Celebrating the centenary of Jamaica’s Calabar High (Part I): The Studley Park years

On September 12, 1912, Calabar High School opened its doors, and since then has produced graduates who have provided leadership in every sphere of national endeavour as well as professionals and academics who have earned recognition and esteem at home and abroad. The centennial year in the life of this outstanding educational institution provides a unique opportunity not only for celebration and reflection but for the development planning which is critical to the school’s progress over the next 100 years, Arnold Bertram writes in Jamaica’s Gleaner.

The founding of Calabar was largely the work of two men. One was the Reverend Ernest Price, BA, BD, an Englishman who came to Jamaica in 1910 as president of the Calabar Theological College and the senior representative of the British Baptist Missionary Society in Jamaica. He was Calabar’s headmaster for the first 25 years, and during his tenure guided the school from its modest beginnings to the pinnacle of high-school education in Jamaica.

The other was his deputy, the Reverend David Davies, BA, BD, who grew up in the Australian outback. He gained his first degree from the University of Adelaide and the second from the University of London.

Tour of the island

Within the first year of his arrival, Price went on a tour of the island covering some 250 miles by horse and buggy, during which he witnessed, first-hand, the challenge faced by Baptist ministers to find suitable education for their sons.

Said Price: “From manse to manse … we saw a boy growing up with the smattering of education that an overworked father or mother could give in the absence of adequate books and instruments.”

In 1911, the year before Calabar opened its doors, the entire high-school enrolment in the 11 endowed schools and the single government high school in Jamaica was only 844 in a population of 831,400.

Price’s first vision of the high school that became Calabar was “a simple dormitory in one part, but with a room in another part in which the boys might do their home lessons; and the boys themselves were to attend Wolmer’s about a quarter mile away”. The vision grew when the Rev William Pratt, an Oxonian, and minister of the East Queen Street Baptist Church, suggested that the school fees which would be paid to Wolmer’s could be used to hire teachers from England to conduct elementary classes, while Price and David Davis taught secondary subjects part-time.

By September, the construction of the school was completed in the working-class urban environment of Jones Pen, where the theological college and the Baptist church were already established. The centrepiece of the new school was a two-storey building which had been constructed along modern lines with optimum light and ventilation. The three classrooms on the ground floor were of reinforced concrete with combination seats and desks, made by local artisans and “patterned on those used by the Prince of Wales when he was at school”.

The dormitories for the boys on the upper floor were made of wood, and the buildings included separate quarters for the headmaster and the deputy headmaster. Single male teachers were housed in the same building with the boys. A library and a gym were located separately. The sports facilities provided on the campus were a cricket field, a tennis court and a croquet lawn.

What’s in a Name?

Old Calabar was the name of one of the two major ports of embarkation for the thousands of enslaved Africans who were brought to Jamaica in the 18th century from the Calabar region in southeast Nigeria. Some of the enslaved Africans who ended up in the parish of Trelawny settled on lands in the hills overlooking the port of Rio Bueno, which they named Calabar for the fact that the physical features of the bay at Rio Bueno, which formed part of their visual landscape, was a poignant reminder of the Old Calabar they had left behind in Africa.

It was here on lands adjoining the settlement to which the enslaved African community that the Calabar Theological College was established in October 1843 “for the training of young men for the Christian ministry … as the means of raising up a class of educated native agents, who shall in this island and on the continent of Africa, proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ … ,” according to H.O. Russell. There is a certain consistency in the first high school established by the Baptists to train young minds in a religious atmosphere to work in Jamaica and abroad also being called Calabar.

Arnold Bertram is a Calabar old boy, former parliamentarian and ex-Cabinet minister. He is a historian currently writing ‘A History of Calabar High School’, to be published as part of the centenary celebrations. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and redev.atb@gmail.com.

For the original report go to http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20110926/news/news2.html

One thought on “Celebrating the centenary of Jamaica’s Calabar High (Part I): The Studley Park years

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