Thursday, November 1, 2012

John Douglas and his upbringing - social influences

This post examines how growing up in mid-19th century England influenced and shaped his character and values.
While John Douglas’s schooling nurtured and developed his character and values, the industrial revolution and resultant urbanisation marked the first half of the nineteenth century as a period of profound social change and development in England.  Douglas was deeply influenced and affected by changes resulting from the rise of the middle class and the revolutionary climate created by the dissatisfaction of the newly urbanised working class.  While many of the new professional class tried to emulate the aristocracy by striving for status and upward mobility, others detested the ‘aristocratic ideal’ of social, religious and political domination based on rank, prescription and tradition.  As their numbers and influence grew, they successfully expressed their opposition through specific demands such as the abolition of the Corn Laws.  The aristocratic elite were forced to recognise that the objectives of the middle classes could not be ignored and so they were eventually accommodated within the existing social system.[1]
In particular, Douglas was influenced by the emergence of liberalism, which was a commitment to “freedom as a method and policy in government, as an organising principle in society and as a way of life for the individual and the community” as a social and political force in early Victorian England.[2]  
This was an age of reform beginning with the Reform Bill of 1832 which accorded the emerging middle classes a share of responsible government through a redistribution of seats.[3]  This was followed by the 1833 Factory Act, the reform of local government in towns, the new Poor Laws of 1834, repeal of the restrictive Corn Laws in 1846, the passing of the Ten Hour Act in 1847 and the influence of the Chartist movement.[4]  These reforms led to profound change in England and its gradual transformation from a society dominated by the landed classes towards one that represented the ascendancy of enterprise, industry, and the rise of the middle class.[5]
This growth and development of the middle class led to their gaining greater political and financial status.  The degree of social eminence flowing from this had an impact on the aristocracy, who were increasingly amenable to inter-marrying with the new rich, while the landed gentry were more readily prepared to accept these middle class commoners into country society. 
The public school system, which John Douglas attended, played a central role in this process, as representatives of the old families now mixed with the sons of the new middle classes, for the 1840s were a period where there was a steady growth in the number of middle class boys being sent to public schools.  They went because the public school system was the surest way for these sons of the middle class to assimilate the manners and customs of the classes above them, hopefully leaving as ‘gentlemen.’[6]  Douglas, who came from an impeccable aristocratic background - to all intents and purposes raised as the son of a Marquess - exemplified this process throughout his life. 
The education that Douglas received at Rugby and Durham developed and reinforced his religious outlook, resulting in him becoming a deeply religious man and a devout Anglican.  Religion was central to his family and his oldest brother, Henry Alexander, became the Anglican Bishop of Bombay.[7]  The Christian atmosphere and sense of duty so emphasised at Rugby School reinforced this Christian upbringing, for Arnold maintained that it was not necessary:
that this should be a school for three hundred or even one hundred boys, but it is necessary that it should be a school of Christian gentleman.[8]
Douglas’s 1849 diary,[9] which detailed his experiences at Durham University and provide us with a glimpse of what he considered to be important in his life, recorded for posterity the content of virtually every sermon preached on Sunday, in an era when going to church twice on the Sabbath was the norm.[10]  It also recorded his general reading matter, with spiritual and religious texts such as Aids to reflection by Dr. Martins featuring prominently.[11]  In 1850 Douglas taught Sunday School and came close to emulating his brother’s calling and living in “some comfortable English parsonage”, but instead chose to live what he would later refer to as “an active and varied life.”[12]
Douglas character and personality were shaped by his family’s aristocratic background and privileged position in society, the religious environment he grew up in, the quality of his education, and the impact of the changing society that was early Victorian England.  His family background instilled in him his enduring moral and religious values, sense of duty, fair play, and gentlemanliness and a willingness to take responsibility for his conduct and actions.[13]  The society he lived in was characterised by the emergence of liberalism as a social and political force.  Influenced by this, he became a liberal and remained one all his life, his liberalism comprising the dual elements of a philosophy of freedom and a belief in progress.[14]  Liberalism idealistically aspired to achieve a goal which espoused that:
as man is free, so too does he and his society progress.  Through this freedom and progress comes the social, economic, moral, cultural and spiritual evolution of all men.[15]
From his years at Rugby School, Douglas received the value of knowledge, the virtues of loyalty and moral courage, as well as the maturation of his sense of duty and religious experience.[16]  Rugby also developed his dominant characteristic - independence in both thought and action.  This independence, along with his unshakeable principles and convictions, caused him much trouble throughout his life.
Douglas’s peers frequently commented on this independence, his liberal philosophy and an unyielding commitment to his beliefs.  Known as “a hard-working man,”[17] the North Queensland Register reflected that he was a gentleman who “bore a high reputation for honesty and integrity.”[18]  Unfortunately, he was equally known for his extreme obstinacy.[19]  Despite this, Douglas was recognised by his friends as having “the vision of a statesman, the soul of a patriot, and his honour always seemed to [be] something lustrous.”[20] 
The family he was born into and the benefit of his education were also remarked upon.  The noted pastoralist in New South Wales, James Macarthur, for instance, noted that: “Douglas is a man of old family and educated as a gentleman.”[21]  Gilbert White, the bishop of Carpentaria, remarked that Douglas was “a gentleman in the truest sense of the term,”[22] while Queensland political chronicler Charles Bernays coined the apt phrase “Douglas the erudite,”[23] as befits “a man of very considerable learning.”[24]  Spencer Browne, who worked as a journalist with Douglas on the Brisbane Courier, was of the opinion that:
his work was bright and scholarly, as became a Rugby boy and a university man.[25]
In nineteenth century England, the term “Christian” signified moral values, especially selflessness.[26]  Douglas amply demonstrated this selflessness throughout his life.  Browne attested that from Douglas he “learnt the duty of real service to my country.”[27]  In his memoirs, Browne wrote about John Douglas and John Flood (a fellow journalist and editor) that, “they were above small things in working for Queensland.  Where do I come in did not occur to either of them.”[28]  And most tellingly of all:
To me John Douglas ranks with the best of those who have led a government in this land of ours for absolute purity of motive and loftiness of aspiration.  He had absolutely nothing to gain from his political service - at any rate, he gained nothing in the monetary sense.  It always seems to me a great tribute to a political leader in a young country that his friends should be able to say; ‘he died a poor man!’[29]

