New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

William Wishart Blasts the N.B. Education System – 1845

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William Wishart Blasts the N.B. Education System – 1845

The following article is from Extracts of Lectures on Political Economy Delivered During the Sessions of 1844-45 in the Hall of the Mechanics Institute of St. John, N.B., by The Rev. William Thomas Wishart, Saint John, 1845.

This is an angry denunciation of the state of education in New Brunswick at that time. Wishart had two principal complaints about the system. The first was that King’s College in Fredericton served the interests of the privileged class, and that it promoted the Church of England to the exclusion of all other denominations. His second complaint was that there was no Normal School for the education of teachers. Beyond that, he was appalled at just about everything to do with education in New Brunswick.

King’s College was established in 1823, and its charter stipulated its mission as “the education of youth in the principles of the Christian religion, and their instruction in the various branches of literature and science.” The curriculum was very narrow, however. It was said that “Nothing further … is required … for matriculation, than [to be] acquainted with the … Latin and Greek languages, and be capable of … writing in Latin as well as English.”

Very little was expressed about the teaching of the sciences, or any other discipline, except that the Cambridge course of Mathematics was adopted. They apparently knew how restrictive the courses were, and hoped “at no very distant period to establish distinct Professorships in Natural Philosophy, Law, Anatomy and Medicine, by which the circle of Collegiate Education would be almost completed.”

 Kings College

King’s College, at its idealized best

That will be enough preamble! On to William Wishart’s rant, which was written in one unbroken paragraph:


Education is yet far from having reached the whole of the community, even in the most advanced states. In a late prospectus of the condition of education in several of the chief countries of Europe, we perceive that the highest proportion of persons attending school is one in five, and that in England it amounts only to one in seventeen. This is the highest point to which improvement has reached within those spheres which have been so long subjected to the influence of civilization. It is of vital consequence to the well-being of this country, that its education should possess the two requisites, of being ample in point of quantity and good in point of quality. An efficient means toward this end would seem to be a moderate tax upon property. With a view to control the affairs of education, in addition to local trustees, it would appear advisable that a central board should be appointed—and that this board might exercise a proper degree of influence, it should consist of a considerable number of persons,—they should be men of acknowledged integrity and talent,—and every care should be taken that the persons nominated should be such as the general feeling of the community pointed out as the most proper for the office. Something of this sort has been attempted in Nova Scotia, and, we believe, has been followed by the best results. If anything of the kind exists in this Province, it must have the faculty of hiding itself, for we have not heard or seen any symptoms of its presence. As one means toward a country possessing a good system of general instruction, it appears necessary that it should have a good method of collegiate education. The teachers who are to convey instruction into each class and district, should be formed, or at the least, should receive some tinge from the University. The attempts which have hitherto been made in these two Provinces to attain this object have not been attended with signal success. Six institutions, claiming to be considered colleges, distract the attention, and fritter away the resources of these Colonies. In other words, two poor new countries, with a straggling population, of which only a very trifling proportion can devote itself to literary pursuits, support a greater number of collegiate foundations than Ireland with its eight millions, or than Scotland with its population of three millions. The feelings of sect and party have surely been more consulted in such regulations, than the interests of science. The sums annually granted to these different institutions, collected into one fund, would furnish an amount quite sufficient to endow one excellent college with a board of from twelve to twenty learned professors. At present the bursaries being in some cases more numerous than the pupils who attend, it is notorious that these endowments, originally destined for poor scholars, have been applied to enable the sons of the gentry to defray their expenses, in creating a political interest for the college, and in bribing persons to attach themselves to the Church of England. If this Province desires to escape from this narrow and pernicious influence of a small junta, if it wishes to introduce within its bounds men of high talents and large acquirements, if it hopes to secure for the rising generation the benefits of a broad system of collegiate instruction, one of the first objects to which its legislators will apply themselves will be, to procure, an University worthy of the name. Such an establishment, while all its regulations should be imbued with the spirit of genuine Christianity, should be free from the hue of any particular sect. Its direct object should he to initiate the youth in the knowledge of the arts and sciences, not to train them up to be the partisans of an exclusive set of opinions. In anything that has been done as yet in this Province the interests of the upper class have been chiefly consulted,—those of the community in general cannot be said to have been represented. This has been owing partly, by the position of the collegiate establishment to which we refer—partly to the narrowness of the constitution which belongs to it. These circumstances might eventually be altered by changing the site of the institution,—at all events by imparting to it a more liberal character, and by applying to it the doctrine that a college which is paid out of the general purse of the country should represent all the sects, or, what would be much better, should represent none. A college, strong in science, strong in literature, and uncontaminated by the pollution of a sect, would greatly promote, not merely the intellect but the moral character of this country. Another regulation that would lead to beneficial results would be the erection of one or more Normal schools. In this branch, also, the influence of sect should be carefully guarded against. The teacher of such a school, in order to effect real good, should be something more than the mere tool of some coterie of small religion. He should, if possible, be a man who could give a tone to things, rather than one who would take his cue from the field-marshal of a sect, with his bevy of female adjutants.—The influence of one good training-school would be felt extensively, and almost immediately, throughout the Province.—In the course of one or two years it would be able to supply well disciplined teachers to most of the principal stations. In a period of from five to ten years, every part of the country would distinctly feel its beneficial influence. The cost would be trifling when compared with the advantages. A salary to the principal would be the chief item of the expense, and this even would be in some degree compensated by the fees accruing from the number of pupils, who might be expected to repair to such an academy. With a tax levied for educational purposes,—with an enlightened central board of instruction,—with a collegiate establishment reared upon a broad basis,—with a Normal School vigorously conducted, this Province, within a period of from ten to twenty years, might be placed upon a footing that might enable it to brook a comparison with any portion of the old or of the new world. To produce this result, it would scarcely be necessary that larger sums or greater efforts than are now devoted to the purposes of education should be appropriated. The object might be accomplished on the present ratio of expenditure and effort, provided only that they were placed under skilful and vigorous direction.


Written by johnwood1946

December 15, 2013 at 11:21 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Fredericton Normal School was founded in 1848, its first Principal being Marshall Baron D’Avery (sic). I wonder what Wishart would have thought of that. Probably not much, since D’Avery was an aristocrat associated with King’s College.

    Susan Wood

    December 15, 2013 at 3:47 PM

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