HC Deb 09 June 1825 vol 13 cc1110-8
Sir John Newport ,

adverting to the motion which he was about to submit to the House, said, that the whole question lay in a very narrow compass. It regarded the propriety of taking some legal measures against a set of men who had, in the discharge of their functions, done every thing that was unjust, oppressive, and unwarrantable. Upon the management of those institutions which he was going to advert to, it had been his fate, for twenty-one years past, to address the House on a variety of occasions. In every case wherein he had exposed instances of the most gross mismanagement, and flagrant perversions of the public bounty, as connected with the Charter-schools of Ireland, he had been combatted, either with evasive promises or direct denials. In the meanwhile, the existence of the evils complained of was perfectly notorious; and some idea of their magnitude might be formed when he stated, that since the Union the public had at different times bestowed upon the support of the chartered schools of Ireland, nearly 600,000l. When the House adverted to the reports which had been, from time to time, made to them on this subject, how would hon. gentlemen on the other side be able to make out those assertions of immaculate purity and honest management which they had so loudly advanced in favour of those who immediately presided over those chartered schools? Unfortunately, it was no unusual thing for parliament to hear similar language about such matters. And many years ago, even, when the attention of the philanthropic Howard was directed to the chartered schools of Ireland and their condition, promises of amendment were held out, and the best hopes were excited. But, what had been the result of those promises? The schools in question, so far from being ameliorated, were deteriorated. In 1806, it appeared by one of the reports, that the chartered schools of Ireland were discovered to be exceedingly ineffective for almost all the excellent purposes of their institution, and full of abuses. It was in consequence of a petition from the archbishop, the bishops, and many of the dignified clergy, and of the most distinguished of the laity of Ireland, that the Charter-schools of that country were originally founded, and endowed with lands for the support and the furtherance of the objects of their establishment. The first of these schools was founded in 1734; and in the three following years seven more. The plan of founding these institutions carried with it so powerful a recommendation to the patronage of the public, that one individual, a Dutchman, subscribed 46,000l. three per cents towards their support; another person about 20,000l. and several other private characters very large sums; so that the rental of these schools, in consequence, now amounted to upwards of 7,000l. per annum. In 1808, a report was given in to parliament signed by the archbishop of Dublin and other distinguished personages who had visited these schools previously; and until 1817 nothing further seemed to have been done on the subject. In 1817, Mr. Thackery was appointed to examine into the condition of these establishments; and after Mr. Thackery, Mr. Lee. These commissioners stated, that at the period of their visitation the condition of the schools was far from satisfactory, and the system pursued in them most vicious.—Here the right hon. baronet quoted largely from Mr. Lee's report relative to the marked superiority of intelligence, vivacity, and apparent contentment, observable in the half-naked children of the neighbouring peasantry, over the children brought up at these schools; the cruel enormities practised by the masters, in the punishment of the children; such as seizing them by the throat, half strangling them by that means, and at the same time administering severe flogging with a cane; their employment on Sundays in preparing specimens of penmanship to be laid before the visiting committee of fifteen, because on week days some of the masters compelled them to work in the (to them) more profitable occupation of weaving. The right hon. gentleman next cited several passages relative to the chartered school at Stradbally. There the boys were asked by one of the visitors whether they were well used; and though they were cruelly treated, such was their terror of the master that they answered in the affirmative. Here a variety of details relating to the severity of some of the punishments inflicted at this school were entered into by the right hon. baronet who mentioned, among others, the case of a boy who was in one day nine times flogged with a leathern thong, and thus received about 100 lashes. As to the system of education, some of the boys were found to be ignorant whether the word "Europe" implied a man, a place or a thing. The master was a farmer, and therefore attended very little to his duty in the school. He made the boys work for him in his garden; and one day, when they had been working very hard, and were very hungry, a party of them ate one of his raw cabbages, for which he thought proper to punish them very severely. The House would observe, that there was left by the late bishop Pocock, a bequest for the establishment of a weaving school, and the building a place for the purpose of affording the scholars religious instruction. Now, by the reports, it appeared that out of 36 scholars in this establishment, there were only 13 who could read, and only six copy-books among the whole number of boys; the master could not teach, and there was no usher. Several of these scholars, however, were grown up young men. This was at Newport, in the vicinity of which, such was the anxiety for instruction among the peasantry, that at a cabin only two miles distant, 96 of their children met constantly to be taught. At another place, a young man had taken a stable for the purpose of teaching the poor, and so crowded was the floors of this place, than the children were absolutely obliged to be take themselves to the manger. A the Charter-school of Clonmel, there were only two scholars and no books; and for a master, one was a mere cripple, but who had a salary of 50l. per annum, and twenty-four acres of land, at a rental of 25s. per acre—the very next adjoining land, letting commonly at the time of the report at eight guineas, and now at six guineas per acre. Not only were the objects of these charities perverted; but the secretary prevented all complaints from reaching the committee. There was an understanding, indeed, between the registrar and the masters of these schools, who constantly made him presents, and advanced monies without interest. Now, the observations which he had addressed to the House, he did not mean to apply to all the parochial schools of Ireland, but only to those Charter-schools which were under the superintendence of masters who had so outrageously misconducted themselves. All his anxiety was that those who had been guilty of these cruelties should be visited by the law; and taught to learn, that it would not suffer them with impunity to outrage humanity and justice, in their conduct towards the friendless and otherwise unprotected individuals who were confided to their care. He concluded by moving, "That an humble Address be presented to his Majesty, expressing the marked sentiments of regret, and indignation, with which the House of Commons perused the details of unwarrantable cruelty practised on the children in several of the Charter-schools of Ireland, contained in the Report presented to both Houses of Parliament by the Commissioners appointed by his Majesty for examination into the state of the schools of Ireland, and praying that his Majesty may be pleased to direct the law officers of the Crown in that part of the United Kingdom to institute criminal prosecutions against the actors, aiders, and abettors of those dreadful outrages, as far as they may be amenable to law."

