Archive for the 'Sign Language' Category

“His lips sought her skin as the horse noses its mate. […] It was a strange proposal of marriage.”

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 17 March 2016

Clyne House 2Ann Denman was the nome de plume of Katie E.M. Croft, a teacher of the deaf at the Royal School for the Deaf, Manchester.  I cannot add any interesting biographical details about her as I have not definitely identified her date or place of birth or death, though it is possible she is Katharine Elizabeth M. Croft, born in Derby in 1895.  Unfortunately we do not have a complete record of the Royal School annual reports, which were very full and included pictures.  Miss Croft appears on the list of staff for Clyne House, the part of the Royal School for the juniors, under nines, from at least 1925 to the war.  She was one of the resident teachers, following on from the first resident teacher at the school, Irene Goldsack, who married Alexander Ewing.

Why are we particularly interested in her rather than Misses Elliott, Baker or Cross, her fellow teachers in 1925?  Well, she wrote a novel, A Silent Handicap, published by Edward Arnold in 1927.  The novel follows the lives of three children who were born deaf, an illegitimate orphaned girl, a boy from a poor background, and a girl with wealthy parents.   Our copy has a promotional leaflet with review excerpts, and Selwyn Oxley’s inimitable black inky scrawl.Croft 2 book reviews  He had a brief correspondence with Katie Croft, which is stuck into the front of the book.  First there is a three page letter from the 14th of March, 1928, then a couple of short notes congratulating the Oxley’s on their marriage, and Kate Oxley’s second book being published.  Oxley had sent her a Guild of St. John of Beverley badge.  He seems to have scattered them around, for I have come across other mentions of people receiving one.

A few quotations from the novel will give a flavour of the story.

“She’s deaf and dumb, you know,” said Mr. Searle, feeling sorry for the woman and the child.
“Fiddlesticks!” said the Doctor.  “You can train a puppy, why not a deaf child? […]” (p.8)

School work began with prayers.  Geoff stood sullenly between two children.  A grown-up person had pushed him there and shaken her finger at him, and as he had always associated a sound cuff with the breaking of the law as laid down by finger-waggers, he stood where he had been put and frowned angrily. (p.30)

Chapter 19, A Proposal, describes how Mary and Geoff, the two children in the excerpts above now adults, get engaged: Geoff has given Mary a watch as a present –

Her eyes sparkled.  She looked up at Geoff to thank him.  He did not wait for her thanks, but caught her in his arms, and rubbed his mouth against her neck and cheek.  He had never learnt to kiss.  His lips sought her skin as the horse noses its mate.  Mary bent back her head that their faces might meet.  She rubbed her cheek against his.

It was a strange proposal of marriage. (p.194)

This was the 1920s, and eugenics rears its head –

“You should say until Prince Charming comes,” said her father. […] He’ll be coming along and marrying you.”

“Marry me?  No one will ever marry me, said Sally, shaking her pretty head.  I shall not marry , Daddy.  I shall live for ever and ever with you.”

“I wish I could think so, but I can’t,” said Sir Patrick.

“Yes, I shall,” said Sally.  She had been reading a book on eugenics, and spoke with the finality of youth.  “Deaf people shouldn’t marry.”[…]

“Love and common sense don’t go together, Sally,” he said, but Sally had stooped to get a piece of coal from the box, and had not seen him speak. (p.231)

Katie Croft says in her letter to Oxley,

I wrote a “Silent Handicap” in odd free afternoons.  It is life as I have seen it. Life odd queer, inexplicable – worth living only in the measure of service for others.  I felt that my children would grow up and miss so much.  I was sorry for the poor deaf child unloved except by casual strangers – and sorry for the rich deaf child who seemed to have so much.  It is the things of the spirit that matter in life – and congenital deafness tends to bind one so to mainly physical pleasures.  Education can lift one until all things are possible but it also gives the power to realize ones own isolation.
I wrote, so that if anyone ever found my work worth publishing, those who read might have some knowledge of the lives of deaf children, and of the “Dockerty’s”* scattered up and down the country, who have given such ungrudging service often for so little salary.  Above all I wished to show how economically sound it is to spend money on the education of the Deaf.  Not only does education kindle into life that Divine “light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world” but it also makes the Deaf self respecting, self supporting citizens: a help not a drag upon the community.

Croft letter 1If you can add any information about Katie Croft, please do in the comments field below.  The novel is probably hard to find – at the time of writing there is one available on Alibris.  We have a loan copy as well as the one with the letters.

For a picture of Clyne House search here https://apps.trafford.gov.uk/TraffordLifetimes.

It seems that the house was a hospital during the Great War.

*Dockerty was a character in the novel

Thanks to Geoff Eagling for the update below.

