« AnteriorContinuar »
WESTMINSTER AND ITS JUVENILE POOR.
master and friends, and an atmosphere of love and kindness has a peculiarly genial influence on the poor boy, who has been used only to cuffs, and kicks, and oaths,) and also the readiness of the teachers to impart knowledge with all simplicity in its most pleasing and winning forms.
To meet the cases of the almost famishing and destitute, who at the same time were diligent and deserving, the Juvenile Refuge was opened by the Committee of the Ragged School Union. Here the friends of the friendless provided them with two plain meals per day, and taught them some useful handicraft, which should fit them to gain by honest labour, instead of by fraud or force, sufficient to satisfy the cravings of hunger. And how pleasing has it been to see the avidity with which a life of disorder, vagabondism, and plunder, has often been cast aside in order to obtain the chance of leading a life of regularity, useful labour, and comparative respectability: and not a few have been by these means led into the paths of virtue, restored to be a blessing to society, and raised to the enjoyment of hopes which regard God, and heaven, and immortality. Many have been assisted to emigrate to our colonies, and numerous indeed have been the testimonials received of their usefulness in a new sphere of action, while at present I know not of a failure.
You would suppose, from the manifesto of Cardinal Wiseman, that he and his friends
had long paid especial attention to this district, and that while the Dean of Westminster had slumbered, luxuriating in the abundance of his princely revenues, the poor, oppressed, and now persecuted cardinal had paid especial attention to their needs. He might, and he ought, for Ireland has contributed a large supply to these slums ; and wherever you find more filth, and more idleness in one than in another, (and there are degrees of filth even in the Westminster slums,)-beyond the lowest a lower still it is sure to be an Irish occupant. And as to ignorance-except that the priest can send them to heaven—they have scarce an idea. But, alas ! even his zeal has not yet led him to penetrate this moral waste howling wilderness. There is a Catholic chapel in Horseferry Road, but how many years did it exist ere a school was formed ? and after all the years of its existence, how few children attend it: indeed, unless this class are sought out, and tended and watched, as with a gentle shepherd's care, but little good will be effected.
Such care has been exercised by the Ragged Schools, and well has it been repaid. Love and gratitude are still passions of the human soul, and part of our very being, although they may lie dormant and slumbering, and appear extinct. The most depraved have felt the kindness shown to their children, and while the City Missionary has aided the schools, the schools have materially aided the City Missionary. When he has met with rudeness and insult, a little child has turned the wrath into civility, by lisping, “Oh! he belongs to my school.”
I could go on to depict the improvement in the physical, as well as moral aspect of the district, since these operations commenced, but I have far exceeded the limits I set myself when I began. Instead of writing a letter I feel I could write a book. But while I restrain myself, permit me, as a native, and an inhabitant for more than half a century of Westminster Proper, to tender your Society my thanks for their efforts ; and permit me also to ask the public, Shall these efforts fail for want of funds ? It is feared they will ; I hear they do flag. Ye wealthy of Westminster Proper, shall it be so ? And ye of our metropolis and our country-Shall it be so? If I were to address the selfish principle only to those at a distance, I would say, Forbid it, for this is the bubbling head from whence flows a stream—a migratory stream, supplying our large cities and towns with adepts at plunder, who, when they have committed crime here, and fear detection, seek a new scene of operations in distant fields where they are unknown.
And then as to county rates for our prisons, and police rates for our constabulary, -But I must stop,
And subscribe myself, yours faithfully, . Westminster Proper, 21st Jan., 1851.
