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English education in the 19th century Punjab

Rajesh Kochhar

Reprinted from Kochhar, Rajesh et al (eds) (2013) The Making of Modern Punjab: Education, Science  and Social Change c. 1850-c. 2000, pp. 15-19 ( Chandigarh: Panjab University). 



Punjab was the second last territorial addition to British India. The ground realities here were different and the primary British concern was geopolitics rather than commerce. Education under colonial auspices followed a different route in Punjab than elsewhere. In Bengal, the British had the convenience of dealing with a new social class which had become wealthy through European connection and was favourably inclined towards English language. In contrast, in Punjab the British had to come to terms with the old aristocracy which had no major interest in English. In fact, the enthusiasm which Calcutta and its hinterland as well as the city of Bombay showed for English was not visible anywhere else in the country. In Bengal, the East India Company had been very keen to impart Western education and thought to the Indians through the medium of English. In Punjab however the officials who wanted the oriental languages to be recognized and respected gained ascendancy and successfully enlisted the support of the nobility and the gentry.

In the early years the colonial administration had kept the missionaries and the Christianity enthusiasts in its own ranks on a tight leash lest their evangelical zeal produce a backlash. However, by the mid 19th century such fears had passed. Missionary activity was strictly prohibited in the British India territories till the 1823 Charter gave permission to the British missionaries. The next Charter in 1833 extended the concession to non-British missions. Taking advantage of this, American Presbyterians opened a Mission in Ludhiana, on the outskirts of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom, in 1834. The Lodiana Mission as it was called opened a church in 1837 as well as a school.

Significantly the first ever English school in Lahore was a missionary school. As if in anticipation of the Punjab events, the American Presbyterian Rev. Charles William Forman (1821-1894) who had arrived in India in 1847 moved to Lahore in 1849. Many British military officers felt that since they had conquered Punjab, their own missionaries should work here. Accordingly the Anglican Church Missionary Society arrived in Punjab  in 1852 and since the Americans were already ensconced in Lahore chose to make Umritsur [Amritsar] their centre. Both the sets of missionaries worked together harmoniously, receiving handsome help and assistance from high Government functionaries at official and personal levels.

In December 1849 Forman opened an  English school  in Lahore with three students who were taught under a tree. In 1853, the school  settled in a palace known as Rang Mahal which lent its name to the School. Both Lahore and Amritsar displayed remarkable anxiety for learning English. Many Punjabi ‘noblemen and gentlemen’ made private arrangements for teaching English to their sons, and ‘many natives of Bengal who possess a smattering of English find employment as teachers’. The government opened a school in Amritsar in 1849-50 ( because Lahore already had the Mission School), with  English, Hindi, Persian, Arabic and Gurmukhi departments. Within a year, the school came to have a daily attendance of about 150.  About one fourth of the students enrolled for English. ‘The Seikh students of Goormukhee’ were about one fifth of the total. Among the Sikhs, ‘the prevailing caste’ was Jat; among the Hindus Khatris and Brahmins. There was similarly a flourishing English school in Rawalpindi, ‘supported with the sanction of the citizens by a surplus town duty proceeds’. Both the Amritsar and the Rawalpindi schools were handed over to the missionaries.

From 1849 till 1853, Punjab was governed by a Board of Administration, with education placed under the charge of the Judicial Commissioner. This is how [Sir] Robert Montgomery (1809-1887) who held office as Lieutenant Governor 1859-1865)  came to introduce the new education system. In February 1853, the system of governance was changed with the appointment of a Chief Commissioner, and education assigned (in September 1854) to the Financial Commissioner, Donald Friell McLeod (1810-1872) who subsequently (1865-1870) served as the Lieutenant Governor. In January 1856 a Department of Public Instruction was established with William Delafield Arnold (1829-1859) as its first Director. After his death the appointment went to Abraham Richard Fuller (1828-1867) who held office from 1860 till death. These early names are important because there were medals and scholarships instituted in their name.

A cess of one per cent of the land tax was attached to the education department for meeting government expenditure on education and for giving grant-in-aid to approved schools. The Government focused its attention on village schools while English education at district level was left to the Mission schools.  By 1857, the Anglican Mission was running schools in Amritsar, Peshawar, Kangra, Kotgarh, and Ferozepur Cantonment, while the Presbyterians had schools in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Jullundur, Ludhiana, Sialkot, Ambala City and Ambala Cantonment. Most of these were aided by the Government. Satisfied that the schools were providing ‘a sound secular education’, the Government gave them aid. It ‘takes no cognizance of and certainly offers no opposition to’ their teaching the Christian religion.

One of the very first administrative decisions taken by the British in Punjab concerned language. In the Sikh kingdom period, Persian had been the language of the court and of public business.  Between 1851 and 1854, Persian was officially replaced not with Punjabi but with Urdu in Persian script.  With the 1857 decline of Delhi and Lucknow, Lahore emerged as the main centre of Urdu literary activities. In Punjab, missionary and government educational efforts came to complement each other. The government focused on vernacular education at village level and the missionaries on the English. For the missionaries, English education was not an end in itself but as a means towards effecting conversions. When some students were baptized, there was a severe backlash and students were withdrawn. Hindus were not too enamoured of Urdu which they identified with Muslims rather than the province. This is how the government’s initiative for secular English education emerged, and Hindus took steps to introduce English for their children in combination with Hindi and Sanskrit rather than Urdu. The identification of  language ( Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi) with religious communities ( Muslim, Sikh, Hindu) would produce far-reaching consequences in colonial Punjab and later in Indian Punjab.

More than a decade after the Presbyterian initiative, Lahore got, in 1860, a Government High School. In the meantime in 1858, Delhi was transferred from the North West Province to Punjab. Two Government Colleges were opened in Punjab in 1864 as affiliates of Calcutta University. While the one at Lahore (established 1 January 1864) went from strength to strength, the one opened in Delhi remained short-lived. It was closed in 1877, and the students and faculty transferred to Lahore. It was only in 1881 that Delhi got a new College, St Stephen’s, which was affiliated to Calcutta University. But as soon as Punjab University was instituted, the affiliation was transferred, Finally, in 1922 the College became an affiliate of  the newly founded Delhi University . There was another unsuccessful attempt at college education. The (Rang Mahal) Mission School opened College classes in 1866, but they were closed in 1869 because of poor response. Lahore Mission College was finally opened in 1886 and renamed Forman Christian College in 1894.


Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner (1840-1899) was selected as the Principal of Government College Lahore on the basis of an open advertisement in London newspapers rather than being handpicked by bureaucrats. He was an able linguist and at the time a lecturer in Arabic and Muslim Law at King’s College London. He arrived in Lahore in November 1864. As early as 21 January 1865, he took  the lead in  establishing a vernacular literary society Anjuman-i-Punjab with the twin objective of  the ‘revival of ancient Oriental learning’ and ‘the diffusion of useful knowledge’ ‘through the medium of the Vernacular’. The Anjuman which counted among its members not only the officials but also influential citizens, was in the forefront in campaigning for the establishment of an Oriental University.


As a prelude to a full-fledged university, Punjab University College Lahore was opened in 1870 and provided with a representative governing body called the Senate which included the chief donors or their representatives. The same year it established two important institutions: Oriental School renamed Oriental College in 1872; and Law School. The University College could conduct examinations, and grant scholarships. It could award certificates but not degrees for which one had to separately write Calcutta University examinations. The University College was entrusted with conducting examinations for the Medical School as well.


