Bishop's College, Colombo

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Bishop's College
Bishop's CMB crest.png
15 Boyd Place

Sri Lanka
Coordinates6°54′52″N 79°51′12″E / 6.9144343°N 79.8533641°E / 6.9144343; 79.8533641Coordinates: 6°54′52″N 79°51′12″E / 6.9144343°N 79.8533641°E / 6.9144343; 79.8533641
School typePrivate Day and Boarding
MottoLatin: Non Sibi Sed Omnibus
(Not for self but for all)
Religious affiliation(s)Church of Ceylon
FoundedFebruary 1875; 146 years ago (1875-02)
FounderJames Chapman
School districtColombo
ChairpersonDushantha Rodrigo
PrincipalChemali G Herath
GradesNursery - Gr. 14
GenderFemale (and males in the nursery)
Average class size30
LanguageSinhala, Tamil and English
Hours in school day6
HousesHenley, Ford, Chapman, Copleston
Colour(s)Purple & gold
SongOba Kithu Gosa Pethirewa (School Hymn: "We build our school on thee, O lord")
SportsWater Polo, Swimming, Athletics, Tennis, Table Tennis, Cricket, Diving, Chess, Basketball, Badminton, Hockey

Bishop's College in Colombo, Sri Lanka, is a private girls' school founded by the Anglican Church of Ceylon in February 1875.


Bishop's College is a private fee-levying Anglican girls' school in Sri Lanka with about 1900 students at all grades from kindergarten to Grade 14. It is located at 15 Boyd Place, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka. The current principal is Chemali G Herath.


Origins, 1857-1875[edit]

Bishop's College started in 1857 as one of the earliest mission schools of the Church of England in Ceylon, and it was first known as Bishopsgate School. The Bishop of Colombo, the Rt. Rev. James Chapman (1845–1862), and his wife Frances were instrumental in setting up the school.[1] Frances Chapman had set her heart on setting up a school for Christian girls with funds collected while on furlough in England. In 1857 she established a school in their own residence in Mutwal called Bishopsgate, with the 20 pupils she desired. The principal was a Mrs Long, who had served earlier at the Church Missionary School in Nallur, Jaffna.[2] However, in May 1859, Frances Chapman returned to England due to ill health, Mrs Long died in 1861 and the school had to be temporarily closed.[3] No reference to its reopening is available in the Diocesan Archives.[4]

Reopening, 1875-1887[edit]

Georgiana Emily Drew (née Down, 1850-1933), with her three children Winifred Nona Radcliffe Drew, Harry Guy Radcliffe Drew, and Georgiana Daisy Radcliffe Drew. About 1882, when she was first principal of Bishopsgate School.

Bishop's College dates its beginning to 1875, when the school with 13 pupils was established at Fairfield House in Darley Road, under the same name - Bishopsgate School. Fairfield House is the present site of Link Holdings Ltd. Even today the word "Bishopsgate" stands engraved at the entrance to the building. The first principal to come out was Georgiana Down, who married Harry Drew, the son of Joseph Drew and music director at the nearby S. Thomas' College. Among the first girls enrolled were Minnie Von Possner, Hilda Obeysekera, Dorah Aserappah and Caroline Peiris. The first boys to enter the kindergarten were James and Donald Obeysekera and Leslie de Saram. Monthly expenses in running the school were about Rs. 300/- which included rent, salaries, and the hire of a piano. The income in fees in the first month totalled Rs. 302/50! In 1882 the school had twenty-one pupils, four of them in the school boarding. But the income was not sufficient to make ends meet. Even with the sale of the furniture, the debts could not be settled. Mrs. Drew resigned in April 1882, and with her departure the school had to be closed again.[5] Mrs. Drew returned to England with her husband and four children.[6]

Sisters of St. Margaret, 1887-1955[edit]

In 1887, three sisters from St Margaret's Convent in East Grinstead, England, came to Ceylon on missionary work. Their Society of Saint Margaret was a sorority founded by John Mason Neale in 1855, which had now expanded to overseas mission. After a short location at Green Path, they established their convent in Polwatte, Kollupitiya.[7]

One of them, Sister Joanna Mary, was asked to help in the running of the school. Principals and teachers who came to Ceylon to fulfil the goals of Christian mission often had to leave due to ill health, the rigours of the tropical climate or personal reasons.[8] The answer seemed to be with the Sisters of St Margaret, and Sister Angela was the first sister to be principal of Bishopsgate School. The school was to be an institution to promote educational advancement, and also a finishing school for the daughters of Christian families. Subjects taught directed them to the Cambridge local examinations: French, drawing, singing, and piano playing were also on the curriculum.[9]

In 1890, the then Bishop of Colombo, Reginald Copleston, purchased the Maradatin Cinnamon Gardens bordering on Boyd Place, Colpetty. The school moved from Darley Road to these premises in 1892 and was renamed Bishop's College. Although the Sisters of St Margaret had by now for some years been associated with the running of the school, it was now with this shift that the school was passed into their care. Proximity to St Margaret's Convent at Polwatte was of great significance. For an unbroken period of sixty years from 1895 to 1955 these sisters guided the students of Bishop's College: not only in their mental development, but in the levels of charity, community spirit and public service, and upholding of the school motto "Non Sibi Sed Omnibus" (Not for Self, but for All).

