La Martiniere Boys School

Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh – India)

There is probably no other building in Lucknow that exerts such a fascination over the viewer than the Constantia building which is the the central portion of the main building at the La Martiniere Boys College. Built by the 18th century French adventurer Claude Martin, it has withstood the ravages of time and its walls have witnessed death, destruction, earthquakes, floods, love, hope and tears. Through its hallowed portals have passed generations of students and staff who have all contributed to the legend that is ‘the Martiniere.’

Because of immense legal wrangles in the Calcutta High Court, Claude Martin’s will was not finally proved until 1840. Before that the Constantia building was used as a guest house for visiting Europeans. Constantia, was designed and built by Martin himself as his country residence. This building, constructed in an extraordinary mixture of styles, is striking and impressive. The site chosen is a lovely park which may excite the envy of any educational institution in the world. It stands on an artificial terrace over-looking what was once a lake; from the centre of which rises a solid fluted column with a Moorish cupola ‘the Lart’ approximately 125 feet high. Over the years, the Gumpti river has edged closer, necessitating the building of a river bund between the front terrace and ‘the Lart’.

The rooms in Constantia are decorated profusely in arabesques, bas reliefs and other ornamental works in the Italian style, many of them of great beauty. The external architecture is profusely crowned with casts of figures after the antique, and some in more modern fashion. The curved wings were added afterwards in accordance with Martin’s instructions. The famous 18th century potter Josiah Wedgewood was responsible for the plaster of Paris plaques decorating the library and chapel. The plaques depict classical and mythological subjects. Severe earthquakes in 1803 and 1934 caused many statues to tumble from their pedestals. In later years the College has been the setting for a number of films including Kim and Shakespearewallah. The Indian Mutiny of 1857 or India’s First War of Independence saw the making of the Martinian military legend. For the first time in history, Britain called on schoolboys to assist in the military conflict-namely the defence of the Lucknow Residency. The names of eight staff members, sixty seven boys and one ensign (old boy) are inscribed on the ‘Roll of Honour, defence of the Residency 1857’ at La Martiniere Lucknow. The siege began on the 30th June 1857. Early in June, the Chief Commissioner of Oudh, Sir Henry Lawrence ordered the Martiniere be evacuated and for several days the boys travelled from the Residency to the College collecting provisions. The force within the Residency then consisted of British and Indian troops and civilian volunteers including a number of Anglo-Indians. The Martiniere contingent was commanded by the Principal, Mr. George Schilling. The Residency was under siege for eighty-six days, until relieved by Sir Colin Campbell in November 1857.

The role of the boys and masters of La Martiniere has been well documented in Chandan Mitra’s 1987 book titled Constant Glory. The Residency fortifications and defended houses were about a mile in circumference, and the Martiniere contingent along with a detachment of the 32nd Regiment, were garrisoned in a strongly built house containing tykhanas (cellars) and adjoining outhouses. The position became known as The Martiniere Post and was a mere thirty feet distant from Johannes House, held by the rebels, and as a consequence, was exposed to heavy shelling.
Apart from actual fighting, the boys performed a number of useful tasks within the Residency compound. Some ran messages to the hospital, watched over the sick and wounded, ground corn and manned the telegraph connecting the Residency to Alam Bagh; others were seconded to domestic duties in place of native servants who had absconded. The boys proved willing helpers and despite the many dangers, their casualties were surprisingly few. Two died of dysentery and two others were wounded in action. Their diet consisted of mutton and buffalo-head soup. On another occasion, a mine blew down the outer room of The Martiniere Post, but the boys bravely defended the breach and after several days of bitter fighting managed to drive off the enemy housed opposite their camp.

Major Gorman in his Great Exploits-The Siege of Lucknow writes that the Martiniere boys erected an amateur semaphore on the tower of the Residency from instructions given in a number of the Penny Encyclopaedia. The semaphore enabled General Outram to advise the commander of the relieving force Sir Colin Campbell ‘to give the city a wide berth’, avoiding the heavy enemy batteries on the direct road to the Residency. The fiercest fighting of the advance that followed was at the Martiniere College, strongly defended by the mutineers. Sir Colin dislodged them, occupied the college, setting up another semaphore on its roof to communicate with Outram. The Martiniere contingent took part in the secret evacuation of the Residency, and the rambling journey of six weeks across India which followed, until finally arriving by boat at Benares, where the College was temporarily established in bungalows and school routine recommenced.

