We will learn of books and men and learn to play the game


When the British took over the island in 1796, Colombo had a population of 4,700. In the city of Colombo, there were horse driven carriages, bullock carts and rickshaws. This was a time when ladies wore long gowns and had feathered hats. Most of the gentlemen had long whiskers and top hats. There were no established educational institutions during this era. Colombo was a hub of activity with trade, commerce and many social events. Cinnamon Gardens might have been a mere urban forest.

A very fast journey in a ship from London to Galle via Cape of Good Hope took just five months. From Galle to Colombo it took only 12 hours!

In 1835, Rev. Joseph Marsh, a 32-year-old Scotsman who was the acting Colonial Chaplain of St. Paul’s Church, Wolfendhal, Colombo, started a private school in the back verandah of the Church with 20 pupils. It was called "Hill Street Academy".

On a petition submitted by influential Burghers of Colombo, calling upon more boys to have English education, the then Governor, Sir Wilmot Horton converted this school to "Colombo Academy" in January 1836. This school was in an upstair house at Messenger Street for a short time and was shifted to San Sebastian Hill in July 1836.

By 1837, the school became the talk of the little town of Colombo. The Lower school had 72 boys and the Upper school had 31. The first Public Examination in the country was held on the 29th of June 1837 at "Colombo Academy" San Sebastian Hill.

Rev. Marsh continued to be the Headmaster of this school till 1838, when there were 168 students, and two other Masters. But feeble health forced him to go on leave. In 1839, on his way to England, he died at sea. Young Brooke Bailey was appointed the Acting Head Master for six months.

Thereafter, the Governor appointed Rev. J.F. Haslam the first Principal of the "Colombo Academy". Till then he was the Principal of the Church Missionary Society in Cotta. In 1940, Rev. J.F. Haslam resigned as the Cotta Institute wanted him back. Again young Brooke Bailey and Rev. Andrew Kessen took charge as Joint Head Masters.

In 1842, Rev. Dr Barcroft Boake, an Irishman and the son-in-law of Rev. Joseph Marsh became the Principal. He was always clad in a clergyman’s cassock, sporting side whiskers projecting below his jaw. The school roll was 186. In 1851, the Schools’ Commission recommended to the Governor the closing of the "Colombo Academy". At this stage, two petitions were sent to the Governor by the Burghers and the Sinhalese led by the distinguished old boy Richard Morgan (first Ceylonese Chief Justice) and Maha Mudliyar Ernest de Saram. Their point, "The value of Colombo Academy as an unsectarian institution with lesser fees than Bishop Chapman’s S. Thomas’ Collegiate School founded in 1851" saved the Colombo Academy.

This was possibly the first of the many subsequent occasions of which distinguished old boys rallied round to repay the school, the debt they owed.

Rev. Dr. Barcroft Boake left for Australia after 28 years of service. Mr. George Todd was the next Principal. He taught a different class every day. During his time, the School Motto and School Colours were first mentioned. In 1876, Mr. Ashley Walker, a Cambridge Cricket Blue came from England as a Mathematics Master. He introduced Cricket on an organized scale. In 1878, Mr. J.B. Cull, stout and strongly built, red haired and red bearded, succeeded Todd. He was a strict disciplinarian. During his period, he introduced Science subjects into the curriculum.

In 1879, the inaugural Cricket match was played with S. Thomas’ College, Mutwal. Mr. Ashley Walker captained the Colombo Academy while Rev. S. J. Meyrick, a member of the staff played for S. Thomas’ This encounter is not considered the first match as Masters played for both sides.

Many Changes

In 1880, only the students took part and this first official encounter between the Colombo Academy and S. Thomas’ College, Mutwal was played at Galle Face Grounds, which is today the site of the Taj Samudra Hotel. The match commenced at 4.00 p.m. each day. The Beira Lake stretched up to the present railway line close to San Sebastian Hill and the two teams rowed across in boats to the Galle Face Grounds. In this first encounter Colombo Academy won by 62 runs.

In 1881, Principal J.B. Cull, with the approval of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, changed the name of the Colombo Academy to Royal College on the 1st of August 1881. In 1890, Mr. Joseph Henry Marsh, son of the first Principal Rev. Joseph Marsh was appointed Principal. During his time, in 1891, The Royal College Union was formed.

