History of St. Paul's School

A Photograph of School taken in 1905
A picture of The Dining Hall from 1941

St. Paul's School is an independent boarding school for boys situated in the town of Darjeeling, West Bengal, India. Entrance tests for admission are held every September. The school follows the ICSE curriculum till the 10th year and the ISC for higher secondary.



In 1823, John William Ricketts, a prominent Anglo-Indian leader from Calcutta conceived the idea of a school to meet the educational needs of the growing British and Anglo-Indian community in Calcutta. At the instigation of Ricketts, Archdeacon Corrie[1] founded the school on Saturday March 1, 1823 and the school started functioning at 7AM on May 1, 1823 (Thursday), as the Parental Academic Institution from 11, Park Street. This was located between the Archbishop House and the then Sans Souci Theater, in central Calcutta. The first Principal of the institution was Dr. George Smith.[2] The theater subsequently burned down and the premises were donated by the Bishop to the Jesuits for establishing St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta.


In August of 1830, Bishop John Matthias Turner, who was keenly interested in the welfare of the school, engaged for it the services of an able Rector; regulated the course of instruction to be pursued in it. The Rev. John McQueen was the first Rector of the High School. The school flourished exceedingly well under his supervision. In 1839, the school moved to what was the residence of Sir John Royd, Judge of Supreme Court.


Sometime during 1846, the High school fell into financial difficulties. Bishop Wilson came to its rescue with the then handsome gift of Rs.10,000 that enabled the authorities to purchase for the school, the more commodious premises on Chowringhee. The new premises were duly repaired and occupied early in 1847. The school was then renamed to St. Paul’s School by Bishop Wilson, who had associated the school to St. Paul’s Cathedral in Calcutta. The school has ever since had the privilege of using for its crest the coat of arms of the Bishop of Calcutta. The schoolhouse on Chowringhee was situated in the vicinity of the site now occupied by the Indian Museum and the Government school of Arts, and is said to have had commodious classrooms.


Although the standard of Education maintained in the schools of Calcutta was not lower than those of the national schools of that period in England, yet the general system and the training was at a disadvantage both physically and mentally due to the debilitating climate of the plains, which was not always sufficiently favorable to the feeble and inert children of the Anglo-Indian community. To meet this great drawback, Bishop Cotton, the Bishop of Calcutta and the founder of Bishop Cotton School, Shimla, drew up a scheme during 1859 for:

  1. The establishment of a system of education physically and intellectually vigorous, with religious teaching in conformity with the Church of England;
  2. The foundation of a school in the healthy heights of the Himalayas; and
  3. Endowment of funds to impart stability to new institutions.

By 1861, St. Paul's School was in difficulties. Calcutta was now well provided with good schools and St. Paul's was feeling the effects of competition from the Doveton College and La Martinere. Furthermore, Calcutta Boys School would soon open. The only remedies to save the school were to merge it with one of the more flourishing schools in the city, or transfer it to the hills. During 1862, Bishop Cotton visited Darjeeling, securing the “Jalapahar” (Burning or Flaming Mountain) estate for a second hill school he intended to set up (the first being the one at Shimla), and decided to transfer St. Paul's from Calcutta to Darjeeling. He also decided that the school's name would stay the same. His name has been immortalised on the School emblem by two hanks of Cotton on either side of the Bishop's Mitre.


Brian Houghton Hodgson by Louisa Starr-Canziani
During 1863, the School's valuable site at Chowringhee was sold to the government for Rs.30,000 for the premises of the Indian Museum. Aided by the proceeds of this sale, the present fine site at Jalapahar was purchased from Mr. Brian Houghton Hodgson for Rs.45,000. At the same time, a managing committee was appointed in Calcutta with the Rev. W.C. Bromehead as the Secretary, for the purpose of welfare of the new school.

In 1864, the school was finally moved to Jalapahar estate with 31 boarders and a few day scholars under the Rev. J.C. Nesfield as Rector. The school carried on in 2 small bungalows, called Bryanstone, belonging to the property. The hill was at that time covered with a forest of Oak trees, and the school is said to have been partially supported by the sale of timber. At a height of about 7500 - 7800 feet above sea level, St. Paul's is reputed to be the highest Public School in the world and the second oldest school in the Himalayas. The famous Kanchenjunga mountain range forms the scenic backdrop to the school, which is physically separated from Darjeeling by its location on a high hill that is a few kilometres above the main town. Large expanses of land and greenery surrounds the premises, affording the campus a feeling of isolation and spectacular views of the high foothills, the snowy peaks of the Himalayas and Darjeeling town. The current buildings were not the location of the initial school and were later additions as the school expanded. Between establishment of school in 1864 and by 1877, a new Building or the First Building, a two storied structure, was built on what is today known as the Lower Field. This building has been referred to by Edmund Cox in his book “My Thirty Years in India”. He came to India in 1877 and spent about a year at school as a Classical Master. In his book, he has devoted one chapter, describing life at school in those days, when the total strength was 50 boarders as compared to 31 in 1864 when school first started. This First Building no longer exists today, having been demolished around 1915, to create the Lower Field. It is said, that after heavy rains or on a Moonlit night, the foundations of the building are visible.


During the tenure of Mr. Richard Carter as Rector from 1878-1898, the first "LAY" person to assume the position, the school undertook building activities which have given it the face we recognize today. Until then, there were only the Bryanstone, the Rectory, a few outhouses, and the present Mt. Vernon Estate. The first Chapel was built on the site of the present Westcott Hall. A Cricket Field and Tennis Court which are amongst the highest located anywhere in the world, were also amongst the assets of the school.