It is no coincidence that the nationalist Punjab newspaper The Tribune came up a year before the University did. The paper set up in 1881 became a powerful and successful forum to ensure that the new University was not entirely ‘Oriental’ but also imparted Western education through the medium of English. Although Leitner and his associates did not fully succeed in their stated mission, the fourth University in India which came up on 14 October 1882 differed in many ways from the three preceding Presidency town universities all established in 1857. While the earlier universities was named after towns, it was named after a geographical entity. While the Calcutta, Bombay and Madras Universities at the time were merely examining bodies, the Punjab was in addition a teaching University also. It awarded English-based degrees like the preceding universities, but it also made provision ‘for duly recognizing and honouring proficiency in literature and science in the case of those unacquainted with English [italics in original].  A person who had passed various examinations in Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, etc. could piecemeal write additional examinations and  finally obtain the B.A. degree. Such a degree was jocularly known as ‘B.A. via Bathinda’.  The expression probably rose because Bathinda  was (and is)  a major train junction in the (Indian) Punjab with connection to many small stations so that anyone who managed to reach  Bathinda would eventually reach his destination. Jokes apart, it was significant that the Punjab University bestowed its mainstream degrees through a parallel route.


Table 1 lists some of the landmarks in the 19th century history of English education in Punjab.


Table 1. English education in Punjab: Some important dates 1827-1910

1825-1857 Government Delhi College.
1834 American Presbyterian Lodiana [Ludhiana] Mission established. A school established in 1837.
1849 Dec. Mission School opened in Lahore by the American Presbyterian missionary Charles William Forman; shifted to the Rang Mahal palace in 1853.
1851 May Government opens a school in Amritsar; subsequently handed over to the American Mission.
1856 Jan. Punjab Education department set up under  Director of  Public Instruction.
1856 Randhir College (school to begin with) established. Intermediate classes introduced in 1896, degree  in 1945.
1857 English Mission schools operational in  Amritsar, Peshawar, Kangra, Kotgarh, and Ferozepur Cantonment; American Mission schools in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Jullundur, Ludhiana,  Ambala City, Ambala Cantonment, and Sialkot. Most were Government-aided.
1858 Feb. The Delhi territory transferred from North West Province  to Punjab
1860 Apr. 15 Government High School Lahore (Lahore District School) opened with I. C. Beddy as head master
1860 Oct. Medical School Lahore (made into College in 1886).
1861 Brahmo Samaj Lahore.
1864 Jan. 1 Government College Lahore established, with  the principal G. W. Leitner taking charge in Nov.
1864-1877 Government College Delhi. Closed on 1 April 1877; faculty and students transferred to Lahore.
1865 Jan. 21 Anjuman-i-Punjab formed by Leitner
1866-1869 Rang Mahal Mission School Lahore runs College classes.
1870 Punjab University College Lahore established under the control of a Senate (Jan. 11). Oriental School (renamed Oriental College in 1872) and Law School established.
1873 Singh Sabha Amritsar formed.
1875 Government Mayo College of Art Lahore.
1875 Mar. 30 Mohindra College Patiala foundation stone laid. Began as school; intermediate classes added in 1880; B.A. in 1887.
1877 Arya Samaj Lahore.
1881 Feb. 2 The Tribune started at Lahore as a weekly.
1882 Feb. 1 St Stephen’s College Delhi established. Affiliated first to Calcutta University, then to Punjab (1882) and finally to Delhi University (1922)
1882 Oct. 14 Punjab University College made into a degree-awarding Punjab University.
1882 Lahore Veterinary School established.
1884 Nov. 8 Punjab Public Library Lahore established
1886 Government College Lahore receives an annual library grant of Rs 200.
1886 Mission College Lahore opened; renamed Forman Christian College in 1894.
1886 Punjab Chief’s Aitchison College foundation stone laid.
1886 Dayanand Anglo-Vedic College Lahore (school department) established (Jun. 1). Intermediate classes introduced in 1889; B.A. in 1894; M.A. in Sanskrit in 1895.
1889 Railway Technical School Lahore for Eurasian boys. [Now part of Government College of Technology Railway Road Lahore.]
1892 Islamia College Lahore
1892 Mar. 5 Khalsa College Amritsar foundation stone laid. School began in 1893; College  classes  in May 1897
1897 Victoria Diamond Jubilee Hindu Technical Institute Lahore established for Hindu and Sikh boys. [Now part of Government College of Technology Railway Road Lahore.]
1910 Dyal Singh College Lahore established.


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