In 1892, Mr. John Henry Harward took over as the Principal. His period was called the "Golden Age" of Royal College. He started Literary Societies and the first College Magazine was launched. The first College Athletics meet was held in 1892. In 1902, the first lady teacher, Mrs. Grute was appointed. In 1903, Mr. Charles Hartley was appointed Principal. He noticed that the buildings at San Sebastian Hill were not suitable for the students. Even the rooms were insufficient to hold classes. After representations were made to the Governor, he agreed with the Principal that the School has to be taken to a new location.

On the 27th of August 1913, after 78 years at San Sebastian Hill, Principal Charles Hartley, along with 200 students occupied the new building at Thurstan Road (Now University of Sri Lanka).

In 1915, due to World War I and ethnic riots in Ceylon, the School roll went down to 71 pupils. During the same year, a committee recommended that Royal College Upper school be converted to a University College. But, due to the efforts by the RCU and a memorable speech in 1916 by Mr. Frederick Dornhorst, made the Governor Sir Robert Chalmers to conclude that Royal College should be retained and a separate University College be established.

In 1917, the students finally settled down in the peaceful, picturesque Cinnamon Gardens, a very quiet residential area. All the roads were lined with flamboyant trees full of flowers.

All Royalists of the present generation should specially remember two great Royalists, who defended the College in its darkest days. They were Sir Richard Morgan (1851) and Mr. Frederick Dornhorst, K.C. (1916). Sir Richard Morgan was one of the greatest Royalists of the very early days and the first Asian in Britan’s Far Eastern Empire to receive a Knighthood. Mr. Frederick Dornhorst is now remembered for the "Dornhorst Memorial Prize", which is awarded annually for the best all-round student. This award is the most coveted prize at Royal College.

In 1920, Major Harry Leslie Reed, who introduced the modern public school atmosphere, was appointed Principal. During Major Reed’s period, the first Royal-Trinity Rugby Encounter was played in 1920. Up to 1922, Royal College being a government institution used the emblem of the British Royal Coat of Arms - The Lion and the Unicorn. Major Reed changed it to a Shield with an elephant and a palm tree in the centre surrounded by the Motto and laurel wreaths. He introduced the Prefects and the House System. Major Reed composed the College song, which perhaps was his finest achievement. On the 10th of October 1923, Governor Sir William Manning declared open the present buildings at Reid Avenue. It was the beginning of a new life.

Mr. L.H.W. Sampson, the first Vice Principal at Royal, took over as the new Principal in 1932. He introduced Sinhala and Tamil Languages to the Curriculum. In 1935, the Centenary of the College was celebrated with a Dinner at the Galle Face Hotel and a carnival.

By now, 100 years after 1835, a steamship took only four weeks to reach Colombo from London.

In 1938, Mr. H.J. Wijesinghe assumed duties as the first Ceylonese Acting Principal. In 1939, after much effort by the RCU, Royal College Boarding House obtained "The Maligawa", opposite the school at Race Course Avenue.

In 1939, shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Mr. E.L. Bradby assumed duties as the Principal. School buildings were taken over by the British Army for a Military Hospital. The Upper 6th Form classes, laboratory and school functions were at the University premises for a short time. Forms 1 to 3 (80 students) were shifted to ‘Glendale’, Bandarawela during 1942 - 1945. Principal Bradby went to Bandarawela once a month to ensure that all was well. The main part of the school (465 students) was moved to four bungalows in Turret Road, with classrooms in Carlton Lodge and Turret House, office in Sudarshan House and the Science Block in Firdoshi House. Mr. E.L. Bradby will be well remembered for the "Bradby Shield" he presented for the annual Royal - Trinity Rugby Encounters (Colombo and Kandy) where the Trophy will be awarded to the team that has the highest aggregate of points in both matches. Mr. E.L. Bradby retired in 1945 to end a period of 111 years dedicated service by the British who guided Royal since 1835.

In 1946, Mr. J.C. Aelian Corea became the first Ceylonese and the first old Royalist to be the Principal of Royal College. He brought the students back to their old home at Reid Avenue in 1946 itself after four years of exile. Principal Corea saw the dawn of a new era in education in Ceylon with the implementation of the Free Education Scheme in 1947. In 1951, the two large East and West Wing Blocks of three floors were built. In 1954, Major H.L. Reed, the former Principal arrived in the island and visited his old school.

