Monday, October 31, 2016

School Library – Part A - Rambling Recollection of my Schools and School Days

Article XVI written by Alexander Gunn was published in the Northern Ensign on 29 September 1881 – Part A

“In my last I said that in all the schools in the Highlands and Gaelic-speaking districts, Gaelic should be taught. It is a branch of education as essential to a Highlander as English is to the Lowlander. How can the Highlander profitably listen to a preacher in his mother-tongue, unless he can read the scriptures in that language? Why force a strange or foreign language down the Highlander’s throat, and deprive him of that which he drank in with his mother’s milk? As well compel the English speaking portion of our population to learn the Gaelic as force the Highlander to learn English at the expense of losing his mother-tongue. In some parts of the western Highlands the Board Schools teach the Gaelic; why not throughout the entire length and breadth of the Highlands?”

“The Berriedale school was not a celebrated institution, but it was a model one, I as far as master and pupils made the best and the most of the few advantages they had. Mr Mackay was a persevering, painstaking man, who did all that he did in the very best possible manner, and he was rewarded by having the sympathy and goodwill of both parents and pupils. Some of his pupils studied for the ministry, and some for the medical profession and both have been able to creditably hold their ground in their several walks.”

“There was a small circulating library connected with the school, and the books were issued gratis to the scholars, and supplied us with both useful and interesting reading. Foremost in this list was the world-renowned “Pilgrims Progress” in English and Gaelic, a book that has been published in more languages than any other except the Bible."

Pilgrim's Progress in Gaelic

"Also Bunyan’s “Holy War,” as well a “Visions of Heaven and Hell.” 

"The library also comprised voyages and travels of a very interesting and instructive nature, such, for instance, as the voyage of the “Bounty” with her Captain Bligh, and the details of the mutiny of the crew. Perhaps a brief sketch of this story might be interesting to your readers:-  On the 28th April, 1786, Fletcher Christian, master’s mate, infuriated by some insulting word by Captain Bligh, suddenly, and to all appearances without any understanding among the crew, incited a mutiny, and early in the morning the mutineers surprised Captain Bligh, bound him and carried him on deck."

Fletcher Christian and the mutineers seize HMS Bounty on 28 April 1789.
Engraving by Hablot Knight Browne, 1841
"In a few moments, he and 18 of his officers and men who had remanded loyal to their commanding officer and their duty were cast adrift in an open boat, with provisions for only five days. Captain Bligh, by his admirable prudence, courage and firmness, so husbanded the small stock of provisions, and  the course of the boat was so wisely directed, that at the end of 43 days, after experiencing a violent gale, and enduring almost the pangs of starvation, the boat came to anchor off the coast of Timor without the loss of a single man, having traversed a distance of 3618 miles."

Fletcher Christian and the mutineers turn Lieutenant William Bligh and 18 others adrift. 1790 painting by Robert Dodd. 

"In the meantime the mutineers finally landed at Pitcairn Island, and burned the ship. They afterwards passed through various vicissitudes’, the natives killing a number of the British and the British killing a number of the natives."

Bounty Bay on Pitcairn Island, where HMS Bounty was burned on 32 January 1790.

"No one knew or heard what became of the mutineers until 1808, nineteen years after the mutiny, an American vessel touched at the Island , when the commander, Captain Taylor, discovered to his surprise that the island was inhabited by the descendants of the mutineers. A number of young people were found speaking English and Tahitian with fluency, living simple harmless lives, and free from the voices of the ordinary South Sea Islanders. In 1814 two British frigates, cruising in the Pacific, reached Pitcairn Island. The inhabitants were found to be peaceful, law-abiding, and religious, ruled over a patriarchal fashion by John Adams. The quondam mutineers had trained the people in the ways of frugality and industry. He also held religious services, reading the Church of England prayers. In 1830 the little community numbered 79 persons, and it began to feel that it had outraged the capabilities of the Island, which measured only four square miles of area. Latterly the people agreed to emigrate in a body to Norfolk Island, sixty degrees west of Pitcairn, and there we will leave them and their interesting history in the meantime.”

My Comments:

There is plenty of further detail on-line about the Bounty such as at:

It is not clear which version of the Bounty story Gunn read but it may have been:  William Bligh’s Narrative of the Mutiny on the Bounty. London: George Nicol, 1790

“Fletcher Christian. Aged 24 years – 5.9 High. Dark swarthy complexion…” The beginning of Bligh’s list of mutineers, written during the open-boat voyage. Now in the collection of the National Library of Australia.

It is not surprising that the story of the Bounty intrigued the pupils at Berriedale school. The sea was such an important part of their lives going right back to the days of press-gangs where local young men were taken forcibly to be disciplined and serve with a naval force (as was Gunn’s grandfather), to the management of their fishing boats and crews, all would have been aware that a real mutiny at sea was a rare and significant event.  

