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Information on the UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries


“Truly, he was a good man” – The Rev. Charles Orpen, Founder of the Claremont Institution

H Dominic W Stiles30 October 2015

Orpen 001Born in Cork in 1791, Charles Edward Herbert Orpen founded the first Institution for the Deaf in Ireland.  According to his biographer, Emma Lucretia le Fanu, mother of Sheridan Le Fanu, he was supposed to become a doctor, proceeded to do an apprenticeship and then discovered his teacher was not a licentiate of the Dublin College of Surgeons, so he had to embark on a new apprenticeship.  When Charles finally qualified, he toured in England, visiting ‘hospitals, prisons, manufactories &c.’ (Orpen 1836, p.ix).  According to his book ‘Anecdotes’, one of the people he visited was Dr. De Lys in Birmingham, who gave him a report on the newly established Birmingham institution.Orpen Anecdotes

While resident in Edinburgh and London, I had never even heard of the existence of such Asylums in these capitals; and in such ignorance then was I as to the wretched state of the Deaf-mute when uneducated, and the importance and interesting nature of their instruction, that I took so little interest about them, as not even to visit the school in Birmingham at that time.  On looking into the Report, however, I found that it originated from a few lectures on the subject, and the exhibition of a little girl, whom Dr. De Lys and his friend Alexander Blair, Esq. had partially educated for that purpose.  I knew that no such school had ever existed in Ireland; and it occurred to me, that perhaps I might at some future time be able to apply the same means to the same end, for the good of my own country. (ibid, p.ix-x)

Dedication OrpenWe have a copy of Orpen’s concisely titled book, The Contrast between Atheism, Paganism and Christianity, Illustrated; or, the Uneducated Deaf and Dumb, as Heathens, Compared with those who have been Instructed in Language and Revelation, and Taught by the Holy Spirit, as Christians (1828).  It is dedicated by Orpen to Edmond Nugent, Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1827-8.  It appeared in a second edition, as Anecdotes and Annals of the Deaf and Dumb (1836). In it, Orpen tells us how he took a neglected orphaned child called Thomas Collins from a Dublin institution where Orpen had served his apprenticeship under Surgeon Todd, the House of Industry.  Fumbling his way along, being ignorant of teaching, he eventually got the child to acquire some vocabulary and ability to pronounce words and letters (Quarterly Review of Deaf Mute Education, p.365, Anecdotes p.x).  Collins became an appentice printer and printed Orpen’s Anecdotes (p.xi).  The idea of taking an ‘exibition pupil’ like this to demonstrate to the public what might be achieved in the education of a deaf child, was not unique of course.

Inevitably for the period, Orpen was religiously motivated, and the passages he writes in the Anecdotes  demonstrate this.  He is at pains to say that Thomas Collins “knows himself as a sinner, and the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Saviour” (p.xi).

There never was but one missionary to the Deaf and Dumb; that missionary was a Jew ; that Jew was Jesus. Shall we be innocent, if we do not teach them to read his history? (p.384)

Orpen was also supportive of the use of sign lanuage, and in the Anecdotes, where each chapter is supported by extended quotes from various sources, for example p.474-6 qoutes Mr. Lewis Weld of the Pennsylvanian Institute, “it is is capable of expressing the nicest shades of thought, and of application to all the concerns of life.”

As well as supporting the education of Deaf people in sign language, he supported the use of Irish Gaelic, and the Anti-Slavery Society.  In 1823 he married Alicia Sirr, and had a large family (Le Fanu, Chapter 11).  In 1826 when Thomas Collins had a pocket watch, the gift of the Doctor’s brother, stolen, at the trial orpen interpreted for the court (p.106-7).  This shows us that he must have been an able signer.  In 1833 Orpen left Dublin, hoping to open a school in Birkenhead, but it fell through (Le Fanu p.124, p.128-9).  “Schemes at variance with long-established systems and confirmed habits seldom meet with success till after a great length of time has elapsed” (ibid).

When two of his sons went to sea, and were so taken with the beauties of the Cape that they decided to stay there, Orpen determined to follow them, arriving in 1848 (ibid p.137).  Orpen, who was ordained in South Africa, opposed slavery and the exclusion of black people from the Dutch churches (p.210-2).  Le Fanu says of slavery, “Those who have had opportunities of seeing it best know how it brutalizes those who are bent on perpetuating it for their own sordid objects” (ibid p.217).  Orpen died on the 20th of April, 1856 (ibid p.237).  Le Fanu ends her biography, “Truly, he was a good man” (ibid p.243).

