HL Deb 28 June 1861 vol 164 cc16-28

rose to move for— Copy of any Correspondence between the Science and Art Department of the Committee of Council on Education and the Royal Dublin Society, relative to the Opening of the Glasnevin Botanical Garden to the Public on Sundays; to- gether with Copies of any Communications from The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to the Committee of Council on Education or to the Royal Dublin Society upon the same Subject. The noble Lord, in support of the Motion, addressed the House as follows:—My Lords, the correspondence for which I am about to move I think it right should be laid upon the table of the House, inasmuch as it relates to the conduct and character of the most ancient public institution in the kingdom for the promotion of practical science, I mean the Royal Dublin Society, which has for the last century received annual aids from Parliament, but is now threatened with deprival of part the public grant as a penalty for the offence, if offence it can be called, of declining to open the Botanic Gardens on Sundays, as a place for public recreation. To this it is that the correspondence relates, and both the manner in which the society has been called upon by the Science and Art Department of the Committee of Council on Education to act in direct opposition to the known feelings of the great majority of its members, as well as the nature of the requirement itself, render it very important that Parliament should be fully informed of the whole transaction. I have noticed the Royal Dublin Society as the most ancient scientific institution in the kingdom. Founded in 1731, it obtained, in 1749, a Royal charter of incorporation, and, carrying on a work of manifest usefulness to the country, it received its first grant in aid from the Irish Parliament in 1761, just a century ago. The sum then given was £2,000, but from that time, acting under the immediate view of Parliament, it received grants annually increasing in amount till in 1800, the year of the Legislative Union of the two countries, it received as much as £15,500. Since that period it has been less liberally assisted. Such of its patrons as continued to be Members of the Legislature could not exercise in its behalf the same influence in the Imperial as in the local Parliament; and the institution itself lost much of its interest with those of its members whom public duty removed to a distance from it, and who could, therefore, no longer, as when Parliament met in Dublin, take part in its proceedings. Among the citizens of Dublin, however, its efficiency was maintained; and, though the Government ceased to aid it as liberally as before the Union, there can be no doubt that the grants that have been annually made, varying in amount, have been given with the object of upholding and encouraging an association of unquestionable public usefulness. It has been the means of developing much native talent in art and manufacture. Its schools, its public lectures in the city and in the provinces, its laboratories, museums, library, and botanic garden, afford aids to education in the cultivation of different branches of science, which are open, almost all, gratuitously to all classes. Its exhibitions of agricultural produce are of acknowledged value, especially its spring shows of pure bred stock, which are the largest and most important in the United Kingdom; and the Lord Lieutenant, as president of the society, has very lately inaugurated the opening of a most interesting exhibition of art and manufacture, affording to the public recreation and improvement, and a valuable stimulus to manufacturing industry. Amongst its members the society includes persons of every party, of every creed, and of every class who take an interest in, and are willing to make an annual contribution of a certain amount towards carrying out, the scientific objects of the association. For such objects, and none other, was the society formed. It does not in any degree partake of the nature of a club. In its reading rooms are found no books or periodicals except such as are connected with science or art; in fact, membership, while involving expense, confers little else than the privilege of co-operating for the public good in the practical development of science. Gentlemen of character and independence so associated, and who for a long series of years have faithfully and efficiently applied themselves, without fee or reward, to the discharge of a public trust, were entitled to be addressed, if not with deference, certainly not in that arrogant and offensive tone of dictation which pervades the letters of the officials of the Committee of Council, by whom they were informed that the Government required that they should take a step with reference to the property they have in charge to which the great majority of them are known to have a religious objection, and to which others, as trustees for the due preservation