The explosive events of November 1849

A new Fellow, Stephen Edwardes, arrived at the school in August 1849. Earlier in the year George Bowyer had forbidden any further building, since there was still no lease on the house and estate, and there was talk of establishing the school on a different site. Towards the end of October, Singleton went to the Isle of Wight, to inspect Appuldurcombe House. While he was away, things went badly wrong. Edwardes beat a boy with extraordinary ferocity. The actual number of strokes was given by one contemporary as forty-two or forty-three, and by Reynolds as more than fifty. The boys as usual heard the punishment being inflicted, and saw the state of the victim’s arms and body afterwards. The details of what followed are not totally clear, but Edwardes was certainly publicly hissed by the boys, and Arthur Sewell, who had entered the school in September that year, later described a plot to put out the candles as Edwardes entered the School and then assault him with a shower of slates; the plot failed because Edwardes did not enter School at the required moment. That some of the Fellows supported Edwardes is shown by Howard’s taking it upon himself to make an angry speech to the boys, without the Sub-Warden’s authority. Singleton returned to find emotions running very high, and there was another outbreak of hissing. He himself was misinformed about the case, because he told the boys that only twenty-five strokes had been given. Another of the newly-elected Fellows, James Baker, who was a humanitarian strongly opposed to corporal punishment, had already argued with Singleton on the iniquity of teaching by the rod, and resigned his Fellowship in disgust at the attitude adopted by some of his colleagues.

However, very shortly after this a decree was passed at a College Meeting to limit corporal punishment to eighteen strokes. Baker withdrew his resignation, and continued at Radley until 1851. He later served at Chaplain at Winchester College from 1858 to 1895

[Many of the entries were annotated by Singleton when he transcribed them into the journal in 1874.]

All Saints Day, Thursday [1st November]

Went into School and ordered that all hissers should give in their names to Reynolds before Chapel. This was ostensibly done, and on examining it found that the culprits consisted only of little boys, with the single exception of Melhuish. After service went into School again, and made an address to the whole assembly, in which I characterized the list that had been furnished as a simple piece of mockery. Told them that I was fully resolved to get at the real truth of the matter, and with this view proceeded to examine separately every individual whose name was recorded. Most of the Fellows were present, and Boucher took notes of the proceedings. Found that several of the senior boys were implicated, not actually in hissing, but in the encouragement of it. Accordingly separated from the rest Adam Kennard and his cousin Martyn Kennard, Willie Sewell, and Austin. The behaviour of the three last was down right insolent, and I am very sorry to say that, in spite of all my kindness to Sewell, he has lately been going on very badly. I offered to be every thing to him when his parents returned to India. For his father, General Sewell, had the command of the Madras district, and was only home on leave, being obliged to return a little time ago. Before he went he felt the sorest anxiety about this his son, not knowing what to do with him during vacations. Knowing his difficulties, I said to him: ‘General, I will take care of your boy for you.’ When he heard this he fell on my neck, and shed tears of gratitude. This occurred, I remember, near the side entrance of the College, close to Mrs Burky’s door. I accordance my engagement I took him with me to Sandycove, near Kingsdown, Ireland, where I treated him as if he were my own son. I could do no more for him than I did, and was abundantly willing to do.

November 2, Friday

(I am pretty sure that it was on this day, and not yesterday, that the following occurred. 6/3/74)

During dinner time Day received a message across the Hall from Young to forward to Wilberforce, directing him to hiss after dinner. Melhuish hissed once by himself. I suspected Reynolds, and so I asked him: ‘Reynolds, did you hiss when others hissed?’ To this he answered: ‘No.’ I then rejoined: ‘Since you did not hiss yourself, did you use any means, that your position gave you, to stop a proceeding that was so unseemly?’ His answer again was ‘No.’

All this was so very serious that I made a solemn speech before the whole College, all the Fellows being present. I announced that corporal chastisement must continue. (At this distance of time I am unable to recollect what was the cause of the whole disturbance, but this looks as it if arose from resentment at the Fellows being allowed the use of the cane, which, however, was never administered but after consultation with me, and in my presence. 6/2/74)

Told Macdonald that he had been guilty of misrepresenting his case; and though I bore willing witness to the general good character of Melhuish, yet I announced that he, along with Young and Day, should be confined to their cubicles. AS for Reynolds, because he did not stop the act of insubordination, or at least endeavour to stop it, I degraded him from his place in School and Chapel, the punishment to continue during my pleasure. (What follows must have taken place on some Friday near to the date of the preceding events. My loose manuscript says: ‘Friday the 4th,’ but the 4th fell on a Sunday, so that it must have been later, probably the 9th. 7/3/74)

November, Friday the ?

Reynolds, at his own free wish, comes to me on every Friday preceding the day of Holy Communion, and on this day he sent word to me by Cox that he hoped I would allow him to attend the sacred ordinance as usual. But this I absolutely refused, forbidding him and Day from appearing among the other worshippers. Told Cox to say to him that his late misconduct was only another instance of his old fault, – want of moral courage. He answered that he could have prevented it, and would have done so, but that in his own mind he was satisfied to let it go on.

On hearing this I ordered him to come into my room, and there I directly charged him with deceit in telling me on Tuesday [sic] that he was ‘not discontented.’ To this he replied that his meaning was that he was not ‘generally discontented.’ Now this was obviously nothing but a mean evasion, although he said that he had intended to have come to me to make explanations, but that after my pronouncing judgement on Wednesday [sic] he considered it would have been useless. His whole behaviour all through the affair was so unsatisfactory, in fact it was so bad, that I told him I never was so angry in all my life, insomuch that I would not trust myself to say anything more to him at present further than this, – tht I would not expel him. However, I added that if I had known on Tuesday what I knew now, he would have been at Stoke Newington on Thursday morning.

It is quite obvious that things were very much mismanaged while I was away in the Isle of Wight. In fact, Howard was impetuous, or indiscreet enough, as to go into School, and there make an angry speech to the boys, without ever saying one word about his intention to the Sub-Warden. Of course, I have strictly forbidden any such act as this.

(I cannot make the days of the week here named square with the preceding dates, but I think it better to let them stand as I find them. 7/3/74)