“History of BCS” has been written by historian Raaja Bhasin and Wendy Dewan has done research in this respect.
The School Motto
Bishop Cotton, in a letter written to Dr. Slater had suggested the School Motto: “Overcome Evil with Good”.
I have suggested ‘Overcome Evil with Good’ as the motto for the School. It was the text on which I preached in the Cathedral in Calcutta on the Thanksgiving Day in 1859 when the School may be considered to have been founded.
Finding the feet
A day after ‘Bishop’s School’ opened at Jutogh, “Creeping like a snail, unwilling to school,” fifteen-year old Fredrick Naylor joined on 16 March 1863 and became the first ‘Cottonian’. Next day came the three Matthews brothers aged eight, thirteen and fifteen. During that year thirty-five boys were admitted. These were the initial charges of Dr. Samuel Slater who had been handpicked by Bishop Cotton to be the school’s first headmaster. The Rev. Slater already had a substantial experience of education in India, and before his appointment to Bishop Cotton School, he had been at St. Paul’s School in Darjeeling. His qualifications were also considered sufficient – Slater had been educated at King’s College, London.
On 6 May 1863, the Governors-elect: of the School held their first meeting. Those present were Sir Herbert Edwardes, the Deputy-Commissioner of Simla; Colonel Lawrence; F. Peterson Esq., Rev. L. Poynder; Captain Pengree, and the Headmaster.
Accommodation was limited at Jutogh and many applications had to be refused. The main building of the School was what now houses the army mess. As a result, more dormitory space was added and in 1864, the school’s rolls rose to sixty-five – which was as much as could be managed. Slater was unhappy over the site at Jutogh which lay a few miles west of Shimla – and a year’s experience had done nothing to dispel his conviction about its unsuitability. Meanwhile, the process of teaching and examination had to go on and in 1864 a General Examination of the School had been held at Michaelmas by the Bishop of Calcutta.
For the move out of Jutogh, the Bishop concurred with Headmaster’s views and two places were examined – one near Boileauganj and the other was the Knollswood spur. In the autumn of 1864, the site at the southern end of the Knollswood spur was selected. The owner of the land, the Raja of Keonthal was persuaded to part with it in exchange for a village near Subathu. The land taken formed some fifty-four acres and the process to construct the school buildings began. Loosely Gothic in character, the plan was furnished by Mr. Campbell a civil engineer based at Delhi and the work entrusted to Major Innes. This first phase of structures was to contain classrooms, six dormitories to accommodate a hundred and fifty boys, a small library and lodgings for five masters. The chapel, consecrated in 1870 and named the Holy Trinity Chapel also formed a part of the initial plan.
How the School got its colours
‘Light blue, dark blue,
Colours of ours,
Come on Cottonians
Show them stars’
The cheer that most senior cottonians are sure will strike terror into the hearts of their opponents and the juniors shout along just for the fun of it ( or have been ordered to ), have a little tale of their own to tell. ‘Footballer’ had this to say as his reminiscences,
In 1889, we were very keen on football and not only had several hotly contested inter-class and inter-dormitory matches, but several of us formed a sort of club in the School, under the designation of the “Holy Boys”, which used to challenge the rest of the School to games of footer. In this way we developed a number of useful footballers. Mr. F.L. Key, one of the masters, who was an excellent player himself, took a keen interest in the game, which gave the sport a great stimulus, and in our matches against local teams we generally managed to be victorious.
So we came to think we were quite good enough to play in the Durand Tournament and one evening after Chapel, we filed into the Dining Hall to discuss matters. Mr. Key was unanimously elected Chairman and set forth the objects of the meeting in a short but humorous speech, following which the proposal to enter a team for the tournament was carried nem. con. The selection of the team was the next thing, but this was no easy matter as there were quite twenty boys who were equally good at the game; but, after much discussion, a good representative team was picked, consisting, as far as can be remembered, of Frank Hein, Bob Myers, Frank Rivett, Reid, the two Milnes, Willie Littlewood and Marsden (and of course others) with Mr. Key as Captain.
The next item was to settle the colours our team should wear. The discussion of this led to suggestions for all possible and impossible combinations until Mr. Smith, one of the masters, proposed light blue and dark blue, as signifying the two universities, Oxford and Cambridge, from whence we obtained the majority of our educational staff. This proposal being accepted with acclamation, the question arose as to how these colours should be arranged, it being successively proposed that we should have a light blue shirt with dark blue band and white knickers, or a half-and-half shirt with white knickers. Mr. Smith who was in a facetious mood, suggested we should wear the light blue on the left side, to show we were light hearted, and white knickers (no special reason seems to have been given for the selection of the latter but, following up Mr. Smith’s line of argument, they may be taken as indicating that we intended to play fair).
And this was how the School came to select light blue and dark blue as its colours.
