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Lloyds TSB Savings Banks Museum, Ruthwell

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by Alexandrina Anderson
Elizabeth Crichton was determined that her husband's legacy should, as he wished, be used to benefit the people of Dumfriesshire and of Galloway. What is recognised as Elizabeth's original idea - to use his fortune to found a University in Dumfries - in reality emanated from an intriguing proposal put forward almost ten years before James Crichton's death ...
Elizabeth invoked the help of local heroes like Henry Duncan and some of the highest figures in the land. All were eager to influence her decision on spending her husband's fortune ...
a widow's might by alexandrina anderson
All proceeds from the sale of this publication by the Museum go to the Crichton University Campus.
Price from Museum: £6.00
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£8.00 per copy overseas
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RECENT research by the Savings Banks Museum has uncovered the following information about Dr Henry Duncan's links with Education:

Henry Duncan believed that the best way to improve conditions for the poor was through education. He was to become one of the founders of Dumfries Mechanics Institute and he lectured there, as well as at the Glasgow Mechanics Institute, on such subjects as geology, his private passion.

When Henry Brougham, the great champion of popular education, set up his famous "Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge" ("SDUK") he approached Duncan, both to write treatises for the Society and to form an auxiliary Committee for the Southern district of Scotland and the north-west of England. He also commissioned Duncan to write tracts on such subjects as bringing up children. These pamphlets were initially published under the auspices of the "Scotch Cheap Repository" and were a means of educating the "labouring classes". The scheme was audacious and likely to counter opposition, because of what Duncan described as "the terror that still prevails of the people being made worse by education".

Even before becoming interested in Brougham's SDUK, Duncan had paid itinerant lecturers to come to his rural parish, Ruthwell, (1801 population 996) to teach his parishioners the rudiments of astronomy, natural science and history. He was not dissuaded by what his son wryly described as "the sluggishness of the rustic mind, its dislike of novelties and contempt for speculative learning, [which] gave ready currency to the numerous excuses…".

Henry Duncan was the champion of schoolmasters, always trying to improve conditions for them, believing that their pupils would reap the benefits.

During the period he supervised the parish school the pupils achieved spectacular results. In 1843 the Minister recorded that all his parishioners over the age of seven years could read and apart from a few women, all over the age of ten or twelve could write. To Nova Scotia he sent an Attorney General, to the United States a senator, to the Emperor of Brazil and the future William lV, doctors. In Australia an agricultural labourer from Ruthwell became a member of the Legislative Council in New South Wales. Doctors and lawyers went to Jamaica. His own nephew, Dr William Henry Duncan, who was educated in Ruthwell, became Britain's first medical officer of health.

For almost twenty years, Henry and his brother Thomas Tudor Duncan struggled to bring a university to Dumfries - the germ of an idea that is only just maturing two hundred years later.

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