The Junior Carsonians and Patrick Matthews

Following the end of the Living Communities project Astrid continued to be involved with the Junior branch of the Carsonians, in a voluntary capacity. Pupils from each of the six primary schools on the Carse of Gowrie came together to learn about their local environment, heritage and the life of local man Patrick Matthew.

During the last year they had started to explore the life of Patrick Matthew and along the way pupils, Staff and Astrid had become experts, or at the very least fans, as they became hooked on the life and work of this unsung local hero.

After the first research session the pupils, staff, and some of the adult Carsonians explored the question 'what we knew about the Carse?' and 'what you would like to find out about it?'.

During this session a fact emerged that at one time there had been 10,000 fruit trees which had all but disappeared. This vast number instantly grabbed the pupil's attention and upon looking into this, Patrick Matthew came to light as one of the main growers.

Patrick was educated at Perth Academy and Edinburgh University. Following the death of his father at 17 he left University to return home to run the family farm. In time married with 8 children, he developed and farmed orchards, travelled, and wrote many letters chronicling his experiences and several books. In his book 'On Naval Timber and Arboriculture', he mentions the 'the natural process of selection' predating Darwin's claim to the concept by some 30 years.

Using newspaper articles, maps, books, the internet, traced family members and handwritten letters found in the archives of AK Bell, the Junior Carsonians pieced together that Patrick Matthew was not only interested in growing fruit trees and other farming topics but was also concerned about children's rights, education, and the welfare of the poor. He liked cricket and while he was very interested in politics, locally and globally he did not attend church.

When it was discovered that he encouraged his sons to go and explore North America, Germany, and New Zealand they found out how long the journeys would have taken. They realised that their local Giant Redwoods were the first ever to be planted in Britain when John, Patricks eldest son, sent back seeds from his travels in America. With all this information these young people developed plausible theories as to what sort of man Patrick Matthew was or could have been.

When Coral Bell (a senior Carsonian) recently returned from a visit to New Zealand, she brought tales of traced family members and of apples that had been stored in barrels taken from the Carse to create orchards there. The Junior Carsonians then had an opportunity to meet and share their interest and growing knowledge with an authority on Patrick Matthew, Dr Mike Sutton, a criminologist from Nottingham Trent University.

Dr Sutton, who had been invited to the area to give a lecture to the 'Carsonians,' has written extensively about Patrick Matthew and Darwin, challenging the primacy of Darwin in the field of natural selection theory.

In preparation for the meeting with Dr Sutton, Astrid visited each school individually and asked how they were going to plan. What did they want to achieve? What did they need? How were they going to share what they had discovered? What were they going to bring to the day?

These were exciting and entertaining conversations. Astrid was met with an energy and enthusiasm as the Junior Carsonians realised that their project was valued and that they were finally going to talk to Dr Sutton. The creative ideas flowed, each school decided how they could share their research, and questions to ask Dr Sutton were developed. It was decided that as a guest Dr Sutton should be met at the door, entertained with tea and cake, and presented with flowers at the end of the event as a token of thanks. It was decided that rather than try and write down everything when they met Dr Sutton, if there were no objections, the meeting should be recorded.

On the 17th March they all came together to share what they had learnt with Mike, as he insisted in being called, and in turn learn more. Along with their questions, the young people brought their learning in the form of timelines, family trees, books, measurements from the local Giant Redwoods and even a Gingerbread house in the shape of 'Gourdiehill' (Patrick Matthew's home).

The confidence and knowledge of the young people was evident as conversations and questions flowed easily. They wanted to know how somebody working in a University in England knew about 'their Patrick' when many local folk didn't? They in turn shared the letters they had seen in the archives. Some were written to Lord Kinnaird, requesting 500 tonnes of dung for a neighbour so that he could improve his crops and not have to ask for a rent reduction. Others were requesting school improvements for the consideration of the pupil's health and learning.

Large parts of the curriculum were covered in this project, numeracy and mental maths were a regular activity, (working out what year it was when his father died, to how old the redwoods are in Inchture.) Literacy, health and wellbeing, and the social sciences were all important aspects ingrained within the experiences of Junior Carsonians.

The project also fits within the '5 Habits of Mind' identified by Creativity Culture and Education (CCE) and was the Curriculum for Excellence in action. The Junior Carsonians are successful learners, they showed that they are confident individuals, capable of contributing effectively and they are responsible citizens who looked after their guest and made him feel very welcome.