Obituary: David Arthur Byatt, head teacher

Born: 3 November, 1932, in Bishop Stortford, Hertfordshire. Died: 8 August, 2012, in Kellas, near Elgin, Moray, aged 79.

David Byatt was headmaster of Battisborough School in Devon from 1961-1970. He was a founder headmaster of the international association of schools named the Round Square Conference, established in 1966.

He became second master of Gordonstoun School in Moray in 1970. In retirement he took part in the Atlantic Challenge Maritime Training Trust which seeks to develop young people through the sea. He trained several UK teams for the biennial Atlantic Challenge International Contest of Seamanship, held in various countries on the Atlantic seaboard, and raised the funds needed to build the Atlantic Challenge Moray Gig. She was launched in 2000 and named Bien Trouvé by HRH Prince Charles in 2001. Bien Trouvé recently took part in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the Thames.

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Byatt was born in Hertfordshire in 1932, the third son of the retired colonial governor, Sir Horace Byatt GCMG, and his wife Olga (née Campbell). His mother was widowed in 1933 and moved the family first to Argyll then to Elgin in Moray.

Kurt Hahn, the great educator and founder of Gordonstoun School, was a friend of the family and had a great influence on Olga’s three sons.

Byatt went to the preparatory school in Wester Elchies, Aberlour, and then to Gordonstoun itself. He became guardian (head boy) of the school.

Under the influence of his uncle, Admiral of the Fleet, Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope, he did his national service in the Royal Navy. In 1953 he went up to New College, Oxford, where he rowed for his 
college.

He worked briefly for Pfizer in Folkestone but his life changed course in 1961 when, on the death of his friend Harry Leney, founder of Battisborough School in Devon, he took over as headmaster. The school proved too small to be economic and on its closure Byatt was asked to take up the post of deputy headmaster, later termed second master and finally Warden, of his old school, Gordonstoun (1970-92).

He was determined that the fundamental ideas and ideals of the school’s founder, Dr Hahn, should survive. He taught biology and seamanship and took responsibility for the maintenance of the school’s grounds and estate.

Retirement was far from idle. He created a rhododendron garden at his home with more than 150 species and hybrids. He also joined the Atlantic Challenge Maritime Training Trust, an international organisation, founded in 1986, which seeks to give young people the opportunity to develop their potential through exposure to the challenges of traditional seamanship in wooden boats.

The design of craft chosen follows that of the captain’s gig of a French Napoleonic ship, which is now in a maritime museum in 
Dublin.

It suited the need for the number of people, not fewer than 23, required to man it. The replicas that were built now operate and compete in biennial contests of seamanship from most north Atlantic seaboard countries plus Italy and Indonesia.

The principal British gig is based in Wales. Thanks to Byatt a Moray gig was built and is based at Findhorn on the Moray Firth. At the time of his death, Byatt was honorary president of both UK Atlantic Challenge and of the Atlantic Challenge Moray Gig.

In retirement, Byatt also devoted his energies to the Moray Society (president from 1997-2000) and its charge, the Elgin Museum, which, founded in 1843, is one of the oldest provincial museums in Britain.

He secured two lottery grants for its major refurbishment. For this project and the Moray Gig, he was awarded the MBE in 2005.

Alas, towards the end of his career, Parkinson’s disease, from which he finally died, cramped his activity but he kept his sense of humour and it is typical of him that he would not bow to the disease until he had no alternative.

In the words of his erstwhile local councillor: “Very, very few people reach the pinnacle of personal quality and achievement that he reached. He touched many lives and this will live on.”

His aims were always of the very highest and in their pursuit he was an inspiration to all who came his way, especially the young.

He is survived by his wife, Mary, a son and a daughter.