October 7, 2009
Canon William Granville Burgan
Persons who were of great significance in my life – 01
Canon William Granville Burgan, B.A., M.A.
I will name Canon William Granville Burgan as one of the most significant people in my life. This was because I had the longest relationship with him than any one else in my teaching career, when he was incumbent at Saint Augustine’s Anglican Church, located at Buxton, East Coast Demerara, British Guiana (now Guyana), and manager of the schools in which he served for a little over twenty- one years. He jestingly referred to his twenty one year incumbency as his coming of age. When he celebrated it in 1946, I had the pleasure of reporting it in one of the media of the day.
When he came to Buxton in 1925, I was thirteen years of age studying for the School Leaving Examination. To me a small boy, he was tall by my standard in those days, five feet, ten inches, the same as I am now, good looking and elegant. I admired him from the day he came. He was a family man with three sons and two daughters. He was the only African, in British Guiana, at a time when University degrees were rare to procure both the Bachelor and Master of Arts degree in a British University. He was a good writer and his articles submitted to the newspapers and the monthly Diocesan Magazine stood out as gems of the English language.
For a man of his ability, he was easily fitted for the highest post in the Anglican Church, but in those days of colonialism, he could only reach as far as Canon. The highest offices, like the Arch-Bishops and Bishops went to the white British, regardless of their attitude or aptitude – an area of discrimination, even in the Church.
Rev. Father Burgan carried out his duties as a priest and manager of the Anglican schools he controlled with dedication and commitment, though at times in conversation with him, I sensed a sign of frustration, which happens to a mind that is at a disadvantage to function to its full potential. However, his tasks at Church were not a one-day affair, as some may think. Apart from the regular services every Sunday and children service every month, he held a weekday service for the school children when he would teach them new songs. He was a good singer – a tenor, and a musician, and he also played the organ. One of the songs he taught, I can remember word for word, even to this day. He also helped the choirmaster to train the choir and held Confirmation classes, which were regular for long periods every year.
He loved children. I remember once he took us on an excursion to Fort Wellington, Berbice to meet with children of the parish from which he was transferred. At that time we had the railway running then from Georgetown to Rosignol. I remember him taking off his clerical collar and joining with the boys in a game of cricket.
Besides his duty as priest, he was also Justice of the Peace. Policemen would go every week with bundles of summonses for him to sign. In those days defendants were issued summonses at their homes to appear in court. I believe that was the reason why he never tried to settle a case between two parishioners, but would let them go to court. However, that was one area I did not feel agreement with him. But now, I can see his reason; “if you could be so stupid as to make trouble, I have no patience with you; go and let the court settle it; that’s what they are there for”. Even when one of his sons got into trouble, he did not try to resolve the matter outside of court. Poor “Mistress” (Burgan), as we were taught to call his spouse, went to plead on the boy’s behalf. Once I had a case with one of my young fellow teachers who hurt me. His father refused to pay for the doctor’s expenses; the matter was settled when his father was summoned to appear in court.
As I grew up in the school and church, I sensed a bond between us, an affinity. I was always at ease with him although he was strict. He was interested in my knowledge of Hindi and told me that he wished he had learnt it. He, however was knowledgeable in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. I knew of a candidate for the Bachelor’s degree who would visit him often to get help in learning Greek. He gave me the books left by his predecesor, Rev. James Persaud, who was proficient in both Hindi and Urdu, and who kept Hindi services for the old Indian Christians, back around the late 1920’s. His books included the Missal in Urdu, an Urdu grammar and the Six Schools of Hindu Philosophy. He also allowed me to continue the Hindi services which his predecessor kept.
Canon Burgan, though erudite, knew that he could not know everything. He would ask me to explain certain points in grammar as if I was his teacher. I did not realize then that maybe, he was really testing me. He was not prejudicial; he spoke well of those of his calling who were well educated e.g. the Metropolitan (Bishop) of India. In 1940, he appointed me Lay Reader along with another colleague. We did the reading of the two lessons at evensong and matins, and also held the burial services when he was absent. He made it plain that he hated the Old Testament lessons.
When I got married, he gave me a choral wedding and returned the fee I gave him for the ceremony. He also baptized my eldest two children before he was transferred to the Plaisance Village Church in the mid 1950’s.
When India gained her independence in 1947, he held a service for the Indians of Buxton and neighbouring Vigilance. I attended dressed in my Indian garb and was asked to read the lesson in Hindi. When the wife of the Indian catechist died, throngs from the neighbouring villages and sugar estates attended. He made me sing a Bhajan (hymn in Hindi) with them and also read the sermon for the dead in Hindi.
With all his effort and dedication, I sensed a frustration. This is a dog’s job, he once told us. He had to raise a certain sum of money every year to give to the Diocese, also to maintain the material fabric of the Church. This could not have been done by contributions from the parishioners, as they were poor. The takings from collections were small and some could hardly have paid the six shillings ($1.44) for their yearly membership, so he had to resort to entertainments to raise the required sum. His yearly Tea and Dance had always been a success. In the 1950’s the young Bishop Allan John Knight was transferred as Bishop, to British Guiana from Africa to help raise money for the Church, which was in a parlous situation, and which he said could not run without money, but he had not to do it himself, the parish priests had to do it.
