Bishop Boyd Carpenter: Sheep or Shepherd in the Eugenics Movement?

David Morris



This paper opens with a brief biography covering Boyd Carpenter’s career, his religious beliefs and his character and achievements. His relationship with the eugenics movement is then considered in three historical sections; the period from his elevation to the See of Ripon in 1884 to 1900, from 1901 to 1907 and from 1908 to his death in 1918. Each of these three sections will be followed by an analysis of the events within the period covered. Finally, there is a conclusion.


Soloway says “It was the Bishop of Ripon, Boyd Carpenter, who was singled out by eugenicists as the most enlightened member of the Episcopal bench because of his continual warnings about race suicide and diocesan appeals to diminish the proliferation of the unfit while encouraging an increase in the best classes.”1 The first aim of this paper is to investigate whether Soloway’s view is correct. The question whether Boyd Carpenter2 was a central figure in the eugenics movement or whether he was more of a peripheral figure, a token churchman used by eugenicists to give the movement respectability, will also be addressed.

Sources and Methods

The principal primary sources used are the William Boyd Carpenter papers in the British Library, Church Congress reports in Lambeth Palace and the Ripon Diocesan reports in the West Yorkshire Archive. Boyd Carpenter’s sermon books3 list the date, place and text of every sermon he delivered, but the one line description of the message of his sermon was invariably theological. I could find no evidence that he used the pulpit as a platform for a eugenic message. His diaries4 are complete but tend to take the form of an appointment book. He often referred to “work” without naming the subject or “letters” without naming his correspondents. However on some occasions his diary is more revealing. There is an index to his correspondence5 and two volumes of letters.6 The index is far from comprehensive7 and the volumes of letters do not contain all the correspondence referred to.8

My method has been therefore to trawl through other primary sources, particularly The Times and The Eugenics Review to discover references relating to notable pronouncements on eugenic matters by churchmen in general and Boyd Carpenter in particular. I have then referred back to the principal primary sources to add depth and insight into what had been reported.

A brief biography

Boyd Carpenter’s career

William Boyd Carpenter was born in Liverpool on 26 March 1841. His father, Rev Henry Carpenter was minister of St Michael’s Church in that city. His mother, Hester Boyd, came from Londonderry and through her he was related to John MacNeill of Colonsay KCB VC, an equerry of Queen Victoria, more distantly to the Duke of Argyll and to a cousin of one of the Queen’s Ladies-in-waiting.9

He was educated at the Royal Institution Liverpool. “In later life the Bishop was of the opinion that a great public school is not in most cases a good training ground for parochial clergymen. It stamps its members’ manner and mind as one of a class.”10 He gained an open scholarship to St Catherine’s College Cambridge and graduated in the rank of senior optime in 1864. In the same year he was ordained and married Harriet Charlotte Peers, a vicar’s daughter, who bore him eight children before her death in 1877.

After a number of London curacies, he became vicar of St James’s Holloway in 1870, graduating to the more fashionable Christ Church Lancaster Gate in 1879. He first preached to Queen Victoria and was appointed a royal chaplain in the same year. He became a canon in 1882 when Gladstone wrote “I have received authority from Her Majesty to offer you the stall at Windsor.”11 His biographer writing thirty-seven years later claimed “The appointment gave no surprise, for he had become a great favourite with the Queen, as with church people generally. Great congregations flocked to hear him for his wonderful flow of eloquence and attractive pulpit manner were seen to be combined with a remarkable fund of information and a power of clear and vigorous thought.”12

After six years of widowhood, he married Annie Maude Gardner in 1883 who bore him a further three children.13 In 1884, on the death of the incumbent Bishop of Ripon, “Gladstone went about ‘feeling heads’ … for a successor. He went to Christ Church Lancaster Gate and listened to Canon Boyd Carpenter and next week offered him the bishopric.”14 He was, when appointed, the youngest bishop (aged 43) on the English Bench. “He ruled the diocese of Ripon for nearly twenty seven years and was, when he resigned, the senior diocesan bishop.”15 He need not have stayed there. He was offered the Bishopric of Chichester in 1895 and the Mastership of his old Cambridge College in 1909 but declined both.16

His health deteriorated sharply in 1910 and he resigned his See in 1911 whereupon he became a canon and, subsequently, sub-dean of Westminster. He died in London on 26 October 1918.

Boyd Carpenter’s religious position

Boyd Carpenter inherited an Evangelical17 background from his parents and his school. “If in early life, he was not a convinced Evangelical, he was at any rate associated with that school,”18 but he seemed to undergo a theological change in the 1870s.19 He subsequently had “little sympathy with literalist interpreters, who so interrupt Christ’s teachings as to bring it into conflict with good sense and good conduct as the plain man understands these things.”20 By 1887 in the Bampton Lectures at Oxford “he voiced a plea for the study of religion in its widest sense.”21 In a memoir, one of his followers22 said “Doctrinally, the Bishop’s mind marched with the Modernists to use the designation recently coined for what would earlier have been called Broad Churchmen.”23

His modern approach led him to seek to reconcile science and religion. “In the age of Science … he thought he perceived principles and results which were of supreme importance for the moral and spiritual education of his fellow human beings.”24 He also believed that “Human duties were Divine duties : hence for an Englishman the service of the Church could not be divorced from the service to the nation.”25 It could be argued that his patriotism and his interest in science led him naturally to an interest in eugenics.

