It is difficult to pin down the exact details of Thomas’ early education after his family reached Scotland from famine-haunted County Mayo. It would seem that his family were living in a rural area in the parish of Bedrule, his parents working on the land, as evidenced by the Scottish census returns. Where did he go to school, and who was the schoolmaster or schoolmistress who noticed and fostered his eagerness to learn? He was able and apt to take on the study of French, Latin and Geometry in the garden bothy at Minto House when he commenced his apprenticeship there aged 16. His brother James, it would seem, did not benefit from much education, since he witnessed his father’s death certificate with a cross rather than a signature.
Bedrule parish, however, had a long tradition of passion for education. Jedburgh Grammar School was probably founded by William Turnbull (died 1454) a politician and bishop. He served as the Bishop of Glasgow from 1448 to 1454 and was the first Chancellor of Glasgow University. Bedrule was the seat of the Turnbull clan, and William, friend of King James II of Scotland one of its grandest luminaries.
With such a tradition of education over so many years, it is likely that the village school or schools of the Bedrule area were of a good standard. Jedburgh at this time was a particular centre of scientific and cultural endeavour. Did Thomas attend Jedburgh Grammar School? Although this is a pleasing idea: he did not begin his apprenticeship until he was 16, and does not mention any other work before that, but I feel it is unlikely. The School was at that time situated in the crypt of the Abbey, and I find it hard to imagine that Thomas would not mention such a prestigious place of learning, or such impressive and historic surroundings in the journal.
He does, however, mention an important figure who guided him into his interest in Geology. Adam Mathieson was a millwright; one might assume that the need to source and inspect rocks for fashioning into millstones led him into an interest in geology. He was not the first Jedburgh man to have such an interest.
Thomas writes of Mathieson that he was, at the time, curator of the Jedburgh Museum. This cannot be the present museum situated in the Castle, as at the time, the Castle was still the town’s jail. Was it perhaps the house now known as Mary Queen of Scots House? Mathieson lived only a few yards from this building.
Thomas writes retrospectively of 1861:
On the first of January I went to Jedburgh. When there I visited the museum, where I got acquainted with the custodian, Adam Matheson. This man was a good geologist, and seeing me take an interest in fossils, he wished me to study geology which had been a wish of my own for some time. I had already PAGIS Text book [Planning and Geographic Information Systems], so from that day I went in strongly for geology, and from that day, Mr Matheson became my friend.
My search in Jedburgh for Adam Mathieson and the memorial window dedicated to him (above) was initially fruitless. The curator of the Castle Museum was uncertain, and could only direct me to a church recently made redundant in the centre of the town – which I was unsuccessful in locating. It was a grey drizzly day, and we returned disconsolately to our apartment.
Unwilling to be defeated, I set out to the large Victorian Parish church prominently located near the river and on the main road into town. On trying the main door, I found it, unsurprisingly, locked. A look round the back found another locked door, but finally a lighted window, and a door which proved to be open. I rather surprised the two mature ladies who were practising the organ.
They kindly switched on the main lights, and as I progressed round the church, there before me in the south aisle, was the window. It has clearly been re-sited from the older church, and stands a little proud of the plain glass window behind it ( see picture above). The two ladies showed great interest in my tale of Thomas and his friend and mentor Adam.
There is a final episode linked to this event. A few weeks after my visit a parcel addressed to me arrived at the home of the local vicar. When I picked it up, I found it contained a small framed postcard of the Adam Mathieson window. It had been sent to me by one of the ladies I met in the church. She had used all the clues she had to find me. Such kindness, linking people caring for one another across the ages, beginning with Adam’s mentoring of the young Thomas.