The first examination of the Academy took place within its various class-rooms on Tuesday, the 8th July, 1856. The parents and friends of the pupils attended in very large numbers, and the whole proceedings gave unbounded satisfaction. The examination was confined to a single day for the purpose of concentrating the interest of the exhibition; but while perfectly successful in this respect, as evinced by the crowd which thronged the various rooms, opportunity was necessarily not afforded for the teachers showing in any adequate way the progress made and proficiency acquired by their pupils during the year. This is the less to be regretted, however, as satisfactory opportunities are offered to parents and guardians visiting the school on fixed days all the year over. It is unnecessary to record the business of the various classes; but all the visitors were delighted to witness the interest which the scholars from the oldest to the youngest took in their lessons, and the readiness and accuracy with which they answered the various questions suggested to show their appreciation of what had formed the subjects of their study. Several of the classes, especially the more advanced young ladies, were not publicly examined; their success, however, was displayed in numerous tasteful essays and other compositions which they had handed in to the teachers during the year. The specimens of plain and ornamental writing were many and beautiful—those of the young ladies being remarkably neat and uniform, and those of the boys distinct and business-like. The formidable list of prize- winners in the various departments affords evidence of the zeal and emulation by which the children were inspired.
The very large attendance of visitors interested in the proceedings of the day rendered the hall of the Academy altogether unfit for the remaining and more public business, and, as the day was very beautiful, a platform was erected in front of the Academy. A numerous and gay crowd surrounded it at three o’clock when Provost Hunter took the chair.
Mr. Oliphant, being called upon by Provost Hunter, said—Although he had no thought of intruding upon their attention, he had the greatest pleasure in accepting the invitation of the Provost to say that he had been greatly delighted with all he had witnessed that day. He was glad indeed, to see an institution so noble provided by the people of Greenock for the education of their sons and daughters, and he would say that their expenditure was not misapplied, for what had been exhibited that day would stand comparison with the best establishments in the country. He would not detain them by observations on the various classes, but he could not help remarking a feature common to them all, the evident good understanding and feeling that subsisted between the teachers and children, That cordiality afforded ground for the highest hopes of the success of their efforts, and made their labours a pleasure, not a toil. He hoped the directors and public of Greenock would have many opportunities of witnessing exhibitions as successful as that by which their elegant Academy had been that day inaugurated. (Great cheering).
Provost Hunter then called upon the Rev. Dr M’Culloch.
Dr M’Culloch said that after the high and gratifying eulogium just pronounced on the examination by an educationist of such experience and authority as Mr. Oliphant, it was quite unnecessary for him to offer any remarks on the admirable manner in which the pupils had acquitted themselves. His sole purpose in coming forward was to express, in the name of the directors, the unmingled satisfaction which the whole proceedings had afforded them, and to tender the thanks of the directors alike to the large assemblage before him for their presence and countenance on the present occasion, and to the rector and masters for their zealous, unflagging and most efficient labours. He only expressed the unanimous sentiment of the directors, when he said that this was on many accounts a proud day to them. They were proud of the fine building, now happily all but completed, which the liberality of their townsmen had enabled them to dedicate to the cause of education. They were proud of a body of scholars five hundred strong—a number which had far outdone their most sanguine expectations. They were proud of the good conduct and proficiency of the scholars. They were proud, too, of the confidence which so many parents had shown in the efficiency and management of the Academy, by placing and continuing their children under its charge and discipline. But they were most of all proud of their teachers—and not merely proud of them, but thankful for them—thankful to the Divine Bestower of every good gift. The Directors were well aware from the first that everything depended on their being able to secure the services of a staff of teachers in whom the public could confide as first-class men. They knew that if they failed in obtaining the right men, this noble edifice would be only a useless pile of masonry; nay, a monument of educational folly. And they were aware, moreover, that to search for good teachers was not necessarily to find them— that to select carefully was one thing, and to select successfully quite another thing. It was accordingly with no ordinary solicitude that they set about the task of looking out for suitable teachers. They felt that, notwithstanding every exertion to choose wisely, they might yet choose wrongly, and thereby withhold from this community, for years to come, an institution which the experience of the last nine months proved to have been a felt want and a prized benefit. All the livelier, therefore, was their thankfulness, that they could point today to a staff of teachers who had already won for themselves a place in the hearts of both parents and children; who had worked energetically apart and harmoniously together. and managed their various departments with such temper and discretion that not a single case of discipline, or even of complaint, had yet called for the interposition of the directors.
The private classes, which contained the oldest and most advanced pupils, had today made no sign. The highest English class, composed of young ladies well versed in several branches of literature, had declined to make compearance, modestly holding back from the public gaze, and hiding its light under a bushel. But when he (Dr MC) informed his audience that the young ladies in question had during the past session studied the principles of composition, mastered two books of the ‘Paradise Lost,” gone through a large portion of the history of British literature, and written, he knew not how many, essays, and tales, and poems, he was persuaded all would agree with him in thinking that these young ladies might, without fear or shame, have stood the test of any examination, and by their attainments delighted, perhaps instructed, many of their seniors. In nothing about the Academy did he rejoice so much as in the means and appliances it provided for the higher education of young ladies, for their intellectual culture during those years which immediately precede womanhood, those years when their judgment and taste were most susceptible of culture, and when, moreover, their fathers and mothers did not very well know how to employ and occupy them. He rejoiced in the efficiency of each of the departments in the Academy. He rejoiced that the mathematical department had sustained its old and well-earned fame; he rejoiced that the penmanship was so admirable; he rejoiced that the Latin and Greek classes had been so well attended, and so effectually taught. But he most of all rejoiced that Mr. Chalmers had succeeded in attracting to the study of the English language and of British literature, so large a number of young persons above the age of mere girls. He trusted the highest English class would prosper more and more, and be patronised more and more. And if young ladies from sixteen to twenty years of age would but take his advice, they would all resolve, as the best and wisest thing they could do, forthwith to ask their parents to allow them to attend that most instructive and attractive class.