Rev. Richard Hart
Sierra-Leone to Warrnambool via Greenock
Richard Hart was born on 16 November 1818 in Birmingham, the son of Abraham Hart (steel toy maker) and his wife Mary Robinson. He married Mary Dilks, the sister of Rev. Thomas Townsley Dilks. His brother was the Rev. Frederick Hart and his son Richard Henry Hart, student then master at Wesley College, Melbourne.
1847 British Conference, 1848 Hastings Sierra Leone, 1849 York Sierra Leone, 1850 Returning home, 1851 Greenock Scotland, 1852 Melbourne Australia, 1854 Geelong Australia, 1855 Warrnambool Australia, 1858 Pentridge, Australia.
The following story is extracted from a book by the Rev. Thos. Williams entitled: Assiduity Being a Memoir of the Late Mr. Richard H. Hart of Stawell, Some Time President of the Australian Natives Association. This book is dated by the author 30th August 1885 and is available online.
The Rev. Hart’s early days were passed in Nechells Green, near Birmingham; his parents were members of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in that village. Their son was converted early in life. He devoted himself to local church work, with a number of earnest young men whose hearts the Lord had touched to such a degree that they might have carried on their banner, “In truthfulness of act be our faith seen.” Most of these young men afterwards entered the Wesleyan itinerant ranks. Of these companions of his youthful labours he now speaks specially of the Revs. James Smith, Edwin Lightwood, Frederick Hart, and pre-eminently, of the late Samuel Coley……
In the year 1847 Mr. Hart and the Rev. T. Raston were sent by the Wesleyan Missionary Society to a British colonial settlement in Western Africa, named Sierra Leone (Mountain of the Lion). The settlement is really a peninsula with a few islets belonging to it. The formation of this settlement was the outcome of philanthrophy. A body of humane men removed 470 destitute negroes from London in 1787, and settled them there. Three years afterwards 1196 negroes were removed from the too severe climate of Nova Scotia, and added to the first settlers. Since then many slaves, captured by British cruisers, have settled there. The climate is humid and unhealthy. From May to November it is specially pestilential. A limited number of whites are found amongst the colored population, although the climate is so inimical to the European constitution as to have secured for Sierra Leone the significant alias of “the white mans grave.” Indeed, and of a truth, it is a sore, sad, short road by which to journey to the tomb…..
It was to this settlement, where “death’s thousand doors stand open four-fold,” that Mr. Hart went as a missionary, fully aware of the unfriendliness of the climate, fully aware that a large proportion of those who, leaving all the joys that make life bright and kind behind them, never again returned to those who, with a sort of soft discontent, bade them “farewell.” A brief resume of the history of this mission will make the foregoing statements painfully intelligible.
A little more than a hundred years back the Moravians sent a party of nine missionaries to this part of Western Africa; these all died in two years. Thirty years after other societies sent six missionaries; within two years three of these died and one was murdered. Fifty-three missionaries or missionaries’ wives, sent there under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society, died in twenty years. In 1823 the same society sent five missionaries; of these four died in six months. Other kindred societies can show a a death rate equally heavy, but these need not be adduced here. Those before the reader will be accepted as sufficiently confirmatory of the pernicious influence of the climate on European constitutions……
An incident took place during the second year of Mr. Hart’s sojourn in fever-land which may be recorded here to his credit. It shows what can be accomplished by a man who acts under the impulse of a sincere resolve to do his duty. One week-day, when on his way to preach anniversary sermons at a small town seven miles distance from Freetown, his horse took the bit between his teeth and did some smart running on his own account. Another church, of which the quadruped had some knowledge, was a few yards off his course, and when opposite to this he made an unexpected dash through the gate-way, propped, and cast his astonished rider some distance further than he chose to go himself. Mr. Hart usually wore a cap when on horseback, but on this occasion put on a high crowned hat, under the influence of a strong impellant thought, and to his so doing he ascribes his escape from instant death. He did not, however, escape without serious injury; his left arm was badly broken, in addition to the severe shock sustained by his system. After resting a short time he was assisted to remount his horse, reached his destination, preached a morning sermon to a large congregation, and in the evening acted the part of a local secretary by reading the Annual Report, and as the deputation by delivering an earnest address on the subject of Christian missions. At the close of this surprising effort, the brave young missionary was so completely exhausted that the humane offer of George Cummings, Esq., J. P., to send him back to his home was accepted with thanks. Four prisoners bore him with care to Freetown, where he lay suffering severe pain until the fourth day after the accident, when the swelling and inflammation were sufficiently reduced to allow of the surgeon setting the fractured limb. Had this instance of heroism “or its like” occurred on the battle-field, it might have won for him a wide-spread fame and promotion.
Mr. Hart could not leave this land of his toils and successes, early in 1851, without some soreness of heart. The Committee under whose direction he served instructed him to rest, and to use the means prescribed to restore his sadly weakened constitution to a state of vigour……..The word rest it was found meant no more than a change of employment, inasmuch as three months of the five included in that word were occupied in the discharge of ministerial duties on the Bradford West Circuit, Yorkshire. Here the returned Missionary discovered that he had exchanged the fever and delirium of Western Africa for the worse fever and delirium of the Wesleyan Reform movement……On one occasion he was assailed by infuriated factory hands at Manningham Lane, and had a narrow escape from destruction.
From West Bradford Mr Hart was removed to the Greenock Circuit in the county of Renfrew, Scotland………where he met and married……..Miss Dilks, daughter of Mr. Henry Dilks, of Leith, sister of the Rev. T.T. Dilks – who at the time of this being written is the chairman of the Norwich and Lynn District, England – and the mother of the late Richard H. Hart. The wedding took place on the 2nd of December, 1851, at the seaport town of Leith.
About this time the Australian Wesleyan Conference made an application to the British Conference for additional ministers. Two were set apart accordingly, one of whom was Mr. Hart. Mr. and Mrs. Hart embarked at Gravesend on board the “Maria Louisa” September 17th, 1852, and at the close of a long voyage landed at Hobartown early in January, 1853.
An event not to be passed over without note is the birth of a daughter whilst at sea; thus, as of old, the tide of Nilus laved for a time the ark in which lay the hope of Israel. The home of this little hope of her parents’ hearts was laved during three weeks by the tides of the South Pacific Ocean. After a short rest in Tasmania Mr. and Mrs. Hart were removed to Geelong, where Mr. Hart had to undertake, as supply, the duties of a minister who had become unable to prosecute them. The young newly arrived couple were soon made acquainted with the inconveniences growing out of the general feverish haste in the pursuit of gold. They were greatly incommoded before a parsonage could be built to receive them. A deep sorrow was added to these inconveniences; their little Mary Ruth was taken away from them……
The sorrow of Mary Ruth’s parents was mitigated when the subject of this memoir was born. The shadows cast over them by tender memories of the past were “lifted” on the 15th of July, 1854, the day on which Richard Henry first saw the light: the patriotic and virtuous St. Swithin’s day.
The birth of their son was celebrated by his parents with an intense though chastened joy. The gap which bereavement had made in the little family circle was less perceptible now, and the loss less keenly felt…………