GREGORY, JOHN, civil servant; b. 13 Oct. 1806 in Edinburgh, Scotland; m. in 1833 Mary Grosvenor of Fredericton, N.B., and they had eight sons and four daughters; d. 29 Oct. 1861 in Fredericton.
Little is known of John Gregory’s early life except for his later indication that he had been a mechanic’s son. He came to New Brunswick about 1820 and probably served with the 74th Regiment stationed in Fredericton at that time. In 1825 he became a clerk in the office of the provincial secretary and subsequently was clerk to the Legislative Council until his death.
Concern for the education of his family brought Gregory into local prominence and notoriety. In 1844, Gregory and assemblymen James Brown and Sylvester Zolieski Earle* comprised a special committee appointed by Lieutenant Governor Sir William Colebrooke to investigate provincial grammar and parochial schools. Their report, later published in pamphlet form, provided overwhelming evidence of the incompetence of teachers and the inadequacies of education generally but especially in the parish schools. It strongly recommended the establishment in Fredericton of a teacher-training school, a model school, and a provincial board of education, measures aimed at creating an educational system of higher quality for the whole population. A subsequent inquiry in 1846 into the grammar schools supported the findings and recommendations of the 1844 committee. In 1846, however, the assembly passed an act to reform not the more numerous parish schools but only the grammar schools, which generally served the affluent sector of New Brunswick society in or near the principal urban centres. More extensive educational innovations came, after prodding from Lieutenant Governor Colebrooke, in a parish schools act of 1847 which provided for a training and model school under the newly constituted Board of Education. Gregory became the board’s secretary at a salary of £100 per year.
Joseph Marshall* d’Avray, the master of the training school appointed under the same act, who arrived from Mauritius in 1848, indicated in his speech at the opening of the school that his views on education and teacher training were similar to those contained in the 1845 report of Gregory and his fellow inspectors. However, as one educational historian has observed, Gregory seemed to detect a note of condescension toward parish schools in some of d’Avray’s remarks, suggesting these institutions were “schools for colonials of a static lower order.” If Gregory did gain this impression, he was probably reflecting the suspicion and hostility of some New Brunswickers against the appointment of outsiders. Gregory may also have sensed the impending decline of his own influence in educational circles with the arrival of the urbane and well-qualified d’Avray. Whatever the reasons, hostility soon developed. In April 1848 d’Avray complained to Colebrooke that the Board of Education was disinclined to accept or sanction any improvement “not emanating from themselves. . . . Many of them are entirely guided by the opinion and views of their Secretary, who is nothing more than a Theorist like themselves.” For his part, Gregory criticized d’Avray’s first report, complaining to Colebrooke that d’Avray did not understand the province’s representative form of government.
On 21 April 1849 the King’s College Council received a memorial from Gregory complaining about certain aspects of the new county scholarships which meant that his eldest son would be ineligible. Despite Gregory’s repeated requests and angry letters to the local press, the council refused to modify the regulations. Gregory wrote to the Fredericton Head Quarters on 22 June 1849 insisting that another son had been “wronged” by the manner in which “certain parts of the Collegiate School examination” had been conducted. On 30 June 1849 he publicly appealed to Bishop John Medley* to ask the Collegiate School Committee to reinstate a third son, ten-year-old George, who had been expelled. A heated exchange in the Head Quarters between Gregory and George Goodridge Roberts, the school’s principal and a close friend of d’Avray, failed to resolve the issue, although the King’s College Council, which became involved, admitted that the expulsion had resulted from the father’s intemperate remarks.
A petition from Gregory to Lieutenant Governor Sir Edmund Walker Head was read in the assembly on 7 March 1850; it asked for copies of the headmaster’s letters outlining the expulsion, and an accounting of all public money paid in 1849 toward the upkeep of the school and stipends to the collegiate staff. Gregory received the information but continued efforts until 1854 did not get redress of his grievances.
In 1853, in his role as secretary of the Board of Education, Gregory became involved in a bitter debate with d’Avray, now superintendent of education, professor of modern languages at King’s College, and part-time instructor at the Collegiate School. Once again, the initial point involved another of Gregory’s sons, but in several caustic letters to the press, which criticized d’Avray’s views on education, Gregory raised the question from a personality clash to a conflict between opposing educational philosophies. D’Avray was accused of being an “élitist” favouring classical training for the minority attending the grammar schools while restricting the parish schools to elementary instruction.
In 1854 d’Avray’s office of superintendent took over the duties of secretary of the Board of Education and Gregory lost his position. Several times during the 1850s he tried unsuccessfully to win a seat in the assembly. His sons went on to successful careers, several in the professions. Gregory’s angry and well-publicized confrontations with educational authorities could be dismissed as the extreme and at times irrational behaviour of an over-zealous parent, but his complaints were raised as part of a widespread discontent with an education system which served the wealthy at the expense of the bulk of the population.
PANB, REX/pa/Education papers, University of New Brunswick, 1850–59. PAC, MG 9, A10, 5, p.277 (mfm. at UNBL). UNBL, King’s College, College Council, minutes, 1849–51. Documents before the Council of King’s College, in the case of the expulsion of George Gregory from the Collegiate Grammar School, and minutes of the council . . . , comp. John Gregory (Fredericton, 1850). Head Quarters, 22 June 1849, 1861. N.B., House of Assembly, Journals, 1851, app., “Report of secretary of Provincial Board of Education.” Royal Gazette (Fredericton), 1833; 30 Oct. 1861. Hutchinson’s New Brunswick directory, for 1865-66 . . . , comp. Thomas Hutchinson (Montreal, ). Lovell’s Canadian dominion directory for 1871 . . . (Montreal, ). The old grave-yard, Fredericton, New Brunswick: epitaphs copied by the York-Sunbury Historical Society Inc., comp. L. M. B. Maxwell ([Fredericton], 1938). K. F. C. MacNaughton, The development of the theory and practice of education in New Brunswick, 1784–1900: a study in historical background, ed. and intro. A. G. Bailey (Fredericton, 1947), 122–43.