However it should not be forgotten that his primary concerns were religious. He wrote books and delivered many lectures exclusively on theological subjects. “The most striking feature of the Bishop’s conception of the Church was its comprehensiveness … His concept of the Church was primarily Christo-centric.”26 For all his interest in other subjects, deep religious belief was the bedrock of Boyd Carpenter’s life.

Boyd Carpenter’s character and achievements

The epithet “silver tongued”27 is the characteristic most associated with William Boyd Carpenter. However, there was more to the man. In a totally uncritical address to celebrate his 21 years as Bishop it was said “the features of his character which have impressed us most, apart from his great religious earnestness, are his extraordinary versatility and vitality. To some he is best known as a preacher, to others as a platform speaker and again as a lecturer on Dante and many other subjects; or as a writer, or as a poet, or as a lover of art; or again as an earnest social reformer; or as a commentator and historian; or in a larger sense, a statesman and a theologian.”28

The Times obituary is more guarded saying “He gave unlimited preparation to his admirable pulpit and platform efforts, which left him without any serious rivals in the English Church or any other. But what seemed so easy and so natural and spontaneous was … not distinguished by originality of thought.”29

However Dean Freemantle’s description of Boyd Carpenter as a polymath is, in my view, well justified and he was able to sustain this through his enormous energy. “In the first nine months of 1910 … the Episcopal statistics show that he travelled 13,425 miles, gave 148 sermons and addresses, granted 223 interviews and wrote 5888 letters.”30

His abilities were complemented by a phenomenal memory; “His sermons were often written out verbatim”31 before being committed to memory. One performance in the House of Lords where, without a single note, he built up a long and elaborate argument every link of which was dependent on the accurate presentation of masses of statistics drew from the Duke of Devonshire “a tribute of open wonder verging on bewilderment.”32

Although critical that Boyd Carpenter “did not possess exactly the business instincts that were required to develop the machinery of Church life over such a constituency” [the See of Ripon], The Times enthused “Of one subject he endeavoured to make himself master and for his country’s good. For years he thought and read much and spoke and wrote with great persuasiveness, both on eugenics and on the causes of decline in the birth rate.”33

Boyd Carpenter and the Eugenics Movement

The nineteenth century

Boyd Carpenter’s primary concern in this period was religious matters and his anxiety for the quality of the clergy led to the foundation of Ripon Clergy College in 1898.34 He found the See of Ripon large and unwieldy; the growing size and importance of Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield being out of balance with the geographically extensive rural area stretching north beyond Richmond. He tried to make the See more manageable by shedding part of it and creating Suffragan Bishops in Knaresborough and Richmond to assist him in his work. It is clear from his diaries35 and sermon books that he spent much of his time in the industrialised areas of the West Riding (leaving much of the work in rural areas to his Suffragans) and this enabled him to take an interest in the working class and the problems associated with the urban poor. He tried to reach out to working class men through Good Friday services illustrated with lantern slides in Leeds Town Hall which ran from 1890 to 1911 and were attended by congregations of up to 4000.36

In 1890, General William Booth’s In Darkest England “helped to galvanize opinion with its shocking indictment of conditions in London”37 but elicited a reactionary view from Boyd Carpenter which gives an early indication of his view of the lowest class in society. In a letter to Queen Victoria he asserted “The danger of attracting the undeserving classes to London is … one to which the greatest attention must be paid … those who can’t work or won’t work must always be hopeless folk to deal with. For those who can’t work, Hospitals and Poor Houses must exist. For those who won’t work “the cat”!”38

The 1898 Church of England Congress took place in Bradford; Boyd Carpenter was President as that city lay within his Diocese. His presidential address was under two broad headings; The Age and The Church. His three major points were an appeal against sectarianism, a call for simplicity and a prayer for ecumenicism.39 He made no attempt to use the congress as a platform for eugenic views as he was to do at Cambridge in 1910.

Prior to this, in 1895, Boyd Carpenter had been offered the Bishopric of Chichester but “I have decided to stay. My heart was to go. I longed for the sunny south, the quicker moving and keener-minded life of London, the comradeship of the congenial spirits of the great heart of England. I distrusted my inclination … Here was harder and heavier work.”40 That heavier work led to a greater concern for social issues in the following years.

Analysis 1884 – 1900

There is no overt connection between the emerging eugenic movement and Boyd Carpenter during the first sixteen years of his period as Bishop of Ripon. However the nature of his Diocese, his focus on the industrialised areas and his concern for the working classes would have made him more socially aware than a Bishop from an exclusively rural area. He was also widely read and must have had an interest in the work of Francis Galton as an appointment in 1901 will reveal.

