Richmond College - the oldest school

established by the Methodist Mission in Sri Lanka


by Ananda Dias-Jayasinha

Richmond College, Galle is built on a solid foundation of educational experience, deeply rooted traditions, and a strong commitment to quality and excellence of almost two centuries.

The maritime provinces of Sri Lanka were under British rule by 1814 and ceded to the crown on 2nd March, 1815. Before the country became a British Colony it was first ruled by the Portuguese and then by the Dutch. Although all three colonial powers were Christians their Christianity had different flavours. The Portuguese were Roman Catholics whilst the Dutch were Protestants. The British were mainly Anglicans, Wesleyan Methodists and other splintered societies of the Church of England.

In the year 1813 in the month of December seven Wesleyan Methodist Missionaries left the shores of England from Portsmouth in two ships headed to Ceylon and India with the express purpose of establishing Wesleyan Methodism in Ceylon. The seven Missionaries namely, Messers Benjamin Clough, Thomas Hall Squance, James Lynch, William Ault and George Erskine and William Harvard were headed by Dr. Thomas Coke the ‘Father of Methodist Missions’.

The two ships that they travelled in reached the Galle Port on 29th June. Rev. Benjamin Clough, the Rev. Thomas Hall Squance, and the Rev. James Lynch came ashore and Mr. W. C. Gibson, the then master-attendant, was the first person to welcome them. The other two Missionaries Rev. William Ault and the Rev.George Erskine who remained in their ship a little longer landed around 2:00 AM in Weligama on 30th June and were united with the other Missionaries.The commandant of Galle was Lord Molesworth who had received instructions from the Governor of Ceylon General Sir Brownrigg to prepare the Government House to accommodate the Missionaries.

Sir Brownrigg sent one of the Colonial Chaplains, Reverend George Bisset to meet the party. Rev. Bisset informed the Missionaries that the Governor had suggested that they occupy Jaffna, Mannar, Batticaloa, Galle, and Matara to establish schools to teach English.

The suggestion was agreed to by the Missionaries. On 14th July 1814, Messrs. Lynch and Squance left Galle to Jaffna, and Mr. Ault left to Batticaloa having travelled for eight days. Rev. Benjamin Clough remain in Galle and was busy scouting for a location to start a school.

He had a visit from Mr. Don Abraham Dias Abeyesinhe Amarasekara, the Maha, or Great Mudliyar, of Galle and he offered the library of the former Maha Mudliyar Mr.A. E. Gunaratne. The Rev. Clough happily accepted the offer and started the school in the premises of Ata Pattu Walauwwa of Dickson Road, Galle.

The ‘Jubilee Memorials of South Ceylon’ by Rev. Spence Hardy is considered by the Wesleyan Methodist Mission and historians as a historical narrative of the Methodist Mission during the period between 1814 and 1864. Rev. Hardy was the Chairman of the South Ceylon circuit and he says "The first school established in the island, by the mission, was at Galle". It is also the oldest Methodist Mission School in Asia. Mission records show that the second school established in Batticaloa was during early parts of August 1814. Thus apart from these two schools no other Mission schools were started in 1814. All other Methodist Mission schools were established later although several schools claim different years as their starting year.

The first school was an elementary school at the start and taught English, Arithmetic and scripture. As more and more students sought tuition from Rev. Clough several other schools were started in Galle.

Rev. Joseph Rippon took over the Galle affairs in 1850. Rev. Rippon from the outset sought to establish a college or a superior school in Galle. With the school operating from several locations it was not possible to have a superior school. Past quarterly journals of the

Methodist Mission show that in his correspondence reference being made to the school in Galle as an English Anglo-vernacular school. He was not happy with this situation as those who desired a higher education would leave the school to other schools.

In 1857 he found an ideal place to commence his dream school. It is said that it was his wish to have an industrial school, a school for boys and girls and a theological institution.

With this in mind and with great foresight he persuaded the mission in England to purchase the abandoned Seymour’s or Sillary’s Hill in Kumbalwella.

It was purchased by Dr. Robert Seymour Croxton Sillery, M.D. on a Crown grant in 1839 from the English Government with a view to have a farm and a coconut estate.

Mr. Rippon had his theological training at Richmond College in Surrey. Either out of love for his old College or because of the scenic splendour of the local counterpart, he renamed this place Richmond Hill – the beginning of the name Richmond in Galle. All the Methodist Mission schools in Galle including the one at Dickson Road were moved to the hill.

Rev. Rippon chose the highest point on the hill, got it levelled and had a house built on it. The treacherous foot paths gave way to a winding cart road.

Mr. Rippon indulged the hope that he would be able to establish an Industrial School and farm, and at the same time a High School for the boarding and educating of the sons of native headmen and respectable Burghers. It was also to be a Training College for school masters, catechists and native ministers.

In 1864 the Rev. George Baugh succeeded Mr. Rippon. Almost from the beginning he too pursued the idea of establishing a "superior" English School on Richmond Hill. Mr. Baugh’s reasons were mainly that the standard of English of the local Theological students and local ministers were going to waste. For these reasons he and his brethren made frequent representations to the Foreign Missions Committee of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in England about the necessity for such a school. As a result about "the desired school of a superior class in Point de Galle," the Committee in England resolved that, the establishment of such a school was a measure of the highest importance to the interest of the Mission in South Ceylon, and was delayed only by the lack of necessary funds. The latter’s application was however successful, and in 1875 the Galle school was sanctioned.

Among the most important business transacted at the meeting of missionaries of South Ceylon in the early months of 1876 in Colombo, was the recent development of the work in Galle. Owing to the zealous and persevering applications of Mr. Baugh the authorities in England had decided on the establishment of a Superior School for boys at Galle. The meeting also appointed the Rev. Samuel Langdon as the Principal of the school; thus in 1876 the former first Anglo-vernacular school was upgraded to "Galle High School". In 1882 the school was renamed Richmond College.

When Rev. Baugh was pursuing the idea of establishing a superior boy’s school he separated the girls section in 1871 and named it the "Whitfield Road Girl’s School". The Sabbath school by the same name in Liverpool, England was collecting money and sending it to Rev. Baugh to be applied towards women education. This school in Galle was upgraded to a superior status along with the upgrading of the Anglo-Vernacular school in 1876 and renamed Rippon Girls School. This girl’s school too has a long history as a part of the first school although the exact date when girls were enrolled is not known.

Richmond College has been taking 1876 as her year of birth which is incorrect. In 1876 it was Galle High School and it is in 1882 that it was renamed Richmond College.

The school has been known by the current name for 130 years, as the Galle High School for 6 years and as the Anglo-Vernacular school, Richmond Hill Institution, Wesleyan Boys School and various other names for another 62 years. The school is completing 198 years of existence in July this year.

Richmond has produced several notable old boys over the years. The present President, the Speaker of the House and their father all studied at Richmond. Their maternal grandfather too studied at the former school. Richmond produced the first Prime Minister from the Southern Province and also several parliamentarians. The father of free education in Sri Lanka too is a product of the College. Richmond can be proud of the fact that the school has given the country several judicial officers including Superior court judges and a Chief Justice, an internationally renowned legal personality of the United Nation, Diplomats, many eminent male and female doctors, engineers, educationists, several international athletes, Test cricketers and other sportsmen.

In the year 2014 Richmond along with the Methodist Mission and the Methodist Central School in Batticaloa will be completing 200 years.

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