Sunday, 9 December 2007

The founding of Tellicherry Schools in 1817

Koduvally Higher Secondary School

In the years following the defeat of the Pazhassi Rajah, and following the suppression of the 1812 revolt in the Wayanad, the local East India Company officials based in the town began to try to develop the town of Thalassery.

With the end of the wars, the garrison had been greatly reduced, or moved to Kannur. The town was also losing out on trade to other nearby ports. It's major remaining function was as the centre for the courts of justice.

Besides building their own houses, the some of the senior officials also began to try to introduce improvements for the general Indian population as well.

One of the very first buildings to go up was a school. This school appears to have been the result of a private initiative, probably started by Mr. Oakes the Master Attendant at the port.

Thomas Baber had already commenced building his estate at Pallikunnu, and he appears to have provided the land for the school to be built on. It is at the western end of the land he had acquired, next to the main road to the ferry leading north out of Thalassery, on the way to Kannur.

This building was operational by the 25th of June 1817 when Thomas Hervey Baber wrote to Sir. Thomas Munro: -.

You will congratulate me in hearing of the success of our School, and that there is every prospect of it receiving a Public Blessing.

I enclose a note I have this day receive sic) from our Parson, because I am sure, the perusal of it must increase your approbation of our Plan, our School House has been finished and an excellent Building it is. 350 boys may be accommodated, at present we have 40 on the Foundation, and about 20 whose Parents pay for their education 1 and 2 Rupees per month – and would the Europeans forget their animosities and join in so laudable an undertaking we should soon have the school full- our funds amount to about 1500 Rupees including the Cost of the School, but no part has been contributed by any Europeans excepting the Parson, Mr Oakes, Edbert in Canara & Self. – The undertaking has however had the effect of producing a Rival School at Cochin, set in foot by Mr Vaughan & Pearson at Calicut, and supported by Stevens & Warden, all 4 of them declined to Subscribe to the one here. I immediately subscribed to that in Cochin, determined they should see I was above all such little feelings – never will I quarrel with them for endeavouring to rival me in doing a Public Good.

The school in Thalassery must have been amongst the first to be built in Southern India for Indian children by European individuals. Missionaries had started other schools in the area fore instance at Kannur by this time, however they were much smaller.

Very few Indians received a formal education at this time. Private tutors were generally employed to teach the children of Brahmins or senior Nairs, and other instruction mainly on the Koran was going on in the mosques.

In many ways this school was a very modern idea for the time. In Britain schooling was only for the children of the richest parents. For most children and learning was done at home on through Sunday Schools. Universal education did not arrive until 1870.

The Mr. Oakes mentioned in the letter above was John L. Oakes who was Master Attendant at Tellicherry, and who later died in about 1819, leaving 20,000 Rupees of his own fortune for the relief of the poor of Tellicherry. John Oakes appears to have had a very highly developed sense of the need to improve the conditions for the hundreds of displaced and poverty stricken Indians living in the shanty towns on the fringes of Thalassery at that time.

This school still exists and operates today, and is called the Koduvally Higher Secondary School. It is on the lane leading up to Thomas Baber’s house and Pallikunnu Hill.

It would appear that the school was built in two phases, with the oldest bit being at the eastern end of the site. The change in construction between the oldest and the newer sections of the school can be seen where the roof pitch changes roughly half way along the length of the existing school building.

Tellicherry School. The junction between the oldest building, from 1817, which I believe is at the right hand end of this photo, a later phase of the building can clearly be seen on the left of the above photo.

From the letter above which lists “Parson, Mr Oakes, Edbert in Canara & Self” it is clear that Francis Spring, Mr. Oakes, Mr. Edbert and Thomas Baber were the main drivers behind the founding of this new school. Modern accounts of the establishment of schooling in Thalasserry suggest incorrectly that the earliest western school in Thalassery was the B.G.M. School founded by the Basel German Mission on March 1st 1856 by Edward Brennen and Herman Gundert, for 74 students.

