Training Boys for Colonial Life

T. C. Bridges in the Empire Review July 1 1908

Training Boys for Colonial Life

T. C. Bridges in the Empire Review July 1 1908

Training Boys for Colonial Life

Once a YoungMan is Established on a Well-Chosen, Properly-Stocked Farm, Which he has the Will and Knowledge to Work, he is Independent — No Premiums Should be Paid to any Farmer to Teach the Lads—How Young Englishmen may be Made to Fit In.

T. C. Bridges in the Empire Review.

IT is the custom for we11-to-do parents to decide on their son's future profession before he is sent to school. This is ren-

dered necessary by the fact that the average public school has two sides, a classical and a modern, the teaching in which runs on very different lines.

The great disadvantage of the system of choosing a boy's profession for him at so early an age is that it may be later discovered that he has no natural aptitude for the career picked out for him. Or he may prove not to have brains enough to pass the necessary examinations. Every public school yearly superannuates a large number of boys who, for one reason or another, have not reached a standard or form commensurate with their age.

Such boys fare badly. Berths are found for many in banks and counting-houses, and a few favored boys receive allowances large enough to permit them to play at some profession. For the rest there are two alternatives, emigration or enlistment. The spirit of adventure still lives in the young Briton's breast, and, as a rule, he grasps eagerly at the idea of life in a new country. It really does not much matter where. Geography is not a subject to which much attention is paid in British schools, and Canada, the Cape or California, are all much the same thing to the ardent young emigrant. He has not, as a rule, the faintest idea of what he is going to do when he gets to his destination. Asked, he will vaguely answer, “farming,” but what he is going to farm he has no notion. His head is really full of his new gun and of the game which he will find in those great prairies or forests which too often exist onlv in his own imagination.

The delusion that anyone can run a farm is extraordinarily widespread. British parents, clergymen especially, have the most solid belief that the boy who is unable to pass a Cambridge local can yet make a success of a highly technical business like farming. And that, too, without the slightest previous training. It is quite the exception to find the father who, when it has been definitely decided that his son shall emigrate, sends the boy to an agricultural college. Colonial mining men may jeer at a Freiberg expert, and on the same principle it may be supposed that a pound of farming theory is worth less than an ounce of practice. Yet a year or two in an English agricultural college is a most useful investment, as hundreds of successful colonial farmers can testify to-day.

The unfortunate youth who is shipped out to Canada or to the States without having had any previous experience of farm life feels a perfect fool, and is the butt of men who at home would have been in the position of his father’s servants. He can use neither spade nor hoe, let alone an axe, and as for hitching a horse to a plough you might better give him a binomial theorem to work out. No more humiliating position can be conceived, and however willing such a boy may be to work and make the best of things, such an experience will be bitterly remembered for many a long year.

The very worst blunder which parents make when they send their sons to colonies is that of paying a premium to a farmer to teach the boy his business. The premium is invariably a heavy one, averaging at least a hundred pounds, a sum sufficient in many cases to start the boy on a place of his own,

and ninety-nine times out of a hundred the young pupil will learn absolutely nothing at all. Pupil farmers may be divided into two classes, those caring for nothing but the premium and who, once they have got the pupil, let him do exactly what he pleases ; and those meaner souls, who, not content with hard cash, sweat the last possible ounce of work out of the wretched boy, driving him far harder than they would dare to drive any of their hired servants. I myself spent a year under a man of the latter type, a year of overwork and bad feeding which resulted in a serious attack of blood poisoning, the effects of which I feel to the present day. I have no desire to tar all pupil farmers with the same brush. There are, no doubt, honest men in the business, but they are rare. In nearly all cases the boy learns nothing, and pupil farming is responsible for more of those unfortunate ne-er-do-weels knows as “remittance men” than any other one cause.

