Warwick Academy: The oldest school in Bermuda

This article by Edward Cecil Harris appeared in Bermuda’s Royal Gazette. Follow the link below for the original report and a photo gallery.

At the beginning of Governor Bennett’s term in 1701, members of the House of Assembly were scathingly described as having ‘privateering principles and a Bermuda education’. Anonymous, ‘A Brief History of Warwick Academy’, about 1976.

From humble beginnings of a few pupils, Warwick Academy has grown into an institution of excellence, with 768 students and a faculty of 90. We work hard to maintain the diversity of our student population, within a child-centred framework, where every student is encouraged to meet their potential in the academic, sporting and extra-curricular opportunities to which they are exposed. Maggie McCorkell, Principal, March 31, 2012.

THE establishment of a permanent education institution in Bermuda did not take place until the colony was half a century old, for it was 350 years ago, in 1662, that Warwick Academy came into being.

As one of the opening comments indicates, ‘theft standards’, or that is to say ‘principles in privateering’, seems to have held sway in education in the first century of the human settlement of the Island. Bermuda was one of the last places on Earth to be occupied by people, after some thousands of years trek out of Africa, and it may also have been one of the last places in English America to have a formal school.

That was despite a number of legacies from shareholders of the Bermuda Company, including a benefaction from one of its leading lights, Sir Nathaniel Rich, of lands for the supporting of a school in Bermuda, the most favourite of his overseas investments.

Yet the sarcastic remark combining privateering principles with ‘a Bermuda education’ seems to suggest that even by the beginning of the 18th century, schooling in Bermuda was a pudding that combined the crude with the rude and that easy money fitted hand in glove with a general lack of erudition.

Sir Nathaniel was of the family of Robert Rich, the Earl of Warwick, a large shareholder in the Bermuda Company, who had the central ‘Tribe’, later Parish, named for him. Other shareholders had their names affixed to the other seven tribes, while the later St George’s Parish was land held in common by the Bermuda Company to raise monies against its operating expenses and hopefully to garner some profits from tobacco or other commodities produced thereon. Twenty-six years after his death in 1636, Sir Nathaniel’s intention of establishing a school in Bermuda took hold in the rich soils of Warwick, so that in 2012 Warwick Academy celebrates 350 years as the oldest teaching institution in the land.

The presence of the school from 1662 is recorded thus in Richard Norwood’s third and last survey of Bermuda (1663) on Share no. 30 of Warwick Tribe: ‘The free school (formerly Mr William Webster) one share of land, namely a tenement and half a share of land in the occupation of William Diller being the south half. Item: a tenement and half a share of land in the occupation of Thomas Hart or his assign. In all one share, abutting at the south end upon the partition line aforesaid and at the north end upon the north side sea lying between the lands of Mr Hugh Wentworth to the eastward, and the lands of Mr Perient Trott to the westward’; all in all a little under 25 acres. Thus the share of land for a school in Warwick Parish probably represents the only plot in Bermuda, so designated in the 1600s for such an educational use, which has retained that status into the present day.

It was on the southern part of Share 30 (Share 27 in the Norwood 1617 survey), that Warwick Academy eventually developed into the building that it is today, latterly due to the generosity of James Morgan of Montreal and ‘Southlands’, and William Sterling Purvis OBE of Bermuda. It was the gift of the former that turned the two-room schoolhouse of 1914 into the collection of buildings that formed the core of the school in the 1920s, with more modern additions being constructed through the generosity of the latter.

Other information related to the history of ‘Warwick Seminary’, as it was referred to in the mid-1800s, was in the possession of a Trustee of the school, but were lost when the ship he was on sank. It was one of the regular vessels on the Bermuda run, the Fort Victoria, which was rammed by another vessel just outside of the harbour at New York and went to the bottom on December 18, 1929, along with the records.

Of Bermudians who rose to prominence after an education at Warwick Academy, we mention but two early ones, the Rev Dr Francis Landy Patton (1843-1932), who became the 12th president of Princeton University, and of a name now lost hereabouts, except for a ferry stop in Paget, was the famous surgeon of Edinburgh, Sir James William Beeman Hodsdon (1853-1928).

In another very important first, this time for the social well-being of Bermudians, Warwick Academy in 1963 was the first traditionally white school to admit black students and since it has been fully integrated. The year 1972 saw the appointment of Headmaster, Dr Joseph Marshall, the first Portuguese-Bermudian to hold the post, indeed it would appear that the good doctor was the first Bermudian to head up Warwick Academy, a mere 310 years after it was established as the island’s first permanent educational institution.

The last words herein are those of the Minister of Education, Dame Jennifer Smith, DBE, DHUML, JP, MP and they likely encapsulate the thoughts and wishes of many in this anniversary year for the school.

“In its 350th year, one would be hard put to categorise the sheer magnitude of the contribution of Warwick Academy to Bermuda through the work and accomplishments of its graduates, but someone should: it would be a massive but informative project. Warwick Academy is in the unique position of having operated as both a public school and a private school and it is noteworthy that our current Permanent Secretary of Education, Mr Warren Jones, was once the school’s music teacher. As Minister of Education, I have had the pleasure of visiting the school, listening in on classes, meeting students, hearing its bands and debating teams, and watching its athletes. I applaud the strength and vision of its Principal and the leadership and support of its Board and in this special anniversary year, I congratulate the entire Warwick Academy family.”

Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Executive Director of the National Museum at Dockyard. Comments may be made to director@bmm.bm or 704-5480.

For the original report go to http://www.royalgazette.com/article/20120407/ISLAND09/704079946/-1

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