HL Deb 05 May 1826 vol 15 cc897-908
The Bishop of Ferns

rose pursuant to notice, and said—My object in placing these letters upon your lordships table was, to make use of them for the defence of the committee by which the business of the Charter-schools in Ireland is managed, usually denominated the Committee of Fifteen, from the number of its member, against what must appear to every person who reads the report of the commissioners of Education Inquiry to be a very heavy charge indeed, amounting to an imputation of culpable, I should, perhaps, say criminal, neglect of the duty which they had undertaken to perform. They act indeed gratuitously, but that should not be an excuse for wilful neglect. The system of management in these schools must be unknown to a great majority of your lordships: I shall beg leave to give a brief account of it. A charter was granted in 1733, incorporating the principal clergy and laity of Ireland, for the purpose of establishing schools for the instruction of the children of the poor natives, and for training them to religious and industrious habits. I cannot better describe the objects and the utility of the institution than by using the words of lord Chesterfield, when lord lieutenant of Ireland, who, when commending the bounty of parliament to it, called it a most prudent as well as a most compassionate charity, and recommended it to their constant protection and encouragement as an excellent institution, by which a considerable number of unhappy children were annually rescued from the misery that always, and the guilt that commonly, accompanies uninstructed poverty and idleness. A body so numerous as that which was thus incorporated could not transact business, a committee of fifteen was formed, to be elected annually, and to that committee the management of the schools was intrusted. To the body at large nothing was reserved except the power of settling leases, and of appointing and dismissing masters. These powers, I believe, could not legally be given to any committee; the former requiring directly the use of the seal of the corporation; the latter involving it indirectly; for if an appointment of a master was made out in form, it must be under the seal; and to dismiss a master, the instrument of his appointment must be cancelled, which could only be done by the power which had executed it. The advantages of local inspection suggested the appointment of local committees, consisting of such ladies and gentlemen as were willing to undertake this duty. This system is relied upon as one of the objections to the establishment. The local committee are represented as acting under the influence of personal prejudices in favour of the master; the committee of fifteen, as discouraging the exertions of the local committee, and rejecting its applications; and the body at large as preventing the committee of fifteen from dismissing masters, unless direct proof of their criminality was given. My lords, I know not of any human institutions against which objections may not be made. In all cases it is necessary to take the best precautions within our reach. But I confess it does appear to me to be very absurd to refuse to act unless these precautions are such as to make error or wrong-doing impossible. If we want local information, we must be content to find it mixed with local prejudices. If we want a central government to regulate the application of funds to several establishments, we must be content to place it at a distance, and to remedy the defect of local knowledge by the best means in our power. That the superintendence and the discipline exercised towards the masters of the schools were strict, appears from facts stated in the report made by the commissioners. It appears that, in the space of twenty-four years, from the year 1800 to the time of making the report, thirty-two masters had been dismissed, and seventeen had resigned; that the resignations were to avoid actual dismissal is not doubted. Thus forty-nine masters were removed from the schools in less than half as many years—a degree of severity in the exercise of corrective power that I apprehend most people would deem fully sufficient. The means resorted to by the committee that manages the Charter schools, for obtaining information as to their state are, to require that the catechist —I should have stated that a clergyman, generally the curate of the parish in which the school is situated, is appointed under the title of catechist, which sufficiently describes his duty.—He is required every time he visits the school to enter a memorandum of the state in which he finds it in a book kept for that purpose. And every visitor who comes to the school is requested to do the same; and an attested copy of that book is sent up every half year to the committee of fifteen. I am in possession of some original returns of that nature, and, should any of your lordships wish it, I can produce them. As a specimen out of the entries made by visitors, I beg leave to state an entry in the book of Santry-school, for training school-masters, made by the rev. Lewis Way, a gentleman whose exertions in the cause of benevolence have probably made his name known to some of your lordships. It was made in 1820, shortly after the commencement of the plan: "Having witnessed the examination of twelve boys of this school, who are designed for schoolmasters and teachers; and having examined them myself in the material points of our holy religion; I can truly say I was astonished at their progress in divine knowledge. The questions I put were not connected with any catechism or form of words, but arose out of the subjects before them, in reading promiscuously at the time. Of all the young persons I ever examined, these gave me the most entire satisfaction. They do great credit to their habitual instructor, and to those who interest themselves in the care of the establishment, the continuance of which will, in my opinion, be more conducive to the best interests of the community than any I have visited.