- Robert Edwards Holloway: Newfoundland Educator, Scientist, Photographer, 1874–1904
Ruby Gough has chosen a fascinating subject for her first biography: having departed his native England in 1874 to take up the principalship of the Methodist Academy in St John's, Newfoundland, Robert Edwards Holloway proceeded to make the most of all that life in Newfoundland had to offer. His life story, then, is one not only of berry-picking, cycling clubs, and summer travels along the coast, but also of the thriving intellectual life of St John's, in which he played a central role. During 'the Holloway era,' Methodist Academy grew and was transformed in 1887 into Methodist College, well equipped and capable of preparing its students to continue on to university education abroad. The academy's model school for training teachers, opened in 1877, played an essential role in providing quality teachers, and as such improved education, to the communities of Newfoundland during a time when Newfoundland's future economic development and its almost total reliance on the fisheries were matters of great public concern. Gough very effectively places Holloway's efforts in Newfoundland into the context of similar developments in Canada, and points out connections between the college's model school and similar institutions such as the Model School in Truro, Nova Scotia.
Holloway's greatest interest was in science education, and Gough chronicles his efforts to procure the facilities and supplies necessary to teach science properly, and his attempts to convince his students' parents that studying science was a worthwhile use of time and resources. Gough very effectively demonstrates the links between the science teaching done at the college and the public science lecturing that Holloway brought to St John's, where British-style organizations like the Mechanics Institute and the Young Men's Literary and Scientific Society supplied scientific information and demonstrations to a curious public. Holloway and his students created spectacular and amusing displays for St John's audiences, and Gough's accounts of these events, making good use of primary source material, are the most enjoyable parts of the biography: Holloway and his students bathed the lecture hall in electric limelight using a painstakingly homemade set of [End Page 328] 150 Bunsen cells; a student's warbling rendition of 'Pull for the Shore, Sailors' into a telephone was heard by spectators three stories up holding telephones; using an X-ray tube, ladies and gentlemen alike could see the bones of their hands, as well as a fifty-cent piece concealed inside a copy of the very fat and very famous book, Prowse's History of Newfoundland. Gough includes in appendices some full-length reproductions of Holloway's writings on such topics as X-rays, radium, and the work of Marconi, which make a valuable addition to the book.
Even more valuable are the many reprinted photographs, most taken by Holloway, which capture his experiences during his summer travels around Newfoundland, where he collected plants and minerals as well as documenting both the wild and the settled places he visited. Less enjoyable is the author's frequent speculation on what her subject might have been feeling at particular times, or what he thought. Gough is certainly not the only biographer to employ this style, but on the whole it subtracts from an otherwise very interesting, illuminating, and useful account of Holloway's life. The upswing in scientific work, and in public interest in this work, in Newfoundland during this period deserves to receive more attention, and Gough's book is an important contribution to this story.