Alexander Melville and Llandaff School, 1862-1906)

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 26 February 2016

MelvilleLLANDAFF SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF AND DUMB (1862-1906) was founded by Alexander Melville (1820-1891), who had begun his teaching career under Charles Baker at Doncaster.  Melville, who was not deaf, was born in Carlisle, and Doreen Woodford says “extensive research has revealed nothing of his early life or family” (p.5).  He was certainly at Doncaster School in 1846, before moving to London in 1849, where we are told, “he was mainly instrumental in originating and organising a Sunday service for the deaf, which he carried on for some time” (BDM, 1897, p.77, Woodford ibid.).   Woodford gives a few details of his time in London where he worked for the ‘Red Lion Square Institution’, forerunner of the R.A.D.D. (now R.A.D.), helping people find work and holding signed services.  Financial problems of the new institution probably forced Melville to return to Doncaster, but his friend Samuel Smith left Doncaster for London in 1854 to work for the revitalised institution, and Melville left and after a hiatus of five years he started working in Swansea School (ibid).   Melville was the headmaster, but he clearly found it difficult to bend to the views of others, so he decided to found his own private school, which opened in 1862 near the cathedral (Woodford, p.6).  After about three years, larger premises were required.  “In passing in and out of Cardiff, Mr. Melville often cast a longing eye on a neglected little public-house on the borders of the Llandaff parish, which had been a flourishing hostelry in the days when telegraphs and railways were unknown” (BDM).  The new premises, in Romilly Crescent, remained the home for the school until it closed.

In 1865 Melville married Hannah Louisa Chappell (died 1885), a Deaf lady he had known for many years, who had attended the Old Kent Road Asylum.  Woodford suggests that her money enabled to move to new premises (p.7).

Pupils were taught with a combined method, and annual reports show that they hammered home the religious education, as can be seen in the Report of the School for the Deaf and Dumb for 1883.  John Clyne of the Bristol School interrogated pupils.

“What happened lately at Sunderland?” “A serious calamity. Nearly 200 children were killed from suffocation, and were crushed to death.” […]
“Where was there war lately?” was asked of H.L. [Harry Lowe] He wrote, “In Zululand and Egypt.” This led to the question, “Was Christ ever in Egypt?” The answer was, “Yes, Joseph and Mary took him there while Herod wanted to kill Him.” “How did Herod know about Christ?” “Wise men told him.” “How did wise men know?” “God told them.” […]
Altogether I was not prepared to find the pupils so well up as I found them. The removal of so many who were superior pupils last year induced the fear that the difference would be more marked than has proved the case. […] the only reason for regret is, that the support of the establishment is still nort on a scale permitting an adequate number of the necessitous Deaf and Dumb of South Wales to enjoy the benefits of the education which would so well meet their need” (p.15 & 18)

When Melville’s wife died he soon remarried, his second wife Elizabeth controlling Melville, then running the school after his death, but it did last for long after her death in 1904.  Agar Russell was a teacher at the school from 1881-6, and he did not take to her, nor was he taken with the educational methods (Woodford p.20).  From Russell we get a different view of her than appears in the article below, though it seems hinted.

LLANDAFF DEAF AND DUMB I SCHOOL. On Friday evening, in consequence of the death of Mrs. Melville, the hon. secretary, superintendent, and treasurer of the Llandaff Deaf and Dumb School, a meeting of the patrons, trustees, and subscribers of the institution was held, under the presidency of the Rector of Canton (the Rev. David Davies), for the purpose of considering the present position of the institution. In the course of a discussion it was stated that hitherto the institution had been entirely controlled and managed by Mrs. Melville and her late husband. It was reported that at present there were fifteen pupils in the school from various parts of the country, and, having regard to the very excellent work carried on in the institution in the past, the meeting felt that some definite scheme of administration and management should be formulated without delay. It was decided to appoint a sub-committee, consisting of the Rector of Canton, Mr. C. E. Dovey, Mr. J. Radley, Dr. Athol S. J. Pearse, Mr. P. J. Harries, and the Rev. A. G Russell, to take the matter in hand pending the summoning of a larger meeting, at which will be more fully gone into. Miss Barton, who had been staying with the late Mrs. Melville for some years, decided, with the assistance of Miss Simmons, to keep up the school until some definite arrangement was come to. At the close of the proceedings the Chairman proposed a resolution of sympathy at the death of Mrs. Melville, whom he described as a remarkable lady, with one of the strongest personalities that ever a lady possessed in Cardiff. The success of the Deaf and Dumb Institution was, undoubtedly, due to her wonderful personality. The proposition, seconded by the Rev. A. G. Russell, was supported by Mr. C. E. Dovey and Mr. J. Radley, and passed in silence. (Evening Express, 17th September, 1904)

Doreen Woodford, whose grandparents were at the school, gives a much fuller picture than I can offer here. Russell’s unpublished memoir is held in the library.

