Geoffrey Alley, Librarian: His Life & Work
Chapter 3 — Shelley's Rural Schemes
Shelley's Rural Schemes
James Shelley was 39 when he arrived in Christchurch in July 1920 to become professor of education at Canterbury College. Born to a promising police constable and the daughter of a weaver, he started training as a pupilteacher, but then won a scholarship and entered Cambridge University. His subsequent teaching career included a tutorship at the Chester Diocesan Training College and an assistant lectureship in education at Manchester University, and was capped by his appointment in 1914 as professor of education at Hartley University College, Southampton. He held the Southampton chair for five years, but for the last three of these he was involved in military affairs. He served as a private in the Royal Army Service Corps on the Western Front, and then became an education officer in his division. By 1918 he was Major Shelley, chief instructor in the War Office Cambridge School of Education.
Shelley was strongly influenced by an older man in the education department at Manchester, Joseph John Findlay. Findlay, in turn, had been influenced by such thinkers as Dewey, Pestalozzi, Froebel, and Rein, and by unusually (for the time) close contacts with European educationalists. In particular, Findlay considered that teaching should be child-centred and that teachers should be professionally trained after first acquiring a liberal education, which in the conditions of the time meant attendance at a secondary school until at least the age of 16. He disapproved of the pupilteacher or apprenticeship way of entering the profession, which depended too much on the gamble that the supervising teacher was capable of guiding a young and immature mind. And he laid great stress on the importance of the personal qualities that teachers acquired or developed during their learning and training years. 'The teacher is, above all,' he said, 'a personal influence, and it is through that influence, far more than by the indirect results of school lessons, that he achieves his supreme success.'1
This was the background to the man who burst upon the Canterbury scene in 1920, but an additional factor which caused him to make such an impact there (and which until the publication of Ian Carter's biography page 45could be learned only from other people's memories, since Shelley was allergic to the art of writing) was his personality. 'Missionary, iconoclast, actor, ebullient platform speaker, and striking in appearance', as C.E. Beeby has described him, 'wherever he went – schools, university, army – there was a sudden outcropping of new ideas, old ideas challenged, lectures beyond the limits of his normal duties on a multitude of subjects, poetry readings, dramatic productions, an awakened enthusiasm for the arts.'2
Taken on their own, Shelley's lectures were by no means perfect, according to Beeby, but he was the kind of teacher who could help students to see unity and pattern in the scattered fragments of their learning. 'The shadows in Plato's cave came alive. The adolescent "savages" undergoing initiation ceremonies in Fraser's [i.e. Frazer's] Golden Bough became people like ourselves, with our problems and their solutions.'3
Geoff Alley's memories of Shelley were similar to Beeby's, but he added that 'There was a great deal more to Professor Shelley than a person who started things, who had ideas and could present them so vividly, who read plays in a way that fascinated so many Canterbury students and others. There was also a side to Professor Shelley of meticulous accuracy, of seeing that the last rivet was correctly fitted in the property he was making for a production for the Canterbury University Drama Society.'4 And again: 'He wasn't just a talker, a reader, an actor. He was a doer. His craftsmanship – his ability to work with his hands was quite notable.'5 Beeby's and Alley's comments are those of admirers; others, who did not like Shelley's flamboyant style, were equally vehement.