The school at Pallikunnu appears to have been founded in 1817, and to have then been taken over by the Church Missionary Society in 1824. The Missionary Gazetteer published by Charles Williams in the late 1820’s, said of the school: -

“The C.M.S. commenced a mission here in 1817, which was for some years superintended by the Rev. Francis Spring, the chaplain. He prepared the church catechism and liturgy in Malaylim. A school of 50 scholars here has been highly useful, and formerly supported itself. Many who were educated in it are engaged in public offices, or useful occupations, and have done credit to the instruction they had received. Much opposition has been made by the Roman Catholics. Respecting this station, Mr. Spring writes:- “Something is almost daily occurring to animate us in our course. Here, flashes of heavenly light are continually gleaming through the darkening atmosphere. I hear that there is, on every side, a readiness amongst great numbers to receive the tidings of the Gospel.” A poor man’s fund was also established, which relieved 400 persons weekly; 20,000 rupees were bequeathed to it by a deceased friend, who was the principle agent in its establishment. This measure conciliated the natives, and gave them favourable views of Christianity.

In 1823, Mr. Spring left this station for England, having made the best arrangements in his power to secure the continuance of the school established by him, and now maintained by the Madras Corresponding Committee of the C.M.S. In 1824, since which no accounts of it have been published, it contained 59 children of various castes and classes.”

It appears that Oakes’ and quite probably Thomas Baber’s concept for the school was that it was to be open to all faiths and also to take bright boys of any race. However it appears that once the Revd. Spring was able to take over control of the school to a greater extent in the years after 1820; it began to try to convert pupils to Christianity.

Major Henry Bevan, an officer in the 27th Madras Native Infantry visited the school in its early years, and specifically describes its multicultural form.

The judges of the circuit-court at Tellicherry generally employ half castes, or Anglo-Indians and Portuguese, in such subordinate offices as do not require a knowledge of Hindoo or Mohammedan law. There is a large half-caste population round Tellicherry, principally descended from the Portuguese settlers, who came out here soon after the discovery of India. A large portion of the fortified factory erected by the first Portuguese colonists still remains. It is surrounded by a high wall, secured by towers, and is now used as a court-house and gaol. Most of the half-castes speak English with great fluency, and all are anxious to have their children instructed in that language. There is a very good English school at Tellicherry supported by voluntary contributions of the officers and by the small stipends paid by the natives the teacher however when I visited it was a Portuguese but he was perfectly competent for his situation. I found also that he was a good mathematician, and the answering of some of his pupils whom I examined would not disgrace an European academy. There were several Hindoo and Mohammedan children at the school, and they joined in the studies and sports of their Christian fellow pupils without ever quarrelling on account of their religious differences.

The first schoolmaster was a Portuguese called John Baptist or Bapiste, a “native catechist,” who had four native assistants. An edition of the Missionary Gazetteer by B.B. Edwards gives a congregation of 16, with 2 schools, with 144 boys, 13 girls, and 28 youths and adults.

John Oakes seems to have been the leader of many of the humanitarian efforts in Tellicherry, and it appears that he had originally begun these relief efforts entirely from his own resources, and in his own free time. He would go out into the shanty settlements around the fringes of Tellicherry where the poorest people came to live, and to have fed and nursed many of them himself. His efforts in time attracted the attention of the other European’s, who were prevailed upon to contribute towards not just a school but a public hospital as well.

John Oakes monument in St John's Church at Cannanore. Photo courtesy of John Roberts.

Extract from Fort George Public Consultations.
24th January 1820.

Read the following letter from Mr. F. Spring.

