Memorial to Bishop Selwyn

Recumbent effigy of Bishop George Augustus Selwyn (1809-1878). Carved by Thomas Nicholls from Derbyshire alabaster, this rests on a tomb chest with an exotic and colourful background. The decoration around the tomb chest is by Clayton & Bell (Pevsner 184), William de Morgan (see listing text) and Minton (see "Lichfield Cathedral"). The arms shown at the Bishop's head are those of the bishopric of New Zealand, and of the dioceses formed from it. The memorial is in the largest of the three small chapels on the south side of the Lady Chapel of Lichfield Cathedral, Staffordshire.

Close up of Bishop Selwyn Tiling” by William de Morgan

Left: Close up of Bishop Selwyn, looking prayerful but alert. Right: One of the tiled panels in the little chapel, with colourful tiles, probably” by de Morgan. This one relates to the Bishop's missionary past.

Bishop Selwyn, described in the Cathedral's short guide as "one of Lichfield's greatest bishops," was both scholar and missionary, who mastered the Maori language on his first voyage out to New Zealand to take up his duties Bishop there in 1841. He was responsible for revising the Maori translations of the Bible and Prayer Book, and remained the energetic Bishop of New Zealand until 1858, when he became Primate of New Zealand. Reluctantly accepting the bishopric at Lichfield, Selwyn bade farewell to New Zealand at the beginning of 1868. He had been "a staunch defender of Maori rights" (Porter), and an equally staunch supporter of the Pacific Islanders, hence this colourful and lively picture in the tiling. Nikolaus Pevsner describes the wall decoration here as "lavish" (185), though it is not so much highly ornamental as bright, busy and evocative in this solemn setting. Another picture, reflecting his proselytizing among local workers, is more gritty, showing a pithead scene: a bearded collier carries a pickaxe, another, emerging from a pit-cage, also has a coal-blackened hand, and the pithead looms in the background (see "Lichfield Cathedral" for a section of this part of the wall). These panels have not always been admired: A. B. Clifton wrote in an early guide: "there are more than usually hideous frescoes showing the labours of the bishop among the Maories and among the pitmen of the English diocese" (106).

Selwyn himself would probably have approved of these bold reminders of his life's work. He was a man of presence, who was at prep school in Ealing with the future Cardinal Newman, and who became a close friend of Gladstone: the latter was his eldest son's godfather, and attended his funeral. He is perhaps best known now for the fact that Selwyn College, Cambridge, was raised by subscriptions in his memory (the Divinity School, Cambridge, later being funded”by his older brother William).

Related Material

Photographs by the author. A special thank you to Charles Clark-Maxwell, who sent in an important correction. Photographs reproduced here” by kind permission of the Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral. [Click on the images for larger pictures.]


"The Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Chad, Lichfield." British Listed Buildings. Web. 18 June 2013.

Clifton, Arthur Benjamin. The Cathedral Church of Lichfield: A Description of Its Fabric and a Brief History of the Episcopal See London: George Bell, 1898. Internet Archive. Web. 18 June 2013.

"Lichfield Cathedral, Staffordshire — Bishop Selwyn's Memorial. Heritage Tile Conservation Ltd. Web. 18 June 2013.

Pevsner, Nikoluas. Staffordshire. The Buildings of England series. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974. Print.

Porter, Andrew. "Selwyn, George Augustus (1809-1878)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 18 June 2013.

Scaife, Pat. The Carvings of Lichfield Cathedral. Much Wenlock, Shrops.: R. J. L. Smith, 2010. Print.

Welcome to Lichfield Cathedral. Short Guide available at the Cathedral. Print.

Last modified 12 May 2016