—Signed, Lewis Way, A. M. Wanstead Park, Sussex." In addition to this copy, which enables the committee of fifteen to see the state of the school, and to learn the degree of attention which the catechist pays to his duty, there is sent up, every half year, a list of the children in each school, specifying the business they have been employed upon during the preceding half year, and the progress each has made, and containing also remarks upon the character of each. Original returns of this sort are in my possession, and I can show them now, if required. These separate reports are stated in the evidence given before the commissioners by the secretary of the society. The statement will be found at p. 202 and 204 of the appendix of their report. That last, however, had not been recollected by the commissioners in drawing up their report, for in p. 25 they explicitly state that the monthly letters which the catechists were required to write were the only regular means the committee of fifteen had of obtaining information of the condition of the schools since the discontinuance of the office of visitor. From what I have stated to your lordships, it is clear that these letters were not the only, means of information which the committee of fifteen possessed, and that the committee were in possession of evidence which proved that they were not; and now I come to the letters themselves. The report, in the part now referred to, goes on to give an extract from the secretary's evidence, which concludes by his seeming to state that, for the preceding nine months, not one letter had been received, from any catechist. It was with reference to this report that I called for the letters now open upon your lordships' table. On referring to the secretary's evidence, p. 202 of the appendix, your lordships will find that he stated previously to the commissioners that the practice was for the catechists to write only when any circumstance occurred in the school requiring to be communicated to the committee of fifteen. And it appears that the half-yearly reports, and the half-yearly copies of the visitors' books, had gradually superseded the monthly communications; they containing, in fact, weekly reports of the state of each school. Of these occasional letters, sixty-eight had been received during that part of the year 1824, to which the report of the commissioners referred. I shall content myself with saying, that the report in omitting to notice them, though actually in the possession of the commissioners, carries upon the face of it the marks of being too hastily made up. It might be supposed that the evidence of the secretary had deceived the commissioners; but certainly had it been attended to, it would not have deceived them. On comparing it as given in the report, and as given in the appendix, it will be found that the former is materially defective, The last answer but one in the report, page 25, is this—"Upon my word I doubt it." The question had been as to whether no letter had been received from the catechists? The words that should have been added, as may be seen in the Appendix, page 215, are "not regular monthly letters;" and his meaning clearly was, that no catechist had strictly conformed to the rule of writing a letter every month, as he had but two days before explained in his evidence, given at page 202. My lords, it was a very severe charge against the committee of fifteen, that they had remained for nine months in total ignorance of the state of all the schools under their care—for such is the charge made in the report. Had the commissioners recollected the evidence, they would have known that two half-yearly reports from every school, such as I have described, had been made to that committee during that period, and that two copies of the visitor's and catechist's book had also been sent up from each school, and that 68 letters had also been written by the catechists during the same period; and had they examined those letters, they would have found that the most trifling occurrences were thought to require communication from the catechist, and the least delay in making such communication was censured by the committee. The charge against the committee of fifteen, and against the local committees, and the catechists, of having suffered barbarous punishments to be inflicted, has been, I believe, very sufficiently answered. It was made against the master of Sligo, the usher of Stradbally, and some others, in such terms, as drew censures on government for not having instantly directed prosecutions to be commenced against the offenders. Orders to that effect were given; but, amongst the cases stated, only three were found capable of bearing indictments: even the case of the eight boys at Stradbally, whose persons are described as having been found in a shocking state of laceration and contusion (p. 17), and upon whom the punishment is represented as having been inflicted through malice, was abandoned as incapable of proof. And what was the fate of the three prosecutions actually undertaken? Two of them were defeated without the jury quitting the box, and the third was abandoned. Upon the subject of punishment, I have only to observe, that but one instance is produced of a boy having been so punished as to be kept for a single day from school, and for that instance, we are carried back ten or eleven years. It is, indeed, stated, that boys were punished for complaining of any misconduct of either master or usher; and the case of a boy named Best is mentioned [p. 21] as having been punished in the face of the whole school at Sligo, for having made a complaint, and a reference is given to No. 82 of the Appendix for the proof. Now, on referring to the Appendix, p. 158, we find the sort of evidence upon which this charge rests:—A boy of the name of Doyle states that it was not for having complained, but for some fault that he had committed, that the boy was punished; but that the master had malice against him for making the complaint, and that he conjectured that to have been the real cause of the punishment. And we find in the evidence of Ludden, a boy of the same school, that he expressly swears (p. 175) that he never beard of any thing having happened to Best in consequence of his having complained.