1849 February: Ragged School Union Magazine; Industrial Schools For The Destitute, Aberdeen By Mr. Sheriff Watson

(Continued from page 24.) The success of the Boys’ School of Industry in Aberdeen led to the establishment of a Girls’. A few ladies, who had long devoted much of their time to the prison and penitentiary, disheartened with the promising blossom and stinted fruit of these secluded gardens of reformation, resolved to anticipate the approach of crime, and undertake the training of the young before the prison or the police-cell had stamped the indelible seal of infamy on their name and character.


A public meeting was called; but public sympathy had not yet been aroused to the magnitude and importance of the subject, and only a small number assembled. Though discouraged, they did not despair; they proceeded to business, named a committee, published resolutions, and on the 3rd of June, 1643, opened a small school in a narrow lane, under the charge of an old woman who had considerable experience in common school teaching, but could not comprehend the various duties of Industrial School training.


Here the school languished for several months, when a young, energetic, and intelligent teacher gave it a new tone and character. Removed to suitable premises, it soon attracted local attention; the improved appearance of the girls, the propriety of their conduct, their intelligence and activity, contrasted strikingly with their previous dirty, slovenly habits, and idle, wretched condition—exciting equal satisfaction and surprise.


The removal of upwards of a hundred juvenile mendicants from the streets, through the instrumentality of these schools, caused a very palpable diminution in the numbers of the class; but there still remained no inconsiderable number, and these were of the most pestilent description. Deserters from the schools, or children of the poorest and most depraved, they would take no denial to their insolent solicitations.


They braved all the corrections of the police; neither the watch-house nor the prison inspired any terror. They laughed to scorn any attempt at their reformation. It was clear that juvenile vagrancy would not exhaust itself, although the children of the better-parented gladly sought admission into the school, (The admission to the Aberdeen Industrial School is quite free to the destitute, and food, as well as instruction and reading, etc., is given in return for a certain portion of labour, the profits of which go to reduce the current expenditure of the School) yet those of the ill-disposed preferred, or were incited to continue, on the course of mendicancy, as more congenial to their habits, or more profitable to their destitute parents.


Under these circumstances, the promoters of the Industrial Schools were taunted with the inefficiency of their system, and it became manifest that some compulsory process must be adopted, in order effectually to eradicate the evil. In this difficulty it was proposed to employ the police to apprehend all begging children, and convey them to school. The suggestion received the sanction of the authorities, and the temporary use of the soup-kitchen having been obtained as a school-room, the requisite instructions were given, and on Monday, the 19th of May, 1845, seventy-five ragged outcasts were brought in.


Their matted locks, tattered garments, and collecting- basket, showed that they were fully equipped for the week’s campaign, and their looks of dismay and astonishment at being apprehended and conveyed to the soup-kitchen could only be equalled by those of the managers, who had made no adequate provision for such an assemblage. The scene was a lamentable one, but it was nevertheless highly ludicrous. It would require the pen of a Dickens or the pencil of a Cruikshank to do it justice, and we shall not attempt it. It is sufficient to say, that the bold and hazardous enterprise was fully justified by success.


In one day, juvenile mendicancy was totally abolished, and in a short time the most perfect order and discipline prevailed in the school. The absence of begging children in the streets was immediately remarked, and the novelty of the Soup-Kitchen Schools attracted crowds of visitors. The working-classes took up the cause, and subscribed liberally.


The commissioners of police lent the assistance of their officers, and all seemed desirous to aid in this last attempt to reclaim and christianize the destitute and forlorn. Of the seventy- five children collected only four could read. Now all read, and have daily read to them the glad tidings of the Gospel; and occupying airy and commodious premises, the school exhibits a little hive of industry, intelligence, order, and happiness; and those who at first scoffed at and derided the undertaking, are now the loudest in its praise.


