Edward Vaughan Boulger

Vol. 8 No. 3 - 2005

Edward Vaughan Boulger

(1848 - 19??) - First Headmaster of Lurgan College

by Ian Wilson

My last article for the Craigavon Historical Society journal was in the nature of completed research. In the case of W.T. Kirkpatrick, who was the subject of that article, much of what we know comes from his association with C.S. Lewis. In this article, I am taking on an altogether different assignment.

Those of you who know Lurgan College will know that the School Houses are named after the first four Headmasters - Boulger, after the subject of this article, Edward Boulger, who was the first Headmaster (1873-1875); Kirkpatrick, after the second Headmaster (1876-99); Cowan, after the third (1899-1922) and Harper, after the fourth (1922-52).

Of the four, Boulger is the least well known, partly because he was in charge of the school for such a short time, but mainly because the school lost all contact with him after he left. This means that, although the deaths of Kirkpatrick, Cowan and Harper were all chronicled in obituaries, there is no such record of Boulger. He seems just to have disappeared totally from the knowledge of Lurgan people. This has meant that obtaining detailed information about him has proved difficult, and the last years of his life remain very much a closed book. I must also say that, although I was able to produce a fair amount of original material from the school archives last time, there is virtually nothing surviving from the Boulger period.

I suppose the first thing that I should do is deal with the issue of the name, since I know that this has caused some discussion in the past. The family name is BOULGER, not BOLGER, although experts on surnames list Boulger as a variation of Bolger. The name is of English origin. Originally a Bolger was a worker in leather and the presence of so many Bolgers in Ireland is therefore probably down to one of the many phases of English settlement in the country.

The Boulger surname was largely restricted to the South and West of the island, and even today it is possible to find Boulgers in Counties Galway and Limerick. It is also possible that the local pronunciation of the name was Bulger - I base this on the fact that Piggott's directory of 1824 spells Edward Boulger's grandfather's name as Buljer. I assume that the information for this directory was collected verbally. However, the name appears in all other circumstances as Boulger and I must accept this as its proper spelling. Incidentally, Edward Boulger was not the only person of that name to live in Lurgan - there was a Church of Ireland Curate attached to Shankill Parish Church in the 1930's called Rev. George Boulger. He was a native of County Galway, being the son of John Boulger of Oughterard. There is no evidence of any family link with Edward Boulger, although I would not be surprised to find that there was one.

Family from County Galway

Edward Boulger's family hailed from County Galway. His Grandfather was Persse (possibly pronounced Percy) O'Keefe Boulger, of Loughrea. Persse joined the British Army and was, in 1803, a Lieutenant in the 81st Regiment of Foot. He had reached the rank of Major by the time of his retirement from the army, following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. He married Elizabeth Connellan, also of Loughrea and they had one son - Persse Nihill Boulger. Major Boulger was listed in the 1824 Directory of Loughrea as a member of the local Gentry.

The name Persse is interesting. One of the most prominent protestant families in Galway at the beginning of the 19th century was the Persse family, who owned a well known shipping line sailing from Galway to the Americas. I believe that it was known on the American side as the Purse line and this may have some bearing on the pronunciation. The use of that name for two of the Boulgers may suggest a family connection of some sort with the Persses. It seems clear that Major Boulger and his wife both died relatively young, since young Percy Nihill was an orphan when he left Galway College to enter the legal profession, age under 18.

The only information that I have been able to find about Persse Boulger is in the records of Kings Inn, of which he was a member. He was admitted to Kings Inn in 1840, having served an apprenticeship to an Attorney. There were two ways of admission to Kings Inn - one by means of University (mainly Trinity College) and requiring 2 years residence in Halls; the other by serving an apprenticeship, which had to be 20 whole terms. This was the route taken by Persse Boulger. His admission in 1840 suggests an entry into apprenticeship in 1835, and since the Kings Inn records show that he was "under 18 years" when he entered his apprenticeship, that would put his year of birth somewhere around 1818. The apprenticeship appears to have been served in Galway, but by 1846 Persse Boulger was in practice as a solicitor in Dublin, based in Lower Gardiner Street and listed as Percy Nicholl Boulger. We know nothing about his marriage, although I wonder if his wife might have been called Vaughan, since I can find no other reason for Edward's middle name. We do know, however, that his son, Edward Vaughan Boulger, was born in Dublin in 1848.

