STATEMENT by the Right Rev. ANGUS MACDONALD, D.D., Roman Catholic Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, as to certain Grievances of the Catholics in South Uist and Barra.
OBAN, 19th May 1883.
The appointment of a Royal Commission to examine into the condition of the crofters in the West Highlands, affords a favourable opportunity of bringing under notice, and, I trust, obtaining redress for, certain grievances under which one portion of them have been for many years back suffering. The matters to which I refer have been the subject of much negotiation and correspondence, which, to my regret, have led to little benefit. I have been deterred from bringing them under public notice, partly from extreme reluctance to introduce the name of the proprietrix, who I believe has never really understood the true nature of the case; and also in great part from a fear, which I believe to be well grounded, that those whom I meant to benefit might be made to suffer in other ways from any exposure I might make of their wrongs.
I refer to the way in which the Catholics (the great bulk of the population) of South Uist and Barra have been dealt with in educational matters, in being refused Catholic teachers in schools attended almost exclusively by Catholic children. It is not my wish, and it is not necessary to discuss the question of the propriety of combining or dissociating secular and religious instruction. As the law has been laid down by the Education Act of 1872, the decision of that, in each specific case, rests with the ratepayers, through the members they may appoint to represent their wishes. What I wish to explain is that the wishes of the ratepayers have been systematically ignored, and all educational questions settled for them by the factor, and a very small non- Catholic minority. Besides this specific grievance, I believe that a statement of this case will tend to show the existence of a widespread evil, in the dependant and degrading position in which such tenants are apt to be placed—with no security of tenure, no guarantee against removal at will, and with the fear constantly hanging over them, that if they venture to assert their rights they may be made to suffer for it, without having power to obtain redress. Nothing could be conceived more certain than this position to foster a low and cringing disposition, or more opposed to the formation of a manly, independent, enterprising spirit. For more reasons, therefore, than one, this seems a most suitable subject for investigation; and I feel that I am called upon, by the very responsible position which I hold, to state all that I know personally, or through others, regarding this particular grievance. I do not wish to enter any complaints against the estate-administration properly so called. The abuses to which I desire to call attention lie strictly outside that sphere, and it is only by going outside its proper department that the estate-administration has interfered in this matter at all. My present official connection with this part of the West Highlands began in May, 1878. I was much surprised to find, amongst other tilings, that the whole management of educational matters was practically in the hands of a very small non-Catholic minority, who in no ways represented the feelings or wishes of the immense majority of the people. The method in which School Board members were appointed seemed to be that this minority held a meeting, and settled the whole matter for themselves. They were in the habit of leaving one or two seats to the Catholic clergy, taking care, however, to reserve to themselves the great majority of the seats, so that, with a certain show of liberality, they retained the whole administrative power in their own hands. Further, they seemed never to have thought it worth while to consider the wishes of the people in the selection of teachers —such a thing as a Catholic teacher in these almost entirely Catholic islands being at that time utterly unknown. On the other hand, the people earnestly desired to have teachers who would be qualified to give their children sound religious as well as secular instruction; but they were helpless to obtain this. They had the law on their side, but it was practically a dead letter. They dared not enforce it. In other Catholic districts on the mainland, Catholics had their feelings invariably respected by boards composed mainly of non-Catholic members. Here, where they could have by their votes secured a majority of seats and then looked after their own interests, they were deterred by fear from exercising that right. I was determined to obtain redress for the people, if possible, as by my position I was bound to do; and for this two courses only appeared open.
If the School Boards, constituted as they then were, would consent to acknowledge and defer to the wishes of the majority, no one would have wished to dethrone them from the position which they had assumed. But if they refused to act in this equitable manner, then the only course left was to obtain security for the people, in the exercise of their lawful rights as electors to appoint a board which would fairly represent and execute their wishes. The early approach of the next election, in the spring of 1879, left no time to do much for the present. That election, or rather appointment, was therefore allowed to go on as in former cases. I resolved to approach the proprietrix, Lady Cathcart, then Mrs Gordon, to explain the case to her, and obtain her protection for her tenants; and to be guided as to future elections by the way in which that board (of 1879) should have meanwhile discharged its duties.
Accordingly, in August (13), 1879, I wrote to the proprietrix, explaining the wishes of the people, and the advantages which the law provided for them in the matter of secular instruction, and the opportunities which it allowed for enjoying religious instruction as well I expressed the hope that the boards, as already constituted, would be liberal enough to grant us Catholic teachers in future; but, in the event of their refusing, I asked her, not to interfere personally, but to give an expression of her wishes that her tenants should be free to exercise to the full their educational rights, and I asked this expressly that they might be free from all fear of molestation from others in the event of their having to use those rights.
Not receiving an answer to this letter, I wrote again (30th October 1879), and endeavoured still more fully and clearly to express our wishes. To quote one portion of this letter:—
It is not our wish to ask of you any course of action which would involve interference on your part in the working of the schools, still less to bring you in any way into collision with the local School Boards. Perhaps our views may be most clearly expressed as follows (speaking of South Uist and Barra):—
1. As the Catholics form the great bulk of the population of these islands, and their children form the immense majority in attendance at the board schools, they think it only fair that they should have teachers of their own denomination.
2. They have full power, by the Education Act. to take the matter into their own hands, and to secure Catholic teachers for all the board schools in these islands. For, having a majority of voters, they can return a majority of Catholic members at every School Board election, and so they can retain the entire control of education in their own hands. They would prefer, however, not to push their right unnecessarily.
