William Knibb Memorial High School 1961
William Knibb Memorial High School (1961)

The following was curated from Jamaica-History.com & Vintage Jamaica page via Falmouth Vintage Jamaica. This is an interesting history of William Knibb Memorial High School, which shows that the history of the school dates way back before 1961, the year it is actually recognized as being founded.

The school seems to have began in the 1870’s or earlier, and was first known as the Misses Knibb Boarding School. It was run by female descendants of the famous slavery abolitionist, William Knibb, for whom the school is now named.

The school is now located at Carib Road in Martha Brae, after having moved from the old Baptist manse on Market Street, Falmouth for the 1976-1977 school year. Many of us as old students thought the school history began at Market Street, Falmouth, but history says otherwise.

Early History of William Knibb Memorial High

Miss Knibb’s School, Falmouth
Miss Knibb’s Young Ladies’ Seminary, 22 Cornwall Street

Interest in this school was roused by reference to a school being closed when two Black girls were admitted, and other parents withdrew their children, possibly in the 1870s. I have not been able to locate any contemporary, or early, accounts of this situation. The reference below, apparently based on information provided by Miss May Jeffrey Smith, is the most reliable I have found; I would be grateful for any earlier references. It is clear from references I have found, that, whatever problems existed in the ’70s, the school survived and presumably continued to operate at least into the 1890s, when Cicely Knibb Allen, nee Fray, born in 1888, was educated there.

by Daniel L. Ogilvie
We are indebted to Miss May Jeffrey Smith, B. A., J. P., for the following notes . . .
. . . the prejudice prevailing at that time which strongly objected to a black or darkly coloured girl being educated with those of fairer complexion – a prejudice now happily passed away.

This prejudice was manifested a few years earlier, when a well established school conducted by the Misses Knibb (descendants of the famous William Knibb) in Falmouth, was entirely broken up, because they admitted as pupils the daughters of two native Ministers, the one a Baptist and the other a Presbyterian, both of whom are recognized and respected gentlemen. As the ladies refused to dismiss these girls simply on the ground of their colour, the other girls were withdrawn and these ladies had to suffer some privation on account of their heroic attempt to stem the current of race antipathy then prevailing.

Published in Falmouth, Jamaica

Will re-open their school (D.V.)
on Wednesday 21st July.

Jamaican Historical Society Bulletin – Volume 8, No. 8, Dec 1982
page 190


The following extract is from a letter written in 1971 to the then President of the Georgian Society, Geoffrey Pinto, by the late Mrs Cicely Knibb Allen, of New Orleans, USA. A copy has been given to the St Andrew Memory Bank Auxilliary Group, who thought it might be of interest to the readers of the J.H.S. Bulletin.

[Cicely Knibb Fray, later Allen, born 1888, was a great-grand-daughter of William Knibb. She died in 1979.]

“As you may, or not, know, there were three Knibb brothers who came out to Jamaica from Kettering, England, as teachers of slaves. First came Thomas, but he soon died from the fever (yellow fever, I suspect). Then came William Knibb and his wife, Mary, they were our ancestors. Then came Edward Knibb who was the father of Mary (Polly) Knibb and Lillie Knibb.

William Knibb Memorial High 1961 smallThese two estimable ladies were an institution in Falmouth as they were both very tall. Cousin Polly was the older and therefore “ran” things . She was a very large woman who wore black velvet bonnets with parrot’s feathers on them and when the bonnet was tied under that chin we students could look at the way it was tied and know how to adjust our behavior to it.

Cousin Lillie was slender and willowy and I liked to watch her walk. There were about twenty boarders and that many day students, children of bushes or estate managers, store keepers, preachers, etc. (I was one of the last!) and we lived entirely by clock and rule.

The menu was the same, by that I mean that on Sunday we always had cold corned beef, cold yam or other vegetable, a hunk of dry bread, water, and for dessert there would be cooked prunes one week and apple sauce the next week. The fire was never lighted in the kitchen on Sunday!! Breakfast was at 11:00 o’clock was always codfish, rice or yam, cho-chos etc. and for dinner, mutton, fish, beef, vegetables and fruit.

