Early School Days, 1856

1890s Major John Ness, Blantyre

Continuing a look at Major Ness’s early days as the new Village schoolmaster in Blantyre Works School, some 166 years ago, back in 1856. There’s some good detail about those early times.

It was not long afterwards from arriving when an occasion arose which brought to light the personal determination of Mr Ness and also his firmness as an upholder of school discipline. The incident was as follows:

A boy had been caught in the wrong and Mr Ness told him he was going to punish him for it, but the boy positively refused to hold out his hand to be punished. Mr Ness gave him two minutes to do so and added if he refused to do so, he would punish him through caning twice as severely as he presently intended. The boy remained obdurate and Mr Ness did punish him by force, grabbing the boy and forcing open the hand anyway. This was seen by the rest of the class and clearly remembered.

However, during the incident, the parents of this one boy lived so close to the school, hearing the cries of their lad, the father was down his stairs in the twinkling of an eye and rapping vigorously at the school door. Mr Ness upon going to the door was confronted by the angry father who bluntly said, “Ye xxxxx, whit are ye daen tae ma boy?” Mr Ness cooly facing his interrogator replied that before answering, the father would be required to modify his language and address him more respectfully than he had done. The man refused and Mr Ness refused to speak to him further, pretending he wasn’t there. The man eventually left without getting any satisfaction.

The boy came back to school the next day, but still fuming from the encounter with the father, Mr Ness had decided that an example needed to be made of the boy further, despite having caned him the previous day. He brought the boy out in front of the class and told him he would be allowed to remain in the school if he expressed regret and apologised for what he had done (it was never mentioned what he did!). The boy again refused stating that he had already been punished and so Mr Ness ordered him to take his schoolbooks, leave the school and go home. In a few minutes later the boys father again came to the school, angry but asked what Mr Ness what playing at. Mr Ness explained that if the boy apologised, he could come back, and also asked the father to apologise too! The man said there was no way he would apologise and he would be instructing his son never to apologise for this incident too. “All right” said Mr Ness. The boy cannot therefore stay in this school.

Following this up, the lad was thereafter sent to a school in Bothwell which he attended for a few weeks. His mother then came to the school, asking Mr Ness to take the boy back, adding she would apologise for the boy and her husband. During this time, the father of the boy decided to make further trouble by speaking to the manager of the mills, saying his boy had been expelled from the school by the new headmaster. However, true to the company’s word, Monteith & Co stood by the actions of their new schoolmaster, supporting his actions adding that discipline would be maintained at this school to bring up a generation of mill workers who would obey law and order. Mr Ness was heard to say later in life that he was glad he never had to resort to such drastic actions in expelling anybody every again. Those pupils guilty of bad behaviour quickly came to realise, their new teacher was NOT a man to be trifled with!

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