As visitors to Ooty quickly realize, India’s first hill station is home to many 19th century schools. The founders of these schools, typically missionaries, civil servants and British soldiers, fell in love with the hills, forests, and distinct Europe-like climate of the region and proposed having their children studying there all the year round. Consequently, these schools went on to educate children of missionaries, serving or deceased soldiers, European businessmen and employees of the railways, postal and telegraph services.
Many of them have grown in stature and have gone on to become pioneers in the Indian education system. The Lawrence Memorial Royal Military School, for instance, was setup in 1858 as per Henry Lawrence’s vision of creating for orphans and children of British soldiers “an asylum from the debilitating effects of the tropical climate, and the demoralizing influence of barrack-life; wherein they may obtain the benefits of a bracing climate, a healthy moral atmosphere, and a plain, useful, and above all religious education, adapted to fit them for employment suited to their position in life.” The Lawrence School, Lovedale as it is known today is often ranked among the top boarding schools in the country.
The Breeks Memorial Anglo-Indian Higher Secondary School is another school steeped in history. It was set up to educate children from lower income European and Anglo-Indian families. The school’s website states that “It was in this institution where Lord Macaulay coined the syllabi of the education system for India under the British rule, which still remains as the backbone of Modern Indian Education System”.
The book “Last Children of the Raj: British Childhoods in India Volume 1: 1919-1939”, compiled by Laurence Fleming and published in 1996 has some fascinating anecdotes on idyllic Ooty student life.
A Bill Charles, who studied at Breeks Memorial School writes about how, in the early ‘40s, scouting was a popular activity at the school and his group went on to be recognized as the finest Scout troop and Wolf Cub pack in the country. He also writes about how he was once caught sneaking out of school to visit his then girlfriend at the neighboring Hebron School and had to spend his free time copying out Francis Bacon’s essays as punishment.
A Donald Catto, who studied at the Lawrence School in the ’30s writes about how school prefects were typically provided with badges of ranks Lieutenant, Captain and Major, depending on seniority and how this created for awkward situations when they encountered soldiers from the neighboring Wellington barracks.
Other students describe travelling to and from boarding school on the famous “Blue Mountains Express” and then transferring onto broad-gauge steam trains when heading home to Madras or Bangalore for their vacations.
Care to experience boarding school life this May? Sign up for the Go Heritage Run Ooty and you’ll get the chance to run through the school campus, its meadows and forest – as well as eat a scrumptious post-run breakfast in the school’s mess.
PS: If you’d like to read more about the lives of children in the British Raj consider buying Last Children of the Raj: British Childhoods in India Volume 1: 1919-1939 at Amazon.