Saturday, July 6, 2013

Extraordinary Charges Against a Schoolmaster

Another item from the Dundee Courier, relating to other long-deceased relatives, has come to my attention. I am glad to relate that Mr Bell was not, to my knowledge, among my relatives, but only the Soutar children and possibly Alexander Deuchar.

In the Forfar Sheriff Court yesterday – Sheriff Heriot on the bench – George Andrew Bell, teacher of the Parochial School of the parish of Kinnell, appeared to answer to the petition (the first of the kind presented in Scotland) at the instance of the School Board of the parish of Kinnell, charging him with cruelty to, and improper treatment of, a number of the children attending the Kinnell Parish School. The petition was presented under the 60th section of the Education (Scotland) Act. It occupied thirty-three pages of manuscript, and contained eighteen charges of cruelty and improper treatment. The charges contained in the libel were as follows: – (1.) About a fortnight before the old term of Whitsunday, 1873, he grossly, cruelly, and improperly assaulted David Sinclair (12 years), son of Frederick Sinclair, Hatton Den, and struck him with his clenched fist on the face to the effusion of blood, whereby one of his teeth was knocked out and his face swollen and discolored. (2.) About a week before the first assault he struck Isabella Sinclair (11 years), daughter of Frederick Sinclair, on the head with a strap, whereby her ear-rings were knocked out of her ears, causing her great pain; he also struck her on the hands with the strap till they were swollen rendering her, she being a half-timer at Hatton Mill, unable to use her hands all that day; he also struck her with a cane across the shoulders leaving a broad black mark, causing her extreme pain for a week, and rendering her unable to rest in bed for that period. (3.) In November last he struck James Martin (10 years), son of James Martin, milloverseer, Hatton Mill, a severe blow behind the ear with his fist causing him to go home to his father crying, and on the father remonstrating with him for his conduct, respondent admitted he had acted with unnecessary severity. The respondent was further charged under this head with having at various times during the last year beaten this child so much that it was with difficulty he could be induced to attend school, and his parents lodged a complaint with the Board. (4.) Between the old term at 26 May and the end of August, 1873, he assaulted John Ledingham, son of Margaret Ledingham, mill-worker, by striking him with his fists on the cheek and eye whereby the eye was marked and discoloured, the eyelash cut, and the cheek swollen; then during the whole year prior to November the boy was under respondent’s charge he treated him with such systematic harshness and gross cruelty that the child was in absolute terror of him, started and called out in his sleep from nervous terror, and could not be induced to attend school unless dragged by force, and had to be removed at the end of November to another school. (5.) About 27th of February, 1873, he assaulted Isabella Green, 10 years of age, daughter of David Green, then at Hatton Mill and now in Arbroath, by striking her with a strap across the face causing a great weal across the cheek and running into the eye, and rendering the eye blue and discoloured for upwards of a week; further, during the whole time the child was under his charge the respondent treated her with systematic harshness and cruelty, beating her frequently with excessive and unnecessary severity on the hands with a strap till they were discoloured, and on the back and shoulders with a cane. (7. Sic) between Whitsunday, 1872, and June, 1873, on various occasions, he assaulted Ann Green, eight years of age, daughter of David Green, by dashing her to the floor, and beating her on the head and hands with a strap or stick till they were discoloured. The punishments were generally inflicted because the child had an impediment in her speech and could not speak rapidly. The child had to be removed from the school in consequence of this harsh treatment. (8.) During a period of five years, from May, 1867, to August, 1872, and on various occasions during that time he assaulted Agnes Soutar, daughter of John Soutar, miller, Kinnell Mill, by beating her with a stick or taws, nipping her hands and ears with his nails till they bled, striking her on the breast with his fist, and slapping her ears. (9.) During a period of four years from 1868, at different times, he assaulted Ann Soutar, daughter of John Soutar, by beating her till she bled, and also nipping her with his nails. (10.) During a period of one year and nine months, from November, 1872, he assaulted and cruelly illused, on various occasions, William Soutar, son of John Soutar, till he could not be induced to attend school, and had to be put to another school in Friockheim, but after the schoolmaster left there they were again transferred to Bell. (11.) About three years ago he assaulted Alexander Deuchars, Kinnell Mill, by nipping his ears almost through and through, causing them to bleed and fester; and respondent was further accused [illegible—under?] this count with having kicked Deuchars [illegible] into the fire, and he was afterwards so ill treated [illegible] that his mother had to remove him from the school. (12.) At different times during the year from May, 187[ illegible], to May, 1872, he struck William M’Kenzie, son of John M’kenzie, shepherd at Bolshan [Bolahan?], severely with pointer stick on one of the fingers of the right hand, which raised a lump about the size of a