A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
An extract from “Catholics in Oxford”, by Father Martindale, S.J.
“We cannot but record the name of Brother Dewell, a lay brother of the Society, who died on April 10, 1899. Before joining the Society he was captain in a line regiment and saw service in India, Candia and elsewhere; and on becoming a religious devoted his not inconsiderable possessions to the service of God’s poor. He spent some fifteen years at St Aloysius’s, and his name became incredibly beloved by the distressed and the suffering. He was buried in the cemetery at Botley on April 13.”
It is interesting to recall that it was this same Captain (later “Brother”) Dewell who, in 1861, introduced the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales to England in the person of Fr. Francis Larive, M.S.F.S. – which led, in 1875, to the building of the charming little church of St. Aldhelm in his (Captain Dewell’s) home-town of Malmesbury, Wiltshire.
So who was Brother Dewell?
By Richard Barton (October 2017)
Charles Goddard Dewell was born on 23rd July 1834 in Bath and he was baptised at St Mary’s the Parish Church of Bathwick, on 22nd August in that year. The names of his parents, who lived in Bathwick, were given in the Register as Thomas and Henrietta Susanna Dewell and Charles’s father was described as a Captain in the Royal Artillery. Three years later, on 29th September 1837, a brother, Thomas Carleton Dewell was baptised at St. Mary’s and, on this occasion, we can see that the family then lived in Pulteney Street. However, young Thomas was buried at Malmesbury on 16th March 1838 aged seven months and twenty-four days. Once again Charles was an only child.
His parents, Thomas and Henrietta Dewell, had married at Box in Wiltshire on 16th November 1830. His mother was a daughter of Colonel Tufnell and his father’s address was given in the Register as Dauntsey House. Henrietta was only twenty-three-years-old on her wedding day whereas the groom was forty-three. Thomas Dewall was a native of Malmesbury and had been baptised in the Abbey Church there on 15th November 1787, the son of Timothy and Elizabeth Dewell. The Dewells had long associations with the town of Malmesbury.
In 1845 Charles’s mother, Henrietta died at the age of thirty-eight and she was buried with other family members at Malmesbury on 13th March. During the following year Thomas Dewell re-married. His bride was Elizabeth Ann Bellers, a widow, from Box. The Marriage Register refers to Thomas Dewell as being a Captain in the Royal Artillery and living at Monks Park, Corsham.
The 1851 census finds Thomas and Elizabeth living at Monks House with Elizabeth’s twenty-three-year-old daughter, Mary A. Bellers, and her twenty-two-year-old son, William Bellers, a Lieutenant in the 70th Regiment. Both brother and sister were born in Painswick and their step-father, Thomas Dewell, was recorded as born at Malmesbury and their mother at Lawford in Essex. Captain Thomas Dewell was by now a magistrate.
However, on 6th September 1853 the sixty-seven-year-old Captain died in Brighton leaving his only son, Charles Goddard Dewell, a rather wealthy orphan.
As for young Charles he started his military career young for in the 1851 census return he is listed as being at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, aged sixteen. The Army List for 1854 gives a further indication of Charles’s military career. He was made an Ensign on 8th June 1852 and promoted to Lieutenant on 10th March 1854. His was the 91st Argyllshire Regiment of Foot. The London Gazette for 17th November 1857 gives notice that Lieutenant Charles Goddard Dewell of the 91st Foot had been raised to the rank of Captain (by purchase vice Bruce who retires).
In 1858, Charles Dewell spent six month period of leave in Rome. Whilst there he made friends with a Catholic priest, formerly an ex-Anglican priest, who eventually received him into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
Cork Examiner, 11th August 1858:
‘On the festival of the Visitation, at the High Altar of the Ancient Church of St. Clement, Captain Charles Goddard Dewell, of the 91st Regiment, renounced the errors of Anglicanism, was reconciled to the Holy See by the Very Rev. Dr. Marshall. (Weekly Register)’
Captain Dewell’s military career took him to India and it is here that he met Father Francois Larive. The priest had been sent from Annecy to India back in June 1848 and he was serving at a place called Kaniptee. Captain Dewell was camped on the outskirts of this settlement.
Father Francis Larive was a member of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales and belonging to the same order as Bishop Neyret, the Vicar-Apostolic of the District of Visakhapatnam.
It is said that the oftener the Captain came into contact with Father Larive, the warmer grew his appreciation of the missionary’s zeal and goodness. The result of their lengthy acquaintance and much discussion was that Captain Dewell decided to write to Bishop Neyret with a proposal that a mission be set up in Malmesbury, his family home. The bishop advised contacting the Bishop in England so, on 2nd October 1860 Captain Dewell wrote to Bishop Clifford, of Clifton, about his proposal for a mission in Malmesbury which he was offering to finance and establish. He also requested that the new mission be served by Father Larive’s own order, the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales.