The Great Fire of 1905
However, of all the events that have been associated with this period, it is the fire and the subsequent rebuilding of the Main Building that stands out. 7 May 1905 had a bright and slightly windy afternoon and most of the boys were off on their Sunday outing down to the khuds with their open grasslands and scrub, the woods and streams that once were; this is the area where the wonders of ‘New Shimla’ now stand. The boys had started returning to School when the cry went up, “Fire, Fire!” The flames, as far as could be later traced, originated in the rooms of Mr. A.H. Lee in the right wing of the School building. In all likelihood this began from an oil stove that was burning there. In about half an hour, the fire had gripped the entire building. Each boy tried to save his own bedding – and most managed to retrieve this. One of the boys, the second lieutenant of the School’s Volunteer Company and Rodgers by name, managed to save all but four of the guns in the armoury.
The greatest damage was suffered by Mr. Lee, the master in whose rooms the fire broke – and he lost many books and other valuables. The fireman had arrived too late to save the main building. The boys were marched off to seek lodgings in town – some to the Central Hotel ( that stood just by the present-day High Court ), others to the Park School that was just across the valley – while those who were fortunate to have friends and relations in Shimla, went to stay with them.
The Four Houses
It was soon after the fire that the dormitories were changed into the four Houses. Earlier, the four dormitories that now represent them were simply known by their numbers – 1,2,3 and 4. All four Houses honoured the men who were of considerable help in setting the School back on its feet after the fire.
In 1906, the first house to be created was Lefroy and was named in honour of the Rt. Rev. George A. Lefroy (1854-1919), the third Bishop of Lahore; he later became Bishop of Calcutta and Metropolitan of India. Lefroy took the motto Sperno Mutare (I scorn to change). The house colour taken was Green.
The second House to be formed was Ibbetson in 1907. This was named after Sir Denzil Ibbetson, Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab from 1907 to 1908. The House colour is Oxford Blue – dark blue. In 1909, Mr. J.V. Malley became the first House Master. The first House Captain was L. Rossetti in 1907. The motto taken was, Nec Impecto Nec Imperio (Neither by attack nor by command).
Rivaz House took its name from Sir Charles Rivaz, Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab from 1903 to 1907. The motto of Servamus (We Serve) was adopted only in 1935. The house colour adopted was Cambridge Blue – light blue. The first House Captain of Rivaz was E.R. Lewis in 1908.
Curzon House was named after George Nathaniel Curzon, the Marques Curzon of Kedleston, Viceroy of India (1899 – 1905) with the Latin motto Facta Non Verba (Facts not words) and the House Colour taken was Red. The first House Captain was F.V.V.G Rossetti in 1909 – who was also a staff member from 1923 to 1926. The first House Master of Curzon House was H.J. Ford in the year 1919.
All the house names, mottoes and colours were chosen by Mr. G. S. Stookes M.A., Senior Assistant Master in 1906. A sportsman and the games master, Stookes was also responsible for organising inter-house sports and instituting a trophy for this – which was sponsored by the residents of Shimla, old boys and friends. The Houses played each other on two matches each of hockey and football and a round of cricket. These were played on league principles.
Almost as if it were to put a stamp on things and add a fresh legend, it was in these years that the ‘house ghost’ of Lefroy made his appearance. The story was recounted at length by N.D. Lisbey, School Captain in 1911 – and who went on to become a Member of the Board of Governors between 1955 and ’59 and an M.B.E. The episode began when Stanley Pearce, Bob Rossiter and Nisbey had completed their scholastic education and were ‘sweating for the competitive examinations’. They had separate studies that consisted of small cubicles over the porch in the Main Building.
As a part of their curriculum, they and other ‘specials’ studied practical chemistry. It was an unusually hot day when a large bottle of liquid ammonia that had been placed in direct sunlight exploded. The pungent fumes filled the room and the boys rushed out. The Science Master did a quick count of the boys and discovered that Pearce was missing. As the fumes had still not touched the floor, they crawled in on all fours and found Pearce lying there and ‘convulsed in a spasm of violent coughing’. They managed to drag him out but the severe shock required treatment in Hospital.
