In 1813 the renewal of Company Charter brought about a change that affected both language and culture of Indian people. Knowledge of English became the key to professional services, and business careers. The Hindu College (1816) introduced instructions attuned to the viewpoints of the Orientalists and the Anglicisers both. The Calcutta School Book Society (1817) and the Calcutta School Society (1818) came into existence chiefly to promote education beyond the government initiatives. The Government supported Sanskrit College (1824) taught English and western science, besides classical literature. The Oriental Seminary, the first private English school in India was founded in 1829 by an extraordinary man, Gourmohun Addy. This school was different on many counts. See Jones.
This was the oldest, the largest, and the most respectable independent native school in Bengal. “Though Oriental Seminary was in no degree dependent on Government support, or that of any public society, or distinguished individual, it has never been unnoticed or uncommended by those whose approbation was an honor”. [See Manmathanath Ghosh: Forgotten citizens of Calcutta, 2013] The British dignitaries like Sir Edward Ryan, Sir Henry Seton, Sir Lawrence Peel, Lord Auckland, Lord Jocelyn, Mr. Bethune, graced school events with their royal presence, and admiration. Their patronage provided moral support to the institution from the beginning.
Oriental Seminary, primarily a Hindu-supported school, was open to all castes. It was first housed at Benshohata, changed locations thereafter thrice before moving into its own building on Chitpore Road. The building, now a heritage structure, was constructed by Martin Burn, and inaugurated by the then Governor, Lord Carmichael in 1914. Later three branches of the institution were set up in Chitpur, Bhowanipur and Belghoria.
The founder of the Seminary, Gourmohun was a self-taught man of strong natural abilities. He soon acquired a sufficient knowledge of English literature and Science to enable him to direct the studies of the school, and see that his several teachers did their duties in effectual manner. He took full share of teaching also. Though a strict disciplinarian, and having to do with the boys whose attendance is dependent on their own will, he commanded the respect of all, and was beloved by many. See Cal Rev, 1850
Good spoken and written English skills being his prerogative, Gourmohan did not hesitate to invite reputed British teachers like the eminent Shakespearean scholar Captain D.L. Richardson and others. Richardson also taught English in the school later. He appointed Eurasians for the junior classes and Bengali teachers in the intermediate classes, and for the upper classes he appointed highly qualified Englishmen or Bengalis. When the student rolls exceeded 200, Gourmohun took a Mr. Turnbull into partnership. After the death of his colleague Gourmohun conducted the school himself. He was rather fortunate in enlisting Hermann Geoffroy, a frustrated barrister, as Headmaster. Geoffroy was a Frenchman of great learning and master of several languages. During his tenure the school rose to great importance.
On the death of Gourmohun on Feb 23rd 1845, his brother, Hurrakisto Addy, took over the charge of the Seminary and worked most devotedly for betterment. He regulated all the details of the school, and took part in teaching as well. There were 913 pupils on the rolls. Most of those in the upper school required to pay monthly fees of 3 to 4 rupees, and 8 annas in Pathsala. The overall school expenses were on so large a scale that the income was not more than equal to the outlay. With its shoestring budget the Seminary managed to achieve enduring reputation for its high teaching standard and was considered most justly as “the one next in excellence to the Hindu College”. See Oriental Seminary. Annual Report, 1854
In the history of English education in Bengal, the position of Oriental Seminary remains stand out ever for its brand of tutoring design responsive to the emergent needs of the contemporary Hindu society. Oriental Seminary came in at a critical juncture when “many Hindoo parents, while apprehending the usefulness of English education, showed reluctance in sending their boys to English schools.” They felt insecured having seen the way the Derozians of the Hindoo School recklessly disregard Hindu values and customs, and how Dr. Alexander Duff and other Christian missionaries were insidiously shaking the faith of Hindoo boys in the name of imparting high English education. [See Manmathanath]. At this time of uncertainty and turmoil the Oriental Seminary of Gourmohun appeared with an alternative environment and reassured the Hindu parents of the best English education in his school. The school “had for its object the instillation into the young mind of wholesome principle of morality and the formation of a strong groundwork for useful knowledge, amiable manners and social virtues. In fine it aimed at making sensible men and worthy citizens.” [See Hindoo Patriot 16 Mar1854] A few examples of the illustrious personalities it produced are: Akshay Kumar Datta, Sambhunath Pandit, Kailash Chandra Bose, Grish Chandra Ghose, Krishnadas Pal, Girish Chandra Ghosh, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee, Gooroodas Banerjee, and many others.
Oriental Seminary still exists. Long back its creator Gourmohun passed away untimely in 1845 leaving no portrait behind for us to commemorate the great man as “a pioneer of English education in Bengal … [who] deserves to be ranked with those of Hare and Duff”. See Madge & Dhur