240th Anniversary of the Birth of Rev. James Lynch, the Founder of Jaffna Central College in 1814
The Mighty Achievements of our Dedicated, Beloved Principal
Dr R K Guganesharajah
It gives me great pleasure to write this article in the year which marks the 240th anniversary of the birth of Rev. James Lynch, the founder of Jaffna Central College (JCC) in 1814. This veteran scholar led the first Wesleyan Mission to Jaffna, along with Rev. Thomas Squance and set foot in Jaffna on 10 August 1814. In the same year, this great leader founded our alma mater. In recognition of the contribution of Rev. Lynch to JCC, a statue of him was unveiled in 2013 at the property purchased by him to establish out alma mater. Centralites have witnessed several articles describing the early stages of Jaffna Central College, but limited details have been revealed about its founder. In this article, the author summarises the biography of our beloved founder-principal and of JCC’s development since 1814.
Rev. James Lynch
Rev. Lynch was born in 1775 in Ireland to Roman Catholic parents. However, as he grew up, his faith gradually began to focus on Jesus Christ alone for salvation. In order to promote his faith and his religious beliefs, he joined the YMCA in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in 1808 at the age of 33 years. He then joined the Irish Methodist Missionaries and served as an evangelist in various Methodist Circuits in Ulster. Rev. Lynch’s association with the Methodist Church gave him an opportunity to serve communities in India and Ceylon to preach the gospel and raise literacy.
Voyage to Ceylon
Rev. Lynch joined a team of Wesleyan missionaries under the leadership of Dr Thomas Coke who set sail for Ceylon via Bombay, they began their journey to Bombay in two ships which were owned by the East India Company: Dr Coke, Mr Clough and Mr and Mrs Harvard on board the ‘Cabalva’, and Rev. James Lynch, Rev. Erskine, Rev. Thomas Squance and Mr and Mrs Ault on the ‘Lady Melville’. They embarked on 29 December 1813 and sailed on the following morning. The missionaries encountered several setbacks, including the death of the mission leader, Rev. Dr Thomas Coke, and of Mrs Ault, wife of one of the missionaries. Following these sad events, the exhausted mission team landed in Bombay on 21 May 1814 without its leader. The unfortunate missionaries encountered financial difficulties because the captain of the ship, Mr Birch, had no authorisation from Rev. Dr Coke to hand over the money kept in his possession to any other member of the team. But they were fortunate to get support from a respectable banker, Mr Thomas Money, to whom Rev. Dr Coke had already written a letter of introduction. After about a month’s stay in Bombay, the missionaries, with the exception of Mr and Mrs Harvard, who remained in Bombay as they were expecting a baby, set sail to Ceylon in the ship ‘Earl Spencer’ on 20 June 1814.
The journey to Ceylon from Bombay was difficult due to the prevalence of continuous gales in the Arabian Sea. Fortunately, the weather was calm when the ship arrived at Ceylon. The captain sent a signal to the shore and anchored the ship, three miles offshore from Galle, on 29 June 1814. The master attendant, Mr W C Gibson, sent out two boats for the missionaries and their chests. Rev. Lynch, Rev. Squance and Rev. Clough embarked on the first boat and reached Galle harbour. When they set foot on Ceylonese soil, the sun had set and it was twilight. Lord Molesworth, the Commandant of the fort, and Lady Molesworth, his wife, received them with great affability and accompanied them to the government guest house. The other two missionaries, Rev. Ault and Rev. Erskine, embarked on the second boat which carried the luggage, but the ship’s captain, Mitchell, detained it while he wrote a few letters to be taken ashore. When they set off, the boatmen found it impossible to reach Galle harbour due to adverse weather conditions. The boat drifted eastwards and alighted at Weligama about half past two in the morning, some 16 miles from Galle. Adverse weather casting boats adrift is very common in the region. The following day early in the morning, Lord Molesworth sent off two palanquins to Weligama and at about five o’clock in the afternoon, Messrs Ault and Erskine rejoined the other missionaries.
Founding of JCC by Rev. James Lynch
On 11 July 1814, the missionaries held their first meeting in Ceylon and called it ‘The Little Conference’. They discussed the choice of the locations and selected by ballot: Rev. James Lynch and Rev. Thomas Squance for Jaffna, Rev. William Ault for Batticaloa, Rev. Erskine for Matara and Rev. Benjamin Clough for remaining in Galle.
Rev. Lynch and Rev. Squance left Galle on 14 July 1814 and proceeded to Colombo, where they visited the Governor and thanked him for all his kindness. They stayed in Colombo with Rev. and Mrs. Twisleton and went on their way to Jaffna, starting their journey on 1 August 1814 and travelling through villages and jungles to reach Jaffna on 10 August 1814. The sub‑collector in Jaffna, James N Mooyart, received them and was their host.
Rev. Lynch’s educational and missionary activities progressed well despite initial setbacks in finding a suitable building for a school and chapel and the return of Rev. Squance to Colombo in November 2014 as he suffered from serious illness. The Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society’s The Report of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, published in London in 1821, confirms the establishment of an English School by Rev. Lynch and Rev. Squance in 1814 and states:
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, 1815). 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. The English school progressed well and created jobs for the students in various sectors.
Expansion of Missionary Work
Although Rev. Lynch was in charge of the Jaffna English school (which later became JCC), he had additional responsibilities on missionary work as the Chairman of the Wesleyan Missionaries in the Ceylon District. The Wesleyan missionaries in Ceylon gathered for the General District Conference in Colombo, which was scheduled from 29 July to 10 August 1816, to discuss their activities. In this conference, the committee decided to expand their missionary work in Madras. Rev. Lynch communicated the decision taken in the conference to the committee in London. As a consequence, Madras was added to the Eastern Mission and the Court of Directors licensed Rev. Harvard to exercise the function of a missionary in any part of their territory (Harvard, 1861). The authorities, including the Governor Sir Robert Brownrigg and Chief Justice Sir Alexander Johnston, were averse to Rev. Harvard’s departure to Madras. The missionaries, after reviewing this issue, decided to temporarily appoint Rev. Lynch to the mission in Madras.
