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Thurstan College 55th Founder's Day - Jan. 11

Thurstan College was founded on January 11, 1950 and was opened by the then Minister of Education E. A. Nugawela. Its first Principal Douglas Earle Allen Schokman addressed the assembly, where 53 students were present. However, they were not students of Thurstan, but Government Senior School.


President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga Prime Minister 
Mahinda Rajapakse

The Government Senior School was formed to accommodate the overflow of students from Royal Primary who could not gain admission to Royal College in the period 1947 to 1949. These 112 students were accommodated in Form I (Year 6), Form II (Year 7), Form III (Year 8), together with 26 students new entrants to Lower Kindergarten (Year 1). These constitute the first batch of students at Government Senior School. Prasanna Abeyratna, the present Treasurer of the OBU has the unique honour of becoming its first student.

Thurstan College has grown on rich educational soil. The college was named as Thurstan on March 26, 1953 on the occasion of the first Prize-Giving which was presided by the Deputy Director of Education T. D. Jayasuriya as it abuts Thurstan Road.

The name remembers the pioneer Englishman an Anglican Missionary Rev. A. J. Thurstan who established a Private Industrial School in this site in 1859 which he maintained out of his own funds which provided both Agricultural and Craft training.

After some years, the school was closed down and the British Government opened an Agricultural School in 1884 to develop the Cinnamon Industry, as Cinnamon was grown extensively in this area and even today Colombo 7 is known as Cinnamon Gardens. This school which was started by the then Director of Education H. W. Green too was closed down in 1910.

The Government then commenced a small school for the children of the area. When Royal College was moved to Reid Avenue in 1923 to accommodate the newly established University College, the Primary section of Royal too departed and in the vacant premises the Government started the Teacher Training College with hostel facilities for both males and females.

Denham hostel was a well-known landmark until recent times in the premises. In 1949, the Teacher Training College was shifted to Maharagama to accommodate the bigger intake of teachers and with it went the Practicing school which catered for the students in the periphery.

Thus the Government Senior School was founded in 1950 in the premises vacated by the Training College. The picturesque Government Senior School with its landmark 'Nuga' tree flanked by the University College and Royal, College in the famous educational triangle of Thurstan Road, Reid Avenue and Racecourse Avenue.

It was once again made a hive of educational activity to provide primary and secondary education to Sinhala, Tamil and English medium

1950-1955

The first Principal Earle Schokman was an Old Kingswoodian, who had taught at Trinity and worked with dedication to improve the newly established school. All the trappings which a Public School Education Institution of the time needed, a House system. Prefect system, Literary and other Cultural Societies, Sports, Cadeting and Scouts troops were formed.

No apt names could have been chosen for the Houses; Denham, Macrae, Robison, Sandeman, all past Directors of Education during the Colonial period who made great contribution to the development of education in Ceylon.

The college colours were Blue, Gold and Red, the reverse of the Trinity colours, may be for Mr. Schokman to remember his days at Trinity. The motto resounds exhorting all its sons to move from 'darkness to light'. On Saturday, February 9, 1952 the first ever Inter-House Athletic meet was held under the patronage of Dr. H. W. Howes, CMG, Director of Education.

The teacher in charge of sports was Kingsly Fernando and Robison House emerged as the first Inter-house champions.

In 1953, college commenced playing 1st eleven cricket with many under 16ers and they played against the 2nd Eleven teams of the bigger schools.

In this period the Lower Kindergarten and Primary classes were gradually abolished to set up a Collegiate school preparing students for SSC and HSC examinations.

After laying a solid foundation Mr. Schokman retired in 1955.

1956-1966

M. D. Gunawardane assumed duties in January 1956. He was a genial gentleman, but a stern disciplinarian. He was much liked the students and parents. He was able to rally the parents and reactivate the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) which was instrumental in building the first Shrine room (now demolished). During his era in July 1958, a two storeyed Science block, the new Hall and the Office complex was opened.