After 1949, Canon Burgan was transferred to Plaisance, a parish church closer to Georgetown, we still kept our good relationship. I used to visit him in the vicarage where he and his wife lived alone. By then, the children were all grown, married or abroad. After retiring, he moved to his residence in Georgetown, where he passed his last days before his call to eternity.
When he was called to higher service, I went to the funeral home where his body lay for viewing. He looked peaceful in his casket. His daughter Dolly kissed him on the forehead. There was a funeral service held for him at the parlour; a man in a high pitched voice sang solo the hymn “Lord, I would own Thy tender care and all Thy Love to me” . After the service I followed his cortege when it was moved to St. George’s Cathedral. There he laid in state for final viewing and funeral service which was attended by hundreds from various parishes, dignitaries and people from all walks of life. He was later entombed at St. Sidwell’s churchyard in Lodge Village.
To sum up his life, with the failings, errors and limitations which are inevitable to humans in this mortal life, Canon Burgan performed to his fullest in the state of life into which God had called him. As he lived, so did he die and so will he gain eternal rest in the kingdom prepared for all those who “ran the race and endured to the end.” I close this tribute with a quote from one of my poems:
Now he is gone, no more for us his work;
Death’s icy fingers shut the heavy tome;
But in some fairer realm where waits his Lord.
A soul will rise effulgent and at peace.
Rest in peace, my pastor, my teacher and my friend!
– Randall Butisingh
Canon William Granville Burgan, B.A., M.A.
Canon William Granville Burgan (1886-1958) was born in British Guiana. His father’s parents were one of the founders of the village of Beterverwagting, on the East Coast of Demerara. His father, Mr. William Garnett Barnett Burgan, who died in 1938, was a well-respected Head Master of various schools in British Guiana.
Canon Burgan was born at Beterverwagting on June 16, 1886 and entered Codrington College, Barbados in 1907, holding a Diocesan Scholarship. After three years’ residence he took and passed the B. A., degree of Durham University and also won the Wilson prize in Reading and Education competed for annually at the College Commemoration.
On his return to the colony he was ordained Deacon in December 1910 and was attached to Cathedral Staff. In the following year he was appointed Curate of the All Saints, New Amsterdam. On December 28, 1912, he and the Late Rev. W. G. Kimber, then Curate of St. George’s Cathedral, were advanced to the Priesthood by Bishop E. A. Parry.
Late in 1913 he was transferred to St. Michael’s Parish as Curate in Charge and later became First Vicar on the separation of these districts from the main parish. In 1914 he proceeded to his M. A., degree from Durhan University. In 1938 he was made Canon (St Alban’s) at St. George’s Cathedral.
During his many years at Belladrum, in addition to his ministerial duties he interested himself in the general welfare of the villagers. He was Chairman of the Local Authority of Eldorado and as President of the Farmers’ Association and First Secretary of the Belladrum and Lichfield Co-operative Credit Banks. He was instrumental in getting the farmers to increase the area under rice cultivation.
For his services in connection with the Credit Banks he was made a Justice of the Peace of the Colony and in order that the operation of the Banks could be effectively controlled a considerable area of undivided lands was brought under the provisions of the District Lands Partitions Ordinance. For this purpose Government appointed him Settlement Officer for the partitioning, and the issuing of titles of the villages of Belladrum, Eldorado, Paradise and Golden Fleece.
On the death of the Rev. James Persaud, incumbent of St. Augustine’s Buxton, in 1927, Mr. Burgan was preferred as his successor and here, too, he has interested himself in the farmers. He has been President of their Association and Vice-Patron of the Farmers’ League. At Buxton he was manager of a number of Anglican schools in the area.
He spent over 22 years at Buxton and in 1949 was transferred to a larger village parish at Plaisance Village from where he retired in 1956. He passed on December 15, 1958.
As a Diocesan official he has held the post as Secretary of the Board of Missions for many years. On his visits to England he has given good service in advertising the claims of the Church and in making the colony better known. His services were much in demand by the Society for the propagation of the Gospel. He was detailed on special duty to the Channel Islands and in the Diocese of Cork in Ireland and the work and claims of the missions in this Diocese was made known to those with no knowledge of conditions prevailing in British Guiana.
He was an intellectual, well read, and versed in Latin, Hebrew and Greek literature. He was keenly interested in folklore and historical research. He published many articles in the newspapers and magazines. For instance, in 1942 he published in the Diocesan Magazine “A Short History of the Guiana Diocese”, which outlined the history of the Anglican Church in British Guiana. Mr. Burgan also contributed for many years, to a Daily Argosy column under the non-de-plume “Rusticus”. – L. E. M., which were vivid writings of country life in rural villages of British Guiana.
- Source: the Daily Argosy