partridge’s egg that remained about a year, and afterwards festered, causing pain and stiffness for about a year and a half after the occurrence, and in consequence of respondent’s harshness M’Kenzie had to be removed from the parish school of Kinnell. (13.) During the year 1872 he struck Kenneth M’Kenzie, son of said John M’Kenzie, on the head with a pointer or stick so as to raise lumps, and at times to induce giddiness, also beating him on the hands with unnecessary severity, in consequence of which treatment he was, shortly after the 1st of January, 1873, removed from the parish school of Kinnell and sent to the parish school of Farnell. (14.) He did for a period of about a year, between three and four years ago, at various times assault James White (5 years), son of James White, farm servant at Bolshan, by nipping his ears till blood was drawn, and beating him so as to leave marks and bruises to such an extent that the child was thrown into a state of nervous terror, started in his sleep, and was very unwilling to go to school. (15.) He assaulted with unnecessary cruelty, during a period of nine months, from June, 1873, David Wilson, son of James Wilson, farm servant, now residing at Easter Braikie, by whipping him almost daily with the taws, and beating him on the head and elsewhere with a pointer and rabbit’s foot – the bones of which rendered the blows very severe – and kicking him with his feet, in consequence of which he was removed to another school. (16.) He assaulted in an unnecessary, harsh, and cruel way, at various times during a period of nine months, from June, 1870, William Wilson, son of James Wilson, beating him with taws, pointer, and the rabbit’s foot, and kicking him frequently, by all which he was kept in a state of continual terror, and put quite past the power of repeating his lessons correctly, though he learned them diligently at home, and which caused him to be removed from the school. (17.) Sometime in the winter of 1872-3, he attacked in a cruel and improper way, Margaret Donald, daughter of John Donald, now farm servant at West Seaton, by striking her blows on the ear, which drew blood, and rendered the ear discoloured and swollen. (18.) He did cruelly attack James Airth, son of James Airth, farm servant at Bolshan, at various times during a period of about two years prior to the present time, so that he was for a considerable period quite nervous and frightened, starting in his sleep that night through fright, and could scarcely be induced to attend school. The petitioners went on to state that the respondent had often been remonstrated with by the parents of pupils on account of his harshness and cruelty, and the improper punishments he inflicted, and that many children had been removed from the Parish School of Kinnell, and the attendance was greatly less than it ought to be. The petition included with a prayer for the dismissal of the respondent.
Mr CARGILL, solicitor, Arbroath, appeared for the respondent, and objected to the relevancy of the libel. He urged that parts of the 3d, 4th, and 5th charges, and the whole of charges 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, and 18th were irrelevant in respect that they did not allege or specify any particular acts of cruelty or improper treatment such as are required by the section, and that there was a want of proper specification of time in all of the charges, without any reasons being alleged for this want of specification. His second objection was that charges 10th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 18th, were irrelevant in respect that the modus operandi or method in which the cruel or improper treatment was alleged to have been committed, was not specified. The third objection to the relevancy was that the complaint, so far as founded upon acts of cruelty alleged to have been committed at dates prior to the passing of the Education Act, 1872, or at all events prior to its adoption in the parish of Kinnell, was irrelevant.
Mr MILN, solicitor, Arbroath, who appeared for the petitioners, replied to the objections, and contended that the objection against the complaint, so far as founded on alleged acts prior to the passing of the Education Act in 1872, was effectually disposed of by a case tried in this court, and appealed to the Court of Session, Nasmyth v. Lord Dalhousie, in which it was held that a change of prosecutor or tribunal made by the Education Act did not preclude a schoolmaster being prosecuted for improper conduct. In this case the only difference between the previous Act and the present one was, that in the first case the Presbytery were the prosecutors, and in the second the School Board. As to the other objections, he held that both time and manner had been sufficiently condescended upon.
Sheriff HERIOT did not think the objection to the complaint in respect to the acts committed prior to the passing of the Education Act, 1872, was a good one; neither were the other objections, in his opinion, good ones. Of course a schoolmaster was entitled to assault his pupils, but not harshly, and it was therefore sufficient to allege that he used harshness and unnecessary violence. With regard to the want of specification as to time, it could not be expected that children could remember precise dates; and if the prosecutor gave all reasonable information, that was all that was required of him. Upon these grounds he must repel the objections, and hold the libel relevant.
The Sheriff then fixed Wednesday, 15th April, for the taking of the proof. We understand that a very large number of witnesses are to be examined for both sides.