Liverpool and the Irish Famine 1847

This is largely taken from Chapter IV. of Tom Burke’s ” Catholic History of Liverpool “, 1910. He is not a disinterested party. He was Liverpool born and bred, with Irish parents. He was for many years, a magistrate, councillor, and Alderman on Liverpool City Council where he represented Vauxhall ward as a member of the Irish Nationalist Party. Liverpool Scotland constituency, which Vauxhall was part of, returned T.P. O’Connor as an Irish Party M.P. for 44 years between 1885 and 1929, the only constituency outside Ireland ever to return an Irish Nationalist Party MP. None of this really detracts from the power of Tom Burke’s writing. The rest of the post of his with the original footnotes from the book bracketed, and in italics, along with a couple of additional explanations of mine also in bracketed italics.

Over to Alderman Burke:

A dark cloud fell upon Liverpool in the last months of the year [1846], and when it passed away, a new Catholic Liverpool arose, with new problems and fresh difficulties, many of which are not yet solved. No man can understand aright the Liverpool of the second half of the nineteenth century, who does not seriously study the dread incidents which the November and December portended.

From the point of view of public health, Liverpool had degenerated into one of the worst towns in the Kingdom. Narrow streets, narrower courts, overcrowded alleys, and bad drainage, were exacting a heavy toll of disease and death. Streets were left unswept for as long a period as three weeks, in working class quarters, the Town Council being much too busy with the interests of party to occupy itself with such mundane affairs. The Tories were blind to all warnings; in capturing the Council Schools they had exhausted their mandate. To promote sanitary reform, a Health of Towns Association had been formed in the Metropolis, and the first Liverpool branch was founded in St. Patrick’s schoolroom.

Just as, half-a-century later, it was reserved for Liverpool Catholic public men to fight the battle of housing reform, so in the early forties it was left for the Catholic leaders to speak out against the criminal neglect, by the Corporation, of the important question of public health. Sir Arnold Knight, M.D., father of a future Bishop of Shrewsbury, and of a distinguished Jesuit, delivered the address at this gathering, presided over by Mr. R. Sheil. His speech is painful reading, descriptive of the conditions under which the labouring classes were compelled to live, conditions which made moral or physical health well-nigh impossible. Sir Arnold stated, that in London one out of every thirty-seven of the population died annually; Liverpool’s proportion being one in twenty- eight. In the Metropolis, 32 out of every 100 children died before reaching the age of nine ; Liverpool had the unenviable record of 49. Nor was this all. In the densely populated streets and courts of Vauxhall Ward, this number went up to 64, an appalling rate of mortality. Physical deterioration had set in, or, as the Catholic Knight put it, Liverpool men “were unfit to be shot at “, an allusion to the rejection of 75 per cent of the recruits for the army.

This speech gives the answer to much of the superficial criticism of the result of Irish ” habits “ on the general health of towns. The death roll gives the needed and only reply to the puzzle which has worried Catholic statisticians as to the causes which have operated to prevent the prolific Irish from being one-half, at least, of the population of Liverpool. Sixty- four out of every hundred Irish children dead before nine years of age, from preventible causes ! !

The Irish poor did not build the narrow streets nor the dirty courts, they did not leave the streets unswept, and had no responsibility for stinking middens, left unemptied at their very doors, nor did they create the economic conditions which drove them across the channel, and in turn made life in Liverpool the burden it really was. Drink ! Yes, they drank ! No wonder ! where drink alone could bring forgetfulness of present misery. But for the small band of priests who laboured amongst them, and the faith they brought from Ireland, Irish Liverpool had become heathendom. The demoralisation of child life caused by exclusion from the schools, in 1841, had sown its seeds, and a deadly harvest was to be reaped a generation later, which, even to the twentieth century, has made Liverpool a bye-word to every stranger entering its gates.

It was too late for any body of men to cure the evil, when the famine years sent hundreds of thousands of Irishmen and women into the very streets and alleys, where over-crowding and disease had become every-day features, and excited no surprise. The closing months of 1846 ended in ” an inpouring of wretchedness from Ireland; streets swarming with hungry and almost naked wretches.”   Written by a friendly hand, these words fail to convey an adequate picture of the scenes witnessed every day during November and December, 1846.

At the meeting of the Select Vestry,[the official title of the Liverpool Board of Poor Law Guardians] December 15th, 1846, the captains of the coasting vessels were censured for carrying over such large numbers of immigrants, and it was seriously suggested that Liverpool should follow the example of the Isle of Man authorities, by refusing permission to land. It is pleasant to record that the first meeting held to raise funds for the relief of the famine stricken, was organised by the Irish navvies, then constructing the railway to Bury. The meeting was held in the schoolroom underneath St. Joseph’s chapel, Grosvenor Street, on November 30th, every navvy putting down one day’s wages on the table as his tribute to the unfortunate people of his own country. In the church, the first sermon for the same object was preached by Father McEvoy, parish priest of Kells, in the fertile plains of Meath, who received fifty-two pounds from the poor labourers of St. Joseph’s parish. The new year, 1847, opened inauspiciously. During the six days, January 4th to 9th, the Select Vestry relieved 7,146 Irish families, consisting of 29,417 persons, of whom 18,376 were children.

