William Sang Connacher

Spirit of Birkenhead Institute


On this page, I have included some interesting articles about Mr Connacher's impressive career. I would be grateful if you could let me know of any more information. Please contact me via the following email address:-


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To begin with, here is an article by W.M. Robinson about the early days of the Birkenhead Institute, including several references to Mr Connacher as Headmaster:-

Article by W.M. Robinson, (Robinson Minor):   "Those Early Days "

In the absence of notes recorded at the time, it is notoriously difficult, if not impossible, accurately to re-create the events of the dim past, and this seems particularly so in my case, when half a century of intensely active and somewhat varied life, replete with all the changes and chances the thronging years are in the habit of providing for a mildly adventurous spirit, has gone by since that day in January, 1889, on which I became a pupil of the Birkenhead Institute.

How excellent a thing it would be if the slogan: "Verify your quotations," adopted by every responsible writer, were accompanied by another relating to the substantiation of reminiscences: more excellent still if one were now able, by means of the written word, to implement that supplementary advice!

The frailty of the human memory trips me up at the very outset, for in my mind throughout all the years which have passed since those early days at the Institute there has been firmly fixed the figure "36", representing the number of boys who attended on the first day. My own copy of the photograph which was produced in these columns a few months ago gives one pause. It is hardly likely that we superior beings in the big school would exclude from our calculations the "brats" of the kindergarten, and the explanation of the discrepancy appears to rest on the possibility of the photo having been taken some little time after the opening of the school, further entrants making their appearance in the interim.

The The Institute as we first knew it comprised an entrance lobby with a class-room on either side and a double class-room at the far end. The latter was on the Holly Bank Road aspect of the building, and was capable of being completely divided by a wood and glass partition. In this room - the left-hand portion of which contained the Headmaster's desk - the whole school assembled to commence the day with a brief devotional service. Underneath were two rooms used as a gymnasium and as shelter during wet play-times. The former was in charge of one who was always called "Janitor". He was an old soldier, I believe, and I do not think that we boys ever knew his name. Occasionally he drilled us, but I have no recollection that his attitude towards us possessed any of the traditional fierceness and sarcasm usually cridted to army sergeants - and not unjustly crdited, as I was to discover years later during the Great War!

William Sang Connacher was a Headmaster with a first-class brain. He was severe at times - we boys could see the storm approaching when his lips thinned - but he was a just man. To some of the seniors - as to me in the fulness of time - was given the opportunity of participating in the hospitality he dispensed in his residence, that fine old house adjoining the school, and I have always looked upon this as part of my education. Mr Connacher was old-fashioned enough to believe in the virtues of corporal punishment, and I can claim the rather doubtful honour of being brother to the boy (Robinson Major) who received the first caning!

I recall with gratitude the way in which, on one occasion, the Head "talked to me for my good" - and I thoroughly deserved it! At the end of my first year at the Institute, I was fortunate enough to win a Scholarship (£5 I think), that being the only occasion when my name was called out at Speech Day, and I had to go forward and receive my prize. Some time after that I began to "slack", having come under the influence of a group of work-shies, and Mr Connacher evidently wished to rescue me from that company.

The second in command, J.H. Crofts, was a genial soul who also knew his job. He may have been a trifle easy-going, but he got the work done, and one supposes that this is all that matters. I recall one morning, at assembly, when Mr Connacher came in alone, and we surmised - conscience told us! - that something serious was afoot. Nor were we wrong. Some of us had been "ragging" Mr Crofts, and the Head spoke to us gently but firmly on the subject. That "ragging" had to cease forthwith. It did! As nobody was singled out for punishment, it is presumed that Mr Crofts - a good sportsman! - had not mentioned any names. Thus I, for one, escaped caning!

J.V. Thomson was forbidding in appearance and manner, but he proved to possess a heart of gold, and I believe we all liked him. Mr Samuel, who came later, concealed a friendly and jovial nature behind a facade of austerity. In later years, it was delightful to see him unbend on social occasions and entertain the company with his simple little songs.

