By Jeevan Thiyagarajah – Former Head Prefect
The School by the Sea is one of four campuses of what forms S.Thomas’ College. The others are located in Gurutalawa, Bandarawela and Colpetty.
The earliest memory of this writer as a youngster was with 23 other younger mates at what was Winchester House, the boarding house for the youngest. The memory ends as the Head of a multi racial, multi religious student body including of the combined boarding drawn from diverse social groups.
Thirty two years later, having a lunch of rice, pol sambol, dhal and beef curry brought back many memories watching Thomians of many vintages in the ‘dining room’. Accompanying were Cigar Jnr who dropped his lighted wick before entering college (out of old fashioned feelings of respect) and an illustrious cricketer who took over proceedings in the last two sessions at the Centenary match with Royal. In the words of the Rev. Canon Roy. H. Bowyer Yin (5th Chaplain), “You’ll always remember; wherever you may be, the school of your boyhood, the school by the sea. And you’ll always remember, the friendships fine and free, that you made at S. Thomas’; the school by the sea.”
Life in the Boarding
The boarding was meant to be the soul of the school. Life as a student boarder life was tough. There was no question of a well stocked refrigerator, bed tea, servants, additional food, branded clothing nor new sports wear or surplus cash. ‘Bell Martin’ ran our lives with the first at 5 am.
When the last Anglican Bishop who as a young priest and dormitory in charge got married, we managed to present him with a table lamp costing a modest sum, collected in most parts by selling off old newspapers. A few cents a day would get us a Chinese roll before prep in the morning fried by Mahinda, an enterprising gardener.
We had a trusted ‘food’ Matron who was in charge of the kitchen. Through friendly persuasion, it was possible to arrange for early food when on trips, late lunches, teas, dinners after matches, eat left over kimbula buns, ‘balu biscuits’ (dog biscuits which were baked in the kitchen), predecessor to current day cookies, with large quantities of what was termed tea, to compensate when hungry. End of term parties required serious budgeting skills where menus were decided and cooking undertaken in the college kitchen.
Reciting ‘grace’ was a tradition at meals. Special days gave us special menus. Prefects of the Boarding had dinner at the head table with the Head Prefect on rotation where there was better food. If he liked his food they were stuck for a long time! Residence for prefects was in ‘cubicles in the four senior dormitories.’ One of five ‘Martins’ at one stage employed at college would deliver the breakfast to the prefects’ room to be shared with day school prefects who became honorary boarders.
Weekends had dhobi and siesta time. Some needed a night cap of Milo or Horlicks after reading the newspapers, ironing their clothes or being late to school because they were busy combing their hair etc. Fork and spoon was used by all at meal times. End of term reports mysteriously got lost en route from Thalassa to the Post Office or suitable adjustments were made to grades. The range of sporting options was wide. Played according to different seasons. When boarders played we generally ran barefooted on octane provided by parippu, pol sambol and beef curry.
Leave to go watch movies etc. was given on trust and kept. Shops selling hoppers by the Beira or known for fruit juices in Kandy have on occasion been emptied, chicken bones would land on the pavement at Bambalapitiya junction outside the kottu kades after debates whether cricket balls could be white. Hitchhiking boarders at night gained entry through lose window bars into cubicles or the eminent ones up the drain pipe.
Parents had no role in either team selection, discipline or anything remotely connected to day to day life of students.
Some after admitting their children never ever met the Warden again. Some students were exceptionally bright while another set came with only a diary to school. We had several modes of disciplining including ‘on report’, detention, caning by sectional heads or the Warden or suspension.
Those who were punished and asked to stand by the tennis court gladly did so since thereafter they wandered off for jaunts around the school. One piece of art would be submitted numerous times to be marked with deft changes of water colours. Lady invigilators kept away from some due to graphic drawings of the human anatomy by those who finished their public exam papers ‘very early’. Some obliging private tution teachers would write the notes while the student feel asleep at tution.
Scores of incorrigible gentleman were produced. Echoed by Rt. Rev James Chapman ( Founder of the College ) who said, “The real end of all education is not to sharpen the intellect or improve the mind alone, but to form the character of the future man to mould his habits, to fix his principles, to make him good as well wise.”
The white Coat, Prefects badge and tie was a privilege reserved for the best role models who enjoyed significant status within school accompanied by expectations of exceptional leadership contributions. Respect was earned through presence of personality and not by barking or wielding once arms.
Children in school, or children in general are protected by universal and national laws. The school had a responsibility to protect children and uphold these laws. STC was built around the Anglican faith though it blossomed to become a secular school. The school could not indulge in nor encourage anything which touched or harmed children created by God.
This required considerable guidance, revisions and monitoring with steely discipline. Some of us rejected ragging or ill treatment of students in any manner but failed to set in place continuity. Enforcement of discipline required sound judgement and close interaction with those who wielded authority in the administration of the school.
The tradition this writer looked upto were the roles students holding office played on special events at College including in the Chapel, at Prize days, etc. There were also traditional dinners etc after annual matches such as in cricket. Much of what was expected came through the decisions of past Wardens and the Board.
Most of all College was famous for traditions which promoted excellence as students, sportsmen, and attached a premium to honour , courage, fairplay and character in the hope of producing well grounded gentlemen. These are goals which should pre occupy the school administrators and prefects all the time.
In the words of The Rev. W.A. Buck (7th Warden), “You belong to one of the best schools in the world, a school with splendid traditions and the most honorable name and I charge you to try and hand down those traditions and that name untarnished and unimpaired. Be proud of being Thomians and make the college proud of numbering you amongst its sons. Remember that what ever you do and where ever you go, your life and actions will reflect either credit or discredit on the College where you were and to which you owe so much; you have learned the best lessons in the world at STC. I trust not only English and Classics and Mathematics but true manliness and truth, courage purity and all those things that make a man and a gentleman. Try never to forget them but be men and gentlemen always.”
Thomians in general should be proud if at all of being a being a cut above many for who they are as leaders and men known for the highest possible standards of conduct and character. The main hall is littered with portraits of many famous national figures.
There is one whose father was a Prime Ministers as was he. He had been taken for lunch in Sabaragamuwa, where the intention was to introduce him to a particularly illustrious young lady who herself became Prime Minister though after marriage to another famous Thomian. The Kapuwa had forgotten the fondness of this young man for food and true to form all he remembered was the Wattalappam. History may have been different if he had paid more attention to other than the pudding. In any event as a gentleman his heart anyway was elsewhere on Horton Place and he was not inclined to look at another.
The college has several additional roles in our country including using the campuses after school for several revenue streams which provide for knowledge and skills for employment from early teens. It has an opportunity provide state of the art Boarding facilities for the best brains from all religions and races from around the country to sit for their A/L’s in English. It can lend a hand to children in underserved regions providing mentoring services. The human resources we have from Old Boys is stupendous.
The school by the sea with its companion campuses will always give us memories. It is for us to ensure they are ones we would be proud to remember. Something in the Rev. Canon R.S. de Saram (10th Warden) words meant,’ We have something in this school which is good and precious. Guard it well, keep it bright. Never do anything that will bring shame to S. Thomas’.”