Centenary Book of the First Presbyterian Church Portadown

Chapter IX


The pre-eminently important section of every properly equipped congregation -- the training of the young in Sabbath School and Bible Class -- has ever occupied a prominent place in this church. It is impossible to discover when the work began, but one may conclude that there was a school during the ministry of Mr. Dowling. From the information available there was in the early days of Mr. Elliott a Sabbath school not only in the church but also in Drumnagoon. In those days a much larger proportion of the congregation lived in the country, and of such Drumnagoon supplied the largest number. This school has been carried on in the same house for considerably over fifty years. The good man who laid the congregation so much in his debt by opening up his house was named James Tuft. With his family he emigrated to America some 20 years ago, but fortunately the farm was acquired by another member of the congregation, Mr. William Symington, who generously permitted the good work to proceed uninterruptedly and in later years the entire house was requisitioned for the increased accommodation demanded. Mr. Symington is the son of the Charles Symington mentioned in an earlier chapter as one of the committee which built the church.

Prior to the year 1880 the superintendent was Mr. James Hall, a member of Session, and one of the most prominent workers of his day. He was succeeded by a Mr. Samuel Brown, an employee of the Great Northern Railway Co., and a man full of evangelistic fervour and zeal. On his death Mr. James Wilson took up the work, proving himself a worthy successor to Mr. Brown. In 1906 Mr. Wilson resigned to undertake the more onerous responsibility of superintendent of the schools in town, and was succeeded by Mr. Harry Joyce, who held office until 1911, when he emigrated to Canada Mr. W.J. M'Kibben succeeded, throwing himself very heartily into the work, and reaping a rich reward im the continuing prosperity of the school.

No school could have had a succession of more earnest devoted and consistent superintendents, and in this it has been pre-eminently fortunate.

Of those who superintended the town schools it is not possible to go further back than the year 1878 the earliest time of which there is any record. In that year the names of Messrs. Jas. Hall and David Geddis appear, one apparently in the forenoon and the other in the afternoon. For a portion of that year and the following one Mr. David Graham was in charge. It would be right to assume that the two former gentlemen held office for a long time previous to 1878, as both were very prominent workers for many years. The following table gives the names and dates of those who subsequently held office:

1880 to 1885 -- Mr. Hugh Wallace, Morning and Afternoon.
1886 to 1898 -- Mr. Joseph Fleming,           "      "
1899 to 1901 -- Mr. John B. Bryson,           "      "
1901 -- Rev. W.J. Macaulay, Morning. Mr. John B. Bryson, Afternoon.
1902 to 1905 -- Rev. W.J. Macaulay, Morning. Mr. W.M. Clow, Afternoon.
1906 to 1911 -- Mr. James Wilson, Morning. Mr Jas. Wilson, Afternoon.
1911 to 1915 -- Mr. W.J. Moffett, Morning. Mr. James Bryson, Afternoon.
1916 to 1922 -- Mr. W.M. Clow, Morning. Mr. James Bryson, Afternoon.

It would be invidious to attempt any analysis of the capabilities of this extensive list. That they were variable goes without saying. One, and possibly more, possessed the inestimable faculty of knowing every scholar by name, but to some, unfortunately, this great privilege was denied. Some possessed in a higher degree than others the power of organisation and the gift of vision, and happy were the teachers and scholars when one of this character was in charge. They were all alike in that they were godly men, zealous for the spiritual welfare of those committed to their charge, and willing to the best of their ability to further the interests of the schools over which they presided. While it would be presumptuous to suggest anything beyond average success, it can be claimed that progressive methods have been welcomed and as far as possible adopted. A primary department has long been a leading feature; grading is in operation; the Star Card system of recording attendance and the preparation of lessons is carried out, while prizes for attendance and success in annual examination are liberally awarded.

The present Superintendents have been connected with the work for long periods of time. Mr. James Bryson went to the school as a scholar in 1873. Two or three years afterwards he was appointed Secretary both of the school and of the Tract Distribution Society, and before 1880 he was a teacher, a position he held for about 40 years. During the most of this time he had charge of the morning Bible Class of young men, a position which called for careful preparation. Mr. Clow is in his thirty-sixth year as teacher and Superintendent, previous to which he taught, for at least 14 years, in Minterburn. It is somewhat singular that Mr. Bryson also attended the Sabbath School at Minterburn ere coming to Portadown.

One of the finest products of the Sabbath school was R.B. Mawhinney, who died in the Indian Mission field at the early age of 25. "Bob," as he was affectionately known, was "a lad o' parts," and Edenderry National School never had a more brilliant scholar. Securing an exhibition in the Intermediate Board examination at the age of 14, he held it in the usual way. During his time as monitor and assistant teacher in the school he prosecuted his studies for matriculation in the Royal University, securing honours in four subJects. Had he willed to continue his studies still further he undoubtedly would have taken a high place in the educational world, but he laid all these ambitions aside at what he realised to be a call from God to go to the mission field. During the special services conducted by Mr. S.J. Montgomery he experienced the great change, and at the Keswick Convention soon after he stood up amongst those who dedicated themselves to the foreign field work. On his return home he offered himself and was accepted by the Jungle Tribes Mission, carrying with him to India all the fire energy, and zeal which characterised him while at home. The rapidity with which he acquired a knowledge of the language surprised every one, and in the prosecution of his work he never spared himself. An outbreak of famine, followed by fever, occurred ere he had been two years at his post. Into the work of relief and rescue he threw himself with an enthusiasm that undermined his strength, and he fell a victim to the treacherous disease. Told far too briefly this is the life story of one whose memory is ever fragrant in the hearts of many in the congregation. How like it is, in at least one particular, to that of Mr. Kerr!

One might also refer to Miss Anna Graham, elder daughter of Mr. David Graham, a devoted Sabbath school teacher, and active C.E. worker, who became the wife of Rev. Alexander Crawford, missionary to India, where she also acted as a beloved worker. Then there is Harry Joyce, born in the congregation, who found himself in Christian Endeavour, and after a few years of very active work went to Canada to prosecute his studies, and is now a devoted minister in the Presbyterian Church there. Mr. Joyce was followed a little later by James Little with the same result. Yet another trophy of the Sabbath School and of the first C.E. Society is Miss Mary Stevenson, for many years Deaconess in Ballymena, where she is held in very high esteem, and her work greatly appreciated.


^ top of page