From the 13th to the 25th of the same month, 10,724 deck passengers arrived from Irish ports, and during the month of February they came pouring in at the average rate of nine hundred per day. So dreadful was their poverty that we have the authority of the Rector of Liverpool, speaking on the 26th of February, that nine thousand Irish families were being relieved, a number which increased to eleven thousand by the end of March. The Stipendiary Magistrate had given an instruction to the police to keep a record of the number of immigrants, and, at a meeting of the justices summoned by him to consider suitable measures to cope with this serious menace to health and peace, he stated that, from the first day of November, 1846, to the twelfth day of May, 1847, the total number of Irish immigrants into Liverpool amounted to 196,338. Deducting the numbers actually recorded as sailing to America, no less than 137,519 persons had been added to the population of Liverpool. When the year ended, the total number of immigrants, excluding those who were bound for America, reached the immense total of 296,231, all ” apparently paupers.” [Head Constable Dowling’s Report to the Watch Committee.]

The already overcrowded Irish quarters gave some kind of shelter to the new comers ;  its character makes the heart sick, even when read in cold print. No less than 35,000 were housed in cellars, [ Liverpool Mercury, 1847.] below the level of the street, without light or ventilation; 5841 cellars [Gore’s Annals of Liverpool.]  were ” wells of stagnant water “ or, as an official report to the Corporation puts it, 5,869 were found, on examination, to be ” damp, wet, or filthy.” In the district now known as Holy Cross parish, not then formed, and in St. Vincent’s, an appalling state of affairs prevailed. In Lace Street, Marybone, in a cellar 14 feet long, ten wide, and six in height, twelve persons were found endeavouring to breathe, and, ” in more than one instance, upwards of forty people were found sleeping “ in a similar underground dungeon. [Medical Officer s Report for 1847. W. H. Duncan, M.D. ] The Stipendiary shocked the town by his narrative of a woman being confined of twins, in a Lace Street cellar, crowded with human beings. In Crosby Street, Park Lane, now occupied by the Wapping Goods Station, of the L. & N. W. Railway Company, 37 people were found in one cellar, and in another eight lay dead from typhus.

The unfortunates ” occupied every nook and corner of the already over-crowded lodging houses, and forced their way into the cellars (about 3,000 in number), which had been closed under the Health Act of 1842. In different parts of Liverpool, fifty or sixty of these destitute people were found in a house containing three or four small rooms, about twelve feet by ten.” [Head Constable Dowling’s Report to the Watch Committee.] By February, the mortality from fever was eighteen per cent, above the average, and four months later was 2,000 per cent. above the average of previous years.[ W. H. Duncan, M.D. Report to the Health Committee, 1847.]

Smallpox broke out and carried off 381 children, and an epidemic of measles added 378 to the total. In Lace Street, already mentioned, one-third of the inhabitants, that is to say 472 persons, died from fever during the year. In the Parish of Liverpool, the weekly mortality by the month of August reached 537, as against the usual average of 160 ; while in the extra parochial districts of Toxteth and Everton, it was 111 against 50. The curse of mis-rule in Ireland, and mis-government in Liverpool, had come home to roost, and he who would pass judgment on Irish poverty or “crime “ of later years, let him read the story which every stone of the charnel houses in Vauxhall, Exchange, Scotland, Great George and Pitt Street Wards, told and still tell. Here were sown the dragon’s teeth, and they have sprung up, not in armed men, but workhouses, reformatories, and gaols.

Regulations of all kinds were brought into force to put a much-needed check on this enormous influx, but without avail for at least a year. The Poor Law authorities returned 24,529 to their native parishes during the years 1847 and 1848 ; [See Dr. Mackay’s article on Liverpool in Morning Chronicle.]  it was only a drop in the ocean, for vessels were arriving daily with fresh contingents. Deck passages from Dublin cost as small a sum as sixpence, which probably tempted thousands to try their fortune in our midst. It stands to the infinite credit of the citizens that distinctions of race, religion, and party were obliterated in presence of this awful visitation, and that they united to succour the sick and hungry, both in the town and the country from whence they came. There were two exceptions, which only served to bring out this noble generosity in strong relief.

Vestryman Mellor gleefully exclaimed, at a meeting of the Select Vestry, ” when they are all gone, we will people Ireland with a better set,” and Dr. Hugh McNeill [ vicar of St Jude’s, and later St Paul’s, Princes Park, Liverpool (1834-1848), and a virulently anti-Catholic preacher,] characteristically accused the Irish clergy of refusing to dispense the English Relief Funds, unless the recipients paid them a consideration. These men were the sole exceptions to the truly Christian spirit which prevailed in all classes. Bishop Sharples acted with commendable promptitude. Summoning a meeting of Catholics in the Concert Hall, Lord Nelson Street, he had the pleasure of receiving two thousand pounds from his flock in the course of a few minutes. This sum was subscribed by less than fifty persons, and was dispatched next day by the treasurer, Mr. C. J. Corbally, in equal shares to the Archbishops of Cashel and Tuam. Church collections were immediately taken, and one thousand pounds came from this source; St. Patrick s heading the list with £ 118 16s. 7d., a few shillings more than the amount subscribed by St. Nicholas .

A name never to be forgotten in the annals of Liverpool Catholicism appeared for the first time in print, in connection with the famine fund, that of a young priest, Father James Nugent, who preached at St. Alban’s, Blackburn, and handed £ 72 12s. 8d. to the Liverpool treasurer. It was related by the journals of the day, that the Post Office was besieged by Irish labourers, sending small sums of money home to their afflicted kinsfolk. The condition of Ireland was bad, but it may well be doubted whether that of Liverpool was not worse. Where were the mass of new-comers to be housed? Where was employment to be found? Whence could be drawn clergy to come to attend to their spiritual needs? If church and school accommodation was deficient before 1847, it was surely deficient now.