[1] Richard Brown.  Church and State in Modern Britain 1700-1850.  London, Routledge, 1991, pp. 407-22
[2] Mason, p. 9: “Liberalism.”  Encyclopaedia Britannica.  14th ed.  Chicago, 1969, vol 13, pp. 1017-18
[3] James Hagan, ed.  Modern History and its Themes.  Melbourne, Longman, 1978, pp. 66-71
[4] Ibid., pp. 71-76: Dorothy Marshall.  Industrial England, 1776-1851.  London, Routledge & Kegan Hall, 1973, p. 168
[5] H. R Crowie.  Nationalism and Internationalism in the Modern World.  Rev. ed. Melbourne, Nelson, 1986, p. 41
[6] Asa Briggs.  Victorian People.  London, Penguin, 1965, pp. 152-3: Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy.  The Old School Tie:  The Phenomenon of the English Public School.  New York, Viking Press, 1977, pp. 124-25.  The poet Matthew Arnold expressed this change most eloquently; “It is only in England that this beneficial salutary inter-mixture of classes takes place.  Look at the bottle-merchant’s son, and the Plantagenet being brought up side by side.  None of your absurd separations and seventy-two quarterings here.  Very likely young Bottles will end by being a lord himself.”
[7] Robert Douglas, p. 3
[8] Quoted in Briggs, p. 151
[9] John Douglas.  “1849 Diary.”  Douglas Papers, John Oxley Library, State of Library of Queensland, OM 89/3/A
[10] Mason, p. 5; Whiting, p. 265
[11] Mason., p. 6
[12] John Douglas to Edward Douglas 11 June 1899.  Douglas Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/B/2/(c)/9
[13] Mason, pp. 9-10
[14] In 1883, Douglas told a public meeting “he had always advocated the principles of progress and liberality, and defied anyone to point out a single act of his which was not characterised by such principles.”  (“Mr. Douglas at Drayton.”  Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser, 26 September 1883)
[15] Mason, p. 10
[16] Ibid.  Douglas also learnt to “take rubs with a good grace,” which epitomised the “old English spirit” he was taught to cultivate at school.  (Sydney Morning Herald, 20 December 1860, p. 2)
[17] W. Frederick Morrison, p. 180
[18] “Death of John Douglas.”  North Queensland Register.  Supplement, 25 July 1904, p. 29
[19] Bernays, p. 57
[20] Browne (1927), p. 73
[21] J. B. Hirst.  The Strange Birth of Colonial Democracy:  New South Wales 1848-1884.  Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1988, p. 92
[22] Gilbert White.  Thirty Years in Tropical Australia.  London, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919, p. 218
[23]Bernays, p. 28
[24] Ibid., p. 41
[25] Browne (1927), p. 73
[26] McCrum, p. 4
[27] Browne (1927), p. 73
[28] Ibid.
[29] Ibid.  Browne also made the pithy observation that Douglas “had abstained from; ’making good’ financially - which is a contradiction in terms, while he was Premier.”