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Life and Times of D. M. Stuart, D.D.

Chapter XVI. — Educationist

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Chapter XVI.

Dr Stuart stood in a foremost place among the educationists of the Colony. For thirty-four years he unweariedly devoted himself to the promotion of the educational interests of the country. Always accounting the school second only in importance to the Church as a powerful factor in all true national prosperity and happiness, he laboured in many ways not only to bring its advantages within easy reach of all, but also to exalt the standard of its efficiency. To the furtherance especially of the higher education, he brought a rich and varied experience, gathered, as we have seen above, in the practical work of teaching at Home, and the broad and enlightened views of a carefully cultivated mind and heart, which were deeply imbued with Christian truth, and possessed of a wide and intelligent knowledge of both men and books.

It was, we have seen, through a rough and hard experience of self-denial and strict economy that he had reached the goal on which his own heart was set, and he naturally held of great account that high possession, the pursuit of which had cost him so dear. But it was not his nature to luxuriate in the sweet and selfish enjoyment of his own good things. In the spirit of true philanthropy, when the opportunity page 105came, and wise and enlightened coadjutors were found to hand, he applied his great abilities to the task of levelling the hills and smoothing the road that led up to a sound and liberal education, having its deepest roots and basis in the fear of God, which he firmly believed to be the beginning of wisdom.

He always manifested a warm interest in the efficiency and progress of the primary schools, and frequently spoke in terms of high appreciation of the ability and wisdom of Dr Hislop, whose experience and knowledge had shaped and guided both the Provincial and Colonial legislation on the subject. "I hope," he wrote to us, when engaged on "Education and Educationists in Otago," "you have appreciated the very high services Dr Hislop rendered to education, primary and secondary, in Otago and the Colony. His whole heart was in the matter, and, with few advisers, he made few blunders, and from very common materials elaborated very decent teachers." While Dr Stuart approved generally of the principles of the Education Act he was strongly opposed to the rigid secularism which excluded the Bible from the State school curriculum. Such an exclusion violated the best traditions of his own training, and in the face of discouragement and repeated defeat on the floor of Parliament, in his place in the Synod, and as a leading member of the Bible-in-Schools Association, in the pulpit, and on the public platform, he laboured to the end, unceasingly, and with a hope that never died for the restoration of the Bible to its place in the primary schools.

But it was especially with the early history and page 106development of secondary and University education that Dr Stuart was very closely associated, and his personal activities were ungrudgingly given to the advancement of the institutions which provided that. The agitation for a Boys' High School had begun before Dr Stuart arrived in Dunedin, but no practical movement had been made to establish one. In February, 1860, some weeks after his arrival in the Colony, he spent an evening with Mr James Macandrew at his home in the Glen. After tea Mr Macandrew led his guest into his "sanctum," where they talked on high themes affecting the well-being of the community.

Mr Macandrew spoke in laudation of the educational system of Otago, and of the patriotism of the Provincial Council which decided to plant schools in every centre of settlement, and looking over at Dr Stuart, he added, "I hope the Church with like energy will plant the sacred ordinances alongside them. The time has come now," he continued, "for starting a fully-equipped High School, which the founders prized so much;" and they sat together until the night had well advanced, drafting a constitution for the projected school. As the whole history of the movement is given in "Education and Educationists in Otago," it will suffice to state here that the Boys' High School was opened in August, 1863, and the Girls' High School eight years later, both being under the control of the Education Board. But after a troubled history, extending over some fourteen years, the management of the institutions was vested in a body, designated the Board of Governors, of which Dr page 107Stuart held the office of Chairman from 1878 until his death. He repelled with a glow of indignant eloquence the charge which was sometimes laid against the High Schools, that they were class institutions, and simply a provision made for the children of the rich at the expense of the State. In order to the practical rebuttal of such a charge, he made every effort to promote their efficiency and to keep them in touch with the people at large; he stood forth at all times as their unflinching champion, and the persuasive vindicator of their claims upon the sympathy and liberality of the people.

Although constantly pressed with the increasing cares of a large congregation, yet he faithfully fulfilled all public trusts confided to him, and loyally held himself at the service of the State, performing willingly the special work required of him in connection with Royal Commissions of Inquiry, on which he frequently had a place.

In April, 1894, just a few weeks before his death, the Doctor's portrait, painted to the order of the ex-High School Girls' Club, was presented to the Rector for the School. Mr Wilson, in returning thanks for the gift, spoke in graceful terms of the distinguished services which Dr Stuart had rendered to education, of his fidelity to duty, and of the enthusiasm and affectionate zeal which he had always manifested for the prosperity and welfare of the institution of which Mr Wilson had charge.