The early twentieth century, 1900 - 1907

Soloway identifies key concerns of the early twentieth century; the problem of “stopping the decline in the birth-rate,”41 the realization that this decline was “more pronounced among the better-educated, economically successful middle and upper classes than among the poorer or lower classes of society”42 and as a result of Britain’s “inauspicious performance in the Boer War … alarmist estimates about the dwindling size of the pool of fit men in the populous towns.”43 Boyd Carpenter’s activities in the first decade of the twentieth century should be seen in the context of these concerns.

Boyd Carpenter’s diary for 14 October 1901 records, “Galton arrived”.44 The following day he notes “Letters with Galton. Showed him where things are kept.”45 Unfortunately, the diary does not specify the “letters” or the “things” but is interesting to note that the meeting took place only two days before the Ripon Diocesan Conference and a fortnight before Galton’s Huxley Lecture to the Royal Anthropological Institute.46

The Bishop addressed the 1901 Ripon Diocesan Conference thus; “Viewing our declining population, our dwindling trade, our more luxurious lives and the paltry questions which dissipated our religious zeal, he frankly acknowledged a great and grave apprehension whether, when the supreme moment of our opportunity came, we would be vigorous enough to respond to the call.”47 He did, however, temper this by pointing “to the improvement during the last 60 years in the decrease of crime and pauperism, the growth of education and the increasing care of life.”48 Other speakers “dwelt on the evils of town life urging that cities had been formed on a false principle – that of making money – instead of making men.”49

In 1903, The Earl of Meath persuaded Boyd Carpenter to second his motion in the House of Lords for a government inquiry into the physique of urban population.50 Meath drew attention to a 1902 report of the Inspector-General of Recruiting which referred to “the gradual deterioration of the physique of the working classes from which the bulk of recruits must always be drawn”.51 He attributed the fact that “the offspring of the rich [were] taller and heavier as a result of better feeding and more care.”52 It seems, therefore, that the Earl of Meath considered environment, rather than heredity, the basic reason for the inferior physique of the working class. Boyd Carpenter supported Meath but argued that “there had been an improvement … in the stature and vigour of the population as compared with 100 years ago … Medical science and sanitary improvements had helped forward physical development but [we should be cautious] lest certain new conditions should arise which would undermine the physical vigour of our race.”53 The Bishop went on to speak at length saying that since “the birth rate was decreasing to an alarming degree … we should be making a great mistake to say that there was no danger ahead.”54 He went on to criticise self-indulgence and the restriction of population by artificial means saying that the birth of 26,000 children was prevented annually in London. Although he was concerned about the numbers of premature births and congenital defects (which might indicate a concern with heredity) he also demanded “medical inspection of schools and the opportunities of acquiring more readily open spaces in towns” ending with an assertion that “the home was the unit of the nation”55 and that attention should be given to its sanctity, splendour, happiness and vigour. This seems to me to lay considerable stress on improving the environment. Certainly, neither Meath nor Boyd Carpenter were reported as calling for a decrease in the number of children produced by the working classes. The Bishop reiterated his views six months later in a letter to The Times asserting that physical deterioration was due to the use of artificial foods, late hours and large consumption of sweets.56

On 1 May 1903, University College London Christian Association sponsored the first of five public lectures on Christian Apologetics which was delivered by Rev Professor G Henslow57 on Present day rationalism : an examination of Darwinism. Lord Kelvin proposed the vote of thanks, saying that “they were bound to come to the conclusion that science was not antagonistic to religion but a help to religion”58 and followed this up by writing “scientific thought is compelled to accept the idea of a creative power.”59 This was a red rag to Professor Karl Pearson who replied “It cannot be too often reiterated that the theory of natural selection has nothing to do with Christianity”60 and went on “The painful part of the proceedings is that University College61 … should be associated with an attack on Darwinism which is delivered not for scientific but for theological ends.”62 Boyd Carpenter did not get involved in defending Henslow or Kelvin. However, he would be well aware of Pearson’s views having been elected a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society,63 in 1903. That year Pearson also said “We were forced … to the general conclusion that the physical and psychical characters in man are inherited … in the same manner.”64 Boyd Carpenter clearly did not accept this. He sent a typewritten memo to Lord Kelvin, part of which argued “As love and fidelity cannot be measured in lbs and cwts : so neither can psychological facts be measured by mechanical laws nor the principles of phenomena of organic life by principles suited to inorganic matter.”65 Kelvin’s pencilled (and initialled) comment on this paragraph is “I thoroughly agree with this” and against the last sentence “Very important.”66

Boyd Carpenter returned to the subject of the declining birth rate in 1904 in what was described as a “striking speech”67 in Leeds. On this occasion, he also expressed views about the differential birth rate; “Those who can afford families refuse to do so and it is left to the tramp, to the hooligan and the lounger to maintain the population. This is not the way to rear up a great Imperial race.”68

In 1906, Dr Rentoul published a violently negative eugenics book in which Chapters VI to XVIII were headed Some causes of national deterioration and degeneracy followed by reasons such as Breeding from Lunatics to Sexual Excess.69 Chapter XXI was headed Has my proposal to sterilize certain deteriorants and degenerates secured support?70 Although claiming support from HG Wells, Earl Russell and

Dr Barnardo among others, it is significant that Rentoul was not able to cite any clerical support for his views.