Rev. Lynch left Jaffna on 23 January 1817 and landed in Codacony after 38 hours. On his way to Madras he arrived at Nagapatam on 28 January 1817 and spent five days preaching sermons to a few locals. On 3 February 1817, he set out to Tranquebar and reached it around 6 pm. He was the guest of the Royal Danish Mission at Tranquebar and visited the graves of Pliitschau and Ziegenbalg, the first Danish Missionaries sent out under Frederick IV of Denmark (Findlay, 1924).
Finally, he arrived at Madras and stayed for a while to obtain the licence from the Governor to preach in the district. Rev. Lynch had an interview with the Governor on 14 February 1817 but the Governor said that Rev. Harvard was the only person authorised from England, that he would lay the case before the Council and that he allowed him to call again in a few days. When Rev. Lynch had the second interview on 16 February 1817 the Governor asked him to wait till the will of the Court of Directors was known. Rev. Lynch then explained that he only intended to remain until Rev. Harvard could take his appointment in Madras. The Governor then allowed him to preach in Madras with out any objection. Rev. Lynch had his first sermon at George Town (the Black Town) in Madras on 2 March 1817, which coincided with the 26th anniversary of the death of Rev. John Wesley. Although Rev. Lynch learned Tamil in Jaffna, he did not acquire the eloquence to preach in Tamil and therefore sought assistance from interpreters. After establishing the missionary work in Madras he returned to Jaffna in May 1817.
As there was no missionary to continue the work in Madras, Rev. Lynch was compelled to return there in September 1817. He took charge of the Madras division from January 1818 and managed a Free School. In June 1818, he purchased a bungalow in Royalpettah and on a site close to it built the first Methodist chapel in India in 1818, which was opened for public worship on 7 March 1819 (The Centenary Committee of the Wesleyan Methodist Synod, Madras, 1911).
In January 1819, the missionaries convened their Third Annual Conference at Galle. In this Conference Ceylon was divided into Sinhalese and Tamil District. The committee elected Rev. W B Fox as Chairman of the Sinhalese District and Rev. James Lynch as the Chairman of the Tamil District which included Jaffna, Trincomalee and Madras. The years during which Rev. Lynch was Chairman of the Tamil District witnessed the expansion of the educational and missionary activities in several regions in South India, which included Madras, Seringapatam, Trichinopoly, Nagapatam, St. Thomas’ Mount, Tripasur, Wallajabad and Velore.
The second property acquired by Rev. Lynch for the Methodist Mission was situated in a street of Blacktown known as Popham’s Broadway. Here a piece of land, with some old buildings upon it, was purchased, and the best of the buildings was adapted for the purpose of public worship (Findlay, 1824). On this property, a new chapel was built by Rev. Lynch and opened on 25 April 1822. Rev. Lynch was able to raise local subscriptions towards its cost which amounted to 700 pounds. After about 20 years, this chapel was in state of disrepair. At this time, Rev. Robert Josephs, Principal of JCC from 1824 to 1832, was stationed in the Madras Division. He raised the funds to rebuild it and turn it into a beautiful chapel.
In 1824, the administrative link between Madras and North Ceylon was severed and Madras became a separate district of which Rev. Lynch was appointed Chairman. In July 1824, he left Madras with the blessing of hundreds who had benefited from his ministry. After his return to Ireland he passionately continued his missionary work in various circuits in Ulster.
The contribution of Rev. Lynch to the establishment of our alma mater will always be recognised and remembered by the Centralites and alumni. 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. Today, we are proud to witness that there are over 1800 students at JCC and that the curriculum has been enhanced to meet modern challenges.
Rev. Lynch proved himself to be highly worthy of the work entrusted to him. He was a bachelor and dedicated most of his life serving the communities in Jaffna, Madras and Ulster. In recognition of Rev. Lynch’s contribution to JCC, a school athletic ‘house’ was named after him in 2002 and a statue was unveiled in front of the Romaine Cooke Hall in 2013. Rev. Lynch spent his last years in Leeds and passed away in 1858. We are very proud of this charismatic scholar and pray for his soul to rest in peace in the hands of God and ‘in gloriam dei optimi maximi’ as engraved on our college crest.
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
Choules, J. O. and Smith, T. (1837), The Origin and History of Missions, Vol. II, Gould, Kendall and Lincoln, Boston
Guganesharajah, R., K. (2015), Founding Details of Jaffna Central College and its Early History from 1814 to 1816, Cambridge, UK
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Findlay, G. S. and Holdsworth, W. W. (1924), The History of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, Vol. V, The Epworth Press, London
Guganesharajah, R. K. and Manickavasagar, K. (2013), The Historic Voyage of the Methodist Missionaries to Ceylon and Founding of Jaffna Central College by Rev. James Lynch in 1815, In Commemoration of Rev. James Lynch, Founder of Jaffna Central College, Edited by Prof R. K. Guganesharajah, Cambridge, 17-22
Hardy, R. S. (1964), Jubilee Memorials of the Wesleyan Mission, South Ceylon: 1814-1864, Wesleyan Mission Press, Colombo
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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
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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 Report of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (1821), Ceylon Mission, No. 61. The School of Jaffna, Cordeaux, London, xivii-xiviii
The Third Report of the Ceylon Native Schools (1819), Under the care of the Wesleyan Missionaries, Wesleyan Mission Press, Colombo