3. But in the first place they would like clearly to understand their position, and to know that you wish them to have the free and unfettered enjoyment of the educational advantages which the law of the land gives them. Or rather (for they do not doubt this), they would like to have from you the expression of such a wish, which would prevent others from misrepresenting your views, and from unlawfully using your name to enforce submission to a different state of things.
I received a reply to my two letters, dated 21st November 1879. In it Mrs Gordon expressed her wish to deal liberally with all denominations, and whilst expressing a repugnance to interfere with board schools [which expressly she was not asked to do] she stated that she had no personal objection to what was proposed. This appeared to be intended as acquiescing in what I had asked, and I resolved to act upon it as such. Subsequent events have sadly undeceived me.
For the next three years I kept myself informed as to the action of the School Board in Uist especially, for in Barra the present board schools were not as yet built. Whenever a new school was opened in South Uist, or a vacancy occurred in those which had been in operation, the request of the Catholics for Catholic teachers was laid before the board. The practical result was that the claim was usually ignored. If, in some cases, it was agreed to get a Catholic teacher, the simple method of leaving the negotiations to the Catholic members was not permitted, and media of advertisement were employed which practically neutralised the board's consent. It is hardly surprising that, when matters were administered in such a spirit, an unfavourable construction suggested itself in explanation of several unpleasant matters which occurred. For example, during the time that there was question of appointing teachers for certain board schools in Uist, on two occasions the notice of meeting sent to the Rev. Donald Mackintosh, Benbecula, the only active Catholic member, was misdated by one day, bringing him to the appointed place just too late to take part in the proceedings. Again, an application presented by a Catholic male teacher was never produced at the meeting. Although known to have been sent, it must in some extraordinary way have miscarried, for the clerk declared that he had never received it.
Towards the end of 1881 the new board schools in Barra were approaching completion, and it became necessary to look out for teachers. As will be seen from the documents appended, the proportion of children at the various schools, from a denominational point of view, was this—in Castle Bay district, Catholics, 160; Protestants, 20; in North Bay district, Catholics, 95; Protestants, 5. No pains were spared to secure good Catholic teachers for those Schools; and as it was known that the proprietrix, now Lady Cathcart, was anxious to have a first-class male teacher in Castle Bay School, special pains were taken to secure this object, and with complete success. These Catholic candidates were proposed at the meeting of the School Board held to select teachers, and excellent testimonials were produced, but they were rejected and Protestant candidates chosen in their stead. From the appended documents (No. I.) it will be seen that the leading Catholics of Barra had addressed a memorial to the local factor, Mr Barron, who was chairman of the board, pointing out the reasonableness of the Catholic claim, and mentioning that thoroughly qualified Catholic teachers had sent in applications for both schools. In his reply (App. No. III.) Mr Barron favoured them with his personal views as to the qualification of teachers, and added that, as it was of the utmost importance to secure first-class teachers (which no one denied), and as instruction in religious subjects is compulsory, the question of creed is of secondary importance in selecting a duly-qualified teacher.
It is hardly necessary to add that (1) what Mr Barron ought to have considered was, not his own private views, which he was at full liberty to hold, but the views and wishes of the enormous majority of those whom he represented, which, as regarded the importance of religious instruction, were diametrically opposed to his own. (2) His reference might have been allowed some weight had it not been possible to procure a duly-qualified teacher who would meet the wishes of the people ; but this has never been expressly called in question, nor is it consistent with known facts. Meanwhile, the head factor, Mr Ranald Macdonald, had addressed a letter to the clerk of the Barra Board, Mr Allan Macdonald, in which he explained the steps he had taken to carry out Lady Cathcart's wishes with regard to Castle Bay; and in this letter I may call attention first to the care with which the wishes of the people were thoroughout ignored, as regarded the denomination of the teacher, although he might have perfectly well met her Lalyship's wishes and those of the people at the same time. There was no incompatibility between them, except on one of two suppositions—either that Lady Cathcart was opposed to the appointment of a Catholic teacher, whether duly-qualified or not; or that such a thing as a duly-qualified Catholic teacher could not be obtained. And, secondly, it is worth observing that whilst entering into certain arrangements as to North Bay School, there is not the slightest hint as to the propriety of appointing a Catholic teacher to that school (App. II.)
The head factor wrote again, 17th November (App. IV.), to the clerk of the Barra Board ; and on this letter it seems to me almost needless to comment, further than to point out, first, the startling misstatement and misapplication of the education law and perversion of logic which it exhibits ; and also the manner in which his position and Lady Cathcart's views are brought forward to influence the decision of the board. But, thirdly, I must point out also that the appeal to the majority of the board is also a mere sham, considering the way in which that board was appointed in total disregard of the wishes of the majority of people and even of ratepayers.
It is not surprising that, after this correspondence, the lay-Catholic members saw no alternative but to submit to the inevitable. The Catholic clergyman, however, the Rev. John Macdonald, felt bound to protest against such an over-riding of the lawful demands of those whom he represented, and he addressed another memorial on his own account to the local factor (App. VI.); and at the board meeting he protested against the decision arrived at in accordance with the factor's wishes. This brought down upon him a long letter from the head factor (App. VII.), on the greater part of which it is not necessary to comment, especially as that is done pretty fully in my reply (App. VIII.) It is, however, well to draw attention here to what occurs in the latter part of his letter, in reference to a teacher for North Bay.
It appears unsatisfactory that this enlightened view should have only dawned upon him at this stage of the negotiations, and it is not easy to understand on what grounds he is able to violate, in this case, the educational principles he has before so strongly advocated and enforced. Nor is it easy to see what
grounds he could give of a solid nature to justify the appointment of a Catholic teacher for North Bay School, which would not be equally applicable to the school at Castle Bay.
Several other letters passed between us on the subject, but with no result. As I was anxious to leave no means untried of ascertaining Lady Cathcart's real views. I then sent a full copy of all the correspondence to her Ladyship, or rather, us she was in a delicate state of health, to Sir Reginald Cathcart, and later on I endeavoured unsuccessfully to obtain an interview with him. Some little time after I received a letter from Lady Cathcart herself, which to my regret only proved that it was as hopeless to obtain a discussion of the case on its real merits with her as it was with her factor.
So matters ended for the time; and I have only to add that when, in the spring of 1882, the School Board election again came round, it became clear to me that it would be useless to attempt to force an election; not because the people were satisfied, but because they did not feel that freedom and security which would have allowed them to record their votes as they wished. As we could not, for that reason, rely upon the success which our numbers ought to have guaranteed, and as there was no wish to run the risk of uselessly increasing ill-feeling, matters were allowed to run on in their old course, until a better opportunity should present itself for having the question properly settled.
The appointment of a Royal Commission appeared to afford such an opportunity, and therefore I have taken the liberty to forward, for its consideration and examination, this statement, drawn up as fully and carefully as the very limited time at my disposal permitted.
+ ANGUS MACDONALD
Bishop Argyll and the Isles
1.—Copy Memorial by ARCHIBALD M'LELLAN, Vatersay, and OTHERS, to
JAMES BARRON, Esq., Chairman, Barra School Board.
* BARRA, November 1881.
[The 7th November, as appears from Mr Barron's reply.]
JAMES BARRON, Esq.
DEAR SIR,—Our object in writing to you regards the school teachers in Barra. As we suppose you will consult Mr Ronald M'Donald on the matter, we consider it proper to lay the following facts before you. The number of school children on the main island of Barra is 280 ; of these, 180 are in the Castle Bay district and 100 in North Bay district. In religion they stand thus:—In Castle Bay district, 160 Catholics and 20 Protestants —but five of the latter are nearly four miles from school; in the North Bay district there are 95 Catholics and five Protestants—two of tho latter being children of the Free Church catechist, who will not probably send them to board schools.
We , who know the people of Barra intimately, beg to assure you that there is great anxiety amongst them to have teachers of their own denomination to teach their children, and surely, taking numbers into consideration, we ask nothing out of the way in asking that this should be done. The parents of all the Catholic children are natives of Barra. The parents of all the Protestant children, without a single exception, are strangers, and some of them being servants have no hold upon the island, but just as long as they are kept as such. Excellent Catholic teachers can be got. Mr Stephen Lynn, who has sent in his application for the Castle Bay School, is a Catholic, and has the highest testimonials as to character and ability. For the North Bay School two applications have been sent in by Catholics, one Miss Ann Myron, the other Miss Teresa Duffy, both excellent teachers, especially the former. Of course, they all have been trained, and have high-class certificates. From Lady Gordon Cathcart's uniform kindness to the people of Barra, we have no doubt but she would wish to gratify their ardent desires in this matter.
We have only to add that the present teacher in Mingulay is a Protestant, and as he has been there for many years, it is our opinion that he should not be
disturbed.—Your obedient Servants,
ARCHIBALD MACLELLAN, Vatersay.
JOHN MACDONALD, C.C.
NEIL M'NEIL, Castle Bay.
TEDDY GLANCY, Castle Bay.
II.—An Extract from a Letter from R. McDonald, Secretary to Lady CATHCART, to Mr ALLAN McDonald, Clerk to the School Board of Barra, dated Cluny Castle, 7th November 1881.
I intimated to your board some time ago that Lady Cathcart was most desirous that the school at Castle Bay should be a first-class school, and offered on certain conditions to pay £20 of the teacher's salary.—I understood this proposal was favourably received by your board. Acting on this arrangement I have been carefully looking about for a really good teacher to be recommended by Lady Cathcart to your board.
I have been in correspondence with the Government Inspector of Schools, Mr Robertson, who kindly promised to assist in getting a good teacher for Castle Bay. I had letters from two teachers, recommended by the Government Inspector, and I am sorry to say that the one I selected to be recommended to your board has got a good school near Inverness, and has therefore withdrawn his application. I am still corresponding with the other, and as soon as I am satisfied we have the chance of getting a thoroughly good teacher who has proved himself to be successful I will write to you. The teacher with whom I was corresponding earned a grant during the last three year avering £1, 0s. 10d. for each scholar on average attendance. This was really the best proof we could get. We have now the near prospect of getting £2199, 3s. 2d. of a free building grant and a loan, on moderate terms, of £1098; and, if good grants are obtained for the scholars, I think it is possible the school rate in Barra may be lower than in any place in the Hebrides. A good salary will have to be allowed to the teacher of the Castle Bay School, so as to place within the reach of the children in Barra the means of acquiring a thorough course of instruction. The salaries of teachers are now much lower than they were a few years ago; but, in order to get a good teacher, I believe it will be necessary to offer £70—that is, £50 from the School Board and £20 from Lady Cathcart—together with the help of the Government grant. A good teacher, with regular attendance, should earn a very good grant for the Castle Bay Schook The services of a pupil teacher will likely be required. I enclose printed extracts showing the result of the teaching of
the candidates for Castle Bay School to whom I referred, which show what grants can be earned by a skilful and successful teacher.
