“A Talk” to Old Boys Association, Sekondi.

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OUR SCHOOL DAYS – 1910 – 1912
By J. Sylvanus Wartermberg

(Reproduced with the kind permission of the Wartemberg family)

It seems rather difficult to retrospect on the details of the past with any degree of accuracy at the time at my disposal, in a Talk, the subject  of which has been chosen for me.

I feel embarrassed at my audacity, and not having the honour of being a foundation student of our Alma Mater – the S. P. G.  Grammar School – Cape Coast, you will therefore expect me to observe that brevity which is the soul of wit.

The primary aim of a Missionary body is not only to proselytise by propagating the gospel but the greatest concern is the progress and advancement of the  people through a system of education that would help the development of culture, the promotion of their moral and spiritual welfare as to render them useful citizens not only of their own community but the world. The Missionary therefore has a dual responsibility.

The Church Missionary Society should appear to hold the premier place in the evangelisation and education of the people of the Gold Coast by establishing a mission in Cape Coast about the year 1751. Three young lads were sent to England about the year 1754 to be educated and trained for missionary work among their own people, among whom  was the Rev. Philip Quacoe who returned to the field about the year 1765, the two having died in England. The Rev. Philip Quacoe laboured for 50 years. Almost a century must have elapsed before the idea to resuscitate educational activities had rebirth. It was not until the Gold Coast Mission had separated from the Diocese of Western Equatorial Africa and the Rt. Rev. Nathaniel Temple had been consecrated first Bishop of Accra Diocese in 1909 that the proposal to found a Secondary under the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel did in fact materialise. 

Evidently, girls education was associated with the scheme of education in its earliest stages prior to the opening of the Grammar School; the first training centre for girls Education had been established in Sekondi about the ear 1908 under the supervision of two Lady Missionaries – Miss Robinson and Miss Parham. The difficulty of the housing    problem of Sekondi then budding as an important commercial port, could be imagined than described. The bungalow erected for their accommodation is that which stands on this hill and of which our meeting place forms an adjunct.

The first missionaries to arrive in 1909 were quartered at Bishopbourne, Sekondi – Messrs A. G. Colbeck, G. B. Brown and F. C. Cleaver who were subsequently ordained to the Holy Priesthood in Holy Trinity Church, Accra, by His Lordship the Bishop. Rev Colbeck was stationed at Accra. Rev Cleaver, Sekondi while Rev. G. B. Brown, B. A., was stationed at Cape Coast to become the first Headmaster of the S. P. G. Grammar School which opened its doors to the public on the 4th. January 1910. 

Some of the Foundation Students were drafted from Sekondi, and included Stephens – now J. T. Ayin, Sarpoh and Larnyoh. Propaganda work attracted students of all calibre from: the various districts who filled the first three forms. One class – Form II was composed of students with the 7th. Standard Certificates save in one exception. On our admission there were about 40 students. Excluding the European Headmaster there were only two Africans on the teaching staff. W. Hutton Mensah now father Mensah teaching English Literature, Mathematics. Shorthand etc, Mr. J. C. Degraft Johnson, Classics while the Headmaster was occupied with other subjects.

Two students from Mfantsipim joined the school at its inception of whom J, W. Degraft Johnson, was the senior student of the School. The curriculum did not fall short of vary from the present syllabus of Adisadel except that emphasis was laid on certain special subjects e.g. Advanced Physiology under the tuition of Dr. Akinwade Savage whilst his brother, Barrister Savage, lectured the school on certain occasions. Tuition fees would appear ridiculous in comparison to present day rates, the highest form paying 10/- for a term of four months and Boarders about 30/-

The teaching staff was later on augmented by Mr Kuofi, a Durham Matriculant. Considerable progress marked the feature of the studies that it was possible to present the second and third forms and a few students from form 1 at the College of Preceptors Examination within 12 months of the school’s existence.

The success achieved was phenomenal, for not only did the School obtain 100 percent but 50 percent of the entrants shared Honours and distinction while some obtained 100 percent of the marks awarded in certain subjects. These results earned admiration for the school and created such impetus that on the first anniversary of the school it had redoubled the number on roll at its opening.

To foster esprit de corps a unit of the Volunteer Corp was inaugurated under the kind patronage of a Capt. Mansfield and exercises included practices at the target and sham fighting to which unrelenting interest was attached. The unit was represented at the Coronation of His Majesty King George V.

Keen competition characterised the ambition of the students, a sense of fellowship dominated the common desire of our contemporary Mfantsipim as football matches and cricket matches were arranged from time to time between the two schools.

St. Nicholas Grammar School – Coaching of the school Cricketers by the Sports Master.

With the ever increasing number of students the difficulty of the school could be imagined – there was the paucity in the number of the tutorials staff, lack of suitable accommodation and of scientific apparatuses and the thousand odds that faced a newly established and progressive school – yet they were gradually overcome. Our boarders had grown in numbers and scholarships were introduced at this stage. Boys and boarders were under obligation to attend Mattins each morning and a colleague and myself were organists taking time alternatively. The cordiality ad friendship of students of our form could not be highly stressed.

The Rev. Brown precede home on furlough about July 1910 to be succeeded by Rev. G. P. Haines, M. A., who built on the sure foundation of his predecessor, laying a superstructure, the solidarity of which neither the times nor circumstance have assailed, the school having lived to its motto, Primus vel cum Primis. 

The school has certainly made a contribution to the education progress of the Colony. Among its students will be found those occupying places of responsibility and trust in the Government  and Mercantile sphere of labour in Nigeria and the Gold Coast. It has produced men of character, probity, public men of repute. It would be invidious distinction to particularise any of the early students for special mention but those who remained longer in the school curved “niches” for themselves.

My contemporaries would therefore  forgive me if I associated not their names. There are others whose names are almost synonymous with the school, which has since changed names to St. Nicholas Grammar School and Adisadel College. They are the Rev. Father C. H. Elliott in whom had seen the fulfilment of our Founder’s vision – that of training suitable students for the Ministry – the first to be called to the Holy office of Priesthood. Mr. R. S. Nicholas perhaps likewise intended, trained at Fourah Bay College Freetown, ultimately returning with the M. A. degree and becoming the Headmaster; Mr. J. H. Mayne the “Mathematician Wizard” of our Day and L.A. Blyden Brown. I would be free from the indictment of being an egotist, but I should deserve the charge of gross injustice if my friend and colleague escaped my memory Mr. J. P. Ephson whose sound judgement characterised him as indispensable in our deliberations.

This talk woud fall far short of appreciation if I failed to register the profound sense of our gratitude for the superb an “matchless tutorship of our teacher the Rev. W. Hutton Mensah. His personality endeared him to all who came under his influence and so made possible the maintenance of a higher standard of efficiency in our days. A mastermind that even impervious or petrified brains yielded to the dynamic strength of his tutorial powers so much that no recalcitrant learner was found among his pupils. He eventually yielded to the Master’s call and entered the Ministry, being ordained to the Holy Priesthood in 1916.

Our days ended in 1912 but the school was and is being carried on year to year by students of equal aspiration and integrity, proud of past achievements, still persevering, adding more laurels and maintaining its prestige and motto.

Primus vel cum Primis

   Floreat – Alma Mater

  1. Sylvanus Wartemberg.

(Credit: The Living Church, Diocese of Accra: July – Sept, 1944 discovered among the papers of John Buckman. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Wartemberg family )