Founding of Jaffna Central College in 1814 and its Unique Contributions and Achievements by Dr R K Guganesharajah and Mr V Shivakumaran
Jaffna Central College (JCC) was founded in 1814 by Rev. James Lynch, the leader of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionaries who alighted in Ceylon on 26 June 1814. Very importantly, both he and Rev. Thomas Squance, also a Wesleyan missionary, set foot in Jaffna on 10 August 1814 with the intention of establishing English schools as agreed with the then British Governor, Sir Robert Brownrigg.
Recent exploration of the early history of JCC has revealed credible information of its existence in 1814. Manickavasagar (2014) was the first to cite evidence to support that Rev. Lynch founded the first English school in Jaffna in 1814. This evidence stems from the Third Report of the Ceylon Native Schools, which was published in Colombo in 1819. Guganesharajah and Shivakumaran (2014) have found the same evidence in another report titled The Report of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, 1821, London, which states:
The school established by Rev. James Lynch grew steadily and made large strides in education. Its progress during the early stage was confirmed in a document titled The First Report of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society’, published in London in 1818. This report reveals the following in its Appendix No. I:
The efforts of Rev. Lynch attracted more students to his school. He had more than 60 students enrolled in the school between February and March 1815 (Cook, 2015). The school gradually expanded and in August 1815, Sir Brownrigg, then British Governor of Ceylon, confirmed that there were 70 boys in the school, who were instructed daily by Rev. James Lynch (Missionary Notices (1816, 1817,1818), p38). However, in order to expand the missionary activities in South India Rev. Lynch initially visited Madras in January 1817. He went to Madras again in September 1817 and took charge of the Madras division from January 1818. Thereafter, Rev. Squance was put in charge of the Wesleyan English School in Jaffna until 1819. The other notable Principals during this inception period were Rev. Carver (1820-1824) and Rev. Joseph Roberts (1824-1832). The latter was the chairman of the Tamil District until 1832 (Cook, 2000, p12, p112). These Wesleyan Methodist Missionaries also intended to open more schools on the Jaffna Peninsula.
Following the important inception period from 1814 to 1832, Rev. Dr Peter Percival took over the school in 1832 and enhanced the image of JCC with fresh ideas. Rev. Percival was a renowned scholar with marked managerial and academic skills. In 1834, he changed the name of the school to Jaffna Central. The new name reflected its leading role as a centre for education in Jaffna.
Rev. Dr Percival enriched the school by enhancing the curriculum through the inclusion of new subjects in history and science, including mathematics, to raise the standard of the school to that of a European university at the time. The letter of 23 March 1848 by the then Colonial Secretary of Ceylon, Sir James Emerson Tennent (1850, p178-179), is an unequivocal testimony to this fact and brings further pride to us. After observing the examinations being conducted at the Batticotta Seminary, currently Jaffna College and Jaffna Central School, he commented in this letter that both these collegiate institutes were entitled to be ranked with any European university. Rev. Dr Peter Percival was a distinguished scholar with an excellent knowledge of Tamil literature and culture, as well as of Christianity and Hinduism, which has never been matched by any other Principal in the history of JCC. Rev. Peter Percival published a Tamil version of the Scriptures in 1850 with the assistance of a student who was later honoured as Arumuga Navalar. He also published, among others, an English-Tamil dictionary, a collection of Tamil proverbs in English and a book on the Veda.
A new era of glory and optimism commenced at the very beginning of the 20th century. In this historic era, Mr Romaine Cooke, our Vice Principal from 1901 to 1916, modernised and enhanced the image of our college. Mr Cooke was an engineer, architect and an academic with distinct talents. He was the designer and architect of the Romaine Cooke Hall which was the first reinforced concrete and iron girder building constructed in Jaffna. The hall was opened in 1910 by the then Chairman’s wife, Mrs Trimmer. It was in Romaine Cooke Hall that for the first time an English play, Shakespeare’s ‘The Twelfth Night’, was staged by the teachers and students. This was another milestone in our history.
The playground of this prestigious institution is located in front of the school and is surrounded by celebrated places including the Jaffna Public Library, Subramaniam Park and the Jaffna Clock Tower. It is also located close to the Dutch Fort in Jaffna.