Now, with regard to North Bay School, where I should be glad to assist your board, if they wish it, I have abstained from doing anything beyond this, viz.:—That I pointed out to the Ladies' Committee that their school at North Bay is now not required, and that the effect of keeping it open as a competing school is simply to diminish the attendance, and necessarily the Government grant in the Public School. In agreeing to close the North Bay School as a competing school, I have reason to believe that the Ladies' Committee, having sufficient funds—are willing to relieve the Barra School Board of the burden of maintaining the Mingulay School. There is no doubt whatever it is for the interest of the ratepayers that the School Board should gratefully accept the proposal of the Ladies' Committee, as by doing so, they would secure a good attendance, and a good Government grant at North Bay School, and they would be entirely relieved of all pecuniary responsibility regarding the Mingulay School. You should call a meeting of the School Board, and lay this proposal before them, and let me know the result. I may mention that it was a suggestion of mine, that, as the Ladies' Committee had ample funds, it would be better to close the North Bay School as a competing school, and let the Ladies' Committee take charge of the Mingulay School, and relieve your board of all pecuniary responsibility in connection with the teacher's salary and management of the school, beyond, that as a School Board, you were entitled to take such steps as you might deem expedient from time to time to satisfy yourselves, that the education given in the school was (in the sense of the Education Act) efficient. They would get the use of your school building, and during the time they occupied it they would have to take care of the building.
III.—Copy Letter JAMES BARRON, Esq., Chairman Barra School Board, to ARCHIBALD M'LELLAN, Esq., Vatersay, Barra.
RESIDENT HARBOUR ENGINEER'S OFFICE,
Buckie, 16th November 1881
ARCHIBALD M'LELLAN, Esq., Vatersay, Barra.
—I was duly favoured with your memorial of 7th inst.
I beg to assure you that the matter referred to shall have my most careful consideration.
I trust you will excuse me when I state to you my opinion with reference to the appointment of teachers for Barra Schools.
It is of the utmost importance that the board should endeavour to obtain the services of first-class teachers, and as instruction in religious subjects is not compulsory, the question of creed is of secondary importance in selecting a duly qualilied person.
—I am, dear Sir, yours faithfully,
IV.—Excerpt from Letter, R. M'DoNALD, Secretary to Lady CATHCART, to Mr ALLAN M'DoNALD, Clerk to the School Board of Barra, dated at Cluny Castle, l7th November 1881.
Since I wrote to you on the 7th inst. I received a letter from Mr J. C. Robertson (who is now temporarily discharging the official duties of the Chief Inspector of Schools for Aberdeenshire district), in which he repeats his strong recommendation of Mr Cameron, who has proved himself to be a most successful teacher, both in large schools such as the Greenock School, and medium-sized schools such as the one he now manages. I have taken considerable pains to get a good teacher for Castle Bay School, and I have the utmost confidence in asking your board to confirm the selection made by Her Majesty's Inspector of Schools. As the school is ready for occupation, the sooner it is opened the better, and the parish is now losing by every day's delay which takes place.
Although the acceptance of Lady Cathcart's offer was formerly intimated, and on the faith of this acceptance I took a good deal of trouble in the matter, yet if there is any change of views by the majority of the board, I have no wish to do anything farther; but if, on the other hand, they still desire to carry out the arrangement, which I understood had been practically concluded, I shall have much pleasure in bringing to a formal termination the engagement of Mr Donald Cameron, and I assure you I reckoned myself fortunate in getting hold of such an excellent teacher. If the board wish me to act in this matter, it will be proper that they should sign the enclosed letter or minute of authority, and on receiving, this I will at once do my best to carry out their wishes.
It is with reluctance that I allude to the steps taken by two respected members of your board—Rev. J. Macdonald and Mr Neil M'Neil, supported by Mr M'Lellan, Vatersay, and Mr T. Glancy, Castle Bay—in corresponding with the chairman of the board, praying that the teachers of the Barra Public Schools should be selected only from the Roman Catholic denomination.
If I had thought that the nominal connection with any denomination would be made a condition, I would have respectfully declined to take any part in the matter. No one can justly accuse me of being actuated by sectarianism in selecting tenants or servants on any of the estates with which I am connected. I have, however, met with good and bad among all denominations, and I consider the denomination to which a person belongs a most treacherous test. It is significant that I expressed these views to Her Majesty's Inspector of Schools when I first applied to him, and told him that it was my general practice not to inquire about the religious professions of candidates for farms or situations, lest I should insensibly be influenced thereby. In public matters, such as school appointments, I did expect that Mr Neil M'Neil would take the same view as I do myself, and I am surprised that he would exclude all, however otherwise well qualified, except those connected with his own denomination. He enjoys a practical monopoly of the trade of Barra, and I always understood that he acted on the policy, in public and secular matters, of making no distinction between one denomination and another, and therefore I was not prepared to see his name attached to the communication I received yesterday from Mr Barron. Unfortunately, sectarianism caused a good deal of bitter contention in the management of many schools, and the vital educational interests were neglected. To put an end to all these petty jealousies the Act carefully excluded the religious element from all public schools, and the teacher of a public school is now no more of a religious instructor than an excise officer or any other general public official, and should a teacher of any public school interfere with the religious belief of any child he exposes himself to be censured or otherwise dealt with by the board. On the mainland, the members of School Boards representing three times the number of denominations in Barra, work cordially together in promoting secular education in the public schools, and the most of the denominations attend to the religious teaching by Sabbath schools and other agencies, and surely this is a more enlightened course of action than to attempt to exclude all from the office of a teacher except one favoured denomination.
I have really no personal denominational interest in the Barra Schools, and my chief aim and object had been to promote efficient education in such a way as to be as light a burden on the ratepayers as practicable. The School Board, or a majority of them, on whom the Act lays the responsibility, of appointing the teachers, may draw back from the undertaking made with Lady Cathcart, but it will be a breach of faith if they do so. And if they intended to do so, it would have been more courteous if they had given me notice before I took steps for the election of a teacher for Castle Bay School.
