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Chapter 13: The story of the schools

A tourist who goes the round of Madras must surely be impressed with the numerous signs of its educational activity. Apart from the multitude of juvenile schools in every part of the crowded city, the number of academic institutions is large, and educational buildings are amongst the most prominent of its edifices. Our tourist, putting himself in charge of a guide at the Central Station for a drive along the beautiful Marina, sees a number of academic buildings on his way. The Medical College is just outside the station yard. The classic façade of Pachaiyappa's College for Hindus peeps at him gracefully across the Esplanade. The Law College lifts its Saracenic towers above him as he passes by. Across the road he sees the collection of miniature domes and spires and towers that surmount the various buildings that make up the far-famed Christian College. Driving along the Marina he sees the Senate House of the Madras University surmounted by its four squat towers; farther on he sees the staid Engineering College, and the still staider Presidency College, and, beyond, the whitewashed buildings of Queen Mary's residential College for Women; and on his way back by the Mount Road he sees the Muhammedan College, with its little white mosque and its spacious playing-fields in the heart of the city. There are yet more colleges in Madras; and there are also numerous large schools, some of which are attended by more than a thousand pupils.

Yes, the educational activity in Madras is great; and it is interesting to reflect that it is a development from very small educational enterprises in the days when Madras was young.

The initial enterprise was small indeed. The first school in Madras was the little "public school for children, several of whom are English", which the French Capuchin priest, Father Ephraim, opened in his own house in White Town very soon after Madras came into being. His pupils were mostly Portuguese or Portuguese Eurasians, the children of Portuguese subjects who had come from Mylapore and who, for purposes of trade or commerce, had settled down within the English Company's domain. His English pupils must have been children of the very few of the Company's civil or military employees that were married, or of the still fewer English free settlers. Father Ephraim, who according to accounts was a really learned man, charged no fees, yet was deeply interested in the welfare of his scholars; and the little school must have supplied a great want in those far-off days. It is interesting indeed to think of that little 'public school;' for the room in the priest's house was the scene of the very first beginning of what are now the mighty educational activities of Madras--an earnest, moreover, of the great things that the Roman Catholic Church was going to do in the way of education, both for boys and for girls, in South India.

Father Ephraim's school continued to prosper under his successors, and in the seventeenth century it was transferred, as a poor-school, to a building in the grounds of what is now the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Armenian Street; and in 1875 it was put under the control of the brothers of St. Patrick, an Irish order of educational monks, and it became St. Patrick's orphanage. Later the brothers transferred themselves and their orphanage to the spacious park--Elphinstone Park--on the southern bank of the Adyar River, the premises which they occupy still.

For some thirty years the Company took no part in educational work, and the children of Madras were left entirely to Father Ephraim's care. Then for two years a certain Master Patrick Warner was the Company's temporary chaplain of Madras--a conscientious and uncompromising Protestant minister who wrote some long letters to the Directors in England denouncing the laxity of the conduct of the Company's employees and deploring the influence that Roman Catholic priests had been allowed to obtain in Fort St. George. Finally, he went back to England, with the threat that he was going to interview the Directors on various matters pertaining to Madras; and that he succeeded in making himself heard is to be seen in the fact that in the following year the Directors sent a Protestant schoolmaster out to Madras. The letter in which they notified the appointment to the Governor in Council at Fort St. George was assuredly inspired by Master Patrick Warner's undoubtedly high-minded representations. They wrote that, as there were now in Fort St. George 'so many married families,' they were sending out 'one Mr. Ralph Orde to be schoolmaster at the Fort ... who is to teach all the Children to read English and to write and Cypher gratis, and if any of the other Natives, as Portuguez, Gentues (Telugus),[4] or others will send their Children to School, we require they be also taught gratis ... and he is likewise to instruct them in the Principles of the Protestant religion.' Mr. Ralph Orde arrived by the same ship which brought the letter, and his arrival (1677) is another notable event in the history of education in Madras. It was the first beginning of Government education--the laying of the first stone in what is now such a vast edifice.

[Footnote 4: In modern Madras the great majority of the Hindu residents are Tamils; but in the beginning there were very few Tamil immigrants, and the Hindu residents were nearly all of them Telugus (Gentoos).]

