A Deaf Digger

Having recently learnt about a very interesting Deaf man who spent some time on the Victorian goldfields during the 1850s, we thought we would share his story with you.

Frederick John Rose.

Frederick John Rose.

Frederick John Rose was a Deaf man from England. He was born in 1831 and became profoundly deaf due to Scarlet Fever. He was educated at a Deaf School in Old Kent Road, London.

Rose came to Australia with his younger brother in 1852 when he was 21 years old. He began work as a cabinet maker in South Melbourne but was soon keen to try his luck prospecting for gold. He walked to the goldfields near Bendigo in 1853. Unfortunately he had no luck finding gold so he worked as a carpenter/builder.

While working in Bendigo, Rose saw a series of letters in the newspaper The Argus. One letter was from an unknown author who claimed there were as many as 50 Deaf children living in Victoria who were without any form of schooling. Another letter was from a widow, Mrs Lewis, with a Deaf daughter. Mrs Lewis wrote appealing for anyone who could educate her daughter Lucy. Rose had not realised there were so many Deaf children in Victoria and so he decided to establish a school for the Deaf in Melbourne. He wrote about this intention as a letter to The Argus and received answers from parents with Deaf children who were interested in supporting the development of a school.

In 1860 the school, which has now become The Victorian College for the Deaf, was established and Lucy Lewis was the first pupil. By 1861 the school had eight students. Rose was now married and he and his wife had to keep renting new, bigger premises due to the increase in student numbers. Further enrolments led to Rose and his associates lobbying with the local church for a purpose-built school and in 1866 they moved into the new building and became a school and support service for Deaf children. The school and support service continued and still operate today as Deaf Children Australia, a not-for-profit agency supporting Deaf and Hard of Hearing children and their families, and The Victorian College for the Deaf.  The school itself is no longer solely located in the original building (although some classes still occur within its facilities) however the original building still stands and is now listed with Heritage Victoria.

Frederick J. Rose continued as Superintendent and Headmaster of the school until 1891 when he was forced to leave when the school’s board of management decided to focus more on education taught through speaking and listening rather than signing. This was a result of the resolutions passed at the 2nd International Congress on Education of the Deaf. [See Milan Congress 1880 here and the rejections of the 1880 resolutions in 2010 here.]

Throughout his life, Rose raised lots of money for various organisations supporting Deaf people and was a highly respected member of the community. He died in 1920 at the age of 89 and is buried in the St Kilda Cemetery in Melbourne. See a signed version of his story by Stan Batson, a highly respected Deaf man, here.

Learning about the story of Frederick J. Rose has highlighted some of the historical discrimination Deaf people have faced, and in some cases still face in Australia, in terms of access, education and also immigration. Jan Branson and Don Miller have written extensively on this topic. In 1998 they wrote about ship captains getting fined for bringing “infirm” people to Australia or New Zealand. Fortunately for F. J. Rose, and for all of Victoria’s Deaf people past and present, he arrived in Australia before these immigration laws were created!

The sign language used by Deaf people in Victorian times evolved as all languages do over time, and has today become what is called Australian Sign Language, or Auslan. This language is specific to Australian Deaf people and is not ‘universal’; something many people mistakenly believe. Each country has its own sign language and culture that is particular to the Deaf people living in those countries. This means that people in England use British Sign Language (BSL), people in America use American Sign Language (ASL) and people in France use French Sign Language (LSF). Auslan has links to both British and Irish sign languages because when Deaf people migrated here or were transported here as convicts they brought their languages with them.

Auslan was recognised by the Australian government as a “community language other than English” and the preferred language of the Deaf community in policy statements in 1987 and 1991. However, this recognition is yet to filter through to many institutions, government departments and professionals who work with Deaf people. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auslan)

Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deafblind people may have differing needs or individual preferences to ensure access to clear communication. This may involve working with Auslan/English interpreters, Tactile Signing interpreters, seating arrangements, lighting, written information or gaining information through non-verbal signals such as facial expressions, lip patterns and body language.

In the days before technological advances such as mobile phones, the internet, television or even electric lighting, many Deaf people met by gas light in the streets of Melbourne. These lights allowed Deaf people to chat long after the sun had gone down.

This sign indicates that an event or video etc. has an Auslan interpreter.

This sign indicates that an event or video etc. has an Auslan interpreter.

Australian Deaf Culture is specific to the Deaf Community here in Australia. It contains a wealth of history, humour, customs, etiquette, and of course the language of Auslan is integral to all people who are members of the Deaf Community. Read more about Deaf culture here.

In many ways it can be useful to consider Auslan and the Deaf Community as a minority language community rather than a disability group. The Deaf Community in Australia have a different language, culture, history and customs to the mainstream community in Australia. In this way they are similar to people who have migrated to Australia from other countries, except that Deaf people have not migrated. For this reason, many people feel there are strong similarities between Deaf communities and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities who also have different languages and cultural practices compared with broader society. If we think about the Deaf Community like that it becomes easier to understand the challenges they face as a minority language seeking recognition, access and fair treatment in our society.

Did you know that there are also Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities who use a sign language for cultural reasons and at certain times? Some of these communities have Deaf people as well and use different signs to Auslan to communicate. Read more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and signing here.

Links and References:

Timeline of F. J. Rose’s life: http://www.deafchildrenaustralia.org.au/FJ_Rose_Chronology

Short biography of F. J. Rose: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_J_Rose

Interesting article on the history of Australian government discrimination against deaf immigrants: http://deafhistoryaustralia.com/tag/frederick-j-rose/

The Victorian College for the Deaf: http://www.vcd.vic.edu.au/6354650/victorian-college-history.htm  

The history of Auslan: http://www.auslan.org.au/about/history/

An explanation of deaf culture, do’s and don’t’s for interacting with deaf people, and a history of Auslan: http://www.aussiedeafkids.org.au/deaf-culture.html

On Deaf culture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deaf_culture

Utmost for the Highest: The History of the Victorian School for Deaf Children, by J. H. Burchett, Melbourne, 1964.

No Longer By Gaslight, by John W Flynn. Adult Deaf Society, East Melbourne. 1984.

How not to say “I beg your pardon?”: http://bit.ly/17g0PfE 

Deaf History – Milan 1880: http://deafness.about.com/cs/featurearticles/a/milan1880.htm

A New Era: Deaf Participation and Collaboration, Vancover 2010: http://nad.org/sites/default/files/2010/July/ICEDNewEraVancouver2010.pdf

Frederic John Rose. Founder of the Victorian Deaf and Dumb Institutionhttp://bit.ly/1CGKgST 

Deaf History: Frederick John Rose: http://www.auslanstorybooks.com/fj-rose.html      

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