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Scottish Education - Schools and University
Chapter XIII - Third Period (1696 - 1872). S. P. C. K. Schools

JOHN KNOX'S proposal of a school in every parish was not carried out till long after his death, and in many parts of the Highlands and Islands never carried out at all. Their remoteness, barrenness of soil, and their language were hindrances additional to those felt elsewhere in Scotland. Hence we find that in 16 16 "the King's Majestie with advise of the Lords of his Secret Council, thought it necessar and expedient, that, in every paroch of this Kingdom, quhair convenient means may be had for intertayning a scoole that a scoole sall be established." This Act of the Privy Council was confirmed, but it contained a most distasteful enactment, viz. that the "Irishe language (Gaelic) which is one of the chieff causes of the continuance of barbaritie and incivilitie among the inhabitants of the Isles and Highlandes should be abolished." It is not matter for surprise that the Highlanders were slow to carry out the provisions of an Act which proposed to abolish their language, to which they were strongly attached. Funds besides were sadly wanting. Notwithstanding Acts of Parliament and the efforts of the General Assembly of the Church to improve the position of both ministers and teachers, the condition of the Highlands and Islands in 1696 was a very unhappy one in respect of both churches and schools. To remedy this, a number of gentlemen of philanthropic and Christian character resolved at the beginning of the 18th century to establish a fund for founding schools in those districts where there were as yet no parish schools. Royal favour was extended to their efforts, and intimation was given of an intention on the part of the Crown to erect the subscribers, the first of whom was the Countess of Sutherland, by letters-patent into a body corporate to be named the " Society for propagating Christian Knowledge in Scotland." The first Patent was granted in 17o9. By it the first nomination of members was made by the Lords of Council and Session out of the subscribers. The number of members was 82, 9 being peers, 14 Lords of Council, 21 ministers, the rest of different professions. In the Patent it is laid down that the members must be Protestants, not necessarily Presbyterians. Indeed the majority of the London members were Episcopalians. Though the Society was greatly aided by the General Assembly of the Church, who appointed a select committee to ascertain where schools were most urgently required, it is quite clear that the movement originated not with the General Assembly but with private individuals who thought that the ignorance and superstition of the Highlands demanded attention. The connection between the two bodies was close, continuous, and beneficent, but it rested not on legal enactment, but on grounds of mutual confidence and co-operation. The Assembly enjoined on their Presbyteries the duty of enquiry as to the need for churches, missionaries and catechists, and of periodically examining their schools and reporting on their condition to the Secretary of the Society.

To all applications by the Society for assistance from the ministers of remote parishes in the superintendence of schools the General Assembly lent a willing ear, and strictly enjoined the several Presbyteries to make exact enquiry into the manner of life and conversation of those who offered their services as teachers, and to report to the Secretary of the Society, not to the Commission of the General Assembly. With the application of the fund, its mode of management, and the regulations of the schools, they in no way interfered.

The practice of the Society in reference to teachers, catechists, and missionaries has been absolutely uniform. All have been members of the Established Church. The teachers were tried and examined by the five clerical directors, and none could be appointed except such as had been certified by the judicatories of the Church. Similarly the catechists were necessarily members of the Established Church, their duty being to co-operate with the minister of the parish, and the missionaries were all either ordained ministers or licentiates of the Established Church. Any of the three separating himself from the Church was dismissed.

While the charity of the Society began at home it did not end there. The spread of Christianity among heathen nations came within the scope of their operations, and a Board of Correspondents was established in London.

The capital of the Society in 1708 was 1000, and when in 1711 it amounted to 3700, itinerant teachers were appointed in the most necessitous places in Scotland such as St Kilda, Sutherland, Caithness, and other parts of the Highlands where there was either no parish school or where, owing to the size or character of the district, one school was completely insufficient. The teacher's emoluments ranged from 300 to 150 merks (about 16 to 8) according to circumstances. Schools and teacher's houses together with Bibles and Catechisms were supplied. Interest in the movement steadily increased, the proprietors in many of the districts lending their aid. Four years more saw the capital raised to over 6000.

By an Act passed in the first year of George I a Royal Commission was appointed to lay before his Majesty an account of the proper places for schools and the proper salaries for the maintenance of teachers. The Commission reported that 151 schools, in addition to those already existing, were required, and that 20 was a sufficient salary. This sum was a fond imagination and was never realised.

