Richard Aslatt Pearce

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Richard Aslatt Pearce
Reverend Richard Aslatt Pearce
Lithograph from photo by Hills & Saunders of Oxford
Born(1855-01-09)9 January 1855
Died21 July 1928(1928-07-21) (aged 73)
Home townWinchester
SpouseFrances Mary Monck
ParentsRichard S. Pearce
Alma materChrist Church Lodge, Winchester
Military service
InstituteWinchester Diocesan Mission to the Deaf and Dumb
ChurchMission Church, Oak Road, Southampton (demolished)
Senior posting
OrdinationDeacon 1885
Chaplain to the Deaf and Dumb

Reverend Richard Aslatt Pearce (1855–1928) was the first deaf person to be ordained as an Anglican clergyman.[1][2][3] He was educated via the sign language of his era, he became Chaplain to the Deaf and Dumb,[n 1] and he fulfilled this duty in the Southampton area for the rest of his life. In 1885 he was introduced to Queen Victoria, who then ordered the Royal Commission on the Blind, the Deaf and Dumb and Others of the United Kingdom, 1889.



Richard Aslatt Pearce was the grandson of Robert Pearce (born 1785) and Sarah Seward (born ca. 1788). Their son, and the father of Richard Aslatt, was Richard Seward Pearce (1820–1893),[5][6] a solicitor and town clerk of Southampton, and Frances Aslatt (1836–1899).[7] Richard and Frances were married in 1854 at South Stoneham.[8][9] He was born in Portswood on 9 January 1855,[10][11] one of four siblings of which three were deaf.[12] Two of his siblings were artist Walter Seward (1862–1941)[13][14][15] and Fanny (1863–1892),[16][17] all three described as "deaf and dumb from birth" in the 1881 Census.[18] His single hearing sibling was solicitor Arthur William Pearce (1858–1928).[19][20][21]

There are two indications that Pearce did not speak. One is that in his own handwriting on the 1911 Census form he differentiated himself, as "deaf and dumb", from his wife whom he described as "deaf."[10] The second is the Hampshire Advertiser's description of his sermon at Golden Common in 1887, as "silent eloquence."[22]


His father paid £50 per year from 1860 to 1872 for him to attend the Brighton Institution for Deaf and Dumb Children at 127–132 Eastern Road, Kemptown, Brighton,[23][24][25][26] where he received private tuition using only the manual system. His headmaster, who gave him personal tuition via the manual and sign system of that era, was William Sleight.[2][27][28][29] The 1861 Census shows him at six years old, already at the Institution, when it had 82 inmates and two teachers besides the headmaster.[30] In 1871 when Pearce was 16 years old, the Institution had 93 inmates, plus several former female inmates employed as servants and as an assistant teacher. Besides the headmaster who taught, the only other teachers besides the deaf former pupil, were an assistant master and a pupil teacher; however all the inmates were described as "scholars." In that year, 40 of the inmates were of unknown origin, and 31 were of vague origin, where only the county or country were known.[31][32]


He met his wife Frances Mary Monck (1845 or 1846 – 1930)[33] at St Saviour's, Oxford Street, in 1887,[34] and they married on 26 April 1888.[35] She was born in Dublin,[10] the daughter of Charles Monck, 4th Viscount Monck, who until 1869 had been Governor General of Canada. Her 1911 Census record, completed in her husband's handwriting, says that she was deaf "from illness".[10] Her father did not want them to marry, believing that because they were both deaf, they would be poor, but they moved to Southampton where Pearce was to remain in employment, serving the deaf community for the rest of his life.[2][28]

Eastern Road Brighton: location of the institution where Pearce was placed for 12 years from the age of five

