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UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries


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A 19th century Deaf civil servant

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 20 January 2012

BATHER, Arthur Henry (1829-92)

Bather was the Honorary Secretary of the Royal Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb. Deafened by scarlet fever at the age of 5, Bather, who was a son of the Recorder of Shrewsbury and nephew of the Archdeacon, was a pupil of Charles Bingham, first at the Manchester Institution, then at his private school in Rugby. Bather gave a description of his school life to the famous Royal Commission  on the Condition of the Blind, the Deaf and the Dumb (1889), where he says

“As I had, fortunately, been taught to read before I came to school, I was able to continue in the grammatical use of language, and I learnt signs, as it were, only for amusement and as a ready means of communication with my schoolfellows, to most of whom a sentence at length would have been unintelligible” (see commission report p.694)

After reading law at a conveyancer’s chambers in London, he was appointed as a clerk in the office of the Accountant-General for the Navy in 1847. In 1854, at the start of the Crimean War he was placed in charge of the branch of this department dealing with claims for transport ships, an appointment which provoked an attack by a shipping company owner who assumed he would not be able to discharge his job. Defended by the First Sea Lord, the man later apologized and said “the claims of the company had never before been so expeditiously and satisfactorily discharged as they had been under Mr Bather’s administration.”

Bather remained in the Accountant-General’s office until 1890, only being denied the top job by his deafness. He held the post of honorary secretary and treasurer of the Royal Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb, of which he was a principal founder and supporter, for nearly 40 years. His brother-in-law Sir A.W.Blomfield was the architect of the church for the Deaf he helped build, St. Saviour’s in Oxford St. (sadly knocked down before the war), and his wife was a daughter of the Bishop of London. According the his obituary, it was no secret that the essays published by Bingham of pupils at the Manchester School, were principally the work of Arthur Bather.  His son Francis Bather FRS became a distinguished palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum.

Bather was neutral regarding Deaf education because of his RAADD position, declaring to the Royal Commission,

“The association is for the benefit of all. I believe our missionaries would say that those taught on the oral system find as great need as any others for help and interpretation with employers of labour and in the business of life, and that they are often utterly isolated and dreary until they have learnt the manual alphabet and signs, and thereby get into free communication with other deaf and dumb persons – the free communication with strangers among hearing people being in fact never yet attained.” (commission report p.695)

A Brief History of the RAD by Arthur Dimmock

Essays by the pupils at the College of the Deaf and Dumb, Rugby, Warwickshire; (with an introduction by H.B.Bingham [principal of the college]). London, Longman, Manchester, T.Sowler, Simms & Dinham, and C.Ambery, Birmingham, B.Hall, and Wrightson & Webb, (and) Rugby, J.C.Crossley, 1845.

Obituary (quoted from the Times). Deaf Chronicle, 1892, 1(11), 126-127.

Obituary. Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute Education, 1892, 3, 123-27.

Report of the Royal commission on the blind, the deaf and dumb, &c., of the United Kingdom 1889.

WOODFORD, D.E. Arthur Henry Bather, 1829-1892. British Deaf History Society, 2002. RNID Library location: C7316 (REF).fsport