When Shelley was appointed to his chair, the Canterbury College board of governors hoped to be able to establish a national special school in education, and this aim was reflected in the level of his salary, which was above the professorial average. Within the federal University of New Zealand, however, the board was not able to achieve its aim. Its plans might have been good for the advancement of education as a discipline, but they also held out the possibility of students being attracted to Canterbury from the home grounds of the other colleges. After only six months, in which Shelley actively planned for the proposed school, Canterbury's proposals were declined and he found himself but one of four professors of education in New Zealand. His response was to devote his boundless energy to the wider cultural scene in Canterbury.6
Among other things, Shelley became involved in the work of the Workers' Educational Association. A branch of the WEA had been established in Christchurch in 1915, with J.B. Condliffe as its first tutor. Funding was provided through the colleges by the senate of the University of New Zealand, and from 1918 financial support, matched by a government subsidy, came from the Carnegie Corporation of New York through the page 46university. The branch was governed by a district council, with delegates from affiliated bodies and from the tutorial classes, but there was also a tutorial class committee, composed of equal numbers of representatives from the district council and from Canterbury College, which oversaw the use of money received through the college; and the college approved the appointment of tutors.7
In October 1920 the Canterbury College board of governors appointed Shelley director of extension work. This was to have been a temporary appointment, pending the establishment of the special school, but it continued until Shelley left the college in 1936. At about the same time as Shelley received this appointment, Condliffe, by now professor of economics, was appointed to direct WEA tutorial classes. The obvious potential for conflict was heightened by differences between the two men in personality and in their approach to their work. As Carter has said, 'If Shelley thought Condliffe's method dull and plodding, Condliffe thought Shelley's teaching flashy and superficial.'8
So Shelley, a very urban man with no taste for the rural, decided to devote himself to working for rural people. Condliffe had in fact started on work in this area, which had been a requirement of the Carnegie Corporation when it made its grant in 1918, but he was undoubtedly pleased to hand it over to his uneasy partner. Shelley, in his turn, quickly became aware of what Beeby has called 'the barren intellectual life led by many intelligent men and women in rural areas, where books were scarce, libraries were few and of poor quality, and contact with the whole world of the arts was negligible for all but the wealthy'.9
Shelley wanted especially to bring to country folk the high culture of literature and the arts which he was enthusiastically promoting in lectures and dramatic performances in Christchurch, but there were serious logistical problems in getting materials for study and enjoyment to widely scattered small rural groups. The first solution to these problems to spring from his fertile brain was the box scheme, which became in due course 'the famous Box Scheme' and was copied in other centres. Put into operation after Shelley took over the direction of tutorial classes when Condliffe left Canterbury in 1925, it was described by him in the 1925–26 annual report of the Christchurch WEA as follows:
Each week a box, containing lecture notes, text books, prints and gramophone records is despatched from the Centre to a study group. The group retains the box for one week, then forwards it to the next group, and so on until the box has done the round of seven groups. In order that the scheme should be a success, the size of the study group should not be larger than twenty students. The students must appoint their own leader page 47and secretary, and should meet in a private residence or small public room. A gramophone is essential as the subject studied in the first year was 'The 19th century in Art, Music and Literature.' The lecture notes must be distributed by the leader to the students; who should read them at home and come to the meeting prepared to ask questions or discuss any part of the lecture.10
In making this report, Shelley was in fact telling the district council what he had already done in its name, and it is worth noting that the organisation and administration of the box scheme was centred at the college, taking up an increasing proportion of the time of the WEA's tutororganiser, John Johnson, who was appointed in 1926, and not at Trades Hall. Even so early in his régime Shelley was rather high-handed in his dealings with the district council. All the same, the scheme was a great success, and it continued to be used and admired for many years to come. It did, however, have weaknesses. While it overcame the problems of transport and the shortage of tutors, it also, as Carter has pointed out, tended to be captured by people who were not the workers of the WEA's title: 'its principal beneficiaries rural schoolteachers marooned in remote districts'.11 And D.O.W. Hall, in his history of New Zealand adult education, said that 'it never occurred to anybody that it could be destructive of educational standards in the hands of groups ill-equipped to make a subject come alive for themselves'.12
Hall's comment ignores the fact that Shelley himself seems to have taken the point. Shelley's next move was to think up a way of transporting both study materials and a tutor to the classes in a specially equipped vehicle. Unlike the box scheme, this would require a difficult amount of additional finance, but it would enable the WEA, or Shelley himself, to keep closer tabs on the way classes were conducted.
Shelley outlined his new scheme to the tutorial class committee in February 1928.13 Taking advantage of the recent resignation of the South Canterbury tutor, H.G. (Harold) Miller, who had been appointed Librarian of Victoria University College, he proposed that Miller should be replaced by a travelling tutor who would visit classes, using a motor car adapted for the purpose of carrying library books and a lantern and for providing sleeping accommodation. A gramophone and reproductions of paintings were also fitted into the plans. 'By these means,' he said, 'he would be able to visit a larger number of classes, organise classes in small townships, take an occasional lecture at the classes, deliver library books, and give advice on general educational matters.' Rather unfortunately he added, 'He need not be highly qualified academically', but this was probably intended to justify the attractively low salary he suggested, £300 to £350 per annum. page 48He offered to divert some funds from his drama and psychology classes, and suggested that the Canterbury Progress League would probably assist with the gift of a motor car.