The Bishop wrote back expressing his joy and giving his approval but also offering some background information:
‘Wiltshire is a desert as far as Catholicity is concerned and the establishment at Malmesbury of a Mission will be an immense blessing for this desolate part of my diocese. There are scarcely any Catholics at Malmesbury, but for this very reason, as well as for others, it will be a great advantage to have two priests living together instead of one being left all alone. Mr. Pollen, who lives at Rodbourne is the only Catholic I know in the district. If two priests live at Malmesbury should propose that one of them should go to Chippenham, which is about nine miles away, on Sundays. There is a chapel there and upwards of forty Catholics, but is only visited by a priest once a month.’
Later in the letter was a note of caution warning Captain Dewell ‘not to be anxious to see the fruits of your labours’, the Bishop told him of ‘many cases I personally have known of good priests who came to these parts full of zeal, but when they find themselves surrounded by the cold dull religious atmosphere of these parts … lose courage and betake themselves to other more Catholic parts of the Country’.
Captain Dewell was not put off by this account. He asked too that the Bishop would accept into his diocese the Sisters of St. Joseph, since from his own experience of them in Kamptee he considered them necessary to the support of the priests’ work. Bishop Neyret communicated with Father Mermier and Mother Louise Flavie about the proposed foundation. Father Mermier authorised the sending of the M.S.F.S. to England and wrote to Monsignor Neyret.
‘The Missionaries will look upon this offer as an answer to the prayers of St. Francis de Sales and will endeavour to realise in his name what he was unable to carry out in his own time.’
Bishop Neyret lost no time in announcing the decision to Kamptee. Writing to Father Larive he said “And behold my dear Father, you are the chosen Missionary. Of course, you will not be given to England but only lent’. As things turned out this did not prove prophetic.
This was late in 1860 and during the ensuing months negotiations were afoot between England, Annecy and India. Captain Dewell had planned to marry but instead he was becoming greatly attracted to St. Ignatius whose life he studied assiduously. The Saint had left soldiering to enter the service of his Lord Jesus Christ. Captain Dewell felt drawn to do the same. He applied for eighteen months leave to come to England to make immediate arrangements for the mission. This his Colonel was obliged to refuse, at least for a while. Captain Dewell accepted the situation and abandoned himself to God’s Will, renewing his act of abandonment daily. Quite suddenly he was convinced that what God wanted of him was to sell his commission immediately, arrange for the mission in Malmesbury and then enter the Jesuit noviciate. Fortunately, the Major of the regiment was a Catholic and understood when Captain Dewell informed him of his intentions. “My dear Dewell I regret to lose you” he said, “but above all things may the Will of God be done”. The Captain sold his commission at a considerable loss. A public notice dated 22nd October 1861 stated that Lieutenant John Edward Burton of the 91st Foot was to be promoted to Captain, by purchase vice Charles Goddard Dewell who retires.
With Bishop Neyret’s blessing and good wishes Father Larive and Captain Dewell left Kamptee on 3rd April 1861 and arrived in England on 24th May the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians.
At Southampton they received an invitation to proceed to Bishop Clifford’s house at Clifton and rest there as he would be absent for a few days. On arrival at the Bishop’s house they found that the priest who was to meet them had been called out and the housekeeper did not expect them so she directed them to the Queen’s Hotel. Father Larive celebrated Mass the next morning in the Pro-Cathedral. It was the feast of St. Aldhelm of Malmesbury.
Afterwards the Vicar General, Canon Frederick Neves, welcomed them and arranged for them to stay at the Bishop’s residence. On 27th May Captain Dewell went alone to Malmesbury only to discover that his orders to his solicitor had not been fulfilled. Cross Hayes House had been let to a tenant until 25th March 1867. A very disappointed Captain Dewell returned to Bishop Clifford to report this insuperable obstacle. The Bishop accepted the situation and suggested Chippenham as an alternative in the short term.
Captain Dewell made arrangements with the Bishop for the upkeep of the mission and then went into retreat with the Jesuits at Beaumont Lodge. He was not very well, so after the retreat the Rector suggested a holiday abroad, and agreed to notify him when the next group of postulants would assemble for a Retreat before becoming novices. If he still wished to he could then return to Beaumont. He went to Annecy and visited the Salesian shrines, his vocation meanwhile growing stronger. In mid-September the long-expected letter arrived and he entered the Jesuit noviciate as a lay-brother. Before making his vows he made over his property to Bishop Clifford, stipulating that Cross Hayes House was to be given to the Sisters when it was free, or as soon as they arrived in England. In October 1864 he wrote to the Sisters expressing joy at their arrival and asking them to pray for the conversion of a relative of his.