Above all, it was in this playground that cricket was first introduced into Jaffna in 1881 by the then Principal of the College, Rev. Fredrick Webster. This ground also holds the honour of being the place where football was introduced into Jaffna in 1894 by our former Principal Rev. Gabriel Leese. The historical records of the college indicate that cricket was played on turf wicket until the early 20th century. It is our moral obligation to preserve the status of these features, which JCC inherited over a century ago, without any relocation. Our past Principals Rev. W M P Wilkes (1903-1908 and 1910-1916) and Rev. P T Cash (1922-1926, 1928-1932 and 1934-1939) were Old Boys of Woodhouse Grove School. Rev. Wilkes was an outstanding sportsman and the cricket captain of the Jaffna Town Club. The vision of Rev. Wilkes and Rev. Cash was to modernise JCC using Woodhouse Grove School as a model. They were proud of having achieved their goal.
The foregoing facts give ample proof that Jaffna Central College is the oldest permanent English school in Jaffna. It was founded as an English School by Rev. James Lynch in 1814, named Jaffna Wesleyan English School in 1817, re-named Jaffna Central School by Rev. Dr Peter Percival in 1834 and became Jaffna Central College in 1869. There were over 60 students enrolled at JCC in early 1815. The school progressed and grew steadily and in 1849 there were 150 students enrolled at JCC (Wesleyan Central School and St Paul’s School). Today, we are proud to declare that there are over 1800 students at JCC and that the curriculum has been enhanced to meet modern challenges.
In the education sector, the modernisation includes providing multi-media facilities and building an auditorium in the premises owned by the late Mr Edward Selvarajah Thambyah. Selvarajah Master was a Centralite; he was taught at JCC and dedicated his time for over 30 years as a coach for cricket and athletics. His family generously donated their premises through the Chelvanayagam Memorial Trust to build an auditorium with state-of-the-art facilities.
Centralites must realise that recent intensive research on the history of JCC unearthed indisputable evidence that the college was founded by Rev. James Lynch in 1814. The historical records confirm that the college had enrolled over 60 students between February and March 1815 (Cook, 2015). Although JCC was founded in 1814 by Rev. Lynch, the official date of acquisition of the property by the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society from the Government of Ceylon was 1 August 1816 (CME, 1936). Before the research findings came to light, JCC had already decided to celebrate the bicentenary in 2016 based on this official date. The revelation of JCC’s founding in 1814 does not hinder our determination to celebrate the historic occasion in 1816 but brings further pride and honour to all the Centralites.
Centenary Memorial Edition (1936), Jaffna Central College (1834 – 1934), Ceylon Examiners Press, Colombo
Cook, R. (2015), An investigation into the foundation date of Jaffna Central College, UK
Guganesharajah, R., K. and Shivakumaran, V. (Sept. 2014), The Founding of JCC and its Unique Contributions and Achievements, JCC Old Boys’ and Girls’ Association, UK,15-16
Manickavasagar, K. (1992), Report Submitted to the Special Committee Appointed by the Old Boys’ Association, Jaffna Branch, Sri Lanka
Manickavasagar, K. (2001), Jaffna Central College – A Review of Founding Date, The Jaffna Central College 185th Anniversary Souvenir, 1816-2001, 53-57 (Report written in Tamil and English)
Manickavasagar, K. (2011), Jaffna Central College – The Oldest Permanent School in Northern Sri Lanka, Jaffna Central College – Centre for Excellence, Glimpses of 195 Years of History, Edited by Prof R. K. Guganesharajah, Cambridge, 40-44
Manickavasagar, K. (January 2014), Date of Founding of Jaffna Central College, A Documentation food for thought, Jaffna Central College Old Boys’ Association, Centenary Anniversary, 39-44
Missionary Notices (1816, 1817, 1818), Extracts from the Third Report of the Colombo Auxiliary Bible Society (Aug 1815), President: His Excellency the Governor, Sir Brownrigg, Secretary: The Hon. Sir Alexander Johnston, Chief Justice, Methodist Conference, London, 38-39
Missionary Notices (1816, 1817, 1818), Letter from Mr Lynch to the Committee, Jaffna Ceylon, November 15, 1815, Missionary Notices, Relating Principally to the Mission of the Wesleyan Methodists, Ceylon Mission. Vol. VI, Methodist Conference, London, 41-42
Small, W. J. T. (1971), A History of the Methodist Church in Ceylon: 1814-1964, The Wesleyan Press, Colombo
The First Report of the General Wesleyan Missionary Society (1818), Appendix No. 1; Extracts from the Wesleyan Mission Native School Report for 1817, 19 (1), The Jaffna Missionary Day School, Rogers, London, 124-125
The Methodist Magazine, (February, 1816), Letter from Rev. Lynch to the Missionary Committee, 15 November 1815, Colombo, 76-77
The Missionary Register (1815), Letter from Mr Lynch, Jaffnapatam, 9 September 1814, Vol. 3, 91-93
The Report of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (1821), Ceylon Mission, No. 61. The School of Jaffna, Cordeaux, London, xivii-xiviii