Friday, 11 January 2013

An Edwardian Headmaster - Notes on Robert Foster Dill BA (Oxon)

Robert Foster Dill was appointed headmaster of Foyle College in 1911 in succession to John C. Dick. This was not however his first head-mastership. He had been the headmaster of Royal School Dungannon from 1892. The fortunes of the latter school appear to have been languishing somewhat at that stage. Indeed there are reports suggesting that, "Dungannon," was closed for a short period. There were thirty eight day boys at the time of Dill's appointment to the Dungannon headship.

With his move to Londonderry Dill was moving closer to the area where his forebears had settled at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Fannet Peninsula in Co. Donegal. The family is of Dutch descent.

Robert Foster Dill was not the first of his family to be involved in education. An elder brother, Sir Samuel Marcus Dill, had been appointed High Master of Manchester Grammar School in 1877 and their father Rev. Samuel Marcus Dill was the first President of Magee College in Londonderry. The latter gentleman's surname is remembered in "Dill Park," Londonderry. Teaching and the Presbyterian Church seem to have been the professions of choice for this family.

Dill's years at Foyle were years of international and national strife which impacted on the life of the school and City. The Great War would bring back reports of Old Boys having died at the Front and the years that followed were marred by one of those periods in the history of the island of Ireland when commentators refer to, "the Troubles', and which would lead to Partition.

Born in 1859, it was only in 1912, (9th July), that Dill married. His wife was Evelyn Mary Whitehead, daughter of a George Whitehead. They did not have any children.

He is described as being a proponent of a liberal or rounded education and is reported as realising that, "an unexercised and undeveloped body meant an intellect less keen than might be, a character stunted, and a personality impoverished."

Some years after his retirement, in 1945, Dill was elected President of Foyle College Old Boys Association. He was to pass away on 12th February 1947.

Sources: The Peerage; Our School Times

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