All who have departed —William Saumarez Smith


LORD, when my heart is slow to feel,
And when my lips are slow to speak,
And yet my heart still Thee doth seek,
And yet my lips would Thee reveal;

Then send Thy gracious Spirit, Lord,
That He may my dull heart inspire,
And touch my lips with heavenly fire,
So shall I hear and speak Thy word.

And other hearts with love will glow,
And other lips Thy word proclaim,
So shall we glorify Thy Name,
And Heaven’s light shine on Earth below.

– William Saumarez Smith

I randomly started reading a book of poems today by William Saumarez Smith (1836 – 1909), published and edited 100 years ago (1911) by his sisters. The book has only ever had that one edition. As far as I can tell, Saumarez isn’t a particularly well known figure (even in Sydney), and the poetry isn’t spectacular, but as I read his poems and the short account of his life at the beginning of the book, I got a little teary.

William Saumarez Smith was Bishop (later Archbishop) of Sydney from 1890-1913. He died of a brain haemorrhage in his office – died with his boots on, as they say – the first Archbishop of Sydney to be buried in Australia. His poems are a little window into the world of a man who walked humbly and simply with his God. He loved God.

He also clearly loved the people around him. Most of these poems were written as little notes to friends, family, and acquaintances. There are many about saying ‘farewell’ to family in England; a few for his daughter; two for his grandson. His life wasn’t easy. He spent time as a missionary in India, had eight children, and his wife passed away shortly before they were to leave England for Australia in 1890. He came anyway.

As I said, it isn’t all great poetry, but it is the affective life of a godly man. I was humbled and encouraged. It touched me that his little notes have made their way down the generations and are still quietly glorifying God.

Actually, I was twice blessed today. Reading the poems of William Saumarez Smith was the second time I shared communion with the everyday saints, got to watch – just a little awestruck – at the resurrection life peaking out like the fingernail of a sunrise at Easter.

And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom. Grant this, O Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.


William Saumarez Smith, Capernaum and Other Poems, London: Elliot Stock, 1911.

Extract from the ‘Memoir’

As to his private life, “he lived much in his Bible,” said one who knew him, ” no one could go into his study and see the ‘stand up’ desk covered with his Bibles, authorized, revised, Hebrew, etc., without perceiving his life-long devotion to the written word.” Many will recall how beautifully he read the Lessons in the Cathedral and other churches.

In the strenuous life of a Bishop, times of relaxation were rare, but now and then he would take part of a day off to watch some important cricket match, with keen enjoyment.

His love for reading was intense, and it was wonderful how in his crowded life he managed to devour some of the books and writings of the day. How reading tempted him may be gleaned from his joke about himself that he was not to be trusted in a bookshop for fear of ” the indulgence of buying.” Languages also interested him greatly, and he could read eight or nine. On one occasion at the Baptism of some Chinese converts at the Cathedral, having specially learnt the words, he was able to baptize them in their own language.

Those who were able to see him in his happy home at Bishopscourt, delighted to see him throw aside his work for an hour or two, and enjoy like a boy the simplest pleasures. And away in the country when visiting his clergy, any children that he met would find in the Archbishop a ready playmate.

In Holy Week of 1909 there were as usual Musical Services in the Cathedral, the Archbishop also giving a short address. Some who were present on the Wednesday, will never forget the earnestness of his closing words on the love of Christ, which proved to be the last that he spoke in his Cathedral pulpit. He ended by quoting the verse:

And there, with all the blood-bought throng
From sin and sorrow free,
I’ll sing the new Eternal Song
Of Jesu’s love to me.

The next morning, apparently well, he did his usual work, but that afternoon in his office at the Diocesan Registry he was found unconscious, and the letter he was writing was never finished. It was thought that during the next ten days he never regained consciousness, and on Sunday evening, April 18th, 1909, he “crossed the bar.”

His sudden death in the midst of his work produced a wonderful effect in Sydney. The people recognized that he had devoted his life to his adopted country, and there were many who gave touching proofs of how much they loved and honoured their Primate. The Cathedral was filled to overflowing for the first part of the Burial Service by a representative and sympathetic congregation. No signs of mourning were there. The lovely white flowers and impressive and beautiful music gave a note of Easter Victory and Peace.

Large numbers of people lined the long route of five miles to the beautiful Waverley Cemetery, which reaches down to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. The description of the scene given by one of the Sydney papers may fitly conclude this brief sketch: “A soft but clear air hung over the Cemetery, and there was a lazy beat of rolling water against the rocks below. To sea only a solitary tug was distinguishable, and further out a column of smoke denoted a steamer against the horizon. The elemental calmness, and the absence of distracting incident served to hush and further impress the very large crowd.” After the last hymn— “For all the saints who from their labour rest “—was sung, ” the people gradually withdrew, and left only the rollers of the Pacific beating against an empty headland, and the fresh breeze of the ocean stirring the grass about a new-turned grave.”

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