V.—Excerpt from Letter, Mr RANALD McDonald, Secretary to Lady CATHCART,
to Mr ALLAN, Clerk to the School Board of Barra, dated Cluny Castle, 17th November 1881.
DEAR SIR,—Since writing you about the Barra Schools, I thought I might send you, for the information of your board, an article I have cut out of the Scotsman newspaper of Wednesday last. Being chairman of two School Boards on the mainland, I consider it my duty to watch the progress of other schools, and endeavour to keep our own schools, if possible, above the average of the country.
From the paper enclosed your board will see the average grants gained by the schools in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Greenock, and it is remarkable that Greenock is the highest. I was rather pleased to notice this, as Mr Cameron, the candidate for Castle Bay School, came a few years ago from one of the Greenock schools.
Instead of any internal squabble, I hope the practical good sense of your board will come into action, by selecting the best teacher, without reference to creeds or religious professions. If they do so, I have no doubt your schools will be a success.
VI.—Copy Letter, the Rev. JOHN MACDONALD, C.C., Barra, to JAMES BARRON, Esq., Chairman, Barra School Board.
BARRA, 5th December 1881.
JAMES BARRON, Esq.
DEAR SiR,—Mr A. M'Lellan, Vatersay, handed me your letter, dated 16th November, in answer to our memorial to you, showing why Roman Catholic teachers should be appointed to the schools in Barra. In answer, I beg to submit the following statements for your consideration, as I think you are not really aware of our feelings as Catholics on the subject:
—In your letter you make education almost everything, religion only secondary. In this we Catholics differ from you. We assign the first place to religion. W e look on education without religion as a shadow without the substance, as a body without a soul.
In this matter we are the parties concerned, and surely we have a right to think for ourselves so far as regards ourselves. We have no wish to intrude our opinions on others; why should others intrude their opinions on us in a matter of such consequence, and which regards not them but us. Granted that religion is not taught directly in the schools, still the good or bad conduct of the teacher will always influence the children for better or worse. If, in spite of the parents, you appoint Protestant teachers, there will be no sympathy, no kind, cordial feeling between the children and their teachers. Parents and children will have a feeling of suspicion against the teachers, a feeling of degradation, a feeling of oppression, a feeling of injustice done to them; and so long as this galling yoke is imposed on them, so long will there be bitter animosity between those on whom it is imposed and those who impose it. We surely have as much interest in having our children educated in the best possible manner as any others can have.
For this purpose we sought and obtained the services of very excellent teachers of our own denomination. Mr Stephen Lynn is recommended to us by the Principal of the Hammersmith Training College, London; Miss Ann Myron by the Principal of the Catholic Training College, Liverpool. Is there any reason why they should not be appointed? Who can give a truer test of A character of teachers than those who have trained them ? In your letter you say that the law will protect the Catholics from any interference to their religion on the part of Protestant teachers. Well, really, it is a pity that in a school containing 150 Catholics and only 20 Protestants, that in another school containing 95 Catholics and only 5 Protestants, teachers should be appointed from whom Catholic children must have recourse to the law to protect their consciences.
Sir, it will be cruel injustice. Perhaps you may say that Protestants have as much right to have their conscience protected as Catholics. Granted. They certainly have as much right. But have they more ? Have 5 more right than 95 ? Have 20 more right than 150 ? Had we contested the last two elections to the School Board we would not now be in the position we are. We would have had a majority at the board. But when a former factor asked me not to contest the election, as it would be hard if the proprietors were not represented at the board, I, for the sake of peace and harmony, yielded. Is it right or honourable in a successor to take advantage of our good nature and peaceable dispositions, to injure us so deeply ? We still wish for peace, if justice be done to us. Lady Gordon Cathcart may not be aware of how sore we feel on the subject, but if our reasonable request be refused, we shall lay the whole case before her, with full explanations, and from the brief knowledge we have of her, we believe she will cause justice to be rendered to us, and we ask for nothing more. In the meantime, I earnestly beg of you to postpone the election of teachers until her Ladyship is consulted on the matter.
—I am, Dear Sir, Your obedient Servant, '
JOHN MACDONALD, C.C.
VII. Copy Letter, RANALD MACDONALD, Esq., Cluny Castle, Aberdeen, to
the Rev. John MACDONALD, C.C., Craigstone, Barra.
CLUNY CASTLE, ABERDEEN,
10th January 1882.
REV. DEAR Sir,—The Clerk of the Barra School Board sent me an extract minute of the meeting held on 7th December last, from which I regret to see your name appears as dissenting. All the other members of the board having agreed to implement the arrangement made by your School Board with Lady Cathcart, at the meeting held on the 24th February 1879, your dissent had no practical effect on the decision of the board, but in other respects it is not without significance, and shows a change of attitude towards Lady Cathcart; for I observe from the extract minute sent to me in 1879 that you were present at the February meeting of that year, and was a consenting party to the arrangement against which you have recently recorded your formal dissent.