In January, 1847, the Rector of Liverpool informed the Government that dysentery had assumed alarming proportions, due to the cabbages and turnips which formed the only food of the first immigrants. February saw eight hundred cases of typhoid ; the reading of the death-roll each Sunday morning in the churches sending a cold shiver through the immense congregations. Hurriedly the parish authorities set up fever sheds, in Great Homer Street on the North, and Mount Pleasant on the South, and fitted up a hospital ship in the Mersey, to cope with the new terror. Then came the awful visitation of typhus. Liverpool Protestantism bowed its head in reverence at the heroism of the handful of Catholic Priests.

Undaunted, they went from room to room in crowded houses ; from cellar to garret, ministering to the sick. They were never absent from hourly attendance in the hospital wards. Here at least there was some privacy, but in the crowded rooms and cellars it was next to impossible to hear the last confession, unless the priest lay down beside the sick man to receive the seeds of disease from poisoned breaths in return for spiritual consolations. In very truth they were braver men than ever faced the lions in a Roman amphitheatre.

If life must be sacrificed, it were fitting that St. Patrick’s should provide the first victim. Father Parker, rector for seventeen years, succumbed to typhus on April 28th, aged 43, [Buried in the vaults of the church. Dr. Youens sang the Requiem; the sub-deacon was Father Nugent] and was followed on May 26th by the scholarly Benedictine, Dr. Appleton, of St. Peter’s, who exchanged the Presidency of Douai College for a martyr s crown, won in the pestilential cellars of Crosby Street. The fine sanctuary of the church recalls his last work for the oldest ecclesiastical building in Liverpool, and the tablet on the walls of the church reminds succeeding generations of his great charity. St. Patrick’s again rendered two more victims, Father Grayston succumbing on the 16th June, aged 33, and his colleague, Father Haggar, [ Died at the house of Mr. Denis Madden, 116, Islington.] aged 29, following him seven days later. A third priest who had left the plains of Westmeath to work among his people in England, the Rev. Bernard O Reilly, was also stricken down. The rector of Old Swan, Father, afterwards Canon, Haddocks, took him from the presbytery at Saint Patrick’s to his own house, in the country, where he recovered in a most miraculous manner, and lived to become the third Bishop of Liverpool. St. Mary’s then took up the beadroll of death ; Father Gilbert, O.S.B., aged 27, and Father William Dale, O.S.B., aged 43, succumbing to typhus on the 31st May and 28th June respectively.

On the 22nd August, Father Richard Gillow, [He founded the St, Vincent de Paul Conference at St. Nicholas.] a member of a most devoted Catholic family, yielded up his young life he was but 36 years of age at St. Nicholas , and on the 28th September, the death of Father Whitaker, at St. Joseph’s, completed the death-roll for the year. Father Whitaker’s career was unique. He entered Douai with the intention of becoming a Benedictine, and after some years abandoned his undoubted vocation for the study of medicine. On the eve of qualifying he changed his mind and resumed his ecclesiastical studies at St. Sulpice, Paris. From thence he proceeded to Ushaw, where he was ordained, and after serving on the mission at Bolton, York, and Manchester, found an early grave in the slums of Liverpool. The deaths of these priests; [ To these should be added Father Nightingale, who died March 2nd, and Father Thomas Kelly, D.D,, who died May 1st.]  made a profound impression on a town which had witnessed 15,000 deaths from famine and fever, and exalted in the estimation of the Protestant citizens the character and dignity of the priesthood. The strain on the surviving clergy, most of whom suffered severely, was intense. They lay at night on chairs and sofas in their clothes, awaiting the sick calls which never failed to come, fearful lest the time spent in dressing might mean the loss of the Sacraments to some poor wretch lying in his dismal hovel. [ See Ushaw Magazine, June, 1895.] To the townspeople such heroism conveyed the reason why Catholics reverenced the office of the priest ; for Catholics it knit fresh bonds between them and the clergy.

In the midst of these scenes of desolation the sad news arrived from Genoa that the great defender of the poor Irish, the brilliant advocate of Catholic claims, had given up his soul to God. The death of O”Connell added to the grief and suffering of the poor immigrants, whose confidence in his powers knew no bounds. It was announced in the ” Tablet “ that his body would pass through Liverpool on its way to mother earth, but the authorities, fearing an outbreak, induced his unintelligent son to alter the arrangements. Instead of coming to Liverpool from Southampton, the coffin passed through Chester, where it rested one night before the altar in the city of St. Werburgh, and on the 26th July, 1847, arrived in Birkenhead. The steamer ” Duchess of Kent ” lay in the Mersey, en route for Dublin. Its quarter-deck was covered with an immense black canopy, under which the coffin was placed, surrounded by lighted tapers, and covered with a pall still in the possession of the Benedictines at St. Mary’s. To relieve the poignant feelings of the Irish multitudes they were allowed in relays to board the steamer and kneel for a few moments before the remains of the ” Liberator.” The evening before, the body of the O’Conor Don, M.P., lay in similar state ere it passed down the swiftly flowing waters of the Mersey to the land from whence he sprang. By November the tide of immigration began to slacken, and the black cloud of death and disease became less heavy and sombre. As the months rolled on, every quarter of the town had suffered, and, excluding those who had succumbed, sixty thousand of the inhabitants had suffered from fever and forty thousand from diarrhoea or dysentery. [Dr. Duncan s Report, page 18.]

The year 1848 opened with a great improvement in the death-rate from ” Irish fever,” but scarlatina and influenza now began to play havoc with the juvenile population. The deaths from fever during 1848 had fallen to 989; scarlatina claimed 1,516, and other zymotic diseases accounted for 4,350. [Dr. Duncan s Report, page 18.] From January, 1848, to April, 1849, 1,786 fatal cases of scarlatina occurred with children under 15 years of age, and when, in 1849, the horrors of Asiatic cholera were superadded, out of 5,245 deaths 1,510 cases were those of the  same tender years, not including the 1,059 carried off by dysentery. [Dr. Duncan s Report, page 18.] The importance of these figures from the point of view of Catholic Liverpool is that seven-eighths of the dead were Irish; [Dr. Duncan s Report, page 18.] famine at home being exchanged for death abroad.

