1849 February: Ragged School Union Magazine; Ragged School Memorials: The Old Stable. No. II
In our last communication, we gave some accounts of the rise, progress, and results of the Ragged School in the Old Stable. These would show the necessity for such institutions, and their adaptation to the wants of these long neglected children of the streets. The reader would at once see, that, in cases not a few, ignorance is the parent of crime, and that the best and most simple means for the moral and physical elevation of such a class is to give them a useful and religious education.
Few persons could look upon the two hundred of the veriest outcasts of society here collected, without having their hearts overflowing with gratitude, that such efforts had been begun where civilization had not done its work, because Christianity was not there.
The black effigies of the doll, the well-known sign of “pence,” or receiving houses for stolen property, were numerous; the pawn-shops, with their three gilt balls, (the only glittering objects that met the eye,) and the public-house, with its swinging doors, kept constantly moving by crowds of tattered customers—these appeared to be the only establishments where anything like business was done. They were also the only establishments for the instruction of the young, but they neither provided clothing for the naked, nor food for the hungry.”
Many are the scenes of interest we have seen in that school-room, over which the memory still fondly lingers, rekindling in our heart mingled feelings of pain and pleasure. Cold must have been that heart that could follow unmoved the youth of nine years, who bad just arisen from his straw bed, bounding through the frost and snow, without breakfast, to the school-room. And more especially when he knew that the poor boy never had a shoe nor stocking on his feet; that one brother, thirteen years of age, was transported for seven years, because he would rather steal than starve; and that another brother of eleven was then in prison for the same crime, driven to it by the same necessity. But Charles was not the only boy to be seen in that group, all tattered and ragged; no, he had sixty school-fellows, the greater number of whom never had shoes on their feet, and yet some of them had reached fourteen years of age.
The sufferings of the children during the previous winter, some of whom, like poor James S—– (* See page 9 of No. I. Magazine.) had fallen victims, was enough to urge us not to allow another season to come without seeking to obtain the means of covering their naked feet. We therefore went from door to door, pleading the cause of these helpless ones, until money was obtained sufficient to accomplish our purpose. We were told by many to whom we applied, that it would be of no use to provide the children with clothing, as their parents would be sure to pawn them. But this was only an excuse urged by those whose hearts had never become alive to the just claims of the poor and needy.
All that was required was obtained to give each child either a pair of shoes or some other portion of clothing. The day these gifts were made to the poor children, was to them a day above all others, in their short and chequered history. It was on the last day of December, and the friends who supplied us with the means were invited to witness the scene. The Old Stable was filled by two o’clock ; every child partook of a piece of bread made for the occasion, and a jug of milk. Some noble ladies were present, but which of the two extremes of society enjoyed the treat most we pretend not to say. We cannot indeed describe the pleasure we felt at seeing so many who had been accustomed to do evil, learning to do well. And also so many who seldom had more than a dry crust once a day, enjoying themselves with pleasant, wholesome food.
The roll of barefooted boys was called over, and each one had a pair of shoes and stockings given him, with the distinct understanding that they were his own, not his parents. When these sixty were supplied, the remaining numbers were called up, and every child was presented with some article of clothing according to its necessity. Not a few of them fell that for the first time in their lives they possessed a new gar- ment, which no one ever wore before them. The meeting was closed by an address from the Rev. Robert Moffat, the celebrated African missionary, and praise and prayer to that God who bad ever smiled on our efforts.
But the most interesting sight took place next day, when the children returned to school. We have already stated that many of them never had a shoe on their feet before, and great was our astonishment when several of them arrived nt school with their new gift under their arm. When asked why they had not on their shoes and stockings, one boy replied, “ They hurts my feet, sir.” Another, thirteen years of age, said, “ My feet feels so funny; you see, sir, I never had no shoes on before.”
Another was asked “ Is it the fashion in frost and snow ”—for the snow lay several inches deep—“ for people to carry their shoes under their arm ?” “ You see, sir, my feets are all chilblains, and I couldn’t put them on, and I wouldn’t leave em at home, ’cause I shouldn’t see em again, as mother would take em to uncles, and drink the money; you see, sir, she would have drunk me if I would go up the spout.”