Miss Farrell had charge of the knidergarten, and to this day, I can hear her speaking. The aptest description of her is contained in the expression "a great Victorian lady", for that is how she always impressed me.

Mr Gerorge Atkin, who was Chairman of the Directors in those early days, took a deep interest in the Institute. It seemed a point of honour with him to be with the boys as much as possible, and I recall that it became a habit - and a very acceptable habit - for him to bring his daughter and her husband to any special "do".

I remember very few nicknames at the Institute. Harry Hamilton was "Square", though I never knew the origin of this pseudonym. Because I wore a silver pig on my watch-chain, I was "Piggy", and my friend Harold Bally, now Vicar of Needham, Norfolk, calls me that to this day, on those rare occasions when we met. "Shiner" Jones was so known because he once remarked to a group of school-mates "I am rather good at Euclid - I shine" That settled matters!

During the very early days of the school, the rumour that we boys were going to wear "mortar-boards" caused a great deal of consternation, and I suppose that some of us wondered what would be the reaction- and possible response - of the gamins to this unwonted head-gear. Fortunately, as I see it (and I vividly saw it then!), wiser counsels prevailed, and the fates were kind to us. We had ordinary caps of dark blue, with a red star in front,  - a neat and distinctive mark of the school to which we went.

In February, 1893, when I reached the mature age of fifteen and a half, I left the Institute and entered service of one of the giant Insurance Companies which had (and has) its Headquarters in Liverpool, and I served that great organisation until my retirement just a year ago. (For a period, it may here be added, I was Hon. Secretary of the old B.I. Boys' Club). I was never able to subscribe to the doctrine which is so often impressed on boys, namely, that the happiest days of one's life are those spent at school. It may be rank heresy to say such a thing in these columns, but I feel bound to add that, happy as were my days at the Birkenhead Institute, I found a far greater measure of delight and enjoyment in my long years of commercial life. I had no definite ideas of employment when I left school - the usual wild dreams of "going to sea" had long since faded - but, as I told my Father (thereby raising his ire!), I did not to sit on an office stool. So on an office stool I sat, as life developed, I had an intensely interesting career.

P.S. In connection with the preparation of the foregoing, the Headmaster has given me a sort of roving commission, of which I take advantage to this small extent. I would desire to impress on every present pupil of the Birkenhead Institute the importance of having a hobby of some sort. Important as is such a thing during years of business - and I may say here that I have no use whatever for the individual who consecrates the whole of his time and thought to his employment, thus becoming in the end something of a monomaniac and doing disservice to his employer and to himself - a hobby entailing the full use of one's leisure in the late afternoon of life is vital. In my own hobby of cycling, and of journalism, lecturing, and administrative work in the cause of cycling, I found during my workaday years a happy method of filling up "the magic after-hours" of a strenuous business life, just as today, in retirement, enriched in mind and body by all that cycling has taught me, I am deriving greater and ever greater joys and advantages from what is now almost a full-time job.


 The Appointment of Mr Connacher as the First Headmaster of Birkenhead Institute

The following article is courtesy of "The Visor", the B.I. School Magazine:

The appointment of the Headmaster was, however, the matter that received the most serious attention, and once again the Liverpool Institute served as a pattern; for its regulations geverning the appointment of a principal were adopted as far as possible. One cannot help noticing that included in them was a clause that "The Directors desire that it shall be a leading object with the Masters so to carry on the work of the School as to infuse into the minds of the Pupils a Christian and philanthropic spirit". One wonders whether the pupils always realised this when leaving the Headmaster's study!

The post was advertised in September, and on October 19th, the secretary reported that 184 applications had been made. From these a short list of twenty five was selected, and finally four were chosen to meet the Directors. The choice was unanimous, and on October 31st, 1888, Mr W. S. Connacher, M.A. (Edin.), F.E.I.S., became the first Headmaster of the Birkenhead Institute.