Llandaff 1

Welsh Newspapers Online

Appreciation.  Deaf and Dumb Times, 1891, 3, 26-27 (illus)

Llandaff School for the Deaf and Dumb.  British Deaf Monthly, 1897, 6, 77-78

Deaf and Dumb Magazine (Glasgow), 1879, 7, 155-56

Obituary.  Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute Education, 1891, 2, 347-48, 378

School reports, 1867-72, 1883, 1892-4, 1897

WOODFORD, D. A man and his school: the story of the Llandaff School for the Deaf and Dumb. Llandaff Society, 1996




The Origins of the Ulster Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, and the Blind, established in 1831

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 15 January 2016

Ulster 1Formed from a society founded in April 1831 after a public lecture, the Ulster school began the following year in the retiring-room of an Independent Chapel in Donegall Street (Some information etc, p.9).  It was initially a day school only.  When the school moved to King Street in 1833, there were only eight pupils in attendance.  A new teacher, Mr. Collier, was appointed in October 1834, and shortly after the first blind pupil was taken on.  More money was required for a proper institution building, so in April 1835 a further public meeting resolved to raise the necessary funds, and as soon as February 1836 the new building, in College Street, was completed (ibid p.10).  Within five years they had outgrown this building, and the foundation stone for a much grander establishment was laid on 31st August, 1843.  Shortly after, an agreement was arrived at with the Claremont School in Dublin, that they would withdraw from Ulster (ibid, p.11).

Below we have a picture of the Institution, a manual alphabet illustration, type used by the blind pupils, and the ground plan, all taken from Some information […] published in 1846.

Ulster 2manual ulsterBlind ulsterUlster planThe Ulster Society for Promoting the Education of the Deaf and Dumb, and the Blind.  Some information respecting the origin, constitution, object & operations of the Ulster Society for Promoting the Education of the Deaf and Dumb, and the Blind; especially designed for the use of the Society’s auxiliaries. Belfast, the Society, 1846.  (Our copy was owned by Charles Rhind).

Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute Education, 1891, 2, 262-69, 289-95.

“so moved by these unhappy souls” – Tommaso Pendola, Italian Teacher of the Deaf

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 6 November 2015

This article was written by our colleague Debora Marletta, with some additions.

Born in Genoa on the 22nd of June 1800, Tommaso Pendola (1800-83) joined the order of the ‘Scolopi’, the Piarists (Order of Poor Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools) at the age of 16.  In 1821 he began to teach at the Collegio Tolomei in Sienna. The following quotation is phrased in a way that will sound familiar to regular readers –

Having found several deaf-mutes in Sienna, his city of adoption, he was so moved by these unhappy souls, shut out from the consolation of speech, and so desirous of relieving them from their melancholy condition, that, in 1825, he went to Genoa and placed himself, for nearly a year, as a youthful scholar under Padre Ottavio Assarotti, of the Scolopian Order, who, like De l’Epée in France, was another father to the deaf in Italy. Having learned the method well, Padre Pendola spent all his means in providing a refuge for these unfortunate ones and instructing them. (Matson, p.214-5)

L’Abate Ottavio Giovan Battista Assarotti (1753-1859) had founded the first deaf school in Italy, at Genoa, in 1801.

In 1831, under the auspices of the Grand Duke Leopoldo, Pendola founded and directed in Sienna an institute dedicated to the education of poor deaf people, later known as the Istituto Tommaso Pendola and now part of Asp (Azienda Pubblica dei Servizi alla Persona) ‘Città di Siena’.  In 1844 it was united with the school at Pisa.

Exulting in his heart, happy in relieving misery, he was the first among us to give a gentle and pious mother to these afflicted ones, calling to his Institution “The Daughters of Charity,” and when, in 1848, the members of this order were driven from Sienna as by a whirlwind, those of them that were with him remained peacefully under the protection of his uncontested authority. (Matson, p.215)

As Director at the Istituto, Pendola wrote a number of treatises on deafness and founded, in 1872, the quarterly journal titled L’Educazione dei Sordomuti (now L’educazione dei Sordi [The Education of the Deaf]).  Pendola had been a manual teacher, using sign language, influenced by Sicard, but he modified this teaching method under the influence of his friend Assarotti.

sordomutiThe aim of his new journal was pedagogical, its content directed primarily at teachers of the deaf:

‘The publication was aimed at the analysis of the didactical and pedagogical methods recommended to the teachers of the deaf’ [Esame critico dei mezzi pedagogici e didattici che vengono eventualmente raccomandati o proposti alla scuola dei sordomuti’] (L’Educazione dei Sordomuti, Anno I Serie III, vol. 26, 1903, p. 3).  The journal was also aimed at the promotion of the ‘metodo orale’ [‘the oral method’] or oralism, which had been popular in the United States since the 1860s, and had become known to Pendola via the priest Serafino Balestra, who had introduced into Italy the method known as ‘lip reading’.

Oralism – which opposed the use of sign language whilst advocating the use of speech and lip reading in the teaching of the deaf – was now deemed to be the most natural, appropriate and apt method for the social regeneration of the deaf: ‘il metodo orale è, senza contrasto, il più naturale, il più conveniente e il più opportuno per la rigenerazione sociale dei sordomuti’ (Ibid. p.2).

In 1873, a year after the journal was founded, Pendola organised the Congresso internazionale sull’educazione dei sordomuti di Siena [The International Conference for the Education of the Deaf Mutes of Siena].  As with the journal, the conference provided a platform to discuss the advantages of oralism vs manualism, also setting the theoretical basis for the Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf, held in Milan in 1880.  The ‘Milan Conference’, as it became known, formally established that oral education was superior to manual education, passing a resolution that banned the use of sign language in schools.  As readers of this website and those familiar with sign language will know, it caused much dissent, and is now seen by many as very harmful to the deaf community.  Pendola himself was not present, being old and frail, but was proclaimed honorary president (Matson, p.215).  Enthused by Oralism in the 1870s, Pendola was was appointed by the government as president of a commission to draw up plans for compulsory education of deaf children (ibid, p.216).