We rose at 6:00 am, went down to prayers, a bit of bread, calico tea (half milk, half water) and fruit; then out in the flag stoned yard to study, by which I mean walking up and down and around the flower beds with a book in hand, usually the “Blue Back” Speller. If we were found slouching in our walk we were given a backboard to wear and we kept on walking.

Day students arrived at 8:30 am, so into the huge room under the second story we went, where long tables and backless benches awaited us. Slates and slate pencils were brought out and work began.
When recitation time came we were lined up in front of Cousin Lillie to recite portions of the Bible (what I learned there I’ve never forgotten and am thankful for my Bible knowledge), then spelling, history, geography, arithmetic, French, Latin, and music (piano) were taught by Cousin Polly, whose classes went upstairs to her.

She was also the business manager and did the ordering of food, linens, etc. When we stood to recite we placed the palms of our hands on our shoulders, we couldn’t pass off anything on her even if she was totally deaf for she could “lip read”. If we erred in any way we were sent to stand in the corner with a book on our head, every time the book fell off meant five more minutes. On Saturdays we put a book on our heads if we erred in any way and walked up and down for ten minutes.

Each afternoon after school, and before dinner we went upstairs, washed up, changed to street clothes and off we wet for a walk. Hat, gloves, walking two by two, in line, not a word to be said while walking through Falmouth, but when we reached the beach, the dock, or Martha Brae river we could break ranks and go where we wanted. Cousin Lillie and one other long suffering teacher went along.

Home again, dinner and study around a huge table at the head of the stair until 9:00 pm when to bed we went.

On Sundays we were marched to the Presbyterian Kirk (the picture is in your book) where Cousin Polly played the organ. In those days the pews were a square box affair with a door, so some of the congregation sat with their back to the preacher! Once I went to sleep during the 1½ hour sermon, so Cousin Polly reached over from where she was sitting, and using the crooked handle of her umbrella around my neck brought me to my feet where I stood for the rest of the sermon droned on by the estimable though dry Scottish domino. Cousin Polly was not above telling Mr Marwick the minister that she disagreed with what he said and she did it “right there and then”!!

No two women had bigger hearts than they, for they were always helping someone out. In those days Delgado’s store was the Emporium, and Mr Delgado could, and would put them in touch with need.
At the time I thought life was terrible, but this rigid training has meant much to me in later life, so that now at 82 I am grateful for my stern upbringing.

Not only were we taught manners and the three R’s we also had lessons in quiet sleeping and I was one who got the training. It was rugged.

[Miss Lillie Knibb died in 1913, and Miss Polly Knibb in 1914.]
Edited by Dr. Robb, Kingston. Subscriptions and Advertisements for 1882 are to be paid to the Rev. Wm. Murray, Falmouth. Subscription is 2/6 per annum, post free.


Monday, January 1, 1883
The Misses Knibb, Kettering, Falmouth, will reopen the School, conducted by them (D.V.) on Wednesday, January the 24th, and all Pupils are requested to assemble on that day.

Two authoritative sources provide further details about the school:

Orange Valley, and Other Poems
Tom Redcam, 1951

Prior to going to Kingston Tom MacDermot was a pupil at the excellent school conducted for many years in Falmouth by the Misses Knibb. It was a girl’s school but a limited number of junior boys were admitted. Among these, incidentally, was the late Editor of the “Gleaner”, Mr. Herbert G. deLisser, then quite a small boy.

At the Misses Knibb, in addition to what he owed to the two heads of the establishment, he remembered specially the teaching of *Miss Annie Fray, a grand daughter of the famous William Knibb.

*Annie Fray was a grand-daughter of Rev William Knibb, daughter of Rev Ellis Fray, snr,and was the first teacher at the school which became Westwood, of which May Jeffrey Smith was a later headmistress. Annie Fray died in 1920.

Six Great Jamaicans: biographical sketches
W. Adolphe Roberts, 1952

The younger Herbert George de Lisser [born 1878] began his education in Falmouth; as a small boy he was entered at the school kept by the Misses Knibb, while T. H. MacDermot, eight years his senior, was still a pupil there. Then he was taken to Kingston and placed in the Collegiate School under the famous teacher William Morrison.


CURATED from Jamaica-History.com & Vintage Jamaica page via Falmouth Vintage Jamaica.



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