The History of Leith

August 21, 2007

The Thomas Kirkwood Case

This case relates to the master of the Grammar School, who was, of course, in the service of the Kirk Session. The Grammar School stood in the Kirkgate within the area of the present churchyard, and there it remained until in 1806 when it was transferred to the Links to become Leith Academy.
In the year 1729 the master of the school was one Thomas Kirkwood. There had been some hesitation in giving him an appointment of so great importance to the youth of the town, but the Session had been impressed by fair words and promises. Unfortunately, however, he was, what shall we say, a friend of publicans and anti-prohibitionists, one who indulged not wisely but too well in the cup that clears to-day of past regrets and future fears. The school fell into manifest decay under his control, and parents delayed sending their children to it because of his conversation and behaviour and unseasonable company-keeping, until the number of boys entrusted to his care was less than 50. The register states that neither his most solemn promises nor even his own interest and that of his family can have any influence upon him to his amending, for though he has often been spoke to by the ministers and others, and was once admonished by a committee of the Session, and warned of his hazard to whom at that time he promised that what was complained of should be amended, yet he has been so far from doing so that things dayly grow worse and worse. Accordingly in January 1729 a committee of the Session visited the school and heard the scholars class by class, and having discoursed and reasoned upon the matter, appointed certain of their number to prepare an overture setting down the facts, This overture was a lengthy document which stated that the boys were made to read Latin poetry before learning grammar, that the master neither duly attended the school himself, nor was strict in requiring the boys to a punctual attendance, that he did not allow his assistant to correct or punish the boys in his absence, and that the credit of the school could never be recovered nor could it ever flourish under his management. The Session deliberated upon this document, and directed their committee to draw up such heads and articles of a libel as they thought proper, that the same might be given to Mr Kirkwood to answer. This libel and the answers of the master thereto were as follows
27th February 1729.this day Capt. Neil McLeod and Walter Scott, merchant, given in a representation for themselves and sundry inhabitants of Leith relative to the affair of the school and schoolmasters, subscribed with their hands bearing that if Mr Kirkwood was continued they could not send their children to the school. Also Robert Finlay, one of the elders, gave in an attestation by Mr Adam Watt, Professor of Humanity in the College of Edinburgh, in favours of Mr Kirkwood. And another paper in the same favours signed by several of the parents of children at school and by others. All which papers were ordered to be kept in retentis. Thereafter the committee presented the following articles :—Articles of charge, the Session of South Leith against Mr Thomas Kirkwood, master of the Grammar School there. Though the Session, who are the sole and undoubted patrons of the school, might, without any form of process simply upon their having been dissatisfied with Mr Kirkwoods conduct, have dismissed him without giving him any reasons of their so doing, in regard he was admitted for a tryall and during the Sessions pleasure only, yet willing to do him all manner of justice, and that neither he nor any of his friends may have the least ground of complaint as if our proceedings were arbitrary, we do allow him the opportunity of answering to the following articles of charge against him
imo. That through his mismanagement, the school is now under a manifest decay, both as to numbers and proficiency, for as there are but few boys in the school, so they that are in it do not seem to be profiting, being most of them very lame and deficient as to the rudiments and grammar which is to be imputed to their not having been duel exercised therein. 2do. That he is grossly negligent in not attending the school himself at school hours. That he has no fixed time for prescribing the lessons and examining of them, and does not oblige the boys to a close attendance at the stated hours of convening the School. 3tio. That there are many things blamable in Mr Kirkwoods personal behaviour and conversation which have given great offence and are loudly complained of and all these aggravated by their being persisted in, after the most solemn promises to amend them, not only frequently to the ministers in private, but also after an admonition by a committee of the Session. These are such faults in a master or teacher of a school! as must justify to all unprejudiced persons a sentence of deposition. And the rather that little or no regard can be had to any promises which he, now being apprehensive of danger, may be willing to come under, who has already so frequently broke through all engagements.
Which articles being considered by the Session, Mr Kirkwood was called in, and the same were read and delivered to him to see and answer next Session diet, this day 15 days time.
13th March 1729 This day Mr Thomas Kirkwood gave in his answers, the tenor whereof follows Answers Mr Thomas Kirkwood, master of the Grammar School to the articles of charge exhibited against him by the Reverend Session of South Leith. As to the first article, tis answered that the school is at this juncture, as to the number of boys, much about the same that it was at the demise of Mr Forrest, my predecessor, and has been of a greater number since, and may yet be more, so that it cannot be said to he in a manifest decay. Next, as to the proficiency of the boys, I with humble submission affirm, that there are several of them (according to the proportion of time and their different capacities) understand both the rudiments and grammar, and know how to apply the rules accordingly, unless it be where nature has refused a genius, in which case tis impossible for me to supply it. But as the Reverend Session had but little time to spend in their last visitation, tis not to be supposed that they could from it make a full judgment of the progress of the scholars. But if the Session will be pleased to appoint visitations from time to time, I doubt not but the boys will acquit themselves with credit and