Golspie, Sutherland, 8 October 1883 - Rev Alexander Mackay

Rev. ALEXANDER MACKAY, Free Church Minister, Rogart—examined.

39515. The Chairman.
—You have a statement to make to us?
—Yes. Grievance as to the State of Education in the Parish of Rogart.
As a member of the School Board of Rogart for the last nine years, and chairman of the present board, I beg to submit to you Royal Commissioners a grievance which has seriously affected the education of the young in the parish. During the nine years ending June 1882, the factor of the Duke of Sutherland was chairman of the School Board. Among the first acts of the first board elected under the Education Act of 1872, was the decision that the parish, which had always three schools, should be put upon two. The chairman invariably managing to have a majority of the board to follow him in every proposal, moved, and carried, that a school in the north part of the parish should be closed, and that the children should be compelled to go down to the old parochial school in the centre of the parish—an unreasonable distance. The parents and ratepayers joined the minority of the board against this finding, and appealed to the Board of Education. An officer of inquiry, who, by order of the Board of Education, visited the district, reported in the same line as the minority of the board, that the proceeding of the School Board was injurious to the interests of education in the district. The Board of Education, acting upon this report, at once recommended the School Board to reopen the closed schooL The Board of Education failing to get the local board to comply with its decision, sent down its secretary, Dr Taylor (August 1874), who, after visiting said district, peremptorily ordered this school to be reopened, which was accordingly done. Previously to this quarrel between the chairman of the board and the people of the district, this house had been offered by the authorities to the people at a rent of £1 a year, but ever since this quarrel took place the rent charged is £ 5 annually. Another conten-tion originating in the same way, but proving much more serious, arose respecting the west end of the parish in the district of Strath fleet. Two old school buildings existed in this district within 1½ miles of each other. They were both unfit for the teaching of children under the Act, ' with a view to obtain the Government grant. But, notwithstanding this, the chairman of the board moved that the public school in the district should be taught in one of these—the one further west—which was accordingly done, in the face of a protesting minority of the School Board, the earnest petitions and remonstrances of the parents and ratepayers of the district, and the recommendations of the Board of Education. Instead of this, there should have been erected a new school in a central part of the district, as was strongly recommended by the Board of Education, which would be accessible to all the children of the district. The building in which the school was now taught had to be repaired year after year, but, as regularly it was found wanting by Her Majesty's inspector. The repeated directions of the Board of Education to build a house halfway between the two old schools were persistently ignored. At last, when the old house in the west was utterly condemned by the local architect, the board, led by its chairman, setting all remonstrances at defiance, transferred the school to the other old building to the east of the district. This placed the school beyond the reach of the children in the west of the Strath. The house was repaired by the board, but did not satisfy the inspector. The singular thing is, that the board used public money in this, and in the other house west, to improve private property. As the school was now so far away, the children did not come to it. To punish them for not coming all the distance the board wished them, it was moved (11th February 1880) by the chairman, and as a matter of course carried, that the parents of said children should be prosecuted. This was done, and the issues of it were that the people thus treated were wounded to the core with indignation at the conduct of the board for the insult which was added to the injury done to their children, and the board had to pay £42 in the form of law expenses. As the only dissentient from this decision of the board to prosecute these people, I submitted my reasons for so doing, when the chairman, without consulting any member of the board, threw the paper which contained my reasons of dissent aside. I remonstrated with him for this, and stated that I would report his (the chairman's) oppressive and tyrannical conduct in the School Board to his noble master the Duke of Sutherland, whereupon he called me by an unworthy epithet, and lifted his stick evidently threatening physical violence—which attitude, coupled with the well-known fact that he can use his hand with effect when it serves his purpose, I confess I shook all over, as I never did before any man before. The irrecoverable loss thus sustained by the children of the district in question irritated the people so much that their indignation at the factor's policy in the board, was to a considerable extent the cause of the riot on the occasion of the case of forcible eviction in said district last year. The perpetual quarrels in the board, the loss sustained by the children, the unfair way of spending the money of the ratepayers, all led the leaders of the people in the Established and Free Church congregations to take this matter in hand, and deemed it prudent, in the interests of all, that the factor should be left out at last triennial election. The new board thus elected at once proceeded to arrange for a new school being built for the district in a central and suitable locality. After a protracted and unseemly struggle with the authorities, a site at last has just been obtained for the school. If this had been done ten years ago, it would have saved much money to the ratepayers, considerable ill-feeling in the whole place, and, above all, irrevocable loss to the children. I respectfully submit that—other things being equal—seeing the Duke of Sutherland hath such interest at stake in education over his extensive estate, I would, as a matter of fair play, have his representative in every School Board in the county. Yes, other things being equal, but, I am sorry to say, that they are not but most unequal. While his Grace chooses to have men representing him cannot act in a gentlemanly manner, who cannot treat those with whom they have to deal but as inferiors, I say to all who have respect for themselves, and regard for the prosperity of their children, let them not allow a factor to rule in a school board. Two great evils beset this management of this vast estate —one is the absence of the proprietor and his commissioner for ten months of the year, and the other is to leave the whole estate in the charge of men who are out of all sympathy with the people they have to govern. These men, owing to their knowledge of the work, and the ignorance of the superior authorities of it by reason of their absence from the county, are practically irresponsible.'

39516. I have allowed this paper to be read to an end, because I thought something might come which bore upon the interests more directly with which we are concerned, but it seems to me that, generally
speaking, it is rather a question for the Board of Education and for the School Board of this place than for our consideration. However, I will endeavour to bring it into connection with our inquiry in this way, How is the School Board composed?
—It is now composed of parties in the parish. They are all in the parish except one gentleman. He was
elected purposely to assist us to get a site in a suitable district—to get this new building to which I have referred erected.

39517. From what class are the members taken?
—They are tenants —crofters.

39518. Is the crofting class represented on the board?
—Yes, they are all crofters except myself and another gentleman from the adjoining parish. There are two clergymen on the board and three crofters, making five in all.

39519. And then the gentleman from outside—who is he?
—A clergyman.

39520. What communion does he belong to?
—The Free Church.

39521. Then there are two Free Church clergymen and three crofters?

39522. Therefore the School Board has a popular representative character?
—Quite so.

39523. Well, it remains with the School Board to take what measures they like for the welfare of the people now?

39524. Then what is the object of your reading this long remonstrance and complaint to us?
—In order that the exposure thus made may be a check upon such a system, whether amongst us again or in any other parish, because we find an exposure of these things is the very best check to put upon them.

39525. In the meantime, you see a way out of all your difficulties?
—I am hoping to see a way out.

39526. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—I presume you have also brought forward this statement here because the crofting interests have suffered in the past?
—They have.

39527. Materially?

39528. According to your own knowledge?

39529. And you think in that way you had a right properly to bring it before the Commission now sitting?
—I think, as you are sitting for the other grievances, this being such a serious grievance for so long and not a solitary instance, it was desirable you should know this.

39530. And one, unfortunately, that may have a lasting ill effect?
—It will have a lasting effect, because the children lost their education, and they cannot get it again.

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