Mr. Brown's Letter


Hamilton, January 2nd, 1851.

My Lady Duchess,

    According to promise, I now venture to address your Grace on the subject of the education of the female portion of the collier population

of Lanarkshire, a subject in which you must feel deeply interested, more particularly as the Duke of Hamilton has a great stake in land, and more

mineral wealth of his own, than any other individual in Scotland. Coal was wrought on the Duke of Hamilton's estate of Corriden, Boness,

by the then proprietor William de Vereponte, before the end of the 12th century; for we learn from Chalmers', the antiquarian, that a tenth of

the coals on that property was paid to the monks of Holyrood House. From the end of that century, down to the year 1799, during a period of

700 years, colliers, merely by entering upon work in a colliery, were bound to the perpetual service thereof;. and, if the owner sold or

alienated the ground upon which the work stood, the right of the service of the colliers passed over to the purchaser. By an Act of Parliament,

passed on the 13th of June, 1799, the collier population were freed from their servitude.

    During the whole of this long time, the female sex of the collier population were serfs or slaves like their husbands, fathers, or

brothers, and wrought with them in the mines, and were liable to be seized and brought back to servitude if they attempted to escape, and

subjected to a fine of £100 Scots each. (Vide Erskine's Institutes.)

While three males were employed digging in the pits with pick-axes and shovels, the women were engaged in carrying the coals on their backs

from the extremity of the mines to the pit bottoms or mouths of the mines, or in dragging that mineral there by means of hatches or hurleys

along the underground roads. Muscular strength in a female, not beauty, was the grand qualification by which she was estimated, and a strong

young woman was sure of finding a husband readily. There is an old characteristic Scotch saying, 'She is like the collier's daughter,

better than she is bonny,' proving the value put upon this description of female excellence.

    The females, generally, took the part of drawers or hauliers in the labours of the mine, until a few years ago, when the present Lord

Ashley, and others, brought their degraded condition before parliament, when an Act was obtained prohibiting their being so employed any longer,

under severe penalties to be inflicted on their employers. But such were the inveterate habits of the females themselves, and their total

want of knowledge of any other employment, that they clung pertinaciously to their old employment; and, being seconded by the

cupidity of many of the coal-masters, it required a great deal of exertion, on the part of government, and its superintendents, to break

up the old system of female labour in the mines. Indeed, the poor women, finding themselves unfit for other employment, often eluded the

overseers, and stole into the mines dressed in men's clothes, in order to gain a few days' wages for the sake of bare subsistence; and it was

frequently a matter of debate, whether it was more of the nature of a hardship than of a relief to prohibit them from working in the mines,

seeing that it deprived them of the means of subsistence. Perhaps the innovation ought to have been. introduced more gradually than it was.

it is only a few years ago, since the Duke of Hamilton's managers were cited before the sheriff, at Stirling, and fined, for employing females

at the Redding coal works.

    Your Grace, from what I have now stated, and from the very few years that have elapsed since the above referred to change took place, may

easily conceive what, even at this time, the moral condition of the untaught wives and daughters of the collier still is, and how much

requires to be done to raise them to the ordinary status of the other labouring classes of their sex in this country.

    With respect to the condition of the male collier population, which is made up of the old collier race, the Irish immigrants, and the worst

Scotch of other c6unties, it has, till of late, been, to a considerable extent, rude, vulgar, ignorant, and savage in the extreme. Much,

however, has been recently done by the coal-masters and the government inspectors to reform this portion of the population, yet a great deal

more requires to be done for their improvement. At present, they have frequent strikes, or cessations from work, for a rise of wages, and

remain sometimes for weeks, and even months idle. They also restrict their labour to six, seven, or eight hours a day, and even to so few as

four days' labour in the week, or twenty-four hours per week, while they spend their spare time in idleness and dissipation, in drinking, cock

fighting, dog baiting, poaching, quarrelling, card playing, and other kinds of mischief, while their families are left to starve or prowl

about begging for subsistence.

    Low as the state of education and morals was amongst the aboriginal collier population during their slavery, it has since sunk still lower,

owing to the vast influx of Irish of the lowest grade from Connaught. The great increase of the iron trade in this part of Scotland, i.e.,

Lanarkshire, where the number of iron blast furnaces has been augmented since the year 1806 to this date, from 14 to 90; and the coal mining,

from a few pits, comparatively speaking, to no less than nearly 200, has occasioned this immigration into it, and, owing to the great demand for

miners when the iron trade was prosperous, extravagant wages were given to induce them to settle in this county.

    This vast accession of the Irish population, mixed up, as it has been, with the old collier serf population, is producing a new race or

cross-breed of people, far more turbulent and improvident than the former were, and who threaten to dislocate the lower orders of a great

portion of the people of the middle ward of Lanarkshire entirely, and to burden this district with a barbarous horde of paupers, unless the evil

is speedily arrested; and, to show how fast this population is increasing amongst us, I may mention that the three mining parishes of

Old Monkland, New Monkland, and Bothwell, have increased within my remembrance, down to 1841, when the last population list was made up.

The 1st, from 4,000 to 19,709 souls.

2nd, 4,613 to 20,511

3rd, 2,707 to 11,175

Together 11,320 to 51,395

And the same has still further increased since 1841, and will go on to do so at an accelerated ratio, owing, among other causes to the very

early marriages of this description of population, who, from forming their matrimonial connections at the early age of 16 and upwards, and

which generally issue in a numerous progeny, (their dirty and improvident habits forming no barriers thereto,) to transmit their own

low degree of mind and morals to the next generation, and so perpetuate the evil.

