A Fine Education

My great great grandfather, Roger Peter Cartan, was raised in Gortilea above the village of Claudy in Northern Ireland. The tenant farmers in the area were largely poor and uneducated. But during his late teens he was one of seventy students who attended the experimental Templemoyle Agricultural Seminary about ten miles from Claudy. We know this because of several newspaper accounts like this one.

The Londenderry Standard, September 18, 1839


The annual examination of the pupils of this now celebrated seminary, in the various branches of an agricultural and literary education, took place on Friday last. We were much gratified with our visit to the school. The day was remarkably fine, and the farm, nursery, gardens, etc., looked to the utmost advantage. Considerable improvement has taken place since our last visit, one year ago, both in the external and internal arrangements of the institution.

Every object which met the eye bespoke the skill, the care, or the genius of the resident managers of the place, and the assiduity of the pupils, who are now seventy in number. Children, living upon the heritage of wealthy parents, could not be surrounded with greater comfort, enjoy greater advantages, or be attended to with greater anxiety, then are the sons of the farming classes now under the tutelage of the masters of Templemoyle School.

They have food to eat, which, plain and simple as it is, would be considered a luxury at the tables of the rich, from the perfect cleanliness of its preparation and purity of its material. They have beds to lie in, which for scrupulous neatness and wholesomeness are not inferior to any in the first boarding schools in the country, and in which, we will venture to affirm, sounder sleep is to be found.

They have excellent teachers, clever and kind, under whose instruction their understandings may be enlarged, and their memory stored with practical knowledge, sufficiently extensive to enable them to aspire to an eminent station among their countrymen. And they have pleasant gardens and lovely scenery about them, in which exercise, amusement, instruction, and manly toil, are blended together so completely that day after day passes by unmarked until their delightful apprenticeship is over, and the once untutored farmer's son is sent into the world to assert the dignity of an intelligent and educated mind.

On entering the school room we were much struck with the decorous and gentlemanlike demeanor of the pupils. At this time the influx of visitors had not arrived, to awe and abash them into good behavior, and although we did not once hear the sound of the teacher's voice in expostulation or command, everything went on as smoothly and as seemlily as in a meeting of a scientific society.

There was no clamor, no brawling, no ill nature, none of that spreeishness and currishness which the overgrown children of most classical academies pride themselves so much in exhibiting. The only considerable bustle which we observed throughout the day was occasioned by the unexpected appearance of a former pupil of the establishment, and then teachers and scholars alike sprung fourth to hold out the welcome hand, to make the cordial inquiry, to accept the returned congratulation. This natural and un-gotten-up scene spoke more eloquently in favor of the entire establishment than the most satisfactory examination of the day.

Before we proceed to detail the results of the examination, we must revert to an opinion expressed by us on a former occasion with reference to this subject. It is clear to us that the education of the better class of farmers, under such a system as that adopted at the Templemoyle Seminary, and carried into affect throughout the island, would tend to the regeneration of our country. At all events, in the absence of an effective system of National Education for the children of the poor, the knowledge and intelligence which each individual student of an agricultural seminary would be able to defuse around him among his cottiers and laborers would have a mighty influence in creating a golden age for Ireland.

Imagine what can be done by the seventy pupils of the Templemoyle School alone, and their several future destinies, and then calculate what good might achieved by seventy thousand. There is no great necessity for insisting upon a scriptural education as applicable to the system of these schools, because the pupils are generally old enough to see the necessity of educating themselves under the eye of the ministers of their own of persuasion in the precepts of religion, and young enough to admit the possibility of the routing out of the error in superstition are the strong arm of a liberal education.

They go away from the seminary superior to prejudice, and open to conviction, with minds expanded to the perception of truth, with capacities suited to the enlightenment and instruction of others, and, more than all, with an insatiable desire to impart to others that enlightenment and instruction.

Each lad becomes the oracle of the circle to which he returns; in him the ignorant laborer, the thriftless cottier, the humble born politician, the midnight legislator, see the blessing and beauty of knowledge, temperance, and generosity of spirit; in him they see a friend and teacher, with all the impressiveness, but without the hauteur and distance of the landlord or the agent; they are proud to receive instruction from such a one. They obey him from love and not from fear, and gradually and imperceptibly from about the abode of the scientific agriculturalist disappear crimes and their causes; and peace, and order, and prosperity steel into their place...

... The different examinations in Spelling, Reading, Grammar, Arithmetic, Trigonometry, Geometry, Algebra, Geography, Bookkeeping, Botany, Writing, and Mapping, were respectably conducted by Messrs. Philson, Simpson, Leathem, Coyle, and Nesbitt. The exhibition was in the highest degree creditable to the assiduity and talents of Mr. Maxwell as a teacher.

After the literary department of the examination had concluded, the senior and junior agricultural classes were examined by James Anderson, Esq., at great length, and with the most searching minuteness. The lads were subsequently examined by Sir Robert Ferguson out of Mr. Smith's evidence before a Committee of the House of Commons, and also by Capt. Kennedy, agent to Sir Charles Style, Bart., one of the first agriculturalists of the country.

As these examinations were the most interesting portion of the proceedings of the day, the greatest attention was evinced on the part of the large assembly of visitors present. The answers were partly given in the words of the various agricultural writers studied at the school, and partly in language suggested by the lads' own experience. The examination chiefly tended to elicit such knowledge as the pupils had acquired in the uses of drainage, subsoil ploughing, and the rotation of crops; the uses and management of the subsoil plough were particularly insisted upon.

Very few questions, indeed, escaped a ready and satisfactory answer, and no lad allowed any question to pass him without making some attempts at reply, which, though it might be incorrect, was at least ingenious. Mr. Campbell, the Agricultural teacher, had every reason to be proud of the exhibition.

The farm was perambulated in the course of the day by the Committee of the Institution and other gentlemen; all of whom expressed themselves much gratified with the highly improved condition of the grounds, and the appearance of the crops. The garden also proved a great center of attraction; in the scientific arrangement, by Mr. Maxwell, of the various plants and grasses, according to the systems of of both of Linnaeus and Jussieu were much admired. The extreme cleanliness and good order of the dairy, the dormitories, and, indeed, every part of the buildings, for which credit is particularly due to Mrs. Williams, the matron, was with every one a theme of praise.

In the course of the day, the visitors sat down to an excellent and plentiful lunch prepared for them; and his Worship, the Mayor of Derry, being in the chair, he proposed "Success to the institution, and to all who wish well to it;" which toast, we need not say, was most cordially received. The whole arrangements reflected the highest credit upon Mr. Pitt Skipton, the Secretary to the Institution.


The article concludes with a list of students to whom premiums were awarded. In this list "Rodger Carton, Gortilea, Claudy, County Derry" appeared three times, for Spelling (second class), Grammar (second class), and Mensuration (fourth class).

His name appeared in a similar article the following year in the Derry Journal. Roger Peter was 17 in 1839 and 18 in 1840. In 1841 he applied for but failed to obtain a job as schoolmaster at the Tirglasson School. He emmigrated to Canada some years later and became a school trustee, imparting the education he received. The effects of that education altered his life and were transmitted through his descendants even to the present day.

For a fascinating and detailed description of this remarkable school, see Templemoyle-Derry, a chapter from the 1845 Irish Sketchbook by the great William Makepeace Thackery. A tip of the hat to Sean McCartan for helping me find the articles from the Journal and Standard.