Robert Hugh Munro, an unmarried “gentleman of colour,” lived and worked in 18th century Jamaica. He owned a sugar plantation, was active in the breeding and trading of horses, and also the chipping and sale of logwood. He also owned a livery business, the main clients of which were lawyers transported between St. Elizabeth and Savanna-La-Mar.
He was the recipient of a three-hundred-acre patent of land in St. Elizabeth in 1765, and other patents in Clarendon, and when he died in 1797, his will of 21st January 1797, and codicil of 23rd May 1797, bequeathed the residue of his personal and real estate in trust to his nephew, Caleb Dickenson, and the Churchwardens of St. Elizabeth and their successors. His instruction was to create an endowment for a school to be erected and maintained, in the same parish, for the education of as many poor children as the funds might be sufficient to provide for and maintain.
He was buried at Leith Hall in the Parish of St. Thomas. The Daily Gleaner of Thursday September 28th, 1939, reported as follows:
“His grave remained hidden for all these (141) years, till a short time ago, when an old scholar of the College came across a tombstone, all moss-covered and weather-beaten, with its inscription almost indecipherable, in a piece of forgotten ruinate woodland at Leith Hall in the Parish of St. Thomas. The Old Boys Association of Munro College immediately got into action, and having received from the authorities the necessary permits, the remains of Robert Hugh Munro will be re-interred in the College Chapel at Munro on the 30th Sept. at 4:00 P.M. The original tombstone has been cleaned, and a super inscription added, showing its history.”
At the re-interment, Dr. W.N. Dickenson, the nearest living relative at the time of both Munro & Dickenson, escorted the casket. The remains lie under the floor of the Munro College Chapel.
The legacy left by Robert Hugh Munro was enlarged enormously by Caleb Dickenson, who was much wealthier than his uncle by the time he died in 1821. In his will, he instructed that his Trustees carry out the wishes of his uncle to educate the poor of the parish. However, the churchwardens mismanaged the funds, and for several years nothing was done to create the desired school.
Enquires were made, and in 1825 an Act of the Legislature was passed for regulating the charity. The Act was not put into effect, but in 1855, Act 18 Victoria Chapter 53 was passed. By this second Act, the Custodes and Rectors of St. Elizabeth and Manchester, Members of the Assembly for St. Elizabeth, and five others, became the Governors and Trustees of Munro and Dickenson Free School and Charity. What was left of the fund after liquidating the various properties, just over twenty-six thousand pounds, was rescued.
The appointed Trustees selected a site near the town of Black River, and the Munro and Dickenson Free School for boys was established in 1856. During the following year the property of Potsdam was purchased from Isaac Isaacs, and the school moved there and became known as Potsdam School. As indicated by the school’s motto, the campus is home to Top Rock, which, at an altitude of over 2,500 feet atop the Santa Cruz Mountain, is the highest point in St. Elizabeth. In 1858, a girls’ school was established on the same property, then moved to Torrington, then Mt. Zion (now called Stirling), then Malvern, and to its present site near Malvern in 1891.
Brief History of Munro
Munro started as a free boarding school under the headmastership of Charles Plummer, who presided over 8, and finally 20 boys. Three of Plummer’s 14 children were born at Potsdam, and in obvious tribute to the school’s founders, the first of these was named Caleb Hugh Munro Plummer. The school remained a small Trust school under the next three headmasters, Rev. Thomas Robinson, Charles Kenroth, and Andrew Willis, and taught the three R’s to poor children of neighbouring districts. By 1875, with the number of students at 25, the inherited funds were running low.
In that year, Archdeacon William Rowe -a Trustee- strongly suggested the refiguring of Potsdam School on the pattern of an English Public School, thereby accepting a number of paying students. It was agreed, and the Rev. William Simms was appointed headmaster to manage the transition. He was successful, and the school survived. By 1883, there were 50 boys, 25 free and 25 paying. The curriculum was improved and expanded, and Potsdam started to gain a soon-to-be envied reputation.
Rev. William Davies Pearman then further improved the school, and brought enrolment to 85 by 1907. His successor and son-in-law, the fearsome Albert Edward “Wagga” Harrison, brought the school to dizzying heights academically and in sports, and it was under his watch, in 1910, that the school colours, formerly red and black, became blue and gold, and in 1918, that the school became known as Munro College.
By this time, paying students way outstripped non-paying students, and the school had gained a reputation of being socially elitist. The latter deficiency was partially corrected by Rev. A.G. Frazer, Headmaster from 1938 to 1946, who enshrined the schools’ current egalitarian philosophy, and ensured that student intake ceased to be influenced by colour or class. B.B. Ward, Headmaster from 1946-1954, continued this policy, and brought academic and sports achievements to a peak, but the school somehow lost some of its spirit and discipline on his watch, and the population fell from 190 to 140 boys.
Sheer economics meant that money and the reputation of social elitism was still an issue, until the introduction of the Common Entrance Examinations in 1957, which determined that intake was based solely on merit.
Hall of Fame member, Headmaster Richard Roper, took the numbers from 140 in 1955 to 650 boys by 1981, and took the school overall to new heights, ensuring that the dreams of Munro and Dickenson were far exceeded. Munro College, as Hampton did for girls, had now become a premier institution. It ably serves poor boys of St. Elizabeth, all boys of St. Elizabeth, and boys outside the parish as well as outside the country.
It is for the vision and generosity that motivated Robert Hugh Munro, his nephew Caleb Dickenson, and those successors who have bought into that vision through the years, that the Munro College Old Boys Association is honoured and has inducted Robert Hugh Munro into the Munro College Old Boys Association Hall of Fame.