There were twelve sisters who were principals or acting principals of the school in this period of 60 years. They were, in the order of their principalship: Sister Bridget Margaret, Sister Bertha Mary, Sister Letitia, Sister Eva, Sister Mary Kathleen (acting), Sister Marguerite, Sister Ada Mary (acting), Sister Geraldine Mary, Sister Mary Kathleen, Sister Mabel, Sister Celestine and Sister Gabriel.[10]

A close bond was established between Bishop's College and St Margaret's Convent, Polwatte, which remains up to now.[11] The sisters are revered guests at all school functions; Bishop's College participates in all their special occasions and upholds the motto they gave the school by helping to the convent in fund-raising at their annual fair and in many other ways.

The number of students when the school moved to Boyd Place, was 70. As early as 1896 an association of past pupils, known then as the Bishop's College Association, was set up. As Bishop's College entered the 20th century the school chapel was dedicated to St Agnes, the Roman virgin and martyr of the 4th century.[12]

The school faced Boyd Place on the south, a property known as Arncliffe on the east, a building known as Edgecote on the west, and a government reservation adjoining the Beira Lake on the north. The property on which the school was located was held in trust by the bishop of the Diocese of Colombo with a board of three members. As the numbers on the school increased, additional staff had to be recruited and accommodation organised. The adjoining building, Edgecote, was rented out to house the kindergarten. Buildings within the premises were expanded. In due course the school built its own Kindergarten block and Edgecote was given up in 1929. Elscourt, a magnificent building on Turret Road, opposite the Victoria Park, at one time the site of the Orient Club, was gifted to the school by a loyal past pupil, Maude Peiris, mother of Harold Peiris.[13][14]

After much deliberation, and with the donor's approval, it was decided not to open a unit of the school at Elscourt as it was considered too far from the building at Boyd Place. Elscourt was sold and with funds realised. Arncliffe, the building adjoining the school with two road frontages - Boyd Place and General's Lake Road - was purchased. It was renamed Peiris House as a tribute to the generosity of Maude Peiris. With World War II entering the Asian zone, Bishop's College evacuated to "Fernhill" in Bahirawakanda, Kandy, with 37 students. Since the building could not house all the classrooms, Kandy Girls' High School generously shared their building. Those students who were left behind in Colombo were joined by those of Ladies College who had also not evacuated to form "Lake School" in the Bishop's College premises. Some of the buildings were taken over by the military, so the space was limited. In 1943, the danger from the war removed, the two branches of Bishop's College were reunited at Boyd Place. The number on the roll at the re-establishment was 100.

With the end of the war, the country was moving towards independence, and Bishop's College had in 1943 introduced Sinhala and Tamil as the media of instruction in the kindergarten, while they were being taught as a subject. Although the school had been established as a Christian missionary school, the Sisters of St Margaret had, as early as 1909, adopted a pluralist approach to religion. Of the 114 students at that time, 22 were non-Christian. In 1938 a Buddhist student was appointed head prefect.

Moving into the future: 1955-2000[edit]

In 1955 the sisters, due to non-availability of personnel, gave up guiding the school. The school thereafter had its policy determined by a board of governors with the Bishop of Colombo as chairman. L. Y. Pode was appointed principal. In 1959 Bishop's College had the first Ceylonese principal, A. C. B. (Amabel) Jayasuriya, and with her came a new identity to the school.[15] With a focus on national culture, she introduced the practice that the students of other faiths should commence their day with their own religious observance, as the Christians did, and have their own societies and celebrate their own festivals. She had a school song composed in Sinhala and set to oriental music. A Hewisi Band was trained to complement the Western Band. The activities of societies were in Sinhala, and in Tamil as the Tamil stream came up the school were on par with the English which had been a long-established tradition.

In 1959 Geoffrey Bawa and Ulrik Plesner were engaged to design a new three-storey classroom block for the school.[16] The classrooms are located on the first and second floors with an open ground level, which is used as a covered activity and play area. The design is influenced by Scandinavian modernism with its "white cubic architecture" "sharped edged prismatic forms and brise soleil facades".[17] The interior of the classroom block is protected by perforated external wall panels which are supported on a concrete portal frame and inserted between the exposed beam-ends to give an impression of extreme lightness and delicacy. A heavy horizontal eaves beam is hung out to protect the facade and to mask the pitched roof, thus accentuating the horizontality and modernist credentials of the design. When the building was nearing completion Bawa commissioned Lydia Duchini, an Italian sculptress, to create a sculpture of the bishop. The life sized gold leaf encrusted statue stands at the foot of the main staircase.

