The tale of mud hut to four storeys

After the establishment of the Buddhist English High school in 1888 for boys, now known as Ananda College the need for a school for Buddhists girls was seriously considered. Mrs. Marie Musaeus Higgins was born in Germany. Her father was Mr. Theodor Musaeus. She had an elder brother who was a lecturer in one of the American Colleges. She had three younger sisters. She went to U.S.A. to join her brother. There she was teaching and was later appointed as a translator in one of the main post offices. There she met Mr. Anton Higgins, who was an army engineer and a member of the Theosophical Society at that time. They got married but had no children and Mr. Higgins died after 3½ years of a very happy married life. Mrs. Marie Musaeus Higgins very much grieved by her husband’s death was reading the Magazine “The Path” published by the Theosophical Society and saw the advertisement published by Col. Henry Steel Olcott and Mr. Peter de Abrew asking for an European lady to take the post of Principal in a newly established Buddhist Girls’ College. That school was Sri Sangamitta Buddhist Girls’ College at Tichborne Place, Maradana. Mrs., Higgins was stirred by seen the advertisement and applied for the post, and received a prompt reply from Col. H.S. Olcott asking her to come immediately to Ceylon to take up the post.

Mrs. Higgins arrived at 12.00 noon on 15th November 1889 at Colombo harbour in a ship named “Prussian”. She assumed duties as the Principal of Sri Sangamitta Buddhist Girls’ College at Maradana. Under Mrs. Higgins the school prospered in no time, but she was discouraged because, Sinhalese gentlemen at that time started to give her too much of advice so that she thought of starting her own school. That was the birth of a new legend Musaeus Buddhist Girls’ College. In 1891 the school started in a mud hut on a half-acre of land donated by Mr. Peter de Abrew who inherited this land at Rosemead Place, from his father Mr. William Abrew.

This mud hut was cadjan roofed and mud walled. There were 12 students at the beginning. They were
1. Amarawathi de Silva
2. Elsie de Silva
3. Leonora de Zoysa
4. Jane de Zoysa (Later Principal of the Teacher Training College)
5. Adlin de Silva
6. Leela Gunasinghe
7. Sophaya de Silva
8. Connie Batuwanthudawa
9. Killee Mendis
10. Lucy de Abrew

The Principals’ Office, Residence, Class rooms and the hostel all these sections were accommodated in that small hut.

While Mrs. Higgins was continuing her good work amidst difficulty and obstacle, an important person visited the mud hut on a rainy day. He was Mr. Wilton Hack who was on his way to Australia. He was amazed by the spectacle of students sitting on mats and the elegant and polite way they greeted him with welcome songs. He promised that if his business trip to Australia succeeds he will give a new building to Mrs. Higgins.

During that time Mrs. Higgins asked for help from the government and Mr. J.B.Cull then Director of Education, came to inspect the mud hut but refused to give donations, yet after seeing Mrs. Higgins he told her that if she got a good building then the government will consider giving aid. She was determined to get a solid building some how. Till then she forged ahead with her work at the ‘Mud Hut’ where work fit for royalty was under way. She concentrated on learning Ceylon History herself so that she could teach her students.

As time passed the important visitor came back. His trip to Australia had been successful. He (Mr. Wilton Hack) donated the entire sum of money that was needed to construct a solid two-storey building. In 1895 that building was completed and the mud hut so dear and reminiscent of hard but good times vanished. Mr. Wilton Hack served as a member of the Board of Trustees till his death in 1923.

According to Mrs. Bastiana Perera ( A teacher who served in the Training College during the life time of Mrs. Higgins), Mrs. Higgins used to take assembly. She knew some Sinhalese words “Ayubowan”, “Pansil” etc. She could not write Sinhalese. Miss. Amarawathie Silva was her translator. Mrs. Higgins went to temple and worshipped at the foot of the Enlightened one. She used to wear white laced frocks and when she went out she wore a hat. There was a rick-shaw for her and rick-shaw man was called “Thotakaraya”. As an ardent lover of History her students performed historical plays such as “Ramayana” every evening on the stage at the Wilton Hack Building.

The students wore frocks and some wore half sarees. The up country girls wore the Kandyan Saree. Every Sunday there was Bana and on Poya Days boarders observed Sil.