In appointing a schoolmaster, the Directors meant to do their best for education in their rising city; for they had [5]engaged no mean dominie on a menial's pay. In choosing Mr. Ralph Orde they chose a good man, and they paid him accordingly. He was to dine at the General Table, and his salary was to be £50 a year, which in those days was no small sum--more than the salary of some of the Members of Council. Perhaps, indeed, they got too good a man for the post; for after five years of educational work in Madras, Mr. Orde complained that his schoolmastering had been 'much prejudicial to my health,' and he asked to be relieved of his duties and to be appointed to a post in the Company's civil service instead. His request was granted. A new schoolmaster was appointed; and as a 'Civilian' Mr. Orde worked with such success that in two or three years he was sent to Sumatra to be the Chief of a factory that he was to found on the west coast of the island. The ex-schoolmaster would, perhaps, have risen to be Governor of Madras, but it would seem that life in the East had really been 'much prejudicial to his health,' for he died in Sumatra ten years after his first arrival in Madras.

In 1688, by virtue of the Company's Royal Charter, a Corporation of the City of Madras came into being, and it was among their delegated duties that they should build a school in Black Town for the purpose of teaching 'Native children to speak, read, and write the English Tongue, and to understand Arithmetic and Merchants' Accompts.' Three years later, however, Elihu Yale, Governor of Madras, complained to the Corporation that, although they had been empowered to levy taxes on the citizens, they had not so much as thought about building a school, and had neglected various other civic responsibilities. The Company--rightly or wrongly--sought to justify their inaction with the excuse which the Corporation of Madras has--rightly or wrongly--made for civic inaction so many times since, namely that 'no funds' had been assigned to them by Government for the works that they were called upon to undertake. As for taxation, they remarked that the people in Black Town had not been schooled to civic taxation; and it is true that any ruthless collection of taxes might have meant wholesale departures from the city, or at any rate a serious check to further immigration. So the municipal school for Native children never came into being.

Meanwhile the Company's free school in White Town, started by Mr. Orde, continued its work under Mr. Orde's successors; and elementary instruction was imparted therein to a heterogeneous crowd of children--English, Eurasians, and Indians--Christians and Hindus. Eventually the school was put in charge of the chaplain of St. Mary's Church in the Fort, and the chaplain and his churchwardens agreed in thinking that such education was not of the kind that a Church should control, and that it was rather their duty to institute in Madras a residential free-school for poor Protestant children of British descent, which should be conducted on the lines of the many 'charity schools' in England; and in 1715, with the approval of the Directors, 'St. Mary's Church Charity School' was founded. The event is of particular interest; for St. Mary's Church Charity School developed later into the 'Male Asylum'--the institution which has done so much for boys and girls for so many years, and which, after changing its habitation on various occasions, is now comfortably housed in spacious premises in the Poonamallee road.

The year 1715 is noteworthy on another account. St. Mary's School having been founded solely for the benefit of children of European descent, the native children who had attended the Company's day-school were deprived of education. The Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge undertook to supply the want, by establishing schools in Madras for the special benefit of Indian children; and the year 1715, therefore, is the date which marks the first beginning of the educational work that English Protestant missionary societies have done in India. The Society found themselves unable to take up the work immediately themselves; so they applied to the vigorous Danish Lutheran Mission at Tranquebar, which was then a Danish settlement; and a Danish minister was sent to Madras to set things going.

In the course of time Madras had become a much more habitable city than it had been in its first beginnings, and a much more possible place of residence for European women. The Company's employees, therefore, were more and more disposed to matrimony; and, as already related, the Directors, believing that married men made steadier employees, had from early times encouraged the nuptial humour by sending out from England periodical batches of well-connected young women as prospective brides for employees who lacked either the means or the inclination to take a trip home to choose partners for themselves. The number of European fathers and mothers, therefore, in Madras was continually increasing; and for the education of their children, as also for that of children of well-to-do Eurasians, there was need of a different kind of education than the various free-schools supplied. Home education, with or without paid tutors and governesses, probably served its turn with some, but it was certain that sooner or later the private school would come into being.

