Starting at Crowlista School

An extract from the unpublished memoirs of Rev Col AJ Mackenzie, son of the gamekeeper Roderick Mackenzie.  AJ was born in 1887 in Kinlochresort and moved with his family to the keeper’s house at Uig Lodge, where he began at Crowlista School.

In May 1892 after the spring holidays, I began my formal education. I had never been at school before except for one day at Kinlochresort when my mother sent me with the other boys thinking I would be happier at school, than alone by myself all day at home. I soon decided that I thought otherwise and as I did not show my enthusiasm to repeat the experience next day, I was not pressed to go any more. But now by law I was compelled to go to school and there was no evading it.

I set off in high spirits with the rest of the boys, buoyed up with their accounts of the joy of life at school. Hitherto I had only looked at the school from a distance and as I drew nearer I was conscious of a conflict of feelings. I began to feel that I was about to be swallowed up in something new and strange and that things would never be quite the same again. There were over a hundred pupils in the school at that time. It was in fact hopelessly over crowded, in the following year an extension was put to it, that was another thrill for us boys to see masons, joiners and painters at work.

I had never seen so many children together before, but what filled me with amazement was the amount of noise they made with their chattering. The master, obviously, had not come in yet. When he did, the scene underwent an astonishingly rapid transformation. He picked up a thick cane and gave half a dozen hard smacks with it on the blackboard. At that instance a dead silence fell on the school. I had never seen such behaviour before and I do not in the least exaggerate when I say I was not a little scared. It took me a little time to discover that our teacher, Mr Stevenson was not as terrifying a person as he appeared to be. The first day passed off uneventfully; the second was not so happy; and the third full of doubt and forebodings. The freedom I had so long enjoyed was gone unless I could do something to recover it.

The forth day was a historic one. I set out as usual with the others but when just out of sight of home I decided on my course of action. I sat down, and calmly announced to the boys that I was not going to school that day. Curiously they did not attempt to persuade me; they may have thought that a more effective authority would soon see that. The authority was soon forthcoming in the person of my mother. She evidently had a suspicion that I had something in my mind when I set out that morning, so she came out to see from the near hill if I was on my way over the moor path to school. Her unexpected appearance startled me, but in no way lessened my determination to make a bid to free myself from the obligations of school that day and for ever.

I knew she was upon my track so I made a dash for the top of the next hill. When she got to top of that I was on the top of the next. Realising that the chase would be hopeless one she returned home to enlist the help of brother John who was by then a grown up young man. Together they got between me and the hills and forced me to make my way down by the wall the lower part of which was covered with a forest of tall thistles. I was caught like a rat in a trap.

My mother stood above me; my brother John was opposite waiting to catch me when I dashed out: for my escape to the south was barred by the forest of nettles. They were thick and jagged. I was barefoot; what was I to do? I did not hesitate one moment. Setting my teeth, I dashed through that thistle barrier and escaped onto the intricacies of the broken ground known as the Fidean.

Slowly and carefully, reconnoitring every bit of ground, I made my way into the hill country again. I soon spied my mother, utterly exhausted, sitting down and evidently having abandoned her hopeless task. A heavy shower of rain came on and taking full advantage of all these propitious factors and signs I ventured to come and sit down beside her. She made no attempt at scolding me nor did she make any dire threats of punishment for not going to school.

Nevertheless as soon as the shower was over, she laid a firm grip on me, and marched off with me to school. But that was not the end of the escape. The bird was not yet in the cage. While my mother was talking to the master in the porch, I made a desperate bid for freedom.. I flew across the playground making for the gate with the master close behind me. I got there first, carefully bolting the gate behind me, so as to hinder the master as long as possible. In a moment I was out on the moor and free. I suppose I thought that by now I had well earned my freedom. Anyhow when my mother again came after me I made no further attempt to run away. I sat down beside her listening quietly as she talked.

I felt that all was now well, when suddenly a heavy hand gripped me by the arm., My spirit utterly died within me, here was Duncan Macrae the assistant teacher like a great giant standing over me. He caught me up on his broad shoulders and set off with me to school.

All this time I was revolving in my mind whether there might not yet be a chance of escape. The drinking fountain was at the back of the school. By this time I had developed a heavy thirst. It suddenly occurred to me that if I could prevail on Duncan to let me go round the pump, I might jump over the well and make my escape. But Duncan was too old a bird to be caught with any such chaff. He took me to the pump, drew the water, and allowed me to drink all I wanted. Then he took me into the school, and carefully locked the door behind him. So ended an escapade which curiously I never tried or even desired to repeat. At the end of the year I was awarded the prize for the best attendance. Life at school went on smoothly after that.