The Doctor's speeches at the breaking up for Christmas vacations were always pleasant features of those occasions. He was invariably bright and page 108happy among young people. "From a liking to children which cleaves to me from my former connection with them, I like," he said, "to turn into the schools."

His services to higher education were not confined to presiding at the Board table, or to gracing with his presence the gay ceremonial of public functions. He made periodic visits to the class-rooms, and in many ways manifested his living interest in the nature of the work which was done within their walls. It is worthy also of notice that it was not only the academical side of the Board's business which engaged his earnest attention; he took pains to master every detail of their endowments and finance. The estate, which is scattered up and down in Otago, aggregates upwards of 82,000 acres, occupied by 82 tenants. Dr Stuart had an intimate knowledge of the whole history of the estate, and each holding in it, and his knowledge and aptness for business were of special value to the Board in their administration of the endowment, and dealing with questions, sometimes of a difficult nature, that emerged in connection with it. On the 6th of June, 1894, the new Chairman of the Board stated that Dr Stuart had the whole property affairs of the Board from the beginning at his fingers' ends, and that his aptness for business had been of the utmost value to the Board.

He was intimately associated also with the administration of the University of Otago from its foundation. We are bold enough to affirm that it was largely owing to his energy and ability, and to the page 109enthusiasm with which he inspired Mr Macandrew, and the other political leaders of the day on the subject of the higher education, that Dunedin possesses a University and professional staff which take second rank to none perhaps in these Australasian Colonies. It has been asserted, indeed, without challenge so far as we know, that he was the chief adviser of the Superintendent of Otago and his Executive Council in the preparation of the Ordinance which created it.

We know he would have modestly disclaimed such credit for himself, and that he held of very high account the services which Mr Macandrew and others rendered to the cause. He frequently referred in public to the indebtedness of the people to the sagacious patriotism which laid the foundations of educational equipment in the Province. "My place in connection with our educational institutions," he said, "has been chiefly owing to circumstances. Still I have done what I could. The honour you are doing me* is above my deserts, for my services to education have been due more to favourable circumstances than to any special faculty." Thus with characteristic modesty he appraised his own labours in this connection. But it was more than any other influence, we believe, the power of his great personality, as well as the brilliancy and popularity of his scheme, which carried the other leaders of public opinion along with him into the bold enterprise on which he had set his heart.

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From the outset he held a place in the Council of the University, and for many years up to the time of his death occupied with dignity, and to the great advantage of the Institution, the high office of Chancellor. In 1871 he was appointed to a seat on the Senate of the New Zealand University, but he resigned it in 1881 because he found it impossible to attend its meetings (which were held in distant centres) without neglecting his duties in Dunedin.

Year after year his wise and inspiring utterances were delivered at Graduation ceremonies or at other public functions of the University, carrying with them a manly, vigorous, Christian tone which could hardly fail to awaken noble aspirations in the students' hearts….. "The settlers," he said on one occasion, "who subdued the wilderness and read their Bible—that inspiring history of nations, that bracing philanthropy of the heart, that speech of God to man, that Divine poesy—so nobly supported the educational policy of their leaders, Captain Cargill, Dr Burns, Mr Macandrew, Sir John Richardson, and others, that twenty-one years after the foundation of the settlement there were in operation Primary Schools, Grammar Schools, High Schools, and the University—a heritage I deem of priceless value: an achievement second in moral grandeur to the educational labours of the Pilgrim Fathers of the New England Colonies. You say that the founders are under marching orders to the land beyond. It is so; but the sufficient guarantee for the preservation and transmission of our schools of all grades to the after ages is the re-appearance of their page 111spirit in their posterity… I cannot doubt that our common desire and prayer are that the tree of knowledge so early planted in our virgin soil may flourish and bear fruit for the delectation and invigoration of our youth to the latest ages. I rejoice that year in and year out our graduates are increasing, and the influence of the University extending, and I trust that I may live to see some of its graduates taking not only creditable places, but leading places in the sciences, in politics, in the professions, and above all in the industries of life."

And at the graduation ceremony on 5th September, 1891, he closed his speech with this noble peroration: "What is the return, graduates, which a generous country expects at your hands? It expects that in your respective callings you will exemplify practical good sense, sturdy independence, and a nature, gentle, generous, steadfast. Show that you are, in the words of Wordsworth, 'religious men that give God and men their dues,' and hold with our poet and people 'that without an honest manly heart no man is worth regarding.' Look at this portrait of a stainless chivalry which we owe to a prophet and psalmist of the long ago, and say if it does not merit a place in the temple of the heart. You would not have me apologise for bringing it under your notice. He asks this question:

Within Thy tabernacle, Lord, who shall abide with Thee?
And in Thy high and Holy hill who shall a dweller be?