of the society's property, cannot consent. The requirement on the part of the Government is that because the Commissioners of Woods and Forests have opened Kew and Hampton Court Gardens to the public on Sundays, therefore, the Royal Dublin Society, in return for the grants it has received from Parliament, should throw its botanic garden open for Sunday recreation. The correspondence sets forth the grounds, general and special, upon which the society has declined complying with this requirement, which is further objected to as being in violation of a distinct pledge given to the society in 1854, that, "beyond aiding the society in giving the fullest publicity to its labours, their Lordships would not interfere in its general management." I have been given to understand that it is the opinion of the Government that the observance of the Sabbath should be the same in Ireland as in England and Scotland; that in Scotland opinion is very strong and unanimous in its favour; that in England it is much divided; but that in Ireland, as a Roman Catholic country, it must be taken to be altogether the other way. Such a view of the case, my Lords, is most mistaken, and I totally deny that in Ireland there is any greater disregard of the obligations of the Sabbath than in England. The very small minority of the Royal Dublin Society which, upon a recent division, took the anti-Sabbatarian view, may be taken as an index of the state of public opinion among the educated classes of the city of Dublin upon the question of Sabbath observance; for the society includes among its members persons of every religious denomination. But, if further proof be required of the state of public opinion upon the subject in Dublin, it may be gathered from the result of a public meeting lately held in support of the society's views, from which an address, signed by upwards of 6,000 persons, was immediately presented to the Lord Lieutenant, and from which also, I understand, a petition signed by about 8,000 citizens of Dublin will this day be presented to the other House of Parliament. The Government, I hope, will pause before it sets itself further in opposition to public opinion so expressed, or to religious feelings and convictions regarding the Lord's Day, which, though they may deem them exaggerated, are yet entitled to respect, and certainly better calculated to promote the spread of enlightened Christianity than that disregard of the Sabbath which their present views are, I fear, but too likely to produce. But, passing from the question of Sabbath observance, the argument in favour of opening the Society's Botanic Gardens for Sunday recreation, drawn from the supposed analogy of Hampton Court and Kew Gardens, does not hold, for the circumstances of the two cases are, in fact, widely different. Kew and Hampton Court are large parks which, though they are partly formed into gardens containing many valuable plants interesting to the botanist, are chiefly laid out, and most tastefully so, for public walks, and their situations are very suitable for the purpose. The Botanic Garden of Glasvenin, on the contrary, is comparatively small, and, though designed with much taste and picturesque effect, is primarily laid out for scientific and educational purposes, and so circumstanced in respect of its situation that it would be impossible to secure the valuable plants it contains without the most stringent regulations, and the employment of a large staff of constables to enforce them. Too many facilities for intoxication exist in the vicinity of the great cemetery that adjoins the garden; and the large number of funerals that, I am informed, take place there on Sundays, commonly followed by crowds making holiday of the occasion, would cause the garden to be at times invaded in a disorderly manner, alike detrimental to the property and unprofitable to the people themselves. Even in St. James's Park, where the grassplots and beds are most carefully fenced with strong iron paling, and numerous constables are employed to preserve order—where, moreover, the same incentives to disorder do not exist as in the vicinity of Glasnevin—I find put up at each of the principal entries, by way of warning to the public, a statement of the number of offences of which persons frequenting the park had been convicted within on fortnight, and of the punishments that had been inflicted. There was one person fined for throwing stones at a constable, two others for separate offences of drunkenness and assaulting constables, two more for separate offences of damaging trees, one for disorderly conduct, and one for stealing the eggs of a valuable aquatic bird. The fines varied from 2s. 6d. to £1, with the alternative in each case of imprisonment. How many other like offences may have been committed within the same fortnight by visitors to the park I know not, but certain I am that the Royal Dublin Society does not possess the means, pecuniary or