The next significant date that I have been able to identify is September 1860. In that month Edward Boulger was enrolled in Rathmines School. Rathmines School was founded by a Church of Ireland Clergyman, Rev Charles William Benson, in 1858. It was based in premises at Elm House, Rathmines. Little is known of this school, except that it attracted a significant number of gifted, middle class protestant boys. Benson himself seems to have been a real character, and he was fond of boasting about the number of university professors and Bishops that had come from his school. When, in the 1930s, a number of former pupils got together to produce a school register, the organising committee was chaired by the Church of Ireland Bishop of Tuam, along with a number of prominent academics and businessmen. Edward Boulger was a pupil at the school for six years, until he left for Trinity College, Dublin in 1866. I have been unable to trace a Dublin Street Directory for these years, but I suspect that Boulger's attendance at this school was possibly indicative of the fact that he was living locally. His admission to T.C.D. was on the basis of gaining first place in the entrance examinations in the year 1866, and he went on to take a string of honours during the next three years culminating with graduation in 1869 as First Senior Moderator in Classics, History, English Literature and Law, as well as being a gold medallist.

It is clear that Rev. Benson held Boulger in very high regard, because immediately following his graduation he was appointed as Head Classical Master at Rathmines School. It seems strange that he should have gone so quickly to such a position but it may indicate that Benson was keen to encourage Boulger into a career in education. It is also likely that Boulger's personal circumstances dictated the need for a job in Dublin, at least in the short term. Immediately following his graduation Boulger had become engaged to be married to Miss Elizabeth Denham. Lizzie Denham was daughter of Dr. John Denham, of Merrion Square, Dublin - later to become President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland - and the couple were married in the Summer of 1871. The two year engagement may have been due to Boulger's desire to be in a position where he could afford to keep a wife before he was married. I imagine that Rathmines School would not have been in a position to pay high wages to its teaching staff. However, in June 1871, Edward Boulger was appointed to the Chair of Classics (or more correctly, Classical Literature) at the University of New Brunswick at Fredericton. This was a major achievement for a 23 year old, well qualified though he undoubtedly was.

Suspicion of political interference

It does seem, however, that Boulger may have benefited from his extensive connections here. The chair had become vacant because of the death of Professor Campbell, a very popular teacher, credited with putting Classics on the map in Fredericton. Campbell had died in March, 1871 at the age of only 40. When the position was advertised, there were eight applicants, including two well qualified local men, supported by petitions of over 100 signatures each from within the Alumni Association. There was a strong desire, it seems, to establish the principle that local men should be considered for such positions. Boulger was the youngest and least experienced in the field, which contained not only the two local men but also well qualified candidates from Oxford and Cambridge, yet the University Senate seems to have overwhelmingly backed his appointment. Why this was may be deduced from the following. Not long before this, the University had appointed as Professor of English one Thomas Harrison. Although a native of Sheffield, New Brunswick, he had been educated at Trinity College Dublin, and would certainly have been there with Boulger. Not only that, but Harrison's uncle, Hon. Archibald Harrison, was a member of both the Legislative Council of New Brunswick and the Senate of the University. Clearly he was not to be trifled with! The appointment of Boulger caused a sense of outrage amongst the Alumni, who saw it as evidence of political interference in a big way. So Boulger arrived to find himself embroiled in controversy from the word go. As we shall see, this was not the only time that he had help from others in his career.

