Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol III (1901).djvu/225

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Mundella
Mundella
211

vernment, and was appropriately appointed (3 May) vice-president of the committee of council for education, and sworn of the privy council. His administration as vice-president was chiefly marked by the code of 1882. Up to that time the government grant had been assessed almost entirely on the results of individual examination in certain elementary subjects. Hence the attention of teachers and inspectors had in too many cases been directed rather to the number of children who had been prepared to 'pass' the examination than to the skilled methods, the discipline, and general intelligence which should characterise the school as a whole. Mundella's code sought to correct this tendency in three ways: 1. By the recognition for the first time in the infant schools of the manual employments and organlsed play devised by Fröbel. 2. By the introduction of a 'merit grant' designed to reward other forms of excellence than those which could be tabulated in an examination schedule, and to encourage the inventiveness and independent efforts of good teachers. 3. By giving greater scope and variety to the list of optional or 'specific' subjects for use in the higher classes. In these and other ways the code of 1882 made a substantial advance towards many of the most beneficial educational reforms of later years. An important step was taken at the same time in the reorganisation of the inspectorate by establishing a system of annual conferences to be held by the chief inspectors in their several districts.

The development of the South Kensington (afterwards the Victoria and Albert) Museum was also a most congenial subject of Mundella's official work. Outside his office various labours in connection with societies and institutions for technical instruction, for the higher education of women, for the training of schoolmasters, for teaching the blind and the deaf and dumb, for Sunday schooling, and latterly in raising and administering funds for giving poor school-children meals, occupied most of his time.

Mundella left office with Gladstone's government in June 1885. On 6 Feb. 1886, when Gladstone again returned to power, he became president of the board of trade, and was admitted to the cabinet. He adopted Gladstone's home-rule views, and held his post until the defeat of the government in the following July. The chief mark he left on the board of trade was by virtue of his creation of the labour department. This Mundella started in 1886, when he appointed Mr. Burnett, secretary of the Amalgamated Engineers' Trade Society, as labour correspendent. The department was developed by the next administration. After the general election in July 1892 Mundella became once more president of the board of trade, with a seat in the cabinet. He then further strengthened the labour department, and began making its information more widely useful by the publication of the 'Labour Gazette.' A most characteristic act of his administration in the same office was the appointment of two railway servants as inspectors of accidents on railways. At the same time he was able to render another signal service to industrial peace. The settlement of the great coal strike of 1893 by Lord Rosebery as conciliator took place under Mundella's administration at the board of trade. He attached much importance to making such intervention in industrial disputes one of the regular and authorised functions of the board, and had already in 1892 introduced a bill for this purpose. There was then no time to pass it, but he continued to press the matter, and the subsequent passing of substantially the same measure by Mr. Ritchie, his successor in the board of trade on the return to office of the unionists in 1895, was one of the public events which interested him most in the closing years of his life.

It was in 1894-5 that, as chairman of the departmental committee on poor-law schools, Mundella directly rendered his last most important public service. In this committee his power of diligent and thorough investigation, his fine enthusiasm, and his deep sympathy with the claims and the best aspirations of the poor were conspicuously displayed, and the report of his committee convinced the public of the need of reforms which have since been effected. In particular the report demonstrated the evil of herding pauper children together in institutions cut off from the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, in 1894, Mundella had retired from the government under painful circumstances. He had been a director of the New Zealand Loan Company from 1870 to 1892, when he resigned this position upon again taking office. Among his colleagues in the directorate of the company were Sir James Fergusson, at one time postmaster-general, the late Sir George Russell, and Sir John Gorst, now vice-president of the council. The company, once very prosperous, went into liquidation in 1893, and in the following year a public inquiry was held as to its affairs. Feeling that his previous position of director might cast doubt on the impartiality of his department, Mundella at an early stage of these proceedings offered his resig-