Tithes & Thefts
By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 14, 2020
Archbishop Henry Richards was one of the most respected members of the Tacarigua community. His brother, S. L. B. Richards, the rector of Trinity Cathedral, was considered the "embodiment of Christian charity and was never so happy as when engaged in the relief of distress or suffering." His well-attended funeral in 1877 demonstrated the esteem in which he was held by the community.
Henry wanted to follow in his brother's footsteps. Together with William Eccles and Frederick Burnley, he founded the Tacarigua Orphan Home (now the St. Mary's Children's Home) in 1857 that served orphaned Indians. In 1869, Charles Kingsley, the English pastor, visited the Orphan Home. He said: "Having no children of his own, [Richards] has taken for his children the little brown immigrants, who, losing father and mother, are but too apt to be neglected by their own folk."
Kingsley thought it was "the pleasantest sight of all…to see the little bright-eyed brown darlings clustering round him [Richards]. He was indeed their Father in God who had delivered them from misery and lowliness and—in the case of the girls—too probably vice likewise, and drawn them, by love, to civilization and Christianity" (At Last, 1871).
The court could do nothing against Richards's thief in spite of the overwhelming evidence against him. He could not be punished under ecclesiastical or criminal law. Maxwell Phillip, a black man and acting attorney general, called Richards' case "a great misfortune." Only the Bankruptcy Court had jurisdiction over Richards.
Justice Joseph Needham presided over the hearings. He could not extricate the smallest confession from Richards. One newspaper said he had "shorn his flock to the point of skinning them." Asked repeatedly what he did with the people's money, he answered: "I received the money but it's impossible for me to say what I did with it."
Many districkers said Richards was a charitable man who did good things with the people's money. Another newspaper argued: "Although we admit that by giving alms with other people's money, the momentum driving Mr. Richards' philanthropy has led him to overshoot his target; we nonetheless believe that this argues a bit in his favor and lessens his wrongdoing."
Bishop Richard Rawle, the head of the Anglican Church, was present during the court hearings. He said Richards "was held in the very highest regard by everyone in his community" and the embezzled money was frittered away because he had "a monomania for giving and lending and a reputation for great kindness of heart."
The Bankruptcy Court ordered Richards to pay £170 pounds from his annual salary of £350 to meet the claims of his creditors. Rawle "induced" him to take six months leave of absence from his duties.
The matter was brought before the Legislative Council in November 1885 in response to Rawle's request that the government pay Richards salary of £350 per annum directly to the coffers of the Anglican Church who, in turn, would pay Richards £170 per annum. Richards promised to resign from the clergy if he was allowed to retire with an allowance of £170.
The governor could not condone Richards' offense. The attorney general informed the council that Richards' contribution to "the pittance" the Indians were receiving would cease immediately if he stopped getting his salary. The Legislative Council voted unanimously against Rawle's request thereby ensuring that Richards was held responsible for his thievery.
Ultimately, the Indians received 2s 6p on the pound, about one sixteenth of the money they deposited with Richards. They were disappointed but not particularly angry. In 1885 Sir Henry Norman reported that although Richards' swindle produced "bad feelings among Indians" such grievances had no bearing on the Hosein Riots of 1884.
Ultimately, the Indians forgave Richards. Norman wrote: "About a year ago the coolies lost the sum of $15,001 [sic] deposited in the hands of a clergyman, who has never been able to account for any portion of that money. He has lost his living, but that is poor consolation for these unfortunates, who had earned that money at the sweat of their brows."
Karl Marx, a young Hegelian, observed: "Money degrades all the gods of man—and turns them into commodities. Money is the universal self-established value of all things. It has, therefore, robbed the whole world—both the world of men and nature—of its specific value. Money is the estranged essence of man's work and man's existence, and this alien essence dominates him, and he worships it" (The Jewish Question).
Money tends to degrade everything it touches. It doesn't matter if it is stolen (Richards) or given freely as tithes (Pastor Dayal). Sometimes it inverts commonsense and makes men say stupid things. Asked to explain his having over $29 million in his possession, Pastor Dayal told his congregation: "Satan is trying to make me famous….The devil tried to hit something and thought we will scatter and fall apart. But that [holy] word is planted in you" (Express, December 5)
In 2009 at a wake in Tacarigua Kenrick Thomas, another village historian asked me if I knew about the priest who stole the people's money. I had read excerpts of the incident but did not chronicle the story. After our conversation, I researched and recorded this chapter of our history for the people of Tacarigua and the larger Trinbagonian community.
As a parishioner of St. Mary's I did not know of the shame Richards had brought upon our village. The large sums of money Pastor Dayal hoarded in his compound remind me we should always be vigilant about the actions of those who we ask to uphold a public trust.
Professor Cudjoe can be reached @firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.
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