The Old Masters

While the names of a number of the foundation masters as well as those of a few others who taught in the School in the first decade of its existence have appeared from time to time in this narrative, a few more notes are assembled in the present chapter on these masters. Unfortunately memory becomes dim after forty years that one has passed through an institution. Lapses and imbalance can therefore be expected in an account like this for which one must crave the indulgence of the masters concerned and of one�s colleagues with sharper memories.

There is not much on record about the previous career of the foundation Principal, the Rev. C.E. Square, M.A., M.C. before he came to Ibadan except that he was Principal of a Teacher Training College in India. There is also little on record about his subsequent career after he left Ibadan in 1931. He was, however, known to have been the Vicar of a parish in Southborough near Tonbridge, in Southern England in 1948. The choice of a clergyman to head the teacher training college at Ibadan and another clergyman to head the sister institution at Umuahia is no doubt an indication of the importance that the authorities placed on character formation through moral instruction in the instructions which were aimed at producing teachers that would subsequently be responsible for teaching primary school children. Rev. Squire taught English and Scripture. He was a keen footballer who encouraged and assisted Messrs Benton-Evans, Powell and Smithies in laying the foundation of football, athletics and crickets in the new School. Ogundepo writes of him:
�He was an Anglican Clergyman who preferred the excitement of shaping the future of African boys to the sinecure of an English parish. He taught us Divinity and was at pains to explain the doctrine of atonement which I am sure none of us could make anything of. He was very fond of music both classical and sacred and did all he could to get a school choir on its feet � He had always wished � and he told us this on more than two occasions � to take the whole lot of us to St. Paul�s Cathedral, London to hear the angels singing. Unfortunately, wishes are not and never will be horses and our genial Principal did not get as far as arranging an excursion to Apapa for us before he left the country for good in 1931.

Rev. Squire�s successor, Capt. H.T.C. field, B.A. (Cantab) stayed long enough (1932-1944) to put his definite stamp on the character of the boys in their formative years as well as the character of the new institution. He is most remembered by the generation of boys that passed through him for the great emphasis he laid on character. �Ability without character amounts to nothing�, he would say again and again. While he loved to see excellence in his boys both in the classroom and in the sports field he constantly warned against the danger of conceit, and preached the gospel of modesty in the midst of achievement.

He took the service at the chapel on Sundays except on the occasions when guest preachers came from Ibadan, Oyo or Lagos; in his short sermon he would dwell on the need for boys to appreciate their great fortune jobs in Government Departments. The first lot of boys fielded by the School established a reputation for just these qualities. For this reason, Government College boys were well sought after by the expatriate Heads of Government Departments like Agriculture, Posts and Telegraphs, Railways, etc. As soon as a boy finished Form IV, and it was clear to Capt. Field that he would not make the grade at the Entrance Examination to Yaba Higher College at the end of Form VI, the Principal would simply phone to his colleague that he was sending them one of his best boys. Without questions of Government College in those days.

Capt. Field taught English. He insisted on boys writing essays using simple, everyday words in preference to long and complicated expressions beloved of the grammar school boy of those days. In addition to his love for simple expression, he rewarded boys for good handwriting and neatness. He would give 18 out of 20 for a good essay and additional bonus of 4 for good writing, thus giving a good boy 22 out of 20.
It was an open secret in his last few years in Nigeria that Baba Job (the affectionate name the boys gave him after his black dog Job that followed him everywhere) resisted promotion to the post of Deputy Director of Education that he might remain on his job as Principal among the boys he loved so much.

Capt. Field was to write later in his yet unpublished memoirs:
�As I sit in front of the fire (about 1946), I am wondering what has become of the 250 boys who passed their country. A few have fallen by the wayside but, I hope and firmly believe, that most of them, with the school tradition behind them, have and will become useful and well-behaved citizens of Nigeria and worthy sons of the British English.�

V.B.V. Powell was continuously on the staff of Government College for seventeen years. This is a record which no one has beaten yet, and which no one is ever likely to beat in the circumstances of a rapid turnover of staff which has in recent years become a disturbing feature of secondary school administration. He joined the staff as English Master in 1929, acted as Principal a number of times, became the substantive third Principal in 1944 before finally leaving the School in 1946 for Benin to run Edo College, Benin and Warri College. He later gave up Edo College and concentrated in developing the new School in Warri later transferred to Ughelli (1947-53). He was promoted Deputy Director of Education in 1953.
�Pip� Powell was however best known by the oldest generation of Old Boys as the Housemaster of Grier House for the long period of ten years (1930-1940). In this capacity, he imparted to the boys of Grier House a good measure of the physical and mental discipline which he himself possessed in abundance. His bungalow was over half a mile from the House. Yet on the coldest harmattan morning, the Housemaster was already in the House at 6 a.m. Boys �smelt� him mile away and scrambled out of their beds to avoid the Housemaster smoking them out and sometimes flushing them out of those beds to start their morning chores of cleaning the dormitories, and assembling either on the six-a-side football pitch, the basket ball pitch or at the swimming pool at 6.30 a.m. The Housemaster flitted from one game to another, refereeing this game or joining one side in that other game.

Like Capt. Field, Mr. Powell taught English but with emphasis on a different area. While he paid attention to grammar, he concentrated on punctuation. He awarded heavy penalties against the uncrossed t�s, the undotted i�s, and the little comma inadvertently missed out in copying a set piece from the textbook into your exercise book. And while his own writing was not a wonderful example of legibility, he awarded penalty against illegibility in writing in the exercises he marked. In this way, he made the boys cultivate the habit for details and the love for exactness and clear, legible writing.

An important area in which Pip Powell put his definite stamp on the development of the youth was in the field of athletics. Not only boys of Grier House but the whole College benefitted tremendously from the great enthusiasm for coaching and organization of this former holder of the British Public Schools record in Junior Long Jump. He supplemented regular exercises for the individual in the nude in the bush adjoin his bungalow. He produced in 1935, a book on the organization of athletic sports in schools, which for many years served as a valuable manual for sports organizers in the whole country.

Mr. Powell�s great ability in organizing and developing athletics soon burst the narrow confines of Government College first into the other secondary schools and teacher training college in Ibadan, Oyo, Ogbomosho, Abeokuta and Lagos, and later into most of Southern Nigeria and parts of the North. He first conceived and organized the Grier Cup Competition which brought together boys from secondary schools and teacher training colleges from much of South Western Nigeria. He was again responsible for the North versus South Athletic Sports in which boys encountered each other at yet a wider front.

Mr. Babajimi Adewakun was the most colourful of the three Nigerians on the staff in the early thirties. He had Bachelor of Science degree from one of the famous American Universities and he liked boys to add this degree to his initials and be addressed B.A., B.Sc. He taught Mathematics and Science in a way all his own. �Science means gaining knowledge systematically� was the classical definition he made every new boy copy into his note book at his first class in Science in the School. �One c.c. of water at 4 degrees centigrade weight one gramme � under the sun�, he would dictate from his notes. He insisted on the qualifying phrase �under the sun� being underlined. He explained that he could not guarantee what obtained in another area in the universe. He would make a boy repeat these definitions parrot-wise, give him a smack on the head after a flawless recitation and then mark him 10 in his mark�s book in pencil!

His system of making was not most unorthodox. If a boy made a mistake in the recitation of a piece the Science Master dictated from Gregory and Hardley the previous lesson he was marked zero. He had been known to mark a boy zero who made the mistake of correcting a mistake which the master himself had inadvertently made in the original dictation! And if a week after a boy who had zero the week before made an effort that impressed the master, he promptly awarded him a 10 for his new effort. More than that, the Science Master converted the zero of the week before to a 10 by the very simple process of putting a 1 before the 0! It was learning both with tears and laughs, but many who have passed under B.A., B.Sc. have observed decades after that while they had forgotten much of what they learnt in science in the orthodox manner under the other masters, it is the masterpieces emanating from the classes of Mr. Adewakun that have stood unscathed the ravages of fading memory.

Mr. Adewakun was also a House Tutor for Grier House (1930-35) and equally a personality on the cricket field. You were afraid to bowl fast to him as he could accuse you of stoning, which you feared could have unpleasant repercussion at the Science or Math class the following day. You had it if you were the batsman and the bowler appealed to him as umpire at a time his mind was anywhere but on the game. He pointed his finger upwards to give the dreaded sign of �out�. You protested that nothing really had happened as the ball had not come within miles of the wicket and that the three stumps together with the bails were still intact behind you. How then could you be out! Foolish, foolish you. You�ve made your misfortune worse by �arguing with the master�, a thing that could well earn you a zero in the next Science class.

