Annex to Chapter 5

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Education in Victorian Birmingham

Edward was fortunate to have been brought up in a city such as Birmingham. In the neighbouring Black Country, attitudes to education were summed up by the following "The father went down the pit and made a fortune; the son went to school and lost it!" but attitudes in forward-thinking Birmingham were markedly different. School attendance was voluntary, and many children received only the bare minimum of education, often at Sunday Schools which took place on that day, the day of rest, as the children were mainly at work for the rest of the week, (starting from the average age of 9, but sometimes as early as 7 years).

In the city centre there were several schools at that time offering free or subsidised places to the sons of artisans. By 1837 there were four new elementary schools of the King Edward's Foundation, and from 1812 the National Society for the Promotion of Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church taught 600 children at the Pinfold Street school.

As for secondary education, the King Edward VI Free Grammar School had been established in the 1780s, and in the 19th century the Blue Coats School had moved back to Digbeth and offered plenty of free places, or charged 1d per week. It took pupils up to the age of 14, and trained them for the commercial sector.

In addition to these there was a Lancasterian School in Severn Street Birmingham from 1809, which by the year 1833 had 267 pupils. These schools were established by Quaker Joseph Lancaster (born 1793) who having been denied education by the Church of England because of his non-conformity, had been educated at home. He dreamed of a method of teaching the poor and disenfranchised for free, or at minimal cost. He wrote of his theories in 1821 and then toured the country setting up schools and advocating that schools (and teacher training) should be Christian, but non-sectarian. Needless to say, the Church of England wasn't too happy to relinquish its hold on the education of the young, but Lancaster was supported by several prominent thinkers, among them William Wilberforce. The principles of the system were that pupils should be taught in groups of 10, using just one text book, the pages of which were separated and displayed. The group was taught by a monitor, who had received his education from a higher group. The groups were interactive and worked at their own pace, the higher groups going way beyond the basics, discussing trigonometry for example, or practising foreign languages. The emphasis was on self-improvement, self-discipline and good leadership, and the system worked so well that the method was copied world-wide, although it also met with fierce criticism.

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Brief History of the Bay Islands : The islands were originally populated by Indians from Central America who mined jade to trade with the mainland. During the 13th and 14th centuries the islands were discovered by Europeans, who were delighted to find an abundance of food in the form of fish, turtles, agouti, deer and crabs, as well as native fruits, and mahogany forests which provided wood to repair their ships. Around the year 1600 the Spanish estimated that Ruatan was home to 5,000 British bucaneers. For 200 years British pirates fought against Spanish conquistadores for control of the islands, and both groups made use of the safe harbours and supplies of wood. In 1745 Ruatan was declared a British colony, and placed with Jamaica, but the ensuing years saw the island "change hands" several times. A British protectorate was declared over the entire region from Honduras to Nicaragua which lasted until 1859, when the region was relinquished to Honduras - a fact which is discussed by Edward Daniel in his letters. The main point of contact on the mainland was the settlement at Belize, which the British had regarded as their colony since 1798, but which was not accepted by the Spanish. This was the seat of the legislative assembly from 1854, and from 1862 it had the status of a British Colony. In 1871 it was declared a Crown Colony under the name of British Honduras.

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Letter from Rev Edward Daniel Webb to the Wesleyan Missionary Society, 1854

Dear Sirs,
We were favoured with delightful weather on the voyage and after a prosperous passage arrived in the harbour of Belize on the morning of Friday the 11th of November. ............ On entering the house a choir of girls struck up a greeting hymn. I was much affected by the expression of their joy and affection. The people here love their ministers. In the evening we attended the prayer meeting in the schoolroom under the chapel which was well filled. In the afternoon I addressed and catechised the children of the Sabbath School. I was delighted with their neat and orderly appearance, their behaviour and the intelligent answers they gave.

He concludes: It is arranged for me to proceed to Ruatan early in January and I expect that will be the principle field of my labours. I am perfectly well in health and happy in the love of God
I am dear Sirs yours very affectionally
Edward D. Webb.

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Letter from Rev Webb on the subject of the proposal to cede the Bay Islands to Spanish Hondurs (1856)

"This event will seriously affect our prosperous and promising missions in the islands of Ruatan and Utilla. I feel much anxiety as to the results of this change. As according to present arrangements this part of our circuit will (D.V) be placed under my care during the coming year.

