Hugh Karunanayake, courtesy of The Ceylankan, Vol. XX: No. 2, May 2016, where the tile is “Royal College role in the Birth of S. Thomas College”
S. Thomas College Mount Lavinia was established in Mutwal on 3rd February 1851. It was then described as a “Collegiate School’ which was much akin to what was later to emerge as a secondary school. The intention of its founders was to establish a College and a School. The latter was designed to prepare candidates for admission into the College. The College was to prepare students for entry into tertiary education including Theology and Divinity Studies. When initially established it was not possible to differentiate between School and College, there being 70 students in the whole institution and not enough students to commence the College. One year later with the arrival of Warden Wood the College was opened in January 1852 with 20 students, the rest being included in the Collegiate School.
The original school building in Mutwal — from WT Keble History of St Thomas College 1937
A little known fact is that of almost the entirety of the first 20 students in the College section, 10 were from the Colombo Academy (now known as Royal College) and most of the others from an institution known as the Colombo Central School — then regarded as a school second only in standard of education to the Colombo Academy. The Colombo Academy was the leading educational establishment in the country and was a fee levying school for over a century until the introduction of free education in 1944. The influx of students from the Academy arose following an increase in school fees pursuant to a recommendation from the Central School Commission in 1848 which also recommended the closure of the Academy.
The old boy lobby of the Academy proved too strong however and. the former fees were restored following public outcry and some of the boys from the Academy returned from S. Thomas to their former school. The Academy of course continued to expand later changing its name to Royal College. The boys who joined from the Academy were outstanding students at St Thomas during its early years and it could therefore verily be said that the successful birth of S. Thomas College was in great measure due to a transfusion from Royal College!
THE FIRST COLLEGE STUDENTS ENROLLED 1851/52 FROM THE COLOMBO ACADEMY
Charles Silva Wickremasekera
Wilmot Horton de Saram
John Lucious Dassanayake
Simond De Melho Aserappah.
William Dias Bandaranayake
John De Melho Aserappah
FROM THE COLOMBO CENTRAL SCHOOL 1851/52
Richard Van Buren’
What was to be the first school magazine ever produced by S. Thomas College was published in 1853 two years after the establishment of the school. A remarkable achievement. This 36-page booklet (the title page reproduced in The Ceylankan for the first time ever since its publication in 1853) whose existence was not only unknown to the school’s historians of later years, but its contents unrecorded in any of the histories of the school. The first History of S. Thomas College by CH Christian David, published in 1894, the Jubilee Number of the School Magazine published in 1901, A History of St Thomas College, Colombo by WT Keble in 1937, and the St Thomas College Centenary Number of 1951 all acknowledge 1875 as the year in which the first issue of the college magazine took place.
There is no recorded instance of the existence of the 1853 journal the title page of which is shown here. In fact, its existence does not appear in any contemporaneous records on the history and progress of the school. The magazine was titled Exercises in English Composition St Thomas College Colombo June and July 1853. Published by the College Press, Colombo.
The journal has seven essays written by pupils of the school and a listing of the names of all 120 students including the 22 students in the College section(in 2 classes) deemed as St Thomas College, and the 98 other students spread over four classes in the “collegiate school”.
What is significant is that of the 22 students in the College ten were from the Colombo Academy. What is even more significant is that of the seven essays in the 1853 magazine 6 were written by students who came from the Colombo Academy! The school archives do not seem to have had a record of these essays. In the history of the school authored by WT Keble mention is made of the titles of the essays, but he did not seem to have access to its contents even while making the following comment: ”One who read these essays says, ‘We value those prose effusions on a par with the prize poems of Cambridge of early days.’ This judgment is confirmed by no less a severe critic than Warden Wood’s successor, Warden Baly, who wrote two years later of the same students “were it not that their Latin Composition is deficient, they would be on a level with the average Oxford undergraduate in their second year.”
The essays and their authors are:
- On the scripture of the Old Testament. Frederick Jayetilleke
- The Miracles of Christ – a proof of His Divine Mision –SL Dassanaike
- Untitled Essay- George Fernando
4.The character of Christ and His doctrine is proof of His Divine Mission, C. Silva Wickremasekera
- The fulfillment of prophecy, proof of the Divine Mission of Christ.