In carrying out Lady Cathcart's part of the agreement made with your School Board, with the view of making the school at Castle Bay a 'Principal Public School' (as stated in your minute of February 1879), I applied to one of Her Majesty's Inspectors to recommend a thoroughly experienced and successful teacher, combined with respectability of character. In applying to the Government Inspector of Schools for assistance in the selection of a teacher, I was careful to explain that religious profession was not to affect the selection, and I mentioned that the usual rule was, in any selection connected with estate administration, not to inquire as to any candidate's connection with any sect or denomination, but to have regard to the personal qualifications for any special appointment to be filled up. You must be personally aware that this practice has been universally adopted in your own district. With the view of benefiting the people of Barra you know that Lady Cathcart recently offered to assist some of them to purchase boats. In doing so there was no attempt made to overlook your people. I really cannot say whether those to whom the offer was made were Protestants or Catholics ; and I should be extremely sorry if any sectarian action were taken to render it necessary, in future, to make any distinction in estate administration between the adherents of any religious sect or denomination. The recent changes made in Barra might almost seem to indicate that a preference was given to Roman Catholics. The last large grazing let (Vatersay) was given to a Roman Catholic, and the last large croft let was given to Mr Neil M'Neil, and in both cases the former tenants were Protestants. The selections were made irrespective of sects, and entirely owing to the personal qualifications of the new tenants. In every different way in which any effort was made to benefit the people in the parishes of Barra and South Uist they were always treated fairly and impartially, and no one was excluded on account of his religious profession or connection with any denomination of Christians. As stated already, I made it a rule not to inquire what sects they belonged to, but when employment was offered to people from the Western Isles at Buckie Harbour, the Rev. Mr Clapperton can tell you that a large proportion of them belonged to your denomination. The Rev. Mr Wilson, Fetternear, can tell you the same about the men from the Western Isles employed at Cluny, and I believe it happens that at present the whole of them (at Cluny) happen to be Roman Catholics. I have in my office here, a young man from Benbecula who is a Roman Catholic. Considering the care which has been taken to act justly and impartially to all, I frankly confess that the letter you wrote to the local factor on the estate of Barra, dated 5th December, manifests a strong feeling on your part which I am very sorry exists, for it shows how the efforts in the past are so very Rttle appreciated by you. The expressions you use, such as imposing a 'galling yoke', causing 'bitter animosity', 'feeling of degradation' a feeling of oppression' a feeling of injustice' &c. These strong expressions primarily referred to the school appointments, and specially to the fulfilment of the arrangement made with Lady Cathcart by the board in 1879. Your observations could not refer to the North Bay School appointment, as your letter is dated the 5th, and the meeting of the School Board took place on the 7th December. I hope, on full reconsideration of the past history of the estate administration, you will modify the very strong expressions in your letter to the factor quoted above, and that you will see the propriety of not unnecessarily introducing sectarian views (which may lead to 'bitter animosity' in connection with the public and social business. In the management of public schools, Parliament took special care to prevent, as far as possible, unseemly disputes about religious instruction in schools regulated by the Education Act of 1872. The Government Inspector takes no cognisance of religious instruction, and if given at all it is subject to a 'conscience clause' and the 68th section of the Education Act prescribes That no child shall in any such school be placed at any disadvantage with respect to the secular instruction given therein by reason of the denomination to which such child or his parents belong, or by reason of his being withdrawn from any instruction in religious subjects.
Now that our schools are publicly supported by those connected with different denominations, it would be better if each denomination made separate provision for the religious teaching of the children respectively belonging to each. Both religious instruction, as well as secular education, would be more satisfactorily promoted by doing so, than by going through the form of teaching religion in the public schools by the teachers, which often leads to unseemly squabbles. It is with some hesitation I offer any suggestion as to the duties of the School Board, as they have independent statutory powers. I know that Lady Cathcart takes a great interest in the social and educational improvement of her people in the Western Isles, and would feel disappointed if any ecclesiastical discord obstructed the social welfare of the people. I may also state that, personally, nothing connected with the management of the estates, either on the mainland or in the insular districts, would gratify me more than to see the gradual and decided improvement of the natives of South Uist and Barra, socially, industrially, and educationally. I hope that in these matters you will heartily sympathise with me, and that while reserving to yourself the fullest liberty to take steps for the religious instruction of your people, you will see the propriety of not unnecessarily intruding the teaching of sectarian views into the public region, when you come into contact with those who hold conscientiously different views. As stated already, it appears to me that the peaceful and tolerant course, in these circumstances, is to give every facility for the separate teaching of denominational religion, and leave the teacher of the public school to deal with the branches of education which are recognised by the Act as necessarily forming his duties, and also recognised by the Government Inspector. By adopting this course, the cordial co-operation of members of School Boards connected with different denominations might be secured, and it is exceedingly desirable that in such a place as Barra hearty co-operation among all the members should be secured, and in order to secure tins, mutual concession should be made. This leads me to remark that if I had been a member of your School Board I would have voted at your meeting of 7th December as Mr Neil M'Neil did, by (1) confirming the arrangement previously made with Lady Cathcart about Castle Bay School; and (2) by preferring Miss Teresa Duffy, or postponing the election, in the hope that an experienced Roman Catholic female teacher might be got who could speak Gaelic. Even though I hold the view that the public school is not the proper place for religious instruction, yet I have all along been of opinion that it was proper,—caeteris paribus— that one of the teachers should be connected with your denomination. Before your meeting in December, I spoke to one of the Government Inspectors to bring the North Bay appointment under the notice of any qualified teacher who was a Roman Catholic. I then heard of a Miss Macdonald, in the Arisaig district, but it was thought she would not go to Barra. There was another name also mentioned, but she did not come forward as a candidate. I had a conversation with Mr Barron after he returned from Barra. He then told me that he would have voted for Miss T. Duffy, if she had had a knowledge of Gaelic. He was aware that in elementary teaching in the Highlands and Islands, the Inspector of Schools attached considerable importance to this part of the qualifications of a teacher. I appreciate the courtesy shown to me by members of the Barra School Board, and I have no doubt they did what they at the time thought to be right when they appointed Miss Gibson, who is known to be a respectable young woman of good abilities; but I must admit I was disappointed when I heard of the decision of the board, and would have preferred if every means had been exhausted to secure the hearty concurrence of all members. I may state that I have taken means to induce Miss Gibson's father to withdraw the acceptance of the situation on behalf of his daughter, and he has practically agreed to do so, and thus an opportunity will be afforded to elect a Roman Catholic teacher to fill the situation at North Bay School. If you know a certificated and successful teacher suitable for the North Bay School, you may ask her to send in a formal application to the chairman of the board, and you will not overlook the importance the Government Inspector attaches to a knowledge of Gaelic, in teaching children who understand no other language.