    The writer then explains that much has been done of late years towards the education of the males, 'But it appears that, hitherto, the public

attention, and that of the masters of mines has not, to the same extent, been directed to the education of the young females of the mining

districts, and it. is to this deficient condition;, in point of education, that I now beg to draw your Grace's special attention. I am

sure your Grace is well aware that it is the mother who has the early tuition of youth, who gives them their first and most lasting

impressions, and that the influence of the female over the male race mainly forms the character, and gives the manners to every people.

Upon these grounds, I think it may be fairly presumed that, by attention to the proper education of the female population of the mining

districts, a mighty change for the better might be effected through them on the other sex without much difficulty, and that, by their means, the

condition of the working collier might be elevated from what it now is to a much higher position

    I, therefore, propose that, in addition to the schools now established in the mining districts, and which are chiefly for indiscriminate use,

an equal number of schools at least should be established, and set apart for the sole purpose of educating girls and young women, supplied by

well-educated, able, respectable, and well-remunerated female teachers, and, in these, the scholars should learn :-1st, reading; 2nd, writing;

3rd, arithmetic and keeping accounts; 4th, the elements of religious and moral knowledge, and the advantage of abstinence from drinking, &c.;

5th, cooking and baking of victuals fitted for the food of labourers, and in the cleanest and most economical way; 6th, washing, and habits of

cleanliness, both in person, furniture, and houses; 7th, the making of their own and children's apparel, and mending clothes for both sexes,

young and old; 8th, knitting of stockings, and other trades befitting females; 9th, sewing, spinning, tambouring lace, &c.; and, lastly, I

attach the greatest importance, next to sound religious and moral principles, to the habit of cleanliness, both as to their persons, and

bed clothes, and household furniture, and all such other domestic arrangements as may fall under their charge in after life, either as

mistress or servant.  For each of these schools, there should be provided a small select library of books fit for the scholars.

    Could such a system as this be successfully established, 'the young women themselves would be raised from their present degraded situation,

and would become useful members of society their morals would be preserved in a pure state their personal appearance would be improved,

they would become dutiful children to their parents, kind sisters to their brothers, good servants to their mistresses, agreeable

acquaintances to their companions, virtuous endearing wives to their husbands, and exemplary parents to their children, and, above all, their

houses and their homes would prove so much more agreeable to the inmates than hereto for, that the father, the husband, or the son, would seldom,

comparatively, think of deserting their own firesides to seek for personal gratification or enjoyment in the ale house, the spirit shop,

or the tavern, nor fall into bad company, nor spend their money in drinking and dissipation. In short, domestic comfort would, to a great

extent, wean the men from bad habits of every kind; for, where else would they find themselves so happy as at home and in their own houses,

when well regulated?

    The improved condition of the females would react on the males. The latter would become sober, steady workmen; they would labour five days

and a half per week, in place of only four days. They would enjoybetter health, and earn higher wages, by performing much more labour,

and at a cheaper rate than they do at present. Fewer hands would require to be employed, the owners of mines would obtain a higher

lordship for their minerals, and the coal and iron masters would draw greater profits from the working of the mines and other works, and such

a saving would follow as would be the means of lowering the prices of coal, and thereby greatly increase its consumption, and also. enable the

iron master to produce iron at such prices as would greatly extend its use at home, and its exportation to foreign parts. In short, all of

these parties would be great gainers by the change in a pecuniary point of view, (to an extent, according to an estimate I have made, of at

least 15 per cent. amongst them,) while the character and condition of the miners themselves and their families would be greatly ameliorated.

Moreover, the increase of pauperism in the mining districts, which is now progressing with fearful rapidity, and threatening the ruin of

property of all kinds, would be effectually arrested. That object of itself, when attained, would be of the most vital importance to the

public at large.

    In the mining departments of France, Germany. and Belgium, great progress has been made in improving the moral condition of the women;

and, so late as 1849, a work designed for the use of the poorer classes, particularly miners, was published in Paris, 'The Manual of a Christian

Workmen,' under the sanction of the Archbishop of Paris, Manuel de l'onvrier Chretien, avec approbation de mon seigneur le' Archevêque de

Paris,' a translation of which might be found of great use amongst the operative Catholic females and males in Lanarkshire.

    Your Grace may depend upon it, that you have it now in your power to make such an important moral and economical movement in the right

direction, as will not only be successful throughout the Hamilton estates and the whole of this quarter of Scotland; but also extend its

influence to the population, and contribute to the prosperity of all the mining districts of the united kingdom, and further, redound, at the

same time, to your own honour, and prove a source of private satisfaction to yourself, as having been the means of conferring an

inestimable benefit nn a destitute portion of the human race, and, at. the same time, of contributing very materially to individual and

national wealth and prosperity.

    Finally, let me add,- that your Grace, and the other ladies of Lanarkshire, are, under providence. invested with an immense power

indeed, far greater than you can possibly foresee or conceive, which, if wielded with due energy and sound judgement, will lead to the most

important and favourable results, not only to large body of a hitherto too much neglected and ill regulated mass of your fellow creatures,.

but also to their immediate superiors and the public- at large.