“Nisi dominus frustra” – No amount of human effort will bring success, without the blessings of God
A journey through Quadrangles in search of the history of our education…..starting from Galle
Galle, the historic seaport city in the south of Sri Lanka has been a world renown sea trading hub long before the
arrival of Portuguese in 1505. That too due to an accident as a ship carrying Portuguese sailors led by Don Lorenzo de Almeida, son of Francesco de Almeida, landed in Galle after they were blown off course due to a heavy storm. They went on to build the first fortification in Galle on a cliff, extending out into the sea where it was called the Swart Bastion or the Black Fort. This Portuguese fortress was captured by the Dutch on 13th of March 1640 after what is called the fiercest battle which the Dutch fought in Sri Lanka. The Dutch went on to expand this small fortress significantly according to their distinct architectural style. Galle became their initial administrative capital in the island.
On 23rd of February 1796 the 70th Regiment of the British Forces in Ceylon, led by Captain Locklan Macwary, sieged the control of Galle without a fight. English made Galle the centre of administration of the Southern Province whilst Galle Fort became a buzzling city or a township during the British occupancy in Sri Lanka. However, they preserved the old charm or Dutch Architecture in the Fort and surrounding areas with very little modifications being done, including to the Fortress itself, other than the construction of the entrance on the Esplanade side. Port of Galle became the main harbour in the Island during the British ruling until the building of the Colombo port. This beautiful city, with a heritage of Portuguese, Dutch and English architecture and Sinhala, Muslim, Tamil and Burgher cultures have evolved into a dynamic city, currently, a major tourist attraction and its Old Town and Fort are now a World Heritage site under UNESCO.
There lies the story of Richmond; Richmond College Galle, one of the leading Schools in the country with a rich history like the city. The establishment of this great institution in the South of Sri Lanka is quite intriguing and has been influenced by the Missionaries, Natives and Nationalists. It has weathered the storms, standing tall in its grandeur on a hillock. As per College records, it is documented the College was founded in 1876. However, as per records of its founder the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka (which began under the Ceylon Wesleyan Methodist Mission affiliated to the Methodist Church of Great Britain and was established as an independent autonomous body in 1963 as Methodist Church of Ceylon), schools establishment can be traced back to 1814 making Richmond College the Oldest School to be established in Sri Lanka.
According to records of Methodist Church, the first Methodist Missionaries led by the Rev. Dr. Thomas Coke set sail from England on 30th December 1813 to reach Ceylon. However, they were struck with tragedy with the death of the Rev. Dr Coke on his voyage to Ceylon. Undaunted by this setback, the Missionaries, which included mostly young preachers continued on their journey and reached Ceylon on 29th June 1814.
They arrived in Galle harbour but as it was the norm then, they had to anchor their ship about 2 to 3 miles out of harbour and they were put in two boats sent by the harbour master Gibson who was on the alert for the arrival of the missionaries. As per records, there were two passengers with luggage in one boat and the other three of the passengers in the other boat. The boat with the two passengers was swept away due to the heavy tide and winds and they landed in Weligama on early 30th morning. Later they were safely brought to Galle with the assistance of alerted villagers, while the other boat with rest of the passengers reached the Galle harbour safely.
They had their first worship service at the Old Dutch Church at Galle Fort on 3rd of July 1814, which is the first official service the Methodist Missionaries conducted in Ceylon. Governor Brownrigg meanwhile invited these missionaries to start schools for native Ceylonese, which they gladly accepted. So instead of going around preaching or opening up churches, they decided to travel around and open schools across the Island.
They had a conference on the 11th of July and decided by ballot, the stations where they were to serve in Ceylon. Rev. Benjamin Clough (1791-1853) was elected to take charge of the Galle Station.
As per Rev. Benjamin Clough’s journal archived in the School of African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London (as recorded on 25th July 1814) it is stated that on 25th July 1814
“the Maha Mudaliyar Don Abraham Dias Abeysinha Amarasekere came in full regalia of a Mudaliyar to the Government House earlier in the day on 25th July 1814 and offered his deceased brother’s residence ‘Doornberg’ to him. Having inspected the premises and rejoicing, Rev. Clough moved to the new dwellings on the same day”.
According to Mission records, he started the school immediately as requested by the Maha Mudaliyar, with five children and one adult that was the Mudaliyar himself. They started this schools as an English School named ‘The Galle School’ later came to be known also as Galle Boys’ School or as Galle English School. This is the precursor to Richmond College Galle, which began from a mansion in Galle (Doornberg) with six students of the same family and becoming arguably Sri Lanka’s oldest school in the established education sector and the first Wesleyan Methodist School to be established in Asia.
Rev. James Lynch and Rev. Thomas Hall Squance left Galle on 16th July and reached Jaffna on 11th August. The Rev. William Ault left Galle on 31st July, reached Batticaloa on 8th August, and started the ‘Batticaloa School’ on 29th August known later as Methodist Central College (according to Methodist Church records he had started the school in October although it is claimed by the school that he started it on 29th August), which soon ceased to function with the death of the Rev. Ault in 1815 but later revived in 1816 by Rev. Elijah Jackson.
