In 1997, Port of Menteith celebrated the 300th anniversary of the founding of its local school, when Alexander Gairoch was appointed Schoolmaster on 15th November 1697.
The appointment was largely in response to the 1696 Education Act. The Act required that locally funded, church supervised schools be established in every parish in Scotland that had not previously done so. The Port of Menteith Kirk Session noted in their minutes at this time the ‘great loss the parish [had] sustained through the want of a qualified schoolmaster amongst them’.
The Minister and Heritors of the church typically worked together to appoint a Schoolmaster. Mr Alexander Gairoch had been recommended to the Parish. He was then examined by the Presbytery who were impressed ‘as to his expertise in the Latin tongue’. Like many schoolmasters of the era, Gairoch was also the Session Clerk and Precentor of the church. The school was originally sited in the church itself.
Over twenty years after the establishment of the school, in 1719, the then schoolmaster James Hardie was the subject of controversy, and subsequent investigation by both the Kirk Session and the Presbytery. The Session was informed that Hardie had stolen sums of money paid to him as mortcloth dues, and not informed the official collector Henry Dow. Hardie was brought before the Session and confessed he taken a total of £6. When asked by the Session to return the money, Hardie refused, arguing that the Session was not paying him enough for his services as Session Clerk.
Hardie’s refusal to give back the mortcloth dues was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Session. They note in the minutes that he had been disobedient and negligent in the past and proceeded to interrogate him on another three charges.
The first charge was a failure to fill up to seven years worth of minutes into the Session book. This was despite having eight or nine weeks to do so when the school was vacant. Hardie claimed he had too much business.
The Moderator then charged him with ‘scandalous and covetousness and oppression of the people of the parish by collecting more money that was due to him’. It was claimed he had taken four shillings scots off every party who consigned pledges at their booking before proclamation. Hardie stated that this was normal practice and refused to pay back the pledges that were taken from individuals.
Finally, Hardie was charged for his ‘insufficiency for discharging the office of precentor’. This led to the parish being ‘exposed to the ridicule of neighbouring parishes’. Unsurprisingly, Hardie was unanimously dismissed from his duties.
Hardie’s actions were viewed as being so serious that he was quickly brought before the Presbytery of Dunblane. In the Presbytery minutes, another claim was made against Hardie that was not noted in the Kirk Session minutes, that of cruelty to his students. The Presbytery minutes record that he ‘suffered his scholars to abuse’.
Although dismissed from his duties as Session Clerk and Precentor, Hardie was allowed to continue as Schoolmaster. The Presbytery noted that while he got to keep ‘the school in the church, he is to take care of his scholars [and] no ways abuse the same’.