He reorganized the administration in different fields stressing on the need for academic development. In 1958, students commenced entering the Universities. The first two to enter was Nihal Gunawardane (Engineering) and Shunith Goonatelleke (Arts).

Rugby practices commenced in 1957 and in 1958 Surath Wickramasinghe became the first College Captain. The 1st XI cricketers were given the opportunity of playing with their counter parts of other leading schools both in Colombo and outstations.

In 1957, the Primary classes were done away with while classes from Form I (Year 6) to University Entrance (Year 13) prevailed. In 1958, with the onset of the communal disturbances, the multi-ethnic character of Thurstan was lost with the Tamil stream transferred to Isipathana.

In 1960s many Thurstanites were emerging from the Universities as doctors, engineers, and graduates from other disciplines.

1967-1969

The next Principal was P. M. Jayatillake, the mighty wielder of the willow, a cricketer of repute, who was the first centurion in 1928 of the 'Battle of the Maroons' between Ananda and Nalanda.

He came to Thurstan from Ibbagamuwa Central College where he helped this school to become a leading school in the Kurunegala district.

Mr. Jayatillake was keen to involve the Old Boys' in the activities of the School and he was able to reorganise the OBU and he was able to elevate the Thurstan - Isipathana cricket match to a big match status in 1968, similarly the Rugby encounter was also played for a Trophy.

Mr. Jayatillake who lived to a ripe age of 90 + used to reminisce his days in school when he hosted his students to lunch every other year.

1971-1974

Siri Pandithasekara, a renowned educationalist assumed duties as the 4th Principal in March 1970. He was instrumental in organizing the first 'Kala Ullela' and also commence the Advanced Level Commerce Section. During his period, Amnitha de Costa became the first Thurstanite to gain National honours when he was elected to play for Ceylon against the visiting English team in an 'Unofficial Test'. Jeff Rutnam too had the distinction of leading the National rugby team.

Another notable event was the removal of the Primary section of Mahanama College from the Denham hostel in which they were occupying. Mr. Pandithasekara left college when he gained promotion as Director of Education.

1974-1977

A. K. Waidyasekara assume duties as the Principal in the middle of 1974. During his tenure of office the Silver Jubilee of the school was celebrated with much pomp and fanfare. In his era, Thurstan was producing outstanding results in AL Commerce with large number of students entering Universities.

1978-1987

P. S. Gunasekara assumed duties as the 6th Principal in January 1978. He was successful in reintroducing the Primary section to the school which was removed in 1957.

This enabled a large number of old boys to send their sons to the school in which they had their education. Thus the bondage of Thurstan with the old boys was strengthened with another generation attending the same school.

1988-1992

H. D. Herman Perera assumed duties in January 1988 during the turbulent period of student unrest in Sri Lanka. He was successful in ensuring that the academic activities of the school were carried out uninterrupted. During his tenure of office he was able to bring the 'Maha Pola' exhibition to the College and from this he was able to obtain funds to construct a science block.

1992-2004

R. D. M. P. Weerathunga who was the Deputy Principal assumed duties as the Principal in late 1992. The youthful Mr. Weerathunga is a new breed of professionals who have been absorbed into the Educational Administrative Service.

They have been extensively trained in modern educational management techniques and are now being given the onerous task of leading our schools to face the challenges of the 21st Century.

He has been able to maintain a high standard of discipline in the school and has been able to mobilize all resources of the school namely; teachers, parents and old boys to develop the school. As soon as he assumed office, Thurstan was elevated as a National School meeting the exacting criteria then laid out by the Education Department.

Academic achievements have shown a gradual improvement yearly. There has been a greater intake of students from the year 5 scholarship examination. Annual prize giving has been held regularly to spur students to gain recognition. Thurstan was able to produce a Sinhala debating team of exceptional talent and they won many competitions.

Rugby reached a very high standard with more professional inputs being given to the team and also the availability of a ground of our own at Bauddhaloka Mawatha. They became official school champions in 1998 and were successful in beating their friendly rivals Isipathana after 35 years.