How did Shelley develop this idea? Carter points out that E.J. Howard, a leading WEA figure, had put forward the notion of a van-borne tutor travelling through Canterbury in 1923, but Shelley opted at first for his box scheme.14 The idea of a travelling library was by no means a new one,15 but Shelley was not particularly concerned about libraries as such. Neither of these proposals seems to have led directly to his new proposal. Some other spark was necessary, and this seems to have been provided by a book which Crawford Somerset, who was at this time teaching in Oxford, North Canterbury, and tutoring WEA classes there, drew to Shelley's attention.16 This was Christopher Morley's Parnassus on Wheels, published in the United States in 1917 and in Britain in 1921.
Parnassus on Wheels is a story of R. Mifflin, once a schoolteacher down in Maryland but now a bookseller travelling around rural New England in a horse-drawn wagon, 'a queer wagon, shaped like a van'. It is told by a woman who joined his enterprise and, very satisfactorily, ended up marrying him. Mifflin's philosophy is that 'the man that's got a few good books on his shelf is making his wife happy, giving his children a square deal, and he's likely to be a better citizen himself '. 'The mandarins of culture,' he says, 'what do they do to teach the common folk to read? It's no good writing down lists of books for farmers and compiling five-foot shelves; you've got to go out and visit the people yourself – take the books to them, talk to the teachers and bully the editors of country newspapers and tell the children stories – and then little by little you begin to get good books circulating in the veins of the nation.' The sides of the van could be raised like flaps, revealing shelves standing above shelves, all of them full of books both old and new, and inside there were cooking, sleeping, and storage facilities, a table, and even a wicker chair – and more bookshelves. It was drawn by Peg, 'one of the fattest white horses I ever saw'. Who could not be enthused by Mifflin's Travelling Parnassus?
A deputation from the WEA put its proposal to the Progress League and reported in May 1928 that it had been received sympathetically, and that its request had been referred to the league's agricultural committee for a report.17 This was a dead end, though; the Progress League did not play. But meantime, another player had appeared on the scene. The Carnegie Corporation of New York was about to increase its support to what it called 'the southern Dominions'.
After its creation in 1911, the Carnegie Corporation (to be distinguished from the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust), which was dedicated to helping the British dominions and colonies, provided funding for library buildings, page 49on condition that the libraries within them gave their services free to the citizenry, and also donated church organs where these were required. New Zealand got 17 library buildings, of which the most notable was the one that housed the Dunedin Public Library, and 12 church organs.18 In 1917 this form of grant was discontinued after an adviser recommended that the corporation would do better to assist in the building up of educational infrastructures and local expertise. As we have seen, it helped the New Zealand WEA from 1918, but further applications of the change of policy had to await the appointment as president of the corporation of Frederick P. Keppel, 'a particularly vigorous and imaginative man', in the words of C.E. Beeby.19 Keppel was the son of a successful art dealer and was closely associated with Columbia University, where he had been dean of Columbia College from 1910.
In 1927 the corporation decided to investigate the situation in the dominions in order to establish a programme of assistance which might produce lasting benefits. As a starter, as far as New Zealand was concerned, it granted $5000 to the University of New Zealand for WEA tutorial classes, but its most important initial action was to send a high-ranking emissary to New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa to assess the situation on the ground and recommend a plan of action. This was James E. Russell, emeritus dean of Columbia University's teachers' college and from 1926 founding president of the Carnegie-funded American Association of Adult Education.
Russell was in New Zealand from the end of February until the end of March 1928, when he departed for Australia. He spent two days, 8 and 9 March, in Christchurch. The importance with which his visit was regarded is indicated by a letter which the rector of Canterbury College, Dr James Hight, wrote from his holiday home in Hanmer Springs to the registrar, urging that preparations be made for it and suggesting that 'Among the objects that would appeal most to the Carnegie Trustees are the library, research in education, and students' clubrooms.'20 Hight subsequently met Russell, together with Shelley and J.E. Purchase, principal of the training college, and reported to the chairman of the board of governors on 12 March that he believed the Carnegie Corporation would be prepared to consider applications in respect of one or more of six matters: books and journals on topics in which it was especially interested; libraries; occasional fellowships to persons with outstanding qualities; extension work; a loan fund to subsidise students, especially from country areas; and a subsidy to the Students' Union.21 He suggested that moves should be made to convene an inter-collegiate conference in order to co-ordinate requests, and various meetings and discussions were held between the colleges and the University of New Zealand, but in fact none of those taking part quite page 50realised the importance of Russell's role in making up the corporation's mind, and while the discussions were going on the favourable impressions gained by Russell from his visits to both Canterbury and Otago were taking effect.