- The age and literature of Queen. Frederick Jayetilleke
- Advantages of the study of Geography, WHP de Saram.
The essay by Frederick Jayetilleke on the scriptures of the Old Testament created a furore and was subject to a lot of criticism in the newspapers. Bishop Chapman and Warden Wood were accused of teaching Romanish doctrines in the school. Dr Barcroft Boake Principal of the Colombo Academy and Rev GR Mutukistan participated in an acrimonious pamphlet campaign and the whole episode was for several decades referred to as the “Jayetilleke controversy”. The Bishop had been greatly distressed by the affair as noted by Keble in his history where he quotes the Bishop as stating “the College is winning its way in spite of maligners, and all looks well at home.”
Readers may be interested in the later careers of the founding batch of students at St Thomas. Here are brief notes on some of them.
Charles Silva Wickremasekera – reached the top of the class. He was aspiring to the bar, but died early.
Frederick Jayetilleke – became Private Secretary to Chief Justice Sir Carpenter Rowe and later joined the Ceylon Civil Service.
Wilmot Horton de Saram was named after Sir Robert Wilmot Horton Governor of Ceylon who declared open the Colombo Academy in 1835. Enrolled as a lawyer and later retired as Assistant Registrar General.
John Lucius Dassenaike enrolled as a Proctor and later served as Atapattu Mudaliyar.
Jonathan Silva – joined the Matara Bar as a Proctor.
George Fernando joined the Gampola Bar as Proctor.
Simon De Melho Aserappah and William Dias Bandaranayake continued their studies in Scotland as Medical Students. On return they joined the Ceylon Medical Service.
Adam Ratne was the son of Sri Muni Rathne a Buddhist priest who together with another Buddhist priest Ven Dharma Rama Therunnanse* went to England in 1829 with Sir Alexander Johnston Chief Justice of Ceylon. Johnston introduced them to Rev Adam Clarke a Methodist clergyman who arranged for their conversion and subsequent return to Ceylon as clergymen. Adam was named after his father’s mentor and later went to England himself and took to Holy Orders.(* Ven Dharma Rama was baptised under the name Alexander Dharmaratne after his sponsor Sir Alexander Johnstone. His great/great grandson Bryan Dharmaratne lives in Sydney and is a long standing member of CSA)
The Ceylankan can now claim to be the first to bring the existence of this very significant historical document pertaining to S. Thomas College to the attention of the public and the College, and trusts that the College can now take note of the long lost magazine –very probably the first ever production from its students during the College’s 165 year history.
Capt. Charles O’Brien’s description of this sepia lithograph in colour runs thus: “Colombo …has an interest as being the port from which nearly all the coffee and cocoa-nut oil is shipped to Europe. … It is also the port in which the rice for the support of Malabar coolies on the coffee estates is received. The import in 1860 was 3,182,204 bushels, of the value of 636,423l. The view represents the Fort, with the Custom house, the Roadstead in which are seen the large ships lading for Europe, and the ‘Inner harbour’, in which are the coasting vessels and native craft. The view is taken from Mootwal, the resort of fishing boats ….”. As Rajpal de Silva notes, the image displays several significant features predating the British government’s demolition of the fort: notably two bastions of the ramparts, the customs house, the old Queen’s House and the clock tower (1985: 257). The fort of Colombo was demolished between December 1869 and February 1871. For more details on the port of Colombo and the transformation of the city as a whole, see Dharmasena 1980; Roberts et al, People Inbetween, 1989, chap. 7; Raheem & Colin-Thome, Images of British Ceylon, 2000: 80-87, 114-19.
Michael Roberts: “People Inbetween: Ethnic & Class Prejudices in British Ceylon,” 3 August 2015, https://thuppahis.com/2015/08/03/people-inbetween-ethnic-and-class-prejudices-in-british-ceylon/
AND THEN THERE IS
Mahinda Wijesinghe: “Lorenz Pereira: So Multi-talented, So Royal … A Man to Follow,” 24 April 2016, https://cricketique.wordpress.com/2016/04/24/lorenz-pereira-so-multi-talented-so-royal-a-man-to-follow/