A Brief History of Munro
Munro College started as The Munro & Dickenson Free School for Boys in Black River in 1856. The generous endowment granted many years before had already been cannibalized down to less than a comparatively meagre £30,000. Potsdam property was bought from one Isaac Isaacs and the school moved to the hills in 1857, under its first headmaster Mr. Charles Plummer (1856-1864) as a boarding institution, teaching little more than the 3 Rs. His wife was the matron and his brother an assistant teacher. Despite the small endowment, they took the numbers of students at Potsdam from 8 to 20.
Three headmasters later (Rev. Thomas Robinson, Mr Charles Kenworth and Mr Andrew Willis) operations as a free school drained the funds considerably. In 1871, Venerable Archdeacon William Rowe, a Trustee, suggested that Munro be reorganized along the lines of an English public school, taking paying students as well as free. He pointed out that most English public schools started out as free institutions, whose failing financials were later rescued by the inclusion of paying students
Mr. William Simms arrived in 1875 from England where he had been educated at Leeds Grammar School and Christ’s College, Cambridge, and had his teaching and administrative experience at Giggleswick School, Doncaster Grammar School, and at Clapham School, before coming to Jamaica with his wife Edith and three children. In Jamaica they flourished further and produced six more children for a grand total of nine. His salary was £286 a year up from his predecessor’s salary of £160. His assistant, Mr. J. Cork was paid £90 a year.
Rev. Williams Simms was ordained at Black River Parish Church. In 1881, his sister came to visit him, and the visit became permanent. She married Mr. J.V. Calder, who later succeeded Hon. W.H. Coke as Chairman of the Trustees. Their children KW, OV, Travers, NT and CC Calder all attended Potsdam. A grandson of Rev. Simms also attended Munro in the 1950’s.
Enrolment when Mr. Simms arrived was 25. Simms immediately expanded the curriculum to include the classics, like English Literature, Latin and Greek. The results in external examinations (Cambridge Junior and Senior) were so good that the Trustees used the results in an advertisement of Potsdam.
In July 1876 he wrote home, describing what was happening at Potsdam. The following is a verbatim extract from that letter:
“We have already six new boys coming next half and only two are leaving, so that we shall be pretty full. I hear besides of some others as likely to come. I think the boys like us and are happy. As for Edith, they worship her. It is a satisfactory sort of thing that a man who sent me one son at Easter (to see what the place was like) is now sending two more. The Trustees are going to enlarge the place to hold more boarders. They are beginning the work tomorrow and I don’t at all despair of getting a good-sized school together in time … To my mind the climate on these hills is perfection.”
It was he who presided over a period of transition which saved the school from premature extinction by ensuring its financial viability, and drafted the early model for Munro College as we know it today. By the time Rev. Simms left in 1883, student numbers had increased to 50 (25 free and 25 paying) and the school was left on a sustainable growth path with an enviable reputation.
Rev. Simms went on to Jamaica College, from where we were later to procure Richard Roper, and where we have since deployed Ruel Reid. He is remembered as one of their great headmasters. The Hon. Albert Edward Harrison, headmaster of Potsdam from 1907-1917, and of the renamed Munro College from 1917-1937, gained his BA while an assistant master at Jamaica College, where Rev Simms had established the first institution granting degrees in Jamaica.
For these reasons, Rev. William Simms was proudly inducted into the Munro College Old Boys Association Hall of Fame.