Page:Melbourne and Mars.djvu/9

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7
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL.

Mother always took us into this room on Sunday afternoon and gave us a reading lesson; and generally led us in singing a hymn, taking care that we became letter perfect in words, time and at least the air of the tune. On other days this room was sacred, except some visitor or aunt came, when we were straightened up, put on our best behaviour, and shewn in one at a time.

Our garden was a small piece of rich land, rented from a farmer near by, and shared by a neighbour of ours. We grew peas, radishes, onions, lettuce, celery, cauliflowers, and cabbages, and sometimes had some to sell. Our life was a very happy one. We were poor, true, but we had plenty of food and were warmly clad. In the season we gathered whinberries, blackberries, and nuts, and spent plenty of time in the open air sometimes going miles into the country from our home in the outskirts of the town.

At this time much of the spinning was done by the "Jenny" worked by hand, and my elder sisters had much of their time employed in spinning and winding cope.

We were all taught to read, and write, and reckon. Mother doing part of the teaching, and Mrs. Carter the other part. Mrs. Carter used an old "weaving shop" as a school where she taught about sixty or seventy children the rudiments. So far as it went our education was better than is generally credited to the time. Parents who thought anything of themselves took care that the three R's were well taught. Dunces were not forced to learn and pass a certain standard; when it was found out that they could not or would not learn children were made of use by being sent to work; while those who desired to learn got a reasonable education, and some became scholars.

Indeed, I believe quite as many real scholars were turned out under the free system as under the compulsory one, and certainly more workers grew up under the old mode. I was regarded as rather delicate; for I made the most of my croup, measles, hooping-cough, scarlatina, and other diseases of childhood.

Being the oldest boy, however, I had to do a little light work about the house, to help with the crops, to weed the garden, to run errands, and so gradually became a hardy little chap, and was saved from the interesting, precocious, semi-invalidism into which so many children are now permitted to drop in these days of luxury. There are thousands of thin-necked, flat-chested, big-browed boys in this much-loved colonial land who would soon become robust if trained us I was. My dear mother saw what was best, and while taking all care of me never gave me the impression that I was an object of special attention.

So passed my life until my tenth year, when there were serious reductions in the prices paid to hand-loom weavers. There were now over 100,000 powerlooms in Lancashire, and although hand-looms still outnumbered them two to one prices were reduced. John Drylands, who employed all the people about where we lived, kept reducing wages until we had to work for one-third less, and began to feel the pinch of poverty.