In 1954, Mr. Dudley K.G. de Silva was appointed Principal. He became the second Royalist to be the Principal of Royal College. Mr. Dudley de Silva is unique amongst Royal’s Principals in that he had six Masters on his staff, all of whom taught him at College between 1921 and 1927. He trained and conducted the College Choir. He showed great respect for all religions and formed four important societies. (Student Christian Movement, Buddhist Brotherhood, Islamic Society and Hindu Students’ Union). This ensured that the Royalists grew up in an atmosphere of religious tolerance, which was so important for their later life in our multi-religious society.

First Buddhist

In January 1967, Mr. Bogoda A. Premaratne was appointed Principal. He became the first Buddhist and the first non-old Royalist Ceylonese to be appointed Principal. The new Swimming Pool was opened in 1968. During the same year, the new College Song in Sinhala came into being. In 1970, Principal Premaratne honoured the person responsible for the House system by adding another House-Reed House.

Between 1971 and 1972, Mr. D.G. Welikala and Mr. D. J.N. Seneviratne served Royal College as Principals for short periods.

In 1972, Mr. L.D.H. Peiris was appointed Principal. During his tenure of office, there were vast changes in the School. In 1977, The Royal Junior School was amalgamated with Royal College. With this, the School Roll increased to nearly 7,000 pupils, with 260 teachers looking after them. Even with ever expanding administrative duties, he resisted the efforts to change the name of Royal College with the support of the RCU. Principal Peiris was a strict disciplinarian, but he never used the cane. His regime was another ‘Golden Era’ as the .College was supreme in both academic and sports achievements.

Mr. C. T. M. Fernando took over as Principal in January 1981. In July 1983, two former Principals, Mr. E.L. Bradby and Mr. J.C.A. Corea visited the College and they were also present at the Bradby Shield (Colombo Leg) Encounter.

From 1985 to 2010, Royal College students were nurtured by Mr B. Suriarachchi, Mr. S.H. Kumarasinghe, Mr. H.L.B. Gomes and by the present Principal Mr. H.A.U. Gunasekara.

Now, in 2010, a steamship or a cruiser will take only three weeks to reach Colombo from London while, a Jet will take around 11 hours.

Today, the School that started in 1835 in the back verandah of a Church in Wolfendhal with 20 students is situated in a 24-acre land area with a student population of 8,257. Two electorates, Colombo West and Borella share the College.

Students are divided into four sections. The Upper School, Upper Middle School, Middle School and the Primary School. In addition to the Senior Deputy Principal, each section is headed by a Deputy Principal, altogether there are 360 teachers and 185 classrooms.

The College has 24 Sports activities and students can make maximum use of the Swimming Pool, three Cricket Grounds, Tennis Courts, Basketball Court, Sports Complex, Scouts Den and the Rugby Football Grounds.

The 64 Clubs and Societies and the College Bands give the students every opportunity to pursue their interest to improve their skills.

The Royal College Union and the School Development Society have been closely linked with Royal College. The Sports Complex in 2001, The Loyalty Pledge in 2002, the first Edex Expo Exhibition in 2004 and the opening of the Skills Development, Career Guidance Centre and the Scouts Complex in 2005 were four important features which were inaugurated by the RCU.

Since 1880, the "Battle of the Blues" Encounter has been played every year and this series is the second oldest annual Cricket encounter in the world among the schools. Members of the two teams now come to the grounds in special coaches straight from their own College Hostels. The match is being played in a carnival atmosphere and all the old boys of both Colleges try their best to be present at the grounds to cheer their respective teams. Around 8,000 spectators (students included) had been present for all Battle of the Blues Encounters during the last 30 years. In 1979, for the Centenary encounter, a three-day match was played and thereafter, except in 1985, this new system had been in operation.

The Bradby Shield Rugby encounter had now become the most prestigious Rugby match in the country. After 2001, the Colombo Leg of this encounter was played at the Sports Complex where nearly 7,000 spectators could be accommodated.

Royal’s venture to discover new avenues under Mr. H.A.U. Gunasekara was recognized when Royal was selected as the best innovative school in the world by Microsoft Corporation in 2009 and secured the first place in the main list of Global Pathfinder Schools.

Under the guidance of the 24 Principals, when Royal College celebrates its 175 years of excellence and service to the nation having moulded men of all walks of life, let us pray that this great institution will continue in the ages to come.


animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...