By PROFESSOR FRANK BIRBALSINGH
N. E. Cameron, A History of the Queen’s College of British Guiana (Guyana), Toronto, Vantage Systems, Second Edition, 2009, pp. 143. ISBN 978-0-9696531-1-1-0
The first edition of A History of the Queen’s College of British Guiana, written by Norman E. Cameron (1903-1983), appeared in 1951, and was printed in Georgetown, British Guiana (now Guyana) by F.A. Persick Ltd. Cameron, who won the Guiana Scholarship in 1921, gained an M.A. degree from Cambridge University where he specialised in mathematics. He first taught at his own school – The Guyanese Academy – from 1926 to 1934, before becoming Senior Master at Queen’s College (QC) from 1934 to 1958, and Deputy Principal from 1958 to 1962. He also served as Professor Emeritus of mathematics at the University of Guyana from 1968.
In his History, Cameron maps out the historical development of QC with chronological precision, relying on crisp, short chapters often with many sub-headings, and a multitude of facts, figures, lists and sometimes lengthy quotations that make for a graphic presentation with a distinctly documentary appeal. His style is somewhat staid and steady, even earthbound, but eloquent enough for its chief purpose: unearthing important steps in QC’s development, and highlighting the personalities or achievements of those connected with the school.
As we learn from Cameron’s History, on 11th July, 1844, (Anglican) Bishop William Piercy Austin held an Inaugural Meeting to discuss his idea of a new school that would keep: “the children of the more wealthy [English residents] in the colony [British Guiana] for a longer period” (p.2) in order to encourage patriotism for Guyana in them before they left for further education in Britain. Then, on 5th August, Queen’s College Grammar School, as the school was first known, opened its doors to fifteen students under two tutors in the old Colony House, near what was then the Victoria Law courts. It was a fee-paying church (Anglican) school with a curriculum consisting of Greek, Latin, Mathematics, History, Geography, Writing and Arithmetic.
By 1875 when its enrolment had reached thirty-five, QC took a major step in shedding its church affiliation and becoming a Government institution. There were still two Departments, “Modern” and “Classical,” but a wider number of subjects: Reading, Writing including Dictation, English Grammar, Arithmetic, Algebra, Euclid, English History, Geography, Latin, Classics and French. Exley Percival (1848 – 1893), the first Principal after QC became a Government institution, is still the second longest-serving in that position: from 1877 to 1893. As a mark of his formative influence, not only was a school “House” named for him, but QC boys: “provided an inscribed granite slab for his tomb in Le Repentir Cemetery.” (p.37)
With typical diligence, Cameron records details (with accompanying photographs) of QC’s main premises from 1854 to 1918, and later at Brickdam from 1918 to 1951, and Thomas Lands from 1951. Nor does he forget the growth of the school in numbers and influence; academic awards and scholarships won by QC students, for instance, the Gilchrist Scholarship that lasted from 1871 to 1888; the better known Guyana Scholarship which started in 1882; and myriad extra-curricular activities stretching from drama and the choir, to the Cadet Corps, formed in 1889, the scout troop, and numerous sports from athletics to soccer, cricket, hockey and much else.
In addition, the 2009 edition includes an Appendix with “Reminscences – My Recollections of QC (1945-1980)” by Clarence Trotz, a QC student from 1945, Master from 1957, and Principal from 1975 to 1980. Trotz updates Cameron’s History beginning with the retirement of Captain Howard Nobbs as Principal in 1952 (Nobbs’s term began in 1931) and his replacement by V.J.Sanger-Davies who initiated changes such as the admission of students from other schools to study science that was unavailable in their former schools. By 1962, however, when Sanger-Davies retired, he was replaced as Principal by a Guyanese, Doodnauth Hetram, ending the one hundred-and-eighteen-year-old practice of foreign-appointed Principals, in the same way that Frank Worrell’s appointment in 1960 ended the time-honoured practice of appointing only Whites as West Indian cricket captains.
This colonial practice had served QC well, after all, and it was perhaps fitting that, as the leading secondary school in the nation, QC should reflect a Caribbean-wide transformation from colonial tutelage to national self-esteem, later to be confirmed by Independence itself, in Guyana, in 1966. Hetram served as principal from 1963 to 1969, and was succeeded by Clement Yhap (1969 -1971), Morrison Lowe (1971-1974) and Trotz during whose tenure, in an equally radical transformation, female students were admitted to the school for the first time in one hundred and thirty years.
In addition to Norman Cameron, who deserves to be forever honoured for his selfless labour of love in recording the historic role of QC in Guyanese education, we must also thank contributors to the 2009 edition: Dr. Joycelynne Loncke for her “Professor Norman E. Cameron: Biographical Notes;” Clarence Trotz for his judicious update that ensures continuity for Cameron’s pioneering work; Patrick Chan for his informative “Reflections of an Alumnus (1954 -1961);” C.I.C. Wishart for his review “The Queen’s College of Guyana Association (UK)”; and The Illustrated London News (1963) for an article “Queen’s College, The Buildings and Activities at this Multi-Racial School,” reprinted by paid permission along with photographs. The Appendix also contains a list of Guyana Scholars (1882-1990). None of this, all the same, would have been possible without the inspired initiative of members of the Queen’s College Alumni Association (Toronto) who orchestrated the entire 2009 updated edition of Cameron’s volume, including photographs.
Unless I am greatly mistaken, the first edition of this volume was launched at QC, in 1951, when I believe I heard Captain Nobbs begin with the opening line of his Foreword: “Mr. Cameron, the indefatigable worker that he is …” (p.ix). “Indefatigable” was a new word for me, nor was it the only thing that I learned in my seven years at Queen’s. That is why, for me at least, the word vindicates our school motto of boundless loyalty and service – FIDELES UBIQUE UTILES – so eloquently proclaimed in the writing of Norman Cameron.
The Editor of The Arts Forum’s Column, Ameena Gafoor, can be contacted by Telephone: 592 227 6825 or by E-mail: [email protected]
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