Volume 26 of L’Educazione dei Sordomuti, offers a large number of contributions for those interested in the history of the education of the deaf, including that of a teacher, who, in his article entitled ‘Il vocabolario dei nostri allievi’ [‘the Vocabulary of Our Students’] writes that repetition is fundamental in the teaching of a language, even in the case of deaf people. It also includes a review to Dr. Bezold’s book, published in 1902, on the aetiology of deaf-muteness, and a bibliography of studies on deafness within the context of education.

Pendola would seem to have been highly thought of by those who knew him.  He was a professor at the Uninersity of Sienna for thirty years, where, we are told, he fought against the influence of the “popular sensualist school of French materialism” (Matson, p.214).  His funeral on the 14th of February, 1883, seemingly held with greater pomp than he might have wished, was attended by much of the populace, and as he had wished, he was buried ‘with the poor, and in the midst of the deaf and dumb, my pupils’ (ibid p.217-8).

Pendola 001This is one of our copies of Pendola’s book, L’Educazione dei Sordo-muti in Italia, 1855.  It appears to be an inscription by the author.  His journal, L’Educazione dei Sordi, now available online, continues its publication of research articles, bibliographies and individual experiences in keeping with its pedagogical and didactical purposes.

We have a long run in the library from the third series, from 1903 to 1925, then picking up again in 1948.

Portrait of Tommaso.

Matson, Mrs. Kate L., Padre Tommaso Pendola, American Annals of the Deaf, 1883, Vol.28 p.213-9 (Matson’s article is mainly the words of Pendola’s friend, Padre Alessandro Toti.

“By education he understood the development of all the best parts and powers of the creature” – Benjamin Hill Payne & the Cambrian School

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 9 October 2015

Cambrian SchoolBenjamin Hill Payne was born on the 23rd of January 1847.  He lost his hearing after an attack of scarlet fever aged 10 (Ephphatha 1896).  Payne attended the Ranelagh School in Athlone (since closed and sadly the buildings torn down as recently as 1991), then worked as a teacher at Dublin’s Claremont Institution for 16 years, before moving to Swansea.  At Swansea he became the principal after the resignation of Alexander Mollison in 1875 (ibid), or 1874 according to Raper’s obituary in BDT p.129.  He remained there for 40 years.  Benjamin Payne’s wife, Miss Passant (d.1921) was also Irish born, from Slane, and she worked at his side as a matron in these schools.

The 1896 article tells us that at the Cambrian school,

Good manners and the little amenities of life are well taught indeed, and there is a refreshing spirit of bon camaraderie apparent between the Principal, his staff, and the children – an air of genial homeliness that surely is of benefit to one and all. Mr. Payne is thoroughgoing. His word is law in the school and none can command more cheerful obedience. […]
That our friend is a past master in matters educational, goes without saying.  Both methods are used at his school.  He believes in adapting the method to the pupil rather than the pupil to the method. (ibid)

The Cambrian School was formed after a public meeting held by the Mayor in Aberystwyth on 1st of February 1847, and on July 24th the first class was held with two boys at a house in Pier Street under Charls Rhind (see Jones, 1985). The school took more pupils, between the ages of nine and thirteen, and in 1848 there were eight pupils. In 1850 the school moved to Swansea, firstly at Picton Place then later in a new building at Graig Field in 1857 (ibid).
In his memoir, F.W.G. Gilby calls the Paynes ‘dear old friends’, and comments on their value as educators:

The Sleights, father and sons, Edward Townsend of Birmingham, the Paynes of Swansea, Alexander Melville, with Samuel Smith of London, and his brother W.B. Smith of Bristol were the firm stalwarts for the finger alphabet plus signs, and it is not sufficiently known and appreciated how very many splendidly equipped deaf went forth into the world after having been educated by them. (p.145)

He told William Raper of the long hours he had spent with Blomefield Sleight and others drawing up the B.D.D.A. constitution (1926).  In retirement Payne helped out running the R.A.D.D. when the Rev. G.J. Chetwynd joined the Officer Corps.  Raper tells us, “He was an attractive and elegant signer, and liked plenty of space whenever addressing an audience.”

His sermons were well thought out and interesting, but of late were inclined to be somewhat too long. He would forget the time and apologize for this afterwards. (BDT obituary)

Raper says that Payne wrote,

“The B.D.D.A. is not a mission, nor is it concerned soley with after-care. Its concern is the whole class and all that concerns them. It promotes, and has founded, missions and helped them, and is especially interested in education. It did a good deal to enlighten the public years before the Bureau was founded, and its influence on the teachers and education, though unacknowledged, is apparent today … I have lived with and taught the Deaf in Institutions for 56 years. And I say there are evils – necessary evils at present, but evils – evils out of which it is possible good may come.” (ibid)

We can see Payne’s thinking as early as 1877, when he spoke at the 1877 Conference of Headmasters of Institutions at the Strand in London.  I will just quote a few lines, in his discussion of the new oralist versus traditional manualist schools:

By education he understood the development of all the best parts and powers of the creature; instruction was simply specific information.  Compare the title of the Association for the Oral Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb with that of the noble old Institution in which he qualified – the National Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb Poor.  In that they had all the difference. (ibid, p.106)

Payne died in 1926. His son, the Rev. Arnold Hill Payne, is worthy of his own post.
Payne family 1896Our Portrait Gallery 5. Mr. B.H. Payne, Ephphatha 1896, May p.78-9 (pic)

Mr & Mrs B.H. Payne, Ephphatha 1915, p.385-6 (pic)

Raper, William, Benjamin Hill Payne, Ephphatha 1926 Autumn, p.1025

Raper, William, Benjamin Hill Payne as I knew him, BDT 1926, vol. 22 p.129-30

Mr Benjamin Hill Payne, BDT 1926, vol 22 p.108

Gilby, Memoir



JONES, H. An outline of the historical development of the school for deaf children in Wales. Association Magazine (BATOD), 1985, May, 9-10.

Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute Education, 1893, 3, 193-198.

Photo. Wales Hi, 1996, 3(3), back cover.

Royal Commission on the Blind, Deaf and Dumb, 1889. Vol. 2, Appendix 28, 289.

Llandindrod Wells School. Silent World, 1959, 14, 148-51.

Llandindrod Wells Residential School for the Deaf. Wales Hi, 1996, 3(2), 6.

Ernest Seton Thompson, William Tomkins, & sign language of the American Indians

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 1 May 2015

Before Europeans went to North America, it seems there were already extensive sign languages there, which were used for inter-tribal communication.  In the introduction to his book Universal Indian Sign Language of the Plains Indians of North America (1st ed. 1926), William Tomkins says,

There is a sentiment connected with the Indian Sign Language that attaches to no other. It is probably the first American language. It is the first and only American universal language. It may be the first universal language produced by any people. It is a genuine Indian language of great antiquity. It has a beauty and imagery possessed by few, if any, other languages. It is the foremost gesture language that the world has ever produced.

The author lectured on Indian problems to many audiences, and at all times the keenest interest was shown in sign language demonstrations, and he was asked, hundreds of times, to make the record permanent, and to thereby preserve and perpetuate the original American language which otherwise is fast passing away.

This is shown by the fact that in 1885 Lewis F. Hadley, at that time a foremost authority on sign, claimed that as a result of extensive investigation he had determined that there were over 110,000 sign-talking Indians in the United States. (ibid p. 3)

Tomkins grew up, he tells us, in Dakota Territory, at Fort Sully. I have been unable to uncover any further biographical information about Tomkins (please contribute below if there is anything you can add), but his book was adopted by the Boy Scouts of America and used at the World Scout Jamboree of 1929.  I suspect that is when this copy was signed by him.  Tomkins is pictured with one of the last great Sioux chiefs who helped preserve his nation’s culture, but whose life reflects his nation’s eclipse, Chief Flying Hawk.

TTomkinsSouth Shields born Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946), was a skilled artist and writer who started modern scouting in America, inspiring Baden Powell, and was one of the pioneers of the conservation movement.  He was also father of the historical novelist Anya Seton.  There is plenty to be found about this fascinating man so I will not repeat it.

We have a copy of Seton’s book, Sign Talk, A Universal Signal Code, without Apparatus, for Use in the Army, the Navy, camping, Hunting, and Daily Life (1918), that was owned by Sir Richard Paget, and perhaps influenced his sign system.  Here we see some of his marginal notes – click on the image for a larger size.

Scanned from a Xerox Multifunction Device (6)
Sign Language – Indian Sign Language [accessed 1/5/2015]

Davis, Jeffrey E. Hand talk : sign language among American Indian nations, CUP 2010

Tomkins, W., Universal Indian Sign Language of the Plains Indians of North America, 1st ed. 1926 and 4th ed. 1929

Seton, Ernest Thompson, Sign Talk, 1918

NOTE: I use the term ‘American Indians’ because that is the term Seton and Tomkins used.

“What an uneducated deaf mute can do” – Joseph Watson of Ayrshire

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 27 March 2015

Joseph Watson was born circa 1811, and was unfortunate to never have the opportunity to get an education.  In a publication of the Ayrshire Mission (bound in the library as Talks about Jesus to our silent ones) we are told

He grew up without any knowledge of reading, or writing, or language. He learned his trade as a weaver, and afterwards started on his own account as a barber with wonderful success until his death. He was intelligent and industrious. He possessed a measure of wit, which could make long faces “laugh and grow fat”. Any hearing or deaf person could easily understand him by signs. He often lamented his want of education. He made correct models of scenes in the land of Burns. The models, which are shown at Kilmarnock, are said to be the best and most correct that were ever made. It cost him many years’ labour to finish them

Joseph WatsonIn the article before this one, the Ayrshire Mission reprinted an Address on What an uneducated deaf mute can do, first published in the Ayr Observer of 15th May, 1886, in which the writer describes an address by the Ayrshire Deaf missioner James Paul, we learn that, in addition to his model making skills,

How skilful he is as a canary breeder, and also as a cultivator of flowers.  What do you think of the fact that this uneducated deaf mute bought a small property with his savings, and how able he is in attending to the duties of a landlord?  How intelligent he is as manifested by his conversation in signs with any one who can understand him.

