Robert Midgley Clemitson

c. 1843 - 1895

Teacher, school administrator, and farmer.

Robert Clemitson Clemitson left his home in England and arrived in Victoria in the spring of 1863. After a brief sojourn to the gold fields of the Cariboo, he took up farming near Maple Bay in the Cowichan district of Vancouver Island.

On 23 July 1872 he was appointed schoolmaster at the North Cowichan District school at Maple Bay. [After 1885, the school was known as Maple Bay School.] The following year (August 1873) Clemitson was appointed assistant master in the Boys' Department of the Victoria Public School. At the time of his appointment, he held a 1st Class "B" Teacher's Certificate.

Clemitson seems to have enjoyed a good working relationship with the Superintendent of Education, John Jessop, and on 8 October 1876 he was gazetted Deputy Superintendent of Education. As Jessop's deputy, Clemitson was responsible for inspecting public schools in the Interior of the province and for overseeing the operations of the Cache Creek Boarding School.

The Boarding School had opened in 1874. From the start it was plagued with problems, mainly because of differences between the Trustees and the teachers at the school. The first teacher, Joseph Jones, resigned in April 1876 because of allegations of financial mismanagement; the second teacher, Archibald Jones, was forced to resign the following year because of rumours of "improprieties" by boys and girls in the school dormitories. Clemitson believed that the Trustees had treated the teachers unfairly and in March 1877 he submitted his own resignation to the Provincial Secretary, A. C. Elliott. "The chief cause of the step are my inability to work in harmony with the Trustees of the Cache Creek Boarding School and my unwillingness to be held in any degree responsible for actions which I consider unwise and unjust," he told his minister.

Elliott persuaded him to stay on, but the next year both Clemitson and Jessop were caught up in political events connected in part with the controversial boarding school. In the summer of 1878 Jessop and the entire Board of Education resigned in protest over government education policies. The government responded with a new School Act, abolishing the board, curtailing the powers of the superintendent and eliminating the office of Deputy Superintendent.

Unlike Jessop, Clemitson was relatively unhurt by the shake-up and in August 1878 he rejoined the staff of the Victoria Public School. He taught there until November 1879, when he resigned, pleading "ill-health." He moved to the Mainland and took up farming at Grand Prairie (now called Westwold).

In August 1883, Clemitson was invited to take on the post of principal of the Cache Creek Boarding School. He accepted the appointment, after assurances of support from the newly-formed government of William Smithe and the Superintendent of Education, C. C. McKenzie. Clemitson was principal of the school until 30 June 1887, when he resigned, again for reasons of "ill-health." He returned to Westwold and became district postmaster there.

Clemitson died from acute pneumonia at Westwold on 5 May 1895. In an obiturary notice, the Victoria Daily Colonist (8 May 1895) noted that he was a popular farmer and a highly-respected postmaster. Curiously, no mention was made of Clemitson's work as a teacher or school administrator.

Clemitson was twice married. His first wife, Christina, died in Victoria on 6 October 1875 at the age of twenty-four. She was buried in Maple Bay. Clemitson's second wife, Lucy Sarah Jones, was the daughter of Joseph Jones, the first teacher at Cache Creek Boarding School. She was eighteen and Clemitson was forty-four years old when they married on 14 May 1879. They had one child, a daughter, born in 1880. Mrs. Lucy Clemitson -- who was matron of the Cache Creek Boarding School when her husband was the school's principal -- died at Westwold on 7 September 1953 at the age of ninety-two.

British Columbia Archives and Records Service [BCARS]: British Columbia, Superintendent of Education records; Provincial Secretary records [GR 526]; BCARS Vertical Files; Wayne Norton, "The Cache Creek Provincial Boarding School, 1874- 1896," B.C. Historical News, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Spring 1996): 30-33.