We are unable to say when the first private school in Madras was started; but an advertisement in one of the issues of the Madras Courier, in 1790, shows that a private school for boys was started in that year; and it was probably the first. The enterprising educationist was Mr. John Holmes, M.A., who opened the 'Madras Academy' in Black Town for the instruction of boys in 'Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, History, the use of the Globes, French, Greek, and Latin.' Other towns in the Madras Presidency had their English residents, so Mr. Holmes offered to accommodate 'a few Boarders;' and the offer was found so convenient that certain parents wanted accommodation for their girls as well as for their boys. Mr. Holmes was willing to receive all the pupils that he could get; for in an advertisement two months later he announced that he was going to move to a larger house in which 'apartments will be allotted for the Young Ladies entirely removed and separate from the Young Gentlemen.'

The Madras Academy was eminently successful; but the mixed boarding school was not its most commendable side; and in the following year an enterprising lady-educationist announced that she was opening in Black Town a 'Female Boarding School,' in which her young ladies would be 'genteelly boarded, tenderly treated, carefully Educated, and the most strict attention paid to their Morals,' and the school was to be conducted as far as possible 'in the manner most approv'd of in England.' The enterprising lady-educationist was a Mrs. Murray, who had been a mistress in the Female Asylum. Her syllabus of education was of a more feminine sort than that which was followed at the Madras Academy; for, as announced in the prospectus, it included 'Reading and Writing, the English language and Arithmetic; Music, French, Drawing and Dancing; with Lace, Tambour, and Embroidery, all sorts of Plain and Flowered needle-work.' The two syllabuses are interesting reminders as to what were the usual subjects of education for European boys and girls a century and a half ago.

Schools, therefore, were available for children of every class--European and Indian, rich and poor; but the schools for Indians, conducted either by missionaries or by indigenous teachers, were of an elementary kind; and, apart from Oriental studies in indigenous institutions, there was little or nothing in the way of higher education for Indians either in Madras or anywhere else in India. This condition was altered, however, during the governorship of Lord William Bentinck, the magnanimous if not brilliant governor-general whose term of office lasted for seven years, from 1828 to 1835.

During this period everything favoured educational progress in India. There was peace in England and there was peace in India. It was a time of great educational developments in England, as is manifested by the fact that within this period the London University and Durham University were opened, and the great British Association for the Advancement of Science was established. Such conditions in England had their influence in India, and the more so because Lord William Bentinck was ardent for progress. The opening of the Madras Medical College in 1835 was one of the signs of the times. During Lord William Bentinck's term of office education in India was reformed. Macaulay, afterwards Lord Macaulay, was an Indian official at the time, and he penned a notable report on education in India, in which he belittled vernacular learning and asserted that the Government of India would do well to discountenance it altogether, and to introduce western learning and the study of English literature into all schools under Government control, and to make it a rule that the English language was to be the only medium of instruction. Whether or not Macaulay's views were correct, they were adopted by the Government of India, and Lord William Bentinck issued in 1835 a resolution in accordance therewith, in which he sought to secure the people's acceptance of English education for their children by notifying that a knowledge of English would in future be necessary for admission into Government service. Government service is particularly coveted in India, and the resolution encouraged the foundation of schools of a good class in which special attention would be given to the study of the English language; and within a few years a number of important educational institutions had been founded in different parts of India.

In South India the Madras Christian College, called originally 'The General Assembly's Institution,' was first in the field. It was founded in 1837, by the Rev. John Anderson, the first missionary that the Church of Scotland sent out to Madras. The name of the founder is preserved in the 'Anderson Hall' in one of the college buildings; but the remarkable progress of the institution has been very specially due to the untiring energy of the Rev. Dr. Miller, whose statue stands on the opposite side of the public road. Dr. Miller was Principal for a number of years, and now (1921) at a great age the venerable educationist is living in retirement in Scotland.

In 1839, two years after the foundation of the Christian College, the Roman Catholic Bishop in Madras, Dr. Carew, founded St. Mary's Seminary, which after forty-five years became St. Mary's College, and which is now represented by St. Mary's High School for Europeans and St. Gabriel's High School for Indians.

Two years later, in 1841, the Presidency College had its beginning, in a rented room in Egmore. At its foundation it was not a Government institution, but was a public school under the control of governors, who were chosen from among the leading Europeans and Indians in Madras, with the Advocate-General as their first president. It was styled 'The High School of the Madras University,' and it was the founders' intention that when a college department had been added, the institution should be called the 'Madras University,' and should apply for a charter. In the sixties, however, the Madras Government was considering a scheme of its own for a University of Madras, whereupon the governors of the 'University High School' transferred their school to the Government, who called it the 'Presidency College.' The Presidency College continued to work in the rented building until 1870, when the building that it now occupies was publicly opened by the Duke of Edinburgh.

