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The Bermudian

Written by C. Graham Hurlburt

That wonderful old lady of Rose Cottage in Paget has passed on, having taught Bermudian children in her own little school from the year of the great Indian Mutiny until only a few months before her death in her ninety-fifth year.

Our generations of pupils have attended the little schoolroom in her cottage; in fact, Miss Janie was probably the oldest practicing schoolteacher in the world. The years were kind to her, and her faculties remained unimpaired, so that Bermudian parents continued to send their children to her until the end. Characteristic of the fine old lady’s mettle was her reply to a lady who wished to send a child to her school. Miss Janie consented to take the youngster on condition the mother would keep the child there for the years. At the time Miss Janie was in her ninety-fourth year.

At the time of her death, in the small hours of the morning of May 5th, only one of Miss Janie’s original pupils still lived. She is Lady Gray of Paget who is now in her eighties.

In all her long and bust life Miss Janie never once left the fair shores of her native Bermuda. So self-contained was she, so independent of spirit, that for close on a score years before her death she did not cross the boundaries of her own beloved garden. No physical infirmity prevented her, for long after she had entered her tenth decade of life she did all her own gardening.

At Miss Janie’s school the pupils were given only six weeks’ holiday in the summertime, about half that of other schools. She would say that this was because they were so forgetful, but the truth was that she missed the children dreadfully and could not bear to be without them for long. Once her pupils had come to know her, they adored Miss Janie and rapidly became tractable and docile in her experienced hands. Among her later charges were great-grandchildren of her first pupils of 1857.

She was never a very socially-inclined person, and because the old lady possessed a positive and powerful character mature men and women, remembering their early school days cherished a healthy respect for her, rarely willing to incur her slightest displeasure. She had no taste for visitors and frankly discouraged callers.

While there is no computing the significance of Miss Janie’s service to the youth of the Colony over the past seventy-odd years, she herself was the soul of modesty. When King Edward VIII came to the throne it was intimated that His Majesty desired to confer the M.B.E. on Miss Janie. She protested that others merited the distinction far more than she but she finally accepted it upon being advised that it was the King’s personal wish.

Eloquent of her long service was the inscription upon the wreath sent by Lady Gray. It read, “In loving memory of my beloved teacher.” It is a curious thought that in the year 2000 there will probably be several Bermudians who will recall being tutored by an old lady who began her work before the American Civil War. Truly there has passed one of the most arresting and remarkable women in Bermuda’s long history.

 

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