O’Donnell was born in Donegal in 1849. He was educated at Queens College Galway, and passed the Indian Civil Service Examinations in 1870. He served in Bengal and dealt with the famine of 1874. His duties also included tenant rights and judicial control of rents.
He was appointed assistant to the Director General of Statistics William Wilson Hunter in 1875 but returned to district work as a joint magistrate in 1884. He was the Superintendent of Bengal for the census of 1891, and rose to Commissioner in 1898 before his retirement in 1900.
O’Donnell had a palpable dislike of Lord Curzon as Viceroy of India, addressing “The Failure of Lord Curzon” to Lord Rosebery. Elected as a Liberal member for Walworth in the 1906 general election, O’Donnell was to level heavy criticism at the Secretary of State for British measures in India such as the partition of Bengal. He decided not to contest the January 1910 general election.
(edited from wikipedia entry https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_James_O%27Donnell)
Mr. C. J. O’Donnell, the Liberal Member for Walworth, has announced his intention not to contest the constituency again in a remarkable letter addressed to the secretary of the local Liberal Association. Mr. O’Donnell gives as his reasons, first, his inability to support the second Education Bill, which be regards as a most unsatisfactory substitute for the “admit-able measure” of Mr. Birrell. But his chief ground for retirement is clearly his conviction that he is out of touch with a large number of his constituents on the questions of the relations of Socialism and Labour and of Imperial defence. He blames the Liberal leaders for their remissness in restrain. tag Socialistic folly, and in particular condemns Mr. Lloyd George for the reeklessness of his Swansea speech. “Such language is the greatest obstacle to social reform, leads inevitably to reaction, and renders more difficult the heavy task of the Prime Minister and Mr. Burns.” Finally, Mr. O’Donnell dissociates himself from the hundred and forty-four Liberal M.P.’s who signed the memorial last spring in favour of reduced military expenditure. Such reduction he regards as mischievous, and “recent events in Europe have proved that the War Office would deserve the execration of posterity if it listened to amiable but ill-informed criticism.” We do not doubt that what Mr. O’Donnell is saying, scores of Liberal M.P.’s and Liberal voters by the thousand are thinking.
As the only Catholic M.P. for London, may I ask the favour of your permitting me to offer a few comments on the Education Bill, which, I fear, most of my co-religionists are only too eager to reject.
There are two principles of the constitution which the English people will not readily surrender or for long allow to be violated. The first declares that funds raised by taxation must be controlled by elected representatives of the taxpayer, and dates back two and a-half centuries to the time when Charles I. forfeited his life for disregarding it. The second, which declares that religious tests shall not be demanded from persons receiving State salaries, has since Catholic Emancipation become more and more a governing axiom of our domestic policy, and is to-day the sheet anchor of Catholic rights in this country. Consistently with these two principles it would be impossible to frame a more generous measure than that developed by Mr. Birrell. The Liberal party, which the Catholic and Anglican hierarchies have been mercilessly assailing for many years back, offers these bodies two things that it seems difficult to call illiberal. They may lease— there is no compulsion—to the local authorities their schools in towns those in the country hardly concern us Catholics. If so leased “for one or five years,” as Mr. Birrell said, all expenses of education, teachers’ salaries, cost of repair and sanitary fitting will be paid from funds raised by taxation. Would it not be wise to see how such an arrangement works in practice? Dr. Casartelli calls it confiscation. His clerical brethren in Italy would regard it as the millennium, seeing what the second offer of the Liberal Government is. All the existing staffs of teachers in denominational schools are to be retained, and these teachers may give the special religious instruction approved of by their Churches. Yet we are asked by Father Bernard Vaughan if we are to permit atheists to teach the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception ! I see that Mr. Birrell is being bombarded by the Catholic parents of one diocese with postcards, in which they demand and insist on having Catholic schools for Catholic children under Catholic teachers and Catholic management,” at the expense of the public rates. Imagine the Protestants of Spain demanding and insisting on Protestant schools for Protestant children under Protestant, &c. Not one maravedi would they receive. Imagine this Protestant demand being made in Ireland ! ! Yet this is practically what a Parliament of English Nonconformists is ready to grant to their Catholic fellow countrymen. The laymen of the Free Churches and many of their clergy are kindly disposed to us. We owe Catholic Emancipation and Disestablishment in Ireland to them. They have little love for Tory bishops— many Irishmen have less—but for the poor priest labouring in the slums and for the poor Irish working man they have a sincere regard. They are, however, determined to pass no legislation that would again place them at the mercy of Anglicanism in the 8,000 schools outside of urban areas.
I was not elected for Walworth for the mere asking. / spent months amongst the South London working classes, the most interesting of studies. They and their fellows throughout the country, Labourite, Nonconformist or Agnostic, are offering the Catholics what they and I regard as an olive branch. If we reject it our shrift will not be an improvement on French conditions. The House of Commons and the borough councils have the power of the purse, and it is all a question of money. The Liberal party knows that a great struggle with the House of Lords is imminent, and on no subject would it more gladly join issue than on one that involved “clerical intolerance.” Our hierarchy would be wise to keep the bark of the Church out of that maelstrom.
C. J. O’DONNELL
75 Queen’s Gate, S. W., April 17th
[Our correspondent says it is a fundamental principle of English public life “that religious tests shall not be demanded from persons receiving State salaries.” He is apparently unaware of the system which prevails in the army and navy, in workhouses, asylums, prisons, industrial and reformatory schools. The statement that all the existing staff of teachers in denominational schools are to be retained” is quite misleading. The surrendered schools will be transferred to the local authorities, and the teachers will be handed over with the furniture. And when new appointments are made, the local authorities are forbidden to apply any religious tests—so that if Catholic teachers ever get into Catholic schools it must be either by chance or through a violation of the law. It may save possible misconception if we add that Mr. C. J. O’Donnell has no connection whatever with the Irish Parliamentary party.—En. TABLET.]