Originally published in the Manchester Guardian on 14 March 1908
At the West Riding Assizes yesterday, before Mr Justice Channell, Miss Winifred Marie Gould, the head mistress of the Fishlake Endowed School, near Doncaster, brought an action to recover damages from the Rev. Eliezer Flecker, the vicar, for libel and slander. Mr Tindal Atkinson, K.C., and Mr A.P. Longstaffe appeared for the plaintiff, whilst the defendant conducted his own case.
Counsel stated that the general charge was that the plaintiff, as head mistress, imparted infidel teaching to the children, telling them there was no God or Jesus Christ and that man was evolved from the lower forms of life. There were some sixty boys and girls in the school, which was regulated under a scheme of the Charity Commissioners and carried on upon undenominational lines. The defendant was, ex-officio, a trustee of the school.
On Sunday, February 24, last year the plaintiff's attention was called to a notice convening a parish meeting to consider alleged infidel teaching at the Fishlake School. Miss Gould went, but on the advice of friends took no part in the proceedings. The Vicar, who was in the chair, quoted a statement by one of the pupils, who declared that Miss Gould told him that "an insect became a fish, a fish became a monkey, and a monkey became a man and lost its tail." (Laughter.) Others said that Miss Gould taught them there was no Jesus Christ. Miss Gould denied these allegations.
The result of the meeting was that the County Council were called to hold an inquiry into the matter.
Accordingly an inquiry was held by a committee appointed by the County Council, the defendant conducting the case against Miss Gould. This committee held there had been no infidel teaching, though possibly the teaching of evolution was too advanced for the children. Miss Gould was completely exonerated, but the defendant was not satisfied, and took an opportunity of referring to the matter from the pulpit, and sent letters to two Doncaster newspapers referring to "the injury done to the poor children of Fishlake."
After evidence had been given by several children from the Fishlake School, Mr George Dunstan, a county councillor, said that if he had thought that Miss Gould had taught that there was no God she would not have got his vote. He had visited the school and attended the Scripture lessons, with which he had been perfectly satisfied.
The Rev. E. Flecker, vicar of Fishlake, the defendant on his own behalf, said that the plaintiff used to attend the church choir, but tired, and afterwards attended neither church nor chapel. This, however, did not cause any unpleasantness or friction between them. Some of the villagers were distressed by the teaching in question, whilst others jested over it, saying to each other, "Where's your tail?" He thought it was his duty to take up the matter. The plaintiff had suffered no loss through the steps taken, and she still retained her position. A quiet talk with her would not have satisfied the people, and he regarded a meeting as necessary.
In answer to a question defendant, after some hesitation, admitted that he looked upon the teaching of the Darwinian theory as infidel teaching.
The jury found for the plaintiff for 40s.