I am sure, from what I know of the Island of Ruatan that when the news reaches there it will be most disturbing to the 2,00 British subjects who are settled there and who since it was constituted a British colony in 1852 have purchased hundreds or even thousands of acres of land from the Government which they have cleared, planted , and brought into a state of good cultivation at immense expense of labour and money, cheered by the prospect that they and their children would reap the reward of their toil in future years. And now, just as they are actually beginning to realize their just and reasonable hopes, to find them suddenly blasted, without any fault of their own, by their adopted land, their loved and beautiful Island being turned over to a Government under which, I do not think, they could ever be content to live.
The more so as so large a number of them are connected with our Society, chapels and schools. The privileges and benefits of which they now enjoy and so highly appreciate but which they could never expect would be continued to them under a despotic Spanish and Popish government.

In case of such a transfer, unless a very liberal compensation were made to the people by our Government, a most distressing injury and injustice would be inflicted on them, which would be very painfully felt by many of our members.
We have also, as you are aware, two lots of land, two nice chapels and a Mission House, the freehold property of the Mission in Ruatan besides a small chapel in Utilla, which, in case of the removal of our people (which I think will be inevitable if the Island is transferred to Honduras) would have to be given up."

He expresses the hope that the secretaries of the Society will be able to influence government opinion in this matter.

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Letter from Rev Webb on the continuing subject of the treaty

Ruatan, April 12th 1860

After a three day voyage I arrived in Ruatan on 16th February to find the people excited and troubled by the news that the treaty had been signed last November.
……. Should this treaty be ratified by Her Majesty a great calamity and worry will be inflicted on the inhabitants of these islands. As by it the Bay Islands are almost unconditionally surrendered to the State of Honduras to be governed by Spanish officials and placed under the administration of Spanish laws. The only alternative provided being that those wish shall be allowed to leave the country without molestation. The inhabitants have put a petition to Her Majesty's government two or three years ago that in the event of the cessation of their island, their rights should be secured, that no interference with their existing laws should be permitted and that the power of self government guaranteed to them.

A feeling of gloom and insecurity has pervaded the minds of the people who, from what they know of Spanish rule in the adjacent states of Central America, have little reason to hope (if abandoned by England) for a continuance of the blessings of security, prosperity and liberty they have enjoyed since the colonization.

You will be sorry to hear that my dear wife has been very ill nearly the whole time we have been here, though I am thankful to say she is now recovering. As we have not the benefit of medical advice on this island, this has been an occasion of great anxiety and dread,
With the exception of a slight attack of fever my own health has been good

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Letters concerning the death (from yellow fever) of Elizabeth Webb.

Belize July 16th 1860

I have very solemn and distressing news to communicate here, the deaths of three of our mission family, Mrs Webb, Miss Beale and Mr Sanders, in little more than a fortnight. They died of yellow fever which has been prevailing …….

Mr Fletcher later sent a full report of their loss:

Belize, July 17th 1860

During the past month our town has been visited by that dreadful disease the yellow fever.

On Saturday June 16th Mr and Mrs Webb, having been very sick in Ruatan arrived in Belize feeling it necessary to come for some medical advice and help. The voyage benefited both very much and they were each sick for a few days after their arrival but were soon better and as we thought recovering. But alas! Mrs Webb suffered a relapse from which it pleased God she should never recover.
On the Saturday following their arrival, June 23rd, Mr and Mrs Webb had a short walk, on their return home Mrs Webb complained of severe headache and that night became very ill of fever.Dr Young was immediately sent for and was unremitting in his attendance upon her.

Sunday and Monday she continued very ill but on Tuesday she appeared so much better that no danger was apprehended. On Wednesday however she was considerably worse, and the doctor pronounced her in a very critical state. In the evening another doctor was called in, the two visited her together and did all that human skill could, but alas all in vain.
The disease made rapid progress; before night the black vomit (the dreadful proof of yellow fever) began and all hope of recovery was gone.
She lingered though evidently dying, through the night and on Thursday morning June 28th her sufferings ended and her happy spirit took its flight to the realms of the blest.

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Letter from Rev Webb concerning the fire in Belize in 1862

We were only able to save the communion service, pulpit cushion and books and one solitary lamp. All the rest of the chapel furniture including 3 beautiful marble tablets which were erected in 1859 and 61, together with all the books and furniture of the Girls and Sunday School were entirely destroyed. The Mission House was mercifully preserved.
No words can describe the awful grandeur of the scene as the fiery element rolled on in its course of destruction....
The cause of the fire is not yet fully ascertained. ....
The Central Schools two large buildings erected only about 5 years ago by the government are entirely consumed. The most distressing feature of this calamity is that the district was principally occupied by the labouring and poorer classes who have lost not only their houses but their furniture, clothes and other effects. Hundreds of families have been thrown into circumstances of suffering and distress.
The Presbyterian and Baptist places of worship have been kindly placed at our service on certain conditions.