Harris Academy: The First Pupils

Harris Academy was established in 1885 after the kind bequest of William Harris. The picture above shows a classroom in 1908. Although no pictures have survived from the first term in 1885, luckily the registers of admission have.   

Members of the Friends of Dundee City Archives have been busy indexing the first five Pupil Admission Register of Harris Academy. After being deposited at the Archives at the end of 2017, we decided that these were important records to make available online. The indexes of admissions up to 1918 are available to view on the FDCA website.

The registers have provided a source of infinite interest. They are not just a list of names of children. Admission registers for any school are a snapshot of the community. People who might not appear in any other record might pop up in a school register. For example some children are listed as being admitted one week and then they have left the next like Charles Lorimer. Charles came to Harris Academy on 16th April 1900. He had previously been at Morgan Academy. But he left 2 weeks later – no reason for leaving is given. We know from the Morgan records that the family used to live on Catherine Street in 1898. By 1900 they were at Benvie Road. With a move across town it makes sense that Charles would change schools. But why did he only stay for 2 weeks.

Some other school records show children of traveller families, such as performing families or seasonal workers. Had it not been for these children appearing in the school registers we may never know that this family lived in Dundee.

The registers also show the movement of people. The last school that they attended shows us where they had moved to Dundee from, including schools in Angus, Fife, even as far away as London, Boston, Brno, and even the Falkland Islands. They also tell us about schools that we didn’t know exist. There were a surprising number of small ‘schools’ run by tutors in what was probably their front room. You can also see that pupils came to the Harris from all over Dundee and the surrounding area. Boys and girls travelled to school from Invergowrie, Broughty Ferry, Carnoustie and across the water in Newport. Remember there was no road bridge, and even no rail bridge when the school first opened. Imagine having to get a ferry to school!

One pupil who had to do just that was the first recorded in the Harris Pupil Admission Register. Her name was Louisa Kay. We know from the register that she was born on 13th February 1871 – making her 14 when the school opened on 31st August 1885. She lived at Tay Terrace in Newport and her father’s name was John. From the 1901 census we know that she was the youngest of 7 siblings. Her father was a Grocer from Dundee. They moved across to Newport in the late 1850s, after Louisa’s two eldest siblings were born. When Louisa was born in 1871 the family lived in Queen Street, Newport. Ten years later they were in Prospect Terrace, then moving to Wormit Road. Louisa left Harris Academy on 5th May 1887.  In the 1891 census we learn that Louisa was now employed as a Telegraphist. When her father died in 1902, Louisa along with her mother and three older sisters moved back across the water to Dundee. In 1911 they were living at 23 American Muir Road. Here we learn that Louisa was a Telegraphist for the Post Office. It seems that she had this job for life. She died in 1958 at Victoria Hospital. By this time she was living in a house called Braeside in Muirhead of Liff. She was 87 years old.

Louisa’s is just one of the many lives recorded in these records. If you had family members living in Dundee between 1885 and 1918 you might just find the children listed in the admission registers of Harris Academy. Why not share the story of anyone you find listed in the index in the comments below.

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