Today I will be mostly scrambling to finish the book which I am supposed to have read for Book Group this month. They are meeting at my house too, this time. So no excuse. But as I was walking the dog this morning, I was thinking that I really could think of much better things to read. I do not like the book and with limited time available for reading, I am resenting having to persevere.
I did also muse about the fact that we are so lucky to be able to read whatever we want, wherever we want, here in First World countries. Imagine living in a place where learning and reading was restricted. Many of the recent films for Comic Relief showed African children desperate to get to school, guarding the few books in their possession. It is terrifying that our world is so unequal.
But how could I link this thought process to a genealogical blog post? How did my ancestors go about learning to read? What did they read? Who taught them? Of course, the history of education is a huge subject. Most of us have a vague idea of the increase in child schooling which took place in the Victorian period. We know that people used to leave school at much younger ages. We have some idea of the rise of public libraries and we know that books used to be the preserve of the rich.
To narrow it down for this post though, I wondered about the schooling arrangements made for the Anglo Indian children. The English soldier of the 30th Foot, Joseph Shaller, who took my family line to India, had four children with his Indian partner [the children are all listed as illegitimate]. Three of them were still alive when he himself died in 1822. And thanks to the work of historian Carole Divall, I have, as previously discussed, managed to find original documents in the National Archives which contain those children's signatures. Their handwriting was neat and legible. They were clearly educated. An assumption born out by the two boys' subsequent forays into teaching and the church as professions.
In the regimental diaries examined by Ms Divall, the number of "wives" and children with the battalion are shown for most months' entries. In 1811, the Duke of York started a regimental school system and over the following century, teachers were recruited by the Army and sent all over the globe to teach both British soldiers and their children. Apparently, it was quite usual for the sons of soldiers to end up joining the same regiment as their father so it was a good reason for spending money on their education, be they white or otherwise.
Interestingly, although I do have other ancestors for whom this was the case, on this particular line it appears that their father's premature death [from illness rather than army action] led them to be taken up by a missionary society rather than joining the army. So their reading matter was more than likely of a religious theme. However, they had definitely taken advantage of the army education offered prior this and actually, the arrival of an education officer is mentioned in the diary.
For Anglo Indian children, education also set them above full blood Indians to an extent. Not in terms of colour discrimination socially but in terms of their usefulness to the British. By the height of the Raj, Anglo Indian descendants populated the majority of the posts in civil service, the railways, the telegraph office and so on. Positions of a certain responsibility but rarely allowed to be full in charge. Relied on by the British because of their Christian, beholden upbringings yet not fully treated as equals. Certainly, my grandparents received brilliant educations, at schools still well regarded.
Of course, this is a very minor happening in thousands of years of human education history. Yet as can be seen now in Africa and other underdeveloped areas or in deprived areas of the First World countries, education is key to moving onwards and upwards for any person or for society as a whole. Look at India now - the gaps between the educated castes and the others.
So I am going to try to be grateful for my excellent education, for my many life chances and for my easily-fed love of reading, even if it means reading The Geography of Bliss by tomorrow. However, I do not recommend it....
Note: Nor do I recommend falling asleep whilst lying in bed reading a Kindle. Woke with a start to a fat lip as it fell on my face.....