Over and over again the pupil farmer’s methods have been exposed in the press of this and other countries, yet the middle class father never seems to learn any better, and every year hundreds of boys are sent out to learn farming under men who are either careless and irresponsible, or else rough brutes not fitted to be in charge of niggers, let alone decently nurtured English lads. Another strong objection to the pupil farming system is that the farmer’s immediate ambition is to sell land to the father of his pupil. Needless to say, the land is usually the worst in the neighborhood, while the price paid is two or three times greater than that of the best. The wretched pupil, when his term of bondage is over, finds himself saddled with a property which is far worse than useless, for more must be put into it in the shape of work and fertilizers than is ever likely to be taken out. In most cases the boy would do far better to cut a bad bargain at once, than to go on pitching good money after bad, but, as a rule, he cannot find it in his heart to abandon a place upon which so much has already been spent.

Businessmen, Canadians especially, can hardly credit anyone with sufficient idiotcy to buy property without first seeing it, but, believe me, very many do so. I have personally seen scores of such cases, the purchasers who were most frequently English clergymen being completely fooled by the

specious letters and carefully concocted testimonial:» sent to them by the sellers. Oddly enough, one of the worst land swindlers whom I ever came across was an Englishman who had, himself, been in Holy Orders, lie had originally been plucked for a pigeon, and like a good many such had ended by turning rook. Buying land in a new country is at all times a risky business, and it is far better from every point of view to let the young colonist do his own buying after he has acquired sufficient experience to know what he wants.

Nothing is more strange to the English visitor in a new country than to notice the extraordinary reversal of positions which takes place. He sees younger sons of good families leading miserable, hand-to-mouth existences, badly dressed, ill-fed, and in too many cases with that shabby, unshaven appearance which is the surest sign of loss of self-respect. On the other hand, he meets sons of mechanics or farm laborers, men who never had anything but a board school education, and not much of that, prosperous, well-dressed and making money hand over fist. This brings me to another cruel blunder of middle class emigration. Fathers of public school failures, one and all, consider it necessary to give their boys an allowance when they send them abroad. Such an allowance is the worst handicap imaginable to a youngster who is supposed to be going to make his own living. It removes the spur of necessity. What boy who has never earned half a crown in his life is going to take off his coat and plough wheat or hoe orange trees when he has money in his pocket or credit at the store? Can you blame him if he goes shooting or fishing instead? You can live on very little in a new country. House room, fuel and game can usually be had for nothing. I have lived in comfort in South Florida and kept a pony on considerably less than a pound a week. The young fellow who not only has money when he lands, but can look forward to a certain sum paid quarterly, is almost certain to degenerate into that most hopeless of pitiable objects, a “remittance man.” The “remittance man” is the most accomplished loafer in existence. The only money he ever makes is at pool or poker. The more decent sort ride and shoot. The majority drift from one saloon to another, ami celebrate each cheque from home by a

spell of bestial drunkenness. The “remit-

tance man" frequently develops an extraordinary talent for lying, which is chiefly exhibited-in his letters home. Works of art these are. Every device by which money can be coaxed from the pockets of his parents or relatives is employed unstintingly. Xo other mortal ever suffered from such a variety or complication of disasters as are detailed in these epistles. Broken arms and legs, fevers and ague, frosts and droughts, floods and fires, every imaginable evil incident to life in a new land is used to work upon his people’s sympathies and to provide the wherewithal for more whiskey, pool and poker.

People at home utterly fail to realize the harm which “remittance men" do, not to themselves alone, but also to England. W e owe it absolutely to the “remittance man" that in most new countries any one can get work more easily than an Englishman, and any Englishman more easily than one who is suspected of being a gentleman’s son.

The surest sign of a well-born tenderfoot in the eyes of the Canadian or Australian farmer is the wearing of riding breeches and a tweed cap. A man who turns up in such a costume may canvass work in vain. He will not find anyone willing to give him board and lodging, let alone pay. Colonials refuse to believe that such a man can work. They will far sooner take on the roughest looking navvy who ever took a steerage passage. This matter of costume may seem trifling, but it is not so in reality. Every young fellow who means to try his fortune oversea should thoroughly understand this. Thousands of pounds are wasted every year on ridiculous outfits for young emigrants. The outfitter naturally imposes on the ignorance of his customer, and sells him chests full of utterly useless rubbish upon which he has to pay enormous import duties, and which he generally sells for what the stufif will fetch soon after he has reached his destination. I remember that when, some twenty years ago, I emigrated to Florida, I took with me a dozen suits of white drill. All very well for India, but in a country like America, where washing is difficult and dear, and work is plentiful and dirty, these expensive luxuries were never worn at all. A couple of rough tweed suits would have been worth any number of white drill.