I give you his reply in the terse words of a Provost of Eton:

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The man that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness,
And as he thinketh in his heart, so doth he truth express;
Who doth not slander with his tongue, nor to his friend doth hurt;
Nor yet against his neighbour doth take up an ill report.
In whose eyes vile men are despised; but those that God do fear,
He honoureth; and changeth not, though to his hurt he swear.
His coin puts not to usury, nor take reward will he
Against the guiltless. Who doth thus shall never moved be.

That is my request for you; that is my prayer—that you might be exemplary in your life, like the portrait which has been sketched in the 15th Psalm, which has been admired for 3000 years, and will be admired until sin is burned out of the earth, and the Divine image is restored to every soul."

At the Graduation ceremony, held in Dunedin on the 14th September, 1894, His Honour Mr Justice Williams, who succeeded Dr Stuart as Chancellor of the University of Otago, in alluding to his death, said:—"We all know that Dr Stuart, through the many years for which he held the office of Chancellor, was united to the University, not merely by the ties of office, but by the bonds of sincere affection… How much we miss his familiar form. Can we not remember how, at each successive Capping ceremony, his voice was heard echoing through the Garrison Hall, exciting successive generations of students to love and good works…. As long as this University will continue to exist, as long as the town of Dunedin stands, his tolerance, his large-heartedness, his active human sympathy will remain for ever an example, and his name will be held in reverence."

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Dr Stuart was a warm supporter of the Technical Classes, inaugurated in Dunedin in April, 1889. He viewed them as "a step in the right direction—a suitable and necessary educational provision for our youth during the critical period, that is between 14 and 21 years of age. Young persons of that age, without hobbies, and without ambition to distinguish themselves by some useful invention or discovery, or by mastering some branch of knowledge, are in imminent danger of making shipwreck of character, and missing place and power…." In closing his speech before this Association, in 1891, he said:—"It occurred to me that it would be a pleasant summer work to make the acquaintance of the plants, shrubs, and trees of our beautiful Town Belt. I will therefore give a prize for the first and second best account of them, giving their common English names." The Technical Classes Association, if not the outcome, at least followed mainly on the line of a movement inaugurated at the instance of Dr Stuart as early as 1865. He then saw the serious disadvantages to which youths were exposed who were withdrawn from the day school at an early age by the necessity of earning a living for themselves, and he urged on his office-bearers the need of doing something for imperfectly-educated boys, who were employed in trades during the day. This resulted in the formation of evening classes, which were subsequently conducted under the auspices of the Caledonian Society, and carried on by them for many years with marked success. When the Caledonian Society was constrained page 114to abandon the work, it was then taken up by the Technical Classes Association.

Dr Stuart, in addressing the boys of the High School on 14th December, 1893, some months before his death, in referring to the Technical School, said:—"I like to recall that I had a little to do with planting the seed of this institution in the form of a night school which was afterwards taken over by the Caledonian Society, and kindly and wisely nursed and improved, efflorescing into the Dunedin Technical School — in short, into a practical college, with potentialities of a beneficent order." During the session of 1894, 385 students attended these classes. Most of the students were engaged in the various industries in and around Dunedin.

In order that the usefulness of the Mechanics' Institute might be greatly extended, he strenuously advocated the lowering of the subscription to one half; and he urgently pressed on public notice the desirability of establishing a Free Public Library, which he believed to be necessary for the completion of their educational apparatus.

At the first general meeting of the members of the Otago Institute, held in the old library of the Provincial Council building, on 19th July, 1869, Dr Stuart was elected a member of the Council. There was indeed no part of the educational organism in which he did not actively interest himself, which did not feel the touch of his moulding hand and the glow of enthusiasm that filled his heart.

The degree of D.D., which was conferred on him in 1871 in recognition of his distinguished services to page 115education, came to him from St. Andrews University, from whose halls he had been expelled in the days of his youth.

He received also the rare distinction of being elected one of the Vice-Presidents of the Educational Section of the Chicago Exhibition, with an urgent invitation to attend and contribute a paper on the subject of Education, which, however, he was unable to accept in consequence of the infirm state of his health.

* Referring to the dedication of "Education and Educationists in Otago."