They had no children.[10] It is not known whether Pearce's childlessness had any connection with recommendations of castration of the congenitally deaf by early 19th century eugenicists who held those views which were later developed by Francis Galton.[36] In 1901 he and his wife were living at 2 Christ Church Road, Winchester, with two servants.[37] The 1911 Census finds them living at Christ Church Lodge, Winchester, where he describes himself as "chaplain to the deaf and dumb in the Diocese of Winchester." It is not known why the same record, completed in R.A. Pearce's own hand, states that he and Frances were deaf "from illness," when according to his 1881 Census record, his father informed the enumerator that he was "deaf and dumb from birth." Similarly, the 1861 and 1871 Census, in which the enumerator was informed by the Brighton Institution, state that the inmate Pearce was "deaf and dumb from birth."[30][32] However by 1911 a congenital condition such as profound deafness could potentially have made him a target for eugenics.[10][36] On 21 July 1928 he died in Winchester at his home,[38] two years before the death on 30 October 1930 of his wife Frances.[2][28]


Signature of Rev. R.A. Pearce, from 1911 Census

He left the Institution in 1872 to work in his father's office as a secretary,[11] but in his free time he sought out other deaf people, assisted and educated them, and organised groups for Sunday worship. His group grew in size, so that his time was needed for more mission work with the deaf in Hampshire. By 1881 he was still living with his parents and siblings, describing himself as "lay reader to deaf and dumb,"[18] He was ordained deacon on Sunday 21 May 1885 by the Bishop of Winchester, after being mentored via sign language by Reverend Charles Mansfield Owen who was at that time vicar of St George's Church, Edgbaston and was later to become Dean of Ripon.[27] Thus Pearce became, “the first deaf ... clergyman to be ordained in the Church of England.”[1] In the same year he became Chaplain to the Deaf and Dumb, employed by the Winchester Diocesan Mission to the Deaf and Dumb, which itself had been established by the efforts of Owen.[2][27][39] This organisation founded the Mission Church in Oak Road, Southampton (now demolished),[40][41] for the continuation of their work in 1891. It was completed in 1895 with the financial assistance of Sir Arthur Henderson Fairbairn (1852–1915) who was deaf, and other supporters.[2][28][42][43] The Portsmouth Evening News said this:[44]

"It is gratifying to recall the fact that the Winchester diocese is the first, and, probably the only one, to devote special attention to the deaf and dumb. For many years the Rev. F. Pearce (sic), himself afflicted in this way, has laboured among them with rare devotion and success, and now, thanks to the munificence of Sir A. Fairbairn, Bart., of Brambridge House, a church for the deaf and dumb has been opened at Northam, the dedication sermon of the Bishop being interpreted to the congregation by the finger and sign language by Canon Owen."[44]

Because he was the first deaf person to be ordained as an Anglican clergyman, Pearce was invited to meet Queen Victoria who "knew deaf people on the Isle of Wight":[29][45]

"Her Majesty the Queen, who, as is so well known, is always interested in the deaf and dumb, having heard much of the good work done by both Mr. Pearce and Mr. Owen, expressed her wish to see both gentlemen, and accordingly they had the honour of being presented to the Queen and Her Royal Highness the Princess Beatrice, at Osborne House, on the 16th of January 1886.[29]

After meeting Pearce, the Queen requested a Royal Commission on the Blind, the Deaf and Dumb and Others of the United Kingdom, which completed its report in 1889. It included the comment: "The missionary under the bishop of the diocese [of Winchester] (the Rev. R.A. Pearce, who is the only ordained deaf and dumb clergyman in the Church of England) devotes the whole of his time to the work, visiting the deaf and dumb at their homes, or at places of business and workshops."[46] In 1886 Pearce also visited the Institute for the Deaf and Dumb at Derby.[3][47][48]

In November 1887, Pearce preached a sermon at St Saviour's in London. "It was a grand service, and was most highly appreciated." On 20 November 1887, he took a communion service and preached a sermon for deaf and hearing people at Holy Trinity, Golden Common, near Winchester, Hampshire. "The deepest attention was paid by the congregations throughout the whole of the services, who perfectly understood them, and expressed hope that the sermon would be long remembered. The parishioners of Golden Common were evidently deeply impressed by the reverential manner and silent eloquence of the preacher."[22] On 26 April 1888 he became Reverend of Christ Church Lodge at Winchester.[11][39] In Brighton in 1912, Pearce served as interpreter at the funeral of William Sleight, who had provided his school education.[2] He retired in 1924, having served in the diocese for 43 years.[49][50][51]

Historical context[edit]

