Thursday, September 3, 2009

A postmaster's opinion on the education of Chinese, 1888

In 1888, the NZ Herald and Auckland Star reprinted part of the following letter, sent by a Mr. J. P. Vause to the Auckland Education Board.
"Te Aroha, 4th July. Gentlemen, — I respectfully beg to ask whether Chinese children are admitted into our public schools; and, if not, whether you are aware that a Chinese-boy is now attending the Te Aroha public school (apparently with the sanction of the school committee, as no notice has been taken by them of the matter), having commenced to attend on Monday last? I make this enquiry on behalf of myself and other parents of children attending the school, who strongly protest against being compelled to have our children associate with such loathsome and objectionable characters as the Chinese, more especially as in the case of the boy I refer to; he is the adopted prot├ęge of a Chinese gardener, who lives in squalid filth in a small shanty about five feet square, known to be a den of opium smoking and other vices, and to come within a few yards of either him or the boy is absolutely unpleasant. I am not aware whether your Board has the power to prohibit Chinese children from attending the school. If it has, I earnestly trust that in this case that power may be at once exercised, both for the sake of the prosperity of the school and for the welfare of those European children attending it."
The Aroha and Ohinemuri News reprinted it on 11 July – after hearing about it via the Auckland papers.

In reading about European reaction to Chinese in this country in the 19th century, I’m used to seeing stuff like this, and I thought this was just another one of those times.

As can happen with history – it pays to read on.

Who was J. P. Vause? John Phillip Vause was born at Kawhia in 1860, according to the Cyclopedia of NZ. He took up a career with the Post Office in 1877, and as at 1902 hadn’t left. From 1883, he was post master at Te Aroha. He got involved with the community, Band of Hope meetings, things like that. On his way to being a pillar of Te Aroha society.

Until he wrote the letter.

The reaction from the Te Aroha community as soon as they heard about it was immediate.
“The action of the local postmaster, Mr. J. P. Vause, in writing to the Board of Education with respect to Ah Yang's son, in the manner reported in our telegram, is most unwarranted and deserving of strong censure. The Chinese are not desirable colonists, and are addicted to very bad and objectionable vices as a nation, but we have never heard any complaint whatever made against Ah Yang, who has now been resident at Te Aroha for six or seven years, and is a quiet inoffensive industrious man. He recently sent to China for this son, a lad of about fourteen, whose father no doubt considers, seeing he is a ratepayer and an elector, that he has just as much right to avail of free education at the state school as Mr. J. P. Vause's children have, if not more seeing the one is better able to procure private arid select tuition for his children than the other. It is greatly to Ah Yang's credit to show a desire that his boy should avail of any opportunities within his reach for improvement. We may state that since the receipt of the telegram we have interviewed the head master on the question, who states the boy is well conducted, clean in person and habits so far as he has had opportunity of observing, well dressed, and he has never heard anyone raise any objection to the lad before. Others we have spoken to have replied in the same strain. The whole letter appears to have been a most unprovoked and unwarranted attack on Mr Ah Yang and his son.”
(The Aroha and Ohinemuri News, 7 July 1888)

A letter writer to the newspaper called for a subscription fund to be raised for persecuting Vause for defaming Ah Yang. The newspaper said they wouldn’t suggest taking things quite that far – but Vause, in their opinion, needed to apologise. Quickly.
“For the information of our readers we may state that as a matter of fact Mr. Ah Yang's house instead of being about 5ft. by 5ft. is about 24ft. by 8ft, with a 6ft. skillion in addition. The house is match-lined, comfortably furnished, clean, and tidy. Mr. Ah Yang has been in the Colony about thirty years (having been twenty years on and off at Coromandel, four in Auckland, and six at To Aroha). He is a man who pays his way and is generally respected. The lad referred to in Mr. Vanse's letter, we learn on enquiry is only ten years of age, and the nephew of Mr. Ah Yang, who has adopted him, and in addition to the tuition received at the public school, we are informed Mr. Ah Yang is paying two shillings per week to a party for teaching the lad English words and their meaning.”
(The Aroha and Ohinemuri News, 11 July 1888)

Within days, Vause wrote again to the Board of Education, withdrawing his previous correspondence, claiming that he had been misinformed.

Two months later, the Post Office transferred him to Te Awamutu.

“…For some reasons, which it is not my business to enquire into, Mr. Vause, postmaster, has been transferred from here to Te Awamutu, and Mr. Clough, from that place, appointed to Te Aroha. I am informed that Mr. Clough has for the past twelve years been resident postmaster at Te Awamutu, and naturally enough had come to look upon it as his permanent home. From all accounts he has expended a considerable amount of labour and time (which is equal to money) in making the postmaster's abode at Te Awamutu second to none of its class in the Colony. Its garden is well stocked with fruit and other trees, and altogether in excellent order, with the promise of a great fruit yield. I cannot exactly entertain a feeling of congratulation towards Mr. Clough's successor, but I trust that after inspecting his new home, Mr. Vause will have been taught more than one lesson. The exchange which has been forced upon Mr. Clough in this respect is not a happy one, although the outside appearance of the Te Aroha postmaster's residence is of fair average, alas the garden! Where flourished the rose tree, and fruit trees generally, now yawn deep holes, and the place appears to have been regularly stripped of everything in the shape of fruit trees and flowers. It is stated Mr. Vause sold as many as he could of the fruit trees, etc., dug up the remainder, and turned in his cow to complete the work of devastation prior to his leaving. His action in so doing needs no comment and speaks volumes with respect to the general character of the man. I fail to see any reason why Mr. Vause should thus make matters so uncomfortable for his successor (who would much have preferred remaining at Te Awamutu), even though he may be a Government official and had planted with his own official hands. It seems to me in Mr. Clough's case one of hardship, that for no assignable reason, the fruits of his twelve years careful labour (he having left everything in apple pie order) should be handed over to a stranger, whilst he has to take possession of a wilderness, unless the Government grants him good compensation, or if they will not do this, to follow the retrenchment mania, deduct the full value of Mr. Clough's plantings and improvements from Mr. Vause's salary,
I remain, etc.,
Fair Play,
Te Aroha, Sept. 20th, 1888.”
(The Aroha and Ohinemuri News, 29 September 1888)

According to one family history site, Vause died in 1940 in Devonport, up here in Auckland. After blotting his copybook in Te Aroha and creating a storm of reaction against his comments, so it seemed, he apparently did all right in Te Awamutu.

No comments:

Post a Comment