In life, Mrs.
Medley was a groundbreaking nurse; in death she still brings her husband, the
bishop, his supper.
by Lisa Alward
It is almost 11 p. m. and a small group is
crouched on the darkened lawn in front of Christ Church Cathedral in
Fredericton. Their guide, a voluble young man in 19th-century costume, has just
set down his lantern when a woman in white flits through the shadows behind him
and disappears around the corner of the church. The guide, immersed in telling
an anecdote about John Medley, the first Bishop of Fredericton, appears not to
have noticed. "Oh," he suddenly adds, "and they say that his wife's ghost has
been seen on this very lawn, bringing his dinner to the Cathedral just as she
always did. Of course, I've never seen her."
when someone in the group usually says `but she just walked by!' " explains
Natalie Roy of Fredericton's well-known theatre troupe the Calithumpians. A
third year Honours English student at St. Thomas University, Ms. Roy has been
playing the ghost of Mrs. Medley in the Calithumpians' "Haunted Hikes" through
downtown Fredericton for the past three years. On moonlit evenings in summer
and early fall, she dons an old-fashioned wedding gown and waits at the edge of
the Cathedral Green for her cue - the setting down of the lantern. Then she
nimbly crosses the lawn and hides among the tombs at the back of the
Gothic-style edifice before taking her bow with the rest of the night's
Natalie Roy calls the ghost of Mrs. Medley "the
forgotten bride," and notes that since her death nearly a century ago, the
spectral veiled figure has been spotted outside and also inside the Cathedral -
playing the organ and even standing in the pulpit. Ms. Roy, who describes
herself as "a believer," was quite scared the first few times she impersonated
the bishop's wife. Even now she often feels "a presence or a spirit in the air"
when she hurries across the Cathedral Green in her wedding whites, and she
confesses to having even addressed Mrs. Medley's ghost as she waits beside the
tombs for the tour to end. "It's like I'm being watched," she says. "The wind
is a little heavier."
The first published account of the
ghost of Mrs. Medley appears in Stuart Trueman's book Ghosts, Pirates and
Treasure Trove: The Phantoms that Haunt New Brunswick, published in 1975. The
local historian, who had apparently heard stories about Mrs. Medley's nightly
perambulations, describes his conversation with Christ Church Cathedral's then
assistant curate, Reverend David Mercer. The clergyman confirmed that Mrs.
Medley had been seen walking up Church Street and entering the Cathedral by the
west door; he then commented laconically, "What she does after that, I really
Dorothy Dearborn further embellished the
legend in her two books, New Brunswick Ghosts, Demons - and Things that go Bump
in the Night and New Brunswick Haunted Houses - and Other Tales of Strange and
Eerie Events, noting, for example, the ghost's habit of bearing plates of food.
Both of these authors employ a tongue-in-cheek prose
style that makes it difficult to tell whether they think there's anything to
this ghost story or not. Indeed, some observers have speculated the whole thing
was made up so that the Cathedral could have a "presence" in Stuart Trueman's
book. But for those who claim to have seen or heard her, the ghost of Mrs.
Medley is very real. Natalie Roy tells of a grieving woman who sought solitary
refuge in the Cathedral one night only to be comforted by an older woman. When
she mentioned the incident to her priest, however, he expressed great surprise
and insisted no one had been in the building at the time but himself. Over the
years many a tour guide has also spoken of hearing footsteps and organ notes in
the empty church.
The newspaper coverage of Margaret
Medley's death in 1905, at the age of 84, was fulsome in its praise for her
many charitable acts. Bishop Medley's widow was eulogized as a "a beautiful
Christian character" and "generous giver to all deserving objects" who had "a
look of Heaven in her face" and whose life was "an invaluable dowry" to
Fredericton's Anglicans. But the details of that life, especially any details
about the years before she arrived in New Brunswick, are about as consistent as
a well-worn folk tale.
Mrs. Medley is said to have
suffered a tragic love loss in her youth when her fiancé, who was either
an army officer or a parliamentarian's son (take your pick), died either in the
line of duty or from the emotional stress of a sister's death. She is said to
have served as a nurse under Florence Nightingale, possibly even in the Crimean
War. But she is also said to have graduated from Nightingale's second nursing
class (which would mean that she did her nursing training after nursing for
more than a decade). Even the day she died is unclear. While her death
certificate is dated February 28, her obituary appeared in The Daily Gleaner a
day earlier. (Most sources agree with The Gleaner that she actually died on the
Of course, much of this confusion can be
attributed to the relaxed record-keeping and creative reporting of the period.