Our Deaf and Dumb (published by Roe at the Derbyshire Institution) adds, “The fact that his birds were amongst the best warblers in the district puzzled many of the barber’s customers but the secret was that Watson had been careful to get a good whistling bird to set the example to the others, and so he had no difficulty with his young birds.”

His end, sometime on the night of the 22nd to the 23rd of September, 1888, was however tragic.

The body of an old man was found on the railway near Auchinleck, on Sunday morning, 23rd September last. The name of Joseph Watson on a slip of paper, with £15 and a gold watch, were found in the deceased’s pockets, and the remains were supposed to be of Joseph Watson, deaf mute, who resided in Ayr, and being away from home, was expected back on Saturday but did not return.  The watch had stopped at 9.30, which had just allowed time to walk from the traiin to the spot where he met his death.  He had been to Edinburgh by the excursion viaMuirkirk, on Saturday.  He had evidently left the train at Cumnock, where the engine of the train was being supplied with water.  The reason for his leaving the train is unknown, but it is supposed he might have mistaken Cumnock for Ayr, and proceeded along the line towards the bridge where his body was found.  There was no parapet wall, and in the darkness he had missed his footing and slipped over.  Apointsman at the Templand Viaduct identified him as a man he had called to not to proceed along the line, but of course his warning was not heard.(see Death of Joseph Watson)
cork modelAbove one of his models.  I wonder if any survive?  Any Scottish readers in Ayrshire, let us know!

1841 census – Parish: St Quivox; ED: 5; Page: 8; Line: 1390; Year: 1841

Death of Joseph Watson, p.21 of an unnamed issue bound in Talks about Jesus to our silent ones.

The Late Joseph Watson, Our Deaf and Dumb, vol.2, p.200-1

The Finger Spelling alphabet

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 21 November 2014

There is not much written about finger spelling, but in April 1889 Albert Farrar, who had been educated by Arnold at Northampton, wrote an article in Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute Education on the history of the manual alphabet;

The use of signs and pantomimic gestures is undoubtedly of great antiquity, so much so, that its origin is lost in the obscurity of the distant past. Language has various forms, speech being one, and signs and gestures another, and when we consider how permanent and universal is the faculty of expressing our thoughts in different ways, we may well believe that signs were resorted to as soon as men felt the need of some such expedients to supply the deficiencies of speech, or to facilitate intercourse with other tribes or nations. Some think they preceded speech. We must, however, look on language as a Divine gift, and probably the most reasonable conjecture we can form would be that most of its different forms existed from the first and helped one another till speech, greatly amplified and perfected, became the one medium of intercourse and the highest mode of expression. The “survival of the fittest,” if you like! Signs or gestures were, however, not entirely displaced […]

Farrar was writing only a few years after the death of Charles Darwin whose views on the origin of language are discussed here and he slips in Spencer’s phrase ‘Survival of the fittest’ that is widely associated with Darwin.  We can dismiss the “Divine gift” idea, but the idea that gesture and signs preceded language is still a major theory.  Farrar points out that the history of the British two handed alphabet was not terribly well known, but reminds us the Venerable Bede wrote about such a system in De computo seu Indigitilatione et de Loquela manuali per gestum digitorum [also described as De Computo vel Loguela per Gestum Digitorum].

FarrarFarrar concludes his article,

In usage, our manual alphabet is not quite uniform over the country, but the differences are so few and slight as to be unnoticeable, except in v and z.  Both the forms of q in Digiti-Linga are used.  Dr. R. Elliott writes me, “I have every reason to believe the manual alphabet in its present form has always been used in the Asylum (Old Kent Road).  I have met with two of the first six pupils, and the only difference they made on the present usage was, to put the knuckles of the forefingers together with the fingers spread out for v.

We have illustrated older finger alphabets on the blog previously, but today we are inserting the alphabet from Digiti Lingua that is missing from our copy.


Bragg, Lois (1997). Visual-Kinetic Communication in Europe Before 1600: A Survey of Sign Lexicons and Finger Alphabets Prior to the Rise of Deaf Education. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 2:1 Winter 1997 p.1-25 [a very comprehensive survey]

BRIEN, D. Dictionary of British Sign Language/English. 1992, Faber and Faber. p. 849. Fingerspelling in British Sign language.

BRENNAN M. Making borrowings work in British Sign Language. in: BRENTARI D. Foreign vocabulary in sign languages. 2001, Lawrence Erlbaum. pp. 49-85. (Library location: UTB TNX)

FARRAR, A. Our manual alphabet and its predecessors, Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute Education  1889, Vol. 2 p.33-41

SPENCE, R SUTTON-, WOLL B, ALLSOP L. Variation and recent change in fingerspelling in British Sign Language. Language Variation and Change, 1990, 29(3), 313-330. (Library location: C6845 REF)

SPENCE, R SUTTON-, WOLL B. The status and functional role of fingerspelling in BSL. In MARSCHARK M, CLARK M D. Psychological perspectives on deafness. 1993, Lawrence Erlbaum. pp. 185-208.

