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.  

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