Blaze was more for “Innovation” than “Tradition”.

Louis Edmund Blaze returns to Ceylon in 1890 after an 8 year career in Calcutta and Lahore. In his own words, he comes from a country — India — that has always given him the feeling of foster comfort, and joins Trinity as the Head Master of its Primary. He remains with Trinity for 1 month. He is torn between two ends — to return to India; or, to set up his own school along his own “style” of instruction.

In Blaze’s own words, he was disappointed with two things he saw in the Anglican Missionary education: (1) the distance between the teachers and the students which, he felt, was too harshly and unnecessarily imposed; and (2) the preoccupation with public exams. Clearly, Blaze was showing signs of being exhausted by the system in practice and, as a young scholar, wanting to break free. The fruits of these restless thoughts come of age with Boys’ High School being opened in 1891. (Read the Introduction to Blaze’s KFE: The Story of Kingswood, Kandy for more on this).

Kingswood, today, boasts of and makes much of “tradition”. But, if we critically assess the founder’s agenda, Kingswood is in fact a school that emerged by the “need to be different”. Of course, a school or an institute has to have its own rituals and customs. Specially, in the British Colonial Psyche “tradition” was a highly emphasized accessory. But, one should engage with “tradition” in a way that makes life meaningful. To conform to the “Old School” norm of the cane and snobbery made no meaning to Blaze. Sure — it is the “tradition” of education to which he was used. But, he takes the initiative to make life his own.

Blaze’s track record has ample evidence to show that he was ex-centric: that he worked outside the “frame” where it really mattered to him / his cause. To initiate a female teacher to a boys’ school could be partly an attempt at innovation (it may — who knows — also have been out of necessity; but, history, on such matters, can be merciful). To introduce rugby to a school that didn’t even have a playground can, again, be read as an attempt to break away from that book-bound education culture. By 1893, the school is seen playing friendly matches with semi-professional teams visiting the town.

Kingswood School, Bath

The status quo of the student is given esteem and recognition from a very early day — where the student is addressed as “gentleman”: a deviation from the public school norm. Being part of the college we get to hear of these improvisations Blaze is said to have effected. But, at the same time, whenever we refer to the school and its past, we make it a habit to look at the school in terms of “tradition”: the “Kingswood tradition”. These “traditions” — if there are such — stem out from what was brought in to break an “earlier tradition”.

Blaze, in later life, is invited by Sir Ivor Jennings to take up the Library at the University of Peradeniya; which Blaze refuses in order to be with his old school. For any scholar, at the time, the seat of Chief Librarian at the university would be a tempting offer that would round off his career. But, Blaze keeps out of this mainstream box in order to idle by the institute that he had helped on its way for 40 years.

Kingswood, in its early days at Pavillion Street

In a recent conversation with a close friend of the school, it was mentioned that Blaze “borrowed” from numerous sources and that Kingswood is, in fact, an amalgam of these “borrowings”. For instance, it was mentioned that Blaze borrowed the House system — Harrow, Winchester, Rugby, Eton — from the English “public school” and that he chose the term “Kingswood” from a school of that name at Bath. The institute’s original name — Boys’ High School –, it was argued, is fashioned to complement “Girls’ High School”, which was already in existence back then. The school colours — blue and maroon — was said to be “copied” from the Trinity crest (it was mentioned that the original colour intended for the crest was not maroon, but magenta).

These highlighted qualities, no doubt, excites a “different history” of Kingswood and its founder. But, it is not a history I would entirely agree with — both on factual grounds and upon insinuation. Let us say that Blaze was, on the whole, working within a “Missionary” education tradition — and, rather than saying that he borrowed from Trinity, let us say that some of Blaze’s ideas and conceptions were informed by the larger Colonial Missionary tradition of the time. In  KFE: The Story of Kingswood, Kandy Blaze himself acknowledges how he was inspired by school boy tales in the tradition of Rugby and Eton.

The name Boys’ High School sounds a prudent enough choice for a newly founded private college against the “automatic choice” of a streamlined education system. It is only in 1898 that the name “Kingswood” is preferred. But, can we isolate Blaze as a “copier” (in fact, the new name was chosen not by Blaze as an individual but by a special committee working on this matter)? Where do names such as “Trinity”, “Wesley”, “Richmond” come from? As I argued above, these are importations that inevitably happen in a Colonial setting.

Richmond, Galle. Sister school to Kingswood

I am personally unaware whether there is any evidence that demonstrates that the college maroon at one point had been magenta. If there is such evidence I stand corrected. But, from what I have read, the colours maroon and blue were used to symbolize “loyalty” and “manfulness”. To trace the origins of the school colours to Trinity’s crest is again a bit problematic — specially, since the Kingswood crest comes to being many years after Trinity; and since Kingswood is Wesleyan in its missionary ties, to begin with. To say that Kingswood looked up to a college that is alien to its creed, to me, is debatable.

Furthermore, when you place all the above aspects side by side with the tenacity LE Blaze shows as an “initiator” and as a man of improvisation the “copy-paste” argument becomes even more flippant. Blaze consistently shows a radical strain, even as he operates within accepted Colonial / Missionary structures and practices. Would he, therefore, make a “Chinese Product” where his educational mission is concerned? Let us rather say that within the larger missionary consciousness the “shield”, the “magenta” / maroon, the “blue” and the “cross” are popularly used and are repeatedly seen. In the Missionary tradition, so are names and titles such as Boys’ High School and Girls’ High School. For instance, Blaze’s affiliation at Lahore was to Boys’ High School, Lahore. Why cannot it be that he drew inspiration from this Lahore institute with which he shared a close bond, when naming his new college? This, to me, is more logical and plausible.

Similar patterns in crests designed under Colonial influence
Different in design, but resonant all the same: the crest of Wesley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As much as contestant interpretations are welcome — for they help us to be humble — let us also see Blaze / a phenomenon in the wider perspective it offers. A fellow with a visionary view on education — a Ceylonese education, by all means — he uses his creativity in order to create new benchmarks for his followers. These benchmarks, I am sure, were meant to be points for us to take off from; and not hammocks for us to rest in, swinging from side to side.

 

 

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