In 1908 the Teacher Training College was started. The first Principal was Miss Jane de Zoysa (one of the first pupils of the school).

In 1906 to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the work of Mrs. Higgins the Shrine Room was constructed.

In 1916 The Silver Jubilee was celebrated.
(The plaque lying in front of The Temple)

In 1916 there were three sections.

1. Musaeus English School – 40 hostelers, 150 day scholars.
2. Musaeus Teacher Training College
3. Musaeus Free School known as Higgins Vidyalaya

1920 – The stone was laid by Her Excellency Lady Thomson to build this two storey building which still survives as the hostel dining room and the upstairs as the dormitory.

1922 – The Nursery was inaugurated. The 1st Principal was Mrs. Annie Preston. There were 05 pupils at the start. Miss Amara Wijeratne (late staff Musaeus College) was one of its first pupils.

1925 – 2 storeyed building, ground floor class rooms and music hall. Upstairs dormitories. Ground Floor – now Principals’ Office.

1926 – July 9th Mrs. Higgins passed away.

1927 – The school hall (known as Higgins Memorial Hall). The stone was laid by Mrs. E. E. Stephens Principal of Musaeus College in Memory of its founder Mrs. Marie Musaeus Higgins on May 19th 1927.

1931 – Training College hostel opened by Sir Graeme and Lady Thomson July 28th 1931.

1934 – Schwart Memorial Hall was used for teaching practice in the Training College. Later Musaeus College Nursery was shifted from No 60, Rosmead Place in 1961 to this building.

After that when the Nursery was shifted to the new building in 1993 this hall was used as temporary A.L Science labs (Physics & Chemistry) and the front section as the Laundry until it was demolished.

The plaque in the former Higgins Vidyalaya, later the Nursery building demolished in 1996.

1936 – Miss Sujatha Nimalasooriya Principal Musaeus College laid the foundation stone for the extension office building on September 28th 1936. Now it is the present parlour and upstairs dormitories.

1936 – Dormitory Building Opened by Mr. C. W. W. Kannangara Minister of Education on 15th Nov. 1936

1937 – Col. Henry Steele Olcott Memorial domestic science class rooms were declared open by lady Abrahams, wife of Hon. Sir Sidney Abrahams, Chief Justice of Ceylon, on 15th November 1937. It served as the Home Science block upto 1964 till the new Home Science block was opened. After that this block served as the Upper School Staff room adjoining the Science Building.

The plaque which was in the old Home Science room later converted in-to the senior school staff room and demolished in 1994, to build the new science block.

1937 – Annie Besant Memorial Hall was opened by Mr. D. Robinson, The Director of Education on October 1st 1937.

1938 – Extension office building – 2 storeyed. Downstairs- parlour, Principal’s Office, Bursary Office, Administrative Office, Vice Principal’s Office.

Upstairs – Dormitories.
The front portico of this building was removed for more space to erect the Primary school building.

1938- A row of class rooms were built. They were used as Army Barracks in the World War II. These class rooms accomodated students of the Grade 4, 5 and 6. This row of class rooms, extended up to the ‘Siyambala gaha’ the huge Tamarind tree which was cut down in 1961.

In 1935 a further 1 ½ acres of land was acquired (The Western Block land). The school now extended from Rosmead Place to Barnes Place. Mr. Peter de Abrew worked as the Manager of Musaeus College right up to his death in 1940. To his nephew Mr. G. C. I. De Silva, he once said “This school was built on very firm foundation and with sincerity, of purpose so there would always be someone to guide it on”.

These words were prophetic for soon came on the scene, Mr. Hema Basnayake Q.C. who was appointed trustee after the deaths of Mr. Frei and Mr. Peter de Abrew in 1940.

From 1940 to 1945 the school had to be shifted to Gampaha due to the World War II. Some of the school buildings were used as army barracks. The Principal at that time was Mrs. Sujatha Nimalasooriya Fernando.

1951 – The two storey modern Science Laboratory building was declared open by Prof. Mailwaganam Dean of the University of Colombo. It was an impressive building. Down stairs there were the A.L. Chemistry and Zoology Labs, Upstairs the Physics lab and the Botany lab, a colourful Botanical Garden with a pond out side, to the west and in between the four labs there were class rooms and on the ground floor there were 2 lecture theatres in modern style.