There were then in Vauxhall Ward, to take only one part of the typical Irish quarters, 27 streets, 226 courts, and 153 cellars. In the street houses 6,888 persons found a shelter, and in the courts, exclusive of the cellars, 6,148; or, as the Rev. Dr. Cahill put it, they crowded the desolate garret, the putrid cellar, and the filthy lane. In normal days in this district and Scotland Ward the deaths were in the ratio of one to fourteen of the residents as compared with one to thirty-eight in Rodney and Abercromby wards. According to a census taken by a well-known Anglican clergyman, Canon Hume, who made a house-to-house visit, there were 3,128 children between the ages of three and a half and twelve without the slightest school accommodation, and if we include those up to fourteen years of age, at least one thousand more must be added to the number. ” Crime,” as the word was then used, had begun to increase. In 1845 there were 3,889 cases; in 1846, 4,740; in 1847, 6,510, in 1848, 7,714; and in 1849, 6,702. The cause we have already indicated. Mr. W. Rathbone, at a meeting to raise funds, declared that it was the Irish landlords and not the people who ought to have been forcibly immigrated. Mr. Rushton, in his report to the Home Secretary, dated April 21, 1849, gives his view of the increase in ” crime.”

” I saw from day to day the poor Irish population forced upon us in a state of wretchedness which cannot be described. Within twelve hours after they landed they would be found among one of three classes, paupers, vagrants, or thieves. Few became claimants for parochial relief, for in that case they would be discovered and might be sent back to Ireland. The truth is that gaols, such as the gaol of the borough of Liverpool, afford the wretched and unfortunate Irish better food, shelter, and raiment, and more cleanliness than, it is to be feared, many of them ever experienced elsewhere ; hence, it constantly happens that Irish vagrants who have offered them the choice of being sent back to Ireland or to gaol in a great many cases desire to go to prison.”  This awful picture was confirmed by the Prison Commissioners in the same year, who speak of ” the intensity of the distress, and the vast immigration of Irish paupers who commit petty offences in order to be sent to prison. At the time of our visit to the gaol more than one-third of the males were of this description, and more than half of the females.” Here are two official statements as to the origin of ” Irish crime,” to be aggravated as the succeeding years rolled on by the same causes, poverty, overcrowding, casual employment, and the natural consequence of all three, excess in drink. Compare these figures with the annual report furnished to the justices by the Anglican Chaplain of the gaol.

In the year 1841 there were 201 prisoners committed to the Assizes for serious crime, 35 being Catholics; committed to the Sessions for less serious crimes 317, 66 being Catholics. The Courts of Summary Jurisdiction or Police Courts committed 1,541, the Catholics numbering 486. From a population numbering a third of the whole these figures show no sign of ” Catholic crime “ being in undue proportion; [See Mr. Edward Bretherton’s reply to Lord Sandon, who, in a speech in the House of Commons said Catholics were one-fourth. 1843.] decidedly the reverse, especially in the Assize and Sessions cases.

For the year 1842, 41 Catholics were sent from the Assizes out of a total of 185 ; from the Sessions 100 out of 472, and from the Police Courts 513 out of 1,536. During the year 1843, 1,410 prisoners were sent to Kirkdale Gaol; 78 Dissenters, 280 Catholics, and 1,036  Protestants. Crime began with the poverty of the victims of the great famine, and was due to causes over which they had little control.

Their children were the greatest sufferers, the inheritors of a sad past. The want of schools was the main cause, for, as Father Nugent wrote sixteen years later in his first report to the justices, “education is not an absolute preservative against crime, yet it must always be an incalculable advantage towards gaining an honest livelihood, and making a position in a town like Liverpool.” [Annual Police Report, October 26th, 1864.] The children’s story has yet to be told.

The Corporation now plunged headlong into the work of sanitary reform, and blundered badly. The solution of the whole question lay, according to their notion of things, in closing insanitary cellars. From 1847 to 1849 they ejected 25,015 persons who dwelt in cellars, a desirable course to pursue provided they offered better surroundings or knew that private enterprise would supply them. One result did accrue, which was to overcrowd still more the houses already too fully occupied. [See Dr. Duncan’s report. He appealed to his committee to proceed cautiously in the evictions.]  Tenement houses have been Liverpool’s second greatest curse, the fruitful cause of intemperance amongst women and even worse evils. Local authorities had not then the powers obtained thirty years later, and on that score the Liverpool Town Council was not entirely blameworthy. It was, however, unsympathetic, short-sighted, indifferent.

The Society for Effecting the Abolition of the African Slave trade, Liverpool 1788

The Wedgwood Medallion. Josiah Wedgwood created this design which became popular in the campaign against slavery and featured on brooches, tea caddies, and plates.

In May, 1787, the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the African Slave trade was instituted in London. The Committee consisted of Granville Sharp (chairman, and father of the cause in England), William Dillwyn (an American Quaker), Samuel Hoare, George Harrison, John Lloyd, Joseph Woods, Thomas Clarkson, Richard Phillips, John Barton, Joseph Hooper, James Phillips, and Philip  Sansom. With the exception of Sharp, Clarkson, and Sansom, all the members were of the Society of Friends……………

In January 1788, the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the African Slave trade made its first appearance before the public of Liverpool with a well-written address, designed  to prove that the traffic, which was then said to bring about £ 300,000 a year into the Port of Liverpool, was immoral and unjust, and one which ought to be abolished, as unworthy of a Christian people. A list of members of the society was published in the same year, from which it appears that there were eight riteous persons still left in Liverpool, who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Their names, and the amount of their subscriptions were as follows:-

                                                                       £    s.    d.