otherwise, that the Commissioners of Woods and Forests can command for procuring order in the public parks. To provide healthful recreation for the working class is, no doubt, a praiseworthy object, and one to which public money may very legitimately be applied, but the Royal Dublin Society does not possess the means of making such provision. Its members are, nevertheless, I believe, animated with sentiments quite as favourable to the interests of the working classes as are those who are styled my Lords of the Committee of Council for Education, and who never until this year raised the question of opening any department of the society to the public on Sundays. The society is, no doubt, desirous that its servants should, as far as possible, enjoy the Sabbath as a day of rest, but on every other day in the week it is their desire and endeavour to make the institution as accessible and as improving to those in humble life as to the middle and upper orders. I believe nobody could better testify to this than the society's president, the Lord Lieutenant, and much as I was surprised at the very unlooked for requirement of the Committee of Council regarding the opening of the Glasnevin Garden on Sundays. I was much more so at finding it represented that it was made at the suggestion of the Lord Lieutenant, for that noble individual, holding the office of President of the society, and in habits of frequent intercourse with its members, as well as with the society itself, never once intimated to them the view attributed to him; yet not only does the correspondence open with the intimation that his Excellency had brought the subject before the Committee of Council, but in their second letter the committee notice expressly a recommendation he had made upon the subject, against which it is most inaccurately stated that the Royal Dublin Society had more than once urged objections, basing its opposition upon the ground of its being a private society. The charge is untrue in every particular. In the first place, as the Lord Lieutenant never made any recommendation to the society upon the subject, his recommendation never had to be combated; and, secondly, the society never has claimed to be a private society, but has, on the contrary, always considered itself as a public body—a trustee for carrying out the public objects for which it was incorporated by Royal charter. And, with reference to the feeling of the society towards the Lord Lieutenant, I must add, that had any recommendation to that body come form Lord Carlisle, whether as the Queen's Viceroy or the society's president, it would have received the most respectful and careful consideration. In addition to the correspondence between the Committee of Council and the society, I propose to move for copies of any communications the Lord Lieutenant may have made either to the Committee of Council or to the Royal Dublin Society upon the question at issue between them, as it is important to know upon what grounds rest what is asserted regarding the part taken by the Lord Lieutenant. My Lords, it is with much pain that I make the remarks I have felt it my duty to make regarding the correspondence I am to move for. The Government has not, I conceive, acted in a proper spirit by a society that has done the services to the country that have been rendered by the Royal Dublin Society. The attempt to coerce a society of educated and independent gentlemen associated in the discharge of a public trust to act in opposition to their convictions was not a becoming exercise of the power of the Government. The Government, no doubt, does entertain a very strong opinion, though very suddenly taken up, that the society is not justified in adhering to its practice—now of 100 years' standing, and never before questioned—of allowing every week a Sabbath of rest to its officers and servants, and they, therefore, think they should be deprived of part of the annual grant given by Parliament; but if so, the more manly, straightforward, and constitutional course would have been to have reduced the estimate upon their own responsibility, instead of submitting a vote to the consideration of Parliament that they do not intend to support, and the discussion of which will have the effect of raising an anti-Sabbatarian agitation within the walls of Parliament at the expense of a society which has ever studiously avoided mixing itself up with religious controversy. My Lords, I will now conclude by moving that there be laid upon the table of the House copies of any correspondence that has taken place between the Science and Art Department of the Committee of Council on Education and the Royal Dublin Society about opening the Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin to the public on Sunday, together with copies of any communications from the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to the said Committee, or to the Royal Dublin Society, upon the same subject.


