Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Edmondson, George

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1161932Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 16 — Edmondson, George1888George Jacob Holyoake

EDMONDSON, GEORGE (1798–1863), educationalist, born in Lancaster 8 Sept. 1798 of quaker parents, spent his early years entirely among quakers, and always belonged to the society. He had a gift for mechanical invention, shared by his brother Thomas [q. v.] They were both educated at Acworth school, Yorkshire, of which John Fothergill [q. v.] was the principal supporter. Fothergill proposed that the pupils of both sexes should be taught a trade. Little was done to realise his views, but Acworth was a better English middle class-school than existed elsewhere in the country at the time. At the age of fourteen Edmondson left. He wished to be a teacher, and was apprenticed to William Singleton, the reading master of the Acworth school, who had commenced a boarding-school in a large old-fashioned house at Broomhall, near Sheffield. Singleton was a humane man who objected to the use of the rod. Edmondson learned bookbinding under him, executing all that was necessary for the school. A well-known Friend, Daniel Wheeler, taught Edmondson agriculture.

In 1814 Alexander I of Russia visited England. He was much impressed by the quakers, and in 1817 invited Wheeler to superintend some agricultural institutions in Russia. Edmondson, on the suggestion of Mr. Singleton, joined the party as tutor to Mr. Wheeler's children and assistant in the work. He lived in Russia until 1820, when he returned to England to marry Miss Singleton, the daughter of his old schoolmaster. He returned with his wife to Okta, near St. Petersburg, where they were living during the inundation in 1824. In the course of the following year the whole of the bog land around the capital was brought into cultivation. After seven years' residence in Russia, during which he acquired good conversational knowledge of the language, he returned to England, although the emperor made him handsome offers to remain. He returned to England less rich than he might have been but for his scruples against accepting bribes. The emperor, indeed, offered Edmondson a thousand acres of unreclaimed land at Shoosharry, which Edmondson declined, as the only dwelling available during the work would have been fatal to his family. In England Edmondson opened a school at Blackburn in 1830, and a little later on one at Tulketh Hall, near Preston. At Tulketh Hall he had to refuse numerous pupils, when he was induced to take Queenwood Hall, Hampshire, erected by the followers of Robert Owen. There eight hundred acres of land enabled him to add agriculture to the subjects taught in his school, and he was able to carry out his great aim of establishing a science and technical school. He was one of the early promoters of the College of Preceptors, and went beyond his fellows in his appreciation of the value of practical instruction. His genius lay more in organisation than teaching, and he made the school very perfect in its arrangements. He had a carpenter's and a blacksmith's shop as well as a printing-office, in which a monthly periodical was issued, edited, and at one time set up by the boys. He had several Bradshaws among his school books, in which the boys were examined in finding routes. Professor Tyndall, Professor Archer Hirst, Dr. H. Debus, F.R.S., and Professor Frankland were among the teachers. One of the earliest pupils at Queenwood was Henry Fawcett [q. v.]

Like Pestalozzi, Edmondson had the power of influencing those about him by his own enthusiasm, and did much to introduce a new system of education. He was largely assisted by his wife, who, in the opinion of many, had a superior intellect to his own. He died, after one day's illness, 15 May 1863, and was buried in the burial-ground of the Society of Friends at Southampton. People of all kinds of opinion assembled to show their regard for his capacity, usefulness, and integrity.

[From the Lune to the Neva, London, 1879; Reminiscences by Edmondson's daughter, Mrs. Davis Benson; letters of Professor J. Tyndall, Dr. John Yeats, and C. Wilmore, principal of Queenwood College.]

G. J. H.