Thomas McCulloch

Image of Thomas McCulloch - minister, doctor and educator

Thomas McCulloch (1776-1843), who was a minister, a doctor and who was also considered one of the greatest educators in Canada, was born in Neilston Parish to Michael and Elizabeth McCulloch. His father was a master printer of calico in the Fereneze Field and it is likely that the family lived in Grahamston village.

Thomas studied arts, medicine and oriental languages at Glasgow University and was ordained as a minister in the Secession Church in 1799 in Stewarton. In 1803 he arrived with his wife and three children in Pictou, Nova Scotia, Canada where, as well as minister, he took on the duties of doctor and schoolmaster.

His first love was education and initially he taught local children at home, as there was no elementary education at all in the province. By 1805 he had organised a society to raise money for a college of higher education, although the local Anglican establishment opposed such a college. When the Grammar School Act of 1811 was passed, McCulloch's school became the official District School for Pictou; in 1818 his dream was realised with the opening of the college.

His ideas on education were liberal and, as well as the Classics, he introduced natural philosophy and science into the curriculum. McCulloch was a great collector of insects and classified all species in the province; his collection was later donated to Glasgow University. His enthusiasm for the subject is evident in his establishment of the first scientific laboratory east of Montreal. Although his ideas may have been liberal for his time, the academic standards of his students were high; his first theology students, for example, graduated in 1824 to a very high standard with three of the students gaining the award of M.A. from Glasgow University.

Due to McCulloch's intense interest in politics, Pictou became a centre of political radicalism and it is likely to be due to this that the charter for the college was withdrawn in 1832, reducing it to grammar school status. In 1838 McCulloch was appointed Principal of the new Dalhousie College; not an easy post as he was surrounded by critics, but one which he undertook through his desire to promote higher education in the province of Nova Scotia. After a short illness McCulloch died on September 9, 1843.

The Canadian Morning Post of 1839 had described Thomas McCulloch as, "A man of vast mental attainments and a profound instigator into the mysteries of nature." His biographer believed he managed "to bring the best of the Scottish Enlightenment to an area that was limited in its social ideas and reactionary in its government".

A plaque in Neilston Library states: