THE HISTORY OF DOW HILL SCHOOL
Dow Hill School, Kurseong, ideally situated, away from the maddening crowd, commanding a picturesque view of Kanchenjunga and in a healthy surrounding, has today seen the light of its centenary. Dow Hill School as we know, is universally known as a place of beauty and love. It is on the hill, facing the snow-clad Himalaya Mountains. Amidst natural surroundings the school commands a wide and beautiful view. The lush and green vegetation, the rugged rocks, the water-falls, the play of the light and shade, fog and clear sunshine, and the vast firmament overhead considerably heighten the grandeur of the place. It seems to be the ideal academic atmosphere where the students do not feel distracted. In view of my long association with the school, I feel constrained to write a short article on the history of this institution on this memorable occasion.
In the absence of any authentic document it has been difficult to trace how the institution came to be named as "Dow Hill School". The general belief is that it was named after a lovely little bird called "Dow" (in a local tribal dialect) which was very common here.
Early in 1879, Sir Ashley Eden, the then Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, wanted to start a Government School for boys and girls of Government servants belonging to middle and low income groups, who could ill afford to send their children to the hill schools. A house called 'Constantia' was bought and repaired for the purpose of being used as a residential school. In August 1879 the first batch of fifteen children arrived at the school, who had to travel in a tonga from Siliguri and halt at six places before they arrived at the school.
Soon 'Constantia' was found to be too small for the growing school. It was relocated to Dow Hill, where the Railway Offices were vacated and the Railway Quarters at Dow Hill were handed over to the Education Department. The Dow Hill site was considered more suitable because the air was very pleasant and there was an abundance of water. Mr. Edward Pegler was the first Headmaster of the school; he was assisted by his wife. The Peglers worked alone till 1885. The school then had 103 students. In 1833 two more teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Barnes, came from England to help Mr. and Mrs. Pegler. However, in 1887, the mixed system was discontinued in the best interest of the school.
The school was run entirely for the boys for a decade. The boys' school was shifted to its new building in the Jubilee year of Queen Victoria and it was renamed as Victoria Boy’s School. Sir Charles Elliot, who had provided funds for the new building wished to reopen the girls' school in Dow Hill where it had been before. In 1893 the girls' school was started again in the old building of the school.
A period of 100 years for a school is long. During this time many changes have taken place. The collection of an authentic record for the long and chequered period is rather difficult. I have, therefore, tried to reconstruct the history of the school from 1879 to 1904 mainly on the basis of the school diary. A school record which has been kept from 1904 to 1950 has been used for ready reference; the memory of the old staff, students and parents is another invaluable source.
Mr. Edward Pegier, the Headmaster, was transferred to Alipur in 1901. Mrs. E. Pegler became the first Headmistress of Dow Hill Girls' School in 1898, and Miss Elinor Greene took over from her. She has left a short history of the school which dates from 1904 to 1909. This efficient Headmistress had a staff consisting of seven teachers. Miss Jessie Russell was in-charge of the training section, Miss Haughton of standard seven, Miss Stuart of standard six, Miss Phillips of standard five, Miss D'Souza of standard four, Miss Stocker of standards two and three, and Miss D'Cruz took care of the infants. There was a training section for the older girls. The school opened on 25th February 1904 with the Calcutta party arriving under Miss D'Cruz. The work however, commenced on the first of March. That year there were many distinguished visitors to the school, with Miss Daw and Miss Mason heading the list. The education commission came in April. The Bishop of Calcutta held the service for Dow Hill girls in May. Sir Andrew Fraser, the then Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, also paid a visit in the same month. His retinue consisted of his Private Secretary, the Inspector of European Schools, and the Chief Medical Officer of Kurseong. The Lieutenant Governor of Bengal promised to appoint a nurse for the school hospital. The Director of Public Instruction and the Superintending Engineer came to discuss the problem of the addition to the dormitory accommodation. The school was inspected by Mr. Stapleton, Miss Broch and Mr. Hornell.
The main building of the present school was nearing completion. It was occupied in 1905.
In 1905 there was further addition to the staff. Miss Everett joined since Miss Haughton had already left. Two Music Mistresses, namely Miss Acton and Miss Tubbs also joined the school. The record shows that the girls had a festive evening on Easter Monday and they gave a dance from 9 p.m. to 12 midnight.
Dr. Humphrey visited the school hospital several times that year. Miss Brace came from England as an Assistant Headmistress for the Dow Hill Training College. Miss Acton, the senior Music Mistress, left the school for some personal reason. The shortage of the staff was a serious problem. It could not be solved even by the sincerest efforts of the mistresses as was reported by the Inspector of the European schools, Mr. Hornell. Miss Elinor Greene continued to be the Headmistress till 1909. English was the first language of the students as at present. But no Indian language was taught. French was the second language in the school then and was taught from standard four to standard seven. It appears from the report that the girls had a poor command of the language. This was natural since no teachers with great proficiency in French were available in those early years. The first vernacular teacher was Miss A. P. Rudra who came to teach Bengali in 1927.