To D. Hill Esq.
No. 78 Secretary to Government
Fort St. George
16th December 1819.
Agreeably to the last will of the late Mr. J. H. Oakes, Master Attendant at this place, deceased, I have to request that you will be pleased to lay before his Excellency the Right Honourable the Governor in Council the subjoined extract from the will of the said deceased, and to beg his Excellency to take the same into consideration.
I have also to state to his Excellency in Council, that there is already in Bengal Securities more than sufficient to cover the Charitable bequest made in the aforesaid extract.
I have now therefore to request that his Excellency in Council will be graciously pleased to take into especial consideration the latter part of the extract, that the will of the deceased may be conformed to with as little delay as possible.
I must likewise beg you to state to his Excellency in Council that in virtue of the power invested in me by the subjoined Extract, I wish that the annual interest of the said Charitable bequest be made over to me as long as I may remain at Tellicherry, and afterwards to whomsoever I may think proper to appoint, to be disposed of agreeably to the will of the deceased.
Lastly, I beg leave to state to his Excellency, that there has been established at this place for about 3 years a fund for the relief of the poor, supported by voluntary contributions, to which the deceased annually gave Rupees 600, and that it is my intention to add yearly the interest of the deceased bequest, to the said fund; and for the further information of his Excellency I take the liberty of submitting the report of the said fund for the year ending September 30th 1819.
With all respect
Tellicherry I have etc.
16th Dec 1819 (signed) F. Spring.

The following extract from the will of the late Mr J. H. Oakes, Master Attendant, Tellicherry gives some idea of the extent of Oakes private efforts to improve things for the inhabitants of Thalassery.

After the legacies shall have been paid, I then bequeath the sum of Rupees Twenty Thousand in Company’s paper, or to be invested in that paper, should I not then possess any, as a fund for the poor of this place, the annual interest of which to go to the purchase of rice to be served out weekly: perhaps the disposal had better be placed in the hands of the Portuguese Church Wardens with the Padre at the head: no preference of cash in distributing the rice, poor of all descriptions equally included. No part of the funds at any time to be diverted to building or church affairs, but purely to Charity. The Clergyman of the Church of England, resident at this station being requested, and hereby authorized to demand yearly account of the managers of this expenditure shall should the disposal be placed as above suggested. Should, however, the Chaplain think any better plan could be adopted of ensuring a more faithful discharge of this trust, he is at liberty so to adopt it. I must request of Mr. Spring whether he executes to my estate, or not, that he will, at least, put this part of my will into execution that relates to the funds for the poor; that he will address the Government intimating the sum wished to be invested in Company’s paper to form a fund for the relief of the poor at Tellicherry, requesting it may be received into the Company’s treasury and continued there on the same terms, and under the same protection other charitable purposes meet at their hands, the interest to be transmitted, as it becomes due, to one of their servants at Tellicherry, and by him made over to those with whom the contribution is intrusted, and thus for ever.

A true Copy
Signed F. Spring

In his letter to Fort St George Francis Spring enclosed the following account of the first six months of operations of the newly founded Tellicherry Hospital, which appears to have grown out of Oakes work with the poor of Tellicherry.

