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Hallo again to all.

Midway through the 'silly season' here in the Northern Hemisphere, we promise not to not mention on this page the words 'baby' or 'George' or 'prince' and furthermore shall do out best to avoid all solemn and serious subjects.

Which brings us to one Matthew Henry Thornhill Luscombe, bishop.

Now we confess we tend to think of ourselves as embarrassingly knowledgeable about Anglican history and reasonably acquainted with the names of 18th and 19th century bishops in the Church of England and its sister churches. But MHT Luscombe was known by us for . . .  nothing.

It turns out that Bishop Luscombe was a figure of some importance, in, of all places, Europe.* Luscombe was a clergyman of the Church of England, but found himself living in France in the early 1820s. To his chagrin, the 50,000 English subjects who lived there at the time — his estimate — were cared for by a handful of itinerant Church of England clergymen who, Luscombe pointed out, lived an 'inconsistent' life (the delicacy of the Victorian adjective is delicious) and were in some cases downright dissolute. Luscombe conceived that what the situation called for was a bishop. But this was, at the simplest, a diplomatically impossible situation. At the time, the Church of England regarded those countries where a national church  —  of course Roman Catholic — had been established as off limits to their official presence. Luscombe's arguments within the CofE were met with polite concern but absolutely no action.

A letter from MHT Luscombe, seven days after his consecration, thanking Bishop Low for his support and expressing his appreciation to the Scottish Episcopal Church

Now Luscombe, in addition to being solicitous for the welfare of English souls, had what appears to be the clear idea that he was meant to become a bishop, to bring order and decency to the English diaspora in Europe. He refused to give up, despite the rejection by the CofE. But what was he to do?

He had good fortune to have been curate to the Reverend Walter Farquahar Hook, who was on his way to becoming an important figure in proto-Oxford Movement period. Hook advised Luscombe to make his case to the Scottish bishops, drawing discreet parallels to Samuel Seabury. So in 1824 and 1835 write Luscombe did, to all the bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church, some of whom would have known Seabury and some of whom, undoubtedly saintly, were getting on in age. The bishops were thrown into turmoil, having considerable sympathy with Luscombe's description of the English situation in France, but wary — if not dismissive — of parallels with Seabury. The primus at the time, Bishop Gleig, was already a bit doddery (some of his fellow bishops thought he should resign) and the roil about 'What to do with MH Luscombe' caused him far more spiritual turbulence than one would have wished on an elderly bishop.

Eventually the majority of the bishops** found favour with Luscombe's proposal, and he was consecrated in Stirling on 20 March 1825, with WF Hook preaching the sermon. There was much worry that Luscombe had no see, but there was no apparent solution to that, on the idea that Luscombe was 'not a diocesan bishop in the modern or limited sense of the word, but for a purpose similar to that for which Titus was left by St Paul in Crete'.

Thus, for the second time, the tiny Scottish Church accepted a responsibility for the welfare of Anglicans outside her borders, while the Established Church of England found herself powerless to act.***

Apparently some of the English clergy of inconsistent lives were not particularly happy about having episcopal oversight, and Luscombe's efforts to rein in some of them proved ineffective. He did perform confirmations, marriages and burials, and took no little pride about all the appurtenances that came with his office.

Many English bishops grumbled noisily when news of the consecration reached them, but eventually the Bishop of London appointed Luscombe as his 'commissary' to hold confirmations and receive reports from the Anglican clergy residing on the Continent, alas withdrawing that status in 1835. Luscombe remained a singular bishop in what was admittedly a nearly untenable situation.

Luscombe comes bumblingly to life in a memoir of Thomas Adolphus Trollope (Anthony Trollope's older brother), who wrote that he heard Luscombe preach at the Ambassador's chapel in Paris a 'very stupid sermon', and then recounts a tale of Luscombe arriving at Paddington Station from the continent and unable to locate his luggage. Luscombe called for a porter to assist, and the porter, harrassed by other people and busy with earlier requests, told Luscombe, 'You must go to hell for your luggage!'

This 'somewhat pompous and very bishopy man felt as if the porter had struck him in the face'. Indignant and offended, Luscombe asked to speak to the authorities and was directed to where the governing board was meeting that day. 'So to the boardroom the Bishop went straightaway and made his complaint'. The president of the board considered inebriation the likely cause of the insolence and summoned the porter to explain himself. In what was a distinctly Cockney dialect, he replied,

'Well, sir, what could I do? I was werry busy at the time. So when the gentleman says his name was Luscombe I could do no better that tell him to go to h'ell for his luggage and he'd have found it here all right!'

Of course the porter was pointing out that Luscombe should go to the 'L' bin in the Left Luggage area. Call it the Case of the Added Aspirate.

Throughout his 'episcopate' in the 1830s and early 1840s, Luscombe's ministrations were well-meaning, but something of an embarrassment primarily owing to his amour propre. It may have been something of a relief in 1842, when there was, at last, the formal creation of the 'Diocese of Gibraltar', whose bishop would minister to Anglicans in Europe but not reside there. George Tomlinson was appointed the putative 'first' bishop, and he came with a far more appropriate CV, having served as chaplain to William Howley, the then Bishop of London, as tutor to Sir Robert Peel, and as secretary of the SPCK. Tomlinson was not likely to embarrass anyone.

Luscombe died in 1846 and quickly became a footnote, and then a forgotten one. He is not mentioned in histories of the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe. However chequered his career as a bishop, one is rather glad that he chose not to become a poet.

See you next week.

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28 July 2013

* A quick refresher: Europe represents what could be called a geographically messy Anglican situation. The Diocese in Europe (CofE) and the Convocation of Episcopal Churches (The Episcopal Church USA) geographically overlap, and both co-exist happily with the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church, and the Lusitanian Catholic Apostolic Evangelical Church of Portugal. Through the years earnest attempts have been made to regularise the geographic confusion, but thus far have got nowhere.

** Bishops Low and Skinner disagreed with the decision to consecrate.



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