Friday, 19 May 2017

Deaf Awareness Week: Being Deaf in Jersey, 1861

For Deaf Awareness Week, as it is Friday when I usually do history blogs, I thought it might be interesting to look back to the past, and I’ve chosen the 1861 census. But this is not just about Jersey in 1861, it is also about deaf people, in particular those described as deaf-mute, unable to hear or speak.

That year the population of Jersey was 55,613, which was down from 57,620 at the previous Census if 1851. The decline was attributed not to any decline in the advantages of Jersey but the reduction in the disadvantages in the UK,  due to an increase in public revenue, and the benefits of free trade, enabled the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer to remove heavy fiscal duties. Hence there was less incentive for inward migration, and some families may have returned to their UK roots.

The census enumerators did their task well, but mistakes could creep in. This was because it was clear that in a few cases, those unable to speak were not unable to hear – as is indeed the case with some autistics, and also some mentally handicapped people may have also been were erroneously returned as deaf-mutes. On the other side, some younger children unable to hear or speak were probably not counted, as parents, not unnaturally, and much as happens today, clung onto the hope that perhaps their children would begin to speak.

According to the Census returns for the UK, the number of.the deaf-and-dumb (including under that term all who were described as dumb) in England and Wales, was 12,236—of whom 6,841 were males and 5,395 females—being in the ratio of 1 in 1,640 of the general population. In 1851 the number returned was 10,314 (5,640 males and 4,674 females), and the ratio to the population was 1 in 1,738.

This was a numerical increase on 19 percent, while the population only showed a 12 percent increase. The reasons are not apparent. The 1851 figures might have been understated, or there could have been a significant rise in the infirmity of deaf-dumbness.

We do know that epidemics raged around the UK during the 1850s and 1860s, and this could have caused an increased in “acquired mutism”. When this occurred early before children have learned to speak, it could destroy or reduce hearing, and dumbness would be the consequence.

Key diseases of the time were scarlatina [scarlet fever], typhus, small-pox, measles, and these were undoubtedly the most common causes of acquired deafness; indeed scarlatina caused more children to become deaf-and-dumb than from any other malady.

Coming to Jersey, population 55,613, the census tells us that there were 23,012 inhabited houses in the islands, and 6.23 persons to a house. Of course, as we can see from the great town houses, or the large country dwellings, this could be a result of having live-in servants.

The census also tells us that there is a great excess of women in the islands; thus, to 100 men of the age of 20-40, there were 133 women, and at the higher ages the disproportion subsists. And of 1,000 women of the age of 25-30, there are 503 wives, 471 spinsters, and 26 widows.

The population of those described as “Deaf and Dumb” was relatively small, with 31 individuals in Jersey compared to 72 blind people.

Of these deaf and dumb, 14 were male and 17 female. They are also categorised by age:

Under 5 – 1 boy
5+ years – 2 boys 1 girl
10+-years 1 boy
15+years 3 boys 2 girls
20+ years 2 men 2 women
25 + years 1 man 2 women
30 + years none
35 + years 4 women
40 + years 1 man
45 + years 2 women
50 + years 1 man 2 women
55 + years 1 man
60 +years - none
65 + years 1 woman

If they were in institutions, these would probably have been the General Hospital at St Helier or that at St Brelade. Hospitals at the time also took in orphans and functioned in part like a poor house or workhouse. As the Public Records Office noted, in 1861 this was:

“partly a general Hospital for the sick, partly a workhouse and school for pauper children, partly a kind of prison for the dissolute and refractory of all classes and lastly the only receptacle for pauper lunatics, and without any resident medical man.”

We don’t have a breakdown showing occupations, if any, for Jersey alone, but tables do exist giving details occupations for the whole of Jersey (31), Guernsey (17) and the Isle of Man (39)

Occupations of the deaf-and-dumb males over these regions include 1 commercial clerk, 1 sail maker 1 house proprietor, 1 tailors. 4 shoemakers, 1 grocer, 3 labourers, 1 gentleman (!), but 11 had no stated occupation and probably were unable to work. There were 20 children of whom 3 were described as scholars suggesting they accessed some kind of education.

Occupations of the deaf-and-dumb females include 1 teacher, 2 domestic servants, 2 cooks, 1 housemaid, 3 seamstresses, 1 gentlewoman (married to the gentleman?), but 18 not taking part in any kind of employment. There were 10 children, but no scholars.

Geoff Wright’s De La Mare family tree has an entry for Jane Mary De Gruchy was born in 1843 in St Helier. The 1851 census shows her living at 29 Columberie St Helier Jersey, Age 7. The census shows "Both" in Blind/Deaf dumb column. But aged 17, in 1861, her occupation is listed as dressmaker.

The general tables for the UK and Channel Islands overall show that, as the report put it, “it is satisfactory to observe that the heavy calamity under which they labour does not disqualify a large proportion.. following a great variety of those pursuits which sweeten the life of man by increasing his usefulness.”

But institutions for the for the education of the deaf-and-dumb were only just increasing. They depended for their support on voluntary contributions, donations, legacies, and annual payments made on behalf of the pupils. In 1861, there were 11 specialist schools in England containing together about 1,000 pupils; 5 in-Scotland with about 240 inmates, and 7 in Ireland with about 400 inmates, making in all 23 institutions with about 1,640 pupils in Great Britain and Ireland.

It is unlikely that there was any schooling in Jersey where children could access education; it was thinly spread in Great Britain. A survey concluded that “Deaf-and-dumb children cannot be grouped with other children in ordinary schools with a reasonable prospect of making much educational progress”

Specialist local help only came late in the 20th century when Ann Bailhache (later to become a Senator in the States) helped found the Jersey Deaf Children's Society with her sister in law (a health visitor) who volunteered Ann as a secretary.

The parents and children used to come to her house and somebody gave them therapy. When they started deaf children had to go to England to get help in a school - but now there are good facilities in schools.

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