Places of Interest about Girvan Rev.
Cathcart Kay, Parochial Schoolmaster
IN the sweet secluded churchyard of Old Dailly, 2½ miles from Girvan,
there is a rather handsome Tombstone with this inscription:—"The Rev.
Cathcart Kay, Parochial Teacher, Girvan. Born at Ochiltree, 21st Oct., 1804.
Died at Girvan, 13th June, 1848. This stone was raised by his pupils and
friends to commemorate his faith as a Christian, his worth as a man, his
skill and fame, as a Teacher." Here, then, my old Schoolmaster has been
resting for 44 years. He was brought up at Old Dailly, where his father was
a joiner, and I can recollect him telling us at school that he "liked to
take a walk to Old Dailly occasionally on the Saturday afternoons to see the
place where he expected to be laid."
My old Schoolmaster belonged to a class, common enough in those days, but
entirely extinct in Scotland now, and that was the class of
Minister-Schoolmasters. He was licensed as a preacher, but found his
life-work in teaching instead. And I cannot but think that Providence in
doing this had shaped his end more wisely than he himself would have done;
for he was an excellent teacher, while he would have made but an indifferent
Carlyle's description of his Annan Schoolmaster might answer in many
respects as a description of Mr Kay— "You could always notice in Annan boys
something of that primeval basis of rigorous logic and clear articulation
laid down for them in childhood by old Adam Hope." So was it with us. Stern
thoroughness was the key-note of our School. Order was the first law. We
were made even to write to order, by means of a whistle blown by the
best writer when he had finished each line. Very vividly can I recall now
our old Teacher's appearance. He was tall and spare of person, with sharp
features, dark grey eyes, close crisp hair, and a peculiar deep voice; and
the dread inspired by his presence was such that I can hardly pass the old
School yet without a certain inward trepidation. What endless sums we used
to get out at night to be returned next morning! and what drill we had in
spelling, and parsing, and geography! Drill, in fact, was the word all
through, and a stout piece of whalebone, facetiously called by him "the
black man," was the enforcer of it. The result was that he got a lot of work
out of us, and when brought into competition with boys of other schools, we
were hard dogs to beat.
In the days I speak of, steel pens were not, and the old Master had to
mend our quills himself with his pen-knife. He had a big box, called the
pen-box, with various compartments in it, which he carried about with him,
as a lady carries her knitting-bag. In the quiet hours of the
morning, or late afternoon, therefore, when the most of the scholars were
away, we "Latin Boys" would gather round his desk, and read or parse our
Caesar or Virgil, while he mended the pens and corrected our blunders.
Religious instruction consisted chiefly in the Shorter Catechism
committed to memory. We used to stand in rows on the floor on Saturday
forenoons, and repeat the Catechism till the last man fell—if he did
fall—which I rather think he never did. Beside this, there was a chapter of
the Bible read and explained to the whole school each morning, of which,
however, I have only a very hazy recollection. We used to sing the psalms
through also, and as the old master could not sing himself, there was a
succession of precentors selected from among the elder scholars. I remember
him once saying that the only tune he could "croon" in a sort of a way was
The old Master had little humour, told few stories, and rarely made
jokes. To the elder lads, I believe, he unbent a little, but to us younger
fry, he was strictness personified. We never dared take any liberties with
him, and when his temper was ruffled, "the boldest held his breath for a
time." I have witnessed some terrible scenes of "flogging," as he well
termed it, which always did harm to the school; for we generally took the
sufferers part. But this did not occur often.
In those days, there were no "accomplishments" taught in Parish Schools,
such as Drawing; and our Musical training was of the simplest. Neither was
there any Natural History or Local Topography thought of. Our teaching was
confined to our text-books, but these we had to master. He did not spare us,
neither did he spare himself. There was a half-day's schooling on alternate
Saturdays, which I believe he would willingly have extended to every
Saturday, had it been desired.
The old Master bore a high character in the town. He was reserved in his
manner, and rarely seen out of his own house in the evenings. His life was
given to the School, and his sole joy seemed to be in the success of his
pupils. The only occasions on which I have seen him radiant were when the
College classes broke up, and brought home some of his senior scholars. The
monitors of the School were then invited to supper to meet them, when we had
some talk and singing; and I think on these occasions he was as happy as it
was in his nature to be.
Generally speaking, I think his life must have been a comparatively
joyless one. With a weakly constitution he wrought hard, and had few
relaxations. He had no talent for public speaking, and cultivated little
society. His whole time was given to the furtherance of his work; and, on
the whole, he had his reward. For although no brilliant genius has arisen
from the classes he taught, still not a few have reason to thank him for the
sound education he gave them, and the high ideal of strenuous endeavour he
ever set before them.
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