—It is clear, therefore, that the evidence does not bear out the statement that Best was punished for having made a complaint in the face of the whole school. It would be useless to go through a complete examination of all the statements in the Report, by comparing them with the evidence. What I have already laid before your lordships is, I believe, very sufficient to show the Report was drawn up rather hastily, and that the committee of fifteen were not guilty of quite so much remissness as is charged against it. But this, it will be said, is no defence of the system itself, which is radically bad, as separating children from their kindred, and turning them out into life without friends or relatives, and without that practical experience which children in ordinary circumstances require. How apprenticing a child into a family, the master and mistress of which are to instruct him, can be considered as turning the child out into life, I profess I cannot comprehend. As to separating them from their kindred, that, I apprehend, is but too frequently in Ireland conferring a great benefit. However, let us see how stands that fact. Of those in the schools last August, when I got returns, 984, nearly one-half of the whole number were orphans, or foundlings; and of 925, whose petitions for admission were before the Society, 662 were either orphans, or, being deprived of one of their parents, were left either to a mother who could not support, or to a father who could not superintend, them. But, my lords, the word separating is somewhat of an ambiguous nature. It leans towards that charge which represents the schools as tearing children from their parents.—It ought to be known, that the admittance into the Charter schools is solicited as a favour. There must be a petition from the parent, or, in case of an orphan, from the nearest relation, praying for the admission of the child, and giving, in express words, consent to its being educated a Protestant; and there must be a certificate, from some respectable person, that the facts contained in that petition are true. It is, indeed stated, in the Report, that at one time parents were so unwilling, to part with their children, that it became necessary to build nurseries, that a constant supply of children might be provided. How the nurseries were to be supplied with children when parents would not part with them, the Report has not thought it necessary to inform us; and yet it seems rather difficult to explain it. I should reckon this also to be a proof that the Report had not been considered quite as carefully as was requisite. Of this haste, there is a curious proof given in page 29, where a calculation is made of the expense that would be incurred were the Charter schools so extended as to admit seventeen or eighteen children annually from every parish in Ireland. It is rated at twenty millions per annum; and the error in the estimate amounts to sixteen millions, or within a trifle of it. The calculation is not difficult; it consists in multiplying 35 by half the number of parishes in Ireland, that is, by 1,200— the product by 7 (the average time spent in a Charter school), and that by 14 (the average expense in pounds, of maintenance). It were well if the errors in calculation were limited to this imaginary case. The most important error, as I conceive, in the whole report, lies in the calculation made of the utility of the institution, as compared with its expense. We are told in page 30, that the expense has been at the rate of a million for 7,905 children apprenticed; and the advantage of the institution is stated as consisting in having apprenticed, since its commencement, 12,745 children. And does the advantage of education terminate with the individual upon whom it has been bestowed? My lords, if there be any benefit conferred on man, in which his posterity participates, it is religious education. It would be an unwarrantable waste of your lordships' time, upon which I have already trespassed too long, to go into a proof of such a truism: in fact, the advantage extends much further than to the immediate family of the individual. I shall take it, however, as being so limited; I shall take the annual admissions into the Charter schools, since their commencement, at only 180 per annum; and at a low rate of increment, they and their descendants amount to upwards of 138,000, of whom upwards of 80,000 are alive at the present day. In this calculation I did not rely upon myself. It rests upon the authority of one of the best mathematicians in Ireland, Dr. Robinson, the Professor of Astronomy at Armagh. It has been my object, my lords, while defending the conduct of the committee of fifteen, to make such a statement as should prove that the Report of the Committee of Education Inquiry had not been considered as carefully as might have been desired; and that the system which it attacks is of far too great importance to Ireland to be put down without the most grave deliberation.

