The spirit of a school

Trinity by Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe. Published by the Trinity College Kandy Old Boys’ Association, Colombo Branch
By Renuka Sadanandan

It is the story of a school. Not just the school but more importantly, the spirit of the school. Trinity College, Kandy is one of the oldest missionary schools in this island. Yet the story this impressive book reveals is one of a school that proudly asserted its independence in the face of foreign domination and forged an identity that was uniquely tied to its hometown.

“The first missionaries who entered Kandy.... recognized the need to respect the world the school was part of, and despite their zealous faith, were compelled to offer the education that the people of the Central Highlands wanted. This gave Trinity a particular ‘tone’ and shade that no other missionary school in Ceylon could claim.” So writes the author Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe and in doing so sets the tone for this book, commissioned by the Trinity College Old Boys’ Association Colombo Branch to mark their centenary.The beauty of the book is that while telling the story of the school it is not confined to a mere chronology of historical events. Instead this is a narrative of men of vision and values, the personalities and beliefs that went into the building of the school and their enduring imprint that stamps ‘Trinity’ on generations of students who have passed through its portals.

The scene is set in colonial times when first attempts were made by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) to set up a school in the central hills to provide a western education for its young men and how after its early years as the Kandy Collegiate School, it was the arrival of one pioneering missionary, the fiery Alexander (Alek) Garden Fraser that was to define Trinity. Fraser was at the helm from 1904 to 1924 and his educational reforms and introduction of Sinhala and Tamil at a time when other missionary schools were emphasizing English were indeed revolutionary and subject to much criticism. So much so that he was even accused by his vice-principal of taking the missionary spirit away from Trinity.

The chapter is intriguingly titled “Sir, Christ is very little preached here…” a critical observation made by a student and indeed bears proof that Fraser was not your average missionary, intent on conversion. “Fraser displayed ultimately that Christianity and missionary work that rose above religious denominations, social hierarchies or ethnicity was all that mattered. By doing so, he left an enduring legacy at Trinity College, Kandy: the spirit of humanism.”

The stories of other principals and vice principals who upheld this spirit are also described with anecdotes of how they reinforced the school’s setting within the local culture. Names like McLeod Campbell, Rev. R.W. Stopford, who went on to become Bishop of London, C.E. Simithraaratchy, the first Ceylonese principal, Norman S. Walter, C.J. Oorloff, Lionel Fernando, Rev. W.G. Wickramasinghe, Lt. Col. Leonard de Alwis, Dr. Ranjith Breckenridge and current principal Rod Gilbert will resonate with Trinitians past and present. The book also pays tribute to the vice-principals, among them Walter Senior, Gaster, Simithraaratchy, Sahayam, Abayaratne, Jeyaraj, Daniel, Canon Ratnayake and Jansze who dedicated their lives to the school.

That Trinity spirit is the basis of another chapter where Trinitians who served the country receive particular mention. Famous Trinitians profiled here, are of course Lieutenant General Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Lakshman Kadirgamar, but also Lieutenant Saliya Aladeniya who was the first to be awarded (posthumously) the Parama Weera Vibhushanya, the Sri Lankan equivalent of the Victoria Cross. Aladeniya commanded the Kokavil Army camp and when attacked by the LTTE in 1990 held on without food, water or ammunition for 14 days and after ordering his able soldiers to leave, stayed behind with the injured. “Don’t worry sir, I will fight till I die,” were his last words to the Hq.

Fifty four blocks of stone were taken all the way from the quarry in Aruppola to Trinity College each on a wooden trolley pulled by an elephant from front and pushed by another from behind

From past glories, the book makes a leap to contemporary times and Trinity’s role in the changing climate of our country, when leading architect Channa Daswatte describes in the chapter titled ‘Of Playing-fields and Fair Play’ his horror in watching with his housemates at Trinity the carnage on the streets of Kandy and how the hostellers closed ranks. As the chapter progresses we are taken back to the Sinhala-Muslim riots of 1915 when Fraser silenced a crowd intent on destroying a shop with a ‘wet Jaffna’ (a small cigar steeped in acrid juice) and then how later that night together with six teachers guarded Katukelle and how Trinity cadets patrolled the streets throughout the riots.

The chapter also records Trinity’s contribution to the World Wars 1 and 2. Many are the fascinating stories recorded- the famous Long March to Colombo and how in 1919, the King of England presented a captured German machine gun to the school in recognition of the contribution made (65 Trinitians serving in various British regiments), the only such recognition accorded to Ceylon. Wonderful too is the story of Duncan White whom a Trinity athletics master Harry Hardy spotted streaking like a bolt of lightning across the Asgiriya ground in the early 1930s and predicted that one day he would make it to the Olympics, as indeed he did in 1948 bringing Ceylon its first medal, a silver for the 400 metre hurdles.

