REV. WILLIAM BRIDGNELL
William Bridgnell, son of James Bridgnell, Wesleyan Minister and Mary (nee Price), was born on 17 September 1800, probably in Oxford, Oxfordshire, England; his father was serving in Oxford from 1799 – 1800, at this time.
He was educated at Woodhouse Grove School, Yorkshire, which was opened by the Wesleyan Church, for the sons’ of Ministers’, in 1811. William (as was his eldest brother James) was the first of nine pupils accepted by the school when it first opened for students on 8 January 1812. As the son of a minister his schooling was provided for free. He completed his schooling at Woodhouse Grove, in 1816.
He entered Ministry via Sandhurst (Wesleyan School?) in 1822.In 1823 at the Canterbury District Meeting, he offered himself “for foreign work.” This was accepted despite objections from his parents.
On 10 March 1824 he was on board the ship “Thames”, off Tenerife. That he was a very poor sailor was also very evident, he makes reference to the fact that he was very poorly throughout the passage to Tenerife. Whilst there he went ashore, with others of the ship’s passengers, and met the Spanish Governor. He was greatly embarrassed that he could speak neither Spanish nor French, thus he was unable to converse directly with the Governor. This inability which forced him to rely on interpreters was to greatly influence his desire to learn the local Lingua Franca when he eventually reached Ceylon.
He arrived in Ceylon, later in 1824, and was variously stationed at Colombo; Kurunegala; Galle; Matara; Kulutara; Negombo.
That he took the learning of the local language Sinhalese and that of Portuguese very seriously was evident in a letter which he sent home to the Missionary Society, dated 20 December 1824, where he makes great note of the fact that he can now “compose sermons in Portuguese but could also understand but read with correctness sermons in Sinhalese.”
On 21 March 1827, in Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), William, a bachelor, married Eliza Weerman, spinster, the daughter of a local Magistrate of Dutch or Burgher origins (N. Weerman). They were married by Licence by the Rev A Armour. They had four daughters, all but the firstborn dying in infancy – Eliza Mary, born Kornegalle, Colombo Ceylon, 16 March 1828; Julia, born Matura, Ceylon, 27 May 1831, died 5 December 1845; Anne Amelia, born Ceylon, c. 1834, died abt 1836; Augusta, born Ceylon, c. 1836, died abt 1836.All buried in the Wesleyan Chapel in the Fort, Galle, Ceylon.
In another letter, dated 7 May 1829, he mentions that he has suffered an illness, probably a sort of dysentery, which was to afflict him off and on for the duration of his stay in Ceylon. In a later letter, dated 28 Dec 1829, he is greatly incensed over what he sees as an injustice over his terms of service being changed without consultation. His 10 year tour (contract) is now to be open-ended, without the previous terms applying.He also responds to comments in the letter implying he married a local Sinhalese woman: “having found a wife in the Island, you may consider yourself as naturalized, & call Ceylon your home.”
He replies: “Does he think I have married a native? I can tell him then that I have married a wife as respectable as his own, one who in person & rank (if these things may be regarded as any thing) is superior to, & in piety & sterling sense is at least fully equal to most of the Methodist preacher’s whom I have known whether in England or elsewhere, and one whom I have no need to be ashamed of though I should carry her from pole to pole, or from the wilds(?) of Ceylon to the ends of the earth. Her father was Magistrate of Pullam(Puttalama), her mother a respectable Dutch Lady whose parents came from Holland, & her uncle from whose house, & from under whose care I married her, is (Captain Gaulterus Schneider,RE) the Surveyer General of the Whole Island. And as to making Ceylon my “home”, I say with an energy, & a feeling, & a ferocity which none can feel(?) but those who have been here, GOD FORBID.” It was soon after this intense learning period that he authored an English Grammar in Sinhalese and English. He also produced a Dictionary for Sinhalese and English.
Although he mentions in a letter dated 6 February 1836, that Conference had given him permission, due to ill health, to return to “my own Land” he subsequently recovered and did not take up the option to return home. It will be seen in a subsequent letter that there was also another more demanding reason.
In the final letter dated 17 November 1848, written whilst at Galle, he is almost inconsolable, mentioning that his wife has just died. He goes on to say that one of the main reasons that he delayed his return to England was his late wife’s attachment to Ceylon and “unconquerable dread of the sea.” Requesting permission to return home he adds that due to Government cutbacks his son-in-law James Millar, Head Master at the Central School at Galle is to lose his post with the closure of the school. So at one fell swoop he will lose the company of his only child, Eliza Mary and his son-in-law. Additionally, he requests the post of supernumery on the Dudley circuit.
After returning home in 1849 he spent about 3 years recovering from illness before resuming his duties – and was noted (PO Dir. 1858) at 10 Ellison Street, Gateshead.
In the Census of 1851 (30 Mar 1851) he and his mother, Mary, a widow aged 75 years, were noted staying at George Street, Edgbaston, Warwickshire, the home of his brother-in-law, Joseph Woodward, their names being spelt “BRIDGWELL”.
In 1857 he retired to his daughter’s house at 1 Park Street, Edinburgh, Scotland. After only a short retirement he died at midnight on 19 April 1858. He was buried on 21 April 1858, at the West Kirk Yard, Edinburgh by John Watherston, Undertakers.