When was Jamaica College founded? Was it 1795 when a small school opened its door in the parish of St. Ann or was it the early part of the last century when the name changed to Jamaica Free School? This remained its name when the school moved to the Barbican Great House in St. Andrew. Was the school founded when it moved to its present site at Hope in St. Andrew in 1885 and was renamed Jamaica High School, or was it founded in 1903 when the school was renamed for the fourth time, this time Jamaica College. These questions are necessary because at least four dates have been given for the founding of the school. Like many others, I prefer the earliest date. An institution, like a person, is as old as its existence, not its name.
So the name of the school changed four times, but practically speaking so did the purpose of the school. The changes in purpose do not necessarily synchronize with the changes in name, but nonetheless there is a similarity in the number four here. In the first instance, the school was founded out of funds left in the will of Charles Drax for the education of poor children. By "poor children" was meant "poor WHITE children", as the Blacks who were in slavery at the time were not legally regarded as people. This was its first purpose, and the name "Drax Free School" and later "Jamaica Free School" had nothing to do with the concept of free tuition, but meant that the school was for the children of free people not slaves.
Incidentally, the location of the school also changed four times. When it moved to its fourth and final location It also got its new name, the Jamaica High School. This was in 1885, and the buildings were opened by the Governor of Jamaica on the ninth of July in that Year. All were free so there was no longer a need to call the school "Jamaica Free School" but the purpose of the school remained the same until 1903. The site at Hope was also the tropical outpost of the University of London. It was therefore decided that the purpose of the school would be to give a secondary preparation to potential students of the University of London who happened to reside in Jamaica. The name change reflected this change of purpose and in a sense the old school died then and there. This was its second purpose.
Although the sole purpose of Jamaica College from 1903 onwards was to train potential university students in the days when the University of the West Indies did not exist, in practice most students did not go further than fourth or fifth forms. That was considered sufficient education for just about any managerial or clerical job in Jamaica. It was also considered uneconomical to run a school of less than eighty boys, and therefore a deliberate attempt to expand the school to include those of parents who were able to afford the fees was embarked upon. By the nineteen thirties, the student population rose to over one hundred and fifty. This wider education became a third, if additional purpose to the one set in 1903.
In 1957, the elected government of the day introduced a system of Common Entrance to all High Schools. After some amount of initial resistance by the school board, Jamaica College, previously accessible to the elite and a few bright boys who won government scholarships, was opened up to the masses of Jamaica. Without it being formally said, the fourth purpose of the college evolved. No longer was it a school for the express purpose of training university students, but its purpose was to provide one of several outlets for secondary education in Jamaica. One of the present problems of the school is that ever since the introduction of the Common Entrance, it has not been able to decide whether it simple wants to be just another high school, or if it wishes to aim for a special and different alternative to what is offered in other schools. If some have wished for the latter, they have not defined the type of alternative.
There are no accessible records of the Principals when the school was located in St. Ann. Since its location at the present site, its Principals have been Archdeacon William Simms (an Englishman; 1885-1915), Mr. William Cowper (an Englishman; 1916-1933), Mr. Reginald Murray (a Jamaican and J.C. old Boy; 1934-1941), Mr. Joseph Hardie (an Englishman, son of the Anglican Bishop; 1941-1946), Mr. Hugo C. Chambers (a Jamaican and J.C. old Boy; 1946-1960) Mr. V. H. Ennevor (a Jamaican and J.C. old Boy; 1960-1964 ), Mr. W. H. Middleton (a Welshman; 1965-1970) and its current Principal Mr. Ruel Taylor (a Jamaican and Cornwall College old Boy; Acting Principal 1970 and Principal 1971 to date).
Despite the Changes in purpose and emphasis of the School from Simms to Taylor, Jamaica College continues to provide a liberal education where the students are taught to think for themselves and to create their own opinions and ideas. Cultural values have changed in Jamaica and this is reflected in every School, including Jamaica Collage. In my own experience, I have found that charges of breakdown in the discipline of the School are largely unfounded. As an Old Boy of J.C. who voluntarily helps the guidance department, which did not exist in the time of most of the old boys reading this short history, I find that the youngsters are no different from the days when I attended the school in the sixties.
The current attempts to revive the "old hash and roast beef" cheer is not without historical irony. When it was created in the days of the stern Principal, the Englishman William Cowper, it was frowned upon by Cowper because it put on public display the diet of boarders at the school, a key section of the College which was closed twenty-four years ago In 1967. Still yet, he turned a blind eye to it. By the seventies, this cheer was not only considered old fashioned, but also a relic of the colonial and elitist era of the school. That a cheer initially considered vulgar could be thrown out the window as not being too "rootsy" enough some sixty years later was definitely a sign of the times. Now it seems that the pendulum is about to swing again, as just about every present day student wants to learn the cheer.
Old boys of Jamaica College also continue to form the cornerstone of Jamaican life, serving in just about every area of endeavor including politics in the major political parties. It was the former J.C. Head Boy of 1955 and now radio personality for many years, Neville Willoughby, who quipped at an Old Boys dinner held shortly before a General Election:
"Fervet Opus in Campis
When we shoot we never miss
Governments come and Government go
But J. C. boys still run the show ."