The Struggle to Educate

School teaching was a popular form of employment amongst many of my ancestors and it still is for some of my present day relatives. In the past it was one of only a few employments that respectable ladies could pursue. One school teacher that  I have a very soft spot for is my Great, Great Grandmother, Emily Elizabeth Beavan nee Shaw. Emily was born in 1818 in Belfast Ireland. I haven’t been able to find where she received her education in Ireland but at that time, she may have had a governess or attended one of the schools in Belfast. Recent research suggests she may have been a pupil and/or a pupil teacher at the Moravian School near Belfast. The Moravians were very innovative and enlightened educators. Wherever it was that she was educated, she definitely received a good and well rounded education.

Emily was born in Belfast about 1818 and by 1836 was living in New Brunswick Canada with her parents and siblings when, it is said, she is recorded as a student there. She was the daughter of Samuel Shaw, Master Mariner, and Isabella McMorran.

Fortunately, Canada’s Archives have a wealth of information about their teachers and so I was able to discover that Emily, along with her brothers Pringle and Samuel and one other Shaw we think was a sister, Frances, were teaching in New Brunswick during the 1830s and 1840s. Emily was the eldest and her first teacher’s license in King’s County was granted on 18 Sept 1837 when she would have been about 19. Her examination by the Board of Education at that time revealed she had already been teaching for some time in the Parish of Norton. Frances was teaching from at least September 1840. Apparently it was common to petition for a license after already having commenced teaching.

In 1838  Emily married Frederick Williams Cadwalleder Beavan, a surgeon and, perhaps when things were tough, he was also sometimes a teacher. In addition, Emily was a keen author and she wrote a book about life in the backwoods of New Brunswick Canada where she lived at Long Creek and the English Settlement from 1838 to 1845. She mentions schools and teaching on page 52:

Although in this country the local government has done much towards the advancement of schools, yet much improvement requires to be made–not in their simple internal arrangements, for which there is no regular system, but in the more important article of remuneration. The government allows twenty pounds a year to each school; the proprietors, or those persons who send their children to the school, agreeing to pay the teacher a like sum at least (though in some of the older settled parts of the country from forty to fifty pounds is paid by them); as part payment of this sum providing him with board, &c., &c., and this alone is the evil part of the scheme; this boarding in turn with the proprietors, who keep him a week or a month in proportion to the number of the pupils they send, and to make up their share of the year, for which term he is hired, as his engagement is termed–an expression how derogatory to the dignity of many a learned dominie? From this cause the teacher has no home, no depository for his books, which are lost in wandering from place to place; and if he had them, no chance for study: for the log-house filled with children and wheels is no fit abode for a student. This boarding system operates badly in many ways. The nature of the blue nose [a “refugee” from America in the War of Independence] is still leavened with that dislike of coercive measures inherited from their former countrymen, the Yankees. It extends to their children, and each little black-eyed urchin, on his wooden bench and dog-eared Dilworth* in hand  must be treated by his teacher as a free enlightened citizen. But even without this, where is there in any country a schoolmaster daring enough to use a ratan, or birch rod, to that unruly darling from whose mother he knows his evening reception will be sour looks, and tea tinged with sky-blue, but would not rather let the boy make fox-and-geese instead of ciphering, say his lesson when he pleased, and have cream and short-cake for his portion. Another disagreeable thing is, that fond and anxious as they are for “larning,” they have not yet enough of it to appreciate the value of education. The schoolmaster is not yet regarded as the mightiest moral agent of the earth; the true vicegerent of the spirit from above, by which alone the soul is truly taught to plume her wings and shape her course for Heaven. And in this country, where operative power is certain wealth, he who can neither wield axe or scythe may be looked on with a slight shade of contempt: but this only arises from constant association with the people; for were the schoolmaster more his own master, and less under their surveillance by having a dwelling of his own, his situation otherwise would be comfortable and lucrative.

The state of school affairs begins to attract much notice from the legislature, and no doubt the present system of school government will soon be improved. A board of education is appointed in each county, whose office it is to examine candidates for the office of parish school teacher, and report to the local governor as to their competency, previous to his conferring the required license. Trustees are also appointed in the several parishes, who manage the other business connected with them, such as regulating their number, placing masters where they are most wanted, and receiving and apportioning the sum appropriated to their support, or encouragement, by the government. Mr. B. held this situation, and frequent were the visits of the lords of the birch to our domicile, either asking redress for fancied wrongs, or to discuss disputed points of school discipline.

