Samuel Sobieski Nelles Fonds

Fonds #



Samuel Sobieski Nelles fonds


During his thirty-seven years as a teacher and administrator at Victoria College, Samuel Nelles made an indelible imprint on both the ministry of the Wesleyan Methodist Church and the system of higher education in Ontario. Consequently, his papers possess significant research value for religious, intellectual, and educational historians. The collection held by the Archives is a fairly representative sampling of Nelles’ correspondence, essays, articles, sermons, speeches, addresses, lectures, and notes. The earliest material dates from his student days in the early 1840’s, and the last records were written only days before his death in 1887.

Despite the fact that Nelles was apparently an avid letter writer, his correspondence comprises only one and a half boxes of the collection. As Nelles explained in a letter to J.G. Hodgins, he made a practice of discarding most of the letters which he received, making exceptions only for those of great personal significance. As a result, the bulk of the surviving correspondence was preserved by chance or through the efforts of other people. The letters span the years 1846–1887; they are organized chronologically and, when the volume warrants, by correspondents such as J.G. Hodgins, Egerton Ryerson, J.J. Maclaren, and Samuel Rose. An attempt has been made to document the thrust of each letter in the file listings. Although the letters touch on a number of subjects, the main theme of the correspondence is undoubtedly the “university question”. The letters outline the development of the federation concept and the responses it evoked from the university community. One can gain insight into the day-to-day activities and tensions of Victoria College, and the precarious financial position of the college emerges clearly. Letters from old college friends such as Daniel Martindale, R.C. Pitman, and J.G. Hodgins reveal Nelles’ interests as well as his capacity for warm and lasting relationships.

The correspondence also includes several letters to Mrs. Nelles following her husband’s death and the correspondence of Professors Nathanael Burwash and A.R. Bain regarding the Nelles Memorial Fund. In additon, there are several files of letters dated in the 1950’s and 1960’s which chronicle some of the research into the Nelles’ family history carried out by a descendent, F.C. Gullen. A file of notes made by Gullen contains a sketch map of Mount Pleasant, a typescript of a family history, and assorted family trees. A photograph of Nelles’ birthplace was transferred to the Nelles file in the Archives’ photograph collection.

The remaining records in the collection are divided according to type and then arranged chronologically whenever dates are available. Undated items have been placed in alphabetical order by their titles. The box of diaries and journals covers the period between 1846 and 1887, with most of the entries being made before 1870. The early diaries tend to be more reflective, revealing Nelles’ reaction to his reading material and his inner spirtual thoughts; the later journals focus more on daily activities.

Many of the essays in the collection were written by Nelles during his school days, allowing the researcher to acquire some insights into the nature of a nineteenth–century education as well as an understanding of Nelles’ interests and abilities as a young man. Other essays authored by Nelles may be found in manuscript copies of student newspapers located in the Victoria College Archives. Many of the articles included in the collection were printed after Nelles’ death, giving some indication of the >lasting impact of Nelles’ work.

The two and a half boxes of sermons were delivered between 1848 and 1887, although a majority of them were composed during the 1840’s and 1850’s. Unfortunately about half the sermons are undated. They vary in form from extremely rough notes to polished drafts and are identified in the finding aid by their given title, their text, or their main theme. Naturally enough, many of the sermons focus on education, frequently dealing with the question of the relationship between intellect and religion.

The speeches and addresses fill one box and run from 1842 until Nelles’ death. Several of these were given by Nelles while he was still a student, and many of the later speeches were addressed to student audiences. The most common themes were, once again, the relationship between education and religion, although the importance of the Church’s mission work is also stressed.

The three boxes of lectures range in date from 1854 to 1887. Most are contained in notebooks, and they tend to be in the form of brief notes and questions rather than fully realized drafts. Usually the academic lectures are constructed around the texts which have been chosen for a particular course. Also included in this series are several lectures of a more popular or informal nature which were designed to appeal to student audiences or to the general public. Following the lectures are those notebooks which contain some combination of record types such as essays, sermons, addresses, and lectures.

Box 14 holds written material which does not fall into any of the previously mentioned categories. It includes scripture studies, religious meditations, selected extracts from a variety of sources, and miscellaneous notes. The box also contains an assortment of personal documents and memorabilia, including a scrapbook on Nelles completed after his death by J.G. Hodgins.

The final box in the collection is comprised of material relating to university matters. The financial records of Victoria are followed by a number of documents gathered in the course of Nelles' work as an administrator. In addition, there is a scrapbook of newspaper clippings (mostly letters to the editor) dealing with the university question between 1857 and 1859.

Those seeking further information on Samuel Nelles should consult the biographical file compiled by the Archives, the pamphlet collection, the Christian Guardian, and the personal papers of contemporaries such as J.G. Hodgins.