In the sixth year of his reign another Act was passed which provided that 20,000 of the amount realised by the sale of Scottish estates forfeited after the rebellion should be applied towards the making of a capital stock for erecting and maintaining schools in the Highlands. In spite of repeated appeals from 1720 to 1728 to members of both Houses of Parliament, to Barons of the Exchequer, and the King himself, no part of this money has ever been received by the Society. In 1725 his Majesty gave a donation of 1000 to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland "to be employed for the reformation of the Highlands and Islands and other places where popery and ignorance abound." This donation was placed under the control of a committee of the Assembly, has been continued by all the King's successors, and been used in co-operation with the Society for propagating Christian Knowledge. Though they failed in their efforts to obtain this 20,000, which they. could have turned to excellent account, the Society continued to flourish. Applications were made to the Barons of Exchequer for part of the vacant stipends which had become the property of the Crown, but in vain. Donations however and annual subscriptions were made in sufficient number to enable the Society not only to hold the ground it had acquired, but to widen greatly the field of its operations. It would be tedious to give in detail the advances in prosperity from year to year.

Up to 1738 the main purpose of the schools was instruction in religious knowledge, reading, writing, and arithmetic. The patent under which the Society was incorporated did not empower it to provide instruction in industrial pursuits of any kind. Believing that enlargement of their powers in this direction would tend to encourage habits of industry among the Highlanders, the Society applied for and got a second patent, but resolutions were passed that the purposes of the first patent were not to be neglected or interfered with.

Meanwhile efforts for the prosperity of the Society were in no respect relaxed. The qualifications of the teachers were carefully scrutinised, the schools were regularly visited, a Gaelic and English vocabulary was drawn up, Baxter's Call to the Unconverted, the Mother's Catechism, and the New Testament were translated into Gaelic, 10,000 copies of the latter being printed. But yet even in the middle of the 18th century, within the 39 presbyteries in which the Society's schools were established, there were I75 parishes in which there were no parish schools. On this being brought under the notice of the General Assembly, an Act was passed enjoining on these parishes the duty of taking all legal means to have the want supplied. This was followed by a resolution not to erect a school in any parish in which there was no parish school. The Society also suppressed schools in the neighbourhood of forfeited estates, whose rents had been annexed to the Crown, and nominally appropriated to the maintenance of schools. It was also resolved that "the Society will not establish a charity-school in any parish unless the proprietors of land shall provide a sufficient school-house and schoolmaster's dwelling house, with ground for a kailyard, and grass for a cow, and unless the inhabitants shall furnish and lead gratis the peats and turfs necessary for the use of the schoolmaster and his family [Account of the S.P.C.K., 1774, P. 25.]."

Of the success of the Society's exertions in heathen countries it is not necessary for our purpose to say more than that much Christian effort and considerable funds were expended with very various results. The names of Brainard, Wheelock and Kirkland stand out as conspicuous for their missionary zeal.

Under the second patent, apprenticeships to farmers, smiths, and carpenters do not seem to have come to much among the boys, and among the girls, except in Scripture-reading and teaching, little was done beyond instruction in spinning, knitting, sewing, and the purchase of spinning-wheels. Nearly 100 dames' schools for girls were erected. To some of the teachers of these schools the pronunciation of the long and difficult names of Bible characters presented difficulties which one old woman is said to have overcome by saying to a girl, who stuck fast at a long name about which the teacher herself had doubts, "just ye gang stracht on, Jeanie. Dinna mind hoo ye misca' them. They're a' deid."

Viewed as a business concern the management of the Society was admirable. At the quarterly general meeting in January of each year a president, and committee of 15 directors, and other officials were elected, all men of the highest responsibility and several of noble rank. This committee met on the first Monday of every month. There were three sub-committees, one for matters of law, one for management of accounts, and one for superintendence of schools and correspondence. The proceedings of every meeting were minuted. All accounts after being audited were laid before the whole committee. In short the strictest business methods were practised. Teachers were admitted only after examination, and were required to know both English and Gaelic. Their salaries were unfortunately small, hardly ever reaching 20 or a little more, and that only from a special mortification or local donation. Up to 1774 the average was certainly less than 10. The fees probably added little to this.

