The La Martiniere for Boys archive on the campus and (right) some of the exhibits inside. Pictures by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
The pages may have become brown and brittle but they tell the story of the formation of the La Martiniere schools. The document, the will and testament of the founder of the schools, major general Claude Martin, is one of the historical records dating as far back as 1800 that have found place in the La Martiniere for Boys archive, which was inaugurated on the campus on Monday.
“Major general Martin made a will that was vetted by the Supreme Court of India, which was then in Calcutta, and later became the constitution of this institution,” said Supriyo Dhar, the secretary of the La Martiniere schools.
They were a result of Martin’s desire to start a school “for the public good of the town of Calcutta…” It took 30 years to dispose of the litigation arising out of the will. Finally, as a result of a Supreme Court decision, La Martiniere School opened in Calcutta on March 1, 1836. Martin had passed away in September 1800.
The document, which had been kept in a school safe, has now been moved to a glass showcase in the archive, inaugurated by the bishop of Calcutta and the president of the board of governors of La Martiniere, Ashoke Biswas.
“La Martiniere is one of the oldest schools in the city and in order to understand our present and to know where we are going in the future, we need to go back to our past,” said Sunirmal Chakravarthi, the principal of La Martiniere for Boys.
Putting together the archive took four years of work, from finding a location to collating documents.
“We took some time to sort out the relevant material and spent hours and days getting the documents laminated. We wanted a prominent place near the entrance so that the archive did not miss the eye. Ours is the only school in the state to have such an archive,” said Sucharita Basu, one of the teachers in charge of the school’s Heritage Club, which will maintain the archive.
The archive is housed in a 150sq ft room near the entrance to the Rawdon Street campus that was once used as the school’s National Cadet Corps office.
The other exhibits in the archive include the annual report of La Martiniere of 1861, the dies (moulds) of the school medal and the school logo, a letter written by Martin in May 1800 and an 1837 photograph of the round chapel of the school with a dome on top before an earthquake caused a crack leading to its demolition
Past students feature prominently in the archive. For example, there are photographs of John Mason as a debater in school and also as a teacher, the kindergarten progress report of industrialist Harsh Neotia, the Class IV progress report of tennis star Leander Paes and some of his medals, one of golfer Rahil Ganjee’s certificates and report card.
“We will be digitising many of the documents,” said Dhar.
Biswas also inaugurated the Martin and Chater blocks, two four-storeyed buildings that will house the primary section (lower nursery to Class V) from June.