In the rapid sketch we have given of the rise of these schools, we have endeavoured to show what may be done with an ordinary degree of energy and decision, in the hope that other towns may follow the example that has been set in Aberdeen. Before concluding, we may notice that Mr. Sheriff Bell, at the last Annual General Meeting of the Glasgow Industrial Schools Association, is reported to have said, that he had been making inquiry what effect the Society’s labours had on the delinquent population of the city, and he seems to have expected an abundant harvest where hardly any seed had been sown, but he had ascertained that the number of juvenile criminals in the Glasgow prisons had not diminished since the establishment of the Industrial Schools.


Glasgow has a population of upwards of 200,000, and it is calculated that there are two or three thousand vagrant destitute children infesting the streets, and subsisting by mendicancy and crime. From this mass of juvenile destitution and delinquency about three hundred boys and girls have been withdrawn from misery and wretchedness, and in the Industrial School are trained to habits of cleanliness, industry, and order. But the outlying thousands are still uncared for; no provision is made for their instruction.


If they could repeat the prayer, “Give us each day our daily bread,” it would, so far as man is concerned, be unheeded; and no shelter is provided for many of them but the cells of the prison. Is it matter of surprise, then, that during a period of great manufacturing and commercial distress, when the young and healthy could hardly by their industry earn a subsistence, that the starving children of the aged and feeble should, though in a prison, seek that food and shelter which without were denied them ? We never saw charitable or colonial statistics thus tested; and we turn with satisfaction to the criminal statistics furnished by the Aberdeen prison.


The city of Aberdeen has a population of about sixty thousand; and, as already said, the juvenile mendicants in 1843 amounted to about 280. In the different Industrial Schools there are at present above 300 scholars, and we have said that juvenile vagrancy has almost entirely disappeared. Now what have been the results as regards juvenile delinquency?


In the Report by the Committee named to forward the scheme of establishing an Industrial School in Aberdeen, it is stated, that. “last year (1840) 77 children had been committed to prison; and that during the previous year (1839) 94 had been convicted of various offences; about 10 per cent on the whole commitments.” In 1843, the number of children committed to the Aberdeen prison under 12 years, were 53; in 1844, 40; in 1845, 49; in 1846, the numbers were 28; in 1847, the numbers were 27; and, during last year, one of great commercial and manufacturing distress, the numbers were 19 ; about 2 per cent, on the whole number of commitments.


But why 19? can juvenile delinquency not be utterly extinguished; are there no other means of correcting little children than by sending them to prison? There are means, if men would use them; when the then selfish and officious disciples of our Lord forbade the poor people to bring their children to him that he might bless them, He rebuked his followers, and said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”


It is to be feared there are still professing disciples who forbid, or, at all events, who do not assist in bringing destitute and neglected children to Christ, and hence so many of them find their way into prison. Let industrial Schools be established on a sufficiently broad and liberal basis; let all who need food and instruction be invited to attend; and let the magistrate be empowered, when an infant delinquent appeal before him, to inquire into his moral, physical, and religious state; and if found in ignorance and want, to send him to school at the expense of the parish, or of the worthless or negligent parent—this done, we hesitate not to predict that, ere long, the children of the poor and depraved would be as rarely seen within the walls of a prison as the children of the rich and respectable.


We are fully persuaded that juvenile vagrancy and delinquency can only be met and vanquished by some such system, and the experience of every town where the Industrial School plan has been fairly tried testifies to the correctness of our conviction. Why then should it not be universally adopted in all our large and crowded cities ? Let us try to regenerate the rising generation of our land, and there is hope for Britain amid all the convulsions that surround her. Let the same system be tried in Ireland, and the fairest isle in creation may become the most moral, the most religious, and the most industrious country in the world.


In vain we multiply our gaols and penitentiaries, and crowd them with multitudes of juvenile delinquents; the terrors of the law may alarm and punish, but they will never soften and reform the subject of their pains. The searing influence of judicial infliction must be exchanged for the tender sympathies of human feeling, and, laying hold of the hapless victim of penury and neglect on the threshold of a vicious career, we must seek to implant those Christian principles which can alone enable him to withstand temptation, and cherish feelings which will bind him to his fellow-man as a friend and an ally, instead of leaving him to be forced into an attitude of hostility as a pest and a foe — Liverpool Courier.


