Profile: John Irving Roddick, Headmaster of the Harbour Grace Grammar School


John Irving Roddick, of Jedborough, Scotland, was the first headmaster of the Harbour Grace Grammar School. Roddick’s grandfather, Martin, had considerable interests in Newfoundland, owning a fleet of ships which traded in the colony; and his cousin was the famous preacher Edward Roddick. Roddick had originally trained for the ministry, before settling on teaching as a profession. Before coming to Harbour Grace, Roddick was a professor of classics at the High and Lower School of the Mechanics’ Institute in Liverpool, England. Notably, he was a friend of the eminent Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle.

His appointment aroused some indignation in Harbour Grace – some thought Thomas Talbot, a future MHA, Sherriff of the District Court, and teacher at St. Bonaventure’s College, St. John’s, better suited. In 1844 Roddick arrived in Harbour Grace on the brigantine Alert, captained by Azariah Munden. He was the first teacher to open the school on February 3, 1845. His salary was set at one hundred and fifty pounds per annum.

Soon after arriving in Newfoundland, Roddick married Emma Jane Martin, daughter of Harbour Grace merchant Thomas Martin, on October 2, 1845, at St. Luke’s Church, Port de Grave. The pair had five children: Thomas George (b. July 31, 1846), Janet Irving (b. July 8, 1848), John (b. July 4, 1850), Emma (b. May 18, 1852), and Margaret (b. unknown). Thomas was his father’s most well known pupil, later becoming a successful professor of surgery at McGill University and an influential MP.

At school, Roddick was a well-respected, strict disciplinarian, who insisted on punctuality for lessons. A former pupil described his mentor as “a scholar, linguist, systematic in his conduct of the school and one who never missed a day from attendance; a born teacher of youth, beloved by his pupils and a shrewd judge of character.” The Commissioners of the Grammar School in 1851 were similarly impressed: “[We] have much pleasure in expressing the utmost satisfaction with Principal Roddick, who, in the discharge of [the] onerous and important duties devolving on him, has continued to manifest that indefatigable zeal and ability which in a great measure it owes its efficiency, to whom the public stand indebted for its extended usefulness.” Under his guidance, the school was considered one of the best in Newfoundland.

During his time at Harbour Grace, Roddick was also treasurer for the Sons of Temperance Society and took a leading role in the Presbyterian community of Harbour Grace.

After his retirement from the Grammar School in 1876, Roddick and his wife moved to Montreal to be near their children. Roddick died there in 1879, his wife in 1890.

Sources & Further Reading

Davis, May. “Harbour Grace History.” Newfoundland Quarterly, vol. 57, no. 1, 1957, pp. 21-22.

Fawkes, Marion Elizabeth. In Search of My Father: One Woman’s Search for the Father She Never Knew. Dundurn, 1994. Print.

Munn, W.A. “Harbour Grace History: Chapter Sixteen.” Newfoundland Quarterly, vol. 37, no. 3, 1937, pp. 9-14.

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