In his letter to the chairman of the board of governors, Hight said this of extension work: 'Extension Work. Especially in the country, to bring to the rural districts more of the advantages of higher education in Home Science, cultural subjects, and subjects fundamental to their activities. Dr Russell was very keenly interested in, and impressed by, Professor Shelley's Box Scheme for the W.E.A. which has been so successful and his proposals for a Travelling Tutor.'
Russell pulled no punches in his confidential report on his observations in New Zealand and Australia. His comment on Canterbury College may be taken as typical of his general observations:
Good plant on ample ground in a little bit of Old England. Arts College, Engineering School, and Forestry School with two high schools, secondary art school, museum and public library as adjuncts – these latter supported by old endowments or special Government grants. The only University College with permanent head – now Professor James Hight, who has been in England for a year as exchange professor. Visited Columbia on way home in November last. Engineering equipment apparently exceptionally good for small resources. College library very poor – greatly in need of reference and standard works. Public library fairly good, but badly worn. Each College department gets £5 a year for books.Students about 1200 – two-thirds on part time in classes after 4 p.m.22
This was somewhat more favourable than his comment on Auckland University College: 'Science buildings poorly constructed and poorly equipped. Library meager and scattered among departments … beginnings of schools of law, medicine, forestry, engineering, architecture and commerce, all feeble and poorly equipped … Some exceptionally able instructors, but average not impressive.'
Russell met a gathering of school inspectors in Wellington and was impressed by them, and he was particularly interested in the WEA in each centre, giving details of Shelley's box scheme ('Without Shelley, such results could not be expected') and mentioning Shelley's plans for 'a circulating library' and visits to study groups. In his general observations he said: 'The University of New Zealand is a paper organization designed to keep the Colleges in line … Its sole educational function is to hold examinations and grant degrees … All papers for honors (M.A. degree) are sent to England and read by English examiners, apparently because the Colleges page 51can't trust each other.' The result of colleges dipping into each others' fields in developing professional schools 'is weak colleges in all places and a struggle for preferment, with much wire-pulling for State grants'. 'The one promising sign,' he said, 'is the Workers' Education Association. …It is the one educational enterprise that springs from the people and in which they are learning to help themselves.'23
Russell's final suggestion in his written report was 'that any grants to New Zealand and Australia for 1928–29 be for travel, books, journals, etc, but that thereafter a new policy be instituted with a view to meeting permanent needs. These needs I shall be prepared to discuss at length when I return.'24
After his return to New York, Russell discussed his ideas with Keppel on 30 October 1928. In addition to Shelley's plans for a travelling tutor, he had been impressed by the plans of Otago's Professor Ann G. Strong for home science extension work in rural areas, and he recommended that Shelley's and Strong's projects both be supported. It is not clear whether, at this stage, he thought they should be administered as a single, joint operation, but in accepting the recommendation the corporation established a local advisory committee to oversee both. This committee was convened by Sir James Allen, MLC (a former chancellor of the University of Otago), and the two other members were Christchurch lawyer Norton Francis, who acted as secretary, and South Canterbury landowner John Studholme, currently a member of the Canterbury College board of governors but earlier the virtual founder of the School of Home Science at Otago.
The corporation's decision was that over a five-year period £1500 a year should be paid to Otago and £500 a year to Canterbury for what it called 'The Travelling Library and Home Science Project'.25 It was hoped that these amounts would attract a government subsidy. The decision was conveyed to Allen by Keppel in April 1929,26 though Allen had had prior information of the likely outcome. The northern colleges and the University of New Zealand, which were about to join with Canterbury and Otago in preparing a joint application, were infuriated and made some rather intemperate statements about their southern colleagues' conduct, but in fact none of them, northern or southern, had understood how the Carnegie Corporation, under Keppel's guidance, set about allocating the large sums of money at its disposal. It did not run a lolly-scramble.
