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Was Richmond College-Galle Or Methodist Central College – Batticaloa , The First English School In Ceylon/Sri Lanka?

Shirley Somanader

[Recently there has been a controversy on this subject. Here, in this essay, The claims of both schools are set out here impartially for the rational reader to decide]


1. Methodist Central College, Batticaloa is specifically mentioned as an English School from August 1814as a separate institution apart from any Vernacular school.

Rev William Ault arrived in Batticaloa on the 12thof August 1814.* He died on April 01st 1815. He laboured in Batticaloa for just seven months. *But in his first of his two letters to his mother after arriving, he writes that he has established an English school, I quote from his letter, “ On my arrival here I found in this place a Tamil school containing about thirty boys. That school is now under my superintendence. We have established another, which now contains thirty, besides the English school, which I teach myself.

2. Specific mention of the No: on Roll and identity of the pupils in Ault’s initial English School

*There were five pupils at first. Three of them were the orphan sons of British soldiers who died during the fever epidemic, which was prevailing at the time of Ault’s arrival. The fourth was Somanader, who afterwards came to be known as Rajakaria Daniel Somanader, Modlier of the Batticaloa Kachcheri. It is not known who the fifth boy was.”*

3. Specific details of staff and the Curriculum and ( the site?)

In this school, “Ault was employed daily in giving the first lessons in the English language and the first principles of true religion.”

4. Continuity of the school after Ault’s unexpected death on 01st April 1815

Although the saintly Ault died within a space of seven months of his beginning his mission in Batticaloa, the torch he had lit was not extinguished with him. It was taken up in the person of a Good Samaritan in the person of Captain Thomas Aldersay Jones of the 19th Regiment, who was the Commandant of the garrison at Batticaloa, He helped many of the boys in their English studies till the arrival of Ault’s successor.

5. The Second Missionary Principal of the school and his contribution*

Ault’s successor, the Rev. Elijah Jackson arrived in July 1816.Mr. Jackson gave new life to the school soon after he came. He reports in 1817 of boys’choir:“The singing in the church is tolerably good. I practice the Dutch and Malabar (Tamil) boys three times a week.” It will be thus seen that the boys of Central were equally helpful at the church Services in those far off days as they are now.

6. Again the school is sustained by the intervention of a lay person.

In 1818, Mr. Jackson left Ceylon. The boys obtained help from Mrs. Sophia John, widow of Rev. Christopher John of the Royal Danish Mission, Tranquebar. She was the mother-in-law of Mr. J. N. Moozart, assistant Collector of Batticaloa. Her English pronunciation varied from the Englishman as she was a Danish lady. Mrs. John died in Batticaloa in 1821. Her grave could be seen until recently at the junction of Hospital Road and Convent Road within the property owned by an Advocate.

7. The third Missionary Manager cum Principal.

In 1819, the Rev. Thomas Osborne, the Station Superintendent , who took a great deal of interest in education, reports , on October 4th, to the Missionary Committee in London, “This morning I commenced an English School with about 21 boys (most of whom are descendants of Europeans, but there were 4 Tamil boys in the numbers.). It was held on the verandah of the Government church.

8. The school shifts to new premises: The newly built Mission House

Mr. Osborne reports again in October 1820 as follows: “On March 29th of this year I commenced building a good sized bungalow for the English school – parents objected to the verandah of the Government church because it was the place where the dead were buried.”

9. The first lay teacher

<em>* In 1823 there is another report, most probably from the Rev. Joseph Roberts, Superintendent of the Batticaloa Station. “An English school is held in the Mission premises. There is one teacher, not very clever, but industrious and attentive, and 23 boys

10. Further recorded Progress of the school

1824 – In the Missionary Survey of the North Ceylon District of 1910, it is mentioned that there was a Boys’ English school in Batticaloa in 1824

1827 – The school report for 1827 says, “The Boys’ English school has 14 pupils.”

1833 – ” In the 1830’s, perhaps owing to want of efficient teachers, co-education of a sort seems to have been attempted , we find from the record for 1833, the following: “The Batticaloa English school has 12 boys and 4 girls.

1837 – In 1837, there were 15 boys and 12 girls studying in this school

1838 – In 1838, only boys were learning in the school but their number is not given.

11.In the shadow of the Church l. The school shifts to its third site

The present Ault Memorial Puliyantivu Methodist church , Batticaloa was built in 1838. In 1839, when the Governor Hon. James Stewart Mackenzie, who to took great interest in education, visited Batticaloa, he gave the Rev. George Hole, who was then in charge of the Batticaloa station, the materials of the Old Dutch church and an old storeroom in the Fort, for school buildings with a donation of 25 British Pounds. With this, Mr. Hole was able to put up a verandah on each side of the Puliyantivu Chapel. It is said that the Boys’ school was held on the verandah facing College House (presently the Puliyantivu Methodist Minister’s Manse).