British citizens who moved to the colonies in the 19th century could expect to
have their previous lives obscured, and this was especially true for women. It
certainly doesn't help that Mrs. Medley's doubtless quite extensive
correspondence, and the bishop's letters to her, have never surfaced. But the
romantic (if sketchy) spin that Mrs. Medley's contemporaries gave to her early
life points to something else as well - Margaret Medley was not a conventional
19th-century bishop's wife.
The woman we know as "Mrs.
Medley" was, in fact, Bishop Medley's second wife. John Medley's first bride
and the mother of his seven children was Christiana Bacon, whose beautiful
effigy hangs in the chancel of St. Thomas' Church, Exeter. The daughter of an
eminent Victorian sculptor, Christiana came from a privileged and affluent
background not dissimilar to John Medley's own. The two met during Rev.
Medley's 17-year ministry in the diocese of Exeter, where he served as vicar of
St. Thomas' and later prebendary of Exeter Cathedral. John Medley's family
situation was secure and his career on the rise when a series of domestic
tragedies prompted him to rethink the course of his life, with dramatic
consequences for New Brunswick's Anglican Church.
the Medleys' eldest son, Thomas, died. Two years later, in 1841, Christiana
fell prey to consumption, leaving her husband with six children, the youngest
(her namesake) an infant of only one year. The family's eldest daughter, Emma,
took charge of the household but, in 1843, she died of scarlet fever. John
Medley's mother then broke up her household in order to move into the vicarage
and look after the children of her beloved only son. But in September 1844, she
was killed in a carriage accident. Rev. Medley, who was sitting beside her, was
seriously injured and, if not for his firm protestations to the doctor, would
have lost an arm. It was in the midst of this intense personal anguish, in
October 1844, that he received a letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury
offering him the bishopric of New Brunswick.
were political and theological reasons why John Medley chose to exchange the
comfortable civility of Exeter for the remote colony of New Brunswick at 41
years of age, there is no question that he was anxious to remove himself from
the scene of so much grief. His biographer, W. C. Ketchum, recalls standing on
the steamboat wharf on the June day in 1845 when the newly appointed missionary
bishop arrived in Fredericton, "accompanied by his chaplain; five of his
children, with their governess, and servants." As this is Ketchum's first and
last reference to Bishop Medley's domestic arrangements in New Brunswick, one
can only assume that the bishop placed a great deal of trust in his paid
caregivers and threw himself into the work of building Christ Church Cathedral.
Interestingly, it wasn't until the spring of 1863 that
the bishop (now 59) decided to remarry. After a trip to England, he brought
home 42-year-old Margaret Hudson, and the two were wed on June 16 in St. Anne's
Church on Campobello Island.
Margaret Hudson was born in 1821 in Carlisle, Cumberland. She was the
younger daughter of Commander Edward Charles Hudson of the Royal Navy and
appears to have grown up in the village of Crossmead in John Medley's Exeter
parish. While the second Mrs. Medley had some upper-class relations and must
have been at least middle class, not much else is known about her background.
According to her obituary in The Daily Gleaner, she was at one time engaged to
a wellpedigreed youth of 23. (Her friend Juliana Horatia Ewing suggests that he
was an officer in the army, but the Gleaner contends that he was a son of a
member of parliament.) Just before he would have entered holy orders, the man's
sister died from what the Victorians termed "a broken blood vessel." "This
incident proved a severe blow to the young man," the Gleaner reports, "and
while standing at the grave at the time of the funeral the strain became so
great upon him that he broke a blood vessel and passed away also." After this
melodramatic episode, Margaret Hudson took a rather unusual step for an English
gentlewoman in the mid-1800s. Having "promised to devote her life to church
work and helping others," she decided to become a nurse.
Although her obituary suggests that she entered a
hospital "under Florence Nightingale," this is highly implausible. Margaret
Hudson was only one year older than the Lady with the Lamp. If she nursed for
18 or 20 years before marrying Bishop Medley, she would have had to begin this
work in the 1840s when she was in her early twenties - at which time Florence
Nightingale was still touring Europe with her sister and only dreaming of an
Where and how Margaret Hudson did her
nursing training is an interesting question. Before Florence Nightingale opened
her famous school in 1860, there were only two training institutions in
England. One, founded by Elizabeth Fry in 1840, was the Institution of Nursing
Sisters, which accepted Christian women of any denomination, and the other was
St. John's House Training Institution for Nurses, which operated under auspices
of the Church of England. Juliana Horatia Ewing did "not think she has ever
belonged to any order of Sisters," so, if she did have formal instruction, it
was most likely at Elizabeth Fry's school. But the reality is that the majority
of 19th-century nurses learned their trade on the job from the other hospital
nurses. Moreover, before Nightingale made nursing a respectable profession, the
women o turned to nursing were generally not from the middle classes or the
gentry. Nurses, especially those known as "pauper nurses," were uneducated,
lacking in skill and poorly paid. They were frequently depicted in the English
press as drunken and immoral. Nursing would have been a giant step down for
most young ladies.