Mr. V. Keerthisinghe who was in charge of the Science Laboratories further developed these 4 Science laboratories into fully equipped labs suitable for Advanced Level Science students, in 1963. This building was demolished in 1994 December, to build the new Science Building which was opened in 1996. Mr. Joseph Fernando served as the lab Assistant for 35 years. He was dedicated to his job until his sickness in 1990.

These Science Laboratories were opened in 1951 and the Advanced Level Science stream was started and the school was up graded in 1952 from Grade C to Grade A. This was during Mrs. Motwani’s stewardship till 1953.

1954 – “The Fourth Flats Building” as it was called at that time was opened. It was built to accommodate Primary School class rooms. On the 3rd floor there was a hall and the 2nd and 1st floors were allocated for the Primary class rooms. On the ground floor there was the pottery section for the primary school students. To the south of this building there was a play ground. It extended to Barnes Place, and there was a huge Tamarind Tree. Just underneath the tamarind tree there was the Nursery and to the West of the Nursery there was a Home Science building used by the training college teachers.

“This 4th flats building” was connected to the 3 storey Dormitory Building of the Training College by a bridge. Till 1960 this bridge was closed at both ends and when the Training College was shifted to Kalutara the bridge was opened and the connection between “4th flats” top floor and 3 storey dormitory building was established once again. Later when the Primary classes were taken to the Quadrangle Building, the 3rd, 2nd and the 1st floors were used as hostel dormitories. The ground floor pottery section was also closed. In 1994 when the computer room was opened on the 2nd floor again the dormitories were withdrawn. The Primary School morning assembly was held in the play ground south of this building until the quadrangle class rooms were built on this play ground in 1963. To the west of this building there was the junior dining room and some class rooms were demolished and the Tennis Court was built in its place.

1960 – Was a memorable year because the Teacher Training College was shifted to Kalutara in that year. This shift made available much needed space for the school. The Main Hall was earlier shared among the students and the teacher trainees and so was the netball court at the Barnes Place end. To the north of the main hall there was a building with a long corridor with huge cylindrical pillars. That building was used by the Teacher Trainees and when they left, the middle school classes were accommodated in that building. The classes were divided with partitions. The three storeyed Training College hostel was used as dormitories for the upper school hostelers. Later it was used as the lower school hostel dormitory. Since 1996 the ground floor is being used as the Day Care Centre. To the east of this building is the school’s eastern boundary wall and beyond that, is Mr. G. C. I. De Silva’s residence and the Maccarthy Hospital. The Nursery was in an old house near the Wijerama junction at Rosmead Place No.60 till then, and the Nursery was shifted from there to the Higgins Vidyalaya building which was vacated after the shifting of the training college. This Nursery was painted with pictures from nursery rhymes and the floor was in blue and yellow tiles. This building facing Barnes place was earlier named as Schwarz Memorial Hall.

1963 -The school student population increased rapidly. There were about 350 students in the hostel. The dormitories now extend into 6 buildings (all storeyed). The Gymnasium building was nearing completion. This 3 storeyed building was built on the ground where there was a two storeyed building earlier. It was supposed to be the Wilton Hack Building. There was a pantry, a kitchen and a dormitory upstairs.

Photos of the early Wilton Hack Building are not available) In 1963 the Primary School class room block known as the quadrangle class rooms were opened. The building was U shaped and single storeyed and to the west end was the main hall. In the square bordered on three sides by the class rooms and on one side by the main Higgins Memorial Hall, there was a little space for the play ground as well. There were times even the sports meets were held there. Around the ground there were very rare and beautiful flowering plants. On the four sides there were four entrances to the ground. The floors of the entrances were embellished with colourful design of cats, peacocks and other animals embedded in pieces of chinaware. On the western side and in front of the Higgins Memorial Hall a statue of King Parakrama Bahu was built and there were ponds on either side of the entrance to the hall.

Until this time the western boundary space was used as a play ground. There were jam trees near the western boundary wall and a long-jump pit to the south end.

