|Thursday, 3 October 2002|
Blaze of Kingswood - great innovator in education
by Tissa Jayatilaka
Louis Edmund Blaze (LEB), founder of Kingswood College, Kandy, was born on 29 September, 1861. He was the fifth child and fourth son of Louis Ezekiel Blaze and Henrietta Charlotta Garnier. Blaze came from a family background that valued education, with several of his kinsmen distinguishing themselves as either teachers or professionals.
Blaze's grandfather, John Henry Blaze, who started out as a school teacher was later appointed by the Wesleyan Methodist Conference in England to the post of English Master in the Methodist Mission School at Bentota in 1821. He was later the Head Master of the government Boys' School at Paiyagala. Blaze's grandmother, Margareta Caroline de Joodt, was Headmistress of the Government Girls' School of Paiyagala, at the time of her marriage in 1826.
Two of Blaze's brothers won distinction in the legal profession: John Thomas Blaze, M.A. (Oxon), Barrister-at-Law, and Robert Ezekiel Blaze', Crown Proctor of Badulla. The latter's son, Dr. John Robert Blaze' became an eminent physician.
Very little is recorded or known of LEB's childhood. His education began at Trinity College, Kandy. We are told that at Trinity at the age of fifteen he was responsible for the first attempt at starting a school magazine which appeared in manuscript form on 15 May, 1876, with L.E. Blaze' as editor and manager. Thus was born "The Gleaner" that came out fortnightly thereafter.
One of his schoolmates was Christopher Drieberg, who was also a university contemporary of his, and theirs was a close lifelong friendship. Another of LEB's schoolmates destined for distinction, was Andreas Nell, who outlived him and died at the age of ninety-two. In his youth Blaze' was an intimate friend of Cyril Arnold Jansz, who became as great a schoolmaster as he did. Jansz of St. John's Panadura and Blaze' of Kingswood had much in common.
In his nineteenth year, in 1880, the future school principal passed the first examination in Arts of the Calcutta University - a significant achievement in an eventful life. This qualified him for appointment as headmaster of the Lower School of Trinity College, Kandy. But the youthful LEB was still not sure of his vocation in life. He resigned from the post of headmaster to become a law student. His heart was not in it, and he was more interested in literature and in cultivating a talent for writing verse. Perhaps he felt that two lawyers in the family were about enough. He may also have been inspired by the example of his grandparents, John Henry Blaze' and Margareta Caroline de Joodt, to choose the career for which his gifts and temperament suited him best.
It was in December, 1882 that LEB successfully completed his Bachelor's degree studies - a much coveted and very useful academic attainment at the time. He subsequently taught for several months at Bishop's College, Calcutta, and then for eighteen months at St. James' School in the same city, where he was again a teacher for five months in 1890. During this period the young schoolmaster watched with interest the growth of the movement for constitutional reform in India. We are informed that he appreciated the role of the Indian patriots in the reform movement. At the same time we see, not surprisingly in one living during the heyday of British imperialism, evidence of his loyalty to the British Throne (something for which he was rewarded by the British government as we shall see later on) in certain verses he wrote on Royal occasions.
This avoidance of extremes was characteristic of Blaze' and is a quality that he sought to impart to those who went through the portals of the school he was to found in later years.
From October 1885, to July 1890, Blaze' was Second Master (acting twice as headmaster) in the Boys' School at Lahore. All the schools he taught at were under High Anglican management. He was a Methodist; but this was not counted against him. In later years he acknowledged his deep debt to Anglican writings and friends. Sectarian barriers like race and creed, meant nothing to him.
Upon leaving the Boys' School, Lahore, he received from "his old Vth and VIth" a souvenir which is of special interest for the reason that its cover was designed by Rudyard Kipling's father. It was apparently intended to be a tribute to a teacher who was also a keen rugger player and it bore the inscription: "to L.E. Blaze', Esq., Captain... Semper Paratus... First on the field and last to leave it".
In January, 1891, he returned to Ceylon with a keen desire to start a school of his own and run it in his own way. It was to be a school in which the friendliest relations would prevail between teachers and pupils, where boys would really be educated in the right atmosphere and not merely trained to pass examinations. A sense of honour and obligation of duty, and even a spirit of healthy mischief were to be encouraged among the boys of the school he had in mind. Here it is worth quoting Blaze' in full:-
What disturbed me most in Ceylon schools, and in all other schools known to me, was the strange distance between teacher and pupil, and the needlessly hostile relations which existed between them. It is not now, perhaps, as it used to be; but one has to remember that forty years ago there was a despotism in the schools and not always a benevolent despotism. Ten years work as a schoolmaster convinced me that it was quite possible for a school to be carried on without these hostile or even strained relations between teacher and pupil.