To put Pearce into the context of his time, although he was the first deaf Anglican preacher whose service was formally ratified by ordination and benefice, he was not the first or only person to preach to the deaf by sign language in England. For example, in 1846, before Pearce was born, the Leeds Intelligencer cites two instances which drew praise in Yorkshire:[52]

"There has been for some time past a chapel in Red-Lion Square [in Leeds],[53] in which public worship is performed twice every Sunday for the sole benefit of the deaf ... The service is that of the Church of England – singing and the music of the organ being as a matter of course omitted. The experiment of communicating to those ... deprived of hearing ... a knowledge of the great Truths ... by means of those "signs" which constitute a language in themselves, has been eminently successful. In the morning the chapel in Red-Lion Square is attended by from 20 to 30 deaf ... persons. After the usual prayers had been gone through, the teacher commented at considerable length, by means of gestures, on the 11th Chapter of the 1st of Samuel, his audience seeming to comprehend every idea which he sought to convey ... At the same time, we may state, that at Dalton, near Huddersfield, resides Mr. Henry Roxby, a young man, a native of Hull, wholly deaf ... He preaches to [the deaf] almost every Sunday, chiefly at Cliff End, but occasionally at Mirfield and Halifax and some other places. We are informed that he purposes to visit London. He is in a humble sphere of life, but is the main support of his aged mother, a widow. His preaching to the deaf ... is really worthy of being witnessed if for nothing else than to see his expressive and emphatic manner, and the strict attention which is paid to him by the [deaf] ... The facility with which he communicated knowledge ... is remarkable."[52]


  1. ^ This is an historical article about nineteenth- and early twentieth-century England, where the only meaning of the word "dumb" was "non-speaking", where it was not a pejorative term, and where the modern American usage of the word was unknown.[4]