No sooner had he arrived than Boulger found himself at loggerheads with the President of the University, Professor Jack. He reported that his Senior Class was very satisfactory, but that the Junior Class was not so. Some members of this class were having great difficulty in handling even the simplest elements of the course, so Boulger had decided to divide the class in two allowing him to deal with the weaker students away from those who were better equipped for the course. This involved the two sections of the class going to lectures with Boulger on alternative days. Jack objected to this arrangement vociferously, and Boulger was forced to take the whole class each day. He did this by using what I suppose we would today call differentiation - he lectured to the whole class each day but gave half an hour to each section! It is possibly a sign of a precocious nature that this 23 year old should find himself in conflict with his elders so early in his career.

In January 1872, Boulger was awarded a pay rise - to $1200 per annum. However, attached to this was a six month notice clause specifically aimed at Boulger. It seems likely that he was already looking for a move, for he offered to forego his rise in order to be free to apply elsewhere. In March he actually got to the point of resigning, having applied to McGill College, but in the following month he withdrew his McGill application and asked to be reinstated at New Brunswick. Behind all the uncertainty, I suspect, was a deeply unhappy wife. Certainly the couple returned to Dublin at the end of the University Year, and on July 23 1872 Boulger wrote informing the University that he would not be coming back, blaming the impact of the severe winter climate in New Brunswick on his wife's health. However, Boulger was responsible for one development that has survived. He had suggested that the students stage an annual entertainment for the benefit of the townspeople. Although he did not see the suggestion implemented himself, it was acted upon a couple of years later and what was called a Conversazione was started which continues, although under a different guise, until this day.

Back in Dublin, Boulger found himself again in need of gainful employment. In September 1872 he took up a position as Senior Classical Master at the High School, Harcourt Street. This school was one of those operated under the Erasmus Smith charity. Since this foundation was administered by the Church of Ireland, I suspect that, once again, Boulger's connections were at work. He seems to have had extensive contacts within the Church of Ireland - certainly the Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin was one of his referees when he applied for the Lurgan position later in the year - and this may have gained him preferential treatment. However, the Dublin position was to be short lived. Even while Boulger was settling into his new post, moves were afoot in Lurgan.

Classical and Agricultural School for Boys

I do not need to go into the details of the foundation of Lurgan College yet again. Suffice to say that the Trustees, under the will of Samuel Watts, who had died in 1850, had found themselves under some pressure to take action to fulfil the main requirement of the will - the establishment of a "Classical and Agricultural School for Boys" in Lurgan. The delay had been caused by the failure of the Trust Fund to reach its target of £4,000 - this being largely the result of Mrs Watts' survival until 1866. However, the Trustees' legal advisor, Professor W.N. Hancock, had advised that, under Irish Law, Trusts such as the Watts Trust had to take active steps to meet the requirements of their trust deeds within 21 years, or run the risk of being wound up. As a result, even though the Trust fund was still over £1,000 shy of its target, the Trustees decided to press ahead with the school, and the position of Headmaster was advertised on December 4th 1872. The closing date for applications was January 14th.

When the Trustees met to consider the applications they identified two in particular as being suitable - Edward Boulger and W.T. Kirkpatrick. Both men were young - although Kirkpatrick was the older by a matter of some months - and both were eminently well qualified. So, why was Boulger chosen? Two main reasons present themselves. Firstly, the Trustees had, at the last minute, decided that the new school should be a boarding school. In this situation it was felt that the Headmaster's wife would have a role in supervising the boarding department. However, Kirkpatrick was not married, while Boulger, of course, was! It was certainly this point that was emphasised in notes prepared for the Trustees by the Senior Trustee, John Hancock.

However, there is another, perhaps more obvious reason. The Trustees' legal advisor, as I have already mentioned, was Professor W.N. Hancock. He also happened to be Professor of Law at Trinity College, and would, therefore, have come into contact with Boulger when he was a student. Not only that, but Professor Hancock was also the brother of John Hancock of Lurgan, Senior Trustee of Watts' will. I am sure that it is not being unfair to suggest that John Hancock would have sought his brother's views on Boulger, and that those views would probably have been very positive, given Boulger's academic success at Trinity. On January 30th 1873 Boulger was appointed as first headmaster of Lurgan College and in March of the same year he and his wife took up residence in rented accommodation at 20 Market Street Lurgan, where they lived until the school buildings were ready for occupation in the summer of 1874.

