The tragedy of William Gibbs

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The tragedy of William Gibbs

Post by rockfreak »

Reading Alex Renton's book about boarding schools, 'Stiff Upper Lip', I came upon the following passage:

...Sometimes suicides caught the public's attention. The most famous and heart-rending was covered by The Times in 1877 and provoked public outcry and eventually another public enquiry. This was the awful case of William Gibbs, a 12-year-old scholar at Christ's Hospital. He hanged himself at the school and was declared by the coroner to have done so 'while in a state of temporary insanity'.
It emerged that Gibbs had been happy until bullied by a prefect, and then caned for insolence to a gym teacher. Gibbs ran away. His father forced him to return to the school where a public flogging - the punishment for running - was in store. He was locked in the infirmary to await this. Two hours later he was found hanged by a cord he had rigged up to a window. Among the correspondence that followed these revelations was testimony from other former Bluecoats. One, a vicar, spelt out in great detail what a flogging for running away meant at Christ's Hospital: thirty strokes with a birch. It was worse than a naval flogging with the cat-o'-nine-tails, he said, explaining how after just one minor punishment he had dug a dozen bits of broken birch road out of the 'raw meat' that was the back of one 'small and delicate lad', beaten unjustly over the theft of some sugar.
'My own opinion is, sir, that poor little Gibbs has been 'done to death' by the bullying and flogging and the fear of more to come', the letter continues. There was a further outcry when the enquiry decided that no individual was to blame for Gibbs's death, but 'shortcomings in the system'. It recommended that the school move out of London (which it eventually did). Christ's Hospital still thrives in Horsham, West Sussex, revelling in its ancient customs and rituals. But there is no mention of the birch or William Gibbs in the official history.

I must say that this saga was news to me, having read the Christ's Hospital Book. Does it crop up anywhere else on this site?
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Re: The tragedy of William Gibbs

Post by AMP »

Not heard of that.

If the punishment of 30 birch strokes for running was common knowledge, why did it take a public enquiry to stop it?

Who sanctioned it and why was it never stopped before?
Last edited by AMP on Sun Apr 26, 2020 5:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The tragedy of William Gibbs

Post by Foureyes »

The very sad story of William Gibbs is well-known to C.H. historians - see, for example, 'Christ's Hospital Pupils 1552-1902' by Ken Mansell, published in 2014, page 16. The matter was discussed in even greater depth in Mansell's book, 'Christ's Hospital in the Victorian Era' pages 30-31, and 212-213.
Every detail was covered by the national Press at the time, there was an Inquiry and, I believe, questions asked in Parliament, so there was no cover-up.
I am not clear by what is meant by '...the official history'?
David :shock:
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Re: The tragedy of William Gibbs

Post by sejintenej »

Foureyes wrote:
Sun Apr 26, 2020 5:31 pm
The very sad story of William Gibbs is well-known to C.H. historians - see, for example, 'Christ's Hospital Pupils 1552-1902' by Ken Mansell, published in 2014, page 16. The matter was discussed in even greater depth in Mansell's book, 'Christ's Hospital in the Victorian Era' pages 30-31, and 212-213.
Every detail was covered by the national Press at the time, there was an Inquiry and, I believe, questions asked in Parliament, so there was no cover-up.
I am not clear by what is meant by '...the official history'?
David :shock:
It was discussed in 2008 under the heading
Hope things are a little better today!!
There was a reference to then modern day punishment at CH Hertford
Je suis prest.

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Re: The tragedy of William Gibbs

Post by rockfreak »

Foureyes wrote:
Sun Apr 26, 2020 5:31 pm
The very sad story of William Gibbs is well-known to C.H. historians - see, for example, 'Christ's Hospital Pupils 1552-1902' by Ken Mansell, published in 2014, page 16. The matter was discussed in even greater depth in Mansell's book, 'Christ's Hospital in the Victorian Era' pages 30-31, and 212-213.
Every detail was covered by the national Press at the time, there was an Inquiry and, I believe, questions asked in Parliament, so there was no cover-up.
I am not clear by what is meant by '...the official history'?
David :shock:
What is the Christ's Hospital Book if not an official history? Good for Ken Mansell in digging out what the CH authorities clearly wanted to hide.

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Re: The tragedy of William Gibbs

Post by bakunin »

AMP wrote:
Sun Apr 26, 2020 5:23 pm
Not heard of that.

If the punishment of 30 birch strokes for running was common knowledge, why did it take a public enquiry to stop it?

Who sanctioned it and why was it never stopped before?
Parallels to the questions people are asking today... Seems like self-contained, closed communities can get away with a lot for a long time before anyone does anything about it.
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Re: The tragedy of William Gibbs

Post by eucsgmrc »

rockfreak wrote:
Sun Apr 26, 2020 5:04 pm
Reading Alex Renton's book about boarding schools, 'Stiff Upper Lip', I came upon the following passage:

...But there is no mention of the birch or William Gibbs in the official history.
and subsequently, rockfreak says "What is the Christ's Hospital Book if not an official history?"