SHIPGOOD L E, PRING T R. The difficulties of learning fingerspelling: an experimental investigation with hearing adult learners. European Journal of Disorders of Communication, 1995, 30(4), 401-416.

SPENCE, R SUTTON-. Grammatical constraints on fingerspelled English verb loans in BSL. In LUCAS C. Pinky extension and eye gaze: language use in deaf communities. 1998, Gallaudet University Press. pp. 41-58.


Official recognition of British Sign Language 1987-2003 – suggested reading

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 13 November 2013

This is intended to suggest some reading about how BSL came to be recognised by the British Government.  Feel free to suggest other source material. 

  • In 1987/88 the British Deaf Association mounted a campaign calling for the official recognition of BSL. The campaign report (see below) included the text of the EC regulation for official recognition of sign languages, which was successfully debated at Strasbourg in June 1988.

BRITISH DEAF ASSOCIATION. BSL – Britain’s fourth language: the case for official recognition for British Sign Language. BDA, 1987.

The European Parliament gave its total support for the recognition of Sign Languages.  British Deaf News, 1988, Jul, 1.

  • At the 3rd European Congress on Sign Language Research held in Hamburg in July 1989, delegates agreed a statement which lists the political action needed to alter the current situation.

Statement on the recognition of the national sign languages of the deaf. Prillwitz, S. and Vollhaber, T. Current trends in European sign language research. Signum Press, 1990. pp. 404-06.

  • A written question on official recognition of BSL was put to the Prime Minister by Jack Ashley, MP and answered by the PM (John Major) on Tuesday 18 June 1991. The extract from Hansard is as follows:

“MR JACK ASHLEY: To ask the Prime Minister, what is Her Majesty’s Government’s policy towards the recommendation of the EEC resolution of June 1988; and if he will give official recognition to British Sign for the Deaf.

THE PRIME MINISTER: The Government has noted the terms of the resolution on sign languages for deaf people adopted by the European Parliament in June 1988. We fully recognise the right of deaf people to use their preferred method of communication, including British Sign Language, and have grant aided a variety of organisations concerned with the promotion and development of sign languages and other communication techniques.”

  • Jack Ashley also tabled an Early Day Motion calling upon the Government to give official recognition to BSL and to remedy the current shortage of fully trained interpreters (EDM 943).

Sign Language. British Deaf News. 1991, Sep, 5.

  • A motion for the recognition of BSL as an official UK language failed to be accepted at the Labour Party Conference in 1997 because of the complications of the voting system.

Labour fails to recognise Sign Language.  British Deaf News, 1998, Jan, 3.

  • The European Parliament reiterated its support for the rights of deaf people to use sign language as their preferred language with a second resolution on sign languages.  Richard Howitt, MEP, announced the intention of asking the European Commission what had been done to implement the resolution.

Resolution on sign languages voted in European Parliament 10 years ago. EUD Update, 1998, May, 1.

  • The CACDP and BDA asked the Government why BSL is not included in the European Charter for Minority Languages.

European recognition for Gaelic – what about BSL?  British Deaf News, 1998, Aug, 1.

No recognition for BSL in Euro Charter. CACDP Standard, 1998, 33, 1.

  • BDA gave evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Committee on Disablement, as a first step in the BDA campaign to get BSL recognised as a minority language under the European Minority Languages Charter which the UK signed.

BDA takes campaign to Parliament. British Deaf News, 1999, Jun, 1.

  • Federation of Deaf People organised a march to present a petition calling for official recognition of British Sign Language at No. 10, Downing Street, June 1999.

4,000 march for British Sign Language. British Deaf News, 1999, Aug, 1, 6-7.

It’s our right to choose. Disability Times. 1999, Aug/Sep, 5.

RNID News Review, 1999, 28 Aug-10 Sep, 36.

Sign of the times. Disability Now, 1999, Aug, 1. (photo only)

  • UNISON (the UK’s largest trade union) supported a campaign for official recognition of BSL.

Unison joins campaign for BSL to be recognised. British Deaf News, 1999, Nov, 3.

  • British Deaf Association sent a delegation to meet MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament) with the aim of getting legislation through the Scottish Parliament in its next session.

British Deaf Association calls on Scottish Parliament to recognise sign language. British Deaf News, 1999, Dec, 7.

  • On 16th of February 2000, the Scottish Parliament debated the official recognition of BSL.

Scots leading way on BSL. Disability Now, 2000, Mar, 1.

Historic Scottish Parliament BSL debate. Disability View, 2000, May/Jun, 37.
RNID News Review, 2000, 12-26 May, 21.

  • BDA published its sign language policy, to form the basis of a campaign to raise the status of BSL.

BDA sign language policy: summary of feedback from consultants. British Deaf News, 2000, Apr, 14-15.

  • Federation of Deaf People organises further marches in support of official recognition of BSL, summer 2000.

DAY, L. BSL recognition for Bristol! British Deaf news, 2000, Dec, 20.

