Arnold Bertram, Contributor
FROM ITS inception, Calabar High School began providing a critical vehicle for the development of an intelligentsia with an internationalist perspective and the capacity for nation building. In 1912, there were only 593 boys enrolled in the high schools islandwide.
The first boy to enrol at Calabar was Alfred McDonald, the son of a Baptist minister who was stationed in Port Limon, Costa Rica, who arrived two weeks early and stayed with the headmaster.
Among the 29 students who enrolled on the first Monday of the school year were 13 sons of Baptist ministers, including Stewart Gordon-Somers, son of the Rev Thomas Gordon-Somers; Willy Turner, son of Rev George Turner of Croft's Hill; and the Phillips brothers, Edward and Lester.
Edward's son Allan followed in his footsteps to Calabar in 1933, and his grandson Andrew became the third generation to wear Calabar colours when he arrived in 1956. During these first eight years the stream of Baptist sons to Calabar continued to flow. In 1916, Vernon Arnett, the grandson of the Rev William Webb, arrived, and the following year Frank Gordon-Somers joined his elder brother Stewart. By 1920, Ivan Eccleston, Burchell Phillips, Henry and Chester Touzalin would be counted among the other sons of Baptist ministers enrolled at Calabar.
Ministers of other denominations also seized the opportunity for affordable secondary education for their sons. The Presbyterians led the way with the Reverend W.A. Graham of The Scots Kirk whose two elder sons, W.A. and G.M. Graham, were in the first batch of students. A third son, Cyril Milroy, joined his brothers in 1916. That same year a second Presbyterian family, the Websters, also chose Calabar for the first three of their four sons - Carl, Olney and George. The fourth son, William, followed in 1920. Another Presbyterian minister, Thomas Henry Grant, also sent his son, Thomas Jr, to Calabar.
The Methodists were not to be left out and in 1914 Philip Sherlock, the first son of the Methodist minister Terrence Manderson Sherlock, was registered at Calabar. By 1920, his three brothers - Frank, Hugh and Arthur - were also in Calabar uniform. The Moravians were not far behind the Methodists as K.D. Carnegie, the elder son of the Moravian minister the Reverend James Carnegie, was enrolled in 1915, and his younger brother, Alfred, followed shortly after.
In addition to the sons of nonconformist clergymen, other fixed-income earners, particularly teachers and civil servants, seized the opportunity for affordable education that the Baptists provided at Calabar. These included the parents of Aldwyn Stephenson (St James), Vernon Anderson (St Mary), Eric Patterson (St Catherine), A.H. Brooks (Manchester), and E. Serrant (Clarendon), Vincent Brissett (Trelawny), Harold Darby (St Ann) and O.T. Fairclough (Westmoreland) who enrolled their sons during this period.
Very few, if any, of these parents earning fixed income owned motor cars. Boarding fees were a drain on the family income. Their sons arrived each term by bus or train and walked up to Studley Park Road, suitcases in hand. Others from rural parishes found it more economical to have their sons stay with relatives in the city and walk to school each day. They all arrived with a sense of mission, conscious of their role as pioneers and makers of history. They knew only too well the extent of the family investment in their education and that only hard work and success could repay their parents' effort.
While Calabar was identified with the 'class on the rise', the school welcomed all social classes. Some of its earliest students like James Hylton (St Catherine), Donald Robertson (St James), Herbert Cox and H.D. Hopwood (St Ann) were from landed families.
A few like Isaac Aarons (St James), whose family were the owners of the Montego Bay Ice Company Ltd, and Ivan Hendriks, whose father had a furniture-making establishment in Kingston, were from the emerging business class. The Webster boys were from a ship-owning family in Grand Cayman who came to Jamaica in 1916 and established a network of commercial enterprises. The multiracial student body broadened the social base of the school, and the deliberate inculcation of Christian values contributed to the development of friendships across colour and class lines.
From the school's inception, overseas students became a part of the student body and Calabar soon began receiving requests for school places from the missions established by the Jamaica Baptist Missionary Society in West Africa, Haiti, Cuba, Costa Rica, Panama, Cayman and Turks & Caicos Islands. During the first eight years while the school's population grew from 29 to 90 boys, the pattern of enrolment remained consistent.
Calabar students welcomed the religious environment which dominated the school campus. For many it was an extension of home where morning devotion and involvement in the local church was a way of life. The school's focus on the inculcation of Christian values was strengthened by the building of a school chapel in 1914. Students at the Theological College joined students for evening services and the entire campus developed a close relationship with the Jones Town Baptist Church.