Lord King

observed, that the reverend prelate had at least failed in one point which he had promised to establish; namely, that the catechists had not failed in their duty, and had complied with the rules of their office. The reverend lord appeared to be very angry with the Report, against which he directed the principal part of his resentment. The reverend lord had spent the greater part of his life in Ireland; but when he had been a little longer in this country, he would find, to use the phraseology of the noble lord at the head of the Treasury, that it was not the fashion here to make a scandalous misuse of the public money. And a greater misapplication of the public money he did not know of, than that of the Chartered schools in Ireland. For these schools there had been paid 1,600,000l.— one million in parliamentary grants, and the remainder in some other way; and during the whole term of the existence of these schools, nearly a century, there had been only 7,900 children apprenticed. Now, he saw no occasion for such a waste of public money for such a purpose, where every resident clergyman was bound by his oath to teach the English language, and to keep a school for that purpose, taking such convenient stipend as the custom of the place warranted. This being the law, he contended that the clergyman had no more right to his tithe than the poor children of the place had to their learning. It was a miserable excuse to say that 40s. was the ancient stipend, and that it was now impossible to find a schoolmaster to do the duty for that sum of money, because, as the clergy had raised their tithes, so they might raise the amount of salary for this purpose. The neglect of duty, with reference to this point, extended to the whole spiritual staff of Ireland. The primate, and other high dignitaries of the church of Ireland, were, he believed, officially chargeable with the right management of these schools, and yet, as appeared by the Report, there were, out of 31 dioceses, only 10 in which there were proper efficient school-houses; 21 were totally deficient, and in all the teaching was very bad. The whole contribution furnished by the Irish church was no more than 600l. The reason of so many abuses being allowed to exist was, that the board of fifteen, which had supreme control, seemed to think it their duty to support all abuses in the inferior clergy, as though they had a vested interest in the exclusive management of their schools. The Report contained numerous charges of negligence on the catechists, which it was impossible to get over. In the Sligo school, for instance, why was such an abuse allowed to exist, as that the children should be subjected to a sort of "slave labour," entirely for the benefit of the master? It seemed, according to the Report, that the object there was, not how much could be taught them, but how much work could be got out of them. And yet the reverend prelate undertook, with this abuse staring him in the face, to justify the conduct of the catechists, and show that they had done their duty. It was really curious to look at some of the quarterly returns sent from these schools. In some of them he found that the actual miracle was accomplished of making people live long in the world and grow younger. If any of their lordships would look at the reports to which he referred, they would find this to be the case. The boys' names and ages were put down in these lists. He found amongst the names, for instance, one David Porter, a youth, no doubt, of excellent parts, but to whom he could not give the credit of being able to remain stationary at the age of sixteen for four years. But this was affirmed by the lists in question. Another boy, it appeared, was 14 one year, 14 also the next, and 13 the year after. Another appeared to remain at the age of 15 for two years, and then he became 17, and the following year was 15 again. These were falsehoods so obvious, that really the catechists ought to have seen them, and must have seen them, if they had discharged their duty. As to the state of learning in the schools, it appeared by the Report, that in one school there were only three boys who had ever heard of St. Paul, and only one who had ever heard of Europe. The charge of cruelty was also fully made out by the testimony of those who saw the shocking laceration of the boys. It was said, that the usher was fully exculpated by the trial which ensued; but he thought nothing of that, for he had never yet heard of a slave-owner that was cruel to his slaves, when it came to trial; and be supposed it was just the same with the ushers in those schools. It was not, however, upon the words of the Report only, that he relied for a case of abuse against those schools. Mr. Haward had said, on a former occasion, that he found them in a "dreadful situation;" Mr. Fitzpatrick spoke of the "barbarous treatment" he witnessed in them; and Mr. Disney actually resigned, because he could not prevail on those whose duty it was, to rectify, the abuses. Thus, then, was the Report confirmed; and the fact was, that the whole plan of the system was, to take Catholic children from their parents, and bring them up in the Protestant faith. The resident clergy, he must say, did not do their duty with respect to education. He was sorry to say that they had long lived in habitual neglect of their duty, in defiance of the law, and in contempt of their oaths. For his own part, he must say, that he never would consent to one farthing of the public money being voted for the maintenance of those schools. In one case it appeared the master of the school lent money to some of the officers, which could be for no other purpose but to induce them to conceal abuses in his school. In another instance the wife of the schoolmaster was actually the contractor for the clothing of the children; and all those things were brought to light by strangers—not by those whose duty it was to discover them.

The Bishop of Ferns

said, that it would be merely necessary for him, in reply to the observations of the noble lord, to refer to the Report of the commissioners, in which they stated that these schools were conducted with good order, and in a manner highly creditable to those who had the superintendence of them.

The Marquis of Lansdown

said, he felt quite assured, from the inquiries which had taken place, and from the knowledge thus obtained by the king's government, that something would ere long be done towards the amelioration of the system. He had read, with great diligence, the exculpatory papers moved for by the learned prelate, and had also looked over the Report of the commissioners, and he must say, that the impression made by them differed very much from that which they seemed to have produced on the mind of the learned prelate. Letters were occasionally transmitted from seven- teen of the schools, but no regular monthly reports. From these letters he should be disposed to draw inferences not at all favourable to the management of Charter schools in Ireland. Even in the very first page of the exculpatory documents, reference was made to a girl, who had been appointed teacher, though known to be a person of immoral propensities, having been detected in acts of thieving during the time that she had been a scholar in the institution. In the next page it was said, that schools could not go on for want of books; and in page 11 it appeared that out of 72 scholars, there were only two eligible to act as teachers, and that even those two were deficient in the necessary qualifications. Such were specimens of hese highly useful seminaries. He did not hesitate to say, that such management was disgraceful to the country. He was willing to admit that the commissioners had done their duty with zeal and propriety. The probability was, that these letters had never passed through their hands.

The Earl of Darnley

condemned, in severe terms, the principle on which Charter schools were managed in Ireland, particularly the practice of taking Roman Catholic children from their parents, and bringing them up in the Protestant faith.

The Bishop of Bath and Wells

said, there was no institution without some faults. It could not be denied that there had been gross errors and abuses in the management of those schools; but he trusted the inquiry would be productive of good, and that the patrons of such establishments would, in future, be more careful in the management of them. He hoped nothing that had been said that night would tend to prejudice the furtherance of education in Ireland; for there was no country on the face of the globe where religious education was more wanting.

Here the conversation dropped.