GEORGE WILSON. We trust our readers will ponder deeply the important statements
contained in the above excellent letter. Let them remember, that if any one of the buildings now used for Ragged School purposes should be discontinued, they will be gladly taken up by those who," instead of giving the children bread, will give them a scorpion ;” and that however much good may have already been done, assuredly this is not the time, nor is Westminster the place, where evangelical Christians should relax their efforts, or give up a single inch of the footing they have so dearly purchased. On one occasion, when the funds of the Refuge were extremely low, our noble Chairman is reported to have said, that before the doors of the institution should be closed, he would take his hat in his hand, and placing himself at the door of the House of Commons, collect the necessary means, in sixpences and shillings, from Members as they passed. Even if he had done so, it would only have been a specimen of that unceasing labour and self-denial which for many years he has exercised on behalf of the Westminster Schools ; and were a tithe of this self-denial to be practically manifested by others, the Ragged Schools of “ Westminster Proper” would continue to flourish; and instead of there being a Juvenile Refuge pent up in a narrow building, there would be one established worthy of the place, commensurate with its necessities, and honourable to the Evangelical Protestantism of England.
THE THIEVES' SCHOOL.
BY MR. SHERIFF WATSON.
It has been shown, that a large proportion of the juvenile vagrants of any district may be easily and safely brought up in Schools of Industry. Indigent parents who have the good of their children at heart, gladly avail themselves of the benefits of these institutions, and the children soon prefer the school, with its various comforts and healthful employments, to the hardships, privations, and pilfering on the streets. But in every large community there are some parents so debased and worthless as to sacrifice the good of their children for the gratification of their own disordered appetites, who will not allow their children to attend school because they bring nothing home, and who send them out to beg and steal, in order that they, upon their gatherings, may live in riot and licentiousness. We found that although we could prevent open juvenile vagrancy, we could not, by ordinary means, prevent juvenile delinquency. We saw little ragged children prowling about the streets, who fled from us when we attempted to speak to them, and who, when pursued and apprehended, declared that they were not begging, and their parents, when applied to, professed their unwillingness to send them to the Industrial School. But, though not openly begging, the children were covertly stealing, and frequently information reached us that ladies and market-women had lost their purses, and no means could be devised for their recovery. The police suspected the culprits, but suspicion was seldom matured into full conviction, and we felt anxious to learn the numbers, and become personally acquainted with the class of juvenile delinquents, who had acquired a sort of monopoly of the trade of stealing. To accomplish these objects, we requested the superintendent of police (in September, 1850) to invite all his young familiar acq inces to meet us at a tea-drinking in the council-chamber.
About forty accepted the invitation, and after full justice had been done to the excellent viands that had been provided, we stated that we were anxious to promote their good in some way that would be agreeable to them, and made some general inquiries about their personal history. Twenty-seven
of them were well acquainted with the station-house, twelve had been in prison, eleven had never been at any church, and only three were attending any school. Several of them had been at the Industrial Schools, but had left or been withdrawn by their parents. They all said they were willing to work if they could get employment, but at present they were all idle. When told of the evils of idleness, one of them archly replied, “Indeed, Sir, that is true, for there is not a good one amongst us. They seemed exceedingly pleased with their entertainment, and promised to return in case another invitation should be given. But here the zeal of the police outran their discretion, and two of them were apprehended on a charge of theft, were tried, convicted, and imprisoned. This was a great blunder, and had a bad effect on all our subsequent proceedings. It was our object to allay suspicion, to persuade these outcasts that we had their individual good at heart, and that our safe conduct was sufficient for their protection. It, however, could not be helped, and it became necessary to consider what ulterior steps should be taken. We recollected the opening of the Soup Kitchen School in 1845, and again applied for the use of that establishment. We obtained from the Commissioners of Police the funds necessary for paying a superintendent, and then issued invitations for another evening party, preparatory to opening a school for the young delinquents. At the second party there was a great falling off of numbers, and some of the most depraved failed to attend. We pointed out to those who came the difficulty of obtaining employment without some previous preparation. Tainted in character, and covered with rags, no honest person would take them into service. But we stated that if received into a school, and fed and clothed, they would present a more marketable appearance, and masters might be found willing to take some of them upon trial. Twenty agreed to the proposal, and a “Thieves' School” was opened in the Soup Kitchen, on October 1st, 1850, under the superintendence of a policeman. The history of a few of them, as taken down in their own words, may be here given
:C. D.-I am about fourteen years of age; my father is an old soldier, a pensioner; he has one shilling and a halfpenny a day; I was at the House of Refuge; my mother took me away ; I don'ť know where she is; I heard she was in Glasgow; my father wont look after me; I have no home to go to; I cannot read or write; I was at a factory for half a year; I got 2s. 6d. a week ; I slept in for two or three mornings and got my leave. This was about twelve months ago; I have been doing nothing since, but assisting the brokers to carry out their stands to the market on Fridays; I lodged in John Black's Court, and paid threepence a night; I went out selling pipeclay; I would be glad of any employment; I now go to the shelter all night.
