Action for Damages against a Teacher and a School Strike

Sued:                 Annie Cattanach, Bruce Cattanach
Alleged Victim:  Sarah Jane Griffiths
Date:                  June 25th 1915

Mrs Annie Cattanach, an assistant teacher at the Rosemarket school was accused of assaulting one of her young pupils.

It was an apparently a trivial incident  but caused a furore which needed a sheaf of 27 sheets of paper to record it in the files of the Ministry of Education.

A public meeting of parishioners demanded that she “be asked to resign and not enter the school again during school hours”. The school Log Book refers to a “strike” and records “a very vindictive spirit” in the village. 

Mr and Mrs Cattanach were both sued by the child’s next-of-kin.

The following newspaper articles document what happened in both incidents.  These articles have been largely left unedited to capture the language used in court, locations, and people involved.


Children's Strike at Haverfordwest

Before Judge Lloyd Morgan at Haverfordwest on Tuesday.

Thomas Griffiths, The next- of-kin of Sarah Jane Griffiths. an infant, Front street, Rosemarket, sued Bruce Cattanach and Annie Cattanach, Rosemarket. tor £ 25 damages for assault.

Mr Greathead, (solicitor. Pembroke Dock, was for the plaintiff).

Mr A. A. Thomas (instructed by Messrs Lowless and Lowless. solicitors, Pembroke Dock) for the defendants.

Mr Greathead said that Sarah Jane Griffiths was a child ten years of age, and attended the Rhosmarket Non-Provided School until April 13. while the children were going out of school after the morning lessons, she knocked over an oil-stove placed in the middle of the floor.

Mrs Cattanach, who was the wife of Mr Catanach, was engaged as an assistant teacher in the school, and on the stove being knocked over she caught hold of the child and dealt her some severe blows on the head, neck and back. The little girl went home crying bitterly, and told her sister (the girl was an orphan) how Mrs Cattanach had struck her.

She became very ill, and the next day, when Dr Dundas, Neyland, was called in, the child was paralysed, had convulsions, and was unable to speak. For a fortnight the girl was at deaths' door, but after- wards began to recover.

Dr Dundas. Neyland. said he visited the child on April 14, and found her in a feverish state. She complained of headache and back- ache, and was also vomiting constantly. There were no external marks. Early next morning he received an urgent call to go out to Rosemarket and he then found the girl Griffiths unconscious, suffering from convulsions. with the right arm paralysed and the right leg partially so. On one side there was facial paralysis.

The opinion he formed was that the girl was suffering from a very severe nervous shock. Her condition was consistent with her having received a blow on the side of the head or neck, even though there were no external marks. In February he attended the child when she was suffering from biliousness [nausea or vomiting] and a numbness of the right arm. but he did not think there was any connection be- tween the illness then and now.

Dr Mills, Haverfordwest, said the convulsions were of an epileptic form, but that did not mean that they had any connection with epilepsy. He did not think an ordinary shock would cause them in an ordinary child, but it might in a hyper-sensitive child. Both he and Dr Dundas agreed that the convulsions were not due to any mechanical injury, but to shock of some sort. He did not say that the shock was not caused by blows, but the blows would have to be very severe.

A number of school children gave evidence of seeing Mrs Cattanach hit the girl Griffiths, who afterwards cried.

Bertie Davies said he was one of the strikers.

His Honour: How long have you been on strike? Since April.

Mr Greathead mentioned that practically the whole village was on strike since this occurrence. There was a lot of local feeling.

His Honour remarked that the children were taking up a hopelessly improper attitude in staying away from school. But Mrs Cattanach should consider whether her influence in the place was now gone.

For the defence Mrs Cattanach was called. She said she had had a very long experience of teaching, and was asked to go into this school by the managers.

When the girl knocked over the oil stove some oil was spilt on the floor, and she gave her three slaps on the back telling her to be more careful as she might have set the school on fire.

Alexander Bruce Cattanach. husband of the last witness, said that under special circumstances punishment was inflicted by assistant teachers. He had heard of the education committee's regulations, but was not familiar with them.

The punishment inflicted by his wife was only the natural punishment. She did not strike the child on the head.

He was not aware that corporal punishment in the Rosemarket School had been going on to a. rather great extent.

His Honour said he was unable to find that the shock from which the child suffered was entirely connected with the punishment inflicted. After the medical evidence. that would be an unreasonable straining of the case against the defendants.

In this case there was a tremendous conflict of evidence between the children and the teachers, and while he himself did not like the idea of corporal punishment and was opposed to children being knocked about by masters and mistresses, he was not satisfied that in this case the punishment was excessive or unreasonable.

He thought the teacher gave the child some slaps about the back, and that she; was frightened and that was all he could say.

He gave judgment for the defendants, but at the same time expressed the opinion that it would be very much better for the education authority to make arrangements for Mrs Cattanach's removal to some other school.

The following day Mrs Cattanach was absent ill. Other local schools refused to accept Rosemarket children. A rival school was established with 15 pupils in the Chapel vestry, but was declared inefficient by the Authority. 

Village collections raised the fee for a solicitor to act on behalf of parents.

22 parents were then summoned for “neglecting to send their children to school”. The parents complaint was that Mrs Cattanach was not a fit person to have control over children.

July 21st 1915

The Strike at Rosemarket School. 





At the Roose Petty Sessions on Saturday an interesting case, arising out of the recent charge of assault against a school mistress was dealt with.

The magistrates on the bench were Mr J. T. Fisher (in the chair), and the following gentlemen also adjudicated.

Mr T. Rule Owen, Mr S. W. Dawkins, Mr George Herbert Llewellin, Mr E. W. B. Summers, Mr W. T. Davies, and Mr George Thomas (Bicton).

Twenty-two parents were summoned for neglecting to send their children to school, the names of the defendants being Alfred Mathias, Kate Thomas, Albert Stokes, George Russell, John Jenkins, John Nicholas, William Pawlett, Henry LLewellin, Lewis Davies, Emily John, James John, David Adams, Wm. Hayden Rees, James Davies, Henry Davies, Timothy Evans, William John, John Reece John Reynolds, William King, James Davies, and Sarah Jane Thomas.

It was agreed to treat the case against John Nicholas, who was present, as a test case, there being twenty-three summonses for a practically identical offence.

Mr Wheatley, appearing for the Education Authority, said John Nicholas was charged with failing to cause his child to attend school on May 31st without a reasonable excuse for non-attendance. The case was one under the bye-laws approved by the Board of Education.

The trouble had arisen through the alleged assault by one of the teachers, where a County Court judge found there had been no assault. This particular child was not even in the class of this teacher, Mrs Cattanach's conduct was not a reasonable excuse for non-attendance. Mr John Griffiths, school attendance officer said he commenced proceedings by authority.

The defendant's child, Wm. Nicholas, was attending Rosemarket school, but was withdrawn on the afternoon of April 20th, and was not present on May 31st. He visited the home and found Mrs Nicholas had come to the decision, with others, to keep her child away from school so long as Mrs Cattanach was there.

Mr H. E. H. James (Director of Education) said he had had no complaints with regard to the teacher since April. None of the children had attended since that date.

By Mr Greathead He had been applied to for transfers for children, and said it was impossible to grant them as the children were away from school in defiance of the law. He went by the general custom of the committee. No transfer was allowed when it was a capricious removal.

Counsel persisted in his query as to who came to the opinion that this was a capricious removal; and Mr James replied to the Committee, adding that he had been directed in advance before applications for transfers were received. It was a general direction; not a question of any particular transfer but a question of principle.

By Mr Greathead. It would be his duty to bring the matter before the committee, under Article It was a matter of custom, a question of discipline.

Applications for transfers had not been considered as the committee had not yet met this month.

Mr Wheatley said what his friend was asking had not the least reference to the subject. It was reasonable grounds to refuse a transfer when a school properly equipped and only half full was close to the child's home, and especially when the children were already on its books.

Mr Greathead;  Should not applications for transfers be considered under Article 53, and should not the committee state its reasons for deeming these reasonable grounds or otherwise.

Mr James said the Education Committee had considered the case generally but had had no meeting, and so had not stated grounds for refusals of applications for transfer.

He had refused up to now, and would lay the matter before the Committee.

He said this was a capricious refusal, and so he would not grant a transfer without the definite direction of the Committee.

Mr Greathead contended they had a reasonable excuse. Mrs Cattanach was the excuse. The parents objected to her, as the children were under her control, and contended she was not a fit person to have control over children.

A child named Sarah Jane Griffiths had been chastised by Mrs Cattanach, and an enquiry held. It was found she had chastised the child unreasonably.

The Clerk ;Are you prepared to prove that?

Mr Greathead: Yes. This teacher has been allowed to remain. The parents say they cannot dictate to the Committee as to the teacher, but they said they can take their children away and place them elsewhere. That is good law.

There is nothing in the Act by which parents are compelled to send their children to any particular school.

Mr Wheatley said his friend was absolutely wrong. He could quote the case of Jones v. Rowlands to show the authorities had a right to fix the school.

Mr Greathead I don't know the case of Jones v. Rowlands, but- Mr Wheatley: That's what I thought. Mr Greathead: I am willing to abide by it, however. I contend a parent has a right to apply for a transfer, and that applications should be considered under Art. 53.

These have not been so considered. Children have attended at other schools and been refused admission.