—I remain, Dear Sir, Yours truly,
The Rev. John Macdonald. R.C.C.,
Bishop MACDONALD, Oban, to RANALD MACDONALD, Esq.,
Cluny Castle, Aberdeen.
OBAN, Bishop's HousE, 27th January 1882.
DEAR SIR,—The Rev. John Macdonald, Barra, has informed me of the discussions which have taken place of late regarding the appointment of teachers to the two public schools recently erected in that island. I regretted very much to learn that there was danger of bad feeling being aroused on the subject. As the education question there, as in other Catholic districts, has for some years past been a matter of deep interest to me, I am induced to intrude upon your time by the conviction that great part of this unfortunate state of affairs is due to misconceptions; and also by the hope that, viewing the case from a distance, I may be able to offer explanations in a calmer and more conciliating tone than is easy for those to assume who are in the heat of the dispute. It is difficult, indeed, in stating arguments, to avoid the appearance of controversy; but it is my sincere wish to approach the subject in a friendly though perfectly candid and open manner. You may perhaps wonder on what grounds I interfere in the question at all. I trust that the sequel will make this clear.
I. The first thing which strikes me forcibly in your letter of the 10th inst. to the Rev. Mr Macdonald is the view with which it opens, viz., that those members of the board who persist in asking the appointment of Catholic teachers were placing themselves in opposition to Lady Cathcart's wishes, and solely responsible for the existing religious party spirit; and the further remark to which it leads, amounting to a distinct threat, that if they persist in that course it may be necessary in future to make (in social and estate relations) a distinction between members of different denominations. Now this calls imperatively for an explanation. Considering all that Lady C. has done, and is still disposed to do, for her tenants, without distinction of class or creed, any course by which a particular sections the view with which it opens, viz., that those members of the board who persist in asking the appointment of Catholic teachers were placing themselves in opposition to Lady Cathcart's wishes, and solely responsible for the existing religious party spirit; and the further remark to which it leads, amounting to a distinct threat, that if they persist in that course it may be necessary in future to make (in social and estate relations) a distinction between members of different denominations. Now this calls imperatively for an explanation. Considering all that Lady C. has done, and is still disposed to do, for her tenants, without distinction of class or creed, any course by which a particular section of those tenants should place themselves in opposition to her Ladyship in what concerned estate management or in any matter in which she claimed control over them would be most unjustifiable and most disastrous from every point of view. But I think it will not be difficult to show that in this case there is a great misunderstanding—a confusion, possibly, of ideas, which, when explained, will remove the difficulty, but which if allowed to subsist might lead to very lamentable results.
In what concerns estate management nothing could justify class opposition except a patently unjust treatment of that class. The supposition of any such injustice is here out of the question. I never heard a single person in South Uist or Barra speak of Lady Cathcart but in terms of deep respect and affection; and nothing less than this has been deserved by her.
But the education question is not one of estate management, nor is it one in which Lady Cathcart wishes to interfere in any way whatever. The first statement is clear from the Education Act of 1872; the second from her own assurance to myself.—
To take the matter in detail.
(1) The Education Act does not exclude religious teaching from public schools. It does not enforce it, but it permits it it under certain conditions. The aim of the Act was to enforce sound secular instruction throughout the land, whilst interfering as little as possible with the religious views and wishes of sections of the community. For this purpose it requires that every State-aided school (whether public or denominational) should, every time it meets, give two full hours of secular instruction from which all religious teaching is carefully and peremptorily excluded. But it leaves it to the managers of such schools to allow religious instruction to be imparted in them (to children only whose parents wish it) out of the hours of secular teaching. More than that, if even a small minority of a different denomination are not able in conscience to avail themselves of the religious instruction thus given—say in a public school—the Education Department, both in theory and in practice, allows that to be a sufficient reason for permitting that minority to open a school for itself, and for admitting such school to Government inspection and Government aid. It cannot be said in the face of this that the Education Act excludes religious instruction from public of State-aided schools.
(2) Further, the same Act leaves the appointment of the managers of public schools in any given school district to the ratepayers of that district. These have the full legal right to appoint such members for the school board as shall best represent their wishes, or at least the wishes of the majority. By the laws of the land, each School Board is, on a small scale, for its district, what Parliament is for the kingdom. The electors are the constituency; the members are their representatives. And the constituents have a full right to turn the members out of office if they fail to represent them faithfully. The conclusion from all this seems to me inevitable—that by the law the ratepayers have they full and sole right to determine through their representatives whether there shall be religious instruction given in their schools, and by whom it shall be given. Any course which deprives them of their freedom to exercise this right, and overrides their wishes on this subject, is an interference with a legal right, which is exercised jealously in every other part of Scotland. Everywhere else, where non-Catholic electors have been in a majority (I speak with considerable knowledge), they have spared no pains to keep their advantage. As far as I have ever heard, with one exception (and that the case of a Catholic district), the only instances in which a majority of ratepayers have waived their right, and allowed a minority numerically insignificant to have the lion's share of representation on the School Board have been those very Catholics of South Uist and Barra who are now accused of an illiberal and bigoted spirit. Elsewhere, where a board mainly composed of non-Catholics has had to deal with Catholic districts under its jurisdiction, it has invariably (and the cases have not been rare) admitted the right of these districts to have Catholic teachers, and has left it to the Catholic members to find the teacher—naturally enough, as they were most likely to be successful. In South Uist and Barra alone has a small but enlightened and liberal minority used the control which it only possessed from the unexampled forbearance of the poor Catholics to refuse persistently every request of the Catholics to have teachers (easily procurable) of their own denomination, in schools filled almost entirely with Catholic children, and to refuse to let Catholic members look out for such teachers. There, and there alone, we find them looking for teachers and advertising for them in those quarters and through these channels only through which there was least hope of lighting on a Catholic. Can it be wrong under such circumstances to judge the motives of these men rather by their conduct than by their professions ?
