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In the Shadow of Cairngorm
XII. Schools and Schoolmasters


SCOTLAND'S indebtedness to the Church for education has been often acknowledged. Before the sixteenth century much, had been done by the establishment of Universities and otherwise, but the people had not been reached. The light only gilded the high places, the glens and the valleys were still in shadow. When the Reformation took place, the fervour as to religion, was also shown as to education. Indeed, the two things were held as vitally connected, as may be seen in the Catechism in common use, which bore on its face the significant title, "The A.B.C. and the Shorter Catechism." John Knox’s devout imagination as to the application of the Teinds was unfortunately not carried out, but notwjthstanding much was done for the education of the people. The First Book of Discipline (1560) drawn up by Knox maintains the duty of the State to be "most careful for the virtuous education and godly upbringing of the youth of the realm," and direction is given as to how this was to be done, "also that provision be made for those that be poor, and not able by themselves nor by their friends to be sustained at letters, and in special these that come from landward." It is significantly added that no father of "whatsoever state or condition," was to be allowed to bring up his children ‘‘ according to his own fantasie," but all " must be compelled to bring up their children in learning and virtue" Seven years after, the Scottish Parliament ordained that all schools to Burgh and Laud, "and all Universities and Colleges he reformed, and that all teachers both public and private be tried by the Superintendents or Visitoures of the Kirk." This shows that considerable progress had been made. In 1616 the Privy Council ordered the establishment of a school in every parish. This Act was confirmed in 1633, with the very important condition that power was given to the Bishops, with assent of the majority of the parishioners (if the Heritors, i.e., landed proprietors, refused to act) themselves to plant the school, and impose a land tax for its support, right of appeal to the Privy Council being given to the Heritors. The General Assembly was strenuous in its endeavours to have the Acts of Parliament carried out. In 1616, the subject was dealt with at a meeting held in St Nicholas Church, Aberdeen, and from 1638 onwards there is constant reference in the Acts of Assembly to "the settling of schools." Thus, in 1642, it is enacted "that every parish have a reader, and a school where children are to be bred in reading, writing, and grounds of religion according to the laudable Acts of both Kirk and Parliament made before." Further, in the same Act, "it is recommended to His Majesty and Parliament to put in execution the means formerly appointed for schools of all sorts, and to find out further means for so good a case, especially that children of poor men (being very capable of learning and of good genius) may be trained up according as exigence and necessity of every place shall require." Then in 1704, there is an Act which not only shows the strong desire that existed to bring education within the reach of all children, but also the growing conviction that some compulsion would be required for this purpose—so far anticipating the ideas of our own day: "And application is appointed to be made to the Parliament and Privy Council, and those in the Government for obtaining their authority to get said schools erected, and obliging parents to put their children thereto." In how far education was free in those times is doubtful, but it is evident that it was desired, on the part of the State and of the Church, to remove all obstacles and to place the schools within the reach of the poorest of the people. In an Act passed by the General Assembly in 1705, it is required that "the poor be taught upon charity, and that none he suffered to neglect the teaching of their children to read." Three periods may be noticed in the progress of education in our parish.

I. THE SCHOOL IN EARLY TIMES.—In 1658 there was a petition to Parliament from the Presbytery of Strathspey, and heritors and wadsetters of the parishes of Abernethy and Kincardine, "being unite," and of the parishes of Glencharin and Rothiemurchus, "being also unite," for leave to appropriate vacant stipends for the erection and maintenance of schools. In this petition it is stated that these parishes had been vacant, without ministers, the one for five, and the other for three years, "ilk ane thereof fywe hundrethe merkes yearlye, and so the people of the respective parochines frustrat of the benefit of the word and Sacraments;" and it is urged that the "parochiners of the said parochines being bot poor, and the rent thereof within the samen of little value, and lying farr in the Highlands from anie burgh or in cuntrey for the education of their children, they not being able to plant or prowyd for aine schoolmaster," the vacant unpaid stipends could not be "more piouslye nor better disposed upon nor for planting and prowyding of some maintenance for ane school in ilk ane of the said parochines." The petition was signed by James Grant of Freuchie, and among others by James Grant of Achernack; Mungo Grant of Conningeis (Congash); James Grant of Tullich; and J. Grant of Gartenmore. It was also signed by John Sanderson, the minister at Abernethy, and Moderator of the Presbytery of Strathspey. What the tesult was is not known. The tradition is that the school was originally erected in the church-yard, that it was moved to Croft Croy, and ultimately fixed in its present site. The building would be of a very humble kind. Even a century later there was little advance. This appears from a deliverance of the Presbytery of Abernethy, in 1748, with reference to the parish of Kirkmichael. The minister represented that the school had been for long in "a moveable and ambulatory way, and had been set up in no less than ten different towns in the parish.

