Chapter VI. Churches and Schools.

‘I SEE you are in no want of churches in Hobart Town,’ observed the Captain to his official friend.

‘No; we were heathens once, but call ourselves Christians now,’ answered Mr Roberts.

‘But so many for so small a place, and in a land consecrated to villany from its commencement, I never expected to see.’

‘I dare say not. Most folks at a distance take us in Tasmania to be a cross between a wolf and a sloth, not particularly tame and not particularly wise. Yet you must confess you walk about without being bitten, and fall in with fellows not exactly fools.’

‘Right, most certainly, Roberts. Man for man, I'll back your population in point of intelligence against

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any like-sized town of England. The order of your streets is superior to what I can recollect in the old land. Property is certainly as safe. Though what surprised me most was your propriety on Sunday.’

‘What! and did you expect to find us as godless as the whites of India?’

‘I can't help thinking, however, that your strict observance of the Sabbath may be owing to the presence of so many of my countrymen,’ said Captain Douglas.

‘Don't flatter your race too much, my dear fellow, you quite forget they are only so good while inhaling the fogs of Scotland. Let them breathe the clear atmosphere of the colonies, or labour with the moist, hot air of India, or even cross the channel into the novel region of France, and this national institution of church-going becomes a myth.’

‘Then what is the reason of your virtues on that day?’

‘The purity of the blood, of course. The island was for years the dust-hole of Great Britain. There was a striking mixture of nations and crimes. Herded together, the friction, I suppose, rubbed off the vices, which had so obtruded themselves through the skin, and left nothing remaining but the native good. Will that account for it?’

‘I don't see why you should not claim the virtues, when Rome, with as queer an origin, became the model of justice.’

‘You have doubtless noticed, Douglas, that the

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places of worship have an architecture as varied as the denominations. Some, that arose when the Georges, those patterns of taste, illustrated the Fine Arts, have all the elements of beauty adorning the Georgian era of England. Don't you admire St David's Church, now?’

‘It is assuredly more useful than ornamental, but quite an advance upon what I expected to see.’

‘Perhaps you have a sympathy for the deformities of the Scots Church, or the pinched-up pettiness of the Roman Catholic St Joseph's. What think you of the four square walls of the Wesleyan Chapel, with its Grecian portico?’

‘I am not in the humour to criticise what sprang up out of that terrible past. I am sure that those who worked to get these buildings up deserved all honour. As to taste, I expected to see the more modern illustrate the better style. The Independent Chapel of Macquarie Street, though not large, is in thorough good taste. My own later Presbyterian Church is better than the former. The last Episcopalian Church is in advance of the earlier.’

‘Your magnanimous charity, as a new chum, is wonderful as rare. It is believed to be the solemn duty of every snob that comes into the island to express his pity for us benighted savages, while, at the same time, he can show no parallel progress in his own wretched, slow, little market town.’

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‘Remember, I have not been in Britain for so long a time that it will not do for me to make comparisons as to preachers.’

‘You had better not make odious comparisons; for the faithful here of each individual sect have strong convictions that they are highly favoured with parsons.’

‘I must acknowledge my satisfaction, Roberts, with a hasty run through the churches. At St David's I heard a first-class discourse from your bishop, with a thorough good style of singing. My own Presbyterian churches are well served, and rather above the ordinary home standard. There is one old gentleman, at any rate, who could have taken a capital position in Scotland.’

‘And did you enter your handsome Independent Church?’

‘I did, Roberts, and heard a sermon which was logical, profoundly suggestive, full of learning, happy in illustration, and with a delicacy of finish, and a purity of piety, that could not fail to please and benefit a fastidious audience.’

‘What a pity you did not hear some of the ranters. They might have edified even you, a stern Presbyterian.’

‘Never mind that; but I am astonished at the position Dissenters have taken in these Colonies.’

‘Hold there. Don't say that ugly word, or mayhap your head will be broken. There are no Dissenters here, my good fellow, as there is nothing to dissent

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from. We don't even grow Nonconformists, however they may thrive in Britain.’

‘How is that, Roberts?’

‘It is as I said. The Catholic is as good as a Protestant, a Presbyterian as an Episcopalian, a Methodist as either of the others.’

