Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Sunday, 17th December 1837


Johnny's extra ordinary letter from Encounter Bay arrived here on Friday and to say that it put the cat amongst the pigeons is not the half of it. He appears to have survived two shipwrecks, an expedition in the wilds of the South Coast and a night with the natives. Most unbelievably of all it seems he has spent considerable time with none but David McLaren for company and not been bored to death!

The loss of Jeffcott is a great and unexpected blow. His good sense and knowledgeable opinion, as well as his readiness to side with me against the Fisherites mean that his passing leaves me in a pretty tight spot in the politics of the Colony. And his loss from the bench only serves to confirm Jickling as the inadequate he seems. I will miss him greatly.

He had become a great identity about the town, his habit of wearing trousers short enough in the leg to display a fair few inches of stocking caused great merriment and he had become known to the Colonists as "Mr. Jeff", a sobriquet of endearment rather than disrespect. 

He will, of course be missed in Van Dieman's Land as well, where he was considered Love Incarnate and Passion Personified by the dear Miss Kermode. I imagine it falls to me to write and inform the lady of her loss. I shall have to do so in as tactful a manner as possible and I am the man for the job. I consider myself to be, when need arises, the non pareil and sine qua non of discretion.

I have thought to begin my letter with "Dear Miss Kermode; Have you yet purchased your wedding gown? If not, I have news which might save you considerable expense." which I think strikes a proper tone and will soften the blow to follow. I will probably get Mrs Hindm rsh to glance over the thing once it is drafted to get the feminine viewpoint.

I must say that the feminine viewpoint around here has been less than complimentary regarding Johnny's letter. I have been told that Jeffcott's drowning, the wreck of the South Australia and the death of a whaler, Johnny's blistered feet and the digging of two graves were all somehow my fault and, what's more, I should have known about them before they happened so that I could have stopped Johnny from going on the trip and experiencing them.

Even more I have been told that (and I quote directly) that "if whatever it was that woman rubbed on his feet is poisonous and the boy's toes wither and fall off then it will be on your head!" It has been intimated that if even one toe is so much as damaged I will never be spoken to again. At this point I can't help but be on the side of the native woman. Johnny can get by with nine toes just as well as ten and if it means a little peace and quiet then "toes away!" I say.

Great talk about the town over the issue of schools for the children. At present children learn at their mother's knee, although of course there was a school set up at Kingscote by Bromley where children paid a penny a day to come along and sit under a tree and have dear old Walter tell them Bible stories and teach them their ABCs.

At present, I am told most of the children are either schooled in their home by their parents or run wild in the streets where, I have no doubt, they learn many skills that will help them through their lives. 

I remember my own school days - I was on a Naval ship by the time I was eight and I learnt most of what I know of the ways of the world below decks from the Jack Tars of the Bellerophon.

However a group of do-gooders back in London such as Rundle, Currie and Hindley have decided that we need to spread the knowledge of Jesus, England and Empire (though not necessarily in that order) and raise children to be useful members of a moral British society.

I wish we could teach a few adults here in the Colony to be useful and moral, but I suspect they have missed the boat on that account. But that is by the by.

Our zealous educators, led by none other than George Fife Angas have great plans. They have begun, in that most English of manners when action is called for: by forming a committee. The committee has sprung into action and, with the speed and flair of a startled tortoise, produced a report. (I believe a law has been passed in the Parliament making it illegal to form a committee that does not include the membership of George Fife Angas)

They intend to have set up several different types of schools in the colony.  For childen up to the age of eight they will have infant schools "on the English model", the English model, if I recall, being Bible stories and thrashing.

A School "on the English Model"

The survivors will then progress to schools that teach a bit of reading and writing as well as Bible stories and thrashing and, as they say in the report, "a small, unoppressive portion of labour". Exactly why a group of businessmen and merchants would want to see a captive force of children carrying out a "portion of labour" I leave to others to judge, as I leave the question of how "small and unoppressive" such labour might be.

Any of these seasoned workers who manage to reach the age of twelve would then, according to the committee plan, be enrolled in schools "on the plan of Dr Fellinberg". I had to ask around, but it seems that Fellinberg is a Swiss shower who set up schools that were half academy, half farm. The children learn how to run a farm, yodel, put the holes in cheese and so on and in between times hear Bible stories, read and write and receive a thrashing or two.

Having weeded out the weak and inform, those left at the age of sixteen who have heard all the Bible stories, would be able to take on an apprenticeship so that, at the age of twenty-one, after five more years of thrashing, they can, according to the committee, make themselves into valuable and productive members of society.

The report states that "The whole of the schools to be conducted on the soundest principles of moral and religious education.": the thrashing for morals and the Bible stories for religion I imagine.

For myself, I cannot help but feel that if we let children learn the needful things at their mother's knee and then go out and play in the fields then they'd learn just as much. They might not be able to tell you what Melchizedek said to Abraham or what colour fabric Lydia sold, but they'd be thrashed a good deal less and probably grow up happier. And if some of them ran about the streets calling gentlemen names and shying at their hats with pebbles is this so terrible? Particularly if the gentleman in question is Fisher.

Anyway, the whole scheme depends on money. As is the way of these things the Committee is calling on public subscriptions from like minded child thrashers and will only come alive once people have dug into their pockets deeply enough. So I think that the children can run free for quite a while longer.

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