Notwithstanding the eminently praiseworthy efforts made by the Society, it cannot be said that the account presented in the foregoing pages is not, from some points of view, a gloomy one. There were many parishes in which there were no parish schools, more of a size entirely beyond the management of the most energetic minister, few in which it can be said that the teacher had a fair living wage. The wonder is not that there was at this time much ignorance, but that the lamp was kept burning at all, and that all the natural difficulties of inaccessibility, width of range, tempestuous weather, and stormy seas were overcome to the extent they were. It seems impossible to doubt the genuine missionary and philanthropic motive of the teachers as a whole. Though they were not highly educated [A worthy man who was being examined by the Society for an appointment was asked how he would explain to a class the passage in the New Testament about the man sick of the palsy who was borne of four, and replied that "he could not explain it, for it always seemed to him to be a `pheesical impossibility."'], how, except on the theory of benevolence and a strong sense of duty, can we account for men and women, of a certain amount of education, in a practically uneducated range of country, devoting themselves to what was doubtless to some, and probably to many, an irksome and miserably paid occupation? The praefervidum ingenium Scotorum seems to have been most successfully appealed to in the case of all connected with the movement, which furnishes a grand example of Christian enterprise. The president, secretary, and directors gave their services as a labour of love. The only paid officials were the treasurer who collected and dispensed the revenue, the accountant who kept the account books, and the clerk who conducted the correspondence. These received 25 each per annum, an utterly inadequate payment for the time spent in the discharge of these duties by men of eminent social position, and with hands full of other important business.

During the latter half of the 18th century the history of the Society is a simple record of steady earnest work and increasing usefulness over a larger field, but presents no features specially noteworthy. In 1781 the capital amounted to 34,000, when the schools numbered 180 with an attendance of 7000 pupils. The teachers' salaries were also somewhat raised.

It is estimated that during the first hundred years of the existence of the Society children to the number of about 300,000 had received education at their hands. The funds were by this time large, but not too large for the demand made upon them by the number and importance of the uses to which they were put. The annual expenditure on teachers, catechists, bursaries for Gaelic students of divinity, superannuation allowance for the aged and infirm, examination charges and translation of religious books into Gaelic was between 4000 and 5000. Unfavourable seasons, small crops, high prices and diminished value of money were difficulties that had to be faced, but in terms of their charter no encroachment on the stock was permitted.

Though so much had been done it was found at the beginning of the 19th century that a large proportion of Highlanders were unable to read their own language. This was felt to be most unsatisfactory. To furnish, if possible, a remedy, the Gaelic Society of Edinburgh was formed in 1811. In the following year the Gaelic Society of Glasgow and in 1818 the Inverness Society followed suit. The Edinburgh Society aimed at teaching the reading of Gaelic exclusively, but the Glasgow and Inverness Societies combined English, writing, and arithmetic, with the reading of Gaelic. These three societies received liberal and distinguished support, and were wholly dependent on voluntary contributions. In 1822 a careful investigation was made as to the condition of the Gaelic districts in respect of education, the possession of copies of the Scriptures, and the extent to which Gaelic was the spoken language of a population of 171 parishes ascertained by the census of 1821 to contain 416,000. More than half of the schedules were returned fully completed, and may be taken as fairly representative of the whole. They showed that one half of all ages above eight years could not read, that one third of all the families had no copies of the Scriptures, that, excluding Caithness, Orkney and Shetland, Gaelic was the language of three-fourths of the people, that one third of the population were more than two miles distant from a school, and that many thousands had no school nearer than five miles. These figures do not apply to Caithness, Orkney and Shetland where there is no Gaelic, and where education is fairly satisfactory.

The public schools at this time were as under:

Parish schools 171
Society for propagating Christian Knowledge 134
Gaelic Society of Edinburgh 77
Gaelic Society of Glasgow 48
Gaelic Society of Inverness 65
Total 495 [Moral Statistics of the Highlands and Islands, 1826, p. 28.]

Taking 50 as the probable average attendance we have 24,750 as a full attendance. But with a population of 416,000, at one in eight there ought to be 52,000 for a full attendance, or more than double the actual accommodation.

Whatever doubt may be felt as to the strict accuracy of these figures, the statistical tables accompanying the report make it clear, that comparatively little use was made of the language the people knew best as a means of awakening interest and increasing intelligence, and that there was generally a want of appliances for the promotion of education and religion. Over and over again the remarks which accompany the completed schedules deplore the absence of Gaelic teaching. The Act of the Privy Council in 1616 recommending the abolition of Gaelic as a source of "barbaritie" had been too faithfully carried out, and was still a hindrance to advancement.