Miss Greene was succeeded by Miss Crawford who left the school in 1909. Miss Davies took over the charge of the school and was the next Headmistress. This fine lady set up a school for the education of the children of Dow Hill School servants. It is now known as "Davies Primary School" and gets a grant from the Government. After Miss Davies had left, several Headmistresses took charge of the school. A list showing the names of all Headmistresses from the commencement of the school under the website drop-down tag “D.H. HMs”.
The Training Section was introduced in 1904 for such commercial subjects as Accountancy, Book Keeping, Commercial Correspondence and primary teaching. The young ladies of the Training College also had some training in psychology.
In the twenties the students were divided into three Houses, namely Hastings, Wellesley and Clive, and the colours adopted by these three Houses were Emerald Green, Royal Blue and Cardinal Red respectively. In 1930 the three Houses were renamed as Tagore, Ashoke and Naidu respectively retaining the same House colours. There were a number of shields, namely, Work Shield, Sports Shield, Order Shield and Interest Shield which were awarded to the girls for participation in different activities.
In the early days the school did not have any uniform. The present uniform was adopted in 1919. Many things happened in the twenties. The school song was composed by Norah Hearne of standard VIII. It was set to music by the Music Mistresses of the time.
Till 1926 there ware no Indian students in Dow Hill School. One Miss Chatterjee was the first Indian student to be admitted as a day scholar in 1927 and Priscilla Ladenla the first Indian boarder in 1939.
At the Governing Body meeting on 17th May 1939 it was resolved that the D.P.I. of Bengal should arrange a press communiqué to make it known that 1 5% of the boarders were to be Indian pupils.
The first meeting of the Governing Body of Victoria and Dow Hill Schools was held in the Library of Dow Hill School on the 13th May 1921 at 3.30 p.m.
The following members were present:
Mr. W.W. Hornell. C.I.E., Director of Public Instruction, Bengal, Chairman
Dr. H. Kingsley-Ward
Mr. J. Coates
Mr. R. B. Addis
Mr. F. A. Wearing
Mr. W. F. Papworth
Miss L. Brock
Miss E. L. Milner
Miss Davies, Secretary
Till 1930 the Headmistresses of Dow Hill School were Europeans or Anglo-Indians. Miss Latika Ray was the first Indian Headmistress of Dow Hill School. The last Anglo-Indian Headmistress was Miss Rosaline Edith Ballantine, who retired in 1970.
The school presently prepares students for the ICSE and ISC(12) Examinations conducted by the Delhi Council. The school also prepares the children for the Music Examination (Theoretical and Practical) of the Trinity College of Music, London.
The School also tries to bring about an all-round development of the children by making them interested in all kinds of games and sports. It has earned a very good reputation, especially in hockey. I am proud to announce that one of the ex-Dowhillians, Ann Lumsden, won the Arjun Award in Hockey. There is a Hockey Club of the ex-Dow Hill girls in Calcutta.
From the history of the school which I have presented in a nutshell the fact emerges that it was meant for European, Anglo-Indian & Jewish students and teachers. Since Independence there have been radical changes in different spheres. It is certainly beyond imagination that the school in India was meant for only the Europeans denying all educational facilities to the children of the soil. Gradually our educationists thought it worthwhile that the portals of the school should be thrown open to the Indians. It was a significant political change. Even though English is still the medium of instruction in our school, the cultural heritage of India is never lost sight of. We want to make our students patriotic. Our earnest endeavour is that they should imbibe the best thoughts and ideas of the world in general and India in particular. Culture is the endeavour to learn and propagate the best that has been written and thought in the world.
We are glad to announce that along with English our Indian languages such as, Hindi, Bengali and Nepali are being taught as second languages. The recognition of the local language in the ICSE and ISC (12) by the Government has gone a long way in meeting the cherished desire of the local people, We feel that if the students are deprived of learning the regional languages they cannot aspire to be the worthy citizens of India. We keep in mind that the students of today are the citizens of tomorrow.
It is gratifying to note that our students are from the different strata of the society. Our school is no more the closed-preserves of a few. We do not believe that there should be any artificial barrier in an educational institution. It is well known to all that in our school the daughters of the Ministers, high officials and business magnates are studying in a healthy academic atmosphere along with the daughters of the ordinary people. The spirit of democracy and nationalism is a glorious feature of our school now.
Our school has completed 100 years of its useful existence after passing through various periods of trial. On this solemn occasion we recall with pleasure and gratitude the inestimable service of the members of the staff, who worked with zeal and devotion. Let us not be proud of the achievement but be conscious of our various limitations and work with unity and dedication to serve the cause of education. When we shall grow old we shall leave the torch burning to be transmitted from generation to generation.
Miss R. Pradhan, M.A., B.Sc., B.T., D.T.E.O. (Leeds)