However, in 1907, when the Eugenics Education Society was formed, it is apparent that there was a measure of support within the Church of England. Farrall has analysed 47 members of the Society who were sufficiently eminent to appear in the Dictionary of National Biography. Four were clergymen. “Two of the clergymen were also schoolmasters. Edward Lyttleton was headmaster of Eton and James Welldon, later Dean of Manchester, was headmaster of Harrow. Two other prominent supporters of the Eugenics movement were Charles D’Arcy, Archbishop of Armagh and William Inge, Professor of Divinity at Cambridge and later Dean of St Paul’s.”71 Inge was a member of the Council of the Society from the early days; D’Arcy and Welldon were respectively chairmen of the Belfast and Manchester branches of the Society. The Annual Report printed membership lists; at no time was Boyd Carpenter a member of the Eugenics Education Society.72

Analysis 1900 - 1907

Four conclusions can be drawn from this section. First, in the period 1900 – 1907 Boyd Carpenter was deeply concerned about the falling birth rate and physical deterioration. Secondly, he often appeared more concerned with environment than with heredity. Thirdly, he was sceptical about Biometrics. Fourthly, he was not involved in the organisational sense with the eugenics movement. Despite this, by 1912 he was one of the Vice-Presidents of the First International Congress of Eugenics. The next section will investigate how his position was modified from 1908 onwards.

The last decade, 1908 – 1918

A conference of Anglican Bishops from around the world was held at Lambeth in July and August 1908. Boyd Carpenter sat on the Committee set up to consider marriage problems; namely divorce, prohibited degrees and the restriction on population. The latter section came to the conclusion that “there is a danger of deterioration whenever the race is recruited from the inferior and not from the superior stocks. There is a world-danger that the great English-speaking peoples, diminished in number and weakened in moral force, should commit the crowning infamy of race-suicide, and so fail to fulfil that high destiny to which in the Providence of God they have been manifestly called.”73 The Encyclical Letter contained three resolutions arising from this report calling on Christian people to discountenance artificial restriction of the family, affirming that deliberate tampering with nascent life is repugnant to Christian morality and expressing appreciation of doctors who opposed birth control and urged them to continue to maintain public opinion on the reverent use of the married state.74 Soloway claims that Boyd Carpenter (with the Bishop of London) was “instrumental in persuading the Lambeth Conference … to denounce contraception as medically dangerous and morally subversive.”75 Boyd Carpenter’s diaries confirm and amplify this view. He was in London three weeks before the conference started. His diaries between 8 July and 23 July76 indicate that he entertained several members of the Marriage Committee (including the Bishop of Bristol, who was Chairman) and that he spent much of his time writing the report. It would appear therefore that Boyd Carpenter had drafted much of the report before the full committee sat!77 Additionally it is clear that Boyd Carpenter (with the help of the Bishop of Oxford) drafted the Encyclical Letter. His diaries note that the Archbishop of Canterbury asked him for a draft on 28 July (the day after the conference started); his draft was generally accepted the following day and he continued to work on his own at first and subsequently with the Archbishop until 2 August.78 It is my view, therefore, that the eugenically acceptable views laid out in the report of this major Anglican conference were essentially those of Boyd Carpenter.

He took some time out of the conference on 28 July to speak in the House of Lords debate on Old Age Pensions. He supported the Bill but warned the House “They were living in the presence of a great and grave national danger … the birth-rate had dropped [and] … they were to face the fact that claims on pensions would be continually increasing while the productive workers and energy of the country would be sensibly diminished”.79

Boyd Carpenter had often used Ripon Diocesan Conferences to promote his social views. In the 1903 presidential address he “referred to the physique of the British race and the conditions of the people in cities and towns.”80 In 1904 he spoke of “the poor unemployed.”81 In 1906 he “dealt in his presidential address with the … National Character” and went on to discuss the decay of home life, to oppose overcrowding and to promote physical, moral and spiritual development.82 However, his address at the 1909 Conference attracted considerable attention. The Bishop of Norwich (as a guest) had spoken about the Poor Law. Boyd Carpenter closed the discussion on this item. “He said that race-suicide meant nothing more nor less than the wiping out of the Anglo-Saxon race from any ultimate part in the destiny of the world … Forty years might be given as the value of English authority if the present rate of diminution went on. He wanted the facts connected with the unfit to be faced. The “loafer” had better be put in confinement and prevented from flinging his offspring on public charity.”83 It is hardly surprising that this was music to eugenicists’ ears. The Eugenics Review paraphrased the speech and it is from this context that Soloway selects the quotation that “The Bishop of Ripon is well known as the most enlightened of the Episcopal Bench.”84

