The RE School

Sapperton School

In 1859 the first school for non-native children in British Columbia was established at Sapperton under the direction of the Rev. John Sheepshanks, acting chaplain of the Royal Engineers.2

New Westminster
11 January 1860
    The Acting Military Chaplain has applied to me for the usual grant to Military Chapel Schools of the sundry equipment ennumerated on the margin.
    I have the honour to request Your Excellency's permission to procure them. I need scarcely say they are indespensible.
    I have the honour to be,
RC Moody
Colonel Commanding
Margin -
Reading Desk and 2 Stools
Communion Table and 2 Chairs
Alter Cloths of white linen
Benches for Divine Service
Three writing desks (common deal) for the children
9 Oil Lamps
2 good sized Cupboards
1 Stove
The expenses of the above will probably be about 60 Pounds.
Return letter on the back:
    In reply to your letter of the 11 January, I have to reply that I cannot sanction any expenditure on account of the military school beyond the sum of 100 Pounds already authorized in my letter of the 11 Oct last.
James Douglas

 Initially, he taught the children himself on the stipend he received as chaplain, but in 1860 Governor James Douglas authorized a grant of 160 for the support of the Anglican Church, a grant which Sheepshanks allocated for school purposes.3 An additional sum of 70 was subscribed by parents in Sapperton to defray the cost of a teacher's salary.4

New Westminster
27 June 1860


    It is my duty as acting chaplain to the troops under your command to call your attention to the school now established in the Camp.

    There are now 28 children in regular attendance for four hours daily, expect Saturday when there is a half-holiday.  They are instructed in reading, writing, arithmetic, singing and the rudiments of the Christian Faith.  The schoolmistress, a daughter of one of the Men, was for some months in one of the Training Schools in England, and under her, the children have already made satisfactory progress; their improvement has been marked especially in general behaviour.

    But it is to the payment of the schoolmistress that I particularily wish to draw your attention.  These 28 children are the representatives of only 13 families, and it is impossible for their parents, unassisted, to raise a sufficient sum for the payment of the schoolmistress in this country where the wages are so very high.  They are desirous to do as much as they can, and by the monthly school payment plan we shall obtain a little over forty (40) pounds per annum.  The pay of the Men is good, but since everything here is so very expensive, I do not think that they could do more than this.  This is quite insufficient for the salary of the schoolmistress.  She could easily obtain more than double this amount either in this colony, or on Vancouver island, and should she wish to leave, as is by no means improbable, for she is young, and may wish to marry, we could not obtain another teacher unless a salary of double the present were offered.  My own belief is that a house with seventy pounds per annum is the lowest renumeration that could be fixed upon.

    It is obvious, therefore, that we are in need of assistance, such assistance as is accorded by Her Majesty's Government to schools for the education of soldier's children at home.

    I need not point out how desirable it would be that the care of the welfare of the children of our soldiers which is manifested at home should be slackened out here, where it is of such high importance that they should be brought up in the fear of God, and in principles of loyalty to the Crown.

    I write, therefore to ask you, sir, to take such steps as you may think most fit to obtain a grant from Her Majesty's Government, in aid of the payment of the Schoolmistress, and the general expenses of the school.

    I may add, that several of the Men who have been upon the Survey have told me that when they have been stationed in a place where there was no regimental school, that have received extra pay to enable them to discharge the expense of their children's schooling.

I am sir,

John Sheepshanks
Acting Chaplin to the Detachment RE

Colonel RC Moody
Commanding RE

 Twenty-eight children from thirteen families stationed at Sapperton attended the Camp School, which operated four hours a day.7

The first teacher at Sapperton was Miss Emily Herring, stepdaughter of Philip Crart of the Royal Engineers. Not much is known about Miss Herring, other than the fact that she was dismissed in March of 1861 for "misconduct."

Royal Engineer Camp
New Westminster
19th March 1861.


I have the honour to request that you will draw the attention of His Excellency the Governor to the total absence at present of education for the Children of the Men of the Royal Engineers serving in British Columbia.

The total number of children is seventy (70), of whom thirty-one (31) are of an age to attend school.

The young woman who recently held the position of schoolmistress, has, from misconduct of a nature proving her entire unfitness for the charge of children, rendered it necessary to dispense with her services.  An unfortunately misplaced sympathy on the part of many of the Detachment, arising however from the Kindest feelings, makes it impracticable for me to obtain the services of another teacher unless at once assisted pecuniarrily by the Government.