In 1888, was built Johnson Hall of the Junior Wing. This building still stands today and is the oldest building built on the Estate by the school. This is named after Edward Ralph Johnson, Bishop of Calcutta from (1816-1898). This building, houses a Dormitory, the Junior Wing Library and Hall, and 3 classrooms. The magnificent buildings called Cotton and Milman Halls, which form the core of the school, were conceived and completed, coinciding with the end Mr Carter’s tenure in 1898. Earlier, the site where these buildings now stand was a large mound, called "Green Hill", a favorite place for watching cricket matches on the Top Field. Tradition was followed, to name the school buildings, after the Bishops of Calcutta. Hence Cotton Hall was named after Bishop George Edward Lynch Cotton (Lord Bishop of Calcutta 1858-1866). Milman Hall was in memory of Bishop Robert Milman (1866-1876). It is said that the stones used in the School Buildings, were obtained from the Quarry alongside the Tennis Courts at Dawkin's.


By 1898, when Mr Carter laid down the office of Rector, the strength of the school had gone up to 200 boarders from the 31 in 1864 and 50 in 1877. During the tenure of Rev. E.A. Newton (1899 - 1907), two Eton Fives Courts were constructed, amongst the rare few in the country and arguably perhaps the only ones in regular use today.


Rev. E.E. "Ned" Benson succeeded Rev. Newton and was Rector of the school from 1908-1921. During his time, the first Electricity lines in the school were connected in 1909. Building activities continued at a brisk pace during his tenure. The Lefroy Infirmary, built on the hill overlooking the Quad bears the name of Bishop George Alfred Lefroy (1913-1919) and was completed in 1914. Lyon Hall or the Main Building occupied in 1915 is an exception as it was not named after a Bishop of Calcutta. In 1971, a Second Floor was added to the building and named Centenary Hall.


In 1920, the school's first Chapel, located on the site of the present Westcott Hall, was demolished to make room for the building of Westcott Hall. This was named after Bishop Foss Westcott, the Lord Bishop of Calcutta (1919-1949) and also the Metropolitan of India; he was also the Chairman of the Governing body and a great benefactor of the school. Bishop Westcott lies buried in a grave, on the knoll below the Chapel and his bust is mounted on a pedestal on the Quadrangle. The building of Westcott Hall was also thanks to a liberal donation from the Maharaja of Burdwan.


During the Great War of 1914 – 1918, a number of old boys had served in the Armed Forces in various capacities and it was in their memory that the present Chapel was conceived by the Rector, Rev. Frederick Vincent Dawkins (1922-1928), who planned and raised the Funds for building the Chapel. A Plaque commemorating his efforts has been placed inside. His successor as Rector, Rev. R.L. Pelly (1928-1933) initiated construction in 1933. The Foundation Stone was laid by Bishop Foss Westcott, Lord Bishop of Calcutta and Metropolitan of India on 13th October, 1934. Meanwhile Rector Pelly’s ill health ushered in the "Goddard Era" of Rector Leslie James Goddard from 1934-1964, which also saw the completion of the Chapel around 1935.

Other than the school buildings enumerated above and built on the Jalapahar Estate, over the years, a number of other adjoining estates were purchased and merged with the existing school estate. The total campus now extends to a sprawling 75 acres. The other buildings on the estate are primarily the Master’s living quarters. After Westcott Hall, buildings on the estate were not named after the Bishops of Calcutta, but after the erstwhile Rectors of the School. The Mount Vernon Estate, acquired in early 1900’s was named Dawkin's after Rev. F.V. Dawkins, Rector from 1922-1927. Here are located Master’s quarters and Basketball court and is also the highest point of school. Legend has it, that the beautiful actress Vivian Leigh (Scarlett O' Hara of Gone with the Wind fame) was born here in 1913 as Vivian Mary Hartley, the daughter of Ernest Hartley himself of English parentage and Gertrude Robinson Yackje of Irish descent but may have had Armenian or Parsee Indian blood also. It is not certain, but it is speculated, that her father was a Master at school, whilst another and more probable and plausible version asserts that he was a Cavalry officer in the Indian Army.


The Terpsithea estate was acquired in 1955 and named Carter’s after Richard Carter, Rector of the school from 1878-1898. This estate comprises of the area below the Chapel and all the way down to Jalapahar road. Benson's and Pelly's are 2 adjoining buildings, located just above the main drive of the school. Benson’s named after Rev. EE Benson, Rector of the school from 1908-1921, houses Master’s living quarters. Pelley’s in memory of Rev. R.L. Pelly, Rector 1928-1933 is the residence of the Senior Master of the school. The Goddard Pavilion on Top Field, named after Leslie James Goddard, the longest serving Rector of the school from 1934-1964, was completed in 1964.


The last major addition has been the Millenium Block on the Top Field, built in 2001. This building houses the Junior Wing dormitories, Science Laboratories and an Information and Technology Computer Centre. On the retirement of Rev. D.A. Howard as Rector from 1991-2009 and following past traditions, the Millennium Block has been renamed as the Howard Block.


  1. Eyre Chatterton, A History of the Church of England in India Since the Early Days of the East India Company, London. Last Paragraph
  2. Facebook reference (Not everything at that link is correct). Also, Dr. Smith died the same year (1823).