Anonymous, Liverpool                               2.   2.    0.

Dr Jonathan Binns, Liverpool                    1.   1.    0.

Mr Daniel Daulby, Liverpool                     1.    1.    0.

Mr William Rathbone, Liverpool              2.    12.  6.

Mr William Rathbone Junr, Liverpool      2.    2.    0.

Mr William Roscoe, Liverpool                  1.     1 .   0.

Mr William Wallace, Liverpool                 2.     2.    0.

Mr John Yates,Liverpool                           2.     2.    0.

There are two footnotes

1. Baines, Picton, and others state only two Liverpool names – those of William Rathbone and Dr Binns – figured in the list of original members. In the printed list at the Picton Reference Library, we find eight subscribers, as above. “Anonymous” was probably Dr. Currie.

2.  Jonathan Binns, M.D. was for many years senior physician to the Liverpool Dispensary. He published, at Edinburgh, in 1762, Dissertatio Medica in Auguralis de Exercitatione. He superintented, for some time, the school belonging to the Society of Friends, in Yorkshire,[Ackworth School]  and whilst there, published an English Grammar, and also a Vocabulary. He removed to Lamcaster, where he practised as a physician untilthe time of his death, in 1812, aged 65 years. – “Smithers’ History,” p. 433.

From “ History of the Liverpool Privateers, and Letters of Marque, with an account of the Liverpool Slave trade.. “ Gomer Williams  1897

Sources for the footnotes

“ History, directory and gazetteer of the county palatine of Lancaster vol 1”:  Edward Baines  1824

Liverpool, its commerce, statistics, and institutions; with a history of the cotton trade” :  Henry Smithers:  1825

Lancashire and Cheshire, past and present: “  Thomas Baines:   1867

Memorials of Liverpool : historical and topographical, including a history of the Dock Estate vol 1 & 2” :  Sir James Allanson Picton  1875

Education, Politics, Religion, and Bigotry in Liverpool in the 1830’s and 1840’s

This post is a combination of extracts from  The Life Of Sir Joshua Walmsley, By His Son, Hugh Mulleneux Walmsley. Chapman And Hall, 193, Piccadilly.  1879. and Thomas Burke’s ” Catholic History of Liverpool,”  Liverpool : C. Tinling & Co., Ltd., Printers, 53, Victoria Street. 1910.  Both are slightly partisan sources. Uncle Hugh’s biography of his father is uncritical to put it mildly, but it does quote his father apparently verbatim, which is nice. Tom Burke takes a pro-Catholic, and Irish Nationalist position, but that doesn’t detract from the power and polemic in his writing.

Education, as with so many other things, was a hornet’s nest of politics, religion, bigotry, racism, and class. The Municipal Reform Bill of 1835 had resulted in a huge landslide vote for the Reformers or Whigs giving them a total of 44 councillors and 15 aldermen, against only 4 Tory councillors, and a single alderman.  Until the Reform Act Liverpool had always been a Tory corporation. So it was a radical change.

The first extract is Chapter IX of Hugh Walmsley’s book.

On the eve of the termination of the reform council’s first year in office, [November 1836]  when, according to a clause of the Municipal Reform Bill, sixteen of its members were to go out, Mr. Walmsley read a paper, entitled, ” What has the new council done ?” In it he passed in review the abuses that had been found prevalent, and the Acts that had been framed. Notwithstanding the difficulties with which it had to contend, the Council had effected a saving to the borough fund of ten thousand pounds per annum. In this paper he also expounded the system by which the Educational Committee had opened the Corporation schools to all sects and denominations.

Let us glance at this act of the council, one that raised a storm in Liverpool, the like of which had not been known. Mr. William Rathbone and Mr. Blackburn took the lead in the movement. Mr. Walmsley devoted to it what time he could spare from the arduous task of reforming the police.

The feeling that impelled the Educational Committee to advocate the adoption in the Corporation schools of the Irish system of education, was awakened by the spectacle of the multitude of children in Liverpool debarred from every chance of instruction. The report drawn up by the committee showed that besides numerous Dissenters, there were sixty thousand poor Irish Catholics in the town. The old corporation had quietly ignored this alien population, but threw open the doors of the Corporation schools to children of all sects, provided they attended the services of the Established Church, used the authorised edition of the Bible, and the Church Catechism. This virtually closed these schools against the Irish. The new council maintained that the State had the same responsibility as regards these children as it had towards others ; and the Educational Committee drew out a plan from that of the Honourable Mr. Stanley, Secretary for Ireland in 1831, [later Prime Minister three times as the Earl of Derby] Dr. Whately, and others, for the education of the Irish poor. Early in July, the committee laid its scheme before the council. The schools were to open at 9 A.M, with the singing of a hymn. The books of the Irish Commission were to be used. Clergymen of every denomination were invited to attend at the hour set apart for the religious instruction of the children of the various sects. The town council unanimously adopted the plan and made it public.

The storm now burst over Liverpool, and crowded meetings were held at the amphitheatre and elsewhere, to protest against the Act, and to promote the erection and endowment of other schools, where the un-mutilated Bible would form a compulsory part of every child’s education. In vain the council invited its accusers to come and see for themselves, the un- mutilated Bible forming part of the daily education. The cry continued to be raised by the clergy, and to be loudly echoed by their agitated flocks.

