The New­found­land Mem­oirs of Rev. C. Ernest Smith


The English­man, Charles Ernest Smith (1855-1939), was the Angli­can min­is­ter in Heart’s Con­tent in the 1880s. His friends back home were in­clined to think of him “in that New­found­land parish as out of the world.”

To the con­trary, Smith as­sured read­ers of his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, “they were mis­taken. I was very much in it. The news of the whole world passed through the great of­fices within a stone’s throw of the rec­tory and, ev­ery day in con­densed form, it was laid on my study ta­ble. More­over, at any time I could go down to the cen­tral of­fice and ask how things were go­ing in Ire­land where the ca­bles landed.” In­deed, Heart’s Con­tent was us­ing the tele­phone long be­fore it was used in Washington, where he later served as rec­tor.

Speak­ing of phones, what Smith re­ferred to as “a cu­ri­ous in­ci­dent oc­curred” be­cause of the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions de­vice. Let him ex­plain.

“ The head of the [An­glo-Amer­i­can Tele­graph] com­pany in New­found­land was a Mr. [Ezra] Wee­don [1839-84], a parish­ioner and com­mu­ni­cant, but alas, a con­firmed in­valid and al­most en­tirely con­fined to his room, but pos­sess­ing a mar­vel­lously ac­tive mind.”

In his mas­ter­ful book, Con­nect­ing the Con­ti­nents: Heart’s Con­tent and the At­lantic Cable, Ted Rowe wrote: “A tiny man ( he stood only 4 ft. 6 inches tall), Wee­don came from the vil­lage of Din­ton in Buck­ing­hamshire, the il­le­git­i­mate son of a lace­maker. He was bright, in­tense and cocky, with an un­der­ly­ing touch­i­ness, but his gen­er­ous heart and sense of fair play quickly earned him the re­spect of the staff.”

One day, soon af­ter Smith ar­rived in Heart’s Con­tent as the rec­tor, Wee­don said to him, “I should like to hear your ser­mons, and if you don’t mind I’ll have a lit­tle in­stru­ment put up in your pul­pit by which I can hear them.”

“I should be only too glad to have you do any­thing you wish,” Smith re­sponded.

The fol­low­ing Sun­day, there was, in the pul­pit of the church, a tele­phone mouth­piece, in­stalled for the ben­e­fit of Wee­don. This was, Smith added, “pre­cisely 40 years be­fore the ra­dio had cap­tured our imag­i­na­tion.

“But,” Smith con­tin­ued, “I had never seen or heard any­thing of the kind be­fore, and to me it was so very weird to think of a man sev­eral blocks away lis­ten­ing to my ser­mon through that cu­ri­ous in­stru­ment in front of me that it was ex­ceed­ingly dif­fi­cult for me to con­cen­trate my mind on what I was say­ing. For do what I would, I found my thoughts wan­der­ing off to that un­seen lis­tener, and not hav­ing any writ­ten ser­mon, I was thank­ful when I nat­u­rally came to the end. I had spent an un­com­fort­able half hour.”

On Mon­day morn­ing, Smith hur­ried over to Wee­don’s, “to as­cer­tain whether he had been able to hear any­thing.” To be per­fectly frank, Smith ad­mit­ted late in life, “I was hop­ing that he had not heard a word!”

To the min­is­ter’s dis­may, Wee­don had never heard bet­ter.

“I groaned in­wardly and won­dered what was go­ing to hap­pen next Sun­day. How­ever, it wasn’t quite as dis­con­cert­ing then, and I sup­pose had it con­tin­ued in­def­i­nitely I should have be­come quite used to it.”

To Smith’s re­lief, how­ever, “af­ter three or four Sun­days, Mr. Wee­don con­fided to me that the strain in­volved in ‘ lis­ten­ing in’ was too great and the mouth­piece was re­moved.”

To be con­tin­ued.

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