In the initial stages of its involvement in any of the communities it became interested in, the corporation's policy was to send someone of some standing to spy out the land and discuss various projects and long-term programmes which might be worthy of support. In choosing Russell to visit the southern dominions, it had picked a man with very high standing, and one, moreover, who was a good friend of Keppel's and in whose judgement page 52Keppel had complete faith. The corporation's regular practice was also to make inquiries of people with whom it had had previous contact in order to get a feel for the place independently of established institutions. In July 1926, for instance, Keppel discussed the situation in Australia and New Zealand with D.B. Copland, a Canterbury graduate who was then professor of economics at the University of Tasmania and the Australasian representative of the corporation. Copland reported to the Australian and New Zealand universities that certain definite, possible objects had been discussed, including 'the provision of more extensive library facilities or classes for outlying districts'.27 In September 1928 John Studholme wrote to Russell, mainly making a case for assistance to Professor Strong's work at Otago but also putting in a word for Shelley, 'an exceptionally enthusiastic and virile man';28 Studholme was then invited to visit Keppel in New York, and it was he who recommended the amounts of the grants to Otago and Canterbury.29
The corporation's next step was to form a local group, independently of institutional hierarchies, and to use that group for advice and as a link with bodies to which grants might be made; in the present case, the group was the one which was convened by Allen. Grants would then be made for a limited period, and it was expected that efforts would be made by local interests to take over full control after the period of pump-priming. Expert advisers would be sent to help when necessary, and suitable local people would be given assistance to gain experience and training in the United States or elsewhere.30 In 1929 the initial stages of a programme of this kind for New Zealand were set in place with respect to rural adult education, but Russell had also mapped out, in his own mind and in Keppel's, a wider programme of which this was a beginning. The Carnegie Corporation had arrived in New Zealand.
If the Carnegie Corporation's modus operandi was not fully understood in New Zealand, there was also confusion in Christchurch over the terms and conditions governing the grant for the travelling library, which was not simply a library project but was an extension of an existing scheme for taking the WEA to rural areas. Canterbury College handled monies received from the government forWEA purposes, including regular subventions from the Carnegie Corporation, and it appointed tutors on the recommendation of the district council of the WEA; it had also appointed Shelley as director of extension work, which meant that he represented the college in its dealings with the WEA, with financial power in his hands. The district council, which was widely representative, determined WEA policy, but needed to obtain the college's approval for decisions with certain financial implications. This was clearly a situation which called for great tact, and Shelley was not naturally tactful. Furthermore, the new scheme page 53which was now being funded was his own idea and he would not have wanted it to be modified or compromised.
When Allen informed Otago and Canterbury of the special Carnegie grants he referred to the Canterbury one as being 'to Canterbury College for the extension of the Workers Educational Association work to country districts not at present served'.31 Intonation and stress would no doubt have decided which element was given priority in a reading of his letter. Five months elapsed before the college informed the WEA of the grant, when Hight, as chairman of the tutorial class committee, reported to the committee 'that the Carnegie Corporation had granted the College £500 per annum for five years for special W.E.A. work'. Shelley then 'stated that he intended to use these funds for his scheme without the necessity of consulting the Committee. He would however consult the chairman.'32
This did not satisfy the secretary of the district council, George Manning, who said 'that the W.E.A. District Council as the parent body of W.E.A. work should be informed on all W.E.A. work in the Province'. Shelley was asked to report on his scheme, 'so that the W.E.A. delegates may report to the District Council'. After a reminder on 12 December33 he produced a memorandum, 'Proposals re University Extension for Submission to the Carnegie Corporation', which was endorsed by the district council on 19 December, 'after a good discussion on the need of the District Council being acquainted with all proposals for extending W.E.A. work'.34
In this memorandum, which was originally written shortly after Russell's visit,35 Shelley expanded the proposal that he had put up in February 1928:
The Scheme is briefly:- the extension of the Box Scheme which I inaugurated two and a half years ago – to develop study groups in small country places, working from notes, gramophone records, portfolios of prints, plays, and books – this scheme has proved very successful indeed, and courses dealing with 'Nineteenth Century Music, Art & Literature', 'Eighteenth Century Music, etc', 'Contemporary Music, etc' and 'Experimental Psychology' are at present being circulated – each course consisting of about 24 weeks' work. This scheme needs developing by the circles being visited by a tutor, who will organise further circles in more remote places. The proposal is to fit up a motor car as a travelling library, lanterns, gramophone, wireless – to be in charge of the tutor who will visit each place in his circuit regularly (say once a fortnight) and generally be a connecting link between the main centre and the countryside.
