William and Peter de Abrew donated the land to found the Musaeus College


by Walter Wijenayake

Musaeus College, for girls, founded on November 15, 1893, with Mrs. Marie Musaeus Higgings, acting as both principal and sole teacher, started with just 12 students, in an era where Buddhist education was at its lowest ebb due to foreign domination.

Philanthropists, William do Abrew, and his son, Peter, were instrumental in establishing this school by donating their land, and named it after Mrs. Higgings – a great tribute, indeed, for an educationist with originality, fired with zeal, who viewed teaching as a means of cultivating her pupils’ mental, physical and spiritual faculties.

Within three years of the founding of this institution, a trust was formed in 1896 with Peter de Abrew as Managing Trustee and Colonel Steal Olcott, William Hack, Dr. William Austine and Mrs. Higgings as members.

Mrs. Higgings opened to her students the rich treasures of the history of Sri Lanka and its culture, and also authored a number of books and plays such as ‘Ramayana’ stories from the history of the country, ‘Jathakamala’ and ‘Poya Days’.

Mr. de Abrew and Mrs Higgings strove to make Musaeus College the perfect school, with unflagging enthusiasm and selfless dedication. It was their vision to bring education to the pupils in the purest sense of the word.

Mrs. Higgings, the daughter of a judge in Macklenberg, Wismar in Germany, has written her ambition in her own words.

‘From my childhood, I was anxious to become a teacher, and even before I reached 20 years, I began to teach. As I secured passes in three languages – Greek, French and English - which were a compulsory qualification for a teacher of a high school, I went to America and joined the school, where my elder brother was teaching. While I was teaching French, German and Music, I passed another examination.

For some time I was a translator at the General Post Office under the American Government. There I got married to Mr. Higgings, who was a member of the Theosophical Society. After my husband’s death, I decided to devote my full time for the cause of mankind. As Madam Blavataky was engaged in education activities in Ceylon. I communicated to her my desire to join with her in the mission she was embarked upon.

I observed that Caylonese girls are committed to their education. I emphasized the need to teach them Buddhism, for the advancement of the younger generation.

You must progress along the path of success, whilst being faithful to your religion. You must respect old customs and traditions. Give up your Western costumes and adapt the national dress."

After 33 years of devotion to the school, Mrs. Higgings passed away on July 19, 1926, while Mr. William de Abrew rendered a yeoman service in his capacity as the first manager of the school, till his death in 1941.

The students of this College involve themselves in many cultural activities and have won awards at inter-school, national and international levels.

The standard, quality and success of a school depends primarily on the results of public examinations. In this respect, too, this college is at the top. This college presents her students for the Grade 5 Scholarship Examination and each year the number qualifying for scholarships have increased. The results of the other examinations also are the same.

This institution has now progressed to the international level.

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