The annual fees were provisionally established at £8 for day boys and £30 for boarders. Parents were asked to deposit an extra £1 for books and the school provided holiday accommodation for external students. The school, however, extended various levels of subsidy not only to Baptist ministers, but to other ministers of religion, teachers and parents with more than one boy at the school. School fees accounted for only 60 per cent of the school's income and the Government grant contributed another seven per cent. The commitment of the Baptists to providing affordable secondary education was reflected in the fact that it was the church membership that made up the deficit from voluntary contributions.
Headmaster Price brought to the job his pioneering spirit, which together with his capacity to persevere against the odds and to identify with the aspirations of African-Jamaicans made him ideal for the challenges which Calabar posed in the early years. Davis turned out to be the Mister 'Fixit' that the fledgling institution desperately needed. He found a solution for every problem. By the end of the first term Price was describing him as a man who "talks to himself in Hebrew and dreams in Syriac ... a colleague who can diagnose and cure the diseases of motor cars, and trace a recalcitrant half-penny through pages of a balance sheet. He can plan a house, estimate its cost within three farthings and then erect it with his own hands ... He devises most intricate timetables for the school and college, puts himself down for every period, is always ready to advise a minister who calls on him or to drive a hundred miles to see his difficulty on the spot."
The staff was predominantly British and the first Jamaican teacher recruited was Rev R.A.L. Knight, MA, BD, who was born in Four Paths, Clarendon, in 1890, and attended Calabar Elementary School, Wolmer's and Jamaica College. He gained a scholarship to McMasters University in Canada, where he successfully completed a Bachelor's in Divinity and an MA. In 1914, he became the first Jamaican to join the staff at Calabar.
The school quickly developed an intellectually stimulating environment. Philip Sherlock, who graduated in 1920, later reflected on the impact of Ernest Price's "imaginative and stimulating approach particularly in the teaching of literature, and his way of always relating the subject to a wider background (which he found) both amazing and magnetic". He also remembered the experience of being exposed to the distinguished Oxonian, Elliott Dodds, who taught him history. Dodds (1889-1977) was a graduate of Oxford University, a journalist, a deacon in the Congregationalist Church and a leader of the Liberal Party in Britain. While on a visit to Jamaica, he accepted the invitation of Rev David Davis to teach history at the school. His most lasting contribution was his adaptation of Johnathon Strong's Like an Ancient River Flowing, which became the school song.
After Dodds left Calabar, David Davis filled the gap even more completely as the school's resident intellectual and leader of liberal thought. In addition to Philip Sherlock, three other Calabar boys of the period who were clearly influenced by both Davis and Dodds were Roger Mais, Vernon Arnett and O.T. Fairclough. All four would figure prominently in Jamaica's political development.
Use of the cane
Both Price and Davies placed great importance on the use of the cane to maintain discipline and exert authority. There was hardly a perpetrator of indiscipline who they did not consider redeemable by the consistent application of generous doses of caning. The story of Bob Henry's transfer from Cornwall to Calabar in 1929 confirms the importance that Price and other headmasters of his time attached to caning.
According to Henry, at the end of 1928, his headmaster advised his father to make other arrangements for the completion of his son's high school education. The boy had taxed to the utmost the resources of patience and forgiveness of the staff, and would no longer be accepted as a student at Cornwall. His father used his credentials as a devout Baptist to secure a transfer for him to Calabar. The headmaster also agreed to give him a letter of introduction, which he went to collect on the appointed day.
To his dismay the headmaster, no doubt reflecting on his misdemeanours over the years, some of which may have escaped punishment, caned him before giving him the letter. The following week he presented himself at Calabar for an entry interview with Headmaster Price. Henry remembers Price groaning in apparent pain as he read the letter. Then to his surprise he saw Price take out his cane and sternly instructed him to 'bend over'. Many strokes later his admission to Calabar was complete. Price's methods did wonders for Bob Henry. He represented the school in football and after graduating became a successful businessman, and a very popular and colourful custos of St James.
Calabar quickly became an international campus with a well-deserved reputation for academic proficiency and character building, demonstrating its capacity to realise the vision of its founders by providing a thoroughly modern education in a religious environment to equip young men to excel in their chosen vocation, whether in Jamaica or abroad.