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Gaelic Class – Part B – Rambling Recollections of my Schools and School Days

Article XV written by Alexander Gunn was published in the Northern Ensign on 1 September 1881 Part B

“There was a Bible lesson every day, the first in the forenoon, and there was also a class for Gaelic, in which a lesson was given once a day. We had second, third, and fourth books in Gaelic. We were taught to translate the Gaelic into English, and the English into Gaelic, and also to spell Gaelic. I have in my bookcase a Gaelic Bible I got as a prize for Gaelic reading and spelling, and on it I find the inscription - “General Assembly School, Berriedale, 1st April 1833.”
Gaelic Bible

Empty-headed, Brainless Beings

“This is a branch of education, I am sorry to say, which is entirely extinct in the district, and I suppose it is not taught in the parish. I consider this a great mistake, and an injustice to the Gaelic-speaking portions of the community. The parish of Latheron is, or was till very recently, a Gaelic speaking community entirely. I am aware that many of the youths of the parish are getting so big and so refined as to think the acquisition of speaking Gaelic a very questionable accomplishment. Well, there have been mean proud spirits in all ages, and we need not to be surprised to find a few of them in our own days, but there is no man so contemptible in my estimation as a man born in the Highlands, and reared under a thatched roof having the fire in the centre of the house, and going in and out of the same door as the pigs and cows, and who is too proud to learn and speak Gaelic. Away with such a degenerate race of empty-headed, brainless beings! “

The Berriedale School must have been somewhere near the Grave Yard

Ancient as Paradise

“Show me the man, no matter where he is born, whether in a mansion or a stable, who speaks the language of his sires, and is proud of it too, as well he may, for according to wiser men than Professor Blackie, the Gaelic language is as ancient as Paradise. But let that be as it may, I never lose an opportunity of using my mother tongue, and I consider it a gift bestowed upon me by my Maker which he expects me to use, as I do any other gift he has bestowed upon me. I know of no other race who have given up the use of their native tongue, and have adopted another in its place, except where it is forced upon them by the arm of oppression. We are not so very bad as that in the Highlands yet. There is no compulsion to give up our mother tongue.”

A Mystery

“The Welsh race stick firmly to the language of their ancestors. There are not less than eleven newspapers published in Welsh throughout Wales. The Irish, too, notwithstanding all their other defects, hold firmly by the Irish language, and are as bent on retaining it as they are on obtaining “Home Rule.” How the Scottish Highlanders should be the only race, we may say in the world, who seem ashamed and tired of their mother tongue is to me a mystery.”

A Native of Badbea
(To be continued.)

My Comments:

Dating back centuries, Gaelic was the founding language of Scotland. In the late 18th century, the language was heavily suppressed following the Battle of Culloden and the Highland Clearances.

Despite its decline Gaelic remains spoken by some 60,000 people in many parts of Scotland. There are lots of Scottish places and landmarks such as mountains with Gaelic names. There are also bilingual road signs in some places, with Gaelic on official buildings, and tourist venues. There are many Gaelic/English websites, including Am Baile an on-line learning and research resource of digitised archives for the language, culture and history of the Scottish highlands and Islands.
Source: geograph-741617-by-Nicholas-Mutton

Professor Blackie

On 14th October 1874 Professor Blackie of Edinburgh delivered a spirited lecture arguing for “The Teaching of Gaelic in Highland Schools and Universities.” The Aberdeen Free Press reported the lecture which was published in the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, Volumes 3-4 He said it was the duty of School Boards to support this language on grounds of patriotism, religion and sentiment.

At one point in the lecture Blaikie commented that “Gaelic was old but he had no reason to believe that Gaelic was the language of the prayer-book by which Adam and Eve were married in Paradise” Prompting laughter from the audience “This was said by a great poet of their own – Alastair Macdonald  - Mac Mhaighstir Alastair – but it was calculated to do more harm than good to the cause of Gaelic.”
Source: Pg 132

Alexander Gunn had a bit of a dig at Blaikie over this comment but in fact both men were clearly passionate about the teaching and speaking of Gaelic 

Blackie was a Radical and Scottish nationalist in politics, of a fearlessly independent type; possessed of great conversational powers and general versatility, his picturesque eccentricity made him one of the characters of the Edinburgh of the day, and a well-known figure as be went about in his plaid, worn shepherd-wise, wearing a broad-brimmed hat, and carrying a big stick.

John Badbea Sutherland

The tombstone of Alexander Gunn's dear family friend John Badbea Sutherland in the old Berriedale cemetery has both English and Gaelic.

Erected to the memory of John Sutherland, Badbea, a native of Ousdale, who feared the Lord from his youth and was a lover of good things, sober, just, holy, temperate, holding fast the faithful word as he had been taught. He was a councellor and comforter of many and an example to all. He died on 31 August 1864 aged 76 years. The memory of the just is blessed. “Ach cumbn is ionmahd maith a chaoidh bidh air an thir ear choir” (Literal translation, “The memory of the kindly just (man) will ever be in high repute.) Source:Patricia Ross