Boyd Carpenter had now got the bit between his teeth. He used the Cambridge Church Congress 1910 to put his views even more eloquently. His speech was reproduced verbatim in the Congress report85 and reported extensively in The Times.86 He summed up by saying “We ought to discourage marriage among the unfit. The diseased, the feeble-minded, the alcoholic, the tuberculous, ought not to marry … We ought to cultivate an imperial ideal of national life … planting population where population is needed … we need to recognise more clearly the sanctity of marriage – we need a greater reverence for home life … to sustain the honour of England … and enable her to fill her destiny in the world87. Boyd Carpenter was not alone in expressing these views. In the same year Dean Inge was writing about Some Moral Aspects of Eugenics88 and the Rev J H F Piele produced an article entitled Eugenics and the Church89 which claimed “that the Church is committed and … by its social action confessed its obligation to the principles of Eugenic science.”90 However, Boyd Carpenter’s conference speech was of such persuasive power that, in reporting it, The Eugenics Review claimed “The Church of England is coming forward as a strenuous supporter of Eugenics”91 and, eight years later The Times obituary referred to his address as a “memorable utterance.”92

Boyd Carpenter was now sixty-nine years old and ill health and his hectic life style were beginning to have an effect. He was not well enough to preside over the 1910 Ripon Diocesan Conference.93 In 1911, he felt that he could carry on no longer and resigned his See. His farewell Diocesan Conference address dealt with the rôle of the Church and theological matters. He ended by thanking his subordinates for their co-operation and patience and reminded them that Christ’s work was more than that of men.94 He made no reference to eugenics in his valedictory speech. Furthermore his resignation denied him two platforms that he had used in recent years for promoting eugenic views; his seat in the House of Lords and the presidency of his Diocesan Conferences.

He had agreed to be a Vice President (one of twenty-eight)95 at the First International Conference of Eugenics, but he was not advertised as a potential speaker.96 The Conference ran from 24th to 30th July 1912, but his diary97 for that period reveals that he was convalescing in Devon and took no part.

By 1912, Boyd Carpenter98 was sufficiently recovered to deliver an annual address known as The Liverpool Lecture. This was a wide-ranging review of his philosophy which was later published. He expressed his modernist and eugenic views by saying “Man is a creature still incomplete and the process of his completion is in the social and ethical realms of nature.”99 The lecture was widely welcomed. The Kaiser wrote “I read and re-read your delightful Apology of Experience and am enthusiastic … Science helping theology.”100

Boyd Carpenter’s final major rôle appeared to be his co-chairmanship with Dean Inge of the National Birth-Rate Commission 1912-1913. Soloway notes that “a majority of the members doubted the race was as yet deteriorating” but condemned “birth control practices by the ablest representatives of all classes.”101 It is clear that a consensus was difficult as the main conclusions were supplemented by an additional report that was not unanimous.102 I do not intend to dwell on this topic as Boyd Carpenter chaired only four of the twenty-six examinations of witnesses, confined to the first six months of the Commission’s existence. He eventually resigned on grounds of ill-health103 leaving Inge as the sole chairman. Boyd Carpenter did not sign the final report; it is not possible to identify the extent to which he agreed with it.

Boyd Carpenter appears to have declined in the last few years of his life. Major notes “There seems little doubt that he had no wish to live after his second wife’s death”104 in 1915. He continued to work in church affairs, but after a cold reception at a theological college wrote “One comes away fearing that with every wish to help – I have failed.”105 Within a year of making this remark, he was dead.

Analysis 1908 – 1918

The years 1908-1910 were the period of Boyd Carpenter’s closest association with eugenic views. His rôle in the Lambeth Conference and his speech at the Cambridge Congress were heartily endorsed by eugenicists. He was clearly prepared to continue in this rôle by accepting co-chairmanship of the National Birth-Rate Commission but declining health in the last seven years of his life prevented further significant contributions.


The three analyses above show how Boyd Carpenter’s ideas developed over the period 1884 to 1918. During the first sixteen years of his episcopal rule, he became interested in the social consequences of industrialisation in the West Riding part of his Diocese. Along with many others, he was worried by the perceived shortcomings of the British race as a consequence of the Boer War. His patriotism, particularly his concern for the British Empire, led to his concerns about physical deterioration and the falling birth rate. However, his view remained balanced; he was very concerned about overcrowding and the diet of the working classes and the drift from country to town. His speeches in the first few years of the twentieth century only indicated a desire to raise the birth rate generally – not selectively. In theological terms, he was a modernist – concerned with resolving discrepancies between science and religion without destroying either. As the century unfolded, he saw eugenics as a way of doing this. Consequently his views expressed in the House of Lords, at Church Congresses and in his own Diocesan Conferences became more aligned with the eugenics movement – and this is particularly apparent during the period 1908 to 1910. In the latter years, ill health and declining influence rendered his voice more muted.

What did the eugenic movement offer the church? By the turn of the century the Church of England was deeply divided between Evangelicals who clung to traditional values and Broad Churchmen who felt that Christian views had to be modified to accommodate growing scientific evidence. The modernisers in the church saw eugenics as a means of prosecuting their cause. They believed God’s work, until recently, had been carried out through natural selection. The situation had changed and so it had become necessary for the church to become involved in the “social and ethical realms of nature.”106 While not disagreeing with Soloway that “Eugenics was … associated in the minds of many clergy with a hard-hearted scientific materialism derived from social Darwinist beliefs,”107 I cannot accept his preceding rider “Despite some notable exceptions …” Boyd Carpenter’s views were accepted by many of the clergy – as the reports of cheers and applause for his speeches reveal. I believe that he, and other senior figures in the Church of England such as Inge and D’Arcy, carried many of their subordinates with them. The growing number of modernists within the church could not be described as exceptions and – in general – they would have been receptive to eugenic views.

