Dr Buchanan resigned in 1860 and was succeeded by Mr. (later Dr) Archibald Montgomerie, another mathematician, but his successor, Mr. Edward L. Neilson, who was appointed in 1872, was a classical scholar. This fact was immediately reflected in the school Prospectus, where Latin and Greek were put first in the Prize List and Mathematics was reduced from first to fourth place. Very little information can be obtained about the personalities of the first three Rectors of the Academy. The Staff, too, are little more than names, but we do know that the Head English Master, Mr. Haye Mure, taught Manners and Cleanliness as an incidental and that Mr. John Fraser, the Writing Master, wrote a hand of superlative elegance, specimens of which still survive to astonish us. The following extract from the Greenock Advertiser of 3rd March, 1860, records a miracle of penmanship:—”The Paisley Advertiser’ makes the following remark on the Greenock Non-Intrusion Petition being rejected by the House of Commons on the ground of its being engraved—We often witness errors and inconvenience flowing from bad penmanship, but it is something new to hear of difficulties arising from its being too good. Mr. Fraser may well congratulate himself on receiving such a practical acknowledgment of his skill, for a higher compliment was probably never paid to penmanship.” Mr. John Fraser then conducted a private school at 7 West Stewart Street and later became Writing Master in the Academy.
Short though we are of personal documentation, a good deal can be gleaned about the school itself from the Prospectuses which were published from the year of the opening until 1927.
The “Young Ladies” and “Young Gentlemen” of the announcement made in the “Greenock Advertiser” previous to the opening of the school have become “Boys” and ‘Girls” in the Prospectus of 1860. But already, in 1856, there are ‘Young Ladies” and ‘Girls’ on the Prize Lists, and the “Young Gentlemen” have disappeared. In 1870 the “Girls” have returned to gentility, the boys, presumably, being irredeemable. In 1873 there are “Girls’ in Drawing and Latin, but they are “Young Ladies” in other subjects. By 1875, there are “Girls” in Arithmetic and Singing and in 1876 they are to be found in Writing. In the following year the “Young Ladies” appear for the last time—in English and Modern Languages. It is interesting to speculate on this lack of a uniform designation. Was it a question of the views held by the teachers, or were the ‘Girls” only “Young Ladies” in certain classes?
Throughout the greater part of this period —until 1883, to be exact—the statement, “The Curriculum is not compulsory,” appears regularly. But it is also pointed out that Pupils would do well to keep to recognised courses. An increase in numbers and the development of external examinations finally imposed the necessity of abrogating the liberty of those early years. There is not much word about school examinations of the modern sort. An account of a Public Examination of the pupils is given elsewhere in the Brochure and we learn, too, that, from Mr. Neilson’s accession, all classes were open for inspection, i.e. by parents and others interested, on Fridays. After 1879 classes could be inspected at “all times.” No first-hand account of what happened on these occasions is available and we do not know to what extent, if any, parents took advantage of the offer.
The management of the school was transferred to the Greenock Burgh School Board in 1882. Its reputation and its curriculum were steadily growing. By 1872 three former pupils had won Snell Exhibitions and one was a Senior Wrangler. In 1879 R. Macfarlan, still very much alive, is recorded as winning a prize for Phonography, i.e. Shorthand. Botany, presumably a girls’ class, appears in the Prize Lists in 1885, and Science in 1889. Science was taught by the Mathematics staff until 1901, when a separate department was set up under Mr. David Baird. In 1889, also, there are Prizes for both Drill and Gymnastics and this continues till 1910 when Drill disappears. Writing figures prominently at all stages and a special prize for Ornamental Writing was awarded till 1889. The utilitarian age is thus ushered in to give way ultimately to the age of the Biro and illegibility.