Bishop Cotton School (BCS) has a long, prestigious history and was founded over 160 years ago in the beautiful hill station of Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India. As the first of its kind at the time Bishop Cotton School was the first boys boarding school in Asia.
Bishop George Edward Lynch Cotton was said to have put in a letter to Dr. Slater (the first Headmaster) the school motto should be: “Overcome Evil with Good”. He wrote “I have suggested ‘Overcome Evil with Good’ as the motto for the School. It was the text on which I preached in the Cathedral in Calcutta on the Thanksgiving Day in 1859” – this is when the School is thought to have been founded. The idea of the ‘Public School’, which carries so clear an image today, did not exist in 1859 in India and the history of Bishop Cotton School has played a big part in shaping the development of public schools and education in this country.
In the 1840s there were only a handful great public schools in England, with Eton the largest, which catered for fewer than 500 boys. In India, there were a handful of private schools and Military Asylums, educating the children of their neighborhood rather than the public at large. Bishop Cotton School, Shimla, is the one of the oldest boarding schools in Asia, and was founded on 28th July, 1859, by Bishop George Edward Lynch Cotton, son of an Army Captain, who died leading his Regiment in battle. A scholar of Westminster, and a graduate of Cambridge, in 1836 he was appointed Assistant Master at Rugby by Doctor Thomas Arnold, one of the founders of the British Public School system. It was the young Mr. Cotton who is spoken of as the “the model young master” in Thomas Hughes’ famous book “Tom Brown’s School Days” which gives an insight to school life at Rugby.
He was a teacher for 15 years at Rugby School and in 1852 he was appointed Master of Marlborough, where he established organized games and the House and prefect systems. He believed that “the prefects are and shall be, long as I am the Head, the governors of the school. As soon as I see this impracticable I will resign…..” He was consecrated Bishop at Westminster Abbey by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Queen Victoria personally selected Bishop Cotton as Bishop of Calcutta and Metropolitan Bishop of India, Burma and the Island of Ceylon, keeping in mind the critical period in India around 1857.
As Bishop of Calcutta, on 28th July 1859 he conducted a service for the foundation of a public school at a hill station. Collections were made in most of the Churches of the Diocese for this purpose. The collections were used to found the Bishop’s School at Jutogh, Shimla. The land and the buildings on it were a gift from the Viceroy. Three private houses were purchased by Bishop Cotton out of the India Public School Fund for Rs.17,000/- The school opened for students on 15th March, 1863. Though mentioned in correspondence as the Simla Public School, it never actually bore this name. The first boy, Frederick Naylor, joined the school on 16th March, 1863, “creeping like a snail, unwilling to school,” watched by the staff in curiosity and amusement. 35 boys were admitted that year and the school increased its strength to 65 students by the year 1864. This was the highest number the buildings and grounds permitted. A change of site was then deemed necessary because the Jutogh site was divided by a public road which was inconvenient. Bishop Cotton personally reconnoitered ten sites in September and October 1864, and finally approved the South end of Knollwood Spur which belonged to the Rajah of Keonthal. After lengthy negotiations the site was acquired through the intervention of the Viceroy and the foundation stone for the new buildings was laid on 26th September 1866, by H.E. the Viceroy, Sir John Lawrence, elder brother of Sir Henry Lawrence, founder of the Military Asylum at Sanawar (now known as Lawrence School). In September 1868, the school moved to Knollwood, our present site.