Wikipedia entry on Orpen

Charles Edward Herbert Orpen, Anecdotes and Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, 1836 [library historical books]

Claremont 1A Magazine Intended chiefly for the Deaf and Dumb, Vol.3, No. 30, p.86-7

Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute Education, 1888, 1, 364-374.

British Deaf-Mute and Deaf Chronicle, 1895, 4, 145-146. (illus)

Educating the deaf of Ireland. III. The work at Claremont. British Deaf Times, 1904, 1(10), 217-19. (photos)

POLLARD, R. The Avenue: the history of the Claremont Institution (1816-1978). The author, 2001. (illus)

UPDATE: 3/11/2015

Rachel Pollard produced another more extensive book on the Claremont Institution, under the same title in 2006 –
The Avenue: A History of the Claremont Institution, Denzille Press ISBN-10: 0955323908

Alexander Strathern (1844-90), Deaf Missioner

H Dominic W Stiles10 January 2014

Alexander Strathern was one of the founders of the Glasgow Mission to the Deaf.  He was born in Glasgow, son of Sheriff Strathern.  We are told in his obituary (Deaf and Dumb Times, Vol.2 (9), 1891 p.110-111), that he lost his hearing at an early age.  He first attended an ordinary school then was for a time a day pupil at the Glasgow Institution under the tuition of Duncan Andersonstrathern.  He became apprenticed as a wood engraver but did not take to the trade.  After his father’s death he apprenticed himself to the London printers Messrs. Dalziel Brothers, and there became involved with the Royal Association for the Deaf and Dumb, attending meetings and giving lectures.  Returning to Glasgow in 1872, he helped combine the two existing missions, becoming first secretary then later treasurer after James Howard became the missioner. 

After the Rev. Samuel Smith gave up as editor of The Deaf and Dumb Magazine, Alexander took over that task.  He was also involved, with Mr. Paul of Kilmarnock,  in founding the short-lived National Deaf and Dumb Society in 1877.

He married Mary Bellars in 1873, and they had two surviving children.


“He is a magician who has managed to work miracles”* – the Beginnings of Deaf Education in India

H Dominic W Stiles15 March 2013

Babu Jamini Nath Banerji 1869-1921 founded a school for the deaf in Calcutta in the 1890s. Babu Girindranath Bhose, a father of Deaf children, had asked the government to get a teacher from England, however it was decided to send a teacher to England for training. In 1895 Banerji had 20 pupils.  He said (probably to Dr. Roe) when he visited the Derby School (quoted in Our Deaf and Dumb 1895 Vol 2 (3) p.32),

“I made up my mind to do something for my country’s good, and it suddenly dawned upon me that I must teach the deaf and dumb.” He promptly, and with characteristic devotion, commenced to carry out his ideas at once. In the course of an able and eloquent speech he said, “If education does not open the mind and widen the heart, if it does not teach us the duties of life, and above all, if it does not bring us nearer to God, it is not worth our trouble.”

Babu Banerji 001In the brief article it says there were an estimated 200,000 deaf people in India at that time with less than 50 under instruction.

There was at that time a school in Bombay, but after four months there Banerji, who had struggled with a copy of one of Arnold’s books given to him by Bhose, decided he needed to travel abroad to learn more.  Banerji enrolled at the oralist Fitzroy Square Training College in London.  Completing the course in a year, and not satisfied with that alone, he went on to Gallaudet with a scholarship from the U.S. government, before returning to India.

The obituary in Silent Worker says,

In 1905, when Sir Robert Carlyle was President of the School, a daily paper in Calcutta wrote a leader that the government should take up the school. Sir Robert asked Principal Banerji as to his opinion. He said it was a matter for the committee to decide, but so far as he was concerned he would oppose such a transfer in order to give the lie to the statement that Indians were incapable of taking any initiative.

References to various publications by Banerji are to be found on the University of Hamburg Sign Language website http://www.sign-lang.uni-hamburg.de/bibweb/miles/1750-1970.html

*The quotation is from Sir Robert Watson-Smyth in Silent Worker.

Around that time, the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society (CEZMS) (1880-1957) was starting to be active, and in the following years schools were opened elsewhere in the subcontinent. It did missionary and health related work particularly in India.  the missionaries were women – ‘Zenana’ refers to the women’s portion of the house in India. Selwyn Oxley was involved to some extent, and there are some of their pamphlets etc., as well as some photographs in the archive collection.  A trawl of the British Deaf Times and related publications will add additional articles on the Schools such as Palamcottah (see photograph below).  The Hon. Secretary in 1931 was a Miss Pell, who gave the Monthly Broadcast Missionary Talk on the radio on 7th June 1931 (BDT 1931 p.101).

palamcottah 001

Deaf Work (C.E.Z.M.S.) in India & Ceylon. Historical Collection.