The school opted to be a free-levying private school and had to find its own financial resources. The school passed on after 19 years to the principalship of Gwen Dias Abeysinghe, a past pupil. She added to the standards inherited, and Bishop's College came to produce theatrical performances; including The Gondoliers with a combined cast of girls from Bishop's and boys from the brother school at S. Thomas' College.

The Past Pupils' Association, which has grown in strength, has always been supportive and assisted with money raising for buildings. Since the school hall, impressive in its day, was totally inadequate for present needs, the PPA was anxious to gift an auditorium to their Alma Mater, and with land leased out from the Government, laid the foundation in 1985. With the rising costs in construction, the project was spread out longer than envisaged but was commissioned for use in 1994. The school, the PPA and Parent-Teacher Association all contributed to make this a reality.

This last decade has seen the school steered by Lindley Jayasuriya, earlier vice-principal. Hemamali Bibile was the principal from 2003-2011. Sharmila Gunatilleke is the current principal.


The house system is an integral part of Bishop's College. Every student and staff member is placed into one of the four houses. Students who aren't first generation Bishopians get placed into the same house as their kindred. Each house elects a Captain, Vice Captain and Games Captain at the start of the year both in primary and secondary school. The four houses compete throughout the year in various sports and arts categories, with the main competitive event being the Annual Inter-House Athletics Meet (also known as, The Annual Sports Meet), which is held in February. House points are marked throughout the year based on discipline which are then added/deducted during the Athletics Meet. The four houses are,

Henley House

  • Colours: Black and Gold
  • Motto: Onwards and Upwards

Ford House

  • Colours: Red and Gold
  • Motto: Play up, play up, and play the game

Chapman House

  • Colours: Blue and Gold
  • Motto: Unity is Strength

Copleston House

  • Colours: Green and Gold
  • Motto: Excelsior

Henley house was placed first for the 24th consecutive year by the end of the 2019 sports meet.

Notable alumni[edit]

Name Year/degree Notability Reference
Junius Richard Jayewardene Member of Parliament Kelaniya (1960), Colombo South (1960–1977), Colombo West (1977–1978), Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (1977–1978), President of Sri Lanka (1978–1989) [18][19]
Adeline Molamure CBE, first female member of State Council of Ceylon (1931)
Iranganie Serasinghe Actress
Anoka Primrose Abeyrathne Forbes listed social entrepreneur, Asia-Pacific representative to UN-Habitat YAB


Yanushi Dullewe Wijeyeratne Cardiologist St George's University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, 2012 Bedi Prize winner [21]
Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala The first Sri Lankan to summit Mount Everest



  1. ^ Bishop's College History, p.6
  2. ^ Bishop's College History, p.7
  3. ^ Bishop's College History, p.8
  4. ^ Bishop's College History, p.10
  5. ^ History of the Diocese of Colombo
  6. ^ Her four children (their births registered at Galle) were Winifred Nora Radcliffe Drew, Georgiana Daisy Radcliffe Drew, Harry Guy Radcliffe Drew and Elsa Gwendolen Radcliffe Drew. Guy Drew became the father of architect Jane Drew. A further misfortune was that her husband died in 1895, leaving her with eight children to support. She died in 1942 at the advanced age of 96.
  7. ^ Bishop's College History, p.15
  8. ^ Bishop's College History, p. 16.
  9. ^ Bishop's College History, pp. 16-17.
  10. ^ Bishop's College History, Appendix II
  11. ^ Bishop's College History, p.18
  12. ^ Bishop's College History, p.20
  13. ^ Bishop's College History, p.21
  14. ^ Mansions of Kolluptiya, Colombo in the early twentieth century Retrieved 10 December 2014
  15. ^ Through the Vistas of Life, V. S. M. De Mel, p.10 (De Mel)
  16. ^ "Beginnings - Tropical Modernism". Geoffrey Bawa Trust. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  17. ^ Perara, Nihal (Ed); Tang, Wing-Shing (2013). Transforming Asian Cities. Milford Park, Oxford: Routledge. p. 82. ISBN 978-0-415-50738-7.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  18. ^ Remembering the most dominant Lankan political figure Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ JR's 10th death anniversary today Archived 2013-07-03 at
  20. ^
  21. ^ Bedi Prize 2012 to Sri Lankan doctor. Daily News (Sri Lanka), Retrieved on 3 August 2012.
  22. ^ [1]. Daily FT, Retrieved on 20 September 2016.


  • Bishop's College, 1975-2000, History, with an introduction by Rt. Rev. Kenneth Fernando, Bishop of Colombo, editorial committee of Bishop's College (2000) ISBN 955-8348-00-7
  • Bishop's College, Hand Book (2002).
  • History of the Diocese of Colombo (1945)

External links[edit]