The female teachers are situated much the same, save that many of them, preferring a quiet home to gain, pay for their board out of their cash salary, and give up that which they could otherwise claim from the people. This, however, is by no means general, and the present mistress has come to stay her term with us, although having no occasion for the school, yet wishing to hasten the march of intellect through the back woods, we paid towards it, and boarded the teacher, as if we had.

Although Emily was married and by 1842 she had two small children, she was not, apparently, of the opinion that she could not help her husband earn a living nor, it seems, did her husband object so on 4 October, 1842 Emily sent a petition –

To His Excellency Sir William MacBean George Colebrook K.H. the Lieutenant General of the Province of New Brunswick. 

The humble Petition of Emily E Beavan of the Parish of Johnston, County of Queens 


            That your Petitioner married and residing in the English Settlement with her husband who is a Practitioner of Medicine – that previous to her marriage she taught school having been examined by the Board of Education for Kings County and received her License during the Administration of Sir John Harvey – that the difficulties incidental to and attendant upon their settlement in a roundly alienated neighbourhood where the inhabitants are yet poor are such as to require the utmost energies of all members of a family – that consequently your Petitioner finds it necessary in order to overcome the first difficulties of settlement to aid her husband in his endeavours to make a comfortable home – and your Petitioner flatters herself that in doing this she can make herself useful to the community among whom she resides – that your Petitioner has studied what is called “The Intellectual System of Teaching” and has made herself acquainted with the Theories of Simpson, Mayo, Wildespin and Abott, and studied the models of other writers upon the improved System of Education.

 Your Petitioner therefore prays that her license may be renewed and furthermore that Your Excellency may be pleased to afford her such encouragement as will enable her to establish and conduct a School near her residence in the English Settlement as may serve for a Model for the schools of this Parish. 

The Plan of establishing a Model School in each Parish your Petitioner presumes would be calculated to spread and infuse among the other schools of the Parish a better and more uniform system and more calculated to bring about the results Your Excellency designs than that of a general Model School at Frederickton only since it is apprehended the difficulties and expense attendant upon every teacher’s repairing to Frederickton for training would be such that not more than half the schools would be supplied with teachers. 

Your Petitioner suggests that Parish Model Schools, one in each Parish could be established with but a small addition to the present Government allowance provided a small sum were given to furnish the Schools with books and apparatus.

In case Your excellency should be pleased to grant the prayers of this petition by affording your Petitioner the means of establishing near her present residence which is centrally situated in a populous neighbourhood a Superior School which may serve as a model for the other schools of the parish she will be occasionally assisted by her husband who is prepared to afford information to male applicants upon Theory & Practice of Intellectual System of Teaching. 

Your Petitioner prays that her license may be renewed and that further subject matter of this petition may be recollected by Your Excellency in case of any amendments to the Law regarding Parish Schools and that she may be permitted and encouraged to carry forward her views and your Petitioner referring Your Excellency to the annexed Certificates will as in duty bound ever pray &c &c &c &c

Emily mentions several influences in her petition for a teacher’s license. Some research has revealed :

  • Samuel Wilderspin (1792-1866) trained at a school in London before becoming Master of his own school. He is considered one of the founding fathers of our modern style of teaching and in particular the development of infants schools and schooling. It was Wilderspin who pioneered the idea of school playgrounds. He also wanted to educate the poor.  In his eyes  education was seen as a life long training of the soul and his methods were innovative and eventually flowed through to the teaching of older students.
  • Jacob Abbott was born in America in 1803. He had many talents. He was a Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophycleric, teacher and author and he was the first person to write fictional series for children first publishing the Rollo series in 1835 and then publishing, for girls, the Lucy series forerunners of twentieth century series that we would remember like Biggles and Nancy Drew .
  • In 1831, when Emily would have been about 13 years of age, a new National School educational system was set up in Ireland. The provision of trained teachers for the schools was one of the primary aims of this new system. By encouraging good students to stay on as monitors they could be trained under experienced teachers. These schools became known as ‘Model Schools’ and were part of the philosophy of Wilderspin. I suspect this was how Emily, herself, received some, if not all, of her teacher training and why she was confident with using the system in Canada.

It may be co-incidental that the following undated letter was also located in the archives :

A Table of the Schools in the Parish of Johnston, Co. Queens, showing the number of children in each school and the number of Bibles deficient to afford one to each Pupil.



