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Origin and Growth


Origin and Growth of Presidency College

The Presidency College, Chennai is one of the prestigious colleges of India. With its imposing Indo-Sarcenic structure alongside the world’s second largest and beautiful Marina Beach of the Bay of Bengal is an ideal location to impart knowledge. Presidency College, Madras was established in October 15, 1840 as a preparatory school then a High school and later to a graduate college. As the Principal, the choice of Governor Elphinstone was on E.B. Powell, a University of Cambridge Wrangler in Mathematics, E.B. Powell accepted the post because of his intimacy with the Governor. Powell reached Bombay on 20th September 1840 but he did not arrive at Madras until 24th November, 1840. In the meantime, the Committee had invited Mr. Cooper from the Hoogly College, Calcutta, to carry out the duties of Principal temporarily, at a salary of Rs.400 a month. He accepted the invitation and came to Madras. He and his staff opened Presidency School, a preparatory School in a rented building at Egmore known as Edinburgh Home on 15 October 1840. Within few weeks of the opening of the Preparatory School by Cooper, plans were made for the inauguration of the High School. The high school was then popularly called as Madras University. Cooper remained in the preparatory school for only a few months. Soon after Eyre Burton Powell’s arrival and before the opening of the High School department in April 1841, Cooper returned to Calcutta. The preparatory school was then shifted to Popham’s Broadway in 1841. The first Principal of the college Lord Eyre Burton Powell M.A., C.S.I (1840-1862) was instrumental in not only laying solid foundations for the College but also had the vision to grow the College into a prestigious institution of international repute. He had achieved the vision and foresight to come during his period as the College becoming a shining example amongst the colleges in India. At that time, the President of the Governing Body of Public Institutions George Newton presented before the Governor to develop it to collegiate grade. Although it has many features in common with some of the scholastic institutions of other Presidencies, yet it possessed features aimed at practical results which surpassed others.

At the beginning of the institution no one in Madras Presidency had received more than a middle-school secondary education and hence the task of the administration was to train a few people beyond the High School grade to that of a University. Nobody had ever been trained to enter upon higher education which was the qualification for higher duties of life. Thus, in all practical purposes the Board had been mindful of the quality and the ends of the institution they had planned. It was transferred in 1855; the High School of Madras University was transferred from the administration of its President and Governors to the newly created department of public instruction and revised its name as Presidency College.

The Directorate of Public Instructions (DPI) was the creation of Lord Elphinstone who was the Governor of Madras. When the High School of Madras University was inaugurated on14th April 1841 Education was divided into High School studies for the cultivation of English literature, the vernacular language, Philosophy and Science and College Studies for providing instruction in the higher branches of literature, arts, philosophy and science.

In the early days when the College was the university it awarded its own degrees and diplomas which were conferred publicly at an annual function over which the governors of Madras presided. This was in accordance with the instructions of the Honourable the Court of Directors of the East India Company, who in their Despatch No.23 dated 28th August 1844. It would tend to materially elevate the credit and respectability of the institution if the prizes which may be awarded at the public examination were presented to the successful candidates by the Governor of Fort St. George himself.