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What Shall We Do
With Our Pauper Children?

August, 1861 — Social Economy Section of the Social Science Association, Dublin, Ireland


This question is a very important one, and it concerns more or less, directly or indirectly, every member of society. They are our pauper children! They deserve not to be called pauper, for they are placed in their present position by circumstances over which they have had no control; they are thrown upon society for Sup port by the inability of their parents, their natural guardians, — to maintain them; or from having been deprived of them. Society has undertaken the charge of them, and enlightened political economy requires that the responsibility should be faithfully at tended to. It is of the utmost consequence to the State that these thousands, tens of thousands, or perhaps even millions, of children should be so brought up as to become self-supporting members of society, discharging their duties well in that condition of life in which it has pleased God to place them; that they should be prepared to be the parents of a better generation than the last; that if they emigrate to other lands, or go to those of our dependencies where labour is in greater demand than here, they should be prepared to found new and healthy colonies, or to carry the true independent British spirit among foreign nations. We need not remind the Christian what high claims these helpless children have upon all the followers of him who came to seek and to save the lost, and that we should discharge our duty to these little ones as unto him.

They are our pauper children, and if we neglect our duty to them we shall suffer for it. Our duty to them is, to bring them up so that they shall have in their own hands the means of an honest livelihood, and be able to go forth into the world without any stain or disgrace on them. If we do not so train them they will be a drag and incubus on society; they will perpetuate a pauper race; crushed and degraded themselves, they will rear up children to be the same, still to people our Workhouses, and to be supported at the cost of the industrious and wealthy; physically as well as morally inferior to the independent poor, if they emigrate, they will carry elsewhere a degraded race.

These results have followed from the system which has hitherto been adopted towards our pauper children. The Poor Law Inquiry Commissioners declared their opinion that “The children who enter a Workhouse, quit it, if they ever quit it, corrupted where they were well disposed, and hardened where they were vicious.” Mr. NASSAU SENIOR, one of the Education Commissioners, speaks thus of the Workhouse at Southampton, which he visited, — “The paupers, they (the Master and Mistress) said, are a tribe, the same names, from the same families and the same streets fill the Workhouse; it sometimes contains three generations!” (Report of Education Commissioners, pp. 252, 258.) The prison authorities can now testify, as Mr. DAVIS, the Ordinary of Newgate, did some years ago, to the Lords’ Committee, that “there is a close connection between the scum of a Workhouse and juvenile offenders.” The general voice of the public assigns to the workhouse boy or girl one of the lowest places in the community; this fact is too notorious to need proof.

Why is this? Why are the Schools for these poor neglected and helpless or forsaken children of such a nature that this is the general result of the training they give? There are, of course, exceptions, but these only confirm the rule. We have seen some which have gloried in sending forth intelligent, vigorous, working boys and girls, sought after by employers. Yet these are few. Now we cannot attribute this result entirely to the want of proper instruction; that is happily provided for by the annual Parliamentary vote of £30,000, distributed under the inspection of the Committee of Council on Education; the physical arrangements are not the ground of complaint, nor is there generally any intentional neglect apparent in those who have the management of these Schools. And yet some inherent defects exist which de feat all attempts to improve them. In the first place, these Schools are in general more or less in connection with the houses for adult paupers, and wherever this is the case, all efforts to infuse a right spirit will be ineffectual, a small quantity of that most injurious leaven will neutralize all the influence of the best instructors. This is an evil which Guardians have it, indeed, in their power to remedy, but hitherto all expostulations, all recommendations from official quarters, have been ineffectual to make any alteration general. Then, again, the pauper condition itself presents difficulties which cannot be removed from Workhouse Schools under the existing Poor Law regulations. The pauper stamp is impressed on young children who ought to be rising freely into life; — they have a sense of bondage; — they are cut off from ordinary life, and their ignorance of it makes them enter it unprepared from Schools otherwise the very best. They cannot possess property, for paupers have none, and this deprives them of the possibility of learning some of the most important lessons to fit them for society. How can an orphan child brought up in a Workhouse School know what are the rights and duties of property ; the use and value of money ; the necessity of providence and economy to maintain an independent position in the world? And he must, therefore, go forth into it unprepared And what can there be in a Workhouse School in any way to supply the influences the Creator designed to exist in a home? The recipients of public charity, as such, have nothing to supply the child’s craving for affection, and they feel no gratitude for what is given grudgingly, and to which they know they have a right. There are “inherent and ineradicable evils” in Workhouse Schools. Independently of these, the Schools cannot materially improve while they continue under the management of a body of persons who are elected for qualifications by no means indicating fitness for the education of the young, and whose very duties are often antagonistic to it. Commissioners, Inspectors, all agree in lamenting in Guardians “a rooted distrust of any plans involving outlay; and “a morbid dread of what is termed “over education,’” (vide Educational Report.) Individually they may be estimable and benevolent men, but collectively, with a few honorable exceptions, this is their general character as Boards of Guardians, — a character completely unfitting them for the care of children, and precluding the intro duction into the Schools under their management of that voluntary benevolent and Christian influence which is essential to the accomplishment of the object intended.

