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Chapter VII - Wilmot's Views on Education

AMONG the questions in which Wilmot took a deep interest was that of education. His views on this subject were far in advance of those of most of his contemporaries. Education was in a very unsatisfactory condition in the province of New Brunswick when he entered public life, and it continued in that condition for many years afterward. If we may judge from the statute-book, the founders of the province had very little appreciation of the advantages of education, for no law was passed with a view to the establishment of public schools until the year 1805. In that year “An Act for encouraging and extending literature in this province” was passed, under the provisions of which a public grammar school was established in the city of St. John, which received a grant of one hundred pounds for the purpose of assisting the trustees to procure a suitable building for school uses, and also an annual grant of one hundred pounds for the support of the master. The same Act provided for the establishment of county schools, and the sections relating to them, being limited in respect to time, were continued by 50th George III, Chap. 33 to the year 1816, when they expired and were replaced by “An Act for the establishment of schools in the province.” This Act expired in 1823, and in its place “An Act for the encouragement of parish schools ” was passed the same year. This last Act was repealed by “An Act in relation to parish schools ” passed in 1833, which continued in force for many years. All these Acts were essentially the same in principle, as they provided for government aid to teachers who had been employed to teach schools in the parishes under the authority of the school trustees. The Act of 1833, which was considered to be a great improvement on former Acts, provided for the appointment of three school trustees in each parish by the sessions, and these trustees were charged with the duty of dividing the parishes into districts and directing the discipline of the schools. They were required to certify once a year to the lieutenant-governor as to the number of schools in their parish, the number of scholars and other particulars, and on their certificate the teacher drew the government money. This money was granted at the rate of twenty pounds for a male teacher who had taught school a year, or ten pounds for six months, and ten pounds for a female teacher who had taught school a year, or five pounds for six months, provided the inhabitants of the school district had subscribed an equal amount for the support of the teacher, or supplied board, washing and lodging to the teacher in lieu of the money. Thus a male teacher in a district where a school was always kept, would receive for his year’s work his board, lodging and washing, and twenty pounds in money; and a female teacher ten pounds. Such a rate of remuneration was not well calculated to attract competent persons, and the result was very unsatisfactory. Most of the teachers employed were old men who had a mere smattering of learning and who were very incompetent instructors. They usually lodged with the parents of the pupils, living at each house in proportion to the number of scholars sent. This system, which raised them but one degree above the condition of paupers, was not conducive to their comfort or self-respect. As there was no uniformity in the books prescribed and no sufficient educational test, the results of such teaching were not likely to be satisfactory. Sometimes the teacher was a woman who eked out a scanty subsistence by communicating her small learning to a few scholars whom she gathered in her kitchen. Generally, however, the school" building was a log hut without any of those appliances which are now regarded as essential to the proper instruction of youth.

In 1816 an Act was passed providing for the establishment of grammar schools in the several counties of the province. At that period St. John and St. Andrews had already grammar schools which had been established under separate Acts, and Fredericton had an academy or college, which was founded by a provincial charter granted by Lieutenant-Governor Carleton in 1800. The counties of St. John, Charlotte and York were therefore excepted from the operation of the general Act for the establishment of grammar schools. This Act, after being amended in 1823, was finally repealed by the Act of 1829, which endowed King’s College at Fredericton and made new provisions for the establishment and support of grammar schools throughout the province. King’s College at a later period developed into the University of New Brunswick. It had its beginning in the original charter of 1800, already referred to, which established the College of New Brunswick. In the same year the governor and trustees of the College of New Brunswick received a grant, under the great seal of the province, of a considerable tract of land in and near Fredericton for the support of that institution of learning. Until the year 1829, the New Brunswick College was merely a classical school receiving from the legislature annually two*hundred and fifty pounds, which was the same amount then allowed to the St. John Grammar School.

At an early period, the attention of the people of that province was directed to what was called the Madras system of national schools as conducted by Dr. Bell, the real founder of the system being Joseph Lancaster. This system depends for its success on the use of monitors, who are selected from among the senior pupils to instruct the younger ones. It was supposed at the time to be a notable discovery, but, like other short cuts to learning, has fallen out of favour. In July, 1818, the first Madras school was established in St. John by a Mr. West from Halifax. This was a boys’ school; and a school for girls, on the same system, was opened a year or two later. In 1819, a Madras school charter was procured under the great seal of the province, and the Madras school system established on a substantial foundation. The province gave a grant of two hundred and fifty pounds for the erection of a suitable building in St. John, and the National Society in England contributed to its support. This charter was confirmed by an Act passed in 1820. The St. John school was to be regarded as the central school, but it was the design of the charter that the benefits of the system should be extended to other parts of the province, and this was accordingly done. The Madras schools received liberal appropriations of money, and large grants of land, and they continued to exist until the introduction of the free school system in 1872. Two or three of them, indeed, continued in operation after that time, but they had lost their original character and had become simply Church of England schools, that denomination having appropriated the Madras school endowments to the support of schools in which its principles and creed were taught. In 1900,,by Act of the legislature, the Madras school property was handed over to the diocesan synod of Fredericton, with the exception of about ten thousand dollars, which went to the University of New Brunswick.

