Dal and King’s celebrate two Georges with questionable character

George Munro and King George III did great things for Dal and King’s, but history shows they should be remembered for the not-so-great


King George III of England suffered from severe bouts of insanity. (Photo: Flickr/mharrsch)

Students at Dalhousie and King's have the day off to celebrate a benefactor who made a fortune off reprinting the work of others and an English king who was slowly poisoned by arsenic.

George Munro

Deemed as Dalhousie's first benefactor, George Munro, the owner of a New York publishing company, gave a significant amount of money to Dalhousie in the 1870s and 1880s. The holiday was created by the university in 1885 to commemorate Munro's generousity.

George Munro was born in West River, N.S. in 1825. In the 1850s he taught philosophy and math at the Free Church Academy in Halifax. In 1856, Munro moved to New York City and in 1861 started working for Irwin P. Beadle and Company, a popular publishing firm.

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Other than a ski trip, what do Dalhousie students know about George Munro's contributions to the university? (Video: Geoff Lowe)

By 1864 Munro had taken complete control of the company. He began reprinting the work of many British authors, such as Charles Dickens, without paying royalties. At the time there were no international copyright laws so Munro had broken no laws and amassed a large fortune.

Dal's stuggles

Although Dalhousie began awarding its first arts degrees in 1866, the university was struggling financially. That year the school had only 28 full-time students and 28 part-time students.

In 1879, a yearly $3,000 grant the university had been receiving from the Nova Scotia government was due to expire. The university's income that year was only $6,600, not enough to keep the school afloat.

At that point John Forrest, a member of the Dalhousie Board of Governors, asked his brother-in-law and native Nova Scotian, George Munro, to help the university with its financial troubles. Munro agreed to do so and began donating $2,000 a year to Dalhousie.

In all, Munro is estimated to have given Dalhousie approximately $333,000, including endowed professorships and bursaries. In 1999, Munro's gifts were estimated to have a value of $8 million in today's money.

What better way to celebrate the life of a copyright thief then by hitting the slopes. Every year, the Dalhousie Student Union organizes a day long trip to Ski Wentworth to commemorate George Munro.

George III Day

The University of King's College is also celebrating the life of a man with questionable character today. King's students have the day off for George III Day.

The school is celebrating King George III of England because he granted King's College Canada's first Royal Charter in 1802, making the school Canada's first university.

King George III ascended to the throne of England in 1760 at the age of 22. He is best known as the king who supported the unpopular War of Independence (1779-1783) against the American colonies (which the English lost), and for his severe bouts of insanity.

In 1788, George attacked his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, and was reported to have been foaming from the mouth during the attack. He was subsequently restrained in a custom-built chair and eventually declared sane in 1789.

George's mental illness returned between 1801 and 1804, during which he signed the Royal Charter making King's College a university, and he was declared permanently insane in 1810. He died in January of 1820. It has only recently been revealed that George III may have been poisoned to death.

According to Dalhousie Classics professor Wayne Hankey, George III Day was created in the early stages of Dr. John Godfrey's tenure as president of King's, who was president from 1977-87. Hankey says Godfrey didn't see why King's should be celebrating a Dalhousie benefactor.

An insane British monarch seemed more appropriate.


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