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Document: An Evening with the Deaf and Dumb

This evening of entertainment in 1887 included blackboard sketches, a play and a comic song interpreted into sign language.



An intimitation that an entertainment was to be given by the deaf and dumb excited some curiousity in my mind. Most of us have listened to the symphonies played annd to some songs sang by the blind, and have listened to them with delight. Nature delights in compensations, and for those to whom the world “is dark, dark, anuntterably dark” there are harmonies too subtle for those of us whose sense are distracted by each passing scene. What the special delights there were for the deaf and mute I had never heard, and the entertainment of last night had for me all the charm of novelty. It was given by members of the Deaf and Dumb Young Men’s Mutural Improvement Society in the Deaf and Dumb Institution, on the St. Kilda road. As the audiene was to consist in part of those who could not speak and hear, in part of those who could do netiher, it was obvious that the arrangement of a satisfactory programme would involve the exercise of considerable ingenuity. On reaching the institution I was fortunate enough to encounter Mr. Frewin, the missionary to the deaf mutes, and from him I gleaned some facts concerning the Mutual improvement Society and the condition of its membets. Mr. Frewin informed me that the society was established six years ago by Mr. Johnson, then master of the school, now principal of a kindred institution in Adelaide. Mr. Johnson found that when the pupils left the school they were surrounded by temptation. Those about them found it exceedingly easy to vent it in the form of an invitation to drink. The drink was followed by a game of cards, which, as played in the average publichouse, led to other drinks, and they to a rapid deterioration physical and mental. Thanks to the kindness of the Rev. Mr. Chapman and his people, the society enjoyed the use of one of the rooms attached to the Collins street church without the payment of any fee. As the society grew stronger, the members felt that it would be an advantage if they could meet more frequently than once a week. Dt. Bevan came to the resuce, and placed a room at the disposal of the deaf mutes bi-weekly; so the society has now three mettings, and pays nothing for the rent. The forty or fifty numbers meet occasionally for debate, but more frequently for social intercourse, a quiet game of cards, of draughts, or chess. To them these gatherings are invaluable. In each others comany they exchange ideas freely, and forget that their misfortune t some extent cuts them off from happy fellowship with the more fortunate members of their race. Mr. Frewin informed me that the deaf mutes make excellent mechanics; but, generally speaking, books do not afford them that intense delihgt we should expect. When I touched on the question of the entertainement, Mr. Frewin pointed me with pardonable pride to an exceedingly nicely-written programme, the handiwork of one of the members of the society. It embraced one or two items which perplexed me, notably two farces and a song; but of them more in due cause. Our little tete-a-tete was disturbed by the appearance of the scene of the largest and most enthusiastic section of the audience, the children attending the school in the institution. The members of the Imptovement Society had conceived the happy and kindly idea of ministering to the happiness of these bright young faces, one writes the word with hesitation. If they are often happy, as their ready smiles, their eager interchange of thouse proved them last night, there are amny who hear and who speak who may envy them. The visitors to the institution for the most part I judged ladies and gentlemen who take a real interest in its work, occupied a few seats immediately before the stage. The members of the socirty – at any rate such of them as did not figure in the bill – were content to occupy any [coraer] from their fellows on the stage, fortunes which they followed with a sympathy which appeared quite superior to any trace of jealousy. The Hon. W. Bates, who takes the warmest interest in all cocerning the welfare of the institution and of those who have left its walls to push their way in the world, occupued the chair. His remarks were brief and simple, but appropriate, and whilst he spoke Me. Frewin stood at this side interpreting his remarks to the deaf. The gist of his speech was the that highest happiness lies in doing good – in serving others, in following the example of Chris. The report, like the chairman’s address, was spoken simultaneously by tongue and fingers. It was interesting to note how intently the lightnigh-like movements of the [aetened] hands were followed, how sanely the points were seized, how thoroughly alive the audience was. Open sight seemed to me speically touching. In a corner sat one of the deaf mutes who had the further misfortune to be short-sighted. He understood the signs as perfectly as those about him, but he could not follow them from a distance. At his side sat a friend, who followed every movement on the stage and reproduced all for his weaker brother. One night moralise on a picture like that for a while, but its lesson is so obvious that to reduce it to words would be idle. However, I shall not soon forget the look of intense concentration, underlying which was a look of not less intense satisfaction, on the face of him who performed the doable duty. The speech and the report disposed of, Mr. Frewin sanf a song “The boy who could never sit still,” a comical ditty, setting forth the misfortunes of a wight for whom life resolved itself into a dance. Mr. Frewin sand in the ordinary fashoin, and whilst he did so Mr. Jackson signed the words, accompanying them with appropriate pantomime. Very clevery this latter service was rendered, and it was difficult to decide whether the performer or the children, who rose en masse on the forms to follow his doings, most enjoyed the item. After that came a farce, “The Stupid Servants,” enacted by Messrs. Luff and Taylor. The motif or piece was exceedingly simple. A coloured gentlemen afflicted with gout, and as a consequence with brevity of temper, wished to engage a servant. The applioant for the position was characterised by a stupidity phenomenal enough to have exhausted the patience of a philosopher in the soundest health. The stronf point of the drama was that it afforded room for a good deal of violent pantomime, and at the close fofr a display of extraordinary agility on the part of the gonty plutoorat. The actos acquitted themselves well, throwing thmselves with creditable abandon into the humour of the various positions. As to the youngests, they were vastly delighted, and would have followed the fortunes of heroes contentedly had that enacted a five-set drama. Whilst watching the play, it struck me that the deaf mutes might possibly revive the long-lost glories of pantomime. I speak with hesitation, and subject to correction, for pantomim had become a thing of puns, of quips, of comic songs, long before I made it’s acquaintances by my seniors dwelt loveingly on true pantomim as a lost art. After the farce came some clever sketches on the blackboard. The artist, Mr. Taylor, displayed more than average skill, some laughter-moving, with a few seemingly careless strokes of chalk. A more pretentious artistic venture was that of Mr. Hoskings, the secretary of the society., who had painted a number of pictures illustrative of the familiar poem which tells of the “House which Jack built.” In succession he removed the dresses which hid the dramatis person, and we haf the rat, the dog, the cow with the crumpled horn, all glorious, as the faces of theh children told, and some really rich in humourous suggestion. The cow especially was triumph, displaying all the airs and graces of the heraldic brute of much higer pretensions. It would be disingenuous to give the reader the impression that, as a performance, last night’s entertainment was to the disinterested spectator as attractive as one given by men and women with power of speech. It was interesting, it was stimulating, and was so because it demostrated how hum ingenuity can overcome difficulties. Here were men to whom the drama seemed impossible, men who could utter not one word the playwright indited, using themselves, and delighting those who could not have heard had they spoken, by their delineations and strange characters. Assuredly a sociery which does so much to brighten lives on which a certain gloom must rest deserves all possible encouragement. Dr. Bevan and the Rev. Mr. Chapman have done much, and I feel quite sure that if the members of the society should desire a lounge open on the remaining nights of the week other friends will come to the fore.

An Evening with the Deaf and Dumb. (1889, September 21). Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 - 1954), p. 9 (SUPPLEMENT TO THE FARMERS GAZETTE). Retrieved January 18, 2024, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article220418221
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