An extract from the journal of Miss Susanah WELLINGTON (1819-1838) of Yeovil, Somerset. Susanah attended Mrs Eason’s School in Yeovil, she was 12 years old when she transcribed the following letter into her notebook.
The transcript of a letter from Charlotte BOWLES (possibly a head teacher or a scripture teacher) to the young students in her charge.
Yeovil Feb 7th 1832
My dear children
I wish to remove from your minds all embarrassment and reserve that we may derive both pleasure and benefit from our intercourse though it is but newly established. You are aware that my wish is to improve your understandings and to extend your knowledge but this cannot be done merely by the communication of my thoughts. I also need access to yours.
Be as candid then as you please when you dictate your letters for my perusal; ask any questions which you think important and I will endeavour to furnish you with a reply.
And you must not be surprised, if in my turn, I make a few enquiries now and then because by this means I shall readily obtain an insight into the stores of your information and into the readiness with which you can discriminate and apply. Do you think you comprehend me? If not, I will try to be a little plainer.
If you remember that the other day you were reading me that part of Exodus in which Aaron was commanded to light the lights in the tabernacle. You recollect too that I told you I apprehended these lights to be symbols of Him who is always and especially present where His honour dwelleth, and as God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all, so, in the holy places the shades of night were not suffered to seek because the scripture makes the following enquiry: What communion hath light with darkness?
Though this was the information which you had previously received, perhaps you can recall it to your minds that it was in the following way: If God be always in His house ready to meet us, should we not be desirous to meet Him? And should we not prove the sincerity of our desire by an early attendance, whenever the doors of the temple are opened for our admission?
Now I hope this rehearsal of your lesson will illustrate my meaning with respect to the application of your knowledge.
I shall be very glad of your several answers to this short communication and till then, believe my dear children that I am
Your sincere friend
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This is the first entry in Susanah’s journal. She may have received the small red leather notebook as a gift for Christmas 1831 and used it to record important lessons when she began school in the new year.
We can speculate that Charlotte BOWLES had only recently been appointed to teach at Mrs Eason’s School, as she wrote that her ‘intercourse’ or communication with her students was ‘but newly established’. Either the teacher was new to the school or the students were new to the teacher. Possibly Susanah was one of the new girls in the junior class eager to learn her lessons.
Susanah and her family were devout Christians, they lived very near the parish church of St John. Susanah wrote that she attended sermons at the church and various other Christian meetings within Yeovil. Scripture lessons formed a large part of the teaching curriculum in schools in the 19th century.
Charlotte BOWLES appears to have been an enthusiastic teacher and keen to engage the minds of her pupils by encouraging them to enlighten themselves. She invited them to ask questions so as to advance their journey from the darkness of ignorance.
A quote from the former British Prime Minister, Sir Winston CHURCHILL is very apt:
‘If you have knowledge, let others light their candles with it’.
Do you think that Charlotte BOWLES, as a teacher, would be pleased her lessons are still being read 181 years after they were first written?
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Sources: Susanah Wellington’s Journal, Hastings family collection. You can read more about it here: susanah’s journal – somerset to sydney. Journal transcription by Terry HASTINGS.