Margaret Hudson may have accompanied
Florence Nightingale to the Crimea; Mrs. Ewing mentions that she "nursed in the
King's Cross Hospital in London - the Hotel de Dieu in Paris - & somewhere
else abroad - I have forgotten where." But what makes her an intriguing figure
is that her personal development so closely mirrors Nightingale's own. In other
words ds, instead of responding to Nightingale's impassioned call to
middle-class women to take up nursing in the 18606, she was already quietly
pursuing the profession at the same time as Nightingale and probably even
earlier. She was a professional career woman in an age when most unmarried
middle-class girls stayed home and nursed their parents.
John Medley and Margaret Hudson met long before his trip
to England in 1863. Ketchum describes her in his biography as "a close friend
of the Bishop and (the first) Mrs. Medley" who "kept in touch with them by
correspondence" and even "took charge" of Christiana's grave. From the start,
their union appears to have b: been extremely comfortable and close. The new
Mrs. Medley embraced the climate of New Brunswick with the same enthusiasm as
her husband, and their wedding trip consisted of a walk about Campobello Island
and a week's stay at the home of its resident clergyman. In May of the
following year, the bishop purchased Bishopscote on Church Street where the two
resided until their deaths in 1892 and 1905, respectively.
Our most intimate glimpse of Bishop and Mrs. Medley is
found in her friend Mrs. Ewing's letters to her mother, collected in Margaret
Howard Blom's and Thomas E. Blom's Canada Home: Juliana Horatia Ewing's
Fredericton Letters, 18671869. The 26-year-old Victorian children's author and
her husband, Captain Alexander Ewing, were much taken with their. "Episcopal
Family," and the feeling was mutual. "We see them constantly," Mrs. Ewing
writes to England: "they ask us in perpetually to wittles of some kind, &
send us vegetables and flowers."
Of Mrs. Medley, she
says, "She is almost as great a character as he is & in a way as clever.
She is a great gardener & a botanist & lithographs a little & seems
generally clever & well educated," adding that Mrs. Medley "horrified the
natives here by administering chloroform on her own responsibility when she 1st
came but now she says the doctors ask her to come & give it for them during
operations &c. &c. She considers herself a good ladies' doctor & is
amusingly professional." In another letter, Mrs. Ewing writes, "She was a
confirmed pickle & tomboy in her youth - grew up a beauty, a rider, skater
&c. before the 20 years in hospital. She mayn't skate here as she is
Bishopess, but I think she regrets the fact! I told you how she bolted over the
churchyard gate one day?" Later, she calls Mrs. Medley (who would have been
46), "a dear old thing & very amusing & as lively as 10 larks."
The picture of the Medleys that emerges is that of a
caring, if occasionally indomitable, partnership. Mrs. Ewing writes, "They are
such a good, funny, quaint looking pair!" yet comments in another letter that
"the Medleys are rather severe critics, if anything." Captain Ewing pu this
quality of severity in a rather less flattering light when he glibly sums them
up as "very `tribey' and like ourselves."
certainly appeared to think and act as one mind, occasionally causing Mrs.
Ewing some minor irritation. Complaining of the bishop's "little despotic way,"
she recounts how the two attempted to deter her from holding a choir tea for
fear that it might make her ill. "Having been a nursing sister for 20 years,"
she remarks, "poor Mrs. M. does not take easily to `parties' They generally
knock her up, I believe, & so the Bishop, who knows nothing about it,
thinks a plain choir tea is the most awful undertaking. He says it takes 3
women & Mrs. Medley."
Margaret Medley, in particular,
seems to have viewed the younger couple as a project. She promised to keep a
"motherly eye" over Juliana who was of a frail constitution, showering her with
flowers, food and drives in the country. She even lent her a scarlet petticoat
for winter and helped her wallpaper a room in her rented home on George Street.