I believe that if the past history of these transactions were laid before the public, the difficulty would be to get the public to believe it possible in this nineteenth century. Of one thing I am sure, that had it been a small Catholic minority which had so dealt with an overwhelming non-Catholic majority, their action would not have been tolerated for a single day. The press would have teemed with denunciations of such an illiberal policy, and language would have been used besides which the strongest expressions used by the Rev. John Macdonald would have appeared tame.
II. Again, you seem to reproach the Rev. Mr Macdonald with now wishing to withdraw from an agreement entered into with Lady C. in February 1879.
But what was that agreement? Apparently that she would give £20 towards Castle Bay teacher, provided that school were made a ' principal public school,' or provided that a thoroughly efficient teacher were appointed. How does the demand for a Catholic teacher involve the breach of any such agreement ? Does a school cease to be a ' principal public school' by the appointment of a Catholic teacher to it ? Or is it implied that such an article as a thoroughly efficient Catholic teacher is not to be had in the market? Many of H.M. Inspectors of Schools could have told you that they are to be had. The Catholic male teacher whom I got to apply for Castle Bay school, and who appears to have been rejected, has now been appointed to a large Catholic school in Greenock, where, as official statistics will show, Catholic education is fully on a par with that of the public schools. But, then, to carry out Lady C.'s views, you consulted H.M. Inspector about a teacher, and were ' careful to explain that religious profession was not to affect the selection.' But the electors of Barra and their true representatives demanded, and had a legal right to demand, that religious profession should affect the selection. It certainly seems odd to a spectator that the self-constituted board should divest itself of its functions and delegate them to another party (however otherwise worthy); and that he should in turn be ' careful' to exercise the powers confided to him direct opposition to the wishes, all but unanimous, of those chiefly interested; that he should advance this as a proof of the thorough absence of prejudice, and should express some measure of indignation, because some decline to be grateful to him for so doing! Seeing what the rights and wishes of the people on this point are, surely it would have been no harm, it would have argued no want of liberality or of zeal for education, to have made the experiment of a Catholic teacher.
III. In one place you argue—
'Now that our schools are publicly supported ' by those connected with different denominations, it would be better if each denomination made separate provision for the religious education (of its respective children).' The thought occurs to me to wonder whether this view has been thought of, or acted on, in the South Uist Board Schools. But to pass that by, why should it be so ? If all cannot enjoy the benefit of religious instruction given daily in the school, but some must be debarred from it, why must all be on that account deprived of it ? —and especially when one denomination represents the overwhelming majority (in Eriskay, I believe, there is not a single non-Catholic scholar), why should this immense majority be deprived of such an advantage, because a mere handful of others cannot share it? How commonly we find religious (non-Catholic) instruction given in public schools throughout Scotland, though hundreds of Catholics and other Dissenters have to contribute to the support of these schools why have I entered into the subject at such length? Simply as the natural representative, in religion, of the Catholic population ; because I see that the question is being discussed under aspects which I believe to be mistaken ones; and because I am convinced that only a full and frank explanation on both sides, and a comparison of ideas, can effect a cordial and lasting understanding. We do not, and we cannot, look upon the question except as one involving religious as well as secular education; and the law fully sanctions this view. I have had considerable experience of religious instruction, and I can attest that without the school organisation and discipline, without the aid of trained teachers, the work of religious instruction and moral training must be very.difficultMacdonald seems to stand alone in his present attitude, it is not that others do not share his views, but that he, as pastor, is bound to disregard worldly influences which naturally weigh heavily on members of his flock.
To be honest, I must make a further remark, not with a view to vent illfeeling, but certainly as a reproach, which I think is merited. 'In the management of public schools, Parliament took special care to prevent as far as possible unseemly disputes about religious instruction.' Yes! but not by committing to the estate management department the right to control and override the wishes of majorities of ratepayers, and to enforce its views by threats of the proprietor's displeasure, and of possible social disabilities in case of disobedience. No ! it placed the whole matter in the hands of the people, and it undoubtedly expected that those who. by their position and education, would naturally be looked up to as models for imitation in their respective spheres would first set the example of respect for the law, and of a hearty desire to avoid all interference with any legitimate expression of religious feeling. Should animosity now prevail, the responsibility will certainly rest, not with the poor Catholics, who have till now shown an example totally unexampled, but with the few who have refused them a right which the laws of the land allow to them; and I am confident that such would be the award of public opinion, were the question submitted to its decision.
I am glad that there is talk of a Catholic teacher for North Bay. I can't imagine an argument for this that is not good for Castle Bay and South Uist in general: but a half loaf is better than no bread. Hoping you win be able to believe that all this is written in the sincere wish to promote peace and union,—I remain, Dear Sir, Yours truly,
+ ANGUS MACDONALD,
R. Macdonald, Esq