Madras miscellany: A host of anniversaries
Rev. William Miller soon after his arrival in Madras. Photo: Special Arrangement
Dr. A.L. Venugopal who fulfilled the dream of his father Dr. A. Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar (seen in the portrait)

Madras Christian College this year marks several anniversaries, starting with Founders' Day on Tuesday when it celebrates the 175th anniversary of the Rev. John Anderson starting in Armenian Street with 59 boys the school that grew into Madras Christian College.

What Anderson started the Rev. William Miller nurtured over a period of 45 years and ensured that it became a premier institution that would contribute significantly to the new India that was stirring. It was 150 years ago this year that Miller arrived in Madras to begin his signal contribution to education in India. For that contribution he deserves separate recognition and that I will do further on. Exactly a hundred years after Miller's arrival, Scots' leadership gave way to Indian leadership, another major figure in Indian education, Dr. Chandran Devanesen, taking over as Principal of MCC in 1962.

In between, the College moved to Tambaram in 1937, seventy-five years ago, and 125 years ago there were set up the first campus student associations: the Dravida Bhashabhivirddhi Sangham (now known as the Tamil Peravai), the Andhra Bhashabhiranjani Sanghamu, the History Students' Union and the Philosophical Society.

The Dravida Sangham was founded on September 14, 1887 to foster the study of Tamil literature among the students of the College. It was called the Tamil Sangham after the move to Tambaram and was then renamed, in 1951, the Tamil Peravai. Its library, the Miller Tamil Sangham Library, had, among its wealth of books, about 200 volumes of the Tamil classics gifted to it by the Raja Setupati of Ramnad, an old student of the College. Among those who addressed meetings of the association were Annadurai in 1933, Kamaraj in 1960, Karunanidhi in 1963 and Sivaji Ganesan in 1965.

Among the members of the Telugu Sangham, also founded in 1887, were S. Radhakrishnan and B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya. Radhakrishnan, as well as Paul Appasamy and Muhammad Usman, were office-bearers at various times of the Philosophical Society that was founded in the same year. Its founder-patron was the Rev. Charles Cooper, who had been appointed Professor of Philosophy and Logic in 1883 and headed the Department of Philosophy for 27 years. A later principal, the Rev. William Skinner, was for several years President of the Union. Among the office bearers of the fourth association founded in 1887, the History Students' Union, were, at different times, S. Satyamurti and John Mathai. One of its members who became one of the greatest historians of South India was K.A. Nilakanta Sastri.

It was by encouraging societies like these, where students and faculty not only got to interact, but also got the opportunity to make presentations and participate in debates that Miller developed MCC into an outstanding educational institution.


Miller of Madras

There is a tendency to think of the Rev. William Miller only in terms of his contribution to Madras Christian College. Little remembered is the signal contribution he made to education in the Madras Presidency as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Madras from 1901 to 1904. Miller was appointed Vice-Chancellor even while he was guiding the fortunes of his College and, in a remarkable show of managing time, he continued to guide both University and College as institutions of excellence through his three years as Vice- Chancellor. Among his contributions to the University was the formal starting in 1903 of a library worthy of a major university.

Shortly before he was made Vice-Chancellor he became the first person to be conferred an honorary doctorate of the University of Madras. This was at the convocation held on March 28, 1900. He was also conferred honorary doctorates by the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh. The Madras doctorate was in recognition of his contribution to the University from virtually his arrival in the city. He was Examiner and Chairman of the Board of Studies in English and History. He was made a Fellow of the University in 1867 and was a member of the Syndicate for nearly 30 years. He delivered the Convocation Addresses in 1871 and 1894. And he was a member of the Madras Legislative Council in 1893, 1895, 1899 and 1902.

As a member of the Indian Educational Commission in 1882 (the Hunter Commission), he was a vociferous advocate of changing the prevailing examination system; he sought an “anti-mugging, anti-cramming, and anti-memorising society.” We still haven't achieved this 130 years later.

Miller, born in the north of Scotland to a merchant-ship-owning family, took his degrees from the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh. At both Universities he was an active member of various student associations and it was this culture that he brought to MCC. He was only 25 when he arrived in Madras and asked to take charge of what was then a school — and one that was failing. When he left the country in 1907, a sick man for many of those last years, he had established a college which had an Asian reputation and was well-recognised in Britain.

The Central Institution that the Free Church of Scotland had established in Madras was in none too good a shape when Miller arrived to head it. No sooner he arrived, he determined to make the school a college affiliated to the University of Madras. In 1864, he persuaded three students who had matriculated in 1864 to enrol in the First Arts (F.A.) class (then a one-year one) in 1865. Three others joined them. The next year the F.A. Class had 30 students on its rolls. And the College was on its way. Success in the F.A. exams had Miller starting a Junior B.A. Class in 1867 and making the institution a First Grade College. When five students from the College obtained their B.A. degrees in 1869, the Director of Public Instruction noted that the Central Institution had the best results among all the private colleges in the Presidency. The main branches of the B.A. course were Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, Physical Science, Natural Science, Mental and Moral Science, History and Economics, and English Language and Literature. Miller himself taught in the English Department where he developed a first rate faculty by recruiting brilliant young graduates, training them while they served as his personal assistants, and then appointing them as full-time faculty.

Looking beyond the Central Institution in 1874, Miller envisaged a first rate Christian college that would serve the entire Presidency. He saw it as an institution of excellence to which college the best students from junior colleges throughout the Presidency would come. The various missionary societies bought into his idea and, so, on January 1, 1877 the Central Institution became the Madras Christian College. The College began with 242 FA and BA students, a long way from the six students who joined the first FA class in 1865.

Though he left Madras in 1907, Miller remained Principal till 1909. He was then made Honorary Principal, until his death in 1923. Over the years — and in his will — he and his younger brother Rev. Alexander Miller made numerous contributions to the College and, in many ways, those were what enabled the institution to flourish, enjoying as it did a degree of financial comfort.


Fulfilling a father's vision

Dr. A.L. Venugopal, the illustrious doctor son of an illustrious doctor father, Dr. A. Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar, who passed away recently was a pioneer in Urology in India and is best known for having established in 1967 the country's first dedicated Urology Department in Madras Medical College. Significant in many ways though this be, perhaps even more important was his mentoring of an institution his father had dreamed of establishing at the University of Madras.

Dr. Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar had dreamed of a Postgraduate Institute of Basic Medical Sciences during his tenure as Vice-Chancellor (1942-1969). But it was not to be, not even for several years after he left the University. But no sooner Dr. Malcolm Adiseshaiah became Vice-Chancellor, he revived the idea and appointed Dr. A. Venugopal as Honorary Director to see the project through. The Institute was inaugurated on April 1, 1976 and has not looked back since, expanding over the years on its Taramani campus. Today it bears the name of the visionary who had wanted it established.

It was under Dr. Venugopal's leadership that department after department was established in a couple of years, starting with the Department of Medical Biochemistry and followed by Departments of Endocrinology, Genetics, Microbiology, Pharmacology, Physiology, Environmental Toxicology, Anatomy, and Pathology. Today, it is considered a leading research centre.

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