|Tuesday, 30 September 2003|
Remembering L. E. Blaze' of Kingswood
by H. M. Nissanka Warakaulle
The 142nd birth anniversary of Louis Edmund Blaze', the founder of Kingswood College, Kandy was yesterday. Kingswood College is synonymous with L. E. Blaze' (LEB). All gentlemen of Kingswood know Blaze', even if they have not seen him in person. The discerning student would have a recollection of what this great educationist looked like if he had a good look at the large photograph of him hung in the College hall.
LEB came from a very distinguished and respectable Methodist Burgher family, being the fifth child and fourth son of Louis Ezekial Blaze' and Henrietta Charlotte Gernier, having seen the light of day on 29th September, 1861.
Having come from a family background that valued education, it was nothing strange that he too became an educationist. Both his grandparents were heads of schools; grandfather John Henry Blaze' at the Government Boys' School, Paiyagala and grandmother, Margareeta Caroline de Joodt headmistress of the Government Girls' School also at Paiyagala.
LEB was educated at Trinity College, Kandy, where he exhibited his literary skills by being the editor of the school magazine which appeared in manuscript form in May 1876. This magazine was published fortnightly thereafter, as "The Gleaner".
In 1880, LEB passed the first examination in Arts of the Calcutta University at the age of 19. He was appointed the Headmaster of the Lower School of Trinity College Kandy, on the basis of this qualification. In 1882, LEB successfully completed the Bachelor of Arts from the Calcutta University, being the first student from Trinity College to achieve this.
From 1882 to 1884 LEB taught at Bishop's College and at St. James School in Calcutta. Thereafter, from October 1885 to July 1890, he had a stint at the Boys' School in Lahore as the Second Master. All these schools were managed by the Anglican missionaries.
Whilst in Calcutta and Lahore he became familiar with relationships between teachers and students (which was quite different to his experience in Ceylon) and the participation of students in sports and outdoor activities without being solely engrossed in studies and examinations throughout their school career.
LEB returned to Ceylon in January, 1891 with a desire to start a school of his own, embodying the values he always wanted the students to have. The school he wished to found was to be different to those he knew in Ceylon where the teacher and student were distanced from each other. The school he was contemplating of founding was one that was not to judged by the results of examinations alone.
As important as success at examinations, there were other qualities that he wished students to possess. With this conception of his school, he had a gargantuan task to found a school entirely different from those that existed in Ceylon at the time. The principles advocated by LEB were not acceptable to the general public who were trained to evaluate the standard of schools only on the basis of examination results and stern discipline.
However, LEB was a different type of educationist. Being made of sterner stuff, he was determined to establish the school of his dreams and principles. This he did on 04th May, 1891, when he founded the Boys' High School in a small building in Pavilion Street in Kandy, with just 11 boys. He was the first Principal of the school. Later, in July 1894, the management of the school was handed over to the Methodist Mission and it was registered by the Government as a grant-in-aid school in 1896. With the rapid increase in the number of students, the school was shifted to Browrigg Street in 1897, and in 1898 the school was re-named Kingswood College.
With his background in Calcutta and Lahore, and the knowledge gained about the public schools in England, he was very keen to introduce his students to the value of manly sport in building of character. He introduced Rugby Football to his students, the game he had learnt in India. Kingswood became the first school in Ceylon to play Rugby Football. With Trinity taking the cue, the first Rugby Football match was played between these two schools, and the records have it that the match ended in a draw.
Kingswood achieved another first when LEB, against the existing traditions in schools at the time, appointed a lady teacher to the Lower School. This drew a lot of criticism, but as time went on, even the other traditional boys' schools followed suit.
LEB introduced the House System to Kingswood. With the background knowledge of the public schools in England, it was nothing strange that he named the Houses after four famous schools in, viz., Eton, Harrow, Rugby and Winchester.
Another tradition that LEB introduced to Kingswood was the reading of the Prologue at the College prize-giving, which is continued to this day. The Prologue, which was written by him when he was the Principal and for sometime thereafter too, describes the events that had taken place in the country and outside during that year. The anonymity of the author of the Prologue at present is maintained, with only a handful of persons knowing the secret.
LEB retired from the Principalship of Kingswood in 1923 at the age of 62. In 1925, Kingswood moved to Randles Hill (named after the benefactor) on the Peradeniya Road (at Mulgampola), benefiting from a generous gift from Sir John Randles, a distinguished Methodist MP in England.
Retirement, however, did not mean that he would enter a life of relaxation. On the contrary, he functioned as the editor of the "Ceylon Independent" and thereafter as Principal of Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa.
He also served on a number of literary associations and wrote two books on history, one on the history of Kingswood (titled "Kingswood For Ever"), an anthology of poems titled "In Praise Of Sri Lanka", authored several papers of academic interest and contributed to the Journal of the Dutch Burgher Union. Recognising the contribution made by LEB to education in Ceylon, he was made a Justice of Peace in the Kandy District. Later, in 1929, he received other Order of the British Empire and subsequently he was elevated to the rank of Commander of the British Empire.
LEB was fortunate to be able to grace the occasion of the Golden Jubilee and ten years later, in 1951, the Diamond Jubilee of the school he founded.
On 4th August, 1951, a few weeks after the Diamond Jubilee prize-giving, LEB passed away.
Even though LEB is no more, the traditions of Kingswood College are still maintained as he wished. All gentlemen of Kintswood, who have passed through the portals of this great school founded by one of the greatest educationist of Sri Lanka maintain the values that a gentleman should possess wherever they may be, living up to the motto of the college "Fide et Virtute".
No better assessment would be apt to end this tribute to an exceptional educationist than to quote what a close friend of his and a Principal of Trinity College, Rev. A. G. Frazer when he said "Blaze" was not only one of Ceylon's great men, but a man great by any standard, one of the Earth's great men".
Produced by Lake House