Thursday, April 11, 2013

Durban High School: Early Days Part Two


Cont. article by Robert Russell, I.S.O. (First Head Master 1866-1875; Inspector of Schools 1875-1878; Superintendent of Education 1878-1903).

When the school re-opened in August [1866], 21 boys presented themselves. By December the attendance had increased to 40, the limit of the Mansion House accommodation. It was found necessary to form an Upper and a Lower Division, and an Assistant Master, Mr David Calder, was sent from the Maritzburg High School. For the next 18 months boys could be admitted only as vacancies occurred. So many boys sought admission and public discontent grew so loud that the Government was at last obliged to incur the risk of renting a larger building. The school was accordingly transferred to a roomy but otherwise unsuitable building in Cato Square previously used as a granary. The attendance speedily rose to over 100, but still there was only one Assistant Master. Each of us gave instruction in all subjects to our own division. The public purse was not full in those days and expenditure on education was confined within the narrowest limits. For several months during this flourishing period the Government income from the fees exceeded the total outlay on the school.

The earliest head boys were:
Eben. Coakes
Henry Buchan
Fred Dore
John W Leuchars
Alfred D Millar
Herbert Mann
Benjamin Hampson.

On the school registers between 1866 and 1874 may be found the following well-known coast names:
Acutt (3)
Addison
Arbuckle
Beachcroft
Beningfield
Bennett
Boyd
Bransby
Brickhill
Brown
Buchan (2)
Buttery
Chapman
Churchill
Coakes
Cooper (2)
Crowder
Currie
Dacomb (2)
Davies
Dixon
Dore (2)
Evans
Fisher (3)
Fradd
Gillespie
Goble
Grant
Hampson
Handley
Harvey
Heys
Hoffmann
Jacques
James
Kahts
Kermode
Knox (2)
Lennox
Leuchars
Lister
Livingston
Lloyd (2)
Lyle
Mann
Mason
Maxwell
McArthur (2)
Meikle
Millar (3)
Nicol
Palmer
Pay (2)
Pickering
Poynton
Purcocks
Randles
Raw
Rethmann
Robertson
Robinson
Rutherford
Salmon
Savory
Schulz
Sharp
Shuter (3)
Simpson
Smith (2)
Smart
Steel
Stone
Struben
Tatham (2)
Taylor
Tyrrell
Vause (2)
Welch
Williams
Wilson (2)
Winder
Wirsing
Wright (2)

As I was only a few years older than most of the senior boys who joined the school in 1866, I entered with zest into all their play as well as their work. Football, cricket and other games were carried on ... but they were not allowed to bulk largely in the public eye or to be regarded as anything but healthy and manly recreation. On alternate Saturdays the boys and myself had long rides in the country. Riding horses were cheap and plentiful and formed the general means of getting about. These excursions were undertaken with the object of observing the flora, fauna and geology of the countryside. I cannot now vouch for the scientific results of the rides, but it is certain that we all had a good time - characterised by the Superintendant of Education as high jinks. The physical advantages which I myself had derived from Volunteer training in Edinburgh in the early sixties led me to secure at once military drill twice a week for the boys. The instructor was a sergeant belonging to the company of regulars stationed at that time in the old Camp near the Umgeni Road. This developed into a Cadet Corps in 1868. The Government gave a drill-instructor, carbines, ammunition, accoutrements and cloth for uniforms, which were gladly made by mothers and sisters. A company of Cadets nearly 80 strong paraded in 1871 with the regulars and volunteers at the Queen's Birthday celebrations. Many of the boys were capital shots, and competitions were encouraged by prizes given liberally by the Durban merchants.

English subjects and mathematics occupied the greater part of school time. Latin and French were not in demand. Practical geometry, historical and physical geography, drawing, English composition and arithmetic were the favourite subjects. Every boy had to send in weekly a carefully written exercise in English composition. We kept to the old-fashioned method of taking places and giving marks.

There was no trouble about discipline. I inflicted corporal punishment only three times during my eight years' Headmastership, and then only for gross deceit and marked cruelty. I acted on the principle that the existence of the minor vices in a school, such as inattention and laziness, is as much the fault of the master as of the pupils.

Dr Mann, who was the first Superintendant of Education in Natal, had left for England a few weeks before my arrival. He was a man of scientific bent, and is remembered in the Colony as a keen advocate for the use of lightning conductors, and as the author of several handbooks on 'Science in the Household'. He was succeeded by Mr T Warwick Brooks, a scholar and man of the world and cousin of Shirley Brooks of 'Punch'. Mr Brooks was not an educationist in the present acceptance of the term, but it would have been hard to find any one more in sympathy with children. He had a commanding presence, rode a spirited horse and always had a cheery word and a half holiday for the boys who looked up to him with admiring awe as a man who had soundly thrashed an insolent prize-fighter in the early days of the Bendigo diggings. He allowed me the utmost freedom in the management of the school, being satisified ... if I kept steadily in view that the main end of my work was the moulding of the lads into good Citizens and Colonists. The Governors of the Colony occasionally visited the school and the Mayor generally presided at the prize-givings.

The Assistant Master left in 1870 for the Diamond Fields. He was succeeded first by Mr John Laurie, master of an aided school in Maritzburg, and then by Mr F Colepepper, latterly and for many years Inspector of Indian Schools. When I was appointed Associate Inspector of Schools in January 1875, my place as Head Master was taken by Mr James Forbes, an experienced master selected in England by Dr Mann.

Robert Russell
London Feb 18th 1905.

[Transcribed from The Durban High School Record]



Field St., Durban, ca 1870: unsurfaced.


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