To the east of this ground there was a wall bordering the Higgins Vidyalaya Building There was a long corridor joining the hall and this ground. In 1963 one storeyed building with 12 class rooms was opened. These class rooms were painted each in different colours. The roof was of galvanized sheets. The grade 6, 7 8 and 9 classes were accommodated there. A part of the play ground was remaining and there were two wells and in the remaining play ground the girl guides held their meetings. To the east of this section was Science laboratories. The Botanical garden had very rare plants and trees. The pond was worth mentioning. It was full of valuable aquatic flora and fauna. It ceased to be, to make way for the new Science building opened in 1996. The location of the pond was where the Physics lab is now.

1969 – 1974 More buildings were constructed, the library, art room, sewing room, book shop building and three more storeys were added to the gymnasium building. Mr. Hema Basnayake and Dr. G. C. I. De Silva, Chairman and the Manager respectively offered a continued and dedicated service to Musaeus College, the school flourished under their guidance.

1974 – 1990 During this time more buildings came up. After Mr. Basnayake’s demise. Mr. Ajitha de Zoysa became the Manager and the three storeyed Primary School building (1986) and three storeyed Middle School building were opened. Miss. C. K. Abayaratna was appointed as the Principal in 1981 and the school entered yet another new era.

In 1993 the school celebrated the Centenary year. There was a grand exhibition. Science, Art, Commerce, Sports, and the other like Computer, Mathematics, Astronomy and many others were well represented. The primary school also participated in this exhibition. Later there was a Centenary Walk, in which the past pupils, the students, well wishers and the staff participated. It started from school and meandered through the city of Colombo and ended at the Viharamahadevi Park.

In 1991 – Mr. Chandima de Silva was appointed the Manager of Musaeus College. He was the eldest son of Dr. G. C. I. De Silva, who was the Manager of Musaeus College from 1941 to 1976. During the period from 1991 the school got expanded, more buildings were constructed and the number on roll increased, exceeding the four thousand mark.

A modern two storey bungalow for the Principal was constructed in 1991. The tennis courts were developed and maintained. A computer section was added. It was donated by the past pupils association. A school bank was established in 1993. In 1993 (Nov. 25th) the four storeyed new Nursery Building was opened by Mr. A. C. Goonaratne and Mr. G. C. S. de Silva the Chairman and the Manager of the board of trustees respectively. Since then the intake of students to the lower Nursery and Upper Nursery has increased.

In 1994 a well quipped Badminton indoor court was constructed. It was one of the best in the island.

The play ground Badminton indoor court, Tennis court, and extended Gymnasium building.

Mr. A. C. Goonaratne’s sudden death in July 1995 was a great and sudden blow to the school. In 1996 January 2nd the new science block with four storeys was opened by the Manager Mr. G. C. S. de Silva. It is a spacious and fully equipped L shaped building. On the ground floor two Physics, General Science and Chemistry laboratories and the Vice Principal’s Office were housed. On the 1st floor a Zoology lab and another Chemistry lab and a Botany lab along with five class rooms including a staff room. On the 2nd floor another Zoology lab and a Botany lab with five class rooms and on the 3rd floor a grand auditorium and more class rooms were located.

The entrance to the school as in 1996. The mud hut in which the school was first started, was at, what appears as the inner in this photo.

The construction of the new multipurpose building was started in December 1996. So in the years to come many new buildings, with many facilities conducive to good teaching and learning in a good atmosphere and environment will follow. Musaeus College my beloved Alma Mater, thou has from that tiny mud hut to a vast expanse of buildings and produced many a worthy daughter for mother Lanka. As you stand on the threshold of your 2nd century, I wish you a continued and meaningful growth, fulfilling the aspirations of the Founders!

Newly Constructed Building

There was a soft official opening of the newly constructed 5 storeyed building with the presence of the Chairman, Board of Trustees on 9th July 2003.

On the top most floor are the gymnasium – to ensure the convenience of the sports activities of the students. The Western Music room – in support of every aspect of music, as well as school band practices and a room is separated for process of enhancing the Archives of Musaeus College Museum which was declared open on the 18th of November 2004 to coincide with the 115th year of the arrival of Mrs. Marie Musaeus Higgins to Sri Lanka.

1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th floors are separated for classrooms and on the ground floor, we have the Board room, Principal’s Office and the General Administrative Office. It also provides you with a pond making it an ideal place to relax sometimes near the Reception. The basement is separated for the Record room and for the MCPPA.

Thus it is completed. Let it be a place where values are absorbed and correct attitudes are instilled to create the total personality of  student.