A. S.-I am about eleven years of age; my father was a labourer, and died about four months since ; my mother lives in North Street; she is not able to do anything just now; I have a brother and two sisters; my brother is about a year old; my oldest sister is fourteen; she does nothing but keep the child ; my youngest sister is four years old; my mother gets nothing from the poor's house ; I cannot read; I have forgot all my schooling; my mother sometimes gets a little washing, that is all she has to depend upon.
J. D.-I am nine years of age ; my father is a sailor, but is labouring at the stone-yard now; he sometimes wont get work for a month or two, and then gets work for a week ; I was at the Bull Road School, House of Refuge School, and Frederick Street School; I was on the New Testament before I left school ; my father said the House of Refuge School was too dear, and that he would keep me himself; I have done nothing the last twelve months but go about; my mother is alive, but she wont bide* with my father nor look after us; she just goes about and drinks, and when she is drunk she comes up and takes all my father's things away.
* Wont live.
D. C.-I am thirteen years old; my father was drowned in the Dock at Montrose, about ten years ago; my mother lives in Frederick Street; I have a big brother that sells hardware, and a brother and sister that go to the country; I have three sisters younger than myself; we got nothing from the poor's house; my brother sometimes gives some baubees”* to my mother ; I used to beg before I came here; my mother is very ill off, she has nothing to put below her nor to "hap" (cover) her; she does not drink ; she cannot get anything to drink; she is not able to work ; I was at Sugar House Lane School; my mother took me away because she could not get any meat. C. B.-I am twelve
of age; my father is dead; he died about a year and a half ago ; my mother lives in North Street; she does nothing; she has six children; one sister is married; my next sister is nineteen, and she works at Bow Mill; Elizabeth is at the wool mill on the green ; Mary is thirteen ; she is doing nothing; I have a sister about seven years old, and a little sister about four. There are five of us doing nothing ; I was at school before my father died ; I have been at no school since; my mother is sober; I never was at work; my mother goes to no church; she has no clothes.
P. G.-I am thirteen years of age ; my father is away with the discovery ships, with Sir John Franklin, as a common sailor; my mother lives in Peacock's Close ; she gets baubees every month from the Custom House (36s.;) I don't know how much : she has four children; one, Frederick, is aged fourteen, he does nothing ; I am next; then Josephus, aged ten, he is in the school, and a sister, aged ten, at home; I was at the Juvenile School; my mother took me away about a year ago; I have been at no school since; I have not been at church since I was at school; I can read the Bible.
Of such materials were the Thieves' School composed; and although we could have wished another name, yet no other could have been more truly descriptive of the class. A worse conditioned set of boys was never at one time and at one place congregated together for the purpose of useful instruction. If art had been indifferent to the fashion of their garments, nature had been bountiful in the supply of hair, and the services of the barber and the tailor were alike necessary. Shirts and shoes and stockings had been reckoned superfluities, and sleeveless jackets and torn trowsers were all that any
of them could boast of. They quarrelled and fought, told lies and accused each other of evil practices, and every morning we were informed of a battle or a theft perpetrated the previous night. To correct or reform seemed utterly hopeless, but day by day their manners and habits altered. Every improvement in dress seemed to effect some improvement in disposition, and before the expiration of two months they were nearly all clothed, and in their right mind. Several of the older boys had got into employment, and when the school was closed there were only fourteen to dispose of, of whom six were admitted into the other Industrial Schools, and the rest returned to their parents.
