Benjamin Hall Kennedy

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Benjamin Hall Kennedy (Walter William Ouless, 1883)

Benjamin Hall Kennedy (6 November 1804 – 6 April 1889) was an English scholar and schoolmaster, known for his work in the teaching of the Latin language. He was an active supporter of Newnham College and Girton College as Cambridge University colleges for women.


He was born at Summer Hill, near Birmingham, the eldest son of Rann Kennedy (1772–1851), of a branch of the Ayrshire family which had settled in Staffordshire. Rann was a scholar and man of letters, several of whose sons rose to distinction. Benjamin was educated at Shrewsbury School, and St John's College, Cambridge.[1] He took frequent part in Cambridge Union debates and became president in 1825. In 1824 he was elected a member of the Cambridge Conversazione Society, better known as the Cambridge Apostles, and was a winner of a Browne medal. He was elected Fellow and lecturer in Classics at St John's College in 1828 and took Holy Orders the following year. In 1830, he became an assistant master at Harrow.[2]

In 1836, he, his wife and his first child Charlotte Amy May Kennedy returned to Shrewsbury when he became headmaster. While they were there Charlotte was joined by Marion, Julia, Edith and Arthur.[3] In 1841 he became prebendary of Lichfield, and after leaving Shrewsbury he was rector of West Felton, Shropshire, from 1866 to 1868. He remained as headmaster of Shrewsbury School until 1866, the 30 years being marked by successes for his pupils, chiefly in Classics. When he retired, a large collection was made, and this was used on new school buildings and on founding a Latin professorship at Cambridge. The first holders of the Kennedy Professor of Latin chair were both former pupils of Kennedy, H. A. J. Munro and J. E. B. Mayor.

In 1867, Kennedy was elected Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge and canon of Ely Cathedral, serving in both posts until his death. From 1870 to 1880 he was a member of the committee for the revision of the New Testament. In 1870 he also became a member of the University Council.

He supported the access of women to a university education, and took a prominent part in the establishment of Newnham and Girton colleges. When Mary Paley and Amy Bulley were among the first women to take tripos examinations they did it in the Kennedy's drawing room. Paley described him as excitable, but he would sometimes doze whilst nominally invigilating. He was nicknamed "the purple boy".[4] In politics, he had liberal sympathies. He died near Torquay[2] and is buried in Mill Road Cemetery, Cambridge.


Kennedy wrote a number of classical and theological works, but he is most famous today for his primer of Latin grammar. This began as the Elementary Latin Primer (1843), which became the Public School Latin Primer (1866), the Public School Latin Grammar (1871), and finally the Revised Latin Primer (1878).[5] The latter was further revised by J. F. Mountford in 1930 and is still widely used today.[6] The medieval way of writing Latin noun tables, starting with the nominative and then proceeding to the genitive was used in England prior to Kennedy's Primer and is still widely used in America (e.g. in the Wheelock's Latin course). Kennedy changed the order of writing the noun endings so that the nominative was always followed by the accusative, in order to bring out the similarities between these cases in many nouns more effectively. Kennedy's Primer was so widely used and was so influential that this led to a permanent change in the way that Latin is taught in the UK. Modern books such as the Cambridge Latin Course still follow this approach.

In 1913, there was a problem with the copyright on the Revised Latin Primer[3] which had been published in 1888. His daughter Marion Kennedy, a Latin scholar, revealed that the book was written by herself, her sister Julie and two of her father's former students, G. H. Hallam and T. E. Page.[3]

Other works are:

He contributed largely to the collection known as Sabrinae Corolla (D. S. Colman, Shrewsbury, c. 1950), and published a collection of verse in Greek, Latin and English under the title of Between Whiles (2nd ed., 1882), with many autobiographical details.[2]


His brother Charles Rann Kennedy was a barrister and wrote original works as well as translating and editing classical works. His younger brother The Rev. William James Kennedy (1814-1891) was a prominent educator, and the father of Lord Justice Sir William Rann Kennedy (1846–1915), a distinguished Cambridge scholar.


  1. ^ "Kennedy, Benjamin Hall (KNDY822BH)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2. ^ a b c  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Kennedy, Benjamin Hall". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^ a b c Christopher Stray, 'Kennedy, Marion Grace (1836–1914)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 17 November 2017
  4. ^ Gill Sutherland (17 March 2006). Faith, Duty, and the Power of Mind: The Cloughs and Their Circle, 1820-1960. Cambridge University Press. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-521-86155-7.
  5. ^ T. E. Page, Kennedy, Benjamin Hall in the Dictionary of National Biography.
  6. ^ Kennedy's Revised Latin Primer (Longman), new edition 1962. ISBN 0-582-36240-7.

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