Ideas for talks to schoolchildren

Theophilus Lindsey and his bag of half-pennies

Sometimes it is not easy to get a sense of a historical figure as a real flesh and blood person. I first heard this small story about Theophilus Lindsey told by Derek Smith some years ago and it left me with a picture of a man who cared about theological matters but just as importantly cared about real people, especially the poor. The story also left me wanting to know more about Hannah Lindsey who is described in a book called Memorable Unitarians, published in 1906.

Mr Lindsey always bears testimony that his wife was a woman of no common mind and no common moral courage.'My greatest comfort and support under God is my wife,' says Lindsey, 'who is a Christian indeed, and worthy of a better fate in wordly things than we have prospect of.'

Derek Smith told the story of how Lindsey returned to Yorkshire after the failure of the Feathers Tavern Petition . Before leaving London he had visited the Royal Mint and there collected a bag of new half-pennies. On his return to his parish in Catterick in Yorkshire, Theophilus and Hannah gave the half-pennies to the children in their church to encourage them to be inoculated against small-pox.

Emily Sharpe, one of the founders of the Channing School wrote, in her pamphlet Four Unitarian Lives about Hannah and Theophilus' work amongst the poor of their parish:

The preparation that Mr and Mrs Lindsey were making for this coming event (his resignation) did not, however, preventthem from continuing the usual works of kindness and charity in the parish. Perhaps it rather quickened their zeal, and as the small-pox had been very fatal around them, they had during this last year the additional expense of inoculating all the children of the poor in their own large village and in the neighbouring hamlets. On most of these Mrs Lindsey attended in person, gave them their medicines, and was so successful that she did not lose a single patient.

Ideas for using the story

If using the story with teenagers, you could consider the difference between bribes and rewards - bribes being used to encourage people to do wrong. You could explore with them their response to being encouraged to behave in certain ways by the promise of a reward rather than being threatened with punishment - sticks or carrots as motivators.

Younger children sometimes like to tell of the rewards they have received for going through difficult experiences such as exams, or vaccinations.

Most children in the UK have experience of vaccinations. Around the age of 11 they often have a BCG jab for TB, which may leave a small scar. The history of vaccinations eradicating certain diseases is a powerful story in itself.

Poor children in 1773 would not have had any money of their own. They would not have received pocket money and could only have made money if a richer person paid them to do a job. For example, a boy might have earned one penny for a morning chopping wood. So to receive a half-penny from the vicar would have made inoculation seem much more acceptable.

I have not been able to find out for certain how these children were inoculated. The vaccine against smallpox was created by Edward Jenner in the late 1790s. An earlier method of inoculation was introduced in England by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who learned of it in Constantinople. Known as variolation, it involved taking a small amount of virulent matter from a person with a mild case of smallpox and rubbing it into a scratch on the skin of the person to be inoculated. That person then develops a mild form of the illness. After that the person remains immune. This was not an easy process and carried risks for everyone concerned.

Sarah Tinker, Minister at Essex Church, Kensington, London.

Taken from the pack prepared by the Worship Panel of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches to mark the bicentenary of Lindsey's death.

Return to Lindsey index page