From the day when Wilmot became a member of the House of Assembly in 1835, he began to press upon the attention of that body the necessity for an improvement in the schools of the province. But the same spirit of apathy which prevailed with regard to purely political questions affected the legislature with respect to education. The people throughout the province were not prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to obtain sufficient schools. Their attitude with regard to education was well described in a speech made by Wilmot in 1846, when Mr. Brown, of Charlotte, brought in his bill to provide for a normal or proper training school for the education of those who were to become teachers. This bill did not become law, in consequence of the opposition raised against it in the legislature on the ground of expense. It was estimated that it would cost an additional two thousand pounds to provide a normal school, and this sum the men who were at the head of the government were not willing to pay for the purpose of giving the children of the province properly trained teachers. Wilmot’s speech on that occasion concluded as follows:—

“Before I sit down I must again revert to the greatest difficulty which has to be encountered to render the provisions of that bill effective in promoting a better system of education in the parish schools. This is a difficulty which in this country legislation cannot reach—I earnestly wish it could. I mean the apathy of the parents themselves. The honourable member now in the chair can bear me witness as to the extent to which this apathy prevails in this county at this day. That honourable member, when out of the chair, could tell the committee that in a certain district of this county where there is no schoolhouse, a philanthropic individual told the inhabitants that if they would get out a frame and provide the boards, he would at his own expense provide nails, glass, locks, and the necessary materials for finishing a schoolhouse. What was the result? They did get out the frame and raised it, and when I and the honourable chairman had occasion to visit that part of the county together, we enquired why they did not go on and finish it. The worthy individual who had made the proposition, and bought and had in his house the materials for finishing the building, told us that the inhabitants of the district would not find the boards, and, in consequence of that, the erection of the schoolhouse had not been gone on with. A gentleman now present (I will not mention names, as the chairman might blush) offered to give them the boards from a neighbouring mill if they would go and fetch them, but even this they would not do. Although everything was to be had without money, there was no one who felt interest enough in the education of their children to go and bring them to the spot—and' to this day the frame stands, as it then did, a melancholy monument of the dreadful apathy which is sometimes to be found even in this comparatively intelligent county.”

Mr. Wilmot lived long enough to see a free school system in force in his native province, although he had no share in bringing this result about. Yet that his views on this subject were sound and far in advance of his time is shown by a speech which he made at the time of the opening of the first exhibition in the province in 1852. He said:—

“It is unpardonable that any child should grow up in our country without the benefit of, at least, a common-school education. It is the right of the child. It is the duty not only of the parent but of the people; the property of the country should educate the country. All are interested in the diffusion of that intelligence which conserves the peace and promotes the well-being of society. The rich man is interested in proportion to his riches, and should contribute most to the maintenance of schools. Though God has given me no child of my own to educate, I feel concerned for the education of the children of those who do possess them. I .feel concerned in what so intimately touches the best interests of our common country. I want to hear the tax collector for schools calling at my door. I want the children of the poor in the remote settlements to receive the advantages now almost confined to their more fortunate brethren and sisters of the towns. I know full well that God has practised no partiality in the distribution of the noblest of his gifts—the intellect; I know that in many a retired hamlet of our province—amid many a painful scene of poverty and toil—there may be found young minds ardent and ingenious and as worthy of cultivation as those of the pampered children of our cities. It is greatly important to the advancement of the country that these should be instructed.”

The initiation of money grants by the executive, and the responsibility of the latter to the people, are the two corner-stones on which responsible government must rest. From the very first, Wilmot was an earnest advocate of both these measures; but, owing to the apathy of the people and the disinclination of the members of the legislature to give up what they considered their privileges, it was a difficult matter to accomplish these objects. A reference to the journals of the legislature will show that on numerous occasions he pressed these subjects on the attention of the House of Assembly, and he was ably assisted by his colleague from the county of York, Mr. Charles Fisher, who deserves a foremost place among the men who should be honoured for their efforts to bring about responsible government in the colonies of British North America. It was a peculiar feature in the struggle for responsible government in New Brunswick that, before it ended, the opposition to it came not so much from the British government as from the members of the provincial legislature. It was evident that the system of appropriating money which existed in the House of Assembly was one which was wrong in principle and resulted in getting the province into debt, because there was no guiding hand to control the expenditure. The transfer of the casual and territorial revenues to the provincial treasury in 1837 had placed a very large sum, amounting to about £150,000, at the disposal of the legislature, but this sum was speedily dissipated; and in the year 1842, when Sir William Colebrooke became lieutenant-governor of the province, its finances were in an embarrassed condition.