We knew full well that what poor Charles said of his mother was equally true of his father, for they were both drunkards. Now for a little more of Charles’s history. We have already slated, that he had a brother transported and another in prison, the poor children having been left to shift for themselves. Charles became very much attached to the school, and often promised that he would never do as his brothers had done. Ah! poor boy, he often suffered the greatest privation from the want of food.
After trying many shifts, he applied to us for a loan of threepence, saying that he thought he could make his own living, and attend school too. On being furnished with the small amount, he hastened off and purchased twelve boxes of matches. These he sold at a halfpenny each, realising threepence profit.
Encouraged by his new undertaking, he went out every evening with his twelve boxes, and continued with untiring perseverance until they were sold. For nearly two years he continued this system, attending school all day, and doing sufficient business at night to provide him with food for the next. When asked how he managed to live, he replied, “ Why, you know I can always manage to make threepence at night, and sometimes more. I spends one penny for breakfast, another for dinner, and another for supper; that’s better than my brothers did, and by-and-bye, when I can read and write well, I will get a situation.”
The good resolutions of this neglected boy contrast strongly with the conduct of his besotted parents, and is worthy of all praise, and even of the imitation of some who are placed in better circumstances, and enjoying higher privileges. What were the impelling motives that led this boy to the adoption of such a course? Was it the example of his parents, to whom he should have been able to look for protection and support ? No; they were the veriest slaves of the gin-palace, and their home the empty, cheerless home of the drunkard.
The furniture consisted of two dirty cups that stood on the mantle-shelf; on the empty fire-place was an old tin tea-kettle, without a cover, and a bundle of shavings and dirty straw in the opposite corner of the room, but without even a rag to cover them or their children during their midnight slumber.
Fancy Charles rising from such a bed in the morning, repairing to the back yard to an old water-butt, to wash, (for his drunken parents could afford neither soap nor basin,) to make himself somewhat decent among his schoolfellows. Thus prepared, see him off to the cheap bread-shop, a few doors from the school, to have his morning’s meal, consisting of three farthings’ worth of bread, and a farthing’s worth of dripping, which, however, was as sweet to him as the new-made butter is to those who have not lucifers to sell before they get a breakfast. It might be supposed that Charles was a dull, spiritless boy, broken down by bad living and the cruel treatment of his worthless parents: but no, he was a happy, contented, spirited lad—the very life of his playmates.
He was always among the first at school, and never behind with bis lessons, pushing onward, as if longing for the time when he would be fit for the duties of life. He bad an only sister, who attended the same school; she was also very regular, although she often suffered for doing so from her cruel mother; poor Charles often shared his morsel of bread with her when she could find none at home.
The time at length arrived when our youth went out in search of employment. After much labour he was engaged as an errand-boy in a fishmonger’!, shop, at four shillings per week. Six years have since passed away, and he is now the confidential servant of his employer. He has ever looked upon his master’s interests as being bound up with his own.
Some months after our young fishmonger entered his situation, his mother fell a victim to her passion for strong drink. This event left some impressions on the mind of her dissipated husband, and for a time he abandoned his drunken associates. So altered did he become, that he removed from his wretched hovel, the scene of many a drunken debauch, to a more comfortable abode, which, by industry, he was soon enabled to supply with decent furniture.
For upwards of three years his daughter kept his home in comfort, until he again became the victim of intemperance, returning to it “ like the dog to his vomit, or the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” He soon sold off every article of furniture he possessed, and turned his daughter into the streets. He became the inmate of a wretched lodging-house, where he is now dragging out the remainder of a miserable life.
Happy was it for the poor girl that Charles was the honest journeyman fishmonger, for he shared his loaf with her, and paid for her lodgings, until she obtained the means of earning her own living, which she has long done by honest industry, and may be seen on the Sabbath going to the house of God, in company with her brother Charles, both attributing what they are, to the blessing of God on the instructions they received in the Old Stable.
The above is a reproduction of the article ‘Ragged School Memorials: The Old Stable. No. II’ found in the 1849 February publication of the Ragged School Union Magazine.