Lurgan College opened for business officially on March 24th 1873, based initially in that house in Market Street. Pupil numbers initially were small - 15 boys, but no boarders. However even with these numbers Boulger felt the need for assistance and from the start an Assistant Master was appointed to deal with the Mathematical side of things. One of the first that we know about was Thomas Clouston, who undertook teaching duties whilst preparing for the Presbyterian ministry. Like Boulger, he ended up in the antipodes, where he became a leading figure in the Presbyterian Church of Australia.

Lurgan College

The school buildings, on College Walk, were completed early in the summer of 1874, and we know that the Boulgers had moved out of the house in Market Street and into the Headmaster's House by August. When the new term commenced in September of that year, there were 25 day boys and 2 boarders on the rolls. These numbers were apparently large enough to be seen as encouraging by the Trustees. As with Kirkpatrick, there are no records of pupils for the Boulger era, and since this was before the age of the Intermediate Examinations, there aren't even results lists to help us, as there were for Kirkpatrick. However, Boulger did publish school "Prize Lists" each term in the press, listing the top students in each subject following the end of term examinations. These should be a source of evidence for pupils, but they are largely useless, because of Boulger's habit of referring only to surnames and of differentiating between pupils with the same surname by the novel method of using numbers, as in Hamilton 1, Hamilton 2 etc. However, from outside sources we are able to identify some of those who were at the school in Boulger's time. Possibly the most prominent was R.S.G. Hamilton. He was the son of the Church of Ireland rector of Drumcree, and went on from Lurgan to Trinity College, Dublin and then into the Church of Ireland Ministry. He became Dean of Armagh in 1924.

Official opening of new school buildings

The new school was opened officially on October 27th 1874, the ceremony being performed by Professor Smyth, M.P. It was not long before Boulger found himself in conflict with the Trustees. I have suggested that the building of the school was commenced before the "target" set down in the will was reached and one consequence of this was that the Trust Fund was drained. Since the Fund had to provide a salary of £200 per annum for the Headmaster, there is some evidence that it was in fact in danger of becoming overdrawn. As a result of this Boulger was approached by the Trustees and asked to pay the rent and taxes on the College buildings, at least in the short term. The original terms of his employment had stipulated that these payments were the responsibility of the Trustees. Boulger refused this request point blank and this certainly led to strained relations with the Trustees for the remainder of his stay in Lurgan. It is significant that W.T. Kirkpatrick was appointed on the understanding that he would be responsible for these payments. Although there is very little surviving from the Boulger years, the correspondence still extant has always interested me. There is not one single letter from Boulger to the Trustees, although there are several from his wife. She seems to have taken the lead in correspondence, writing on a whole range of subjects, but usually about necessary expenditure on the College buildings. Perhaps Boulger realised that such expenditure was unlikely to be sanctioned, or perhaps he was just happy to allow Mrs Boulger to do the paperwork! We shall probably never know.

On thing that does become clear is that Boulger was never really settled in Lurgan. Pupil numbers never showed any sign of growth and indeed by 1875 were in fairly serious decline. It seems that the Boulgers were socialites in Dublin, moving in fairly exclusive circles, and I fear that they seem to have found Lurgan society a little lacking. Of course Mrs Boulger could easily get to and from Dublin, but Boulger himself was tied to Lurgan, at least during school terms.