Principal Schilling’s leadership was well rewarded. He became a Talukdar, or noble of Oudh, with an estate worth 30,000 pounds, thereby ensuring a comfortable retirement in England. The Martiniere contribution was officially recognised in Queen Victoria’s (1858) proclamation. Although the boys were all awarded the Mutiny medal, it was not until 1932 , following a request by the College, that the British Government recognised Martiniere`s role in 1857 by presenting it with Battle Honours – an honour held by no other educational institution in the British Empire. Bishop Cotton, made the following reference to the Martiniere action at St.Paul’s Cathedral, Calcutta on 28 July 1860: Public thanksgiving to Almighty God for deliverance from the sepoy revolt should take expression in the form of schools for the children of the Community that had stood so nobly by England in her hour of need and which shed its blood for kinsmen across the seas. Very little is known about the early years of the College. Existing records show that over 120 boys qualified for admission to the higher department of the Civil Engineering College at Roorkee in 1865. By 1900 the choir was being transported to and from church services at Christ Church Hazratgung in horse driven buses. On Founder’s Day the choir had to don Eton jackets and broad school ties reserved for such occasions. Significantly, in 1913 the four Houses were first given their names: Martin, Cornwallis, Hodson and Lyons. 1947 saw a change made in the curriculum by the dropping of Urdu as a compulsory subject and its replacement by Hindi.

Martinians have left their mark in many spheres of life. One of India’s foremost irrigation engineers in the earlier part of this century was named Joseph Smith. Joseph who passed out of the Lucknow Martiniere in 1894 led a distinguished career in civil engineering. He worked on leading canal projects of the day and his dedication and expertise earned him a knighthood in 1932. Another old Martinian named Hubert Bolst left his mark in a different way. He left the Boys College around 1889 and worked for the Oudh & Rohilkhand railway for many years retiring in 1925 as Assistant Traffic Superintendent. Hubert used to get together with several Old Martinians stationed at Faizabad, to celebrate Founder’s Day. This unofficial gathering was the genesis of the present day Old Martinians’ Association at Lucknow. Hubert died in 1947 and in his will left instructions that a sum of Rs.5,000 be handed over to the OMA as an ‘Endowment Fund’. The annual interest accruing from this investment be used for the purpose of a scholarship to be given to a needy and deserving Anglo-Indian day scholar Boy studying in the Boys’ College. Since then, some 50 recipients of the scholarship have reason to be thankful to Hubert Bolst. In the sporting arena Martinians have forged a proud tradition. George Duncan dela Hoyde was the only student to have won all three (Colts, Juniors and Seniors) athletic Championships during his school career. When the British Raj ended a stream of Anglo – Indian hockey players emigrated to Australia, U.K., New Zealand and Canada. The standard of hockey in these countries was vastly improved by the arrival of these players from the sub-continent. Two Martinians who emigrated to Australia deserve special mention. Fred Browne was Australia’s first (1956) Olympic coach and Merv Adams was appointed Australian National Coach in 1974. Later, Merv coached the Australian men’s and women’s teams at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, at which the men won a silver medal.

