HC Deb 24 June 1835 vol 28 cc1127-30
Lord Grimston

then said, he had a petition to present from the inhabitants of Great Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, praying for the interference of the House in a case of great abuse. In the reign of Henry 8th, a grammar-school was founded at Berkhampstead, for the training of 144 children in "all useful learning," and endowed with revenues which now amounted to not less than 6001.l. a year. The House, however, would be astonished and indignant at hearing that the charitable purposes of the founder were wholly without effect; for that instead of 144 children being educated at this school, for a long period of time none at all had been allowed to receive the benefits of the charity, and even now but half-a-dozen were admitted to it. The master of it, Dr. Dupre (who with an under-master of his own appointment, were sole trustees of the charity), was rector of a parish in Lincolnshire, and had wholly absented himself from the place, nor had there been any visible under-master to supply his place. The noble Lord moved, that the petition be referred to the Committee on Public Charities.

Mr. Alston

said, that the revenues of the charity were much nearer 800l. a year than 600l. From 1811, the time Dr. Dupre succeeded his father in the mastership of the school, to 1832, the reverend Gentleman had wholly absented himself from the school, or rather school-room, for during the whole period there were neither scholars nor under-master. In these twenty-one years not less a sum than 15,645l. was received on account of the charity, and paid over to Dr. Dupre as trustee. How was this large amount disposed of? By the terms of the charter of charity its funds were to be appropriated to the education of "144 children in all useful learning;" and if after this purpose was fulfilled there remained any surplus, such surplus was to be applied to the use of the distressed poor of Berkhamstead. Had the funds been so applied? Certainly not? From a statement, collected, drawn up, and signed by the hon. Granville Ryder, and several other Gentlemen, the annexation of whose names at once proved the unquestionable correctness of the document, it appeared that this 15,645l. had been disbursed in the following items: —Master's salary, 5,993l.; repairs of the school-room and incidental expenses, 2,152l. undermaster's salary, 2,992l.; law expenses arising out of an investigation of the case, 2,700l. and a surplus of 1,808l. Upon these items he would observe, that neither master, nor under-master, had made his appearance on one single occasion, during the whole course of twenty years, although Dr. Dupre had a letter of licence from his living in Lincolnshire on the pretence of his having to fulfil the duties of this mastership; that the law expenses were incurred solely in consequence of their gross misconduct and neglect; and that of the surplus, not one farthing had been paid to the poor of the parish according to the terms of the charter. In 1832, Dr. Dupre had come to an arrangement with the parishioners to open the school in the terms of the endowment, but he had shortly after refused to stand by this agreement; and at this moment, instead of 144 children being educated "in all useful learning," there were but nine boys in the school, and to these Dr. Dupre refused to teach anything but Latin and Greek. The case was one of gross abuse and excited general indignation in the county, and he trusted the House would interfere in the matter.

Mr. Ward

said, that this was not only a crying grievance in itself, but it formed one of a class of abuses which called for immediate and effectual remedy. If anything had been wanting to show the absolute necessity of such an inquiry as that moved for the other night by the hon. Member for Southwark, the present petition supplied the deficiency in most unanswerable language. One of the items detailed by the hon. Member was "2,992l. salary to an under-master." Now it was a singular feature in the case, that the existence of any under-master at all, was matter of very strong suspicion. At least no such person had honoured the school-room with his attendance, except, indeed, on one occasion, when Dr. Dupre, being challenged to produce his under-master, a gentleman from Cheltenham was, by the reverend head- master introduced to the parishioners as his under-master, and went through the duties of that office for three weeks, after which arduous labour he went away, and was seen or heard of no more. The "garnishing of the King's subjects with all kinds of useful knowledge," which the school charter described as the object of its endowment, had, indeed, been a matter so little attended to, that not a single child had for a long period of time derived the slightest advantage from the charity.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that it gave him infinite pain to add his testimony to the fact, that very gross abuse had been committed in this case, and he regretted it the more, since the person of whose misconduct there was but too much reason to complain belonged to a body which he held in the highest respect. It was beyond a doubt that the misconduct of Dr. Dupre had wholly destroyed the great benefits which would otherwise have been derived from this charity. He did not, however, conceive that the object of the petitioners would be attained by having this petition referred to the Committee suggested by the noble Lord, nor did he think such reference consistent with the forms of the House. The case in question not having been investigated by the Commissioners, there was no evidence to lay before the Committee, which, consequently, was not competent to make any report on the subject. The best plan would be to lay the petition on the Table, and then take into consideration the propriety of making some legislative provision by which a due execution of the powers given to the trustees should be enforced.

Sir Edward Codrington

observed, that it was most desirable that the Committee in question should be empowered at once to take into consideration and report upon such cases as these; such an additional power would greatly add to the benefits to be derived from the labours of the Committee.

Lord Grimston

, in answer to a question, said, there was a visitor to the school, but that he had no power over the trustees. The noble Lord added, that in compliance with the suggestion of his hon. Friend, he should move that the petition do lie on the Table.

Mr. Wilks

expressed his high gratification at the anxiety thus manifested by men of all political opinions to put an end to this shameful abuse.

Sir Edward Knatchbull

concurred in the opinion that this very gross case should meet with immediate and searching investigation. It was highly proper that some practical and forcible mode of proceeding should be adopted, in order to a speedy and effective remedy of the abuse.

Petition to be laid on the Table.