Mr. Goulburn

begged to state most distinctly, that there were no sentiments of regret and indignation at the acts which the right hon. gentleman had detailed in his speech, in which he did not most entirely concur. In making this distinct avowal, he was relieved from travelling through all the painful details. He was not relieved, however, from other difficulties arising from the period at which the report had been laid on the table, and from the circumstance of its being unaccompanied with those details to which the commissioners referred. If he were driven to the alternative of deciding whether the system of cruelty of which the commissioners complained should continue, or the resolution proposed by the right hon. baronet should be adopted by that House, he for one should certainly concur in that resolution. He thought, however, that it would be a much more expedient course to leave the remedy of these abuses to those whose official duty it was to inquire into them. The report had only been on the table of the House five or six days, consequently there had been no opportunity for the government here to have had any communication with the Irish government, as to the course which it might be expedient to adopt. The commissioners referred, in almost every page of the report, to the appendix. The real state of the Charter-schools could only be correctly appreciated by a careful perusal of that document. If, however, it should be the opinion of the House, that a sufficient case had been made out to justify the interposition of parliament, and that they ought to agree to this resolution, notwithstanding the assurance given by the government, that they had every disposition to bring the offenders to punishment, he for one should not raise his voice against it. As far as he was acquainted with the opinion of the noble marquis who presided over the government in Ireland, there was every probability that the recommendations of the commissioners would be attended to; but so attended to, he trusted, as to preserve the unhappy individuals concerned, from the evils which must necessarily result under either alternative, of a continuance of the present system, or of a change which might throw them upon the world in a state of helpless destitution.

Mr. S. Rice

said, if he understood the right hon. gentleman, it was not his intention to oppose the motion.

Mr. Goulburn

said, he should not oppose it, but he recommended the right hon. baronet not to press it.

