Island tale toned down for today

5th August 2005 at 01:00
A scheme to send a patriotic 100-year-old history book to every primary school using donations from Daily Telegraph readers might seem like a blow against political correctness.

But the paper's more conservative readers may be disappointed to discover that the new edition of Henrietta E Marshall's Our Island Story has been toned down to avoid causing offence in today's multicultural classroom.

The 1905 book recounts the history of Britain from Roman times to the death of Queen Victoria as an adventure story. It freely mixes legend with fact, with characters such as Merlin and Robin Hood making appearances.

Telegraph readers have given nearly pound;29,000 to help Civitas, the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, and the publishers Galore Park reprint the book. Civitas will be offering primary schools across Britain a copy later this summer.

Se n Lang, honorary secretary of the Historical Association, said the book was compelling reading but contained "an old-fashioned, patronising view of how the British civilised the darker-coloured peoples of the world".

He added: "You're playing with fire by sending it to every primary school.

It's OK if you're talking about it as a piece of its time, but Civitas is not talking about it like that."

The copy sent to schools, however, will differ in many chapters from HE Marshall's original.

Passages have been deleted, including lines in the chapter "From Cannibals to Christians" describing Maoris as "a wild and warlike race of savages".

Gone too is the suggestion that Nana Sahib, the Indian leader behind the 1857 massacre at Cawnpore, may not have been human. The original states:

"People said that he was not a man, but an evil spirit, and that when his work was done, he vanished as a spirit would."

Nicholas Outton, managing director of Galore Park, said that only 1 per cent of the book had been altered because it now seemed inaccurate or might cause offence.

"I think if HE Marshall were still alive today, she would have approved of the changes," he said.

Our Island Story has inspired dozens of history teachers and historians, including Lady Antonia Fraser. Its black-and-white portrayal of historical characters - often labelling monarchs "good" or "bad" - was the basis for the parody 1066 And All That.

Platform 15


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