Let any reader of this narrative say whether these children were more sinned against than sinning. Could they prevent the neglect of fathers—the drunkenness of mothers ? Could the sons of the discovery sailor prevent their mother drawing the six and thirty shillings a month as the price of their father's enterprise, and spending it all in a night in riotous living, leaving them in starvation, rags, and filth? Could the child withdrawn from school to minister to his mother's necessities do otherwise than beg and steal? Or could the lad, neglected by his father and had no home, do anything but make idleness as profitable as possible? We are apt to talk of juvenile depravity, but we are slow to provide a remedy for juvenile neglect. We have a policeman for every four or five juvenile delinquents, merely to look after them, to watch them stealing and to catch them if he can; but we think it a waste of public money to employ a single policeman, under the title of a schoolmaster, to superintend a score or two of professed thieves, and keep them altogether from the commission of crime. The children we had drawn
from vice and misery, and trained, in some degree, to self-respect, had previously learned to drink whisky and smoke tobacco, yet it was brought as a grave charge against the school management, that the few halfpence which had been given as the reward of industry had been spent in these licensed indulgences, forgetful, apparently, that tobacco and whisky had been the chief commodities upon which the proceeds of their previous successful depredations had been expended. A drunken boy, with a short tobacco-pipe in his mouth, is not an unusual sight in our streets ; and however effective school discipline may be, we think that two months are too short to work a thorough moral reformation. But why only two months ? Because the Commissioners of Police, at the end of that time, withdrew the superintendent, and the school, for want of funds, was dismissed.
Our object in making these statements has been to show, 1st. That the Industrial Schools, though capable of undertaking the reformation of a large proportion of our juvenile vagrant population, are yet incapable of effecting the reformation of all. 2nd. That very indigent and very worthless parents withdraw their children from school, in order to supply their wants and necessities by begging and stealing. 3rd. That there is need of authority being given to the magistrates to send such children to an Industrial School, at the expense of the parent or of the parish.
1st. The Industrial Schools in Aberdeen have a daily attendance of about three hundred children. But about forty children, who were not at any school, accepted our invitation to tea.
2nd. It appeared that several of the parents of these children were in the receipt of parochial relief, and that several had the means of supporting their children had they been so inclined; but in both cases the money intended for the maintenance and education of the children was squandered or misapplied by the parents, and the children themselves exposed to all the evil influences of the street.
3rd. To aid and protect these children, the authority of the magistrate should be extended. The overwrought public functionary has not leisure to undertake the oversight of every neglected waif that comes in his way, nor can he become the individual patron of every juvenile vagrant, and plead its cause at the parochial board or the custom-house. He may tell the authorities that the money they are paying is misspent, but they say in reply, That is no business of ours. The mother is the proper party to draw the parish or navy allowance, and there is no law to control her management or to punish her neglect. Now this is the very law that is needed, and the remedy is abundantly simple; so simple, that it is obvious to every one ; for only let the magistrate have power to send the child to school, giving relief to the managers against the parent or parish, and this power being conferred every difficulty would vanish. The employment of the police would be no longer “ child's play;" for the children, their present tormentors, would be all senť to school. Its discipline would soon correct the most hardened delinquent, and there would be no occasion ever to open the prison doors for the reception of children under fourteen years of age. Society may try to shift the blame and the burden of the juvenile delinquent from its own broad shoulders to the feeble back of the sickly or worthless parent, but it is a useless evasion, for the burden and the blame soon recoil with aggravated intensity, and the insignificant amount of school fees is enormously magnified in police and prison assessments. When any one sees a juvenile mendicant, he may be assured that he is not far distant from a juvenile delinquent; and though he may refuse a halfpenny to the piteous solicitations of the one, his utmost caution may be insufficient to prevent his purse from being purloined by the artful address of the other. All experience has shown, that a juvenile vagrant at the best is only a juvenile delinquent in the bud, and that he merely needs time and opportunity for the full development of the noxious blossom. And it is as clear as noon, that if the juvenile vagrant be sent to school, there will be no juvenile delinquent to be committed to prison.