The custom had been for those that had children to be taught to contend for having the school at their own door, and they commonly gave an old house to master and scholars until they got their turn served, and then they begrudged this pitiful accommodation, and it was withdrawn." He stated further that for some years past he had allowed a room in the manse for a school, as no other place could be obtained. After hearing parties, it was found that different opinions existed as to where the school should he placed, but "a good number insisted that it should be erected in the kirk-yard, as was usual in most other country parishes." Leaving the question of site to be settled afterwards, the Presbytery took the opinion of sworn tradesmen as to the probable expense of the plan submitted to them, which was as follows :—" That the house be thirty-six feet between walls in length, and twelve in breadth, with a partition for the schoolmaster’s room, and three windows, one whereof to be glazed. and the other two to have timber brods; two doors and two locks; two lums of timber; two writing tables, and four forms for the scholars to sit on." It was also ordered that if the school was built in the church-yard "the whole walls and gavels were to be of stone and mortar." In the Abernethy Session Book there are references to fines being applied to payment of teacher and to the repair of the school. In 1739, at a meeting held at Garroline, Malcolm Grant was entered schoolmaster and session clerk, at twenty merks yearly, Scots, "being his due to be paid out of the penalties imposed upon delinquents." In 1750, James Stuart in Riemore is appointed to cut and lead all the timber necessary for the school-house, and to bind and set up the couples at his own charges for his fall in fornication. This school was in Kincardine, where William Clark appears to have been school master at the time.

II. THE SCHOOL UNDER THE Act OF 1803. — By this Act the Heritors and Minister had the power of settling the Schoolmaster’s stipend, which might be revised once in 25 years; the minimum was the value of 1½ chalders, or £16 13s 5d, and the maximum 2 chalders, or £22 4s 5d. They also fixed the School fees ; but "poor children" recommended by them were to be taught free; The Presbytery of the Bounds had also considerable powers as to examination of the Teacher, and superintendence. The first Teacher appointed under this Act was William Macdonald (1804-1845). Mr Macdonald was a native of the parish, and was educated at the Academies of Elgin and Inverness. He was an able and efficient teacher. From a reply to Queries by a Committee of the House of Commons, 1838, the following facts have been gleaned. The accommodation was—One room and a kitchen, with bed-closet, all in the flat over the schoolroom. The salary was £25 13s 3d. The average attendance, 1836-37, was—Males, 61; females, 30; the ages being from 5 to 20, but some older. The fees were—English, 2s; with Writing, 2s 6d; with Arithmetic, 3s; English Grammar and Geography, 1s; Mathematics, 5s to 10s; Latin, 5s, all per quarter. Book-keeping from 5s to 10s per sett. The hours were from 10 to 5 in summer, and from 10 to 3 in winter, with an hour’s play. The scholars were taught in classes, with the exception of beginners, who were taught separately. No monitors were employed ; but assistance was sometimes obtained from advanced scholars. The examination by the Presbytery was in March, when prizes were given to the most deserving. Luther’s master, Trebonius, used to take off his hat when he entered his school-room. "I uncover my head," he said, "to honour the Consuls, Chancellors, Doctors, Masters, who shall proceed from this school." Mr Macdonald might have acted in the same way. In the prize list for 1829, when 87 were present out of 103 upon the roll, the following names occur, and their after course, so far as known, is indicated: — James Allan, Manse, afterwards merchant in South America; Duncan Grant, Broomhill, brewer in England; James Grant, Rhymore, Minister of the Free Church; John Fraser, Nethy Bridge, solicitor; F. W. Grant, Rothiemoon, staff surgeon; James Macdonald, Coulnakyle, retired as Major-General from the Indian service; his son is the present Sir Claude Macdonald, Her Majesty’s representative in China; James Forsyth, Dell, for thirty years Manager of the Wolverhampton & Staffordshire Bank; and among those who were ranked as A.B.C.’s, Donald Macdonald, Coulnakyle, Surgeon-Major, India; Andrew A. Munro, Manse, retired Major-General, India; William Forsyth, present parish minister. It is interesting to note how many of the prizemen went forth to seek their fortunes in the world, and almost all with good success.