The three teachers who taught in this school in the 1840s are also identified. They were: Solomon Setukavalar, Henry Namasuvayam and Samuel Jones Parasuramar. Even an interesting anecdote about the latter teacher is recorded.

Later Principals of the school:

12. 1844 – Mr Hole left Batticaloa in 1844. He was succeeded by Robert Pargiter who was in charge of the school till 1845. Mr Pargiter later joined Anglican church and was Principal of St John’s College for several years.

13. 1846 – Mr Pargiter was succeeded by Rev James Wallace, a young Scottish Barrister, He nearly drowned in a boat accident and died of exposure in April 1847.

14. In 1847, the Rev. John Kilner was in charge of the School. Here is a report from the Rev. J. Gillings who was the Station Superintendent of the Boys’ Schoolin the island (of Puliyantivu): The school is attended by 66 scholars most of whom are members of Christian families. The last examination of the School was highly satisfactory. The historical part of the Old Testament with the evidences of Christianity, as stated in our third Catechism, ‘Watson’s Conversation for the Young’ and other works of a similar standard on the various branches of education formed the subject of careful investigation; and the intelligent acquaintance evinced by the pupils – especially of the first class who enjoyed the benefit of Kilner’s labours –with the various points of enquiry, was highly creditable.
Mention of students who later distinguished themselves:

15 The following were some of the pupils in the School in the 1840s
– Robert Kadramer, who afterwards became the Headmaster of the School and later a proctor D.C. Robert Atherton (Jnr.), son of the Assistant Government Agent. Atherton first joined the Ceylon Rifle Regiment as a Lieutenant but resigned his commission. He was a writer of topical verses and contributed many articles to the Ceylon Examiner about Ceylon Vegetables.

16. In 1857, the Rev. W. H. Dean reports,
“The Puliyantivu Boys’ School has 72 boys. The School is under the care of a competent teacher and is rapidly improving.” The teacher here referred to was the Head master Mr. Arthur Fletcher who came from the staff of Jaffna Central.

Some of the pupils who were in the school at this time were: W.G. Rockwood, who afterwards became the famous surgeon and his brother.

17. (1859 – 1871) – A New Site for the School. In the late 1850s the School had outgrown the church verandah and the Rev. W. H. Dean and Mrs. Dean started collecting funds to build a school. In the meantime, a large cadjan shed was put up on the site where the present Primary Section stands and the boys removed there.

In 1859, the new school was completed at a cost of 350 British Pounds, most of which was collected by Mrs. Dean. This school stood on the premises where Vincent School stands today. The Minutes of 1860 declares that our Mission at Batticaloa must take its place as educator or be superseded. In 1860 Mr. Fletcher left and was succeeded by Mr. Elijah Roelofsy who seems to have remained only one year. In 1862, the Rev. H.J. de Silva, who was a probationer, became the Headmaster. Mr. Robert Kadramer succeeded him in 1863. The Rev. Henry Hornby was the School Superintendent during this period .Mr. Hornby was afterwards Headmaster of Woodhouse Grove, the well-known Methodist Public School in England.

18. 1864 – 65 Boys were sent up for the Ceylon Local Examination
.In December 1864 and the results were received in February 1865. Some of the teachers during this period were: Abraham Sittampalam, George Robert Ampiabagar, William Nagapper and William .M. Walton, who was then a candidate for the ministry

19 In 1866, Mr. Hornby left and the Rev. Edmund Rigg succeeded him as Station Superintendent.

Mr. Rigg had been a master at Queens College, Taunton before he entered the ministry, and he took great interest in Central and taught in it.In 1867, Mr. Joseph Vallipuram was appointed Headmaster.
18. In 1870, the Rev. John Brown succeeded Mr. Rigg. When Mr. Brown visited Batticaloa in 1911, he recognized many of his former pupils and was glad to see them occupying high positions in various fields.
In 1871, Mr. Edward Helps, Inspector of Schools examined the School. His report was as follows: “The lower Standards gave a very fair performance in all heads. The fifth and Sixth Standards were unsatisfactory.”

