A Missioner, two frauds, and UCL
By H Dominic W Stiles, on 12 October 2018
R.W. Dodds (1866-1948) was from Cramlington, Newcastle. He became a teacher of the deaf under B.H. Payne in Swansea, then at Old Trafford under Bessant, and finally went to Donaldson’s Hospital, Edinburgh, before becoming a missioner. His first appointment as such was in Dundee, then later he was missioner in Belfast from 1903 to 1939. He was a regular contributor to the British Deaf News in that period.
There have always been unscrupulous people who exploit the good nature and generosity of the public, and who thus cause huge harm to trust. In October, 1897, when he was missioner to the Deaf of Dundee, Dodds wrote a letter to The Dundee Courier & Argus, about two such beggers, one representing herself as deaf but almost certainly hearing, and the other apparently deaf for about two years.
LETTERS TO EDITOR.
A WARNING. TO THE EDITORS OF THE DUNDEE COURIER. SIR.,—
I beg to warn the public, and particularly managers of public works, workshops, &c., against respectably dressed deaf mutes soliciting help by means of letters. One at present in the district hailing from London shows a book containing some rough sketches described as his own work, and signing himself as “Jack Leslie.” He is well dressed, and by putting on a bold front is readily admitted into factories, stores, and workshops, being regarded by porters as a factory inspector or traveller. His method of proceeding is to leave circulars, and then return to collect subscriptions from workmen, &c., who generally help him all round. I would also draw attention to a young girl representing herself as Shields, dressmaker, aged 17, an orphan, and deaf and dumb, from Whitehaven, England. Has a ruddy complexion, and generally wears a brown Jacket. Having come across her begging late in the day by means of a letter, I stopped her, and after inquiries made arrangements to get her work, but instead of appearing at time appointed she escaped by an early train. As she has passed through all the towns south of Dundee, carefully evading missionaries and deaf and dumb persons, I expect she has proceeded northward. It is doubtful as to her being a deaf mute. Again, I would earnestly request the public to refuse all such deaf mute applicants, both the respectable and the poorly clad, and refer them to Mr Dodds, 31 Reform Street, who is now prepared to attend to the genuine needs of all deaf mutes, and to find them suitable work. As this mission is supported by public subscription through an authorised collector, we sincerely regret that vagrants should be allowed to impose on a generous people. The authorised collector for our Mission is finished for this year.—I am, &c., R. W. DODDS, Missionary. October 23, 1897.
A few days earlier, the Dundee Evening Telegraph described Leslie as follows –
Medium-sized of gentlemanly appearance, dark, clean-shaven attired in a black suit, and wearing a dark straw hat, one might take him for a traveller attached to a well-to-do publishing firm, a supposition which would appear to be borne out by the fact of his currying a portfolio under his arm. But this gentleman is no ordinary traveller, and if he should drift across the readers path you will find he has an extraordinary tale to tell.
In November, 1897, the British Deaf Monthly published an article about Jack Leslie, if indeed that was his real name. They included the text of his mawkish appeal to sentiment referred to above, designed to make anyomne who refused him feel guilty of cruelty.
AN AFFLICTED TALENT.
The only joy in my silent life is Art.
I am not begging. A mute’s appeal.
Ah! Nature itself is beauty alone to those who can speak
and hear and listen to the music of God’s
own nature, and speak to the ones
he loves most dear.
Please purchase my Poems below and assist me
to become an Artist.
Price whatever you desire to give.
Small as well as large gifts will be thankfully received.
To the Reader,—For more than two years I have been deaf and dumb from a horrible attack of scarlet fever, and, as I am alone in this world, my sole ambition is to become an artist. My father has been dead for four years. Two years ago I became seriously ill with scarlet fever, and my only friend, my mother, attended me during my illness, and was my only comfort. But alas! for her duty and kindness, one day became ill herself with the fever, which was caught by attending me. After my mother was stricken with the fever, and on awaking one morning, I tried to call her in the next room. I made several efforts to speak, but the words came in soft whispers. I could neither speak nor hear, and everything appeared silent and dead about me. “My God,” I whispered in a breath, “I cannot speak or hear.” The feelings that crept over me you must imagine—my pan can never describe them. I went to the room occupied by my sick mother. She smiled on me when I entered, her eyes closed and her pale lips moved, but I could not hear what she muttered. When she learned the fact that I was deaf and dumb she took from her hand her wedding ring, and, placing it upon my left hand, kissed me good-bye as she breathed her last moments. I believe now it was the shock she received that killed her as she learned of ray sorrow and the thought of my past misfortunes. Would to God I had died with my poor mother than to be left upon earth a burden to myself, as you see before your eyes. I take my sorrow more to heart than any one born deaf and dumb. They are more happy than I because they know not what it was to be happy before, with a promising future and a happy home, but which now has passed to misfortune and sorrow. God only knows what I have suffered, and what I deserve. God has left me one gift, and that is art, for which you will see I have a great natural talent by looking at the sketch-book I carry. I hope by offering the poems below, which I composed myself, for sale to obtain money enough to study art at the Slade School of Art, University College. What you give will never be missed from your pocket, and all will be put to good use, for I am not a beggar. God will reward you by future good fortunes, for perhaps Providence has been more kind to you than me. If so, assist me all you can, and thus cast a ray of hope and sunshine on a dark and gloomy pathway.
N.B.- I speak both double and single hand language. Any one doubting my affliction can inquire at University College. (British Deaf Times, Nov. 1897, p.3)
The University College Secretary, J.M. Horsburgh was forced to put out a statement in July saying that Leslie was nothing to do with them and had no connection with the Slade School. It would have been simple enough to test his finger spelling ability. He had made all sorts of claims, including being an American artist, but no one saw any of his work apart from the few sketches he showed when begging. He dressed well and liked to stay in good hotels, having carried out his fraud in Ireland as well as Scotland, where he was run out of Glasgow by two detectives and forced to buy a train ticket to London, presumably England being considered fair game.
The BDT article says that he was a little over 18 years old, and, “although he belongs to London, has spent some time in America” (p.3). It says that, as he claimed, he could not hear and had no speech. I wonder if there are records of him in America, but the problem is, he may have used more than one name. The article ends saying that he “is now in prison charged with indecency and begging” (p.4)
I wonder what became of him.
The Dundee Courier & Argus (Dundee, Scotland), Friday, October 22, 1897; pg. 5; Issue 13828
The Dundee Courier & Argus (Dundee, Scotland), Monday, October 25, 1897; pg. 4; Issue 13830
The Morning Post (London, England), Tuesday, July 27, 1897; pg. 3; Issue 39044
The Late Rev R.W.Dodds, C.T.D. Obituary, British Deaf Times 1947, XLV p.87
Wanted to be an Artist. British Deaf Times, Nov. 1897, p.3-4