Peter Steele was born at Coldingham on 15 February 1794, son of William Steele, a merchant, and Isabel Johnstone. He was educated at Edinburgh High School and Edinburgh University, graduating M.A. in 1818. Details of Peter Steele’s life are provided in a lengthy footnote to an obituary of his son [“James Peddie Steele (4 May, 1836–16 July, 1917)” by Sir John Edwin Sandys, Litt.D., F.B.A., Papers of the British School at Rome, Vol. IX, No. 1]:
As candidate for the Rectorship of Dalkeith Grammar School in 1826 he is described as ‘fully qualified to fill the chairs of Latin, Greek or Hebrew in any of our universities’. … at the Disruption, in 1843, the Rev. Peter Steele joined the Free Church and, having been ejected from the Rectorship of the School, opened an Academy at Dalkeith. In 1848 he became classical teacher at the Moray House [Free Church] Training College, Edinburgh, where he made himself master of Anglo-Saxon and of Norman-French in 1855, and also lectured on English literature.
His success as Rector of Dalkeith Grammar School is confirmed by a report in The Scotsman, 24 August 1833, of the annual examination of the Grammar School and the presentation to Peter Steele of a gold watch and appendages, value fifty pounds, bearing the following inscription:– “Presented to the Rev. Peter Steele, A.M., Rector of the Grammar School, Dalkeith, by Parents of his Pupils, and other Friends, as a mark of their esteem for his personal character, literary attainments, and unremitting, and successful exertions, in promoting not only the intellectual, but also the moral and religious improvement of the youth entrusted to his care. Dalkeith, 2d August, 1833.”
Peter Steele married Elizabeth Peddie (1800-1866) in 1825. Eliza (as she was known) was the eldest child of James Peddie, architect (1776-1837), and Ann Smart. Eliza’s youngest brother John Smart Peddie (1816-c.1848) was an officer and naval surgeon on board HMS Terror which, along with HMS Erebus, set out under Sir John Franklin in 1845 in search of a northwest passage to the East. The ships set sail from the Thames in May 1845, and were last seen by Europeans in July 1845 waiting to enter the Bering Strait. No certain information is known about the fate of Eliza Peddie’s brother, but he is commemorated along with her father on a family tombstone in Inverkeithing.
The stone is in polished granite and the incised inscription is difficult to photograph. It is mostly in Latin, with a quotation in Greek from the New Testament. The inscription reads:
VIRO. REVERENDO.PETRO. STEELE.BERVICENSI.JUVENTUTIS. SCOTICAE.ANNOS. SEXAGINTA. DUO.PRAECEPTORI.ERUDITO. FIDELI. BENIGNO.MOERENTES. POSUERUNT.LIBERI. DISCIPULI. AMICI.NATUS. COLDINGAMIAE. XV. KAL. MART.MDCCXCIV. OBIIT. ANDREAPOLI. III. NON.APRIL. MDCCCLXXI.
[In memory of the Reverend Peter Steele of Berwick, for 62 years a learned, faithful and kind teacher of the young people of Scotland. This memorial was set up by his grieving children, pupils and friends. He was born at Coldingham fifteen days before the 1st of March [=15th February] 1794 and died at St Andrews three days before the Nones of April [=3rd April] 1871.]
Peter and Eliza had seven children, including Dr James Peddie Steele, who graduated as a medical doctor, but inherited a great love of classical learning from his father and was a major contributor to the library of the British School of Archaeology in Rome; Eliza Peddie Steele, who married David Hutton and is included on the Grange memorial; and Anne, who married James Browning, a Classics teacher, and lived in St Andrews. Peter Steele died at St Andrews, where he had gone for his health, on 3 April 1871.
After his death an appeal was made to former pupils and to friends to provide a suitable memorial:
It is proposed that the Memorial should comprise a Monumental Stone in the Grange Cemetery, and the institution of a small Bursary, called by Mr Steele’s name, for the encouragement of those branches of study which, for about 60 years, he was engaged in teaching. [Aberdeen Press and Journal, 5 July 1871]
By December it was reported:
The movement for securing a suitable memorial … has been entirely successful. A sum has been raised sufficient to establish two handsome prizes for the students in Moray House Training College; and, in addition, a granite tombstone has been erected in the Grange Cemetery, containing … the inscription, produced by Dr J. P. Steele, son of the deceased. [Berwickshire News and General Advertiser, 26 December 1871]
Moray House Teacher Training College merged with Edinburgh University in 1998 to become the Faculty of Education. The Steele prize continues to be awarded: “In memory of Reverend Peter Steele, a former lecturer in Classics and English in Moray House Free Church Training College, this prize is awarded to the most distinguished student in Language in the final year of the BEd (Primary Education) degree programme. This prize is provided by the Church of Scotland.” [https://www.ed.ac.uk/student-funding/current-students/university-prizes-awards/humanities/education]
(Source – Ian McHaffie, Greek Secrets Revealed – Hidden Scottish History Uncovered – Book 1 – Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 2019, ISBN 978-0-9525026-3-0))
The Greek is difficult to read because the letters are cut into light granite. Each word, as with the Latin, is separated by a full stop.
ΕΥ. ΔΟΥΛΕ. ΑΓΑΘΕ. ΚΑΙ. ΠΙΣΤΕ.
ΕΙΣΕΛΘΕ. ΕΙΣ. ΤΗΝ. ΧΑΡΑΝ. ΤΟΥ.
ΚΥΡΙΟΥ. ΣΟΥ. S. MATT. XXV. XXIII.
EU. DOULE. AGATHE. KAI. PISTE.
EISELTHE. EIS. TĒN. CHARAN. TOU.
KURIOU. SOU. S. MATT. XXV. XXIII
“Well done, good and faithful servant.
Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
Saint Matthew 25:23
The Greek quotation is from the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:23, in the parable of talents where the servant who used his abilities well in his master’s service is rewarded.
After the Greek, in English, are details of Peter Steele’s wife and daughter:
ELIZA PEDDIE, THE BELOVED WIFE OF THE REV. PETER STEELE BORN 25TH APRIL 1800 DIED 28TH DECR 1866. COLOSS. III. 4.
ELIZA PEDDIE STEELE WIDOW OF DAVID HUTTON OF LIVERPOOL DIED 24TH APRIL 1906, AGED 68.
Beneath the inscription to Eliza Peddie is the reference to Colossians 3:4, which says: “When Christ, who is our life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory”.