Thurstan has been blessed with old boys who on their own volition has donated physical resources amounting to many millions of rupees which is very rare in modern day philanthropy. Kumar Dewapura block of classrooms has already been donated and maintained by Thurstanites employed by him.

Graetian Gunawardhana's donation of a modern 25 metre 6 lane swimming pool with other infrastructure facilities is a beacon to all successful old boy entrepreneur of any school to given back to their alma-mater something in return for what the school did for them.

This was the high point in the Golden Jubilee celebration in the year 2000. There were many other activities in the year 2000 connected with the Golden Jubilee including a well attended dinner organized by the OBU.

The Principal has also been successful in obtaining the assistance of the authorities to construct a 3-storeyed Library cum classroom complex and extensive renovation to the school buildings.

During 2003, he was able to persuade the Education Authorities that there was a need to increase the student population from the present figure of 2,500 by at least another 1,000 and hence the construction of classroom complex is now in progress.

In 1994, Thurstan felicitated its first Cabinet Minister Mahinda Rajapakse at a largely attended Dinner. We also saw the first Thurstanite to win a Sri Lanka Test cap in Niroshan Bandaratillke and Sampath Perera had the honour of captaining the National football team while Shimal Aponso represented the national junior badminton team.

In Table Tennis Chamara Dushmantha became the National champion. Tennis was reactivated with 3 courts being constructed. As at the beginning of tennis at Thurstan, the incumbent Principal is seen playing regularly. Football also recommenced with a large number of students participating.

The long felt need of the College, the formation of Western and an Oriental band became a reality. There is an active interest by the children in the primary classes in drama and they have performed well at all island competitions.

The College Western Brass Band for the past few years has performed exceptionally well at inter school competitions and could easily be considered the best in the island.

Recently a Band Display held at the BMICH with Thurstan and many leading schools participating was an event of much stature with modern technology in lighting, sound and multi media being used.

The school has identified that in the modern era communication plays a key role in development and hence internet, e-mail facilities, website, public address system, intercom system are all now available.

After 13 years due to the good offices of the President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga Thurstan was finally officially given the title for the ground at Bauddhaloka Mawatha. Facilities were made available to play Rugby which was does for the past 5 years until the redevelopment of the ground in mid 2003 so that cricket could be played.

We are extremely happy that Kumar Dewapura has once again come to help his alma-mater and his Pavilion with modern facilities will be available for use when the first match is being played at the reconstructed ground.

Thus Phase 1 and 2 of the Sports complex will be completed, this year and Phase 3 which is the construction of the indoor sports arena is what has to be constructed in the future years.

Thurstanites are now domiciled in many countries. To keep in touch and to help College OBU branches have been formed in England, New Zealand and Australia. The official WEB.www.thurstancollege.net which was launched in early 2003 was considered as one of the best web pages designed by a school.

With this facility, Thurstanites living all over the world have access to its history as well as current activities of the school.

Thurstan over the past 55 years has produced outstanding distinguished citizens in all known spheres of public life in Cabinet Ministers, Senior Public Servants, Commanders in the Armed Services and Police, and other leading professions in medical, engineering, accountancy, architecture, commerce, banking, the law field, and company chairmen and directors.

Thurstan was able to produce its first Prime Minister when Mahinda Rajapakse was sworn on April 3, 2004 as the 19th Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. He was felicitated by functions at School and by the OBU. The function organized by the OBU was the best ever function organized with many of his classmates, Old Thurstanites, young and old and many of his teachers in attendance.

To perhaps add icing in the cake another Old Boy Chandra Fernando became the first Thurstanite to hold office as the Inspector General of Police when he assumed office in October 2004. Thurstan now has all the infrastructure facilities, which a modern public school needs to face the challenges of the 21st century.

Thus it could face the coming decade with confidence to produce distinguished citizens as they have so successfully does in the past half century.

All we need is the commitment and covenant of teachers, parents, old boys and well-wishers to do better tomorrow than what we did today.

- Priya Paranavitane, Joint Secretary, Thurstan OBU

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