What did the Church of England offer the eugenicists? First the movement needed respectability and influence. At the turn of the century the church undoubtedly still possessed these characteristics. Secondly, eugenicists were seeking to broadcast their views to a wider audience. A preacher who was overtly or covertly expressing eugenicist views was an excellent means of influencing a broader range of people than eugenicists could reach through The Times, Eugenics Review or meetings of learned societies. The greatest prize lay in the church’s monopoly of marriage. The Eugenics Review made this clear. “What the church can do practically by its control of marriage and morally by clarifying the ethical element in eugenics is unlimited.”108 The Church Times got the point. “The General Idea of Eugenicists seems to be the regulation of wedlock.”109 If the Church of England could be persuaded to adopt eugenic standards (particularly in the negative sense of actively discouraging marriage between “unsuitable” parties) this would be a means of moving forward the eugenics cause.

Why were the eugenicists particularly approving of Boyd Carpenter? First he was well qualified to act as a spokesman for eugenic views. He was known for his liberal attitudes. He was opposed to literal interpretation of the bible. He was respected as a scholar. Although the vast bulk of his public works are essentially theological he also prided himself on being a man of letters and had an abiding interest in science. He was therefore both willing and able to reconcile scientific and religious views. Furthermore, his transparent patriotism helped to make his views acceptable as Britain and the Empire felt increasingly challenged in world affairs. As a consequence, Boyd Carpenter fitted the eugenicists’ requirements perfectly. He was respectable and influential, not only because he was a bishop, but also because of his extensive contacts with British110 and foreign royalty. He was the most popular and persuasive preacher of his day. Most importantly, he was prepared to use his position in the House of Lords and in major church gatherings to express eugenic views on marriage and the raising of families.

Did Boyd Carpenter’s eugenic connections prevent further advancement? His greatest opportunity would have been in 1903, when Canterbury fell vacant. He had already turned down Chichester but my view is that his theological views would have been a major obstacle. Modernists did gain high office in the Church of England in due course but the appointment of an Archbishop in 1903 with views as advanced as those of Boyd Carpenter would have deepened divisions within the church. The authorities selected Randall Davidson, Bishop of Winchester, who had a more orthodox background.111

In summary, I agree with Soloway. In the period 1904-1911 Boyd Carpenter’s views, aired in the House of Lords and in various church conferences, attracted the delighted approval of eugenicists. They did regard him as the most enlightened member of the Episcopal bench and had reason to do so. On the other hand he was not a sheep in the eugenics movement. He was expressing social opinions as early as 1890, well before the establishment of the Galton Laboratory at University College and the Eugenics Education Society. He was too much “his own man” to swallow other peoples views without challenge and careful consideration. Nor was he a shepherd, as he was not a leader (in an organisational sense) in the movement. Unlike Inge, he did not hold office within the Eugenics Education Society. His primary concern was always his religious beliefs. A more accurate description of his position is that Boyd Carpenter and the eugenics movement were doctrinally compatible. Eugenicists welcomed and cultivated him; he saw eugenics as a means of reconciling his religious beliefs with scientific development and also as a means of forwarding God’s work in an increasingly difficult social, industrial and religious environment.


(1) Soloway, p 84

(2) The bishop’s surname was Carpenter; he signed episcopal documents W.B. Ripon, which intimates that Boyd was a forename. However, both Soloway and his biographer H.A.D. Major refer to him as Boyd Carpenter and, for the sake of consistency, I have done the same.

(3) BL Add MSS 46762-3 summarise the sermons Boyd Carpenter gave during his time as a bishop.

(4) BL Add MSS 46726 - 46758

(5) BL Add MSS 46725

(6) BL Add MSS 46723 - 46724

(7) He wrote/received on average 6000 letters a year. The Index BL Add MSS 46725 lists only a fraction

(8) The BL Catalogue of Additions to Manuscripts notes that “Few only of the letters noted in the Index are preserved in the present collection”

(9) Major, p 1-2

(10) ibid, p 6

(11) ibid, p 24

(12) ibid, p 24

(13) In all, Boyd Carpenter had five sons and six daughters. His second wife also predeceased him, in 1915.

(14) Major, p 25. It is clear from Gladstone’s letter that Boyd Carpenter was the Prime Minister’s personal choice although this would be subject to ratification by the Queen and the Church authorities.

(15) ibid, p 26

(16) ibid, p 285 - 286

(17) ie “one whose teachings are based on the evangel or Gospel … and emphasises the importance of scriptural authority and salvation by faith in Christ.” Brewer, p 404

(18) The Times, 28 October 1918, p 4 column e

(19) Major, p 138

(20) ibid, p 83

(21) ibid, p 141

(22) Dr Samuel Bickerksteth, an appendix to Major, p 314

(23) Brewer defines Broad Church as “a group … favouring theological liberalism and tolerance” (p 170) and Modernism as “a movement … that sought to interpret the ancient teachings of the church with due regard to the current teachings of science, moral philosophy and history.” (p 780)

(24) Major, p vi

(25) ibid, p viii

(26) ibid, p 104

(27) Dictionary of National Biography, p 94

(28) Dean Freemantle, quoted in Major, p 71

(29) The Times, 28 October 1918, p 4, column e

(30) Major p 61. The table on this page shows that the Bishop led an even more hectic existence in earlier years when he was in better health.