Most fearful and wonderful are the garbs in which the young immigrant arravs him-

self. I have seen a youngster who ought to have known better gallop through a Florida tow n got up in baggy white riding breeches, vellow field boots, a dirty white shirt, a cricket blazer, and a large pith helmet. Ami this on a Sunday morning, when the American population was on its way to its various churches! W hat would happen if an American behaved in such fashion in an English country town? Would he * not stand a very good chance of being run in as a wandering lunatic?

But that point of view never seemed to occur to the choice spirits of this particular English colony, and their behavior was a constant source of humiliation to those of their countrymen who were trying to get a decent living in the neighborhood.

What makes it worse is that these and the other silly performances which have done so much to render the middle and upper class Englishman unpopular as a colonist are merely the result of ignorance—ignorance arising from lack of education. I do not desire to run down the English public school. It is one of the finest machines in the world for its purpose, but this I do say, that to send a boy straight from a public school to America or a colony is about the most foolish and cruel performance imaginable. Greek and Latin are perfectly useless to a man who has to earn a living by manual labor; skill at cricket and football are not of special value, except in so far as they have hardened the young emigrant’s muscles. A public school boy has usually a lordly contempt for all outside his own class, and that is the very quality which least endears him to colonials or Americans. Mentally he lumps them all as “bounders,” and the bounders bitterly resent this classification, and in the long run make the newcomer suffer for his narrowness and prejudice.

Another fault of the public school educated emigrant is his utter ignorance of the value of money. Many youngsters who go to the States or Canada do not even know till they arrive there that a dollar is worth 4s. 2d. I saw a newly-landed English boy in New York, who had certainly never before had as much as five pounds in his possession at one time, filling a newly-bought cigar case with twenty-five cent cigars. He was genuinely horrified when I explained to him that he had spent twelve shillings of English money. Green youths like this are

the natural prey of every swindler or bunco man, and many of them reach their destination absolutely penniless and are forced to sell their gun or saddle to keep themselves until a remittance can arrive from home.

By all means let a boy go to a public school, but if lie fails there and it is decided that he is to emigrate, do not, in common justice, fail to give him first some agricultural training. If funds arc not plentiful, there is no need to put him at an expensive agricultural college. Send him to live with a practical working farmer for a year or two. Make him understand that the art of turning a straight furrow is going to be more important to him in his future life than was the composing at school of an hexameter that would scan. Teach him that to “cut and cover“ is a crime, and that there is no disgrace in honest toil. A little veterinary knowledge he will find invaluable. One young fellow whom I knew in Florida had done six months of veterinary work at home before he came out. As a result of that very sketchy and incomplete training he was making twenty dollars (four pounds) a week before he had been in the country a year. There was not a qualified veterinary surgeon within sixty miles. The intending emigrant should also study soils and fertilizers to some extent, but above all he should train himself to do at least eight hours hard work a day. A Wellington boy who afterwards went to America and has done excellently persuaded his people to send away their groomgardener and to let him do the work. For some months he was down at six every morning, groomed the pony, fed the pigs, and dug the garden, with the result that when he eventually arrived at his destination he got well paid work at once. American farmers are no fools. They can tell in a minute what a man is going to be worth to them. They get all they can out of you, but the best of them feed and pay their hands on a scale unknown in the Old Countryr

Were I sending a son to make his living by farming in any new country, I would make a point of first teaching him how to take care of his health. A few lessons in the emergency treatment of accidents, fevers and poisoning, would prove invaluable to the average young emigrant. Doctors are seldom within reach in wild countries, and ignorance of simple remedies may

cost life. Over and over again I have seen mere boys take risks which no sane man who knew the country would dream of. Sleeping out in swamps without even the protection of a tent, eating unripe fruit, working out when their teeth were chattering with ague. Actually, the average young emigrant is ignorant of the use of quinine until he is down with malaria and some older man administers twenty grains a day.