My experience at the BSL Rally.  Deaf Arts UK, 2000, 13, 12-13 (Deaf children talk about their performances in Trafalgar Square.)

  • British Deaf Association launched a poster campaign calling for the official recognition of BSL, Autumn 2000.

The BDA shows the finger to the Government. British Deaf News, 2000, Nov, 16.

Poster hands out strong message. Disability Now, 2000, Nov, 4.

  • The London Borough of Barnet recognised BSL as an official Community Language.

Barnet recognises BSL. CACDP Standard, 2000, 42, 9.

  • The UK Council on Deafness organised a submission to the Disability Rights Commission calling for the official recognition of BSL: 25 out of 37 members signed the submission; 3 members specifically said they were unable to sign the submission – DELTA, the Ewing Foundation, and the RNID.

Deaf organisations join forces for official recognition. British Deaf News, 2000, Dec, 14.

BSL submission. Bulletin (UKCOD), 2001, Spring, 1.

  • The Disability Rights Commission published its advice to the Government on recognition of BSL.

See DRC website at: www.drc-gb.org

Sign language campaigners step up pressure on the Government. British Deaf News, 2001, Feb, 15.

  • BDA leaders met Margaret Hodge, Minister for Disabled people, to press for immediate action on BSL recognition.

BDA update: BSL recognition. British Deaf News, 2001, May, 21.

  • Police arrested protestors as a splinter group at a Wolverhampton rally in support of BSL recognition blocked city centre traffic.

Six arrested in Wolverhampton protest. British Deaf News, 2001, May, 6-7.

Delegation of representatives from deaf organisations meets Maria Eagle, Minister for Disabled people, on 31 January 2002.  Magazine (BATOD), 2002, Apr, 46.

  • Letter to Maria Eagle, drawing parallels with the Cornish language, September 2002.

BSL rec update. Information Bulletin (FDP), 2002, 6(2), 3.

  • Malcolm Bruce took up ‘recognition of sign languages’ challenge

British Deaf News, 2003, Jan, 13.

  • On 19 December 2002, MEPs voted in support of a Conservative proposal, which gave sign language its first recognition as a minority language.

British Deaf News, 2003, Feb, 13.

  • On 18 March 2003 the Government made a formal statement that it recognised that BSL is a language in its own right (quoting an estimated 70,000 people whose preferred language it is), and promising to invest £1 million in a programme of initiatives to support this statement.

British Deaf News, 2003, Apr, 5-7. (with text of statement); May, 26.

CACDP Standard, 2003, 52, 1-2.

WFD News. 2003, 16(2), 38. (with text of statement)

  • British Deaf News published results of its survey of city councils’ recognition of BSL

BSL recognition: city councils. British Deaf news, 2003, Jun, 12-13.


ATHERTON, M. Welsh today, B.S.L. tomorrow? Deaf Worlds, 1999, 15(1), 11-15.

DARBY, A. and REDHEAD, C. Social work with deaf people. Deaf Worlds, 2000, 16(3), 69-73. (p. 73 refers to what recognition of BSL implies.)

BOWMAN, C. Official recognition of BSL: some insights from the Welsh Language Act 1993. Deaf Worlds, 2001, 17(1), 7-13.

KRAUSNEKER, V. Sign languages and the minority language policy of the European Union. In METZGER, M. Bilingualism and identity in deaf communities. 2000, Gallaudet University Press. pp. 142-158. (RNID Library location: UTB TNX)

KRAUSNEKER, V. Sign languages of Europe – future chances. In LEESON, L. Looking forward: EUD in the 3rd millenium…. 2001, Douglas McLean. pp. 64-73. (RNID Library location: Conf Coll/1998)

The status of sign languages in the European Union in 2001, and Overview of country-by-country analysis. EUD Update, 2001, 4(10), 1-30. (pp. 25-26 cover progress in the UK, including legislation to improve status of BSL).

AQUILINE C-A. Sign language recognition. WFD News, 2003, 1692), 7. (Lists countries that have recognised sign language with an indication of what ‘official recognition’ is in each country.)

TURNER, G. Government recognition and £1 million boost for British Sign Language. Deaf Worlds, 2003, 19(1), S74-S78.

Harpocrates – God of Silence

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 16 August 2013

Gisbert Cuper, or Gisbertus Cuperus as his name appears in the Latin in which he published, was a Dutch antiquarian and philologist (1644-1716).  The book of his we have in the library, bound with Antonius Borremansius’s Variarum Lectionum Liber, is called simply Harpocrates.  Harpocrates was the Greek and Roman God of Silence, adapted from the Egyptian Har-pa-khered in the Hellenistic period.  He was the child version of Horus, the newborn sun, depicted in statues as a child with a finger to his mouth.  This, representing a child, was misinterpreted by Greeks as meaning silence, and we see a depiction of that on the title page of the book here:

Harp 0 001

Throughout, our copy is heavily annotated in ink by a previous owner, but in a hand I cannot decipher.  I find the illustrations charming!  I confess I wondered if Harpo Marx got his name in any way from this god, being the brother who never spoke on screen, but although his brother Groucho joked that he had, he was named after his harp playing.

Harp 1 001Harp 2 001