All those who studied at La School and subsequently, after its closure, at Royal College Port Louis in Cassis will have welcomed and indeed rejoiced at the initiative of former students of the College to have a commemorative plaque, sponsored by Philip Ah Chuen, affixed to the new Supreme Court building at Edith Cavell Street, Port Louis.The unveiling of the plaque ceremony was held on Monday 15th November in the presence of former Chief Justices Ashraf Caunhye and Eddy Balancy, President Cassam Uteem and Vice President Barlen Vyapoory – all of whom had been former students of the Royal College as well as numerous Old Boys of the RCPL.
This act of remembrance initiated by Rama Poonoosamy, director of Immedia, a former student of La School and the former rector of the RCPL, Henri Wan Wing Kai,was inspired by the need “to acknowledge history, to do something memorable” for an institution that went beyond traditional educational transmission to help shape the outlook and values of generations of young men to which access was granted only on the basis of merit, irrespective of colour or creed — not due to political or any other form of patronage. The same held true for the Royal College Curepipe, the Queen Elizabeth College and the John Kennedy College — a criterion that is maintained to this day for access to all State Colleges across the island.
It is therefore befitting in light of what La School and its later reincarnation – the RCPL – have stood for and symbolized that it’s the Supreme Court of Mauritius (which in recent years has stood as a bulwark against the excesses of the regime and will surely stand this ground) that have come to occupy the premises that earlier housed the Royal College. This should put to rest the earlier misgivings of some of the votaries of the preservation of the historical patrimoine of l’ancien Regime, who took objection to the pulling down of the premises which decades earlier housed La School.
La School was started in 1929 and until 1957 occupied the premises that have now given way to the Supreme Court. From wikipedia, we learn that ‘the creation of the college dates back to 1799 during the French colonisation period by Charles Isidor De Caen. The institution was then called “Lycée des Iles de France”, and provided primary and secondary education with a maximum capacity of 300 students.
In 1810, the island passed under British administration, and the institution’s name was changed to “Lycée Colonial”. In 1817, the college was renamed “Royal College” following a decree from the King of England.
In 1824, the college’s building was destroyed by a cyclone. Scholarships were briefly interrupted between 1827 and 1839, after which they were reinstated.
In 1866, a malaria epidemic broke out in Port-Louis and the building was converted into a hospital. The college was thus relocated to a different area of Port-Louis which was later deemed not reputable by officers whose children were also studying at the college. The increasing number of students was also a problem for the new college as space was limited. On 1 May 1899, the Legislative Councilmoved the Royal College from Port Louis to Curepipe.
On 1 October 1912, the foundation stone was laid in Curepipe by Director of Public Works Paul Le Juge de Segrais. The architecture was intended to be a smaller replica of the Buckingham Palace. Construction of the college in granite was completed by 1914. The new establishment was named Royal College School or simply La School. Due to the sheer number of pupils, the new branch also faced accommodation problems, leading to extension work.
As the island’s population grew significantly and to reduce commuting times for students living in the northern part of Mauritius and Port Louis the government built a second and brand-new college at a location close to the capital. Thus, in 1956, during her visit to the island Princess Margaret laid the first stone for the new and ultimate building of Royal College Port Louis.’
In his address, Rama Poonoosamy said: ‘La School was history with unforgettable pages of our young days, at least of those who studied and grew up there… ‘le lieu de rencontre entre intelligences naissantes des élèves et puits de savoir divers et surprenants de nos profs!‘, where it was possible ‘de prendre l’escalier (en colimaçon…) ou l’ascenseur de la mobilité sociale, ou encore l’indépendance d’un esprit critique…’
Like its sister institutions (RCC, QEC or JKC), they were places of learning, disciplined efforts and equally important, the discovery and understanding of our multi-facetted cultures. Those abodes contributed to fashion values of respect, fair-play, personal integrity and the quest for a brighter future for the country despite the socio-political fracas around national independence times and the glum predictions of renowned economists.
The RCPL will hopefully continue to live up to and celebrate these ideals.
* Published in print edition on 26 November 2021
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