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 Issues | Church History | Thomas J. Barnardo


Great Churchmen (No. 20)

Dr Thomas John Barnardo (1845-1905)

by. E. J. G. Rogers (Vicar of St Catharine's, Wigan)

The Children's Friend

Published by Church Book Room Press


Life's Eventide

Barnardo was an indefatigable worker and never at any time considered his own comfort and interests. Frequently he would be at his office until 11.30 p.m., and then take home correspondence which would keep him busy well into the early hours of the morning. When he began his missionary work he was a familiar figure tramping the streets and alleys late at night seeking the destitute children who were sleeping in sheds and stables and any nook or cranny which served to provide shelter. He was known as “The Young Man with the Lantern,” and on these nocturnal journeys he discovered hundreds of children whom he rescued and who were given a fresh start in life. One of his friends, Dr. Milne, said, “while others slept, he wrought and studied.” (1)

It was no wonder that the work and strain and worry connected with all the problems that arose undermined his health. He was nearly fifty when the first symptoms revealed themselves, but he would not heed the warnings and would not spare himself for the cause with which he had identified himself. In 1901 he was ordered for treatment to Nauheim; and although he recovered he had to return there in 1902. He responded to the treatment but would not rest, and still retained his active leadership of his Homes. His final illness came in 1905 and once more he had to go to Nauheim. But on this occasion he did not respond to the treatment, and he decided to return home to be under his wife’s care. On the return journey he suffered from a severe heart attack, His wife was sent for, and together with his son, and his brother, Dr. F.A. S. Barnardo, they met him and brought him home. Although very ill, he still persisted in attending to urgent correspondence, and on the last day he spent some time dictating answers to letters that needed his attention. At a quarter to six on the evening of September 19th, 1905, he awoke after a short sleep and during a light meal he turned to his wife and said, “My head is so heavy, let me rest it on your face.” A moment later he passed on.

Death held no fears for him. Only a short time before his death he had written a letter of sympathy to the wife of one of his friends who had died: “I have looked into the face of death. Three times has my life been given back to me after a dire struggle that nearly ended it all. But oh! I can tell you death is not so dark and drear as it is painted. . . . I felt as in the embrace of a friend. And your dear one is with Christ.” And in the first article of his will he had written: “Death and the Grave are but temporary bonds; Christ has triumphed over them! I hope to die, as I have lived, in the humble but assured faith of Jesus Christ, whom I have so imperfectly served, and whom I acknowledge to be my Saviour, my Master, and my King.”

It would be true to say that the whole nation mourned his death, and tributes to his life-work poured in from people of every class. As his coffin was borne through the streets of East London, where most of his life’s work had been done, they were lined with thousands of people who had come to pay their homage to the friend and father of the unloved and unwanted children of the country. The sentiments of many were expressed by an old woman who cried out: “O God, O God, give him back to us! Give him back!” His body was cremated and his ashes were laid to rest in the place he loved so much, the Girls’ Village Home, Barkingside.

1) See Bready, op. cit., p. 128.

>>Chapter 7: Retrospect




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