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
11 January 1860
Military Chaplain has applied to me for the usual grant to
Military Chapel Schools of the sundry equipment ennumerated on
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
I am sir,
Acting Chaplin to the Detachment RE
Colonel RC Moody
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."
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
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.
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
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
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.
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,
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.
14 Ibid, p. 78
The above info is
courtesy of Homeroom's
Sapperton School page at http://www.mala.bc.ca/homeroom/Content/Schools/Public/Sapprtn.htm