III. THE SCHOOL AS IT IS NOW.—In 1838, 1845, and Acts were passed which led to considerable improvements as to schools and education. In our parish the master’s salary was increased, and in 1871 a new school-room was built more in accordance with modern requirements. Then in 1872 came Lord Young’s Act, and this Act, with some amendments, is the law under which education has been since administered. While the old Parochial School system had much that was excellent, it cannot he denied that in some respects it was deficient. In our parish, as in many others, there was not sufficient provision for the scattered population, though something was done by General Assembly and adventure schools, and this evil had to be remedied by the establishment of additional schools at Tulloch, Dorback, and Glenbrown. The Public School at Abernethy, which took the place of the Parish School, was also improved by the addition of a class-room, and the appointment of a female teacher, while an excellent house was provided for the master. In these and in other respects many improvements have been effected. There have been losses as well as gains under the new system, but the gains predominate. Comparing the present with the past, the following things may be noted. There is better provision of education as there are more schools and under stricter registration, and by enforcement of the compulsory clauses of the Act, a larger and more regular attendance has been secured. Then, it may be said, there is fairer treatment of the scholars, as not only the clever, but the dull have their chance. Justice so far as possible is done to all. Further, from the better accommodation, the more systematic teaching, and the more liberal equipment and appliances, work is carried on under more favourable circumstances, and more effectively. And as another very important matter, Education is now free. Mention has been already made of the fees charged in 1838, and from this it will be seen what a heavy burden fell upon parents, especially where there were large families. This burden has been removed. So far as the law is carried out, there is now a place for every child, and every child in its place. Wordsworth’s "glorious time" may be said to have come, excepting, perhaps, as regards religion, when "this imperial realm" has bound

"Herself by statute to secure
For all the children whom her soil maintains,
The rudiments of letters, and to inform
The mind with moral and religious truth— 
Both understood and practised—so that none,
However destitute, be left to droop
By timely culture unsustained, or run
Into a wild disorder; or be forced
To drudge through weary life without the aid
Of intellectual implements and tools,
A savage horde among the civilised— 
A servile band among the lordly free."

The following is a list of the Schoolmasters who have taught at Abernethy, so far as known :—Lachlan Shaw, 1711, afterwards Minister at Kingussie, Cawdor, and Elgin, the historian of Moray; Patrick Grant, 1730; Malcolm Grant, 1749; Francis Lauder, 1752; George Dempster, 1754; Duncan Cameron, 1760; John Vass, 1780; William Pine, transferred to Grantown, 1803, taking with him the Cock-fight Crown, which was never returned; William Macdonald, 1804-45; James Grant, 1845-70; Donald Grant, M.A., 1870-76, now Minister of Dornoch, Sutherlandshire; George Sorrie, MA., 1876-80, now Master of the Grammar School, Stonehaven; Andrew Steele, M.A., 1880, the present Teacher, assisted by Margaret Taylor, certificated Mistress. For four years, 1892-96, the school was recognised as a Centrical School for Secondary Education, and a grant of £40 was made to it annually by the Inverness-shire Secondary Education Committee. During this time an additional Master was employed, and under pressure from the Department and H.M. Inspector, the School Board were put to large expense in enlarging the accommodation, but the grant, having been withdrawn, the staff had to be reduced. The highest grants earned were, in 1896, £191 13s 6d. Last year, 1897, with a lower attendance, owing to a decrease in the number of children within the school limit, the grants obtained were £139 11s 6d.


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