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Old 04-08-20, 06:18 PM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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Default The Days of Warden Bennett

The Days of Warden Bennett

The Rt. Rev. Piers Calverly Claughton, Bishop and successor to the Founder,
became Visitor to the College in 1862. The Rev. J. Dart was in charge of the school
and he has left a report of the work, dated November 24th, 1863.
"The number in the school has increased during the year," he writes. "There were 40
resident pupils of whom eight were boarded and taught free of all expense, and eight
others largely assisted from the College funds. Most of these sixteen are the sons of
poor clergy and catechists. The average daily attendance is 115. The residents are
of all ages, from boys of 9 to young men of 21. But the Seniors and Juniors occupy
separate dormitories, each pupil, as a rule, having a room to himself, and each
dormitory being in charge of a resident master. We should not be able to take in
boys at so early an age had we not an excellent Matron to superintend domestic
The College is now affiliated to the University (of Calcutta) so that its students may
pursue the course required by the University for degrees.
The Orphanage Asylum is now full and has been so throughout the year. Its
expenditure still exceeds its income, so that I have suggested that the experiment be
tried next year of dispensing with the services of the master and employing the
Divinity students or senior free scholars as his substitutes. Each one might take the
asylum in his turn, either for a week or for a month. This arrangement would not only
lessen the expense but would also serve in some measure to train the teachers
practically for their future work.
Some of the masters in the Collegiate School at this time were the Rev. G.H.Gomes,
Messrs Bluett, E. Crampton and C. Perera.
Mr. Dart was succeeded by the Rev. W. Ellis who had been previously connected
with the College.
There is a very interesting account of the school and its daily round in the year 1863.
"As we enter the great gate, the little room is the book depository, and that is
succeeded by a long hall, which is the Collegiate school, where at present there are,
we think, about 150 boys, in six classes. As we go up the winding road, we meet the
Orphan Asylum, where native boys are taught to read and write, and are educated to
be honest servants in after life. In the same enclosure is the Printing Press, where
often the books used in the Collegiate School are printed. Then there are three
ranges of buildings, the middle is the College Hall and Library, filled with valuable
books; some of them seem to be so voluminous that they appear as if the Fathers
are watching to see what intrusive visitants are coming to disturb their massive lore;
on either side stand dormitories, each building under the care of one of the teachers.
They can accommodate forty or fifty boys. Like all other institutions St. Thomas?
College has known prosperity and adversity; but it is pleasing to know that it is none
the worse. The buildings are now again being filled and we hope always to hear of
the continued prosperity of the institution.
The daily round is as follows: First you have your bathing turns, either morning or
evening, as the board directs, when bathing is compulsory, the only cold tyranny
perhaps, that little boys experience in the morning of life. But as soon as the bell
strikes six, every student must be dressed to go to the Hall for Coffee, where they
take their early breakfast with one of the teachers. At seven o?clock you have
morning prayers in the Cathedral, and at eight the boys go down to school. At ten
o?clock they have their breakfast and at 11 again school commences.
At 2 o?clock the residents are again in their dormitories, where some either play or
read or talk till three o?clock, when the dinner bell rings.
After dinner the boys are their own masters till 4, when everyone is to remain himself
in his own room and study till five. It is indeed gratifying to observe how even the
little ones leave their ball and bat and run to their rooms as soon as the bell is heard.
There is perfect silence in the dormitory. Only now and then you hear a door
creaking, and see a boy creeping out on the pretence of borrowing either a pencil or
a pen. But when the bell rings at five o?clock, then there is a simultaneous opening of
doors, and talking and laughing, as they are called out to the playground. Here play
is made compulsory, unless special leave has been obtained from the master. They
have a very good playground and all things considered, under the care of one of the
masters, the boys play cricket excellently. This continues till nearly half past six,
when they all run to their rooms and prepare for tea at 7 o?clock. After tea till half
past eight they study in the Hall, when after prayers, they all return to their rooms,
and are required to be in bed by 10 o?clock."