But Mrs. Medley had many projects. As Mrs. Ewing's letters reveal, she was
forever attending the sick, delivering food to the poor and instructing
Fredericton's young. Indeed, this native practicality, along with deep
religious commitment and a love of church music, was what she shared most with
John Medley was a high-church Anglican whose
feet were firmly on the ground, as"expressed in his many writings about the
"practical truths" of Gothic architecture. He changed the look of New
Brunswick's Anglican churches but with an eye to the pragmatic value of
creating spaces that would bring congregations closer to God. Both Medleys, in
their way, can be seen as proponents of new Victorian sciences. While the
bishop spread ecclesiology (the practical science of church architecture)
throughout his diocese, his wife instilled the practical teachings of her 20
years in the relatively unheard-of profession of nursing. This sense of their
twinned missionary purpose must have bound them together ever more deeply.
Of all Mrs. Medley's projects, the Sunday school mission
at Morrison's Mills was the most far-reaching in its effects. According to the
present rector of St. Margaret's Church, Rev. Canon Jon Lownds, Mrs. Medley was
very concerned about the families of mill workers who lived in company housing
along a stretch of the St. John River known as Salamanca or "The Mills." In the
early 1870s, John Medley bought her a schoolhouse and she began giving Sunday
school lessons to mill children who would otherwise have had little exposure to
scripture. A stockadestyle building originally used as a post office, the "Old
School House by the Side of the Road," quickly became the heart of the mill
workers' community, and before long Bishop Medley was sending his trainees and
curates down to preach Sunday services. Gradually, over time, Mrs. Medley's
Sunday school mission became a Chapel of Ease and ultimately the parish church
of the parish of St. Margaret's.
(affectionately named for its first benefactress) has moved twice since its
founding, but the school house Bishop Medley purchased is still visible on the
side of the Lincoln Road. In the new St. Margaret's Church on Forest Hill Road,
Rev. Lownds points to a weathered wooden plaque with the painted message "God
Bless Our Sunday School." On the back, it reads: "Given by Mrs. Medley to the
Sunday School of Morrison's Mill, Fredericton, November 1874."
Medley's many good works beg the question: why would a happy, active woman like
the wife of Fredericton's first bishop need to haunt Christ Church Cathedral?
If there is any substance to this ghost story, the answer must lie in Mrs.
Medley's final years.
Margaret Medley outlived her
husband by over a decade, and for the last decade or so of his own life, the
bishop was in very poor health. Rev. Barry Craig, rector of St. Mary's Church
and a professor of Philosophy at St. Thomas University who did his doctoral
thesis on Bishop Medley, explains that Rev. Tully Kingdon was brought over from
England to be a coadjutor bishop in the expectation that John Medley would soon
retire. Bishop Medley, however, kept delaying his retirement. Rev. Craig says
that Bishop Kingdon made "some tart comments" in his correspondence about Mrs.
Medley meddling in church affairs, and that he eventually concluded that the
bishop's wife was the one running the diocese. There was, Rev. Craig remarks,
"no love lost" between Mrs. Medley and Bishop Kingdon.
Rev. Craig also suggests that Mrs. Medley was quite
disappointed with W.C. Ketchum's biography of her husband, which appeared the
year after his death in 1893. Although she supplied Ketchum with many of his
primary sources, she apparently felt the book failed to highlight Bishop
Medley's connections to "the big wheels of the Victorian world." Rev. Craig
explains that most colonial bishops did their stints in the "wilderness" only
to return to England where they were lionized for the rest of their days.
Bishop Medley sacrificed all this by staying in New Brunswick, and his widow
wanted future generations to appreciate what a celebrated figure he would have
been if he had gone home.
And so another image of Mrs.
Medley emerges - that of a lonely old woman, fiercely protective of her late
husband's ' reputation and frustrated by her loss of influence over the
practical affairs of her world. Certainly, it's easier to picture the spirit of
this Mrs. Medley returning to the Cathedral after dark to minister to the needy
or deliver her own sermons from the pulpit.
Lownds of St. Margaret's Church says he likes to compare Mrs. Medley with the
saint she was probably named for, Saint Margaret of Scotland. He observes that
the unconventional saint who "made almsgiving into a high art" had a concern
for the poor and sick that was as practical as Margaret Medley's own. "One
thing is certain," Father Jon muses: "If there is a ghost of Mrs. Medley, she'd
be carrying someone a plate of food rather than just hanging around an empty
Lisa Alward is a Fredericton freelance
writer. She would like to thank all those who helped with the research for this
article, including Twila Buttimer. of the Provincial Archives and Margaret
Pacey of the Legislative Library. Word count: 3,586