Education of the Deaf in India, Teacher of the Deaf Vol.33 p.169-75, 1935

John Taylor Lyon, Missioner to the Deaf in Stockton 1918-26

H Dominic W Stiles18 January 2013

John Taylor Lyon became missioner superintendent to the South Durham and Cleveland Mission to the Deaf and Dumb, in 1918.  Based in Stockton-on-Tees, he travelled widely in his area, trying to keep in touch with the local deaf people.  His brief obituary – more of a notice that he had died – gives us little information, but from online records I can say he was 57 when he died, so was born around 1869.  It says, “His conciliatory attitude and spiritual mindedness welded the Mission into one united family, while his never failing tact was always available for settling the slight differences of opinion which are inseparable from all organisations.”

I know he was married, and they had a son, Frank Taylor Lyon, and he was living at 9 West End Terrace, Yarm Road when he died, but I cannot find either of them in the online census record.  If you can, please do comment below.  There may be a record of him in the local mission’s annual reports, or in local archives, however we have hardly anything – only some account sheets from the 1950s.

He died on 1st December, 1926 after some years of ill-health.

Note: While looking for something else my eye was caught by the same name, a J.T. Lyon of Aberdeen, playing as a fullback for Scotland in the second Deaf football international between England and Scotland, on 2nd April 1892.  Is this the same person?  It is!  He was a pupil I have discovered, at Donaldson’s School (from information on our old index cards).  The game, which was played on the West Manchester football ground, had a remarkable 2,500 spectators. The game was 3-2 at half time, then despite fog they came out for the second half and England scored twice again then had a free kick which caused Lyon’s fellow fullback Moodie to storm off. He was persuaded to return and England went on to win 7-2.  Dissent on the sports field is clearly not new!

The Late Mr. J.T. Lyon. British Deaf Times 1927, vol 24 p.11

Updated & extended 15/9/2017 & 19/9

An Example of (Amateur) Deaf History – Mr Pike and the Plymouth Mission

H Dominic W Stiles13 July 2012

A local Deaf man who worked without pay as a missioner at the Plymouth Mission from its foundation in 1897 until Hiram Blount’s appointment in 1899, Frank Pike (1859-1929) was a bookbinder by trade. His is a name that I came across as a Mr Pike, first name unknown, who was supposedly the first missioner at the Plymouth Mission. The same information was on the Plymouth website. I found him by looking through the website Ancestry.co.uk and the census returns for 1901 looking for a Pike who was listed as ‘Deaf’. I only had to look at a few before I found him. Knowing his age in 1901 I could work out an approximate birth year, then use the Free BMD website to see if I could work out when he died. Then I looked in the Mission annual report for 1929 and it has a short note by C.E. Spooner about his death, confirming that it was the Frank Pike I was looking for.

The George Frith book Chosen Vessels mentions him in passing on page 53. A good deal of groundwork family, and indeed, Deaf history, involves this sort of thing, and it is something that anyone with a little time and patience can do. Looking at Frank Pike in earlier census returns shows that his father was a butcher and/or cattle dealer. Frank attended the West of England Institution for the Deaf and Dumb as we see in the 1871 census, where he would have been taught by the head, Mr William R. Scott (born in Stamfordham, Northumberland in about 1811).

The British Deaf Mute Vol 5 1895-6 p.191 Click on for a clearer version

As we see in the picture above, Pike was not in fact the first missioner in Plymouth. That seems to have been the ‘mute’ Mr E. Jones. I have not had the time to search for him – that is one for the Deaf historians and other amateur researchers!

Finally, we have another item from the British Deaf Mute, which says that E.S. Lancaster who was a J.P. and a business man who employed deaf mutes, interpreted for those at this particular meeting. He was a tailor by trade, born in Portsmouth.

British Deaf Mute Volume 5 1895-6, p.212 Click for a large version

British Deaf Plymouth Mission Annual Reports in the Library

1914/15, 1915/16, 1918/19, 1919/20, 1921/22, 1923/24, 1928/29, 1929/30, 1935/36-1945, 1946/47, 1948/49-1957/58, 1960/6`, 1961/62, 1963/64-1965/66

