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The Kalimpong Association



St Andrew's Colonial Homes
(Renamed Dr. Graham's Homes in 1947)

By Pat Hardie (nee Wilsone)

The Homes were founded in1900 by John Anderson Graham, a missionary to the Church of Scotland Mission in Kalimpong in the Eastern Himalayas.

The first home was a rented cottage with six children from the Assam tea gardens. Graham was motivated by the plight of the lighter skinned children he had seen on the tea estates in Darjeeling and neighbouring areas - children of laisons between British tea planters and local women - children who were rejected by the communities of both parents.

Graham was a visionary, but a deeply practical man of boundless faith. His decision to build a "children's city" for impoverished, orphan and destitute European and Eurasian children he had seen in the cities of India as well as the tea estates, was not well received by the Mission Guild in his native Scotland. So he went to the thriving business houses of Calcutta and to Government officials of British India with his begging bowl. His enthusiasm for this ambitious project and his personal charisma, softened the hardest hearts. Between 1901 and 1930 a bare hillside on a ridge overlooking the mighty Eastern Himalayan mountain range was transformed into his "children's city", providing a home and education for 600 children from all corners of India. Some 20 cottages, a babies nursery, school buildings, a school assembly hall with clock tower, hospital, farm, swimming baths and staff houses were built during that period with the financial support of numerous benefactors of British India and Britain. The beautiful Kathleen Graham Memorial Chapel was opened in 1925 built in memory of Graham's wife and helpmate who had died in 1919. The kindergarten school block was opened in 1938. The names of the cottages and the foundation stones in the many buildings commemorate these generous individuals, or groups from a particular region. In the early years the Homes Board of Management read like a Who's Who of British India, such was the support which he received.

The cottages each housed about 30 children ranging in ages from 5 to 18 years, with two staff members. This created the essential family atmosphere intended by Graham. Until 1954 all the cottage staff as well as many of the teaching staff were recruited from overseas, at first from Britain - mainly Scotland - but later, Australia, New Zealand and other western countries. The cottage staff, with their missionary zeal, instilled a strong Christian ethic into the children. Some devoted their entire working lives to the Homes. The concept of cottage living was unique in India, and the female staff were called "aunties" by the children. The children did all their domestic work in the cottages on weekly rota system. This, too, was unique to boarding schools in India.

The Education system was that enjoyed by all Anglo-Indian schools in India, up to Senior Cambridge (School Certificate) level. In addition, athletics, games and swimming were all compulsory for all the children, with fierce competition between the cottages for trophies. The annual Sports Day and Swimming Gala were highlights of the school year. Thus the children received an all-round education. Vocational training was also introduced for the less bright students - farming for the boys, and children's nursing for the girls. Discipline was strict and punishment could be severe, in keeping with the times. The school motto, "THOROUGH" was strongly upheld.

An interesting feature of the school was that the children went barefoot. This custom, introduced by Graham, lasted until 1962. Graham felt that this was healthy, particularly during the monsoon season, and it also saved a great deal of money. The Homes became known as the institution where the children did not wear shoes. In 1962, the wearing of shoes was introduced by Mr. James Minto, who had been appointed from Scotland as Headmaster in 1959, and became Principal in 1961. The wearing of shoes made a dramatic impact on the morale of the children who could now consider themselves on an equal status with all other Anglo-Indian boarding schools. Minto retired from the Homes in 1970, and was awarded the OBE the following year. In 1974 he published his biography of Graham, "Graham of Kalimpong". John Anderson Graham was deeply beloved by his "bairns" as he called the boys and girls in his Homes. Since many did not know their fathers, it was natural that he should be called "Daddy" by them and he is still referred to by former students in this affectionate way.

The loyalty and bonding to the Homes by former students (OGBs or "Old Girls and Boys" as they prefer to be called) is still extremely strong. At the regular old school reunions held in London, Edinburgh, Sydney, Melbourne, and other world cities, as well as at private gatherings, the cameraderie spanning generations is commented on by outsiders.

In the early years, many children, on leaving the Homes, were sent to New Zealand to work on farms or as domestics. This practice ceased after World War 1. Australia was less receptive to receiving Graham's "bairns", the government there insisting on the children's parentage being at least three-fourths white, which was in effect a question of colour. Graham was deeply disappointed by this attitude.

In a changed and changing India, the Homes' as they near their centenary, have also changed, but great efforts are made to uphold the principles and traditions laid down by their Founder. The number of underpriveleged Anglo-Indian children now being educated there are in a minority. Much of the funding for these children is provided by overseas sponsors, who in turn make their committments through overseas committees in London, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Many former students also sponsor children. The committees raise funds, much of these going towards the ongoing maintenance of the ageing buildings.

Dr. Graham's own children, and now grandchildren and even great-grandchildren, have continued to take an interest in the running of the Homes.

With ever-increasing costs, the Homes are now a largely fee paying school, students coming from all parts of India as well as the neighbouring countries of Nepal and Bhutan. A number of Tibetan refugee children have also been given an education and status in the Homes since the 1950s. The number of boarding students is considerably swelled by day school scholars in a burgeoning Kalimpong population. The present teaching staff are now also Anglo-Indian, Indian or Nepalese, many of them former Homes students.

Memorials to the Homes to their saintly founder include the sculpted words in the chapel which read: DR GRAHAM WHO LOVED CHILDREN, FOUNDED THESE HOMES 1900", and the moving epitaph on the grave he shares with his wife in the little cemetary: THE CHILDREN RISE UP AND CALL THEM BLESSED".

(This brief history of Dr. Graham's Homes in Kalimpong, India was included in a book called "Under the Old School Topee" by Hazel Innes Craig in 1996. The book told the story of several Anglo-Indian schools in India during the British Raj). PH/1995

Pat Hardie 

   Lyonpo's Speech
   Robert Harding's Memories
   Thuten Kesang's Birthday trip.
   Robert Street's Journey
   Memories of Kalimpong - Pat Hardie
   A brief History - Pat Hardie
   Dr Kalaam's Speech
   Miss Prentice's Pictures

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page created 11th July 2014