Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Drury, Joseph

1171125Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 16 — Drury, Joseph1888William Hunt

DRURY, JOSEPH (1750–1834), head-master of Harrow School, son of Thomas Drury, a member of an old Norfolk family, was born in London on 11 Feb. 1750, was admitted scholar of Westminster in 1765, and was elected to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1768 (Welch). He found himself unable to continue his residence at Cambridge through lack of means, and in 1769, on the recommendation of Dr. Watson, afterwards bishop of Llandaff, he obtained an assistant-mastership at Harrow under Dr. Sumner. On the appointment of Dr. Heath to the head-mastership in 1771 Drury was almost persuaded to join in the secession of Samuel Parr, who set up an opposition school at Stanmore, taking with him one of the under-masters and several boys; he decided to remain loyal to the ancient foundation, became one of Heath's most efficient assistants, and on 5 Aug. 1775 married his youngest sister, Louisa, daughter of Benjamin Heath, D.C.L. (Heathiana, p. 22). On the resignation of Dr. Heath in 1785 Drury, who was then in his thirty-sixth year, was elected to succeed him. He graduated B.D. in 1784 and D.D. in 1789. He held the head-mastership for twenty years. When Heath left, the number of boys at the school was a little over two hundred, a slight diminution took place during Drury's earlier years of office, and in 1796 the numbers were only 139. After a period of depression the school increased rapidly under his management, and in 1803 numbered 345 boys, among whom were many who afterwards became famous, and an extraordinarily large number of the nobility for the size of the school (Thornton). This increase, which marks an epoch in the life of the school, must be ascribed mainly to the character of the head-master. As a teacher Drury was eminently successful, and while he insisted on scholarship taught his boys to appreciate classical literature, and encouraged Latin and English composition both in prose and verse, and the practice of public recitation. His influence over his boys may be judged by the feelings he inspired in such a difficult pupil as Lord Byron [q. v.] Though he was a firm disciplinarian the boys considered him a kind master, they knew that he was sincerely anxious for their welfare, and they admired his dignified manners and easy address. Byron speaks most warmly of him in a note to ‘Childe Harold,’ canto iv. st. 75, and under the name of Probus in ‘Childish Recollections’ and lines ‘On a Change of Masters’ in ‘Hours of Idleness.’ He appears to have been the first head-master who exempted the higher forms from flogging; he disliked flogging, and the system of monitorial caning seems to have grown up in his time. The ill-health of his wife and his own desire for rest and for country pursuits led him to resign the head-mastership in 1805; he retired to Dawlish, Devonshire, where he had already purchased an estate called Cockwood, and there occupied himself in farming his land, in the duties of a magistrate, and the pursuits of a country gentleman. He became acquainted with Edmund Kean the elder when acting at Exeter in 1810–11, went to see him act in different characters night after night, warmly admired his talents, and helped to establish him at Drury Lane Theatre. For some years he was vicar of Aldwinkle, Northamptonshire; he did not reside there, and held the living on condition of resigning it to a son of the patron, Lord Lilford; his only other church preferment was the prebend of Dultincote in Wells Cathedral, to which he was instituted in 1812. He died at Cockwood on 9 Jan. 1834, at the age of eighty-four, and was buried at St. Leonard's, Exeter. Drury left three sons, all in holy orders: Henry Joseph Thomas [q. v.], for forty-one years assistant-master of Harrow, the father of the Rev. Benjamin Heath Drury, late assistant-master of Harrow; Benjamin Heath, assistant-master of Eton; and Charles, rector of Pontesbury, Shropshire, and one daughter, Louisa Heath, the wife of John Herman Merivale, commissioner of bankruptcy. Mark Drury, the second master of Harrow, who was a candidate for the head-mastership in 1805 (Moore, Life of Byron, p. 29), was Drury's younger brother.

[Annual Biography and Obituary, xix. 1–36, contains a memoir of Drury by his youngest son, Charles; Thornton's Harrow School, pp. 191–214; Welch's Alumni Westmonast. pp. 383, 388; Drake's Heathiana, p. 22; Le Neve's Fasti, i. 203; Byron's Childe Harold, iv. 75, and Hours of Idleness; Moore's Life of Byron, ed. 1847, pp. 19, 20, 29, 66, 89, 103, 117, 267; information kindly supplied by the Rev. Benjamin Heath Drury.]

W. H.