said, that holding the office of Vice President of the Royal Dublin Society he felt it his duty to say a few words on this important question. Although he regretted that the Government should feel disposed to withdraw any portion of the grant to that Society, he could not entirely agree in the views stated by the noble Earl opposite. He had himself, at the meetings of the society, frequently advocated the admission of the public to the Glasnevin Gardens on Sunday after Divine service, because he believed there was a large class of artisans who had no other day at their disposal. This society possessed an advantage which all institutions in Ireland did not enjoy, as it was perfectly free from any religious or political bias, and he thought it would be most injudicious to diminish the power of the society to keep up a good botanic garden. The Government were hardly justified in the strong measures which were threatened, and he trusted the Lord President of the Council would give some reassuring statements on the subject.


said, he should regret any want of courtesy in communications with so important a society as the Royal Society of Dublin; but having again looked over the correspondence, which he had no objection to lay on the table, he could not find in it any discourteous expressions. The question of the opening the garden on Sundays having been brought under the attention of the Government by the Lord Lieutenant, they expressed an opinion that as there was a large annual grant of public money the Irish public ought to derive exactly the same advantage as the English public derived, under the sanction of successive Governments, and under the sanction of Parliament, at Kew and Hampton Court. The objection to the opening of the gardens on religious grounds was taken away by the fact that the Society had been in the habit of admitting the Fellows on Sundays to these very gardens, and the whole of the public on payment to another garden in Dublin under their administration.


said, the Royal Society had no control over the garden to which the noble Earl alluded.


said, he presumed the noble Earl did not deny that the Fellows of the Society were admitted to the Botanic Gardens on Sundays? With regard to the police question, the fact of a memorial in favour of opening the gardens being signed by all the police magistrates in Dublin was a greater authority than any argument which he could use. The same objections which were made now were urged against throwing open Kew and Hampton Court, but the result had shown that the majority of the visitors on Sundays were artisans of this Metropolis and that their behaviour was orderly and unexceptionable. The noble Earl could not wish to make an invidious distinction between the artisans of Dublin and the artisans of London; and he believed that, if they placed confidence in the Irish working people, their confidence would not be misplaced. Since he had been in the House he had been informed by an Irish Peer that when he proposed he throw open his grounds to the public he was warned of the danger of disorder and devastation, but, nothing of the sort had happened, and nothing could be more orderly than the conduct of the population so admitted. A deputation representing fifty-nine Irish constituencies of all creeds and all politics had pressed on the Government in the strongest manner the desirability of opening these gardens on Sunday. They had further requested the Government to withdraw the grant in order to compel the opening of the gardens. The Government had declined to take that course, but they had determined to take the very constitutional course of deferring any proceedings until the subject had been discussed in Parliament, as it would be when the Vote for the society was under the consideration of the other House. A petition, signed by 16,000 persons, including the Corporation of Dublin and the police magistrates to whom he had referred, had been presented in favour of opening the gardens, and there was good evidence that a large majority of the people of Dublin concurred in that view. The Lord Lieutenant entirely agreed in the opinion of the Members of the Government on this side of the water, that the gardens should be opened, subject of course to the usual regulations. The Lord Lieutenant differed only in point of detail, being of opinion that a small money admission should be required; but in that view the Government did not concur. Under all the circumstances he thought the decision of the Government was most in accordance with the general opinion of the public.


said, that if he had been present at the meeting referred to he should certainly have voted in favour of the gardens being opened on Sundays after Divine service under certain regulations. If these gardens had been supported entirely by the private contributions of the members of the Royal Dublin Society, of course it would have been competent for them to take their own course in the matter; but the fact was that the Royal Dublin Society was merely the medium for expending the public grant given to these gardens. No doubt there was a strong feeling in Dublin against the opening of the gardens; but, on the other hand, there was a petition to be presented to the House of Commons from 2,240 electors, and 16,000 artisans of Dublin in favour of their being opened. If Parliament should decide in favour of the opening of these gardens on Sunday, either the Royal Dublin Society must give way, or else notice ought to be given to them by the Government that the administration of the grant would be transferred to other hands.


protested against the sanction of the Government being given to the efforts of persons who were endeavouring to break down the sanctity of the Sabbath. The comfort and consciences of those public servants who were condemned to perpetual labour by the opening of these places ought to be considered. The opening of Kew Gardens led to the running of no less than 93 trains of the Lord's Day, and, of course, to the employment of a very large number of guards, drivers, porters, and other officials. Having mixed much with working-men he knew that they looked to the Legislature to protect them against the consequences which would flow from the sanctity of the Sabbath being broken down.


said, that he would be as much opposed to the Motion as the right rev. Prelate if he thought that it tended in the remotest degree to break down the sanctity of the Sabbath. The contrary would be found to be the case. It would be a great boon to the poor housekeepers, artizans, and inhabitants of the Liberties of Dublin, that upon this day of happy rest and enjoyment they should have the opportunity of communing with the works of Nature. Such an opportunity tended to improve the hearts and the feelings of those poor people far more than if they were pent up in their close abodes and banished from all innocent enjoyment, because there were some persons who chose to put upon the Lord's Day restrictions which he did not think were to be found in its origin and the divine ordinance on which the Christian Sabbath rested. There was no reason to anticipate that any mischief would be done to the Botanic Garden if it were opened to the people on Sundays. What was our experience at Hampton Court or at Kew? What was the conduct of the people in St. James' Park, which was open during the whole Sunday? He saw in that beautiful garden, on Sundays crowds, including some of the most wretched classes from Westminster, who conducted themselves in the most orderly manner; often they were assembled in family groups, and he attached much importance to the union of husband, wife, and children, who were probably separated during the week, meeting in happy communion in that beautiful garden on the Sunday. Depend upon it these persons were not the worse Christians for being thus allowed the contemplation of the beautiful works of God. In conclusion, he thanked the noble Earl (the Earl of Donoughmore) for the manly, sensible, and, he would unhesitatingly, add the religious view which he had taken of this question, and hoped that the managers of these gardens would follow his noble. Friend's advice, and take an opportunity of reconsidering their decision, if they did not, he hoped the House of Commons would be against them as the declared sense of the House of Lords had now shown itself to be.


concurred with almost every noble Earl that had spoken, in thinking that it was expedient to open the Glasnevin Garden on Sundays. The Zoological Gardens in Dublin had been open for some years to the public on that day, and hardly an instance of misconduct had occurred in them; while he believed that their use on Sunday had greatly conduced to the benefit of the people. The interests of religion were best subserved by the promotion of innocent and healthy recreation among the lower classes of the population, instead of leaving them to indulge in the gross vices which prevailed in all great cities. He, however, thought that, as the Royal Society were pledged conscientiously and by opinion to a particular course, the Government should not press them this year to alter their determination, but give them until next year for consideration.


said, he would in every possible way guard against the desecration of the Sabbath; but care should be taken, while upholding its sanctity, to remember the words of Him who said that "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." What could be more becoming than to give to the Christian people of a Christian country the innocent recreation on a Sunday which was denied them on every other day in the week? The upper ranks of society were able to take recreation on all days; but the working classes in every large town were, for the most part, immured in close rooms, breathing a polluted atmosphere, with no possible means of enjoyment; and, that being so, the upper classes, he thought, could hardly reconcile it to themselves on religious grounds to exclude the poor from enjoying the fresh air and the recreation which such gardens as these naturally afforded. He hoped the executive of the Royal Dublin Society would reconsider this question, and would not deny to their poorer brethren means of enjoyment which they possessed themselves. It seemed to him most desirable that those who had the opportunities of reading the will and mind of God in His holy book should also have opportunities of contemplating the works of His hand in the other great book—the book of Nature, remembering that "the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof." He trusted that the Government grant would not be withdrawn, and that the result of a calmer consideration of this question by the Royal Dublin Society would render such a step unnecessary. He admitted it to be an evil that by the opening of holiday places on the Sunday a certain number of officials were employed; but this objection would apply less to the Glasnevin Gardens than to any other, for there was no railway, and only two or three attendants would be required; and, that being so, he thought the conscientious scruples of a few persons should not stand in the way of doing a great public good. When they considered the many evils to which the populations of large towns were exposed on Sundays, they must admit that it was an advantage to remove them as far as possible from those unholy temptations. He must express a hope that public places of this sort would not be closed on that day.


said, that those who entertained religious scruples upon that subject were entitled to the greatest respect.


said, he would immediately put himself in communication upon the matter with the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who had the most friendly feeling towards the Royal Dublin Society, and he hoped that by that means some satis- factory settlement of the question would be effected before the Vote came on for discussion in the House of Commons.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at Eight o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.