On the move

By 1875 he was looking again for a move. When the Chair of Greek at University College, Cork became vacant in the autumn of that year, Boulger applied, and was appointed. It probably says a lot for his perceived academic status that he was seen as such a catch, but it must be noted that he was 27 years old, and had been working for 6 years and was now entering his 5th job! I have always felt that Boulger considered his gift to be in the University sector. The task of dealing with younger children seems to have been very much a second best career choice. Indeed an inventory of damage to the school premises in Lurgan, prepared after he left, suggests at the very least that he did not impose a particularly firm discipline.

The suggestion that buildings not quite 2 years old should require repairs to plasterwork, glass, lighting and wood panelling begs the question why? These same building had been designed to cater for 60 day boys and 20 boarders, yet there had never been more than 30 pupils in total and when Boulger left there were only 16. There is a distinct sense that both Boulger and the Lurgan Trustees breathed a sigh of relief when he left Lurgan in December 1875 to take up his new appointment in Cork.

It is strange that, of all the appointments held by Boulger, the Cork Professorship is the one about which we know least. He was at a later stage to describe himself as having been "Regius Professor of Greek and Assistant Professor of Latin" at Cork, but I can find no evidence of such a title for the Chair, and while it is quite possible that he did take some classes in Latin, his official title was Professor of Greek. There is no evidence of any great problems during his time at Cork - indeed he seems to have made quite a name for himself in educational circles. At the annual meeting of the Royal Irish Academy in 1881, he was recorded as being the principal speaker on the subject of Irish Education. By 1875 the colleges of what was originally the Royal University of Ireland were well established, and one would expect that little in the way of innovation would have been necessary. From the Cork end, the only information that we have available is that Mr Boulger served for eight years, from January 1875 until June 1883. During that time his main claim to fame appears to have been his penchant for producing poetry in Latin and Greek for publication in a Dublin Literary Journal. One wonders how many of his readers would have understood anything of what he was saying!

We now come to the saddest part of Boulger's career. During 1883 he was, apparently, headhunted for a position in the recently established University of Adelaide, in South Australia. The staffing of such new establishments was something of a problem, and it seems that the administration of universities like that in Adelaide, kept regular contact with people in Britain who were constantly on the lookout for likely candidates. I find myself in something of a quandary here. The information held in Adelaide about Boulger s background is so inaccurate that I can only think either that he himself embroidered it to his own advantage, or that someone else did it for him. The details of his initial academic career are accurate enough but then he is described as having been "lecturer in English at the Queen's Institute, Dublin 1869-75".

We know, of course, that during this period he was teaching at Rathmines, Fredericton, Dublin and Lurgan - but these receive no mention. As for the Queen's Institute, I can find no trace of such an institution. It is possible that such a place did exist, and that Boulger lectured there in the evenings while he was in Dublin, but there is a nasty suspicion in my mind that whatever he did was exaggerated for his benefit at this time. Certainly, when he came to Lurgan in 1873 no mention was made of any such activity in his application. He is also described as being a Doctor of Letters in the University of Dublin. The University of Dublin Graduates Roll for 1895 (after Boulger had left Adelaide), while listing his B.A. and M.A. degrees, make no mention of a Doctorate. This is all very puzzling indeed. One wonders if no attempt was made to check the accuracy of such statements before an appointment was made.

The position which Boulger took up in 1883 was that of Hughes Professor of English Literature and Mental and Moral Philosophy. His predecessor, Professor Davidson , had left in 1882 and a local man, Mr Edward Morris, was originally selected to fill the vacancy. However, Mr Morris was offered a similar position in his home town of Melbourne and asked to be released from his Adelaide appointment. This is what led to Boulger being appointed to the chair as from 1st July, 1883. There is a comment in a booklet produced by the University to celebrate the centenary of the Classics Department, in 1976, that while Boulger was undoubtedly qualified to teach English Literature, his qualifications in the mental and moral sciences were limited. It is significant that one of Boulger's lasting contributions at Adelaide was the Shakespeare Society, which he founded early in his professorship and which survived until the late 1930s.

