HOLBROOK (Holbroke), JAMES, schoolmaster; b. c. 1793, almost certainly in England; d. 25 April 1846 in Fredericton.
James Holbrook emigrated from England to New Brunswick “in the prime of life.” He was residing in Sackville at the time he was offered the appointment as master of the English school of the College of New Brunswick in Fredericton. The college council had approached him on the strong recommendation of William Botsford*, speaker of the House of Assembly and a resident of the Sackville area. Holbrook accepted the offer on 22 March 1822 at a salary of £100 per annum, together with all the tuition money. Tuition was fixed at £4 per annum but was subject to reduction in particular cases at the discretion of the council, which also reserved the right of admitting gratis the children of those wholly unable to pay. The council, estimating that the position would be worth £200 in all, believed nevertheless that the number of pupils would depend upon the application and ability of the master. In his acceptance Holbrook undertook to repair to Fredericton as soon as his “little pecuniary affairs” had been arranged.
The College of New Brunswick was at that moment in its history undergoing a significant change. Steps towards its founding as an academy of liberal arts and sciences had been taken in 1785, and teaching on the primary to secondary school levels had begun in about 1787. The institution’s charter as the College of New Brunswick, with the style and privileges of a university, had been granted in 1800, but university work was just beginning in 1822, when James Somerville* obtained permission to teach courses towards a degree. All three levels of education were conducted in the same building until university classes were transferred to a new structure, opened in 1829 with a royal charter as King’s College.
On his arrival in Fredericton, Holbrook was given his own schoolroom, for which he had to provide fuel. The English school, to which he was assigned, had to be conducted on the monitorial system, in which Holbrook was apparently well versed. His work and that of George McCawley* of the grammar, or classical, school – which ran parallel to the English school – were considered so successful that on 28 Dec. 1822 the college council deemed it proper to take public notice of their diligence. Their labours had resulted in a great improvement in their respective scholars. To encourage the students the council resolved to distribute appropriate rewards to deserving scholars at the half-yearly examinations. On 27 March 1824 Holbrook and McCawley had £25 added to their salaries, a sum which was to be continued as long as the legislature provided an additional grant to the college of £75 per annum.
It is clear that Holbrook was, soon after his arrival, accepted as a member of the social and official élite of the diminutive capital. Having built the first house on the hill to the south of Fredericton, on the property known as Frogmore, Holbrook married on 22 Oct. 1828 Grace Hailes, daughter of the late Lieutenant-Colonel Harris William Hailes, who had served as administrator of the province in 1816–17. One of their three daughters was to marry the Reverend Charles G. Coster, son of George Coster*, archdeacon of New Brunswick and titular president of King’s College. Holbrook’s property was later purchased by James Carter*, chief justice of the province, whose third wife was Charles Coster’s sister. Another of Coster’s sisters married James Robb*, first professor of chemistry and natural history in the college. Holbrook’s family connections illustrate the close relationships that existed among the leading members of Fredericton society in these years.
James Holbrook continued a most successful teacher in the collegiate school, as the preparatory school was called after 1828, until his death in Fredericton at the age of 53. That he was universally well liked may be surmised from the fact that a headstone was placed over his grave in the Old Burying Ground by his former pupils.
UNBL, MG H9, L. M. Beckwith Maxwell, “The Fredericton High School, the oldest English grammar school in Canada” (typescript, 1944); UA, “Minute-book of the governors and trustees of the College of New Brunswick,” 107–10, 113–15. Royal Gazette (Fredericton), 28 Oct. 1828. Hill, Old Burying Ground. L. M. Beckwith Maxwell, An outline of the history of central New Brunswick to the time of confederation (Sackville, N.B., 1937; repr. Fredericton, 1984).