” Dissenting and Roman Catholic clergymen came,” said Mr. Walmsley, ” eagerly, to teach the children of their respective flocks during the hour appointed for religious instruction ; but with the exception of the Rev. James Aspinall, the English clergy stood obstinately aloof. Soon, in addition to the meetings, the walls were placarded with great posters, signed by clergymen. These exhorted parents not to send their children to the Corporation schools, promising them the speedy opening of others, where the un-mutilated Word of God should be taught Some of the lower classes maltreated children on their way to the schools, pelted and hooted members of the committee as they passed. The characters of Mr. Blackburn, Mr. Rathbone, and my own were daily assailed in pulpits and social gatherings. Still we persevered, answering at public meetings the charges brought against us, and inviting our detractors to come and visit the schools. So particular was the Educational Committee that each child should be taught according to the creed of its parents, that every sect seemed represented. I remember one child, on being asked the invariable question on entering the schools, to what persuasion her parents belonged, answered, to the ‘ New Church.’ We were puzzled to know what the ‘ New Church ‘ was ; it proved to be Swedenborgian. She was the single lamb belonging to this fold, yet a teacher of her creed was found ready to undertake her education.”

To illustrate to what degree fanaticism blunts the moral sense of those who blindly surrender themselves to its influence, we quote the following fact :  ” One day, when the hour of religious instruction had come, a clergyman of preponderating influence entered the schoolroom of the North School. The large room was divided into two compartments by a curtain drawn across it ; on one side were the Roman Catholics, on the other were the Protestants. The latter, divided into several groups, were gathered round different teachers. My wife, who seconded with all her heart this scheme of liberal education, was a daily visitor in the North School. She taught a class there — the Church Catechism and lessons from the authorised version of the Scriptures.”

“The clergyman made the circuit of the room, passing near each group. He at last approached my wife’s class and lingered near it. The lesson was taken from the Scriptures. It was no class-book of Biblical extracts she was using, but the Bible as it is used in the Protestant Church. The reverend visitor listened to the questions put and answers given, and to the children reciting their verses. The following Sunday my wife and I went to church. The preacher that day proved to be the clergyman who had a few days before visited the school. The sermon was eloquent, and, as usual, was directed against the spread of Liberalism and the ‘ Radical council.’ In the midst of the torrent of denunciation the preacher emphatically asserted that, some days before, he had visited the Corporation schools in the hour of religious instruction, and that no Bible was in use during that time.”

As the period drew nigh for the November election to replace the retiring third of the council, the religious zeal of the town burned higher. To the imagination of frightened Protestants, theConservatives presented themselves in the reassuring role of ” Defenders of the Faith.” They played the part so well that seven Tories replaced seven of the sixteen Liberal councillors who had retired.

Matters had now reached such a pitch that, at the next meeting of the board, Mr. Birch moved that the schools be discontinued, the property sold, and the Corporation trouble itself no more with the question of education. The proposition was so unexpected that the debate upon the motion was adjourned for a fortnight.

When the day for the debate arrived, the Educational Committee were ready to meet their opponents. In long and able speeches, Mr. Rathbone and Mr. Blackburn met and refuted every objection. They sketched the history of the mixed system of education, showed its essential fitness to the requirements of Liverpool, where the number of Catholics and Dissenters rendered the question of education as knotty to solve as the Government had found it to be in Ireland. They described the difficulties they had already surmounted, and earnestly pleaded that no change should be introduced into the committee’s plans until fair time for trial had been allowed it. Mr. Walmsley also spoke. He made no attempt to refute the quibbling assertions advanced against the system, but he went straight to the heart of the subject, to the humanity and justice that were the very core of it. This was no political or party question, but one in the decision of which the moral training and future welfare of a number of children were involved. He showed that one thousand three hundred children were daily taught in the schools; if the majority were Catholics, it proved only their greater need of schools. ” The result of giving them up,” he said, “would be to give up to vice and ignorance children whose hopes we have raised towards better things. It has truly been said that ‘ he who retards the progress of intellect countenances crime, and is to the State the greatest criminal.’ ”

By a large majority of votes, the council decreed that the mixed system should be continued in the schools.

In the month of August, 1837, Mr. Wilderspin, to whom the committee had entrusted their arrangement and organisation, announced that his work was finished. Before retiring, he wished an examination to take place of all the scholars. Clergymen attended to put the little Protestants through a sifting and trying ordeal. The result of this trial will be best expressed in an extract from a letter of the Rev. J. Carruthers. ” The examination proves that the teaching given is not of a secular kind, but on the contrary embraces an amount of instruction far exceeding what is usual in either public or private seminaries. The Bible is not excluded, is not a sealed book. The amount and accuracy of Biblical knowledge possessed is astonishing.”

Thus the children silenced by their answers the cry raised against the mutilation of the Scriptures. The innocent replies proved better than could the ablest defence, in what spirit the Educational Committee had worked, and in what spirit their enemies had judged their efforts.

Before separating, the audience who had been present, and who for the most part had come to criticise, united in passing a vote of thanks and congratulation to the Educational Committee for the work they had done, and for the excellent state of the schools.

We have dwelt at some length on this attempt of the council to establish a free and religious scheme of education in Liverpool, for it was destined to prove the rock ahead on which Liberalism was to split.

The following is from Tom Burke. The wording in brackets is from footnotes in the original; and he is calling the Reformers, or Whigs, Liberals, not a term they themselves would have used at the time.

