HC Deb 08 July 1869 vol 197 cc1418-21

said, he wished to ask the President of the Poor Law Board, Whether there is any truth whatever La the assertion made at a meeting of the Guardians of the Marylebone Union, on the report of a Cockermouth paper, respecting some boys in the Union there, who were ordered by the Poor Law Board to be sent to the Roman Catholic Schools; that the boys told the priest that they did not believe the Roman Catholic faith, and would not go; that the Poor Law Board, it is reported, then ordered the boys to be whipped?


Sir, the cock and bull story about the whipping of these two little boys having been ordered by the Poor Law Board is one of those gigantic falsifications which seem to grow with more rank luxuriance on the field of religious controversy than anywhere else. It has not even that substratum of truth which generally underlies the grossest exaggeration. The facts of the case are these — A little urchin, a Roman Catholic inmate of the Cockermouth Workhouse, on reaching the ripe age of twelve, went to his priest and informed him that he had changed his religion, and that he had the authority of an Act of Parliament for withdrawing himself from the priest's religious instruction. This is, however, not exactly the case. The law has made a difference between children of twelve and children of fourteen years old. The latter may change their religion at their pleasure, but the former only if the Poor Law Board consider them competent to form a judgment upon the subject. There was in the same workhouse another boy of thirteen, who had also changed his religion. The Poor Law Board despatched an Inspector to examine these two boys with regard to the circumstances of their conversion, and on their theological knowledge. The Inspector reported— and I was not surprised to hear it— that they were utterly incompetent to form a judgment. But several circumstances came out at this inquiry, and at a previous inquiry held by the Guardians, throwing light on the conversion. There had been no pressure put on the boys by the workhouse authorities, and there had been but little teazing on the part of the other boys. But the Protestant boys used to be taken every Sunday evening to a neighbouring church, dressed in their Sunday clothes, and there was music, which the boys liked very much. Meanwhile, the two little Roman Catholic boys were left at home by themselves, and were fright- ened and unhappy at being in the yard alone. On one occasion one of them had been found crying. So they changed their religion in order to change their clothes, and go with the other boys to hear the music in the church. The Poor Law Board informed the Guardians that they considered the boys theologically incompetent, and added— The Board, therefore, consider it advisable that the boys in question should recur to the religious instruction which they were receiving up to the time of their alleged conversion, and request that the necessary instructions may be given to the workhouse master for the purpose of securing this object. This was the whole of the pressure put by the Board on the Guardians, which has been distorted into the story that the boys were to be whipped. The Guardians replied—"that under the circumstances they must respectfully decline to use forcible means to compel the boys to attend the Roman Catholic chapel." This letter appears to have been a civil paraphrase of a speech by one of the Guardians of Cockermouth. He is reported to have said— I move that the Poor Law Board be informed that the Guardians cannot carry out their order with regard to the boys, and if the Poor Law Board require them to be sent back to the Catholic Church and to be whipped, they must send somebody down to do both. It is easy to see how anyone who did not scruple to omit the word "if" could twist this speech into an extravagant story. The hypothesis of the Guardian of Cockermouth looked like history to the Guardians of Marylebone, and the Chairman of their School Committee read the following to an excited meeting— He read a report from a Cockermouth paper respecting some boys in the Union there who were ordered by the Poor Law Board to be sent to the Roman Catholic schools. The boys told the priests they did not believe the Roman Catholic faith, and would not go. The Poor Law Board, it was asserted, then ordered that the boys were to be whipped if they did not go, and the Guardians sent back word that if the Board required the Guardians to do whipping they could come and do it, for the Guardians would not. This was scandalous. Scandalous, if true, but the House will judge in how far it is, if not scandalous, yet most improper, that anyone should make bad blood, by giving publicity to such a story without inquiring into its truth.


said, the answer of the right hon. Gentleman was very satisfactory.