Object of the Month: June 2017

School Log Books

Kilandrist Parish School 1866-78
Baligarve Public School 1879-1965
Baligrundle Public School 1911-1960

The 1872 Education Act provided state-sponsored schools, with compulsory attendance for all children from 5 to 13, run by local school boards; on Lismore, this meant the establishment of state/public schools at Baligarve and Baligrundle, eventually with infant, junior and senior divisions. Before that time, the two parish schools were at Baligrundle and Kilandrist (where Samuel McColl, the last Gaelic-speaking schoolmaster on Lismore, taught from 1809 to 1862, fostering the talents of Alexander Carmichael and Captain Hugh Anderson, amongst many others). Others included the school at Achuaran (1840s-1860s), which seems to have been an SPCK sewing school for girls.

The new public school at Baligarve

The new public school at Baligarve

James Wilson, in his ‘twenties, from Kirriemuir was the first teacher at Baligarve and he remained until his retirement in 1918. In contrast, there was a series of Lowland women teachers at Baligrundle, and a sewing mistress at each school until well into the 20th century. Teachers were required to keep a log book or diary of the school year, recording attendance, illness, weather, special events, academic achievements (including the award of bursaries and the graduation of former pupils at Glasgow University), the state of the building and equipment, and the reports of inspections (educational by HM Inspectors and religious by the parish minister). Interestingly, there are no records of punishment. The Lismore archive holds six of these log books spanning the century before the opening of the new Lismore Primary school at Achnacroish in 1965. There are also school registers and a range of jotters and drawing books.

The Baligarve Log Book, 1905-1925

The Baligarve Log Book, 1905-1925

The log books are of particular interest to local historians because of the various snippets of information they contain about the island and its population. Scholars were regularly absent from school because of herding, potato planting and lifting, and the grain harvest. In May 1906, the attendance officer “took names of several who were absent selling their whelks (winkles)”. There were epidemics of measles, whooping cough, scarlatina and mumps, and pupils were excluded because of scabies. The schools were closed for the day to allow pupils to attend the annual Ploughing Match and the Oban Games and, because the older pupils were needed to herd livestock to and from the Oban Cattle Markets. They were also closed for “Fast Days preparatory to the Sacrament” (celebration of communion on the following Sunday).

Summary of H M Inspector’s Report of Baligarve School (1907)

Summary of H M Inspector’s Report of Baligarve School (1907), including a note that there is “no proper water supply for school or schoolhouse”. In another report, the teacher complained about rotten floorboards in the school.

Over the century, the school year changed considerably. In the 1870s, the summer break lasted from mid-August to early November, allowing the pupils to assist at harvest; and the holidays in winter were governed by the old calendar (New Year on 12th/13th January). By 1915, the summer holidays were 30 July to 20 September).

The books are also a source of information on more national issues; for example, a search of entries show that the schools were closed for periods in 1918 and 1919 owing to the influenza epidemic, although there are no reports of child deaths. During WW2, there were up to eleven evacuees from Glasgow and Dumbarton at Baligrundle School, and the school was the base for the Home Guard. Pupils took part in gas mask and air raid drills and the schools were supplied with sandbags, fire fighting equipment and anti-blast coverings for the windows. There were holidays for the Victory Days (8 May and 15 August 1945).

Two statements from the reports of school inspectors confirm the declining importance of Gaelic in the education system:

1870. “The school (Kilandrist) continues to be conducted with satisfactory fidelity and in the circumstances (Gaelic being the vernacular) with a creditable measure of success”

1940. “The majority of the pupils come from homes where Gaelic is spoken and depend mainly on the school (Baligrundle) for their knowledge of English”

These are only a very few of the interesting entries in the log books. The curators plan to make the contents more widely available by a systematic recording of the books. One particular aim is to understand the curriculum, and how the schools, with limited teaching resources, met the needs of the older pupils.

Baligrundle School in the Coronation Year of 1911

Baligrundle School in the Coronation Year of 1911

The teachers were Mary McCall (52) originally from Killin and Isa Thomson (22) from Orkney.

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