Various documents survive that refer to property belonging to Charles Goddard Dewell in Burton Hill, Malmesbury and Milbourne and some date from the late 1850’s. In 1863 a transfer of real estate was made from Thomas Robert Tufnell of Spring Grove, Middlesex, he being trustee of Charles Dewell’s deceased father, to Charles Goddard Dewell of Roehampton. Clearly local opinion was hostile to Dewell’s actions and many remarks were made in the newspapers about the sale of property and the ‘princely gift’ that he was making to the Roman Catholic authorities. His new position as a Jesuit lay-brother was described by one columnist as being ‘in plain English a domestic servant’. Readers were then reminded of his previous life as owner of Monk Park, Corsham, and his relationship with his step-brother, Colonel Bellers, who was clearly a well-known figure in the locality.
Wiltshire Independent, Thursday 16th November 1865:
‘Important Sale of Property – On Thursday the 2nd November, the valuable estate, situate in the vicinity of Malmesbury, late the property of Charles G. Dewell Esq., a Captain in one of Her Majesty’s infantry regiments, and which he had given to the Roman Catholic Church (of which he was a zealous supporter, was sold by public auction by Mr. Wm Panting at the George Inn, Malmesbury. As nearly the whole property is freehold and the land is exceedingly fertile and productive, there was a spirited competition for it, and the price realised very great. The aggregate price realised was £13, 619 (a most princely gift) not including the farm at Burton hill (which had been previously disposed of by private contract. The spacious and valuable residence and premises called Cross Hayes House was not offered for sale, and we believe the Catholics, who intend establishing a chapel in this town, have chosen that place for their site. As we have said the property sold exceedingly well, especially Lot 27 the house in the occupation of Mrs. Brooke, which was bought by Messrs. Jones, Forrester for the North Wiltshire Banking Company at the very high price of £900. The purchases are to be completed by Lady-day next.’
Brother Dewell’s generosity towards the Catholic Church led to a new Fransalian church being erected at Devizes in 1864 and the Church of St. Mary, built in 1855 at Chippenham, being served by the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales. As he had hoped, when still a soldier in India, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Annecy worked hard to develop both of these Wiltshire missions.
Brother Dewell did not forget Malmesbury either and when Father Larive met him in London, in July 1865, Brother Dewell beseeched him not to forget his beloved Malmesbury. However, it was not until Palm Sunday, 14th April, 1867, that Mass was first celebrated in the large parlour of Cross Hayes House. In due course a Fransalian church was built at Malmesbury and the Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy established themselves at Cross Hayes House.
Captain Dewell had become Brother Charles George Dewell S.J. and at the time of the 1871 census he was living at the Jesuit house at Mount Street in Mayfair and ten years later, and again in the 1891 census, he was residing at the Jesuit Church of St Aloysius in Oxford. In the census entries he is referred to as a retired Army Officer – in one a Captain in the 91 Highlands. The late Donald Halliday of North Hinksey mentioned that Brother Dewell spent the last fifteen years of his life at St. Aloysius’s.
One local newspaper describes a visit by Brother Dewell to Devizes in 1883:
He was also remembered by the people of Devizes when Father Larive left his Wiltshire missions during the following year:
Brother Dewell died on 10th April 1899 and was buried in an unbricked grave in the newly opened Botley Cemetery on 13th April. He was aged sixty-five years and his name in the burial book was altered from Charles Goddard Dewell to Charles George Dewell. The grave can still be seen at A.1 No. 102. In 1964 there were plans to move his remains to the Sisters’ cemetery at Llantarnam but this was refused by the Home Office.
I am most grateful to Sister Michael Joseph Bourne S.S.J. of Llantarnam Abbey who produced, in 1982, her excellent study, ‘His Mercy is From Age to Age – The Story of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Annecy 1650-1833-1983’. I have drawn heavily on her account for the story of Captain Dewell’s conversion, his relationships with Father Larive in India, the realisation of his Jesuit vocation and his plans for a Catholic mission in Malmesbury.
Some comments from the late Donald Halliday of North Hinksey:
August 12th, 1987.
Leaf plucked from the grave in Botley Cemetery, North Hinksey Lane, Oxford, of Captain Brother Dewell of the Society of Jesus, who died on April 10th, 1899. In 1861 he had brought from India to his home-town of Malmesbury, in Wiltshire, Fr. Francis Larive, M.S.F.S. – thus introducing into England the “Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales” (Fransalian Fathers).
Botley Cemetery is next door to 20 North Hinksey Lane (where I am writing this). I must take a photograph of his grave which is close to the cemetery chapel. There is a picture of him in the church at Devizes, Wiltshire – which is still served by the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales.
20th February, 1995.
I have been trying to discover the Christian name of Captain Dewell for you – but have failed to make it out on his grave, for the lettering is so worn by time (nearly 100 years) that it is hard to decipher. I think, however, that it may have been Charles – but I will continue my endeavours to discover it. I took a photograph of the grave, and will let you have one when it is developed. It is just a simple stone (of granite) cross hard-by the Cemetery chapel.