What, then, are we to do with our Pauper Children?
What did we do for our Criminal Children?

When, ten years ago, it was demonstrated that a wrong system was adopted respecting them, public attention was aroused to the fact. It was proved that however good was the instruction in Prison Schools, however complete the physical arrangements, however conscientious in the discharge of their duty the officials, —yet juvenile delinquency increased; — young boys and girls re turned again and again to the gaol, and recruited the ranks of criminals. An entirely new system was proposed, which had been found effective elsewhere; the legislature was appealed to, and after numberless difficulties and delays surmounted by those who had faith in the principle, the experiment was tried, and the juvenile delinquents were entrusted to the care of voluntary managers, who, receiving a sum for the maintenance of each child from tile Government, should be subject to its inspection, as well as to the check of public opinion and of the control of voluntary contributors to the expenses of the Schools. They have gone on, always striving to improve their Schools, and to learn by experience. The result has been that juvenile delinquency has already diminished far more than could have been anticipated, and the Education Commissioners, while complaining more or less of all other Schools, say of these, “Upon the whole none of the Institutions connected with education appear to be in a more satisfactory condition than the Reformatories. We have no recommendations to make respecting them.”

Let, then, as with Reformatories, the voluntary element be enlisted for the children now called pauper children. The isolated efforts which have been already made for these have shown how valuable such an agency would be, and that there would be far greater hope of success than in the case of Reformatories; because in general the children would be younger, and not so hardened in crime. Legislation will be necessary, for so important a change must not be discretionary, but compulsory. The Secretary of State, who represents society, must certify and inspect the Schools, as he does now the Reformatories, and the Certified Industrial Schools for vagrant and neglected children. The payment for maintenance must, of course, mainly come from the local poor rates, and there fore the School Committee must be chosen by the rate payers. The weekly payment for maintenance will be fixed ; probably in England 5s. will be the right sum, since that is about the actual cost of each child in a large District School, as estimated by Mr. CARLTON TUFNELL, and it is the sum fixed for the children in Certified Industrial Schools by the Secretary of State. Children in Workhouse Schools and in the Certified Industrial Schools are so nearly the same class, and requiring treatment so similar, that, where desired, the same establishment might be available for both pauper children and those sent under magisterial warrant.

These ideas are embodied in the following suggestions —

First. — It should be made unlawful for any children under sixteen years of age to be taken into the Workhouse, or into any establishment connected with the Workhouse within three miles of it.

Secondly. — The management of all pauper children should be placed in the hands of a School Committee, to be annually chosen by the rate payers. The School for girls must be under the immediate management of a Committee of ladies.

Thirdly. — All Schools intended for resident pauper children should be certified as fit and proper for their purpose by the Secretary of State, to whom their condition should be annually reported, and who should have power to withdraw the Certificate.

Fourthly. — Where no School exists in any district fit for the reception and proper training of pauper children, the Guardians should vote a sum for the erection and suitable furnishing of one.

Fifthly. — The Guardians should pay to the School Committee a weekly sum, not more than 5s., to the School Committee, for the entire maintenance and instruction of each pauper child.

Sixthly.—All Pauper Schools must be industrial in their character; should the School Committee think fit, the Pauper Industrial School may be certified by the Secretary of State for the reception of vagrant children, under the regulations of the Industrial Schools Act. In like manner any School Committee may contract with the Managers of a Certified Industrial School to receive pauper children with the payment from the Guardians of 5s. a week.

Seventhly.—The Guardians shall be obliged to pay for the schooling of all children receiving out-door relief, under the provisions of DENISON’S Act. The parents may select what School they please, provided it is one under the inspection of the Committee of Council on Education. The payment for the schooling of out-door pauper children is to be in addition to the relief, and their regular attendance a condition of receiving relief.

Now, that these suggestions may have their full effect on the population, by bringing under legal protection and proper training all neglected and destitute children, there should be a society of a purely voluntary character established in every large city or district, who should have an office, always open, to which any children may apply themselves, or be taken by persons who find them unprotected. This Vigilance Committee (as it was called by Sheriff WATSON who first established one in Aberdeen), would thus consider the case of each child, and deal with it accordingly. Should such legislative enactments be obtained, and such voluntary effort enlisted, there is little doubt but that in a few years we should find an increased change effected in the condition of those who are now called, but would be then no longer,




Source: Published as a pamphlet: “What Shall We Do With Our Pauper Children?” (London: Longman, Brown & Co), pp. 3-8.