In 1960 five boys were selected to represent Uttar Pradesh at the XVIII National Aquatic Championships held at Delhi; namely-C.Doutre, P. Keenan, H.S. Dhillon, C.Ward, and R. Sharpe. All made the finals of their respective events. In the same year the estate experienced devastating flooding by the Gumpti river resulting in the evacuation of staff and boys to higher ground. The National Cadet Core(NCC) dingy, manned by staff and boys, maintained regular contact with the outside world and the College staff did a splendid job holding regular classes and providing meals for the boys. In the First and Second World Wars the names of thirty six and eight Martinians respectively, are enshrined on the Roles of Honour at the College. In succeeding conflicts the exploits of Martinians resonate through the pages of history. A number of soldiers like General Fremantle, General Larkins and airmen like Flt. Lt. Alfred Cooke (Vir Chakra) served with distinction and brought great credit to their alma mater. Who can forget the Keelor brothers who made history in the Indo – Pak wars by shooting down Pakistan’s invincible Sabre jets. In a later conflict, Lt. Arvind Singh was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for his exceptional devotion to duty and gallantry during the Indian Peace Keeping Force operations in Sri Lanka. Old Martinians overseas have also served their adopted countries in various theatres of war. In 1950 Corporal Mervyn O’ Brien of the King’s own Yorkshire Light Infantry was awarded the Military Medal for gallant and distinguished service in the Malayan conflict. Denzil Simeons and Sydney Lewis served with the Australian Army in Vietnam. Martinians have excelled in many spheres. Alan Sealy who attended the College in the sixties achieved world wide recognition with the publication of his first book titled The Trotter-Nama. The book is the history of the Anglo-Indian Trotter family, and is loosely based on the life of Claude Martin. The Time magazine regards Allan as part of a new wave of exciting Indian writers following in the footsteps of Salman Rushdie. Old Boy Muzzafar Ali is a renowned painter, clothing designer, film producer and aspiring politician. Saeed Naqvi is a leading journalist in Delhi and Mr.K.Raghunath has risen to high office to be appointed India’s Foreign Secretary. On the medical front, Dr.Vijay Mohan Kohli is one of India’s leading heart surgeons who is actively involved in the development of cardiological methods both in India and overseas.

Throughout its history, the College has been served by generations of dedicated and outstanding teachers and servants. A couple of examples were Colonel William Edgar Andrews and Biology teacher Mr.R.D. Vidhiyarti. Colonel Andrews was Principal at the College from 1926-to 1951. He was the ninth Principal in a line of succession from John Newmarch. He came out to India in 1914 as Senior history and geography master in La Martiniere Calcutta. Then in 1921 he was appointed Headmaster of Boys’ High School Allahabad where he proved a great asset. In 1926 he was appointed Principal of Lucknow Martiniere. The Colonel’s period of office saw many changes and improvements to the College, including the construction of the modern well-equipped Spence and Sykes halls. Other milestones were the opening of the Biology department, the introduction of the School song, and the award of Battle Honours. More than 38 years of the Colonel’s life was devoted to educating the young and his career was characterised by dedication, tolerance and understanding. On 14 January 1979 retired Biology master Vidhiyarti passed away at his Lucknow residence. ‘Vidhi’ as he was affectionately known to generations of Martinians, served the College from 9 January, 1945 till his retirement on 31 December, 1973. He started the Biology Department in the College and was House Master of Hodson House for many years. Apart from his long and devoted service to the College, ‘Vidhi’ was a successful author of Biology books, some of which were standard texts in Uttar Pradesh. The torch of learning has been carried on by a number of Old Boys who today are Principals of leading schools in India. Terence Phillips in Wynberg Allen (Mussorie); Cedric Innes in Boys’ High School (Allahabad), Allan Baker in Barnes (Devlali) and Munday Martin in St.Thomas’s (Calcutta ) to name a few. But the College has had its share of misfortune. In March 1997 tragedy struck the college. The Martinian community in India and overseas was shocked and saddened to learn of the murder within the college premises of 30 year old Frederick Gomes, Assistant warden and physical training instructor at the College. This is perhaps the first time since the Great Mutiny of 1857 that the portals of Constantia has been mute witness to such violence which took place on March 7,1997. The murder remains unsolved.

The College has always maintained the highest educational and sporting standards. The curriculum today includes English Language and Literature, Hindi, Sanskrit (upto Class VIII), History and Civics, Geography, Principles of Accounts, Commercial Studies, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Art, Craft, Woodwork, Choral Singing, Physical and Military Training and Computer Studies. Students are prepared for the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education Examination at the end of Class X and for the Indian School Certificate Examination at the end of Class XII. Games and Sports include Cricket, Football, Hockey, Swimming, Athletics and Basket Ball. The College has a gymnasium and two swimming pools. The College also has a Senior Division N.C.C. (Rifles) Troop, and two troops of the junior Division (Naval and Air Wings), representing the three Defence Services. Younger boys belong to the School Scout Troop and Cub Pack. Through its history and traditions the College has carved for itself a unique place in Indian education and can truly claim to have carried out the wishes of Founder both in spirit and in deed.