I'd just like to say that my copy of the Christ's Hospital Book (first edition, 1953) doesn't mention poor William Gibbs, but does mention the birch in several places, some of them shocking to a modern reader and even in their own time discreditable to the school. It doesn't read like whitewashing.
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Re: The tragedy of William Gibbs

Post by Foureyes »

rockfreak writes:
"...What is the Christ's Hospital Book if not an official history? Good for Ken Mansell in digging out what the CH authorities clearly wanted to hide..."

I regret that this shows a misunderstanding of both the term 'official history' and of the 'CH Book.' First an 'official history' is one originated by a government or a specific government department in which an author is required to produce a report on one or more specific events. The author is given full access to official records and archives, and is allowed to reach his/her own conclusions. For example, the British Official History of the Great War appeared as a series of 108 (one hundred and eight!) volumes between 1923 and 1949. It was produced by the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence headed (for most of the time) by a retired brigadier-general. This is there for all time as a record of what the British government, civil population and armed forces did during that period. No such official document has ever been produced for Christ's Hospital, sponsored by and financed by the authorities of the school.

Turning now to the 'CH Book' this was a volume produced by a committee of Old Blues, on their own initiative, to mark the 400th anniversary. It aimed to tell the story of C.H. in a collection of extracts from a wide variety of sources including private letters, published reminiscences, newspaper articles, etc. It is by no means a comprehensive history and was intended to inform and entertain as part of the celebrations of the Quattercentenary. Obviously, the C.H. authorities knew that the book was being written and the Duke of Gloucester wrote the Introducion, but the only people who decided on the contents - either to put in or to leave out - were the editor and members of his committee.

Having delved into C.H. history over the past thirty years, albeit in a very amateur way, I can say that there has never been any attempt to hide the story of William Gibb. How could that have been achieved? It is a matter of open public record, and is readily available to anyone who looks for it. For starters, try Googling his name! Ken Mansell's books are outstanding contributions to the history of the school, but I am sure that he would not claim to have second-guessed the school by revealing something they wanted to hide.

So, I would be the last to deny that it was a disgraceful episode, but the suggestion that there was a 'conspiracy theory' to hide it from either the public or historians will not wash in this case. Nor is there any substance in the suggestion that the CH Book is an official history of the school.

David :shock:
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Re: The tragedy of William Gibbs

Post by J.R. »

In 1877, punishments were harsh and generally carried out in public. Having said that, 30 birch strokes does seem excessive.

Don't forget, in our times, both corporal and capital punishment have been abolished.

Well, for us oldies, that is !!
John Rutley. Prep B & Coleridge B. 1958-1963.

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Re: The tragedy of William Gibbs

Post by Ever Bluer »

After he retired in 1970, Clarence Seaman (Thornton A & Barnes B 1920-27, Headmaster 1955-70, Governor) began writing a history of the Foundation from the mid-1850s up to his own times. When he died suddenly in 1974 he had completed only four chapters, which were published by Ian Allan Ltd in 1977 under the title Christ's Hospital: The Last Years in London.

The book's opening chapter, 23 pages long, is entirely about William Gibbs and the public inquiry that followed his death:

Image

Ian Allan the publisher was not only a Governor of CH but went on to serve as an Almoner throughout the Eighties, and from 1981 onwards Ian Allan Ltd were the printers of The Blue.

In these circumstances the suggestion that in our time the CH establishment has somehow hushed up the tragedy of William Gibbs is surely mistaken.
Last edited by Ever Bluer on Fri May 29, 2020 9:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The tragedy of William Gibbs

Post by LHA »

Thanks Ever Bluer, any chance you could post the chapter on here (ok for copyright as just one chapter) but possibly a bit of a faff!

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Re: The tragedy of William Gibbs

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Re: The tragedy of William Gibbs

Post by LHA »

ah yes easier to buy nowadays than I thought!

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Re: The tragedy of William Gibbs

Post by Ajarn Philip »

LHA wrote:
Thu Apr 30, 2020 8:27 am
ah yes easier to buy nowadays than I thought!
When you do, can I borrow it...? :lol:
Phil Underwood Ma A Col A Mid B 68-75

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Re: The tragedy of William Gibbs

Post by AMP »

Ever Bluer wrote:
Wed Apr 29, 2020 10:41 pm

Image

Ian Allan the publisher was not only a Governor of CH but went on to serve as an Almoner throughout the Eighties, and from 1981 onwards Ian Allan Ltd were the printers of The Blue.
He gave a careers talk in the 80s. I had thought he was an OB, but not so according to Wikipedia.
His father was Clerk.
Looks like he was born in the sicker

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