SOMERSET, JOHN BEAUFORT, teacher, office holder, and business manager; b. 2 March 1843 in Drumcree (Republic of Ireland), son of William Somerset; m. 10 Oct. 1867 Elizabeth S. Darche, and they had four children; d. 9 March 1901 in Peachland, B.C.
John Beaufort Somerset attended Wilson’s Hospital School in Multyfarnham, County Westmeath, from 1852 to 1861. An orphan from age 11, he arranged for his brother, his sister, and himself to immigrate to Upper Canada in 1861 under the sponsorship of a cousin already living there.
Within two years of his arrival Somerset received a first-class teaching certificate, presumably from the Toronto Normal School. He then taught at Mount Charles and later at Lambton Mills (Etobicoke). Appointed inspector of schools for Lincoln County in 1871, he held the post until 1882, when he resigned to become inspector of Protestant schools for the city of Winnipeg. Within a year of moving to Manitoba, he replaced the Reverend William Cyprian Pinkham as superintendent of education for Protestant schools in the province, a position he held until late 1889.
In both posts Somerset was instrumental in modernizing schools in Manitoba. During the six years of his superintendence, the school population expanded rapidly, a result of natural increase and immigration. Somerset assisted in the organization of over 400 schools (an increase of 200 per cent), implemented the grading of pupils (an initiative carried over from his brief tenure as inspector), and introduced normal-school training for teachers as well as the systematic examination of teachers. Before 1888 school inspectorates were small, local units and many of the inspectors were members of the Protestant clergy. Somerset established a centralized system of inspection and codified regulations for schooling. The code remained in place until the early 1900s.
Somerset was committed to the principle of nondenominational public schools and criticized the poor quality of some of the Mennonite schools. Although he would not be a dominant player in the Manitoba school question of the 1890s [see Thomas Greenway], his leadership in educational matters in the 1880s influenced the development of Protestant schools into non-denominational public schools modelled on those in Ontario. Throughout his tenure as superintendent he wrote regularly for professional periodicals. His contribution to education in Manitoba was that of an administrator who extended to the province a curriculum and mode of school administration that had been developed in Ontario.
After the abolition of the post of superintendent in 1889, Somerset’s role in education diminished. He did, however, serve on the board of directors of Wesley College, Winnipeg, the Methodist college of which he had been a promoter. It is not known at what date he changed his affiliation from the Church of England to the Methodist Church.
In 1891 Somerset joined the Winnipeg Free Press as business manager, a post he held until his retirement in 1900. Shortly after taking over the paper in 1898, Clifford Sifton* complained that Somerset lacked vision. He had “no comprehension of the expansive power of a newspaper in a growing country.” Sifton none the less supported his manager’s sound but conservative financial administration until he felt the need for a younger, more dynamic man. Somerset retired to British Columbia in 1900, hoping that the more temperate climate of the Okanagan valley would improve his asthma. He died there at Peachland the following year.