The boys of this time wore white coats buttoning up at the neck, and shorts falling
below the knee over black stockings, with heavy black boots such as were thought
suitable for school wear. Some of them were brought to school in their fathers?
carriages. There is a story of a very respectable and elderly bay horse, that knew the
traditions of the College off by heart, and used to graze untethered all over the
cricket pitch and round the school-rooms. One day, finding that his young master
was late coming out of school, he got on to the back verandah of the Upper School,
marched sedately as a Warden might have done, to the top room, and craning his
neck through the window, sniffed at the nearest boys. The master who was taking
the class at the time was quite equal to the occasion. "It is extraordinary" he said,
"the desire for learning that some animals show."
On the 17th of December 1863, the Rev. George Bennett arrived as Warden of the
College. Of him the record says that "his stay in the College was brief. He was not
connected with anything of Thomian interest as organiser or reformer, nor is the
period of his administration associated with any event deserving of special historical
comment, excepting perhaps, the report of the select Committee appointed by the
Synod to inquire into the College endowments."
These were the wild dark days of Warden Bennett an account of which is given in a
Magazine of long afterwards. This is the story taken straight from its source.
"Mr. Bennett was a man of herculean mould, who delighted in nothing so much as
downright hard manual work. Shifting the tiles on the Cathedral roof was a regular
pastime of his, and so was sweeping the College grounds with a ponderous ekel
broom. He might often have been seen cleaning the Bishop?s pigeon cots, or walking
back to College from the Pettah, carrying in his hand a pillow case well stocked with
his bargains at the vegetable market! Yet he was intensely revered both by masters
and boys. It was in his days that another school close by suffered from a revolt of its
pupils. The rebels were expelled, and notice of the expulsion came to St. Thomas?
and not many days after the rebels themselves came, a set of big-bodied young
Sinhalese fellows. Mr. Bennett came to see the new applicants for admission. "The
rebels are come," said Mr. Bennett half meditatively, nodding his head. And then
suddenly a brilliant idea striking him, he bared his arm up to the elbow, took it very
near the noses of the rebels with, "See this? Mr. Bennett?s arm!" Then turning to the
Headmaster he said, "Admit these boys, Mr. Bacon," That arm was never forgotten
and, it must be added the rebels were some of the best behaved boys in school.
Mr. Bennett?s days were very troublesome, his unswerving determination being
responsible for them to a very large extent. But at heart he was a very kind man and
very obliging. There was in school in his time, a young man "Mr. Dunbar," now an
archdeacon, if I mistake not, somewhere in the United Kingdom. He was the son of
Sir Archibald Dunbar, Bart. The young aristocrat lived in regal state in his College
rooms, which were furnished with the costliest furniture then procurable. He had two
horses at his service and these had enough to do as young Dunbar was away every
evening dining out, at a ball, or something of the sort, for he was a general favourite
of Colombo society. In school too he was immensely popular. He was kept well
supplied with money the greater part of which he spent on the schoolboys. He often
took the school-boys ? whoever were willing to go ? on rather protracted excursions.
Usually he had three or four padda boats, furnished with sofas, carpets and
occasionally on a six weeks? trip! Yet he was of a very religious turn of mind. Even on
these excursions he used to hold service on board every day. He was a master then,
but gave his services free, and paid for his board in College beside. He entered the
College with a view to taking holy orders.
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Old 04-08-20, 06:23 PM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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There was one boy, a respected citizen of
Colombo just now, who was responsible, perhaps all unwittingly, for the great
Dunbar Episode. He contrived to get turned out of class at a particular hour, and Mr.
Bennett who happened to pass that way, sent him into his class again. The absence
being reported to the Warden, Dunbar was called upon for an explanation. Dunbar
refused to submit an explanation to anyone but the Bishop. He was thereupon
forbidden to come to school or Hall or Chapel. Dunbar, regardless of all orders,
appeared in Hall for breakfast the next morning. An altercation took place.