Tom Burke tells us of ” the delicate relations between the English and Irish Catholics of the town, and the ease with which the susceptibilities of the latter could be touched in a tender spot. “

The differences were momentarily forgotten over the memorable fight for the schools at the November election of 1841. Somewhat prematurely the Liberal party announced that if returned to power they would build schools in every district of the town to be conducted on the same lines as the two schools already in existence. McNeill and his Tory followers paraded the streets with open [Life of William Rathbone, by Miss Eleanor Rathbone. ] Bibles attached to long poles, and strenuously appealed to the electors not to allow the erection of any schools unless Catholics and Dissenters would accept instruction from the authorised  version of the Scripture. ” Converted priests “ harangued frenzied Protestant audiences, and were described by John Rosson, quoting Edmund Burke, ” as only qualified to read the English language,” and went on to say that as scholars they were ” despicable “ and as divines ” grossly ignorant men “ These Orange zealots forgot in their blind fury that the outcome of a Tory Protestant victory would be to force the Catholics to build schools for themselves, else they had never undertaken the campaign which aroused the worst passions of one section of the community and effectually destroyed for many years peace and harmony among the diverse sections which made up the Liverpool of the early forties.

Wild stories were put in circulation of the ” murder “ of seven Protestant clergymen in Ireland, which so inflamed the Orange population of Toxteth that they smashed up an anti-Corn Law meeting in Great George Place, confusing, in their frenzy, economics with ” Popery.” They then marched to St. Patrick s Chapel, and shattered the windows of both schools and church. The wife of a policeman was saying her prayers quietly in the church when the infuriated mob made the attack, and, as the consequence, lost her life from fright, an incident which increased animosity on both sides. The Conservative party, emboldened by the strife, demanded that no prayers should be recited in the Council schools save those to be found in the Anglican liturgy, and that no teachers should be appointed outside those who professed the Protestant faith as defined by Dr. McNeill. A lady had been appointed a teacher at the North Corporation School, on the  recommendation of the Protestant Bishop of Ferns. Coming from Ireland, her orthodoxy was suspected and the Conservatives in the Council refused to ratify the decision of the Education Committee. The Liberals declared that they declined to make religious belief a test, but had no objection to informing their opponents that the lady in question professed the Protestant faith. On this assurance, and for ” the maintenance of truth,” the Conservatives withdrew their opposition. They had, however, secured their object, the ” maintenance “ of religious controversy, and had so well succeeded that they fought the elections with an air of confidence, which was abundantly justified by the results.

The Liberals were swept out of the Council by this whirlwind of passion ; only three being returned at the poll. Every retiring Liberal Alderman was ousted, and until 1892 the Liberal party remained in a hopeless minority. The Catholic Aldermen Sheil and Roskell, fell with their Liberal colleagues, and William Rathbone suffered his third defeat in Great George Ward. Flushed with victory, the Tories resolved upon a policv of making it impossible for any Catholic child attending further the Corporation schools. The educational treaty of peace was rudely torn up, never to be restored, as the Nonconformists very naturally were driven into bitter hostility against the party which had practically resolved to teach at the expense of the ratepayers, the authority of the Church of England. The elections were fought on the first of November, and by the first day of the following month the Catholics learned with dismay the intentions of the dominant party. They took up a firm but dignified attitude and presented the following remonstrance to the new Corporation :

” It being generally understood that it is in contemplation to discard the Douai Version of the Bible entirely from the Council schools, and to require that all the children shall use the Authorised Version of the Established Church, and shall, moreover, join in a common form of prayer at the beginning and end of school, the Catholic clergy of Liverpool beg most respectfully to state to the Council that they cannot conscientiously concur in such an arrangement, whereby the religious principles of the children attending the schools will be compromised ; and pray that the contemplated changes may not be adopted.”

Then follow the signatures of the Rev. Dr. Youens (St. Nicholas ), Fathers Wilcock (St. Anthony’s), Thos. Fisher, O.S.B. (St. Mary’s), and Dale, O.S.B. (St. Peter’s).

Councillor Smith proposed that separate schools should be provided for the Catholics in poor districts. The debate which ensued was characterised by truculency and tolerance. Unitarianism and ” Popery “ were regarded as convertible terms by the Conservative leaders, and in insulting and contemptuous language the Catholic claim to be regarded as citizens was flouted and rejected. Why the Unitarian body should have been singled out for reproach was probably due to the fact that the leading Liberals, with few exceptions, belonged to that community, and distinguished themselves not only by their entire sympathy with the cause of religious toleration, but gave many practical tokens of sympathy with the Catholics of the town.

The Catholic children had no option but to withdraw from the Council schools, an action which gave intense satisfaction to the Tories, especially with regard to the North Corporation School. True to the course which had been mapped out beforehand, the Council schools were now turned into adjuncts of the Established Church, and all children in the Bevington Bush School were compelled to attend on Sundays and marched to the church service in St. Bartholomew’s, Naylor Street, unless the parents objected.” To mark his ” abhorrence “ of this policy, the Earl of Sefton sent a donation of twenty-five pounds to St. Anthony’s Schools, Scotland Road,[” Another kind of Town Councillor arose, who, with great pretension to religion, most irreligiously and unjustly, expelled from the public schools Catholic children by the hundreds.” St. Anthony’s Report, 1842.] and many other Liberals, including Sir Joshua Walmsley [ Mayor of Liverpool, 1839-40 ; afterwards M.P.] followed his example. The Catholic mind was finally made up. ” Schools of our own ! “ was the cry which resounded from every home as well as every pulpit. Thus the Tories of Liverpool may be styled the promoters of that magnificent series of Catholic schools which have sprung up in every quarter of Liverpool, to which came the teaching orders who lifted elementary education to the highest pinnacle of perfection. The bigoted Evangelicals did not anticipate such a result. Had they been far-seeing, instead of being blinded by rancour and partisanship, they would have seen that their policy would eventually bring about this result.