The Clerk: All this was after July 2nd.

Mr Greathead: Surely you do not want to take shelter under a technical objection? All the facts of the case have been submitted to the Board of Education in the form of a letter, and no reply has yet been received.

The clerk: Is it in the form of an appeal for a transfer?

Mr Greathead Not yet. Transfers have, he contended, been refused without any consideration. It was said the children were away in defiance of the law, but he denied that. Surely parents had some say in the matter as to where a child should be educated? For obvious reasons, where a teacher was at enmity with a child, a transfer should be given.

Parents were not bound to send a child to school at all, provided they found efficient instruction for it. In regard to 15 of these children they could prove they were now being taught at Rosemarket by an efficient teacher.

If they were compelled to attend Rosemarket school they said they (the children) would be under the control of a person in whom they had no confidence, and who in more than one case had chastised children irregularly and in an unlawful way. She had lost control over the children, in fact.

The Clerk: I don't advise the magistrates to go into that.

Mr Greathead proceeding, said this was a matter affecting 50 children. The parents wanted their children taught by a teacher who would treat them fairly; in Mrs Cattanach he thought they had a teacher who was not capable of exercising control. If she chastised the children it might lead to trouble, and so she might hesitate when serious cases arose. It seemed a pity.

They did not wish to dictate to the Education Committee, but- The Clerk: That is just what you are endeavouring to do, and asking the magistrates to help you.

The Chairman asked if all the children were under Mrs Cattanach. Mr Greathead said they might be. If that was taken as a test case, there were 15 children who were schooled elsewhere, as he had already mentioned.

There were 10 children away, and 23 summonses bad been issued, one child in each family being summoned as a rule.

Mr Wheatley spoke as to "reasonable cause", saying, he had heard nothing that day which constituted reasonable cause. Mrs Cattanach's case had been decided by the County Court judge.

Mr Greathead said that had nothing to do with it.

Mr Wheatley retorted that if his friend mentioned a case not before a court of law, surely he could quote a legal decision.

As to John Nicholas, he assumed the child remained at school from April 13th till April 26th.

There had been an attempt to introduce mob law into the schools. The Education Committee would settle the matter.

It was not a question for the parents to take the law into their own hands.

Referring to the report of the Cattanach case in the "Telegraph," Mr Wheatley laid stress thereon.

Mr Greathead: Judge Lloyd Morgan's private opinion has nothing to do with the case.

Mr Wheatley You blow hot and then cold. You utilise facts one moment and throw them over the next.

Proceeding, he remarked that if evidence were called in as to the instruction some of the children were now receiving, he would show how it was not efficient, and that the teacher was not qualified in any way, she had had only one month's training at Rosemarket, and was trying to teach in one class children under 5 and up to 8 years old.

Punishment for the parents

The bench retired, and on their return into court the Clerk said the magistrates had decided to fine those parents who had given no instruction at all, 5s. each, and to hear what was to be said as to the nature of the education now being given to some of them.

Mr Greathead said he could call the mother of the teacher in question.

Mrs Williams said she was the mother of Miss Mary Ann Williams, who had had three years' experience at Tasker's School. She had 14 or 15 pupils who attended on regular days.

The Clerk: How do you know?

Mrs Williams: I'm there on the spot. They're under my eye.

By Mr Wheatley The children were 5 to 7 years old. Her daughter was as capable as Mrs Cattanach, She was "coming 20." She had passed no examination.

Mr Wheatley: Did you ask the chairman of the Education Committee six months ago if he could get your daughter into school to get some training?

Mrs Williams: I don't remember speaking to Mr Davies. Mr Wheatley:

Where is the new school held?

Mrs Williams: In the chapel vestry.

Mr Wheatley; What furniture is there?

Mrs Williams: Forms, desks, blackboards, copy- books. and so on.

Mr Wheatley Where did they get them from?

Mrs Williams: Wherever such things are sold. Mr Wheatley.

Do you know what books are there?

Mrs Williams: No. Mr Wheatley.

Do you know that the most experienced teachers are placed in charge of kindergartens?

Mrs Williams: My daughter was asked to take charge by the committee for the time.

Mr Wheatley; By the striker's committee?

Mrs Williams: They wanted their children to go somewhere to school.

The Bench decided to make no distinction, and to fine all the defendants 5s each.

Mr Greathead: Do your worships find that the education given their children is not efficient?

The Clerk: That goes without saying.

Mr Greathead Will your worships state a case?

Mr Wheatley: We will be quite prepared to defend it.

After the trial

None of the boycotters returned before end of term. A note in the Ministry files comments that “sometimes people are obstinate”. Perhaps the August weather had a cooling effect that year, for most children attended on the first day of the new term. And all were back by the end of September.