Mr. S. Rice

said, the House was bound not to overlook the case which had been made out. If this were a motion specifically criminating the master of Sligo, or any other individual, then there would be some reason why the House should wait for other documents. But, all that the House was called upon to declare by this motion was, that a primâfacie case had been made out sufficient to warrant them in requiring that legal proceedings should be instituted by the law officers of the Crown against the persons guilty of these atrocities. He was not disposed to leave this matter in the hands of the executive. The whole inquiry had been forced upon the government by parliament. If ever a document had been laid upon the table, which called for the interference of parliament, it was this report. The system of Charter-schools was a specimen of the old exclusive Protestant system in Ireland. It should not be forgotten, that the system of Charter-schools had been repeatedly praised and recommended by lords lieutenants of Ireland, and supported in that House; and that any opposition to that system had been constantly met by charging the opponents with hostility to Protestantism. The whole mischief of the system of Charter-schools had arisen out of the exclusive system on which it was founded. The report of Mr. Howard in 1787 had developed as great abuses as that now before the House; and the report of Mr. Thackery in 1817 exhibited scenes of still greater atrocity; yet no steps had been taken to bring the offenders to punishment. No less than 1,000,000l. of the public money had been voted for the support of these schools, of which 638,000l. had been voted since the Union; a sum which, if it had been properly applied, might have provided for the education of the whole population of Ireland. He trusted the annual vote would be resisted, in order that effectual means might be taken to provide for the education of the poor in Ireland. He should, if no one else took up the subject, move that the sum be given to the government of the country, and not vested any longer in the hands of the governors of the Charter-schools.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that there had been a decrease of the grant for Charter-schools since he came into office, from 29,000l. to 19,000l.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that the committee was not forced upon the government, for he had himself set forward the inquiry while secretary for Ireland, and had named the committee. In selecting the gentlemen, he had only regard to their qualifications. Mr. Glascock was unknown to him, but he was induced to appoint that gentleman, on account of the activity and zeal manifested by him on another occasion. Feeling that it was right to have a Roman Catholic on the committee, he had appointed Mr. Blake, an intelligent and active man, with whom he had no acquaintance. Mr. Grant he had never seen in his life; and, in adding the name of his hon. friend (Mr. Frank-land Lewis) to the list, he had given an additional proof that impartiality was the great object he was anxious to attain. Two questions arose out of the case at present under consideration The first was, as to the policy of continuing the system; and the second, as to the propriety of punishing those who were concerned in the abuses. Whit he was anxious for was, that the consideration of the question should be postponed until they had the appendix to the report. He had no difficulty, however, in stating, that from the report itself, the inference was inevitable, that the system of the Charter-schools was one that did not admit of correction. That it was one which ought to be extinguished altogether, as soon as possible. The House would be glad to hear, that the report was nut two days in the possession of government before an order was sent, desiring that they should not admit any more into the schools, but should take steps to reduce the numbers, without interfering with any of those who were already admitted. He was sure the right hon. baronet would admit, that the commission of 1806 was more favourable to the system of the Charter-schools than the present report, and that the commission was a sufficient warrant for a man in office to act upon. If prosecutions were to follow, he would not suffer himself to make any comment that could, by possibility, prejudge the question. If it could be judicially proved, that cruelties were exercised, such as the committee had reported, it would not be sufficient that the individuals should be dismissed; they should be punished, not vindictively, but with a view to deter others. No one, he was persuaded, would suspect him of a wish to screen such persons from punishment; but, if the House should resolve to prosecute those individuals, let them have the benefit of a fair trial; let not parliament interfere, so as to prevent an impartial decision, which they must do if they adopted the words of the resolution. He hoped the right hon. baronet would so far alter the wording of his motion, as not to assume the guilty practices that were to constitute the subject of inquiry.

Sir F. Burdett

said, that the candid manner in which the right hon. gentleman had met the question, would, in all probability, satisfy his right hon. friend and the House.

Mr. Frankland Lewis

observed, that there were no less than thirty documents relating to the transactions before the House. That fact would, he thought, be sufficient to prevent them from acceding to the resolution. The masters had been already dismissed from some of the schools; I and seeing that they had been already punished, he would submit whether it would not be unjust to punish them again.

Mr. J. P Grant

thought the House would not consider the dismissal of the schoolmasters sufficient, without adopting prosecution. If prosecution was determined on, every expression should be excluded from the motion which had the slightest tendency to prejudge the cause of the individuals. But, the House might feel it necessary to back the government, by a distinct expression of their feeling; Next to the horror which he felt at the practices which the committee had discovered, was the surprise that they had been so long permitted to continue.

Mr. C. Grant

said, that he had always entertained a strong opinion, that the system of the Charter-schools must ultimately work out its own destruction. He did not certainly suppose that such enormities as were detailed in the report were in existence, because the system was so strictly under the superintendance of the clergy and the most eminent men in Ireland. But there were evils inherent in the system, such as those of separation from parent and child, and proselytism under suspicious circumstances. At length, however, there was but one opinion entertained respecting its merits. That which had so long been considered the bulwark of the Protestant establish- ment, was now acknowledged to be the greatest stigma which attached to it. He was not sorry for that, because he was of opinion, that the more the Protestant religion was relieved from such incumbrances, the better for it.

Mr. J. Smith

thought, that the ragged and half-starved schoolmasters, bad as they were, were not the most guilty persons; but that inspectors of the schools deserved that character.

Mr. F. Lewis

said, that the inspectors were deceived by the false statements of the masters.

Mr. Grattan

congratulated the House, that the facts had at last been made public, and thought the commissioners deserved the thanks of the country.

Mr. V. Fitzgerald

concurred in all that had fallen from the Secretary for the Home Department; but, should the right hon. baronet press his motion to a division, he should be ashamed not to give it his support.

Sir J. Newport

then withdrew the motion, and the following was agreed to nem. con., "That an humble Address be presented to his majesty, that he will be graciously pleased to give directions to the law-officers of the Crown in Ireland to institute criminal proceedings against the persons concerned in the cruelties detailed in the Report of the Commissioners on Education, so far as they may be amenable to law."