Shelley had discussed his plans with Strong and put it forward as his half of a joint proposal under which the Canterbury car (and 'Man Tutor') page 54would develop his scheme but also carry pamphlets and material from the Home Science Department of Otago, while an Otago car (and 'Woman Tutor') would promote home science extension work but also carry material of Canterbury's box scheme.
Because of Shelley's aversion to keeping records, and because, within the Carnegie Corporation, so much was decided in conversations between trusting associates, there is no way of telling whether Shelley had been made aware of the corporation's emphasis on the importance of supporting promising individuals rather than formal institutions, but there is no doubt that he was determined not to lose control of what was going to be his crowning achievement in the field of rural adult education. Among other things, he would have seen the appointment of a suitable tutor as being crucial to its success.
In July 1929 John Johnson, who probably knew something of what was going on because of his proximity to Shelley's office, reported on his workload, which had been exacerbated by there being no replacement for Miller in South Canterbury, and suggested separating tutorial class work from the box work in 1930, using the Carnegie £500 to put someone in charge of the box scheme so that he could concentrate on tutorial work. 'From my knowledge of the country districts,' he said, 'I do not think that the time is ripe yet for an extended move forward on new lines; but if we continued quietly what we are at present doing … we are laying a good foundation for something bigger eventually in the years to come, when we shall know just what to give the people and just how to present it'.36 Johnson probably put himself out of the running by making this comment, but in any case his personality was more suited to the sterling work he was doing with the box scheme. Nevertheless, as the new scheme unfolded there were those on the district council who thought that he should have the job.
Walter B. Harris, who as a young man was fairly close to Shelley, reckoned in later life that he was offered the travelling tutorship, but 'I was more interested in teaching so Geoff Alley took it on.'37 Maybe. Perhaps Shelley was looking at all possibilities and perhaps several others were approached too. What is certain is that Shelley made up his mind rather late in the year. His recommendation that Alley be appointed went to the college committee of Canterbury College on 17 December 1929,38 the same day that two members of the district council tried unsuccessfully to promote a recommendation in favour of Johnson.39
In November 1929, when matters were coming to a head, Johnson, quite reasonably, reported again to the tutorial class committee on the amount of work he was trying to cope with and said, 'I should also like to know my position and duties in relation to the new Carnegie scheme.'40 His immediate problems were finally sorted out on 19 December, when page 55a special meeting of the tutorial class committee accepted proposals for reorganisation put forward by Shelley which included the following points: Johnson was to remain in charge of the box scheme; he was to be relieved of other work, partly by the appointment of a young part-time clerk, but was to work in close co-operation with the travelling tutor to start new circles; his title was to be Tutor-Organiser of the Box Scheme Study Circles, and his salary was to be £500 per annum, of which £180 was to come from the Carnegie grant.41
The chronology of these events in 1929 is worth contemplating:
11 April Keppel informed Allen of funding being granted by the Carnegie Corporation. 31 May Allen informed Canterbury and Otago registrars of grants. 22 July Johnson's proposals for use of funds. 29 October Hight informed tutorial class committee; Shelley said he would go it alone. November Johnson asked about his role. 12 December Tutorial class committee asked for copy of scheme. 17 December Copy of scheme to district council of WEA. 17 December Shelley recommended Alley's appointment as tutor, to college committee. 19 December Tutorial class committee settled Johnson's role. 20 December Alley's appointment approved by college board of governors.42
There are many methods of getting one's way. This was Shelley's method.
Alley was a young, but not too young, man, handsome and with a commanding presence. He had had farming experience and was a recent All Black; many a country lad would have had his portrait in his cigarette card collection. He had a good general education and was about to complete his BA and be named senior scholar in education. Shelley had several outstanding students in his entourage and could no doubt have entrusted his scheme to any of them, but it is difficult to think of another who would so well have fitted the criteria for working with country people.