Like other Rectors of his time Maurice Paterson was appointed to the Rectorship of the Free Church of Scotland Training College (Moray House) after a successful period in teaching. He was 28. He retired in 1907 after 43 years of service.
He was born in Edinburgh on the 5th March 1836. His father was a bookbinder and seller. Following the Disruption of 1843 the family joined the Free Church. From the age of ten he attended the Edinburgh High School. He was a hardworking and brilliant classical scholar
becoming Dux in the fourth year class. In his final session in 1851/52 he was awarded gold medals as the Dux in Latin and in Greek.
At the Edinburgh University’s Faculty of Arts he studied Latin, Greek, Mathematics, Logic and Moral Philosophy for his BA which was awarded in 1856. A fellow student, Rev Andrew Crichton, wrote of him:
…I never knew one who so habitually grasped the very matter in hand and searched it to the core.
Committed to becoming a teacher he was appointed in 1856 to the post of Assistant at the Blair Lodge Academy, Polmont, Stirlingshire. This was a private secondary boarding school where Robert Hislop was Principal. His first teaching responsibility was to take charge of the Classics department. After seven years he was appointed joint Principal of the school. Robert Hislop made a significant impression on Maurice Paterson no doubt because of his earlier experience as Rector of the Free Church College in Glasgow and the influence of the work and teachings of David Stowe.
In 1863 James Sime submitted his letter of resignation from the post of Rector of the Free Church’s Normal and Sessional School, Edinburgh. The Committee of the Church agreed to appoint a new rector and Maurice Paterson applied for the post. He was appointed on 28 January 1864, aged 28, and installed at a ceremony held in the adjacent Moray Free Church.
The Rector was expected to undertake a wide variety of tasks. An 1878 report recorded that Maurice Paterson carried out a number of teaching duties as ‘Master of Method’. He instructed male and female students in scripture, school management (‘Education’ as it came to be termed), and the practice of teaching. As ‘Classical master’ he taught classics to male students and ran voluntary classes in advanced Greek. His annual salary was £600.
He was renowned amongst his students for the width and depth of his knowledge:
To many of us Mr Paterson gave almost the first practical conception of what culture meant, and his influence in this direction has been an abiding one.
Another student recorded:
He gained…the greatest respect and esteem…because of his thorough and extensive knowledge and great ability as a teacher. In his lectures he brought before us the best principles and latest and most approved methods of teaching… But what I valued still more…was the noble earnestness combined with a certain indescribable power, which pervaded all Mr Paterson’s teaching...
Maurice Paterson supported the gradual widening of the curriculum for his student teachers. This was no doubt as a result of the significant restriction of the curriculum during the period 1862 - 1872 when the ability of a senior student to study a chosen subject in depth was dropped. This was the period he called ‘the Dark Ages’. In the 1880s a third year was added to the training course and 1899 saw the restoration of greater autonomy to the training colleges.
The maintenance of links with Edinburgh University was one of his priorities. In 1873 it became possible for students to combine attendance at university courses with the Normal School curriculum. However, the work at the training college remained as the core of the training for teachers. With this emphasis on professional and academic work the courses at Moray House developed a reputation for their quality and their demanding nature. Interestingly he applied for the newly founded Bell chair in Education at Edinburgh University, but was unsuccessful. Should he have been appointed teacher training in Scotland would have lost one its most stimulating and committed practioners. He enthused generations of his students with the importance of their work, arguing for the centrality of the professional side to the training of teachers.
A number of his lectures were published and he was the editor of a standard series of reading books for schools. In 1889 he was awarded an honorary LLD by Edinburgh University. At his presentation it was recorded that:
…the great and all – absorbing work of his life has consisted in practical teaching, a sphere in which he has achieved triumphant success. For five and twenty years past his college has sent forth to every part of the British Empire an unbroken series of accomplished teachers and scholars, who trace their success in the battle of life to Mr Paterson’s admirably sound and scientific tuition…
Moray House, although a very formal institution at this time, was also well regarded as a close community by the students. During his rectorship nearly 5000 students passed through Moray House. He was an imposing figure, yet valued highly personal contact with his students. The high esteem in which he was held is reflected in the establishment by former students of the Moray House Club in 1877. In 1883 he suggested that the Club should set up a library and this developed into a circulating library with over 2000 volumes. In 1901 the Club agreed to establish a free Kindergarten school for the poor of the area and this was opened in 1903. Membership, which by this time had reached nearly 1,600, was closed after he had taken his last class and retired in 1907. His retirement was associated with the major changes made at this time to the training colleges: the handing over of responsibility for teacher training by the churches to the newly established Provincial Training Committees.
Dr Paterson had a clear view of what the teaching at Moray House set out to achieve. In a lecture to students shortly after the opening of the new Building he said:
The chief end of a Training College is not to prepare you for a Government or any other examination. We teachers are not intended to be coaches or crammers…. Government examinations are the doors by which you enter professional life. They procure you admission to the ranks of a privileged community…. It is what lies beyond these examinations – this responsible and arduous yet superlatively important work of the profession in whose ranks you have already enlisted yourselves… on which our eyes and yours should be most set. It is from the fact that you are to have a share in shaping the future of our country and people – are to be called upon to guide uprising generations of men and women how to live…
His portrait by H W Kerr ARSA and presented to Dr Paterson on his retirement still hangs in the Board Room at Moray House.
He died on 6 June 1917.