In reply to His Excellency the Lieut. Governor’s circular requiring information as to the extent the Scriptures are used in Parish School, we beg to refer to the above Table and also to remark that many of the children are not yet sufficiently advanced to be able to read the Scriptures, but that nevertheless they will shortly require them and also that many of those who are able to read them are yet confused [sic] with them. In some of the Schools in a Class from six, seven or more children we found that two or three Bibles in the whole Class. The Scriptures are however, better furnished than any other Book.

The Children in using the Scriptures as a Book merely to learn to read for in the many examinations we have made we have generally found them utterly without any kind of Scriptural Knowledge and this state of things will, we are persuaded, continue without amelioration unless one good school, as a model should be established in each Parish, or some still more efficient plan adopted.  It is presumed the plan of established a Model School in Frederickton only will not be so efficient by itself to answer all the purposes contemplated since the expenses and inconveniences consequent upon each Teacher having to repair to Fredericton for training, would be such that many of them would be without the means and the consequence would be a paucity of Teachers; but if the Model School were established in each Parish, which could be done with but a trifling addition to the present Government allowance and which the Teachers of which Model School could themselves be trained at the General Model School proposed to be established in Frederickton, then the opportunities of Parish Teachers for procuring information and acquiring the system would be rendered easy – at any rate one Superior School in each Parish could not be without its effects.

It is also thought that if each School were furnished in addition to Bibles and Testaments with a few Scripture Prints, Maps and Texts to be placed upon the walls of the School-room, that the conveyance of Scriptural Knowledge would be much facilitated.

We have the honor to be


Your Obedient Servants,

Trustees of Schools for Johnston

[signed] Frederick W.C. Beavan

[signed] Amos J. Cory

[signed] John Johnston

To T.B. Wetmore Esquire

Clerk of the Peace

Queens Co.

I can, however, reliably date it as no earlier than August 1841 when, at the age of 16, Emily’s younger brother Pringle, petitioned to be granted a teacher’s licence in Queens County, New Brunswick. He stated that he wished to keep a school in the Parish of Johnston. On 9 July 1841, he had been examined by the Board of Education. At that examination they found he was a native of Ireland and a member of the Church of Scotland and they believed he was a person of good moral character with loyal and constitutional principles and that his qualifications were such that he was fit to be a Parish School Teacher. The licence was duly granted 19 August 1841 and as Pringle is mentioned in the above table, the letter can be no earlier than August 1841. Emily’s husband is one of Trustees who signed the letter.

In 1842 Pringle was listed as a teacher in the Parish of Johnston for the six months ending 1 January 1842. Unlike his sister Frances, who was paid £8 plus board and lodgings for twelve months, he was paid £12 for half that time. He also petitioned again for another licence in Queens County in September, 1842 due to a better offer of £15 and board and lodgings. His brother-in-law, Frederick W.C. Beavan, acting as one of the Trustees of Schools for the Parish of Johnston, provided a recommendation for his licence stating that:

 We consider him a young man of rather more than ordinary talent and being yet very young, capable of rendering himself truly valuable as a Teacher…………..He is a member of the Church of Scotland and is now engaged to teach in a different school from last year, but in the same Parish – the cause of his removal was an increase in salary and better comforts. The number of children likely to attend his school will be about twenty and the salary afforded him by the people will be fifteen pounds with Board and Lodging.

It seems their proposal for a broad system of rural model schools was not forthcoming.   In 1848 the government established a Normal School at Fredericton with only two associated model schools, one in Fredericton and one at Saint John and the Saint John school was closed in 1850. Emily and her husband left Canada in 1845 returning to her husband’s family home in Blanchland Northumberland when his father passed away. They stayed until 1852 when they emigrated to Australia.

Emily did not appear to teach after leaving Canada but her brother Pringle continued to teach there until his retirement. This was after a short stint back in Ireland and another travelling the gold country of California. In the meantime their youngest sister, Adelaide, continued the tradition back in Ireland where she worked as a teacher at the Model School in Belfast. Adelaide never married and after a career lasting 35 years, she retired in 1892. A ceremony acknowledging her contribution to the education of many of Belfast’s citizens was recorded in the Belfast Newsletter:

 An interesting ceremony took place on the occasion of the retirement of Miss Adelaide Shaw from her position as teacher in the Belfast Model School, an appointment which she has held since the opening of that institution. The teachers, monitors, and senior scholars met after school hours, when Mr Nolan, on their behalf, in suitable terms, handed to Miss Shaw a very handsome and beautiful present, and gracefully referred to her long and faithful service, and the uniform good feeling that had always prevailed between her and the teachers and scholars. Mr. Harbinson headmaster, also spoke in enlogistic terms of the satisfactory manner in which Miss Shaw had performed her onerous duties for so long a period, and wished her every happiness in her well-earned retirement. Considering Miss Shaw’s long connection with an institution which holds such a high position amongst the seats of learning in Belfast, whether regard be given to the standard of education advanced, the useful knowledge imparted therewith, or the popularity of its gifted teachers, who have so zealously laboured to impart a sound education to so many in this city, all tend to make this event interesting, and add to those honours and tributes of respect already conferred on Miss Shaw during her lengthened and useful career.

The Belfast Model School came about due to a wish in Ireland to encourage persons of character and ability to become teachers. In order to do this a system called ‘The Model System’ was set up and Ireland was divided into school districts. In each district there was to be a Model School which was a ‘model’ for the other schools. On 19 May 1857 the thirteenth Model School was opened in Divis Street, Belfast. The school provided both religious and secular education for up to 1500 pupils; with day school for children and evening classes for adults. Girls and boys were educated in separate classes and while arithmetic was considered the most important and difficult subject taught, examinations were held for all subjects including reading and writing. Pupils had their marks recorded in Judgement Books which were signed by parents every weekend but real friendship also developed between the teachers and the pupils.

Like many Irish that arrived in New Brunswick, Emily and her siblings chose teaching as a career and remained so, despite poor working conditions and pay. In New Brunswick there was, however, a small measure of security as, by being a licensed teacher, they were on the Provincial payroll and unlike those in other careers, teachers had access to an appeal process that they could use should they not receive their allowance.

As can be seen in the petition and thoughts of Emily she was, like many other Irish teachers in New Brunswick, very willing to promote proper training of teachers and wished to make teaching into a respected and valued profession. In the opinion of one researcher into the impact of Irish school teachers, their devotion to teaching had a huge influence on education at that time and, accordingly, could be considered New Brunswick’s first career teachers. I tend to agree.


* According to Wikipedia, ‘the Reverend Mr. Thomas Dilworth (died 1780) was an English cleric and author of a widely used schoolbook both in Great Britain and America A New Guide to the English Tongue…Published in 1740, by 1773, it was in its thirty-sixth edition. The last American edition was published in 1827…The full-page frontispiece portrait of the author was well-known to generations of doodling school children and is mentioned in Dickens.’


Beavan, Mrs. F. Sketches and Tales Illustrative of Life in the Backwoods of New Brunswick North America, Gleaned from Actual Observation and Experience During a Residence of Seven Years in that Interesting Colony, George Routledge London 1845, p.52. Copy held by author but available online last accessed 23/9/2016

Wilderspin National School, History of the Wildespin School, last accessed 23/9/2016

Athy Model School, History of the School, last accessed 23/9/2016

Archives Hub, Samuel Wilderspin Papers, last accessed 23/9/2016

Johnson Deidre, ‘Readseries’, Jacob Abott, last accessed 23/9/2016

Thompson Marjorie Jardine, biographical notes on Emily Beavan, UNB, Fredericton, various years and also copies held by the author.

Teachers Petitions and Licenses, ‘Emily E Shaw’, 18th August 1837, File RS655, Microfilm Roll F10326, PANB, Fredericton., Canada.

‘Emily E Beavan’, Teachers Petitions and Licenses, 4 October 1842, RS655 Microfilm Roll F10328 PANB, Fredericton, Canada.

Queens County Council, Education, General Correspondence 1831-1877, RS 154 L Microfilm Roll PANB, Fredericton, Canada

‘Pringle Shaw 1841’, Teachers Petitions and Licenses, RS655 Microfilm Roll F10328, PANB, Fredericton, Canada.

Greg Haley, digital photograph 14 Jan 2008, PANB, RS 154-G7, Education-Teachers Lists 1842, 1832-1850 and personal correspondence over a number of years.

‘Pringle Shaw 1841’, Teachers Petitions and Licenses, , RS655 Microfilm Roll F10328, PANB, Fredericton, Canada.

‘Belfast Model School – Retirement of Miss Shaw’, Belfast Newsletter, Issue 23946, Saturday April 2, 1892.

‘History’, Belfast Boys Model School, last accessed 7 July 2013.

Lavorgna, Koral, The Impact of the Irish on New Brunswick Schools last accessed 18/11/2018

Emily’s Quill Pen