Another thing I specially disliked was the craze for judging the merits of a school by its examination results and these alone. It was necessary that boys should pass some examinations, but there were many boys who could not, and should yet find a place in the school. Must all boys be judged by their capacity to pass examinations and to take a high place in the lists? A school had much more to do, whether by books, or by its general atmosphere, than to qualify boys for examinations; and the examination list was not the only, or the best, criterion of the worth of a school.
Surely there is some very valuable advice here to most of our school principals of today who seem to believe that the worth of their institution depends solely on the number of students who obtain distinctions in all of the subjects they take be it at the 'O' or 'A' level of the G.C.E. examinations.
No private school of the kind envisaged by Blaze' existed anywhere in Ceylon at the time. Nor was it by any means an easy task to found one. For, to start a new school with these two dislikes was, in those days, to start with the heaviest of handicaps; for "the first gave the public an impression of weak discipline, and the second an impression that instruction in the usual subjects was neglected". Being made of sterner stuff than the average educationist, Blaze set about transforming his dream into reality with grim determination and abundant enthusiasm. He was devoted to the ideal of allowing the greatest possible degree of freedom to growing minds.
Soon enough, The Boys' High School, as he called it, came into being on 4 May, 1891. This was the modest beginning of what later came to be known as Kingswood College, Kandy, which established new educational ideals and traditions in Ceylon. The school of Blaze's dreams started with only eleven pupils in a small building in Pavilion Street, Kandy.
In July, 1894, the school's management was taken over by the Wesleyan Mission and in 1896 it was registered by the Government as a Grant-in-Aid School. The rapid growth of the school made necessary its removal to more commodious premises in Brownrigg Street around the end of 1897. In 1898, The Boys' High School took the name of Kingswood.
Appreciating the value of manly sport in the formation of character, Blaze taught his boys to play Rugby Football, which he had himself learnt in India. This was an innovation as far as Ceylon schools were concerned and must be recorded as one of L.E. Blaze's earliest achievements as an educationist. It was years later following Kingdwood's lead that schools like Trinity and Royal took to Rugby Football.
Some years later Kingswood became the first boys' school in Ceylon to appoint a woman teacher to be in charge of Standards 1 and 2. Not unexpectedly this experiment was criticised by those averse to change and innovation but proved so successful that soon other schools began to follow the good example. Once more Blaze' and Kingswood had shown the way.
The loyalty and manliness fostered at the school were demonstrated during the First World War, when the largest number of volunteers for service overseas among old boys of Ceylon schools came from Kingswood. In 1925 Kingswood moved into the buildings it now occupies on what is known as Randles Hill, halfway between Kandy town and Peradeniya. This move was made possible by a generous gift given by Sir John Randles, M.P., a distinguished Wesleyan Methodist in England.
Blaze's service to the country as an educationist was recognised by the government. He was made and became a much loved and highly respected Justice of the Peace in the Kandy district. In 1929 he was among those who received the Order of the British Empire. Twenty years later he was elevated to the rank of Commander of the same Order.
By any standards, Blaze' was a most remarkable human being. He endured the early death at the age of forty-seven of his wife, of his eldest child in infancy and the loss of a daughter in her youth with fortitude and with the consolation of his only surviving daughter's constant companionship. Among Blaze's cultural interests was participation in the activities of the English Association, of which he was for many years President, Historical Association and the Ceylon Geographical Society. His most famous literary friend was John Still, and he was privileged to read in manuscript what he (Blaze') described as the best book written by the author of The Jungle Tide. That book was never published. It was among several manuscripts burnt by John Still when he was not entirely satisfied with them.
Blaze' of Kingswood will be remembered by the his writings as much as by his role as teacher and principal. Apart from his two school history books he produced an anthology of poems on Ceylon entitled In Praise of Sri Lanka and authored several academic papers the most valuable among which are those on "Ceylon in English Literature" and "Ceylon and Some Great Names" contributed to the Journal of the Dutch Burgher Union.
L.E. Blaze' died on 4 August, 1951, a few weeks before his ninetieth birthday and a few days after he had helped the school he founded to celebrate its Diamond Jubilee.
The assessment made of Blaze' of Kingswood by his close friend and fellow-educationist, the Revd. A.G. Fraser of Trinity, is an apt note on which to end this account. This is what Fraser said:
Blaze was not only one of Ceylon's great men, but a man great by any real standard; one of the Earth's great men.
Produced by Lake House