Later, Pearce had to go to Allahabad to appear for his examination for the Salt Department. The boys knew that this marked the end of Pearce’s school years and while saying good-bye, some of them ‘implored him more in jest than in earnest, to return to B.C.S. after his examination’. Two days after his departure from Shimla, Pearce was found dead in his compartment when the train reached Tundla. The cause of death was put down to heart-failure. Many felt that this was a result of the incident in the laboratory and ‘for many days the School was wrapped in gloom over the passing of a lad who, as Head Prefect and School Captain, had won the regard and respect of the masters and boys’. Pearce’s ‘return’ to School is recounted in Lisbey’s words,
“One night, shortly after Pearce’s death, I had spent several hours in my study grappling with a problem in Dynamics. Failing to get the correct solution, I decided, eventually, to give it up and retire to bed. It must have been near midnight and Lefroy dormitory was plunged in darkness. In those days, kerosene lamps were used in the School and the lights in the dormitories were extinguished by 10 o’clock each night. I dimmed my reading lamp in the study, took it into the dormitory and placed it on my bedside table. Having completed my preparations for retirement, I was on the point of getting into bed when I saw a boy enter the dormitory from a door at the far end. He was fully dressed and had a hat on his head. Completely mystified, I watched him glide rapidly through the room in a manner resembling that of a person on ice-skates. His lowered head prevented me from distinguishing his features. He vanished through the open door opposite my bed. Wondering if he was a somnambulist, meandering in his sleep, I resolved to follow him. While getting into my slippers, I saw him again come through the open door at which he had first appeared. I stood in bewilderment as he approached me, very slowly on this occasion. He stopped a few yards away, looked toward me and smiled. It was then that I recognised Pearse standing before me. In a flash, I recalled our effort to persuade him to return to School after his examination. Satisfaction at having accomplished a mission was marked on his clearly defined features. Still looking at him, I reached out my hand towards the lamp and raised the wick. As the light grew brighter, Pearse’s image faded and vanished.”
The following day the School was all agog as the story of the ‘Lefroy ghost’ began doing the rounds. Many put it down to mental strain on Lisbey’s part and even his best friend, Rossiter heard it all with silent amusement.
At the time, Charles Brandon, an old Cottonian, had been permitted to reside in the Curzon dormitory while undergoing training as an architect in a Government Department in Shimla. He shared a study with his cousin Rossiter and as he often came in late, he had his servant keep dinner for him in this room, and ‘at the same time, he gave Rossiter permission to dispose of the dinner if he was not back in School by 9 pm’. A couple of nights after Lisbey had seen the ‘ghost’, he and Rossiter were wrapping up what was to have been Brandon’s meal, when Brandon walked in perplexed. Lisbey writes,
“We invited him to join us in what was left of the repast and he readily assented. During the meal he revealed the cause of his perplexity. On his way to this study from the Curzon dormitory, he noticed a figure coming towards him along the corridor of Lefory dormitory. He moved aside to let this person pass without taking any particular notice of him. The oncoming individual, however, deliberately blocked his way. When a couple of yards separated them, the figure disappeared. Brandon, however, had sufficient time to recognise Pearse and get a glimpse of his attire. The outfit described by him including the hat, tallied in which the Lefroy ghost had appeared to me.”
The greatest doubter had been silenced and Lefroy acquired a relic the likes of which no other house could boast. It is almost a century since the ‘sighting’ and Pearse we trust, is at rest.
The Old Cottonians Association
A year or so before this, another gathering of kindred spirits had been set in order. The Old Cottonians Association was officially started on 13 May 1910 when seventeen OCs gathered in Shimla’s Freemason’s Hall. Those that gathered were –
E.O. Wilsey (1863 – 1867)
W.J. Crayden (1863 – 1866)
W. Cotton (1876 – 1884)
T. Archibald Brooks (1876 – 1877)
S.A. Blaker (1881 – 1883)
W.G. Dollman (1882 – 1890)
C. Davis (1882 – 1886)
Felix von Goldstein (1884 – 1892)
C.W. Kirkpatrick (1884 – 1888)
E.A. Reid (1887 – 1891)
W.I. Tilden (1887 – 1891)
Clarke (1891 – 1896)
Frank I. Tellery (1893 – 1895)
A.D. Grindal (1895 – 1899)
G.T. Wright (1898 – 1900)
G.A. Heron (1902 – 1903)
A. Farrar Brooks (1908 – 1910)
E.O. Wisley, the senior-most, had organised the meeting and was the first to sign the Roll of Association. With these seventeen acting as the core, the task was now to find and communicate with the numerous old boys who lay scattered across the world – England, Canada, Japan, China, New Guinea and of course, India. In under a year, the Seventeen had become 73. By 1 May 1913, there were eighty-four members and this rose to 101 by October that year.
The objectives of the Association were set out in its rules. First, it was sought to ‘establish a bond of union among Old Boys and present boys to meet each other and for this purpose annual dinners and dances at the School’ were instituted. Second, the Association wanted to put an end to the stigma the bureaucratic circle attached with an Indian education. Third, the Association promised, “ Should anything arise to occasion a demand for the active services of its Old Boys the School has the satisfaction of knowing a number of them are to hand, not only willing but pledged, to assist by every means in their power.”
Almost as if giving visible expression to their pledge, the Old Boys presented the School’s Chapel with the stained glass window depicting the Good Shepherd. This was installed on 19 October 1915.
* The unabridged document can be viewed here: History of BCS – by Raaja Bhasin and Wendy Dewan