The above is a reproduction of the text found in the 1849 February publication of the Ragged School Union Magazine. The article ‘Industrial Schools For The Destitute, Aberdeen’ was written by Mr. Sheriff Watson


Some history around the period includes:

  • In the same year the first women’s college, Bedford College, was opened in London.
  • It was the year which followed the 1848 French Revolution which starts the Second French Republic
  • In 1848 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the Communist Manifesto in London whilst a number of revolutions erupted across the continent as well as the Hungarian Revolution
  • In 1848 Feargus O’Connor headed up a Chartist Rally in Kennington Park, London presenting to parliament a petition following bread riots in Manchester, Glasgow and Dublin
  • In 1848 great famine was visited upon the peoples of Ireland; the Young Irelander Rebellion at Ballingarry, South Tipperary takes place.
  • In 1848 Habeas Corpus is suspended for the peoples of Ireland (a recourse in law through which a person can report an unlawful detention or imprisonment to a court and request that the court order the custodian of the person, usually a prison official, to bring the prisoner to court, to determine whether the detention is lawful)
  • In 1848 the second Anglo-Sikh War breaks out in the Punjab


On the subject of corruption in Britain at the time we have the following excerpt:

“Drawing lines around patronage and kinship to ensure that they did not damage the public good proved remarkably difficult; and patronage proved incredibly adaptable and flexible in its reinvention. The challenges were evident in the EIC where competition to become a servant became intense from the mideighteenth century onwards, placing a large amount of power in the hands of the directors of the company, who controlled entry to it and who were also obliged by ties of friendship and kinship [John Bourne, ‘The Civil and Military Patronage of the East India Company’, University of Leicester Ph.D. thesis (1977), 162]. Patronage became monetised and merged into sale of office…A report in the Morning Herald in 1843 condemned a systematic sale of patronage and further inquiries were needed in 1844, 1846, and 1848, the last two resulting in criminal prosecutions, one involving director Sir William Young (who was found guilty of criminal conspiracy) and the other the wife of the President of the Board of Control, Lord Ripon [King’s Bench, Dec. 1847 and Jan. 1849].  And still the abuse of patronage persisted, perhaps because elaborate chains of intermediaries between buyer and seller had evolved to screen the transactions and they proved remarkably difficult to break up.”

Taken from – Knights, M. (2022). Trust and Distrust : Corruption in Office in Britain and Its Empire, 1600-1850. Page 414 to 415, 


In a book published in 1849 we see how Britain’s patronised traders (East India Company) were stoking the build up of the second Opium War in China:

“This Work was commenced in 1840^ and about fifty of the following- pag-es appeared in a series of papers, published in the Diihlin University 3fagazine, under the same title ; and feelings of diffidence might have prevented us from launching- oui* l)ark upon the troubled sea of public opinion, did we not hope to be instrumental, in some measure, in awakening” the Legislature of Great Britain, to the disgrace and iniquity of connecting* the name of a Christian country, and powerful nation, with the opium trade…Hong-Kong is about ten miles in length, and four and a half in breadth; the noble harbour is nearly four miles in length, and rather more than one and three quarters in width. There ride at anchor many of the wooden walls of old England, manned brave hearts of oak; merchant vessels freighted with valuable commodities, affording honorable means for the acquisition of wealth to the British merchant; and too frequenth fast-sailing clippers may be seen laden with opium, China’s curse. By the sale of this pernicious drug – Great Britain’s sons gain gold; and earn opprobium for dealing destruction around them, bringing into derision the name of a Christian country, by enabling the Chinese to violate the laws of their own nation, in obtaining the prohibited and accursed poison; the use of which entails destruction, mentally and bodily on its infatuated devotees.”

Taken from – Sirr Charles H, China and the Chinese: Their religion, character, customs and manufactures: the evils arising from the opium trade : with a glance at our religious, moral, political and commercial intercourse with the country. (1849). London: W.S. Orr. Pp. Preface – 2