(31) The Times, 28 October 1918, p 4 column e

(32) Major, p 123 quoting from The Outlook of 11 July 1903

(33) The Times, 28 October, 1918, p 4, column e

(34) Now at Cuddesdon

(35) British Library Add MSS 46726-4758

(36) Major, p 36

(37) Gardiner, p 96

(38) Quoted in Major, p 230

(39) Dunkley, 1898, p 28 - 43

(40) Major, p 285. Boyd Carpenter’s diary 4 November 1895 ( BL Add MSS 46736) merely reports “Wrote to Ld. Salisbury declining Chichester”

(41) Soloway, p 5

(42) ibid, p 10

(43) ibid, p 41

(44) At Ripon

(45) BL Add MSS 46742

(46) Reported in The Times 30 October1901, p 3, column f and p 7column c and printed as in A426 Offprints Collection, p 103 - 115

(47) The Times, 17 October1901, p 5, column e

(48) ibid

(49) ibid, 18 October 1901. p 5, column d

(50) British Library Add MSS 46725. The index of correspondence shows letters passed between the Earl and the Bishop. Unfortunately the correspondence has not been preserved.

(51) The Times, 7 July1903, p 6, column a

(52) ibid

(53) ibid

(54) ibid

(55) ibid

(56) ibid, 1 January1904, p 8, column b

(57) George Henslow was Professor of Botany to the Royal Horticultural Society and the son of Rev J S Henslow, Professor of Botany at Cambridge, who was Charles Darwin’s mentor. Black, p 376

(58) The Times 2 May 1903, p 12, column b

(59) Letter to the Times, 4 May 1903, p 12, column a

(60) ibid, 11 May 1903, p 7, column e

(61) By this time, Pearson’s Biometric Laboratory had been operating in UCL for eight years

(62) Letter to The Times, 15 May 1903, column f

(63) Certificate of appointment dated 18 November1903. BL Add MSS 47624. (Boyd Carpenter was a keen amateur statistician and kept detailed records of the number of sermons he had given, number of letters written, etc.)

(64) The Huxley Lecture to the Royal Anthropological Institute; see Kevles p 32

(65) BL Add MSS 46274

(66) ibid

(67) The Daily Express, 27 April 1904, p 5, column a. Also see Soloway, p 87 – 8. The address was to the White Cross League; a new name for the League of National Purity

(68) ibid. Boyd Carpenter’s diary says no more than the meeting ended at 10.25 pm and he felt very tired with a bad cough

(69) Rentoul, p v - vi

(70) ibid, p 164 - 169

(71) Farrall, p 213 - 218

(72) Eugenics Education Society Second (1909 – 10) to Seventh (1914 – 15) Annual Reports

(73) Conference of Bishops, p 147

(74) ibid, p 56. Resolutions 41-43

(75) Soloway, p 88

(76) BL Add MSS 46744

(77) ibid. And his impatience with their deliberations is evidenced by comments about “time wasted over words” and “wordy debates.” Major agrees with my view as he has annotated the diary entry of 14 July 1908 “Seems to have written it practically.” (BL Add MSS 46765)

(78) ibid. Entries on 28, 29, 30 and 31 July and on 1 and 2 August 1908

(79) The Times, 29 July 1908, p 8, column c

(80) Diocesan Conference Minute Book, p 319

(81) ibid, p 330

(82) ibid, p 339

(83) The Times, 25 November 1909, p 14, column f

(84) The Eugenics Review I, No 4 (January 1901), p 221

(85) Dunkley, 1910, p 159 - 167

(86) The Times 29 September 1910, p 7, columns c and d

(87) Dunkley, 1910, p 166 - 167

(88) The Eugenics Review I, No I (April 1909) p 33 - 36

(89) ibid, No 3 (October 1909) p 163 - 173

(90) ibid, p 170

(91) ibid II No 3 (October 1910) p 162

(92) The Times 28 October 1918, p 4 column e

(93) Diocesan Conference Minute Book p 378. In fact his diary for 30 September 1910 (BL Add MSS 46751) reveals that he feel seriously ill only two days after his Cambridge speech and he was ordered two months rest

(94) ibid, p 381 - 382

(95) The Bishop of Oxford was the only other cleric

(96) The Times 22 March 1912, p 12, column f

(97) BL Add MSS 46753

(98) He was awarded a KCVO in 1911 and from then on hyphenated his name. Some references thereafter style him as Rt Rev Bishop Sir William Boyd-Carpenter, but I have continued to refer to him as Boyd Carpenter

(99) The Apology of Experience, p 17. The Liverpool Lecture forms the text of this book. It is interesting to compare Boyd Carpenter’s view of man’s completeness with Genesis I, 26-31 “God said let us make man in our image and likeness … And God saw everything he had made and behold it was very good.”

