19th Century Child Education and Employment in England:

In 19th century England, eighty per cent of the population were working class, and would have lived below the bread-line.

Education was not free, except for the poorest of families, and that counted for a high percentage of children.  Many families, thought it was more important to send their child out to work, and put food on the table, than send them to school, to get an education.

In the early part of the 19th century, Parliament passed an Act to curtail child labour, but enforcing it proved impossible.

1833, was a turning point, when a new law was passed, banning children under nine, working in textile factories.  Reformers had been publicising children’s working conditions, comparing their way of life as cheap labourers, and were treated like slaves.  What a co-incidence, the British Empire outlawed slavery in 1833-34.

Grants were provided to church schools, to educate the poorest of children.  Dame schools were also setup, offering reading, writing and arithmetic undertaken by women, but it has been suggested, these were no more than a form of child minding services.

In 1844 a law came into force, making it illegal for children under the age of eight, to work in coalmines.  Then the Factory Act of 1847 stated women and children could only work ten hours per day.

Workers had reached a time, when they needed somebody to speak on their behalf, and so the national trade unions were formed in 1850-1860 for skilled craftsmen.  The TUC wasn’t formed until 1868.

Fosters Education Act of 1870 was a time when the Government was forced to take responsibility for the education of England’s children; schooling should be provided for all children.  The exploitation of children had gone on for much of the 19th century, including the barbaric practice sending small boys up chimneys for the purpose of cleaning them.  In 1875 a law came into force, banning this practice.

The unskilled workers became an organised union in 1880.

Compulsory school attendance for five to ten year olds came into force in 1880, as attitudes towards children changed, and so the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) was founded in 1889.  In 1891 school fees were abolished.  Then in 1899 the school leaving age was raised from ten to twelve.

It was a far different lifestyle for those that had money.  Middle Class families would send their sons to grammar schools, whilst their daughters went to private schools, being taught the finer attributes in life for their future; music, dancing and sewing.  Upper Class families on the other hand would send their sons to public schools like Harrow or Eaton, and their daughters would be taught by a governess.

With Government legislation and the NSPCC children’s lives were beginning to see a change by the latter part of the 19th century.

No longer were they being treated as little adults, and their childhood being exploited by ruthless businesses.  They were free to live the life of a child, attend school and gain an education for their future.

The Slave Trade

Enslavement is a result and cause of racism.  A belief that some people were considered inferior which allowed Europeans to set up trade in African enslaved people in the 1520’s.  It encouraged white’s to believe that cruelty and capture of enslaved people, the inhuman conditions on the slave-ships and harsh treatment the enslaved received in the Americas was justified.  Enslavement has also caused racism by setting up a stereotype of black people as victims in the past.

The British Slave Trade enslaved people was a three-legged voyage; from British ports to West Africa, where enslaved people were bought with guns and equipment.  Then came the dreaded middle passage to the Americas, with as many people as possible crammed below decks.  The enslaved were sold in the southern states of the USA, and the Caribbean Islands, to work on sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations.  The merchant ships would take these products back to Britain on the last leg of their journey.  Profits from this trade made merchants rich, and provided capital for new enterprises in the early years of the Industrial Revolution.

The enslaved people worked in gangs on plantations, consisting of men and women, driven on by the whip of the overseer.  They would be expected to work for ten or twelve hours per day in the hot tropical sun for six days a week.  Other enslaved people worked as servants.  The fact that they could be bought or sold away from the plantation at any time made it very difficult to maintain any form of family life.

From the 17th century, gangs of runaways known as Maroons in Jamaica set up independent communities who resisted white owners and soldiers, which often broke out into open conflict, such as the Maroon Wars of 1730-1740 and 1795-1796.  There were slave revolts in Antigua in 1735, Tacky’s revolt in Jamaica in 1760, Kofi’s revolt in Guyana in 1763, in Granada in 1795-1797, and the list of battles goes on. 

The campaign to abolish enslavement started out as a peaceful mass protest movement of modern times.  Leading white abolitionists one Granville Sharpe helped black people fight test cases in the courts.  Thomas Clarkson collected evidence of cruelty of the slave trade and William Wilberforce fought for legislation in Parliament.  They worked with black abolitionist campaigners, such as Olaudah Equiano and Ottobah Cuguano.  Mary Prince who had been enslaved for part of her life, wrote about her experiences which helped to influence the eventual abolition of enslavement in 1833.

Clearly, the campaign to abolish enslavement did not end in 1833.  Plantation owners still used forced labour in the form of indentured workers, especially on tobacco plantations.  Being an indentured worker, meant you should be fairly treated and even though you received no payment for your work, you would be given proper food and somewhere to stay.  In actual fact indentured workers were often treated no better than enslaved workers, with beatings, and even death.

However that was not the end of enslavement in the Americas.  It was not abolished in America until 1863, after a bloody Civil War had been fought over the issue. 

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