Association for the relief of the Poor of Tellicherry Report 1818 – 19.
The Superintendent of your association for the relief of the poor of this place in presenting the report of proceedings for 1818-19, meets the Society with mingled feelings of satisfaction and sorrow.
He has much grounds for rejoicing in the prosperity of the Society’s funds; in the reliefs afforded to the really distressed; in the general improvement of the executive department; and, last, though not least, in the establishment of a Hospital for the cure of the diseased.
But he has much cause for regret when he reflects upon the loss, which the association has sustained in the death of one of its undaunted patrons and finest supporters. Liberal as was the sum which he annually subscribed in support of the fund, it is the active part which he took in the Society’s proceedings, that must especially call for the feelings of regret at his sudden and premature departure.
Like another Howard and scarcely on a smaller scale, he visited the habitations of the destitute, and prevented the abuse of his charity by personal examination of the old and the sick, the lame and the blind. Thus was he better enabled, and it need not be said that he did so, with the greatest readiness to co-operate with your superintendent in discriminating, from amongst the numerous applications, the proper proportion to be afforded to each. His own humane heart always suggested a due liberality; his sense of the necessity of distributing judiciously, that every one might have a little, with held him from profusion. Like another Howard too he fell, speaking after the manner of men, a victim to his benevolent exertions. His tender constitution, probably so rendered by the sparing manner in which he lived in order to give more abundantly to the poor, was ill [entated?] to resist that dire disease, which hath, alas, with him, cut off so rising a flower of our country.
The association will not consider this tribute of respect to a departed member as irrelevant to the object of this report, or unconnected with its future proceedings, when they learn that he has bequeathed no less a sum than 20,000 Rupees in the Honourable Company’s paper, the annual interest of which is to be applied to the purchase of rice for the relief of the poor of this place for ever. Your Superintendent would now proceed to specify what has been done during the past year; and first with regard to the funds. At the close of the preceding year, there remained in the Trustees Funds a balance of Rupees 817.1.16. The last year has produced donations and subscriptions, and some small arrears paid up, the sum of Rs. 2111.2.80. making a total of rupees 2,928,3,96. From this sum have been expended in the purchase of rice Rupees 2201, 0, 20; for a writer and sundry expenses Rupees 115, 2, 40; on account of the hospital, of which a detail will be subjoined, Rupees 55, 3, 71, making a total of Rupees 2372,2,31, which, subtracted from the receipts, leaves a balance in funds of the Treasurer at the close of the year ending September 30 1819 of Rupees 556.1.65.
While however the Superintendent thus rejoices in the prosperity of the Societies funds, he cannot refrain at this stage of the report from suggesting to the subscribers the great necessity of their continued and liberal support.
The Hospital is a recent Establishment, and therefore has not yet drawn largely upon the funds. All things being take into consideration, upon a rough estimate formed from the disbursements of less than 3 months, the expenditure attached to this institution cannot be less than Rupees 300 or 400 annually. Besides this addition to the disbursements by the loss of our benevolent fund there is made in the receipts an annual deficiency of Rupees 600, the amount of his subscription, so that in fact a thousand Rupees are to be made up from our own resources. Tis true, that by the will of our departed friend, a much larger sum than what he subscribed is devoted to the very same purposes in which we are engaged, and at the same place. Yet it is to be supposed that he thereby intended to increase rather than lessen the number of objects to be relieved, and to set us an example that we might follow his steps. And it is rational to expect that many proper objects will apply to us for relief now that the streams of his personal charity are dried up.
The next object which this report embraces is the great relief afforded to the really distressed. It is quite needless to insist here upon the number of persons relieved, the nature of their wants, their destitute conditions, their particular infirmities. A visit to the place of distribution at the time appointed would set forth more eloquently than words the quantity, and quality of human misery to which by your liberality and generous sympathy some alleviation has been afforded.
There are two points of view, however, in which your Superintendent the utility of this institution eminently shine forth, the discouragement which is given thereby to common begging, and the help which is afforded to the deserving in distress. It is impossible wholly to prevent mendacity, but since it has been the established rule of this association only to give a scanty subsidence, and to them alone who stately reside at the place, common itinerant beggars can neither obtain nor retain a ticket. Many deserving persons, on the other hand, have been relieved, who, upon the recovery of health, and obtaining employment, have gladly relinquished their claims on the fund to earn an honest livelihood.
The third part of this report relates to the general improvements made in carrying into execution the objects of the Society.
To prevent abuse from fraud, and waste, is not an easy, is not an easy thing at any time; experience can alone conduct to the most effectual measures. There were considerations which, in the first instance, seemed t suggest the propriety of making a weekly distribution of rice at 3 different places.
The superintendence was thereby rendered more difficult, nor was the measure found productive of any good result. The plan therefore has been recently adopted of distributing the whole at one place. This, together with list of the persons relieved, the quantity given to each, the time of admission and removal, and the reason thereof, and also weekly returns of the quantity of rice absolutely distributed, renders the mode of distribution as perfect as the nature of the case will admit.
Lastly, the report has to advert to the establishment of an Hospital for the cure of the diseased. Several circumstances led to the forming of this institution, but mainly the consideration, that many objects, who, through sickness, were chargeable on the poor fund, might be easily restored to health, and again capable of providing for themselves. The opinion has even already been found to be correct, and the value of the Establishment, as an auxiliary to the poor fund, sufficiently shown. It is therefore very satisfactory to know, that out of 43 persons admitted to the Hospital, only 6 have died, 2 been dismissed as incurable, and 29 cured, the remaining 6 either went away of their own accord, or were removed for improper conduct. For general information it seems proper to subjoin that, on admission to the Hospital, each individual receives a cloth/ except there be especial reasons for the contrary / a mat to lie on, and an earthern vessel for food (which are not taken away, on dismissal / and, where requisite, a comley is lent. Every individual also receives daily rice and salt and 1 pice for the purchase of Curry stuff; a Tieta is employed to cook for and to attend upon the sick at 3 pice per day, and a Muckawata at 1 Rupee per month. By favor of the Zillah Judge carrying of water, and other labourious work for the Hospital, are done by the prisoners.

