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Articles | Royal College | Souvenir - 2007

A brief history of Royal College

Rev. Joseph Henry Marsh (Snr) who was the Colonial Chaplain of St. Paul's Church started a private academy with 20 students, mainly from the upper class Burgher community in the Church premises in early January 1835. The students of this area called the private academy the "Hill Street Academy" as it was situated at Hill Street, Pettah (now a small chapel of St. Paul has been built to mark the site of the former church). After a few months, residents of Colombo noticed the good work done at the private academy and they petitioned the Governor to establish a school to be operated by the government for young men to gain a good education. They also requested him that Rev. Joseph Marsh should be appointed as the Head Master of the school. The Governor of Ceylon His Excellency Sir Robet Wilmot Horton acceded to both requests of the citizens and converted Marsh's private academy to a government school, which was named "Colombo Academy" on 4th of January 1836. Rev. Joseph March was appointed as the Head Master of the School and he continued his duties till 1838. The "Colombo Academy" was the first public school in Ceylon. In January 1836, the school was shifted to a bungalow, which was the intersection of the Moor Street and Messenger Street, Pettah (This bungalow is not existent at present and has been replaced with high rise flats). The upstairs served as Rev. Marsh's bungalow and rest of the building as the school, and after a few months, in July 1836 the school was moved to San Sebastian Hill, Pettah, it was a stable location for the school for more than 75 years before being shifted to Thurstan Road (at present these buildings are used by the Police Mounted Division, Colombo)' During the period of Rev. Dr. Barcroft Boake the school's name was changed to Colombo Academy and Queen's College in 1859 and after a much debate it was renamed Colombo Academy in 1869. On his retirement, he was offered a Silver tea pot by his grateful pupils but he left the tea pot to the school and is now in the custody of the Royal College Principal, also in his will he left 250 and it was used to build the College main gates which are known as "Boake Memorial Gates".

Principal George Todd introduced College Colours Royal Blue and Gold" in 1877 and the school motto "DISCE AUT DISCEDE" was first mentioned. The biggest milestone in the history was changing the name of the school. Her Majesty Queen Victoria acknowledged the school and gave permission to bear the name Royal College by a request from the Principal J. B. Cull in 1881. This was the only school in the world after Eton and Harrow, the two leading schools in England to be acknowledged by a Queen of England. The Gasette Notification giving Her Majesty Queen Victoria's approval to change the name of the school was appeared on 31 st of July 1881. "The Colombo Academy" became "Royal College" on 1st of August 1881. During the period of Principal Charles Hartley, the government made land available for a new building at Thurstan Road, Colombo. The foundation stone was laid by the Governor of Ceylon His Excellency Sir Henry McCallum on 31st of May 1911. When the constructions were completed the school was trnsferred to the new building on 27thy of August 1913 (building are now used by the University of Colombo). The school roll was 152 at that time. Principal Hartley introduced the house system in 1918. The names of the houses were Cinnamon Gardens, Colpetty, Bambalapitiya North and Bambalapitiya South. After a few years, plans for a new Royal College were drawn up. Construction of the buildings was commenced at Reid Avenue in August 1919. The Governor of Ceylon His Excellency Sir Williams Manning formally declared open the new buildings on 10th of October 1923 (which is our present premises). The foundation stone originally laid by the Governor Sir Robert Wilmot Horton to the Colombo Academy at San Sebastian Hill in 1836, has adorned the wall at the entrance of the Royal College main building since 1922. Principal Maj. H. L. Reed reorganized the house system in 1921 replacing the old names to Marsh, Boake, Harward and Hartley, named after the greatest Principals and in addition to above names Reed House was added to the house system in 1970 on behalf of the immense service he has done for the college.

Principal Reed introduced the new College Crest in 1922. It was a shield with an Elephant and a palm tree at the centre surrounded by the school motto "Disce Aut Discede" and the laurel wreath. The British Crown was placed on top of a scroll with a wording of salutation "Floreat" which means, "May it blossom" and initials RC appearing at the bottom of the shield. He also composed the College Song "School of our Fathers" in 1927. Principal L. H. W. Sampson introduced the College Flag with Crest to the school. He was the Principal at Royal's centenary year in 1935. E. L. Bradby assumed duties as the Principal during the time of World War II. With the bombing of Colombo by the Japanese in 1942, orders from the British army to vacate the school for the building to use as a military hospital and later as army barracks. The school was first moved to our old premises at Thurstan Road and then moved to four bungalows at Turret Road in 1943 (now Dharmapala Mawatha). The names of the bungalows were Carlton Lodge, Turret House, Sudharshana and Firdoshi. Principal Bradby started the Bandarawela branch of Royal College in 1942. It was known as "GLENDALE". At the end of World War II, all were transported back to Reid Avenue by the Principal J. C. A. Corea on 18th of May 1946. However the branch school was continued for a period of 3 more years and was closed in 1948 (it is now the home of Bandarawela Maha Vidyalaya). A small change in the College Crest was done in 1956. That is the substitutions of the Crown of the Kings of Kandy in place of the Crown of British monarch. Mr. S. J. D. E Dissanayake and Mr. W. A. Wickramasena, who were the staff members of the school composed in 1968 by the same combination. In August 1977 the Royal Junior School and Royal College were amalgamated as one school under Principal L. D. H. Peiris. The population was then increased to nearly 6700 students. Royal College celebrated its 150th Anniversary in 1985 while C. T. M. Fernando as the Principal College being the oldest public in the country has now come a long way having a proud history and unique traditions of 172 years.

Lasal Jayatillake

Prefect 2006/2007