(100) Major p 246. Boyd Carpenter was on friendly terms with the Hohenzollerns and corresponded regularly with the Kaiser and Kaserin until 1914.

(101) Soloway, p 85

(102) NBRC Report p 71-80. The addition to the report which attracted the support of most – but not all – members of the commission extended the questions to be addressed to include whether the decline in the birth-rate was regrettable and, if so, was it preventable. Dean Inge was not a signatory of this addition.

(103) ibid, p xi

(104) BL Add MSS 46765 p 88

(105) ibid, referring to an entry in his diary for 31 October 1917

(106) The Apology of Experience, p 17

(107) Soloway, p 82

(108) The Eugenics Review I, No 4 (January 1901), p 221

(109) The Church Times 9 August 1912

(110) He received a personal gift of an altar cross from Queen Victoria to mark his decade as Bishop of Ripon in 1894 and was Clerk of the Closet to both Edward VII and George V.

(111) Boyd Carpenter would have had no further opportunity since Randall Davidson was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1903 to 1928.


Primary Sources

Manuscript Collections


British Library (BL)

William Boyd Carpenter Papers

Catalogue of Additions to Manuscripts 1946 – 1950, No 27

Lambeth Palace Library

Church Congress Minutes and Papers

The Wellcome Library

Contemporary Medical Archives Centre, Eugenics Society, Early Files 1908 – 1919

Westminster Abbey Library

Correspondence relating to Bishop Boyd Carpenter and a gift from Queen Victoria


West Yorkshire Archive Service

Ripon Diocesan Conference Minute Book 1878 – 1915

Journals, Periodicals and Newspapers

The Church Times

The Daily Express

The Eugenics Review, Volumes 1-10 (1909 – 1918)

The Times

Books, Pamphlets and Reports

Carpenter, Rt Rev William Boyd. The Apology of Experience (The Liverpool Lecture 1913), Longman, Green & Co, London, 1913

Carpenter, Rt Rev William Boyd. Some pages of my life. Williams & Norgate, London, 1911

Carpenter, Rt Rev William Boyd. Further pages of my life. Williams & Norgate, London, 1916

Carpenter, Rt Rev William Boyd. Life’s Tangled Thread. Cassell & Co. London, 1912

Conference of Bishops of the Anglican Communion. Holden at Lambeth Palace July 27 to August 5, 1908. Encyclical Letter from Bishops with the Resolution and Reports. SPCK, London, 1908

Dunkley, Rev C. The Official Report of the Church Congress held at Bradford, September 1898. Bemrose and Sons, London, 1898

Dunkley, Rev C. The Official Report of the Church Congress held at Manchester, September 1908. Bemrose and Sons, London, 1980

Dunkley, Rev C. The Official Report of the Church Congress held at Swansea, September 1909. Bemrose and Sons, London, 1909

Dunkley, Rev C. The Official Report of the Church Congress held at Cambridge, September 1910. Geo. Allen and Sons, London, 1910

Dunkley, Rev C. The Official Report of the Church Congress held at Stoke-on-Trent, September 1911. Geo Allen and Sons, London, 1911

National Council of Public Morals. The Declining Birth-Rate : Its causes and effects. Chapman and Hall, London, 1916. (NBRC Report)

Rentoul, Robert Reid. Race Culture or Race Suicide? (A plea for the unborn). Walter Scott, London, 1906

Smith, Rt Rev Lucius, The Story of Ripon Minster. Jackson, Leeds, 1914

Secondary Sources

Black, A & C (eds). Who Was Who 1916 – 1928. Black, London, 1992

Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Cassell & Co., 2000

Davis HWC and Weaver JRT (eds). Dictionary of National Biography 1912 – 1921. OUP, 1921

Farrall, Lyndsay Andrew. The origins and growth of the English Eugenics movement; 1865 – 1925. Garland Publishing, New York and London, 1985

Gardiner, Juliet (ed). Who’s Who in British History. Collins and Brown, London, 2000

Guides to Sources for British History 6. Papers of British Churchmen 1780 – 1940. HMSO, 1987

Kevles, Daniel J. In the Name of Eugenics. Harvard University Press, 2001

Major, HAD. The life and letters of William Boyd Carpenter. John Murray, Leeds, 1925

Moore, James (ed). Good Breeding: Science and Society in a Darwinian Age. Study Guide

The OpenUniversity, 2002

Moore, James (ed). Good Breeding : Science and Society in a Darwinian Age.

Offprints Collection. The Open University, 2001

Thomson, Mathew. The Problem of Mental Deficiency. Eugenics, Democracy and Social Policy in Britain c 1870 – 1959. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998

Soloway, Richard A. Demography and Degeneration. North Carolina, 1995


David Morris read Engineering at Trinity College Cambridge in the 1950s. He served in the Army and subsequently worked for Shell. He started an Open University degree course after retiring to Yorkshire, choosing to study arts subjects as an alternative to a lifetime working in Telecommunications. He graduated with a BA Honours degree in 2003. This dissertation was the culmination of a final year course on “Good Breeding – Science and Society in a Darwinian Age”.