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The first ordained Deaf Church of England clergyman

By Hugh Dominic W Stiles, on 17 February 2012

PEARCE, Rev. Richard Aslatt (1854-1928)

Richard Pearce was born in Hampshire, the son of solicitor and Southampton Town Clerk Richard S. Pearce. Three of his four children were deaf. He was educated entirely on the manual system at the Brighton Institution as a private pupil of William Sleight for twelve years. His father paid £50 a year for this personal tuition, which was a large sum at the time.  Having left school at 18, Richard Pearce met the Rev. C. Mansfield Owen, who had a Deaf cousin and knew sign language. Pearce became involved in mission work with Deaf people in the Hampshire diocese and with Owen’s support took Holy Orders in 1885, becoming “the first ordained deaf mute clergyman of the Church of England”. According to the Deaf and Dumb Times,

Her Majesty the Queen, who, as is so well known, is always interested in the deaf and dumb, having heard much of the good work done by both Mr. Pearce and Mr. Owen, expressed her wish to see both gentlemen, and accordingly they had the honour of being presented to the Queen and Her Royal Highness the Princess Beatrice, at Osborne House, on the 16th of January 1886.

In 1887 in St. Saviour’s Church in London, Pearce met Frances, the deaf daughter of the former Governor-General of Canada Charles Monck, (4th Viscount Monck). They married in April 1888. Frances was 43 at the time, and her father, reluctant to give his consent, said “they will be very poor” (Eagling). The couple settled in Southampton where Pearce was working for the Winchester Diocesan Mission to the Deaf and Dumb.

In 1891 the mission opened a new church in Southampton, the building of which was partly financed by Sir Arthur Fairbairn and his sister (Eagling). Richard Pearce spent his life in the area continuing his mission activities, ministering to the local Deaf community. He acted as interpreter at the funeral of his old teacher William Sleight in Brighton in 1912. He retired in  1924, dying at his home in Winchester in 1928. His wife Frances survived him by just two years.

Deaf missioner Rev. Richard Pearce

Deaf and Dumb Times, 1889, 1, 24-25. (picture)

Deaf history. British Deaf News, 1997, Nov, 7.

EAGLING, G.J., A deaf clergyman. Deaf History Journal, 2002, 6(1), 16-31.

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