The Superintendent cannot close this report without expressing his Conviction that the association for the relief of the poor of Tellicherry will continue to flourish and abound yet more and more in usefulness, and that as in a certain place it is written the poor shall never cease from off the lands, so there shall never want persons, moved by the bounds of compassion, the common feelings of humanity, and the enlarged principles of benevolence to relieve them.

Contained within the report is the following list of subscriber’s towards the fund.

Account of Receipts and disbursements of the Poor Fund Tellicherry for the year 1818/19
Receipts Rs P Fns
Balance in hand Sept 1818 817 1 16 1252
J Stevens Esq 180
T Warden Esq 360
T H Baber Esq 360
J.S. Oakes Esq 600
Rev’d F Spring 240 Commencing 14 July 1819
F Hollond Esq
donation 100
H Laconby Esq
4 months 48
J Baggy 24
J Lapences 40
Mrs Lafenais 2
Do. 4
F M Lafenais 12
Leonado de
Rozario 12
A J Almeida
9 months 22 2
G X Affonso 4 3 20
A J Rodrigues 12
A Fernandes
1 month 1
Maria Suza 2 do 2
J Baptista 4 do 4
Jemmdar 8 do 2
Tolachu Moopen 1
Chatta Rootu
Moopen 4 do 3
Madaya Maunen
do 1
Arrears from last year Vizt.
G X Affonso
1 month 1 60
Ayalapa Ammafa
2 do 2
A Fernandes
2 do 2

Disbursements Rs P Fns
Moras of Rice 2201 “ 20
Cooly 17 2 40
Writers & Rice distribution 96
Stamp paper for contract 2
Hospital Account 2316.2. 60

Tellicherry School, with the trees of Pallikunnu Hill in the background.

If you go to this school, or have information about it's history between 1817 and today, I would be very interested to hear from you. My email is

[1]OIOC Private Papers IOR:MSS. F151 / 43 folio 50 – 54. Letters to Sir Thomas Munro.

Copyright Nick Balmer November 2007


Unknown said...

this is a wonderful blog. could you please post the scanned copies of the original letters from which you quote?

Anonymous said...

Hi Nick,

It's an incredible insight into the history of schooling in Tellicherry. I was a student at this school until class four. I was staying with my parents in our ancestral home nearby, hardly 5 minutes walk to school. I used to fancy eating at the restaurant with a hand-written placard saying "Oon Thayyaar" (Meals ready) hung behind the glass window at Venus Corner on my way back to home for lunch every day. I never had an opportunity to dine at this restaurant though. It sold a full set of banana leaf meals for 50 paise in those days.

I didn't know the historical significance of this school until I read your post. As your post subtly says in nineteenth century the ordinary people in Tellicherry - like many people in the country - were deprived of food and clothes, let alone education. What a wonderful thing the British colonialism has gifted India in introducing formal education which was once available only for privileged people even in the western world.

My last visit to Tellicherry was in 2013 with lots of fond memories.

Thanks, Nick.

Best Regards,