Updated 6/4/2018

Mary Chapman and Bolo, the Deaf boy from Burma

H Dominic W Stiles24 May 2012

Sometime around 1900, a Miss Mary F. Chapman left Britain to become a missionary in the Far East, working for the Church of England Zenana Mission which was active in India, Ceylon and Burma.  Her sister Lena, received an M.B.E. in 1930.  Mary, after being at Kensington High School, did mission work in Tinnevelly, then went to Mount Lavinia in Ceylon, founding a school there in 1911.  After the war Mary went to Burma (1920), supported by the Thankful Hearts League which she had helped organize (Children’s Newspaper, British Deaf Times).  The League had raised a remarkable £27,000 and consequently she was able to start the Mary Chapman Training College for Teachers of the Deaf in Rangoon, where they taught Burmese, Shan and Chinese children “not merely trades, but how to become social and, most important of all, Christian beings.  Around 1930 the work was handed over to the Bible Churchman’s Missionary Society, and in 1931 Mary Chapman was able to fulfill her dream of doing missionary work in Palestine.  Her aim was to train teachers who could then teach Deaf children of their own particular religious or ethnic group.

Bolo Ba Mu Martin (the appended ‘Martin’ coming from the church in Bedford that sponsored him), was born in about 1915.  He ended up in the Rangoon school.  He became a skilled cabinet maker and carpenter, and was a King’s scout.  He wished to go with Mary to Palestine and raised the money for his fare by painting picture postcards.  From the 1933 Children’s Newspaper we learn that Bolo, then 18, was on holiday in England, and gave a broadcast with Mary Chapman on 20th August 1933 about the missionary work.

I found this record on the web, showing Bolo as becoming naturalised in 1963, and working as a porter at a hotel in Dunbarton:

LIST of Aliens to whom Certificates of Naturalisation have been granted by the Secretary of State and whose Oaths of Allegiance have been registered in the Home Office during the month of April 1963.
The date in each case is the date of naturalisation.  Bolo Ba Mu, known as Bolo Ba Mu Martin ; Burma; Hotel Porter; Loch Lomond Hotel, Balloch, Dunbartonshire. 19th March 1963.

Quite what became of Bolo in the intervening years, and after 1963, I do not know, but there may be people who recall him from those latter years.  With all these leads I think someone could put together an interesting story about Bolo and the Rangoon Mission.  Over to the researchers!

A Pioneer again goes pioneering. Further work for the deaf and dumb in Palestine. British Deaf Times 1931, p.75.

Hull, Miss S.E., A few words on the extension of our work. 4 page pamphlet, Historical Collection. ca. 1920

[Article updated with new link 16/12/2015]

12/4/2019 The Children’s Newspaper is no longer freely available and unfortunately I cannot give the exact reference to the issue or pages as I originally linked to the pdf.



The first ordained Deaf Church of England clergyman

H Dominic W Stiles17 February 2012

PEARCE, Rev. Richard Aslatt (1854-1928)

Richard Pearce was born in Hampshire, the son of solicitor and Southampton Town Clerk Richard S. Pearce. Three of his four children were deaf. He was educated entirely on the manual system at the Brighton Institution as a private pupil of William Sleight for twelve years. His father paid £50 a year for this personal tuition, which was a large sum at the time.  Having left school at 18, Richard Pearce met the Rev. C. Mansfield Owen, who had a Deaf cousin and knew sign language. Pearce became involved in mission work with Deaf people in the Hampshire diocese and with Owen’s support took Holy Orders in 1885, becoming “the first ordained deaf mute clergyman of the Church of England”. According to the Deaf and Dumb Times,

Her Majesty the Queen, who, as is so well known, is always interested in the deaf and dumb, having heard much of the good work done by both Mr. Pearce and Mr. Owen, expressed her wish to see both gentlemen, and accordingly they had the honour of being presented to the Queen and Her Royal Highness the Princess Beatrice, at Osborne House, on the 16th of January 1886.

In 1887 in St. Saviour’s Church in London, Pearce met Frances, the deaf daughter of the former Governor-General of Canada Charles Monck, (4th Viscount Monck). They married in April 1888. Frances was 43 at the time, and her father, reluctant to give his consent, said “they will be very poor” (Eagling). The couple settled in Southampton where Pearce was working for the Winchester Diocesan Mission to the Deaf and Dumb.

In 1891 the mission opened a new church in Southampton, the building of which was partly financed by Sir Arthur Fairbairn and his sister (Eagling). Richard Pearce spent his life in the area continuing his mission activities, ministering to the local Deaf community. He acted as interpreter at the funeral of his old teacher William Sleight in Brighton in 1912. He retired in  1924, dying at his home in Winchester in 1928. His wife Frances survived him by just two years.

Deaf missioner Rev. Richard Pearce

Deaf and Dumb Times, 1889, 1, 24-25. (picture)

Deaf history. British Deaf News, 1997, Nov, 7.

EAGLING, G.J., A deaf clergyman. Deaf History Journal, 2002, 6(1), 16-31.