‘Yet it was not always so.’

‘Alas! no, say some, who once reigned supreme, and had the full and only cut at the State loaf for support. But by and by the Romanist thrusts out his hand for some crumbs, and gets them. The Presbyterian thunders at the gate, and wants to know, you know, why he is not admitted to the feast; and, laying his hand upon his spiritual sword, he talks of Bannockburn, Culloden, or some of those places. The Methodist, more meekly, but as readily, pleads his necessities more than rights.’

‘And did he get some of the loaf, too?’

‘He did, after long knocking at the door.’

‘What of the Nonconformists?’

‘Old Governor Arthur offered a salary to their first preacher, and he was flat enough to refuse. Then afterwards his friends began to find fault with those who did gnaw the loaf.’

‘Why so?’

‘On the pretence that their own contribution of taxes was taken against their will and conscience to back up the rest.

‘But wasn't that a dog in the manger style?’

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‘They said not; for they protested that Government, acting for all, could not, and should not, be of any particular religion.’

‘Must they be atheists, then?’

‘No, they wouldn't leave to Government that poor consolation. As men they might be even Muggletonians, but as officers and legislators they ought not to patronise contending sects. It was robbing Peter to pay Paul, and Paul to pay Peter.’

‘And what came out of it at last?’

‘Why, there was another large party, and a pretty strong one, who might go to church, but objected to pay any other than their own parson, and that they would like to do themselves, so as to have a hand in affairs.’

‘But if the four religious bodies held together, the outsiders were too few to take the loaf out of their possession.’

‘True, Douglas; but though the clergy of the four Churches might like the bawbees, the people decided that they should no longer have them from the State.’

‘That is not like my old Scotia; for I fancy the outsiders would, if they could, keep up the loaf system of Government, in expectancy of getting a slice some day. But how is the voluntary system likely to do with such a sparsely populated colony?’

‘An answer cannot be given at once. No one seems to cry out yet, “I am starving.” I believe no parson has lost a stone-weight by the change. There are a

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few who might part with that quantity with decided advantage to themselves.’

Captain Douglas was quite interested in education, although not requiring instruction for his son.

The High School, planted in the Government domain, was a noble structure, and was open freely to the respectable classes, without creed or catechism restraint. On the other hand, a Church of England institution, called after the much-esteemed Archdeacon Hutchins, imposes some restrictions on entrance by the character of its religious teaching. Its scholastic reputation is good. The Roman Catholics have also a Church establishment for youth. The nuns are employed in ladies' tuition. There are, also, a number of well maintained private schools.

Launceston is well provided with schools. Two good boarding-schools, or colleges, have been established in the interior. One at Bishopsbourne, with an estate of three thousand acres, was formed by the first Bishop of Tasmania in 1846, and that near Ross is under Wesleyan patronage.

A public system of instruction is maintained with efficiency. The schools are scattered throughout the island.

In no respect are the Australian colonies entitled to so much commendation, as in the liberality of their State support to schools for all classes, to public libraries, museums, mechanics' institutes, and universities. In Tasmania, however, certain young men,

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who pass the approval examination, are provided with Government funds for a course at the Cambridge University. This is a noble encouragement to the studious among the Colonial youth.

The Mechanics' Institutes of Hobart Town and Launceston have been always favoured by the authorities, and deserve the public support they have thus received.

Everybody goes to the Hobart Town Museum. This is, naturally, far below that in Melbourne, which can be excelled by only three or four in Great Britain, but it has its attractions to the visitor, and is educational to the young folks. Horace spent many profitable hours there, and at the public library.

With such decided tastes for natural history, our young friend was gratified in being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in Hobart Town, before which excellent papers are often read.

It was at the close of a ramble through some of the literary institutions of the town that Mr Roberts turned to his friend, and said,

‘I should like to know now, whether in all your British experience, you can call to mind any district, containing the ninety thousand odd people this Tasmania possesses, which can exhibit one-half the exponents of our educational progress, or which spends one-fourth the cash that we do for the intellectual, social, and religious advancement of the inhabitants.’

‘I imagine, Roberts, it would puzzle any one to find such a parallel in either England or Scotland.’