Pachaiyappa's College, a well-known Hindu institution, had its first beginning in 1842. Like the other colleges in Madras, it began as a school; the school was called 'Pachaiyappa's Central Institution,' and was located in Black Town. The present buildings were opened in 1850 by Sir Henry Pottinger, an ex-governor of Madras, amid a large gathering of leading European and Indian residents; and for a number of years the annual 'Day' at Pachaiyappa's College was an important social event. Pachaiyappa was a rich and religious Hindu, who made his money as a broker in the Company's service, and who died more than a hundred years ago leaving a lakh of pagodas--some 3½ lakhs of rupees--for temple purposes. The trustees neglected the provisions of the will, whereupon the High Court assumed control of the funds, which under the Court's control rose to the value of nearly Rs. 7½ lakhs. The original amount was set apart for the fulfilment of the terms of the will, and the surplus was assigned to educational purposes in Pachaiyappa's name.

The education of girls shared in the development; for in 1842 the first party of Nuns of the Presentation Order was brought out from Ireland, and a convent, with a boarding school and an orphanage,--the 'Georgetown Convent' of to-day--was established in Black Town. The 'Vepery Convent School' and some of the other successful convent schools in Madras are controlled by nuns of the same Order.

Education in India was given further impetus in the time of Lord Dalhousie. During his term of office (1848-1856) the present system of education, under a Director of Public Instruction, was introduced, and Government was empowered to make liberal educational grants, and to establish universities. The despatch in which the educational developments were announced has been called 'the intellectual charter of India.'

Various institutions in Madras are representative of this later development. A Government 'Normal School'--which has grown into the 'Teachers' College' of to-day--was established in 1856, to increase the number and the efficiency of indigenous teachers; and the Madras University was incorporated in 1857, for the control and the development of higher education. Of large high schools still existing, the Harris High School in Royapettah was founded by the Church Missionary Society in 1856, for the education of Mohammedan boys, and was named after Lord Harris, who was Governor of Madras at the time; and the Hindu High School, in Triplicane, was founded in 1857. Doveton College, Vepery, for Anglo-Indian boys was opened in 1855. It owes its existence to a wealthy Eurasian, Captain John Doveton, who obtained his Captaincy in the service of the Nizam of Hyderabad, and who left a large sum of money to an earlier institution, the Parental Academy, which was afterwards called Doveton College in the deceased officer's honour. Within later years philanthropic and enterprising Indians have done much for education, and numerous schools both for boys and for girls have been established by their efforts.

An educational building of curious interest is the office of the Director of Public Instruction, in Nungumbaukam. It is commonly known as the 'Old College'. In the masonry of a large arch at the entrance, as well as on another arch within, quaint designs have been introduced--mysterious faces, and flags, and strange geometrical figures. The house was the property of a wealthy Armenian merchant named Moorat, who died more than a hundred years ago; and it may be supposed that the quaint designs were after the nature of family memorials. In the early part of last century the Armenian merchant's son sold the building to Government, who used it as a 'College for Junior Civilians.' Hence the designation 'Old College'; but the name does not mean that it was a building in which young civilians were trained, but means that it was a building in which there were 'colleagues' in residence, or, in other words, that, the 'General Table' having been dissolved, the 'College' was a mess-house for junior civilians. Later, its large hall was for many years a recognized assembly-room for amateur concerts, amateur dramatic entertainments, and other occasions of social reunion. The quaint devices on the gates are still preserved, and the name of the old 'College' still survives; but the associations have gone. Not even as a ghost does the long-robed Armenian merchant tread the floors; the junior civilians, with their ancient pranks and their antiquated jests, have departed; in the great hall the lilt of the song and the frenzy of the fiddles for the dance and the amateur mouthings of the drama are heard no more. A multitude of turbanned clerks are pouring forth the blue-black ink from their pens; schoolmasters haunt the portals to press their claims for educational grants for their own particular schools; and the click of a chorus of typewriters is the only music that is borne upon the breeze.

I have told the story of the schools. It is creditable to Madras; for great things have been done since that first little 'public school' was opened in the Fort.