Rev. George Erskine, who left Galle on 31st July, reached Matara a couple of days later, and started a school on 8th August. After about nine months, Rev Erskine returned to Galle abandoning the school having fallen sick. Later in 1816, Rev. John Callaway travelled to Matara and revived the school.
Rev. Erskine after returning from Matara in 1815 purchased a large vacant house in Galle Fort and moved the Galle School from Doornberg to the building in Galle Fort.
Within a few years, the school had more than 40 students learning English and the principles of Wesleyan Methodism. By 1837 the school had 60 boys and 15 girls and the school was referred as the ‘Galle Fort English School’ according to Methodist Missionary records. The school continued in Galle Fort for a number of years until it merged with the second Wesleyan English School in Magalla School in 1843 making room for the first female school established by the Ceylon Wesleyan mission in 1842 by the Rev. Bridgnel. The estate bought by Rev. Erskine to house the Galle school is today a part of the Southland Girls’ College, Galle (their main hall).
In 1815, the government transferred the Colombo Magistrate and his interpreter Muhandiram L. E. Pereira to Negombo. Rev. Clough had asked Muhandiram Pereira to start a Sabbath School – a Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School in Negombo if he could and had given several religious books to assist him. Rev. Clough had his doubts about starting a Methodist school in Negombo, as it was a known Catholic enclave. In 1816 when Rev. Clough visited Negombo on inspection, he found that there were many eager children interested in learning from Muhandiram Pereira and he started a day school for boys and Girls in Negombo, which is today known as Newstead College.
Rev. James Lynch and Rev. Thomas Hall Squance started the ‘Jaffna School’ later to be named the Jaffna Central College in 1814. Before long, they too fell sick and returned to Galle, but revived in 1817. Wesleyan Mission started a School in Point Pedro in 1818, which is currently known as the Hartley College.
In August 1817, subsequent to a discussion at the District Meeting in Colombo in 1816, the second Wesleyan English School, the first Anglo vernacular and general vernacular schools started in Galle introducing vernacular and Anglo-vernacular education.
The Methodist Mission and Missionaries referred to the schools in the Galle circuit, as the ‘The Galle School’ and the school in Fort as the parent school and other Wesleyan Mission schools in Galle were branch or feeder schools of the parent school. The vernacular branch school in Unawatuna followed by the first Anglo-vernacular branch school in Minuwangoda all opened in 1817. In the same year, the second Wesleyan English School started in Circular Road, Mágálla (Maha Galla).
‘The Galle School’ or ‘The Galle English School’ catered mainly to the Europeans and children of aristocratic families in Galle. The vernacular branch schools were started mainly due to widespread socio-economic issues and on the requests of natives. The English classes were mainly for the benefit of the Europeans and Burghers living in Galle and for the upper class Sinhalese families. The Galle School was referred to by various names, The Galle School, The Galle English School, Galle Fort School and Wesleyan Boys School etc. In Colonial Government records the school is referred as the ‘Boys’ School Galle’.
In 1842, the Rev Brignell started the first Female school in Galle Fort. To make way for the females the Galle Fort School merged with the Second English School in Mágálla that was started in 1817. Thus, both English Schools became one single English School referred to as the Mágálla School. When Rev McKinney started the second English school in the Galle station, he established a department for females and a vernacular department for the natives. The Methodist missionaries bought the property at Kumbalwella presently known as Richmond Hill, then known as Sillery’s Hill or Mount Seymour in 1857. The Minuwangoda Anglo-vernacular School, the female branch in Mágálla and several other vernacular schools were moved to the hill in 1858 on a directive from the Missionary Society in London. The head of the school was the Superintendent Missionary and the school did not have a principal until they became Superior Schools. After upgrading to a Superior School an ‘Education Missionary’ took over as a Principal.
Superintendents and heads of Richmond Institution – Richmond Hill Anglo-Vernacular School (Prior to the upgrading of ‘Galle English School’ 1859-1876):
- Rev.John Scott (1860 – 1864)
- Rev.George Baugh (1864 – 1866)
- Rev.Thomas Roberts (1866 – 1869)
- Rev.James Nicholson (1867 – 1875)
- Rev.George Baugh (1875 – 1877)
Then in 1876, the Galle English School in Mágálla and the Richmond Hill Anglo-vernacular schools were merged. The Galle School or the Galle English School was renamed the Galle High School on 1st May 1876 after the upgrading; the Rev Samuel Langdon was tasked with developing the Galle High School and appointed as her first Principal. Matriculation classes were started in 1877 and two students entered the Medical school while several others sat for the Calcutta University entrance. In 1882, Rev Wilkins came to Galle replacing Rev Samuel Hill who had taken over from Rev Langdon on his transfer to Kandy in 1879. On a suggestion made by Rev Hill at the district meeting, the Galle High School was renamed as Richmond College, Galle.