What would have happened had McNeill not driven the Liberals from power is now an interesting speculation. Every ward in Liverpool would have had its Council school, and under the disinterested management of a Liberal Education Committee most Catholic children would have been in attendance. Mixed schools are not looked upon with friendly eyes by Catholics, but the success of a six years experiment, and the poverty of the labouring classes, would, in all human probability, have prevented the erection of purely Catholic schools for a generation.

Where were the teachers to come from ? was the anxious query heard on all sides. The Government had made no provision for training teachers. Ireland came to the rescue, so far as the boys were concerned, and with the advent of the Irish Christian Brothers [The same work has been undertaken in Rome by the Irish Christian Brothers, at the express request of Pope Pius the Tenth. ] to St. Patrick s a new era of usefulness and charity was begun for that fine body of teachers. Later on they came to St. Anthony’s, St. Nicholas , St. Mary’s, and St. Vincent’s. Without payment or reward, save the voluntary offerings of the parents, these cultured men did a noble work for the poor children of their own race. To make them practical, earnest Catholics was their first aim ; to equip them for the battle of life was an easy matter for a body which had long distinguished itself by practical aims which have since disappeared from curriculums framed by more ambitious but less successful educationalists. For forty years they laboured in the town, and their departure under the pressure of the Act of 1870 caused widespread dissatisfaction.

To them belongs the distinction of founding the first evening continuation schools, in St. Patrick’s, during the year 1842, which were attended by one hundred and twenty Irish adults, anxious as most Irishmen have ever been for education. Such an impression was created by this experiment that Dr. Ullathorne, O.S.B., paid a special visit to St. Patrick’s to preach a sermon in its support. The Benedictines at St. Mary’s summoned a special meeting on December 16th, 1842, in the Grecian Hotel, to consider the sad plight of the great numbers of poor children in that district. They adopted a resolution regretting the decision of the Town Council, and resolved to issue an appeal to friends of education ” of all ” denominations to provide means of dealing with these “unfortunate children.” [Liverpool Albion.] Fathers Fisher, Wilkinson and Dale addressed a letter to the senior churchwarden of the Parish of Liverpool, Mr. W. Birkett, pointing out the condition of the poor children of St. Mary’s, and expressing the hope that the community would provide means for their instruction. The impertinent reply which followed illustrates the unfortunate tone and temper of the official Anglicans towards the Catholics of that day. Mr. Birkett began and ended by denying the right of the three Benedictines to claim the title of priests or be called “reverend,” as they had not been ordained in conformity with the laws of the Church of England. It became necessary to give this gentleman an elementary lesson in the doctrine of the Church whose self- appointed spokesman he had become, and Father Wilkinson was selected by his brethren to perform that duty. How well he performed the task may be gleaned from this crushing reply :

“With regard to my Orders, though I have not entered the ministry by making the declaration required by the rubrics of the Established Church, permit me, sir, to inform you, that the rubrics of that Church recognise the validity of my Orders ; and, if from a desire to have less labour and more pay, or any other equally creditable motive, I were to apostatize from the faith of my fathers, and embrace a creed in conformity with the laws of this realm, a Bishop of your Church would readily admit the validity of my Orders, and at once appoint me to a curacy. And now, as to my designating myself a Catholic clergyman, I am a humble member of the ancient faith, Catholic in every attribute, and in every sense, Catholic in all ages and in every nation ; Catholic by the received and admitted consent of mankind ; properly designated Catholic in history, geography, in the works of travellers, in the Senate, at the bar, in the public journals, in the drawing- room, and in every other department and locality, unless an exception be found in the vestry of Our Lady and St. Nicholas.”

Quoting the full title of the old parish church was the unkindest cut of all; devotion to Our Lady or St. Nicholas not being a prominent feature of the principles of the unfortunate recipient of this well-merited castigation.

The better educated members of the English Church heartily enjoyed Father Wilkinson s ready and apt reply. Church warden Birkett was snuffed out, and did not venture again into the fields of religious controversy.

 

Quaker Petition to Parliament for the abolition of the slave trade 1783

Transcription from the Yearly Meeting minutes (Volume 17/298 – 307)

To the Commons of Great Britain, in Parliament assembled.

The Petition of the People called Quakers,

Sheweth –

That your Petitioners met in this their annual assembly, having solemnly considered the state of the enslaved negroes, conceive themselves engaged in religious duty, to lay the suffering situation of that unhappy people before you, as a subject loudly calling for the humane interposition of the Legislature.

Your Petitioners regret, that a nation professing the Christian Faith, should so far counteract the principles of humanity and justice as by a cruel treatment of this oppressed race, to fill their minds with prejudices against the mild and beneficent doctrines of the Gospel.

Under the countenance of the laws of this country, many thousands of these our fellow-creatures, entitled to natural rights of mankind, are held, as personal property, in cruel bondage; and your Petitioners being informed, that a Bill for the regulation of the African trade is now before the House, containing a clause which restrains the officers of the African Company from exporting Negroes. Your Petitioners, deeply affected with a consideration of the rapine, oppression, and bloodshed attending this traffic, humbly request that this restriction may be extended to all persons whatsoever, or that the House would grant such other relief in the premises, as in its wisdom may seem meet.

Signed in and on behalf of our yearly meeting, held in London, the 16th day of 6th month, 1783.

 

Petition from London Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends, presented to Parliament on 16 June 1783

The petition that the Yearly Meeting sent to Parliament is transcribed in both the Yearly Meeting minutes (Volume 17/298 – 307) and Meeting for Sufferings minutes (Volume 36/ 408 – 413).  This transcript is from the Yearly Meeting minutes.

This was the first petition made to Parliament and was signed by 273 Quaker members, including William Rathbone, Dr Jonathan Binns, and Samuel Hoare Jnr.