Mr. W.B. Benton-Evans, the first Housemaster of �the one and only House�, Swanston, when the School began in 1929, was an ex-product of the famous Worcester School from where he went to Oxford Blue in football and he was known to have played football for England. Fine featured and impeccably well dressed, he won the affection of the boys by the decorum and sense of fair play, and was in their estimation the embodiment of what the English called a gentleman.

Mr. Benton-Evans taught Geography which he made famous by the clay models of the more popular physical geographical features which he kept in the Geography Room. He made the boys draw maps of Africa, Asia, Europe and the World, which they painted with bright water colours. He stretched the imagination of the boys by his described how the Englishman depended on the fruits grown and imported to Britain from the Mediterranean lands. He surprised a particular class in 1934 when he removed the antimacassar on a tray which his steward had brought in which contained a teapot, a jar of milk, a bowl of sugar, a tea-spoon, a knife, a cup and saucer and a fruit, till that time, unknown to the boys. �I will now show you how an Englishman eats an apple�, he said cooly as he took the apple, cut it into two halves with the knife and proceeded to eat it with a solemnity of an order usually associated with the Holy Communion, completely oblivious of the seventeen odd pairs of eyes staring at him and watching the progress of each bit of apple gliding down his throat.

Mr. George Norman Herington, a graduate of Agriculture from the University of Reading, joined the staff as Agricultural Instructor in April 1929 but became Biology Master in the change from training college to secondary school. He also taught some Chemistry, Mathematics and occasionally Physics when staff circumstances called for his assistance in these areas.

His great contribution to the life of the first generation of students of Government College Ibadan was the high pedestal on which he placed Agriculture in the curriculum of the School. He emphasized to the principal the need to recognize Agriculture as an important adjunct to practical work in Biology, and got his approval and encouragement in laying out part of the large area of undeveloped bush in the School into agricultural plots. Each boy was given a plot on which he was encouraged to grow crops and vegetables from seeds given to him by Mr. Herington and his assistance Mr. Chukwukelu. Apart from the proceeds from the harvests providing a useful source of pocket money for most of the boys, the crops were always a ready source of material for Biology.

He was not exactly a huge man. But he was tall, and as he trudged along the winding footpaths through the bush, in his characteristics outfit of white shirt and out-sized khaki shorts, thick hose and heavy shoes in which he took long strides, he appeared to the boys a veritable giant. They ran in single file behind him and caught up with him only when he stopped to explain a botanical specimen or to add another butterfly to hi already large collection. At the end of each expedition in the bush his hose would be clustered with large numbers of tiny fruits of a variety of weeds. He would explain to the boys that these weeds specialized in this method of animal transportation � both human and four legged � for the dispersal of their seeds.

The bush was the habitat of numerous snakes, both the harmless and the poisonous. A collection which he preserved in the tab was always a source of fright to new boys to the lab who were wont to doubt the Biology Master�s word that the reptiles coiled up in bottle were truly dead. The boys nicknamed him Abere Oloko, the Yoruba name of a weed with which he was found of demonstrating a particular part of his lessons in Botany.

Mr. F.O. Awosika who did a teacher training course at Warri joined the staff in 1930. He taught mainly Algebra and History. New boys thought that they understood his explanation of both the Slave Trade and the Exploration of Africa till at the examination in June and December. He confronted a particular class of Form I boys with this now famous question: �The horrors attendant upon the early explorations of the River Niger could be considered adequate compensation for those perpetrated in the Slave Trade: Expatiate upon this.� One of the boys on whom this horror was inflicted said years later that he nearly shed tears as there were five words in that question the meanings of which he did not know.

He was House Tutor for Swanton. In that capacity, he worked with Mr. Benton-Evans in seeing to the comfort and discipline of boys in that House. He no doubt imparted to his English senior colleague some of the mysteries and behavior of the African boy and that the association between Housemaster.

Mr. Awosika�s hobby was photography. He took part in several contests in which he won prizes the result of which were considered and accepted as honours to the School. He taught a number of boys� photography and organized a photographic club. He had so developed his activities in photography that when he retired from Government service he started a lucrative business in photography which he ran from Ibadan and Lagos.

- Excerpt from Built on the Rock - The First 25 Years
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