Principal Alexander (Alek) Garden Fraser (above) and (right) detail from David Paynter’s ‘The Good Samaritan’ side mural of the Trinity chapel

Recorded too is “the impossible transformation of Asgiriya from a sloping hill to a cricket ground” that too begun by the redoubtable Fraser who complained bitterly about having to pay for the 99-year lease. Trinity’s rugby history too has pride of place and so too the names of rugby greats. Little insets of the awarding of Trinity ‘Lion’, the history of the Bradby Shield encounter and the school’s over hundred years of cadeting history all make up the picture.

‘Their Exits and Entrances’- a chapter on Trinity’s artistic traditions, also encompasses the Trinity farm, which supplied the boarding and was yet another pioneering project and the contribution made by William Sinnathamby, described as ‘the heart and soul of the Trinity Farm’.

There is throughout the book mention of so many distinguished Trinitians- too numerous to mention here- Ceylon’s first Inspector General of Police, two Chief Justices, Ceylon’s first Rhodes scholar, commanders of the armed forces, Buddhist prelates and an Anglican bishop- a veritable roll call of honour.

Dear to all Trinitians is their Chapel and the book gives due prominence to it: “At first glance it looks like an audience hall built by a Kandyan King, an edifice that is at home and very much a part of the traditional world around it. It is an unlikely church”. Originally built in 1855 as the Holy Trinity Church, it came within the school’s boundaries as it expanded, and proved too small for the growing numbers. By 1915, Principal Fraser had begun a fierce campaign to construct a new chapel for Trinity.

The new church came up on Trinity’s most picturesque spot and was designed by Louis Gaster, a vice-principal and skilled draughtsman who “eloquently captured the spirit of the Christian Masters while graciously paying homage to the country’s architectural heritage in his drawings.

” The perfect block of grey granite for the pillars for the colonnades was found in Aruppola and the rock split by hand into pillar blocks which were hauled all the way to the college (two a month) by elephants, assisted on the last lap by a troop of students.

Construction that began in 1922 was completed in the early 1970s. “The Church embodies all that created it: the dignity that comes from looking to the past and the inspiration that is born when spiritual faith and a love of beauty meet.” With inspiring murals by another great Trinitian David Paynter, it is best described by another Trinitian artist Stanley Kirinde as “the greatest edifice in stone to be constructed in 20th Century Ceylon”.

The inner sanctum of the Cadet Room is strictly closed to the public. This is the only photograph to have been allowed public circulation in the Battalion’s hundred-year existence at Trinity

The book replete with anecdotes and photographs has much, much, more to delight Trinitians and any reader and the TCK OBA Colombo branch – former President Upali Ratnayake and present President Himendra Ranaweera and their Editorial Board- Sriyantha Senaratna, M.V.Muhsin and Rohan Wirasinha deserve commendation for having produced a volume that records so well, the history and spirit of their school. Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe’s well researched text is subtle yet evocative, capturing the nuances and shifts with admirable sensitivity and the design by Deshan Tennekoon matches its quality as do Alefiya Akbarally’s photographs.

The Trinitians behind it have said it is ‘their gift’ to the school. They can indeed be proud of it. A hardcover, coffeetable book ‘Trinity’ is priced at Rs. 6000 and available through the Colombo OBA.

Top to the page  |  E-mail  |  views[1]
Other Plus Articles
Voice for the voiceless
Hakgala in harm’s way
It is unconstitutional for politicos not to pay taxes - Letters to the Editor
Third-generation banker recalls family’s N’Eliya connections - Letters to the Editor
English is essential – it is the language of our global village - Letters to the Editor
Symbolic levy won’t make Lanka greener - Letters to the Editor
The language we cannot do without - Letters to the Editor
He cared about the world’s happiness and well-being - Appreciations
A man of the people and a true party man - Appreciations
Mummy’s extended family loved having her in the driver’s seat - Appreciations
Home away from home for Hali-ela monkeys
Trekking the Ramayana trail
The spirit of a school
Groundbreaking art book, a work of art itself
C’mon let’s be happy!
The best in literature
Don’t miss organ and choral concert
The young musicians
A delightful medley from Menaka Singers
Semage’s art and Lankan culture in Japan
The world in danger of the silent tsunami
Documenting the documentary
Lessons on teaching the little ones


Reproduction of articles permitted when used without any alterations to contents and a link to the source page.
© Copyright 2008 | Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka. All Rights Reserved.| Site best viewed in IE ver 6.0 @ 1024 x 768 resolution