By Milinda Hettiarachchi
The College of St Thomas the Apostle was founded at Mutwal by Dr James Chapman, the first Anglican Bishop of Colombo, who had been educated at Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge. The foundation stone was laid on St Thomas’ Day, December 21, 1849, and declared open on February 3, 1851 in Mutwal. The college motto Esto Perpetua and the college colours of blue, black and blue are Etonian legends, and the naming of forms and classes at STC were set to be based on the prestigious English Public School pattern. In 1886, the STC Mt Lavinia Old Boys Association was formed, and it is the oldest OBA in the world, untarnished and more than 125 years old now. After a stay of 66 years at Mutwal, the first term of 1918 heralded the switch of S. Thomas’ to Mt Lavinia. In 1924, the Big Club Grounds was declared open by Warden McPherson as a memorial to those who sacrificed their lives in World War I. The Small Club Ground were laid in 1928, and in the same year by an Act of Parliament the Board of Governors was founded and incorporated. In 1932, Canon R S de Saram the sub warden was elevated as the warden in Mt Lavinia at a relatively young age, having had a distinguished record at Keble and Cuddesdon colleges, Oxford. He is remembered for the high levels of discipline that he strictly maintained, apart from all the development at Mt Lavinia in many fields. His “spare the rod and spoil the child” philosophy (frowned on by modern reformists), was appreciated by the Old Thomians, who revere him even today.
Speaking at the official opening of De Saram Rd, Mt Lavinia, in the mid-1940s, a contemporary of the warden, State Councillor, Parliamentary Secretary and Chairman of the Urban Council the late Simon Abeywickrama said that they aptly named the road after Warden de Saram because like the warden, it was “dead straight”. Warden de Saram once remarked at a big match to a VVIP that Thomians were “never dead till they are buried” when STC was in a tight spot. True to his wisdom, S. Thomas’ come out of it with flying colours at the end. Canon de Saram placed great values on Thomian discipline and character than on mere cleverness.
World War II disrupted life at S. Thomas’ and the school had to vacate the premises on April 9, 1942, to make way for the 35th British General Hospital for Armed Services in the college premises. Notably, old Thomian Lt Basil Horsefall was awarded the highest recognition with the Victoria Cross in 1918 for his bravery in World War I. The Thomian grit, guts and glory are historical and of international repute.
STC at Gurutalawa was born on 12th May, 1942, with the revered Dr R L Hayman as the headmaster. STC Mt Lavinia was relocated in Guru during World War II. The life and time spent by Dr Hayman at Gurutalawa from 1942 to 1963 are exceptional. He spent his personal wealth to establish the school and bequeathed his wealth to Guru at the end. He bestrode the affairs of the school like a colossus. Dr Hayman was the longest-standing sub warden at STC Mount from 1937 to 1957 and the headmaster at STC Gurutalawa during that period as well which is unique. One cannot forget genial Mrs Mary Hayman who carried high standards as the highly respected sick room matron. Despite the rivalry, Royal and STC have often contributed to each other’s growth. In April 1916, Royalist Edmund de Livera wrote the five verses of the present Thomian college song that was set to the music by Warden Stone. In lighter vein, he might have been inspired seeing the grandeur at STC! The Gurutalawa Estate was donated by Leslie de Saram a Royalist to build the school. The Thomian fraternity is grateful to Mr Leslie de Saram (a relative of Warden De Saram) and Mr Edmund de Livera.
There was no distinction between Mt Lavinia and Gurutalawa as said by Warden de Saram. In 1947, he addressed the Education Department of Ceylon and later the STCML OBA AGM that both STC Mount and STC at Gurutalawa was to be considered one and the same school. Warden C H Davidson in verse quoting Two Voices by Wordsworth did refer to “the voice from the sea and the voice from the mountains – two great voices”, with reference to Mount Lavinia and Gurutalawa. The college shifted back to Mount again after 1945, with the conclusion of the war and genial Dr Hayman assisted again. The former Five Courts was designed and donated by Dr Hayman and the STC Mount swimming pool donated by him was one of the earliest in Ceylon. He regularly donated his personal family wealth to STC for development and supposedly land as well. When will we see such rare human beings again? In 1946 all but two players in the Thomian team were from STC Gurutalawa and the post-war Thomian cricket captains in 1947, ’48 and ’49 were from Gurutalawa. In 1943, the last wicket partnership for the Royal-Thomian match was broken with a Gurutalawa connection and in 1945 a Gurutalawa bowler, trained by the coach Rev A J Foster (later headmaster), took a hat-trick in the encounter. There have been many cricketers produced by STC at Guru for Mount apart from other sportsmen and scholars too. The list is endless. STC, despite the new surroundings and colder climatic conditions in Gurutalawa, adapted and performed well. The unique Obstacle Course initiated by Dr Hayman made tough Thomians on a tougher terrain. It is no surprise that the “Thomian Grit” prevails at crucial times from the inception, well-known, respected and feared by the Royalists in particular, over many decades!
The “Thomianness” is the resilience of the high quality value for which it stands and for which we are renowned and of which forever we have reasons to be justifiably proud.
Esto Perpetua – for all we have and are…
Writers Note: The above article is compiled from interesting notes, randomly adopted from the History of S.Thomas’ College stated by distinguished personalities.