Hitherto the men of the Detachment, subscribing at a rate
proportionate to the number of children sent by each, furnished an Income of Thirty-six (36) or Thirty-seven (37) Pounds, that of the Teacher being guaranteed at Forty-five (45) pounds per annum.

In addition to this she enjoyed the privelege of living with her parents in the Camp, her father being a Serjeant.  This renumeration was deemed by me sufficient without applying for Government aid.

I am made aware of the certainty that any other Teacher than the above will not receive the same amount of voluntary support from the sympathy towards the first to which I have above alluded; though I have no doubt that, by firmness with Kindly forbearance on my part and the judicious selection of a successor, a wiser course will be adopted.

Under no circumstances, however, can I sanction the employment of the unfortunate girl who lately filled the position of Teacher.  I cannot find at present the Circular or Authority by which the War Department, under certain circumstances, grant pecuniary aid towards the Schooling of Soldier's children where there is no War Department Teacher, but I am sure such grants are made, and what I now solicit the sanction of His Excellency is to an advance from the Colonial Treasury of the sum of Thirty (30) Pounds per annum with free rations, communicating the circumstances to the Colonial Department for consideration and arrangement with the War Department in England.

With this small amount of assistance and, I trust, the gradual return of ALL the Soldier's children with their Parent's pecuniary contributions, we may early anticipate an income worth the acceptance of a respectable young Teacher.

I am yours etc.
RC Moody
Col. Commanding

The broad definitions of "misconduct" -- especially in this period of social conservatism -- make it difficult to ascertain the reasons behind Miss Herring's termination. In her book New Westminster, The Real Story of How It Began (1985), Hellen Pullem argues that Miss Herring's stepfather was financially insecure and that her dismissal may have had some connection to her inferior social position.8 Outside of speculation, however, there is no explanation for her dismissal.

 When she was dismissed from her post in the Spring of 1861 the Sapperton School closed. It was not reopened until 1863, when Mrs. Anne Moresby was appointed teacher.

Mrs. Moresby was the widow of William Moresby, a lawyer who had practiced in Victoria.9 After her husband's death, Mrs. Moresby was financially distressed and so she accepted the position at Sapperton School, in part because "teaching school was one of the few occupations available to respectable educated women who had to earn their own living."10

The school reopened early in 1863 with Mrs. Moresby as teacher. By that time, the British War Office was providing a small (18 per annum) operating grant and parents were able to subscribe an annual fee of just under 80.

When the Royal Engineers left Sapperton in November of 1863 the school was taken over as a "colonial school" by the British Columbia colonial government.11 Mrs. Moresby stayed on as teacher and for a time was assisted by another teacher, Miss Jessie Nagle, maid in the Household of Colonel Moody. However, attendance at the school fell dramatically with the departure of the Royal Engineers detachment, and "Mrs. Moresby was...obliged to advertise that she was setting up her own private boarding school for young ladies and also boys under the age of eight."12

The history of the first school on the mainland of British Columbia is testimony to the value placed on education by the Royal Engineers and to the sentiments of permanent residents in regard to publicly funded schooling. The value of the history of the Sapperton School lies within these more general observations rather than within the minute details of its existence.

Written and researched by Daniel Hardy, History 355, University of Victoria, April 1998

1 F. Henry Johnson, A History of Public Education in British Columbia, (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1964), p. 22.
2 Hellen C. Pullem, New Westminster: The Real Story of How It All Began, (New Westminster: The Hawkscourt Group, 1985), p. 58.
3Ibid, p. 59.
4 Margaret L. McDonald, "New Westminster, 1859-1871" University of British Columbia, M.A. thesis, 1947, p. 355.
5 Pullem, New Westminster: The Real Story, p. 59.
6 Ibid.
7 Barry Mather and Margaret L. McDonald, New Westminster: The Royal City, (Vancouver: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1958), p. 54.
8 Pullem, New Westminster: The Real Story, p. 59.
9 Donald L. MacLaurin, "The History Education in the Crown Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia and in the Province of British Columbia," University of Washington, Doctorate thesis, 1936, p. 65.
10 Pullem, New Westminster: The Real Story, p. 59.
11 MacLaurin, "The History of Education in the Crown Colonies," p. 65.
12 Pullem, New Westminster: The Real Story, p. 60.
13 Ibid.
14 Ibid, p. 78

The above info is courtesy of Homeroom's Sapperton School page at