Manson, David (DNB00)

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MANSON, DAVID (1726–1792), school-master, son of John Manson and Agnes Jamieson, was probably born in the parish of Cairncastle, co. Antrim, in 1726. His parents being poor, he began life as a farmer's servantboy, but was allowed by his employer to attend a school kept by the Rev. Robert White in the neighbouring town of Lame. There he made such good progress that in a short time he himself opened a school in his native parish, tradition says in a cowhouse. By-and-by he became tutor to the Shaw family of Ballygally Castle, and later on taught a school in Ballycastle. In 1752 he removed to Belfast, where he started a brewery, and in 1765 announced in the 'Belfast Newsletter' that 'at the request of his customers' he had opened an evening school in his house in Clugston's Entry, where he would teach, 'by way of amusement,' English grammar, reading, and spelling. His school increased, so that in 1760 he removed to larger premises in High Street, and employed three assistants. In 1768 he built a still larger school-house in Donegall Street, where he had fuller scope for developing his system of instruction, 'without the discipline of the rod,' as he described it. For the amusement of his pupils he devised various machines, one a primitive kind of velocipede. To carry out his ideals of education he wrote and published a number of school-books, which long enjoyed a high reputation in the north of Ireland and elsewhere. These were 'Manson's Spelling Book;' an 'English Dictionary,' Belfast, 1762; a 'New Primer,' Belfast, 1762; a 'Pronouncing Dictionary,' Belfast, 1774. He also published a small treatise in which he urged hand-loom weavers, of whom there were then many in Ireland, to live in the country, where they could relieve their sedentary task by cultivating the soil, appending directions as to the most profitable methods of doing so. He invented an improved machine for spinning yarn. In 1775 he was among the seatholaers in the First Presbyterian Church, Belfast, and in 1779 he was admitted a freeman of the borough (Town Book of Belfast, p. 300). He died on 2 March 1792 at Lillyput, a house which he had built near Belfast, and was buried at night by torch-light, in the churchyard at the foot of High Street, the graves in which have all long since been levelled. Manson married a Miss Lynn of Ballycastle, but had no children. An oil-painting of him hangs in the board-room of the Royal Academical Institution, Belfast.

[Ulster Biog. Sketches, 2nd ser. by Classon Porter; Belfast Newsletter, 1755, 1760, 1768; Benn's History of Belfast.]

T. H.