BRIDGE, THOMAS FINCH HOBDAY, Church of England clergyman; b. 20 Dec. 1807, second son of Captain Thomas Bridge, rn, of Harwich, England; m. 1835 Sarah Christiana Dunscombe, daughter of John Dunscombe, aide-de-camp to Governor Sir Thomas John Cochrane*, and they had nine children; d. 28 Feb. 1856 in St John’s.
Born into a family with a long-standing naval affiliation, Thomas Finch Hobday Bridge was unable to continue in the tradition because of health problems. He was educated at Charterhouse, London, and then at Christ Church College, Oxford, where he “found his work too easy and was too much in society.” Graduating with an undistinguished ba, he studied law at Lincoln’s Inn, London, but changed his mind about a profession in 1831 and was ordained a Church of England clergyman. After serving in Norfolk as a curate, Bridge went to Newfoundland in 1832 as chaplain to Cochrane and tutor to his son.
When Cochrane left in 1834, Bridge stayed behind in St John’s because he had received a promise from the Reverend Frederick Hamilton Carrington* that he would succeed to Carrington’s church there, if he accepted an appointment meanwhile as curate. Already a member of the conservative Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Bridge now joined the more evangelical Temperance Society and the Bible Society, giving the appearance of becoming a thoroughly low church clergyman. When Carrington died in 1839, Bridge, supported by a petition from the congregation, successfully applied to Bishop Aubrey George Spencer* for the vacancy. Late in 1840 Spencer sent Bridge to England to raise funds for the projected cathedral in St John’s, the cost of which was estimated to be £4,000. In the approximately six months Bridge spent there he collected close to half that sum. Not occupied solely with soliciting money, he also received his ma from Oxford and preached a sermon at Islington (London) on behalf of the Newfoundland School Society; his sermon was published in the Pulpit (London), one of the most important evangelical journals in England at that time.
Returning to Newfoundland early in 1841, Bridge became Spencer’s principal assistant, assuming the positions of examining chaplain, vicar general, and ecclesiastical commissary. When the bishop gained control of the Newfoundland School Society later that year, Bridge became its superintendent, a post he was to hold until 1849. In 1843 Spencer visited Bermuda, the other area included in his diocese, and he left Bridge in charge in Newfoundland. Upon Spencer’s translation to the see of Jamaica later that year, Bridge applied for the Newfoundland bishopric, alleging that he would follow the “Scriptural principles of the Reformed Church of England” which Spencer had professed. He also warned officials of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel of the intrigues of his rival Charles Blackman, principal of the Theological Institute and incumbent of St Thomas’ Church. In spite of his application, Governor Sir John Harvey and Spencer believed that he was trying to secure not the bishopric but the post of archdeacon. In any case, Edward Feild* was appointed bishop.
Arriving in Newfoundland in 1844, Feild quickly came to dislike Blackman and Bridge, two of the most prominent Anglican clergymen on the island, believing they were “both selfish and self seeking.” Feild felt that his tractarian ideas caused Blackman to oppose him and that Bridge favoured him because of self-interest, but he also was well aware that both men were capable of altering their position to suit any situation. However, as Bridge was efficient and industrious, with ideas which became increasingly similar to those of the new bishop, Feild eventually came to acknowledge his position as principal assistant. As chairman of the committee which ran the Newfoundland Church Society, Bridge worked hard collecting funds. These were distributed among the clergy on the island according to need, thereby reducing their direct financial dependence on their congregations and establishing some independence for the church from the SPG. These activities, and his public defence of moderate tractarian doctrines, made him the obvious choice for archdeacon in 1850.
During the early 1850s Bridge became tired of Newfoundland and declared in letters home that he had to leave because the climate and excessive work were exhausting him. A holiday in England paid for by his congregation enabled him to remain in the colony but he persisted unsuccessfully in seeking other situations. The burden of work increased. He became chairman of the Protestant education board of St John’s, a director of the Church of England Academy, and remained as chairman of the church society with responsibility for diocesan finances. He took a prominent part in the conflict between Feild and Governor Ker Baillie* Hamilton over what Feild saw as excessive government interference in church affairs. Moreover, as rector of the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, he had to perform his parish duties and to conduct four services and preach three sermons every Sunday, all without the aid of a curate. When a cholera epidemic struck St John’s in 1855–56, Bridge worked among the sick, but he was so weakened by strain and financial worries (the SPG had cut his salary to a level inadequate to support his large family), that he caught a cold early in 1856 while hauling wood. He died after performing the evening service on 28 February.
Repenting of his earlier judgement, Feild praised Bridge as the “most fond, faithful and efficient archdeacon that ever any Bishop was served by” and called him his “Iron Bridge.” The St John’s Newfoundlander spoke of his work among the poor, and John Kent*, the Roman Catholic politician who became premier in 1858, lauded his non-sectarian works of charity. Large silent crowds gathered for his funeral, the House of Assembly was adjourned, flags were flown at half-mast, and shops were closed. Historian Daniel Woodley Prowse* describes Bridge as the “most beloved Anglican minister that ever set foot on our soil; his place has never been filled.” Bridge was certainly one of the most influential clergymen of the Church of England in Newfoundland: under both Spencer and Feild he played a major part in establishing the Anglican diocese on a solid foundation.
Thomas Finch Hobday Bridge is the author of A letter to Peter Winser, Sr., esq., in reply to his reasons for leaving the church of his fathers and of his baptism (St John’s, 1847), a copy of which is preserved in USPG, C/CAN/Nfl., 5, and The two religions: or, the question settled, which is the oldest church, the Anglican or the Romish? A sermon . . . (London, 1841). His sermon on behalf of the Newfoundland School Society appeared in the Pulpit (London), 38 (1840): 444–50.
PRO, CO 194/117–42. USPG, C/CAN/Nfl., 5; D9A; D9B. Newfoundlander, 3 March 1856. Public Ledger, 4 March 1856. Prowse, Hist. of Nfld. (1896). Frederick Jones, “The early opposition to Bishop Feild of Newfoundland,” CCHS, Journal, 16 (1974): 30–41.