20. On September 1871,
the Education Committee met presided over by the Rev. John Kilner, Chairman of the North Ceylon District. The other present were: The Revs. J. Brown, S. Niles. Modliers Jeremiah Somanader, Ezekiel Somanader, W. Allegakoen and Messrs. J. Crowther, J. Allegakoen, J. Swaminader, C.J. Barbet and D. de Wolfe. It was resolved to raise 50 British Pounds for the support of an English Principal for the Batticaloa Boys’ English School. To enlist the sympathy of the public, a meeting was held with Mr. R. W. Morris, the Government Agent, in the chair. It was resolved, “To raise the Boys’ English School to such a state of efficiency as shall render itunnecessary to send children of the place to other parts of the Island to obtain a good acquaintance of the English Language.”

On September 29th the Committee met again. It was announced that Rev. J. Otley Rhodes, who had been Principal of Jaffna Central College for some years had kindly consented to act as the Principal until a young missionary can be sent from England. There were 103 boys in the School at this time.

21. On November 15th 1872, the Rev. John G. Pearson, the first full time Principal appointed by the Home Committee arrived and was welcomed by the Education Committee.

m>* The above information is taken from Rev. Ault’s letters to his mother written soon after his arrival in Batticaloa in August 1814 , preserved by Rev. Restarick and now found SOAS Univ. of London. And the ‘History of Methodist Central College, Batticaloa 1814 – 1942’ by R.N. Setukavalar (Jnr). Based on Original sources such as local newspapers and past Principal’s reports and reports of Methodist missionaries



Richmond College Galle Crest

1. 1814 – All the five pioneer Methodist missionaries started the journey to their destined stations from Galle in July 1814. Hence, Rev. Benjamin Clough who was assigned to work in Galle was the first to settle in his station.

2. July 1814 –
Maha Mudaliyar Amarasekera offered Clough a location on Dickson Road, Galle to start a school. Clough starts a vernacular school.No date is mentioned for the establishment of this school but most probably it was in late July 1814: Weeks before Ault reached Batticaloa on 12th August 1814 and established an English School.

3, The claim to make Richmond College,
Galle the oldest English school in the Island is based on the premise that Richmond grew out of this Dickson Road Vernacular school. A claim recently made Mr Ananda, an old boy of Richmond College in article in the Ceylon Daily News. .Mr Ananda’s argument is – the Dickson Road vernacular school was raised in 1840 or so to an Anglo-Vernacular school and again the school was upgraded to an English High School for boys in 1876 and sometime later took the name Richmond College.

4.The whole argument stands on the premise that there is an unbroken continuity of the Dickson Road vernacular school from July 1814, through the 1840s and on to 1876 when Richmond was established. Let us examine the evidence for this premise

5. I am quoting from official and comprehensive history of ‘Methodist Church of Ceylon 1814-1964’, published in 1971. General Editor Rev. W.J. T. Small.a former Principal of Richmond College, Galle for 16 years.

“Throughout this period (1838 -1865) it was the policy of the Methodist church to run schools in Sinhalese only.” [ page 179 para 5,Pages 176 -183 contains a report on state of Education in the South Central District which included Colombo. Galle and Kandy. For Administrative purposes the Methodist Church had two districts – the South Central District (SCD) and the North Central District (NCD)]
Again very specifically it states “ The English school in Galle (the Anglo- Vernacular school) was handed over to the Govt Central Schools Commission (about 1840) (Minutes of the annual SCD meeting – page 181).
Further in the SCD report on Education for the period 1865 -1889, we are clearly informed that there was no Methodist English school in Galle, for that matter not even in Colombo or Kandy. A report in 1873 makes it clear there was no English school in Galle in 1873. I quote, “It was when the number of European missionaries diminished about 30 years ago that these schools (referring to schools like Anglo Vernacular school in Galle) ceased to be connected with our mission.” Page 273

Spence Hardy himself admits in his Jubilee Memorial that, “Methodism was somewhat late in entering the field of higher education.”Meanwhile, the Anglican church began to open English schools with Government support. …. There was increasing pressure Methodists to open High schools in Colombo and Galle.” Page 271.

It was at this stage then that Wesley College was established 1874 and Richmond College two years later in 1876 (page 272).

The official website of Richmond College itself gives the history clearly.“The school was started as a Galle High School in 1876 by Rev.George Baugh.”

Rev W.J.T. Small a foremost expert on Sri Lanka’s history of Methodism, who was Principal of Richmond College for 16 years,confirms that there is no connection between the Nelson Road Vernacular school and later High School founded by Rev George Baugh. The Richmond College Media unit site also says this.“It is the leading school in Galle. Richmond College was started in 1876 by Rev. W.J.T.Small”.

There is no particular merit in being the oldest English school in the Island. Yet facts are sacred and should be4 recognised and due credit given to the labours of those associated with the two schools.

Shirley Somanader