Mr Connacher was 35 years old when he came to Birkenhead, having been born in Perthshire in May, 1853. He was a man of sturdy build, and strong personality. His photograph, showing eyes set well apart and surmounted by heavy eyebrows, reveals great strength of character. Like many other Scotsmen of his day who were not born in affluent circumstances, he had maintained himself at the University of Edinburgh chiefly by coaching other students, and after three years had taken his M.A. degree.

After a year or two as an assistant master, he became in 1877 Headmaster of Canvin's Institution at Duddingston, near Edinburgh, and stayed there until 1883, when on the recommendation of Dr. Laurie, Professor of Education at Edinburgh, he went abroad to Buenos Ayres as Headmaster of St. Andrew's School, where he remained till 1888. He was to be headmaster of the Birkenhead Institute for fourteen years.

Mr Connacher lost no time in appearing in his post, for there was much to be done if the school was to open in the following January. The furnishing went on apace, the playground was asphalted, railings and gates were fixed, and the important question of the school staff was settled. It was decided that there should be two assistant masters, one for Classics and one for Mathematics, a Drawing Master, (Two days a week), a Kindergarten Mistress, and a Janitor, a title much too pompous for the schoolboy, whose familiar abbreviation of "Janny" is well known to several generations of Institute boys.We must here place on record the first staff of the school. They were:-

Mathematics Master : Mr J.H. Crofts, B.A. (Cantab.)

Classical Master  : Mr J.V. Thompson, B.A. (Oxon.)

Liverpool Academy of Arts : Mr James Towers

Certificated Teacher and holder of Kindergarten Certificate: Miss Farrell

Janitor and Drill Master:  Adam Johnston

Here is another article about Mr Connacher's life:


Here is an article from St. Andrew's School, Buenos Ayres, including information about Mr W.S. Connacher :

(Mr Connacher, as Principal, was a key influence at this school prior to his appointment at the Birkenhead Institute)

"It has, however, had difficulties from time to time, commencing with the

hopeless unsuitability of the premises, in a hole-and-corner position, and tumbledown

condition, behind the old Church in Calle Piedras, difficulties so great as to

exhaust the patience of Mr. Hutton after two years. His successor, Mr. W. S.

Connacher, had enough of it after four years; and Mr. Christie, who had come

out in 1885 to be assistant to Mr. Connacher, had a task that was in many

ways a thankless one for a period of over ten years, at the end of which time

the erection of the new school building in Calle Ituzaingo gave an opportunity

for expansion and general improvement.

For the conditions which led to Mr. Hutton's and Mr. Connacher's resignations,

and to the partial paralysation of Mr. Christie's energies, the School Committee

can hardly be blamed. They were dependent upon the Church !Committee, and

the Church Committee were not free agents either, for they were dependent

upon the will of the municipality of Buenos Aires. The expropriation of properties

lying in the line of what is now the Avenida.de Mayo had been in the wind for a

long time. The amount of compensation to be paid to the Church for the

expropriation of the site in Calle Piedras, on which Church and School were

located, had been determined by arbitration proceedings, only to see the decision

upset in the crisis of 1890."

Mr W.S. Connacher's Remarks at the Opening Ceremony of the Birkenhead Institute in January, 1889

"The Headmaster, in speaking of the aims and objects of the school, called attention to the deficiencies of the English educational system of that day, the most glaring of which, he said, were, firstly, the lack of state-aided schools for the middle classes, and secondly, the lack of qualifications which was so common among those who ran private schools. He advocated an Act of Parliament setting up a Teachers' Register. It is interesting to note that these defects have now been remedied.

The Duke, in a happy speech, stressed the importance of the classics, both ancient and modern. He was pleased with the Headmaster's remarks, and wished him success."

The above is taken from "The Visor", the magazine of the Birkenhead Institute.


Mr Connacher suffered ill health in his final years at the Birkenhead Institute, and died on 24th February, 1903 from kidney disease. Mr George Atkin was present at the time of death. The death of Mr Connacher at age 49 was an untimely and sad occasion, and a great loss to the Birkenhead Institute.




Here is an article courtesy of the London Gazette, dated June 26th 1903, regarding Mr Connacher's estate:-