satisfaction. As to the first part of my 2nd article, viz :my not attending the school at school! hours, it is answered I have always attended the school in the proper hours, excepting when the necessity of my other affairs obliged me to be absent, and I must own, these perhaps were more frequent than they should have been. As to this particular, I promise a thorough amendment. As to the 2nd part, that I have no fixed time for prescribing the lessons and examining them, I humbly beg leave to lay before my reverend patrons my method of teaching, viz Every Monday morning I take an account of the sacred lessons which were presented the Saturday before, together with the repetition of the Catechism and the notes of the sermon. And, in the afternoon I prescribe a lesson in their rudiments, grammar, and authors, and appoints the boys to give an account of them next day. And likewise I prescribe Mondays night a general pense which I take an account of next morning immediately after prayers are said; the superior classes having with the same pense either a theme or version to write and so on from day to day. This method was for most part observed, excepting when some things fell in my way to divert it. And if the Session shall think fitt to make any alterations in or additions to my method, I shall observe their directions pointedly for the future. And as to the last, my not obliging the boys to a close attendance at the stated hours of conveening the school, tis answered that this could never be laid to my charge, till such time as I was afflicted with a fever and ape, and it cannot be supposed that under affliction I could be very capable to attend myself or oblige the boys to attend at the stated hours. And it has been always my practice to punish the boys that were absent at the hours of conveening unless they brought from their parents a written excuse mentioning that they were necessarily detained. If I did at any time omitt this discipline it was out of tenderness to the boys and even to their parents who sometimes have complained that I was too severe in that matter. As to the 3rd article, the charge is general, and therefore cannot receive a special answer, but if there has been any umbrage taken by the Session or any member thereof at my behaviour, care shall he taken that no such occasion shall be given for the future, and by the assistance of the Almighty I hope my deportment in time coming shall be as becomes, in respect whereof, etc., sic, sub scribitur, Thomas Kirkwood.
After reading of which answers and some reasoning thereupon the Session continues them under consideration till this day eight days, and considering themselves as the patrons of the school and the only judges of the master in question, unanimously agreed and resolved that in giving their judgment they will have no regard to the papers given in, either on the one side or the other, so as to make them a ground of their sentence.
The whole subject was reviewed by the Session at their meeting on 20th March, 1729, when they decided that the schoolmaster was guilty of all the offences charged against him, Yet out of tenderness to him and his family, they delay coming to a sentence and leave the matter open till they take some further tryall of his conduct in managing the school, and also of his personal carriage and conversation. In a long declaration they certified him that if he did not duly attend the school, and if he neglected to prescribe lessons to the scholars, or behave himself suitably or fail to recover the credit of the school so as it may flourish, that then in that case they will reckon themselves obliged in justice to the education of the children of this place without further process to dismiss him from the school. The Session also resolved to visit the school from time to time, and no doubt Mr Kirkwood made an effort to mend his ways. The record of these visits will be of interest to educationists as they mention the books then in use by the scholars. Thus the Minute of 8th May, 1729, was as follows
8th May 1729.Reported that the Moderator with six of the elders and six of the deacons did meet in the Session-House on Tuesday, 29th April last, and from thence went to the Grammar School and examined the scholars, finding the first class reading the 4th Aenid of Virgil with Terence; the second class reading the 1st Eclog of Virgil with Cornelius Nepos; the third class reading the 1st book of Ovid Metamorphosis with Erasmus Minor; the fourth class reading the first of Ovids Epistles with Cordenius ; the filth class gone through the declension of nouns and pronouns in Rudimans; and the sixth class begun the vocabulary. Reported that it appeared the school was more closely attended than formerly.
At a later visitation the first class was reading the 2nd book of the Odes of Horace with Buchanans history; the second class was reading the 13th book of Ovids Metamorphosis with Eutropius; the third class was reading Kirkwoods Grammar, and for authors Lilus Monita Pedagogica and Cordenius; the fourth class was reading Ruddimans Rudiments; the filth class had begun the declensions and the vocabulary.
The rest of the tale is incomplete, but a casual Minute discloses the fact that Mr Kirkwood was not by any means at the mercy of the Session, but had on the contrary maneuvered himself into a strong strategic position. His yearly salary was 200 marks, and he occupied a house in the churchyard, which, like the school, formed part of the property of King James Hospital. The masters of this hospital owned considerable lands in the town, and when their revenues accumulated they lent them out upon interest. Now Mr Kirkwood was in the position that he owed the masters a debt of 500 marks, and when the Session made things uncomfortable for him he not only refused to pay the principal of his debt but also withheld the interest. This was a predicament, indeed, and apparently it was checkmate for the Session. At any rate the registers make no further mention of Mr Kirkwood and his carriage and conversation; and all the points of dittay in the overture and libel were conveniently forgotten with the fierce threats that had been breathed out against him. The Session paid up Mr Kirkwoods debts by the simple process of stopping instalments out of his salary, and when after a number of years the Grammar School is mentioned again in the registers, it was flourishing under the care of another master.

source-South Leith Records

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