Port of Menteith – The First Schoolmaster and James Hardie
In 1997, Port of Menteith celebrated the 300th anniversary of the founding of its local school when Alexander Gairoch was appointed schoolmaster on 15th November 1697.
The appointment was largely pushed through by the 1696 Education Act. It required that locally funded, church supervised schools be established in every parish in Scotland that had not already done so. The Port of Menteith Kirk Session had noted the ‘great loss the parish [had] sustained through the want of a qualified schoolmaster amongst them’.
The Minister and Heritors of the church would help with appointing a schoolmaster. Mr Alexander Gairoch was recommended. He was examined by the Presbytery who were impressed ‘as to his expertise in the Latin tongue’. Like many schoolmasters of the era, Gairoch was also the Session Clerk and Precentor of the church. The school was to be at the church itself.
Over twenty years later in 1719, controversy hit then schoolmaster James Hardie. The Session was informed that he had taken mortcloth dues and not informed the collector Henry Dow. He was brought before the Session and confessed he taken a total of £6. When asked by the Session to return the money, Hardie refused. He argued that the Session was not paying him not enough for his services as Session Clerk.
Hardie’s refusal to give back the mortcloth dues was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Session. They note that he had been disobedient and negligent in the past and proceeded to interrogate him on another three charges.
The first charge was a failure to fill up to seven years worth of minutes into the Session book. This was despite having eight or nine weeks to do so when the school was vacant. Hardie claimed he had too much business.
The Moderator then charged him with ‘scandalous and covetousnes and oppression of the people of the parish by collecting more money that was due to him’. It was claimed he had taken four shillings scots off every party who consigned pledges at their booking before proclamation. Hardie stated that this was normal practice and refused to pay back the pledges that were taken from individuals.
Finally, Hardie was charged for his ‘insufficiency for discharging the office of precentor’. This led to the parish being ‘exposed to the ridicule of neighbouring parishes’. Unsurprisingly, Hardie was unanimously disposed of his duties.
Hardie’s actions were so bad that he was quickly brought upon to the Presbytery of Dunblane. Another claim was made here that was not noted in the Kirk Session minutes. It was stated that he ‘suffered his scholars to abuse’.
Although disposed of his duties as Session Clerk and Precentor, Harvie was allowed to continue as schoolmaster. The Presbytery noted that while he got to keep ‘the school in the church, he takes care his scholars [and] no ways abuse the same’