In 1821 the salaries of teachers under the first patent averaged about 15, in some cases rising higher through special mortifications or private donations. Salaries under the second patent for teachers of spinning, weaving &c. ranged from 3 and 4 to, in a few cases, 8 and 10.

The annual expenditure in payment of salaries to teachers, catechists, and missionaries amounted to a little over 4000.

A detailed specimen may be of interest. Subjoined is one for 1843, which may be taken as typical.

150 schools on First Patent 2358
37 superannuated teachers on First Patent 439
11 missionaries 505
39 catechists 333
102 schools on Second Patent 521
18 superannuated teachers on Second Patent 82
Total 4238

After the Disruption in 1843 an extraordinary meeting of the directors was called on June 13th, at which it was resolved that the secretary and agent of the Society should prepare a report on the extent to which the disruption must necessarily affect the operations of the Society. The points to be considered were (1) The origin and constitution of the Society; (2) The kind of connection between it and the Established Church; (3) The practice of the Society in reference to the different classes of individuals employed by them, viz. teachers, catechists, and missionaries.

The report states that no very authentic record has been kept of the formation of the Society. It is a long and carefully drawn document. We cannot give more than a summary of several important points with which it deals.

The opinion of two eminent lawyers - the Lord Advocate Duncan McNeill and Andrew Rutherfurd - was taken as to the eligibility of persons other than members of the Established Church for service under the Society. They agreed in recommending a judicial decision and the raising of an action of declarator so shaped as to present for decision all the important points [Declarator is a form of action in Scottish law, with a view to the judicial establishment and declaration of a fact.]. Mr Rutherfurd gave a separate opinion on points about which he did not concur with the Lord Advocate. The case was taken into the Court of Session where the decision was given that the Society for propagating Christian Knowledge was, by its constitution and by the terms of its incorporation, indissolubly associated with the Established Church, and that it was not lawful, nor in the power of the said Society, to appoint teachers, catechists or missionaries who did not belong to the Established Church. This judgment was pronounced in 1846.

In the report for 1847 it will be seen that the directors resolve that a circular be prepared and sent to every teacher and catechist, stating the import and effect of the decision of the Court of Session, and giving them an opportunity of saying whether they do or do not belong to the Established Church. The circular also states that while the directors regret that circumstances cause them to dispense with the services of those disqualified they wish to do so in a kindly spirit, and agree to give half a year's salary to the teachers, missionaries, and catechists.

They also promise in the case of those who, from advanced age or infirmity, are not likely to find other employment, and have a fair claim to a retiring salary, to give all consideration to applications for superannuation allowances. Copies of these resolutions were sent to the minister of every parish where the Society had any branch of their establishment [Report far 1847, p. xxx.].

The vacancies thus caused were soon filled up. In 25 cases where the teachers had become disqualified the buildings were withdrawn from the Society and given to Free Church teachers. Fresh buildings were supplied by other proprietors, and the work of the Society was not seriously interfered with.

The more specially evangelistic field covered by missionaries and catechists at home and abroad, being only incidentally educational, does not fall to be dealt with here. It is perhaps sufficient to say that the reports received by the Society bear that the funds furnished by them were most beneficially employed [Report for 1847, pp. xxxiv to xlv.].

In 1848 all salaries below ;6I8 were raised to that sum in schools on the first patent. Those on the second patent were also considerably raised. This, though it involved the suppression of some schools, had become imperative from the higher qualifications of the candidates who presented themselves, the great destitution that had prevailed for two years, and the decreased purchasing power of money [Report for 1848, p. xliii.].

Between 1843 and 1860 the number of schools was somewhat reduced, some of the ground having been taken up by the Free Church. From the latter date to 1872 there was little change. There was neither relaxation of effort nor reduction of expenditure. The amount set free by the discontinuance of some schools was most properly employed in increasing the salaries of the schools still on the scheme. The annual expenditure was upwards of 5000. The directors having no definite knowledge as to the extent to which, or in what districts, the Act of 1872 would affect their schools, decided not to make any immediate change. In the course of the next eight or ten years the number of schools was greatly reduced. The action taken by the directors, on learning from the opinion of counsel, that it was not competent to continue schools for which adequate provision ought to be made out of the rates, was eminently wise, and productive of excellent results. It belongs to our fourth period, where it will be dealt with.

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