Wolmer’s can boast of being the oldest school in the West Indies having been founded on May 21,1729. This was the day JOHN WOLMER made his last will and testament by which he left the bulk of his estate for the foundation of a free school in the parish in which he should happened to die. The sum of the legacy was 2,360 pounds sterling.
Little is now known of John Wolmer except that he was a goldsmith and had practiced his craft in Kingston for more than twenty years. It is possible that he was originally from Switzerland. We know that he was married in the St. Andrew Parish Church in July 1705 and that he died in Kingston on June 29,1729.
There were some delays in giving effect to Wolmer’s will, but after many amendments and conferences between the House of Assembly and the Council, a law was passed and the Wolmer’s Trust which would manage the affairs of the school was established in 1736.
The original Wolmer’s Trustees then, as now, were persons of great repute in the society. In fact, our trustees appeared in the early days to be as numerous as the students. They included the commander in Chief and four senior members of Council; there was the Speaker of the House of Assembly, the Chief Justice, the Custos of Kingston, the four senior Magistrates of Kingston, all the members of the Assembly for Kingston; the Anglican Rector, the Church Wardens and vestrymen of Kingston plus six free citizens to be appointed each year.
The law which established the Wolmer’s school made no distinction in respect of colour, class or creed of the students, nor was there discrimination between boys and girls. In 1782, we have a record of 64 boys and 15 girls on roll. The staff consisted of a Chief Master, a writing master and accountant, a teacher of mathematics and a teacher of the French and Spanish languages.
The Wolmer’s school was originally situated in downtown Kingston at what is still known as the Wolmer’s yard, now a parking lot and vendors’ arcade beside the Kingston Parish Church. In 1896, the schools were separated and independent heads appointed for the Boys’ and Girls’ schools. After 1907 earthquake, when most of the school buildings were destroyed, the schools was moved to its present site north of Race Course or what is now the National Heroes Park.
In 1941, at the instigation of Miss Skempton, the then headmistress of Wolmer’s Girls’ the Preparatory school was established to ‘feed’ the girls’ school. It opened its doors in the area which now houses the canteen and art room with six little girls.
Over the years, Wolmer’s Boys, Girls’ and Preparatory Schools have had many benefactors, who have contributed substantially to the institutions’ growth development. They have all helped to ensure that the schools, which in closing years of the twentieth century comprise some 3,000 students and 150 faculty members, have fulfilled the hope expressed in the law of 1736, that Wolmer’s would become “a very considerable and beneficial seminary of learning for youth”.
Our thoughts each Founder’s Day, however, focus particularly on the man John Wolmer. The marble monument to his memory in the Kingston Parish Church is instructive and apt. It represents a seated figure of Liberty holding a medallion on which is seen the crest of the school, the sun of Learning breaking through the clouds of Ignorance.
Today, we bless the memory of John Wolmer whose vision and benevolence opened the doors of opportunity and advancement to thousands of young people. May Wolmerians always seek, in turn, to contribute as far as they are able to the school and to the society which have nurtured them.