I should also insist on his taking a few lessons in cookery. Nothing kills more promising young colonists than a long-continued course of scrappy, ill-cooked meals. It is every bit as easy to cook decently as badly, and the ability to make the most of pork and beans, flour and cofifee makes all the difference to a bachelor, who is too poor to keep a servant and is therefore obliged to do all his own work. People at home would be appalled could they see how some of their sons live. No cottager or even gipsy fares so hardly as the young emigrant who cannot or is too slack to cook. I have seen an ex-public school boy supping on boiled hominy cooked so long before that a coating of green mold had to be peeled off the top, and flavored with black treacle in which dead cockroaches were floating. The kitchen in which he fed was black with soot and swarming with flies, and when he had finished his horrible meal, he put the plate on the floor for his dog to lick. This was the only washing the utensil got from one week’s end to another. Horrible! you exclaim. Yet perfectly true, and worse things can be told by anyone who has had a few years’ experience of life in a new country.

The average young Englishman, when first forced to fend for hirpself in a frame house or log shanty, is miserably uncomfortable. His horse and dog fare far better than he does himself. It is too much trouble to cook, and he lives on bread, corned beef and tea. In a very short time his health and consequently his spirits begin to suffer. He gets fits of black melancholy. Then comes the critical period. If he has sound sense and ambition to succeed, lie realizes that he must make a change. He gets up a little earlier and cooks porridge for breakfast, and when he comes in in the evening, however tired he may be, he boils potatoes or other vegetables. Many such men develop into excellent cooks’ I have eaten pastry made

by an old Etonian which could not be bettered in an English kitchen, and seen supper tables daintily laid with flowers and clean linen by men who spent ten hours a day ploughing, hoeing and grubbing stumps. The lot of those others who have not sufficient common-sense to see where they are drifting is a sad one. They soon sink to the level of the man already mentioned whose plate was licked clean three times a day by his dog. They lose health and self-respect, and eventually “go under.’’ Conditions of colonial life are so utterly different from anything that exists in England that it is extremely difficult to convey any true impression of them to those who have never been outside our own small islands. In Canada and the United States people “have no use" for the man who is not ready to pitch into any work that comes uppermost. Nothing is infra dig., from cleaning a sewer to stoking at a saw mill. The man who does not work is looked on askance, no matter how much money he has. The ordinary education which an English boy of the middle or upper classes receives is not best fitted to make him understand this simple fact. That is why I would urge most strongly that every boy who his parents intend to send abroad should put in a few months on a farm where he must do exactly the same work as the farmer's sons and laborers. I am not one of those who believe that the English race is decadent. The English boy who has had the proper training can take his

place at once with the best in a new country. A well educated young Scotchman of my acquaintance who had been in America barely three months had an eight hours’ wood chopping match with a big negro who had been accustomed to axe work all his life and beat him. The Scotchman was at the time not quite nineteen years old.

I have explained briefly how I would train a boy for colonial life. When he was ready to go I would endeavor to accompany him to his destination, and there find work for him with some decent, honest farmer. If the boy is good for anything at all, he should certainly be worth his keep to his employer, and after the first six months wages as well. At the end of a year he ought to have made up his mind whether he likes the place and life sufficiently to settle. Then if his work had been satisfactory, I would find the cash necessary to enable him to take up land, build a house and stock his farm. This need not cost a great deal, but, remember, once good land is chosen, the stocking is the most important part of the matter. Those who sink all their capital in land will soon come to grief, the usual result of such foolishness being that their property eventually reverts to the State for unpaid taxes. Once a young fellow is established on a wellchosen, properly-stocked farm which he has the will and knowledge to work, he is independent. More—with reasonable good luck in the way of weather, he should be on the high road to fortune.