Some history around the period includes:
On February 26th 1849 The Marquess of Lansdowne moved the Third Reading of the Habeas Corpus Suspension (Ireland) Bill [Ref: Hansard Parliamentary Records]; meaning, the right to a court hearing to assess illegal detaintion was suspended for the whole of the Irish peoples – “The writ of habeas corpus was described in the eighteenth century by William Blackstone as a “great and efficacious writ in all manner of illegal confinement”. It is a summons with the force of a court order; it is addressed to the custodian (a prison official, for example) and demands that a prisoner be brought before the court, and that the custodian present proof of authority, allowing the court to determine whether the custodian has lawful authority to detain the prisoner. If the custodian is acting beyond their authority, then the prisoner must be released. Any prisoner, or another person acting on their behalf, may petition the court, or a judge, for a writ of habeas corpus. One reason for the writ to be sought by a person other than the prisoner is that the detainee might be held incommunicado. ” – Wikipedia
In Ireland the Great Famine continued: Often it is described as the Potato Famine and is suggested a result of potato blight however it is documented how the British Government was exporting large quantities of food throughout – “Some historians claim that Ireland actually had enough farm products to feed all its people during the Great Potato Famine. In each year of the famine, a portion of the potato crop was salvaged. Some Irish farmers also produced oats and other food products. The problem was that Ireland’s richer people—including the English landowners—produced much of this food. These wealthy people sold their farm products to markets in England and America for a handsome price. The British parliament could have made it illegal to take these food products out of Ireland, but that would have cut into the English landlords’ profits. So while people were starving in Ireland, ships packed with food were sailing out of the country to foreign ports.” – (Fradin, D. B. (2012). The Irish potato famine. New York: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark. Page30)
“The British government had a reason to declare the Irish Potato Famine over in 1848. Parliament was reducing the amount of money it was spending on Ireland, and English politicians wanted the world to think the crisis was ending. Lawmakers wanted to shift responsibility for assisting famine victims to Ireland’s rich landowners by levying taxes. Despite the government’s announcement, the potato blight struck again in 1849 and 1850. Deaths from starvation and disease continued. Most historians say that the Irish Potato Famine lasted seven years, from l845 to 1852.”
Fradin, D. B. (2012). The Irish potato famine. New York: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark. Page35
1849 February 12 – April 12 A surveying expedition led by engineering Lieutenants Henry C. Whiting and Martin L. Smith completes a perilous trek through the heart of Indian country, covering 1,600 miles between San Antonio and El Paso, Texas. Crazy Horse (Tashunca-Uitco) was born near present-day Rapid City, South Dakota, around 1849, a member of the Oglala Sioux nation.
Fredriksen, J. C. (2010). Chronology of American military history. New York, NY: Facts On File.
Dr John Snow made the case for waterborne contagion as early as 1849 with his book, On the Mode of Communication of Cholera. It was not until 1883, when the cholera microbe was isolated, that the medical profession as a whole accepted his findings….Apart from Irish concerns, the 1849 session saw legislation relating to enclosure of common lands, the law of larceny, highways, Greenwich Hospital reform, Scottish turnpikes, merchant shipping, the law relating to small debts, drainage and improvement of land, prison reform, municipal corporations, bankruptcy law, suppression of the slave trade, cruelty to animals, metropolitan sewers, the law of marriage, nuisances removal, burial law. Nor is this a complete list, but merely exemplifies a trend.
McCord, N., & Purdue, B. (2009). British history 1815-1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
“By 1850 a policy of conquering some rulers and buying off others had extended the area of British domination throughout the whole sub-continent. The Marathas were conquered in 1818, Sind in 1843, the Sikhs in 1849 and Oudh in 1856. British ministers boasted that the Company’s (British East India Company) approach was modelled on the Roman principle of divide et impera—divide and rule. Using bribery in some instances and violence in others, it played ruler off against ruler, kingdom against kingdom, privileged class against privileged class, caste against caste, and religion against religion, finding local allies wherever it moved. This enabled it to conquer an empire of 200 million people with ‘a native army of 200,000 men, officered by Englishmen and…kept in check by an English army numbering only 40,000’.
Harman, C., (2017) A People’s History of the World, Page 375