"Mr. Dunbar, I have forbidden you this place. Please do leave it. Your meals will be
served in your room."
Mr. Dunbar, held his peace.
"Mr. Dunbar, you will leave the room or I shall have to put you out."
Mr. Dunbar made no reply.
Mr. Bennett then came and carried Mr. Dunbar out of the building, and set him down
on the Bishop?s outer verandah. The Bishop then occupied one half of the Warden?s
bungalow. The matter got into the courts and into the papers. The Observer
commented editorially starting off with:
"What a fine sight it would have been for us had we been present this morning at
St.Thomas? College to see the priest Bennett carrying his theological student
Dunbar, tenderly and lovingly, as a nurse carries her baby."
But the matter was not allowed to be pressed in court. An amicable settlement was
come to, Bennett and Dunbar both apologising to each other."
It is hardly surprising that the school suffered in the midst of such disorders and fell
upon bad times. It found, however, good friends who helped it to win through, and a
Committee of Synod was working for its benefit under Archdeacon Mooyaart. This
committee after making various suggestions with regard to the College endowments
considered the following letter from the Bishop: -

You have before you a scheme I proposed, by which I hoped it might be possible to
raise a sum of ? 5,000 for the endowment of a Warden (or Principal) and two
(ordained) Fellows of Saint Thomas? College ? the two latter to act as masters of the
College under the Warden or Principal, and also to take some clerical duty in or near
Colombo, the salary of which might add to their income. I am of opinion that this
scheme could be carried out, though it would, doubtless, require time. To this I now
beg to add another suggestion. It appears to me that it would be well to extend the
interest felt by many in the success of St. Thomas? College by increasing the number
of Fellows. I would suggest the election of two or four additional Honorary Fellows,
who might be laymen, one of the conditions of election being the fact of some actual
benefit conferred on the College, by additional endowmensts or otherwise. The
privileges conferred would not, it must be admitted, be considerable, but a right to a
seat in the Cathedral stall, and to dine at the head table in the hall, would at first
mark their admission to the Society; and I should hope, in time, any connection with
the institution would be held to be an honour. I will add that any step of this kind
should have the approval of the trustees before it was taken.
I have the honour to be, gentlemen,
Your very faithful servant,
Piers, Colombo.
The Committee accepted all the suggestions offered in this letter, but for some
reason they were never carried out. The idea of fellowships for the College reminds
us that it was still doing University work in the Island. Its College Form boys were
undergraduates and the Bishop is clearly thinking of them and of the College as of
university standing.
The record then goes on to deal gracefully with the unfortunate resignation of the
Warden and his departure in 1866.
"It is with feelings of kind sympathy that we read in the number of the Missionary
Gleaner of the departure of Warden Bennett from Ceylon, and we feel sure that
readers for whose benefit the passage is reproduced here, will view this account with
kindlier feelings that mere curiosity: The Warden of St. Thomas? College has left
Ceylon for the scene of his former labours, St. Helena. His departure has not only
occurred unexpectedly, but has been attended by some circumstances painful to his
friends, and especially to his Diocesan, who little thought when uttering in September
last his eulogy on Mr. Bennett, in the presence of the members of the Synod, that his
words would so soon have a fulfilment, but of so opposite a kind to what was in his
mind whilst speaking. Mr. Bennett seems to have suffered from an irritable
excitement, which at last led to acts of violence and a state of mental derangement
which caused the deepest anxiety to his friends. It need scarcely be stated that the
best medical advice was taken, and such measures resorted to as were
On his friend the Bishop rested the painful responsibility of carrying them out, as far
as practicable, and His Lordship became in consequence, as in such cases
frequently occurs, the chief object of Mr. Bennet?s irritation, which rather increased
than lessened at the time of his departure. It is hoped that the voyage may render his
recovery complete, and that the welcome he may anticipate from his former friends
may obliterate any painful reminiscences of his short, but useful sojourn in Ceylon
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