Quills Were Used — Steel Pens an Abomination —
“Dip” and “Write” Were the Signals.
(By Donald Fraser, Victoria, B.C.)
My first recollection of school was a very great unwillingness to be taken to Mrs. Jessop‘s. I cannot remember the cause of my aversion to this seat of learning, but I do remember that it was only by physical force I found myself within its walls. I expect it is safe to say that nearly all the children of the town, for at least a generation before my time, received the ground work of their education at Mrs. Jessop‘s hands. Hon. John G. Haggart, Robert Moffat, the Dorans and many others I think may call Mrs. Jessop‘s school their primary. The Jessop property was situated at the corner of Beckwith and Brock streets, and comprised at that time about one acre of ground. Mrs. Jessop taught school, and Mr. Jessop cultivated a very fine garden. I can hear now his far-reaching unmelodious voice shouting to the children to “keep off the borders.” Mr. Jessop also kept sheep, where, I don’t know, but I remember the wool we had to tease. I have also a lively recollection of the hooks and eyes we had to cut off, and old garments to rip; kindergarten was unknown then, but we had it in its essence.
Mrs. Jessop taught music to the more advanced girls of the school, (boys didn’t take music lessons then.) I can both see and hear the piano, and the dear prim old lady sitting beside her pupil with a knitting needle in her hand, and very much on the watch for a wrong note, and I think tears were not an uncommon occurrence during what is now called an amusement.
I never got farther than the first book of lessons with Mrs. Jessop, she made no pretence of teaching the higher branches, but she taught thoroughly as far as she went, painstaking and conscientious to a fault. Her works do follow her. A girls’ school was kept on the same street, I think, by Mrs. Kay, near Mr. Rutherford‘s. I can remember our old faithful man, Geordie Graham taking my eldest sister to this school in the wheelbarrow; this was before the days of sidewalks of any kind, and Gore street was often very muddy.
As the pupils graduated from Mrs. Jessop‘s they generally entered Mr. Morrison‘s, afterwards Rev. Dr. Morrison, of Owen Sound. He taught in a building owned by Malcolm McPherson, corner of Drummond and Herriot streets. I never attended this school. The school now occupied as a separate school was built and I was transferred from Mrs. Jessop‘s to it. Mr. Cruikshanks was our first teacher, no doubt a Scotchman, and well educated. The leading spirits in this school were Godfrey and Alfred Bell, Michael, Pete and Richard Doran, John and Jim Sutherland, Dick Leggatt and others I could name. While no doubt much instruction was received by the pupils, the pranks and practical jokes were also numerous, and I fear Hon. William Morris‘ fine apple trees in close proximity were a temptation, greater than many of us could bear, and Mr. Radenhurst‘s butternut trees, which stood by the gate at the entrance to his grounds, gave a beautiful tan to the fingers of every boy in school, while the nuts lasted. Examination day was the great day at this school; trustees and parents turned out in goodly numbers, the pupils did their best, they were under the impression that the length of holidays they received depended upon the manner in which they acquitted themselves.
Here a break takes place in my connection with the Perth schools. My grandfather, who lived near Lanark, intimated that he required help to work his farm, at least that was what I was given to understand; being his namesake I was selected. My grandfather had two hobbies, one was surveying the farm, and the other taking observations of the heavenly bodies. He made almanacs and sun dials for his own amusement, and set enormous sums in multiplication and division for my benefit, but greatly to my detestation.
Miss Maria Dayton was my first teacher, and afterwards her sister, Charlotte, in the country school. This school was primitive in the extreme, built of logs and destitute of furniture; our seats were sectiions of tamarac trees. I expect we had lesson books of some kind, but what I remember most about was the rivalry as to who could repeat the greatest number of chapters in the New Testament from memory. The school was built on the farm of John Ralston, about one mile on the Lanark side of the Mississippi bridge. Children came long distances to that school. We all brought our dinners (luncheons) with us. After our refreshments were over, the remainder of the hour was spent in learning to dance Scotch reels, under the careful eye of our teacher, our only music the vocal lilt, now I expect quite unknown, certainly not practised. I remained at this school three or four years. I have undying memories of the Headrick’s, Ralston’s, Mellquham’s, Jackson’s, McCulloch’s, not forgetting old Roma Henry and his peripatetic wife Bet. At this period I secured the friendship of the late W. C. Caldwell, M.P.P., which lasted until the end.
When I returned to Perth, I was sent to what was called the district school, taught by John McIntyre. Here, work began in earnest. McCulloch’s course of reading, Lennie’s grammar, Reid and Walkingame’s arithmetic, Norse’s geography, Pennock Goldsmith’s history of England, etc., became stern realities. Much was given in this school, and much was required of the scholars. Mr. McIntyre had a Mr. Davidson and afterwards Finlay McNab, as assistant, to help with the junior classes; Mr. McNab was not a large man, but I have painful recollections that he appeared to develop enormous strength into his bony fingers as he endeavored to instil the rules of grammar into our thick skulls, almost equal to a surgical operation.
My classmates in this school were Charlie Radenhurst, George Kerr, Jim Templeton, Sam Sache, and John Cameron. Ned Malloch, George Templeton, the McPhersons, William Meighen and others were above us, but the head of the school, in a class by themselves, were Jack Haggart and Bill Kerr.
Our favorite games at this school were Antony Over and Prisoners’ Base.
A change took place in the school system whereby our district school was closed. Teacher and scholars moved to the frame building, which stood in the rear of the present stone building on Foster street. Mr. McIntyre had charge of the higher branches. William Somerville and John Mangan were the other teachers. Hitherto, the boys of the East Ward knew nothing of the boys of the West Ward, but with the amalgamation of the schools, what a change! The Kellocks, Kippens, Listers, Walkers, Halls, Campbells, and scores and scores of others were added to my acquaintance. Mr. Somerville was an ideal dominie, military in discipline and firmness itself in all his decisions.
For the benefit of the pupils of the present day, I will describe the method of teaching writing. We used quills. Steel pens were an abomination to him. He prepared the pens daily. A boy was selected to distribute the pens, and another the copy books to the pupils. When all was ready he gave the word of command, “Dip.” Each boy was obliged to shake off the superfluous ink and wait for the next word of command “Write.” We then wrote as though our lives depended upon the beauty and symmetry of our writing. Each line had to be better than the preceding one, and we wrote only three lines during the exercise. The copy books were collected, each line thoroughly inspected, and woe betide the boy who showed any degree of carelessness. The pen was to be held lightly between the thumb and fore finger, the middle finger three quarters of an inch from the point of the pen; the handle of the pen pointing to the right shoulder and the knuckles pointing to the ceiling of the room, the whole hand resting lightly on the little finger. Mr. Mangan was an Irishman, well up in English literature, and a good teacher, but hot of temper, which occasionally got him into scuffles with the larger boys, notably with Andrew Lister and Tom Martin. These scuffles usually ended in a draw. Mr. Mangan took charge of the Separate school. In the early fifties the stone school was built. John McLean Bell was principal. Walter McDonald, Mr. Lister, and Joseph Warren had charge of the other departments. Mrs. Bell was the principal of the girls’ department. This was the beginning of co-education. Great strides were made during the next few years. Each teacher was a specialist in his own department. For some classes the girls were admitted to the boys’ department. I have reason to remember this, because I have a distinct recollection on one occasion of McLean Bell announcing to the class that Miss Annie Fraser‘s essay was the best of the boys’. The explanation is that I had received so much help as to practically lose my identity.
My school days closed in 1856, in which years I entered the service of Messrs. Murray, Morris & Co., but that is another story.