As per present records of Richmond College, the school credits Rev. George Baugh as its founder and Rev. Samuel Langdon as its first principal (1876) both served under the Methodist Mission. As per records of the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka it is evident, after the merger in 1876 and renamed as ‘Galle High School’, there were many students and staff who came along from those schools that were merged at Richmond Hill and Mágálla . School also confirms that staff of 8 with 104 pupils were in attendance in 1876. It is also pertinent to note that students of Richmond (Galle High School) also sat for University entrance examinations in early as 1877. In the very same year first College magazine was published and the English Literary Union was formed and cricket was introduced as a sport. However, now known as ‘Lover’s Quarrel’ the Richmond – Mahinda Cricket Big Match was played for the first time in 1905, 28 years after the sport was introduced to College. In the very first big match the two principals, Rev. Darrell of Richmond College and Mr. F. L. Woodward of Mahinda College, officiated as umpires. Richmond College Old Boys’ Association was formed in 1894 under Rev. Hartley who was the principal of the school at that time. Richmond College Cadet Corps was also formed in the same year.
The rapid development of School post 1876 and also functioning of it as a fully-fledged educational institution highlights the fact the school have had students and staff and it has been in operation for some time. Whereas many schools started at that time had minimum staff and students population and they also struggled to function fully leave alone carve a name for the school for education in its formative years. This brings into question the exact beginning of school as many compelling reasons lead us to believe that school has been in existent before 1876. For which the answers are found within the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka and in a recently published book by an Old Richmondite Ananda Dias Jayasinha called ‘Forgotten History of Richmond’ which contains detailed accounts and references. It is quite perplexing to note why the school does not recognise its earlier beginning, which we believe may be due to valid reason known to the school or perhaps for the complexed nature of its early beginning (1814, according to the Methodist Church) which was filled with mergers, relocation of schools, being referred under different names etc. may have made it difficult to identify the roots. However, a more compelling and a valid reason appears to be the wrong interpretation of the missionary notes as we found. Firstly, rationally could it be that the missionaries having landed in Galle in 1814 and establishing their mission in Galle would wait 62 years until 1876 to start a school? Secondly, an article contributed by the Rev W J T Small in 1926 to the college magazine reiterates that the Galle High School grew out of the Rev Rippon’s Anglo vernacular school . Nevertheless, whilst we recognize the records of Methodist Church of Sri Lanka to be factual as this includes the log book entries, journals and correspondences of the missionaries with the missions in Sri Lanka and England, we sincerely hope school will be able to carry out its own independent research into this matter to establish its early beginning.
The last of the missionary principals left Richmond in 1940 at a time Ceylon was reforming its free education, which was pioneered by then Minister of Education an eminent Old Richmondite Dr. C.W.W.Kannangara. Mr. E. R. de Silva, an old boy of Richmond College became the first Ceylonese principal of the school. In 1962 under the then government rule of taking over Private Schools or Mission Schools and turn them into state managed schools, Richmond College too was nationalized ending the reigns of the school by Methodist Church for almost 150 years. Mr. D. G. Welikala was appointed the first principal of Richmond College under state management becoming the first Buddhist Principal of the School. Richmond College was named as a National School in 1986 and the School presently has more than 4300 students with a staff of around 180. Richmond College has been blessed to see, five out of eight Sri Lankan Principals who administered the College so far since 1940 are being Old Richmondites. They are Mr. E. R. de Silva, Mr. Shelton Wirasinghe, Mr. S. Kariyawasam, Mr. B. Suriarachchi, and Mr. S. Ileperuma . Thus enabling Richmond to continue her traditions at the school.
Today Richmond College is one of the leading schools in Sri Lanka equipped with all facilities, geared to provide all rounded education for students in down south. School also carved a name for itself both in education and extracurricular activities, especially in Cricket where Richmond has achieved a rapid success in the recent past with Champion teams turning out and some going on to represent and lead junior national sides and senior Sri Lanka Cricket team. School also being well supported by, Richmond College Galle OBA and Colombo its branch the Old Boys Union and its overseas branches and many affiliated batch groups and Sports bodies.
As we continue our journey through Quadrangles in search of history of education, we would like to place on record our heartfelt gratitude to founding missionaries, Methodist Church of Sri Lanka, all successive principals of Richmond College including the present Principal Mr. Sampath Weragoda, former and current staff of Richmond College, all Richmondites past and present for their untiring efforts and unstinted commitment to make Richmond College one of the best in Sri Lanka. True to their College Anthem ‘All for Richmond, none for self, shall be ever our cry’ Richmondites continue to serve their alma mater proudly and loyally. Here’s wishing them and Richmond College well for many centuries to come!
Here’s video of the present day Richmond College Galle https://youtu.be/d8igUi-TiXg
 Missionary Register of 1816 Pages 111 and 112. Extracts of Rev Benjamin Clough’s letter to the Missionary Society
 Jayasinha, Anada Dias. (2014) Forgotten History of Richmond College