Resignation accepted

The original appointment was for five years and in 1888 the University Council decided that future professorial appointments would be terminable by six months notice on either side. Here again, Boulger seems to have had a very poor relationship with the University administration. There were, apparently, persistent rumours that the Council would be glad to see that back of him, finding him objectionable. Certainly, in 1888, Boulger responded to the changes in his terms of service by resigning. He was, apparently, convinced that this would force the Council to back down, but they accepted his resignation and proceeded to advertise for a replacement in the London papers.

This move brought the University Council into conflict with the University Senate, on which Boulger seems to have had some allies. The Council eventually backed down and reappointed Boulger for two years, with the position reverting to the 6 months notice arrangement thereafter. It is difficult to see what lay behind the problems at this time. Boulger appears to have done his utmost to co-operate with the authorities. When the Professor of Classics - a fellow Irishman called Kelly - fell ill in 1886, Boulger agreed to take on the teaching of Classics in addition to his own teaching. When Kelly took ill again in January 1894, Boulger again took on the Classics teaching, and when Kelly died on 21st March 1894, Boulger was transferred to the Chair of Greek. At the same time he was serving as the Dean of the Faculty of Arts in the University.

Boulger's position seemed secure at this stage. He had returned to his first love - Greek - and he seemed to have settled into the University s life. However trouble quickly reared its head again. When Boulger was invited to take over the Chair of Greek, he was asked to continue with his responsibilities for English and Philosophy until a successor could be appointed. This, with his work as Dean, seems to have placed him under considerable pressure. When the University Council met in November, 1894 an official complaint was made against Boulger that he had been unable to fulfil his responsibilities as a member of the Board of Examiners due to the effects of either narcotics or alcohol. Apparently a similar complaint had been made against him early in 1893, and the Council requested Boulger either to provide a satisfactory explanation or tender his resignation. Boulger's response was to claim that he was suffering from overwork and to request leave. However Council decided that it would be in the best interest of the University if he resigned and despite a plea from Boulger that they reconsider, his resignation as of 31st December, 1894 was accepted, with Boulger receiving 6 month's salary in lieu.

There is a rather sad little postscript to the entry on Boulger in the Booklet "Classics at the University of Adelaide 1876-1976" - it is recorded that "he disappeared from the records of the University and of the State". And this indeed seems to have been the case. It is likely that he would have found difficulty in finding congenial work in Adelaide and he may well have decided to leave as soon as he could. A contact in Adelaide has told me that there is no mention of him in the local press, or the minutes of the University Council after his departure. And here I too have come up against a stone wall. The only reference to him that I have been able to find post 1894 is in a list of Dublin University Alumni dated 1924, where he is shown as living in New Zealand.

The University itself has no record of his death, and attempts to find information about him from New Zealand has also drawn a blank. Since one of the searches that I initiated was through the New Zealand Government Department of Births Marriages and Deaths, the failure to come up with an answer may suggest that the Boulgers left New Zealand for fresh pastures, although if this is indeed the case, then the move was made when Boulger was a very old man. There is a suggestion that Boulger (like Kirkpatrick) may have undertaken private tuition in Wellington - but there is no direct confirmation of this. It was also suggested to me that Mrs Boulger may have returned to Ireland, or that she had died while they were in Australia. However, there is no conclusive evidence for either of these suggestions.

An unfortunate man

It is hard to bring such an article to a satisfactory conclusion, because we just do not know how Boulger ended his career. It is clear, however, that he was an unfortunate man, with an unerring ability to come into conflict with his superiors. There is not a little evidence that he was prepared to use untruths to further his own career, and he seems to have succumbed, in the end, to human frailties that have led to the downfall of many a good man.

However, I cannot help but feel sorry for him. He appears to have been a man of genuine intellectual ability, unable to find a position where that ability could be used to its greatest extent. I have a feeling that, if he had been prepared in his earlier days to buckle down and give himself to the work that he had, he might have made much more of his life. It is sad indeed that such a promising intellect should, at the end, succumb to scandal and disgrace.