  1. ^ a b D.G. Pritchard, Education and the Handicapped 1760–1960 (1963), Routledge, Abingdon, p.39: "Institutional education for the blind and deaf"
  2. ^ a b c d e f g UCL: "The first ordained Deaf Church of England clergyman," by H. Dominic W. Styles
  3. ^ a b The Internet Archive: Anecdotes & Incidents of the Deaf and Dumb, by W. R. Roe (2009): "A deaf and dumb clergyman"
  4. ^ A Modern Dictionary of the English Language 2nd Edition (1911) MacMillan London, p. 152
  5. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 30 November 2016. Deaths Dec 1893 Pearce Richard Seward 73 S. Stoneham vol2c p46a
  6. ^ Rootsweb: Richard Seward Pearce
  7. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 30 November 2016. Deaths Mar 1899 Pearce Frances 63 S. Stoneham vol2c p69
  8. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 30 November 2016. Marriages Jun 1854 Pearce Richard Seward and Aslatt Frances, S Stoneham vol2c p87 (this marriage was registered twice)
  9. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 30 November 2016. Marriages Mar 1854 Pearce Richard Seward and Aslott Frances, S Stoneham vol2c p77 (this marriage was registered twice)
  10. ^ a b c d e f United Kingdom Census 1911: Pearce, Christchurch Lodge, Winchester, Hampshire
  11. ^ a b c Rootsweb: Richard Aslatt Pearce
  12. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 28 November 2016. Births Mar 1855 Pearce Richard Aslatt S Stoneham vol2c p44
  13. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 30 November 2016. Births Mar 1862 PEARCE Walter Seward S Stoneham vol2c p58
  14. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 30 November 2016. Deaths Sep 1941 Pearce Walter S. 79 Winchester vol2c p206
  15. ^ Rootsweb: Walter Seward Pearce
  16. ^ Fanny Pearce
  17. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 30 November 2016. Births Dec 1863 Pearce Fanny South Stoneham vol2c p51
  18. ^ a b United Kingdom Census 1881: RG11/1221/98 p23, Norham Lodge, 16 Winchester Road, Millbrook Parish, Shirley, South Stoneham, St James, Hampshire
  19. ^ Rootsweb: Arthur William Pearce
  20. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 30 November 2016. Births Jun 1858 Pearce Arthur William S Stoneham 2c 48
  21. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 30 November 2016. Deaths Jun 1928 Pearce Arthur W. 70 Battle vol2b p83
  22. ^ a b Hampshire Advertiser, Saturday 26 November 1887 p6: "Golden Common, deaf and dumb service"
  23. ^ Brighton Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb (Est. 1841)
  24. ^ Brighton and Hove: Eastern Road: The Brighton Institution for the Deaf and Dumb was established in 1840 at St James's Sunday School. Architects Cheesemans designed the new school in 1848 at 127–132 Eastern Road. In 1854 it was extended with a new wing. In 1942 the Institution relocated to 12 Egremont Place. In 1945 Egremont Place was occupied by Brighton College Junior School but was demolished in 1971 and replaced by Danny Sheldon House.
  25. ^ Image 1: Regency Society, James Grey collection. Showing the building used in the 1860s and 70s by the Brighton Institution for the Deaf and Dumb (building with bridge)
  26. ^ Image 2: Regency Society, James Grey collection. Showing the building used in the 1860s and 70s by the Brighton Institution for the Deaf and Dumb (building with bridge)
  27. ^ a b c Illustrated London News, 25 July 1885: "The Reverend R A Pearce, the Deaf and Dumb Clergyman"
  28. ^ a b c d British Deaf News, 7 November 1997: "Deaf history"
  29. ^ a b c Deaf and Dumb Times, 1889, 1, pp. 24–25
  30. ^ a b United Kingdom Census 1861: RG9/591/30 p3, Brighton Institution for Deaf and Deum Children, Eastern Road, Brighton
  31. ^ This begs the question of whether these were foundlings, orphans, or whether their parents had given up responsibility for them
  32. ^ a b United Kingdom Census 1871: RG10/1073/ p52, Brighton Institution for the Deaf and Dumb
  33. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 28 November 2016. Deaths Dec 1930 Pearce Frances M. 85 Winchester vol2c p155
  34. ^ St Saviour's, Oxford Street
  35. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 28 November 2016. Marriages Jun 1888 Pearce Richard Aslatt, and Monck Frances Mary St. Geo. H. Sq. vol1a p773
  36. ^ a b Galton, Francis, Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development (1883) Dent, London
  37. ^ United Kingdom Census 1901: RG13/1082 St Faith Within, Christ Church, Winchester, St Thomas
  38. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 28 November 2016. Deaths Sep 1928 Pearce Richard A. 73 Winchester vol2c p119
  39. ^ a b Crockford's Clerical Directory, 1908, Oxford
  40. ^ The Builder, 69(2744), 7 September 1895, p 176: "Church for the Deaf and Dumb, Southampton" (Mission Church, Oak Road)
  41. ^ Portsmouth Evening News, Monday 26 August 1895 p4: Mission Church for the Deaf and Dumb, Oak Road, Northam, Southampton, consecrated 28 August 1895 by the Bishop of Southampton
  42. ^ eds Susan Gregory, Gillian Hartley, Constructing Deafness (1991) Continuum, London:, p.236: "The motives prompting the establishment of local voluntary societies for the deaf"
  43. ^ Eagling, G.J., Deaf History Journal, (2002) 6(1), pp. 16–31: "A deaf clergyman."
  44. ^ a b Portsmouth Evening News, Saturday 07 September 1895 p2: "It is gratifying to recall ..."
  45. ^ Sign Station: Historical aspects, Reverend Richard Aslatt Pearce
  46. ^ Report of the Royal Commission on the blind, the deaf and the dumb etc. of the United Kingdom (1889), Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, p. lxxxvii para 601
  47. ^ Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette 1886
  48. ^ Listens: A Deaf And Dumb Clergyman
  49. ^ Braddock, Guilbert C., Notable Deaf Persons (1975) Gallaudet College Alumni Association, pp. 181–183
  50. ^ Roe, William Robert, Peeps into the Deaf World (1917) Bemrose & Sons, Derby, pp. 198–202
  51. ^ The Frat, Nov. 1945, p. 3
  52. ^ a b Leeds Intelligencer, Saturday 07 November 1846 p. 7: "Preaching to the deaf and dumb"
  53. ^ Possibly near the site of the Red Lion in Hunslet, near Tetley's brewery and a Congregational church

External links[edit]