Towards the close of 1841, a despatch was received from Lord Stanley, the colonial secretary, suggesting that it was desirable that a better system of appropriating the funds of the province should be inaugurated. This brought up a discussion in the legislature during the session of 1842 in regard to the propriety of adopting the principle of placing the initiation of money grants in the executive council. Mr. Wilmot moved a resolution in committee of the whole House “that no appropriation of public money should be made at any future session in supply, for any purpose whatever, until there be a particular account of the income and expenditure of the previous year, together with an estimate of the sums required to be expended, as well for ordinary as extraordinary services, respectively, and also a particular estimate of the principal amount of revenue for the ensuing year.” To this an amendment was moved by Mr. Partelow that “Whereas the present mode of appropriation, tested by an experience of more than fifty years, has not only given satisfaction to the people of this province, but repeatedly attracted the deserved approbation of the colonial ministers as securing its constitutional position to every branch of the legislature, therefore resolved, as the opinion of this committee, that it is not expedient to make any alteration in the same.” This amendment was carried by a vote of eighteen to twelve.

Such an amendment as that passed by the House of Assembly of New Brunswick in 1842 would now only be an object of ridicule, because, as a matter of fact, the financial condition of the province showed that the system of appropriation which prevailed was based on false principles, while the alleged approval of the colonial ministers of which so much account was made, had been extended to the most illiberal features of the constitution. There was, however, some excuse for the reluctance of the members of the House of Assembly to surrender the initiation of money votes to the executive, because the executive council of that day was not a body properly under the control of the legislature, or in sympathy with the people. .

When the House met in 1843, it was seen that the friends df responsible government were still in the minority. Yet they brought up the subject of the appropriation of the public moneys by a resolution which sought to fix the responsibility of the expenditure on the government. This was met by an amendment moved by Mr. J. W. Weldon, that the House would not surrender the initiation of the money votes. The amendment was carried by a vote of twenty-four to seven, which showed that the friends of Reform had still much leeway to make up before they could hope to impress their views upon the legislature.

As it was hopeless to expect that a House of Assembly thus constituted would vote in favour of the transfer of the initiation of money grants to the executive, Wilmot did not bring up the subject again during the remainder of its term; but by the operation of the Quadrennial Act, which came into force in 1846, a new House was elected in that year, which was largely made up of the same members as the previous one, and at the first session of this House, held early in 1847, Wilmot, during the discussion of the revenue bill, brought up the question of the initiation of money grants in a vigorous and characteristic speech. He said: —

“Can my honourable gentlemen tell me within five thousand pounds of the money asked for, or required for the present session? No, they cannot, and here we are going on in the old way, voting money in the dark, With a thing for our guide called an ‘estimate’—a sort of dark lantern with which we are to grope our way through the mazes of legislation. Where is the honourable member for Gloucester who talked so much about the good old rules of our forefathers? I am opposed to the present principle of voting away money; it is, in fact, but giving to tax and taxing to give, this way and that way—every stratagem is used which can be invented in order to carry favourite grants, and thus we proceed from day to day by this system of combination and unprincipled collusion. [Cries of ‘Order, Order’] Honourable members may cry order as much as they please, it is true, and I care not who knows it—let it go forth to the country at large. This system is what the honourable and learned member for Gloucester [Mr. End] denominates ‘the glorious old principles of our forefathers,’ which should be held as dear as life itself. It is not now as in times gone by, when the legislative council and executive council were one, and consequently we cannot now take the initiation of money grants. This left the whole power in the hands of the assembly; and now, with the report of the committee of finance before us, His Excellency’s messages, petitions and everything else, there is not one honourable member around these benches can tell me within five thousand pounds of the amount to be asked for, much less within ten thousand pounds of the amount that will be granted during the present session; and yet, here we are in committee of ways and means for raising a revenue. But it will never answer to have too much information upon this point—if we knew exactly how far we could go and no farther—I perhaps would lose my grant, or another honourable member might lose a grant; this is the system that is pursued. I have held a seat here for twelve years and know the ‘ropes’ pretty well.”

In the following year there was another discussion on the initiation of money grants, arising out of a despatch which had been received from Earl Grey, then colonial minister, in which he referred to the laxity of the system by which money was voted in the New Brunswick legislature without any estimate, and suggested that the initiation of money grants should be surrendered to the executive. This proposal was fiercely opposed, and all the forces of ancient Toryism were rallied against it, one member from Queens County, Mr. Thomas Gilbert, going so far as to apply to the advocacy of the old rotten system the soul-stirring words contained in Nelson’s last signal at Trafalgar, “England expects that every man this day will do his duty.”

In 1850, the last year that Mr. Wilmot sat in the House of Assembly, the matter came up again on a resolution moved by a private member. This was met by an amendment moved by Mr. End, of Gloucester, in the following words:—

“Whereas, the right of originating money grants is inherent in the representatives of the people who are constitutionally responsible to their constituents for the due and faithful user of that right; therefore,

“Resolved, As the opinion of this House, that the surrender of such right would amount to a dereliction of public duty and ought not to be entertained by the House of Assembly.”

This was carried by a vote of sixteen to eleven. The three members of the government who sat in the House, one of whom was Mr. Wilmot, who had joined it in May 1848, voted with the minority. It was not until the year 1856 that a resolution was passed by the House of Assembly conceding to the executive the right of initiating money grants, and this was carried by a majority of only two in a full House. The first estimate of income and expenditure framed by a New Brunswick government was not laid before the House of Assembly until the session of 1857.

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