and congenial.
Blackman, an evangelical, was antagonized by Feild’s tractarian principles and soon became involved in an open conflict with the bishop. He first tried to achieve financial independence of episcopal control by obtaining from the government a land grant as a reward for his duties as garrison chaplain. Then, when Feild dismissed him as principal of the Theological Institute in 1847, in spite of the fact that he had recently obtained a Lambeth ma, Blackman openly began to espouse causes of which the bishop disapproved. He supported the British and Foreign Bible Society, which Feild condemned on the grounds that it was not exclusively a Church of England institution. In addition, when Feild quarrelled with the Newfoundland School Society, an organization of his own church but one which permitted Wesleyans to teach in its schools, Blackman proceeded to become a member. He also opposed Feild’s scheme to increase the funds of the Newfoundland Church Society to the level of self-sufficiency, largely because he feared that such an action would make the church less dependent on the merchants, many of whom were evangelical in sympathy, and more dependent on Feild and the church society. What was perhaps Blackman’s most obvious revolt occurred in the late 1840s and early 1850s when Feild was leading a campaign to have government funding for Church of England schools separated from the general Protestant grant. Blackman and others lobbied members of the House of Assembly against Feild’s plan.
Blackman died in 1853 after a prolonged illness, during which the Reverend Johnstone Vicars had performed his duties. He had always seen himself as an evangelical persecuted by tractarians such as Feild, and his attitude at various times may have stemmed partly from his support of pan-Protestant causes and his distrust of episcopal power. Disappointed ambition was clearly another potent motive and it led him to extremes. Well connected in both England and Newfoundland (his wife’s brother-in-law was the merchant Robert John Pinsent*), he had the opportunity to be a leader in the Anglican community. His church, which he served conscientiously, soon became a place of refuge for opponents to Bishop Feild. By helping alienate the conservative merchants from an equally conservative bishop, Blackman facilitated the efforts of those forces which, with the backing of the Roman Catholic clergy, were campaigning for responsible government in Newfoundland.
PRO, CO 194/117–40. USPG, C/CAN/Nfl., 4–7; D9A; D9B. [Edward Feild], An address to the congregation of St Thomas’s Church by the Bishop of Newfoundland (St John’s, n.d.; copy in USPG, D9A). Times and General Commercial Gazette (St John’s), 13 July 1850; 26 Feb., 4 March 1851. Frederick Jones, “The early opposition to Bishop Feild of Newfoundland,” CCHS, Journal, 16 (1974): 30–41; “Religion, education and politics in Newfoundland, 1836–1875,” CCHS, Journal, 12 (1970): 64–76.