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La Martinière College is an educational institution located in Lucknow, the capital of the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh. The college consists of two schools on different campuses for boys and girls. La Martinière Boys’ College was founded in 1845 and La Martinière Girls’ College was established in 1869. The Boys’ College is the only school in the world to have been awarded royal battle honours for its role in the defence of Lucknow during the mutiny of 1857. The two Lucknow colleges are part of the La Martinière family of schools founded by the French adventurer Major General Claude Martin. There are two La Martinière Colleges in Kolkata and three in Lyon. La Martinière provides a liberal education and the medium of instruction is the English language. The schools cater for pupils from the ages of five through to 17 or 18, and are open to children of all religious denominations. The schools have day scholars and boarders. It is one of the most prestigious colleges of India and often features in the top schools of India.
The events of 1857 saw the making of the Martinian military legend. For the first time in history, Britain called on schoolboys to assist in the military conflict – namely the defence of the Lucknow Residency. The names of eight staff members, sixty seven boys and one ensign (old boy) are inscribed on the ‘Roll of Honour, defence of the Residency 1857’ at La Martinière Lucknow. The siege began on 30 June 1857. Early in June, the Chief Commissioner of Oudh, Sir Henry Lawrence ordered the Martinière be evacuated and for several days the boys travelled from the Residency to the College collecting provisions. The force within the Residency then consisted of British and Indian troops and civilian volunteers including a number of Anglo-Indians. The Martinière contingent was commanded by the Principal, Mr. George Schilling. The Residency was under siege for eighty-six days, until relieved by Sir Colin Campbell in November 1857.
The role of the boys and masters of La Martinière has been well documented in Chandan Mitra’s 1987 book titled Constant Glory – La Martinière saga 1836–1986. The Residency fortifications and defended houses were about a mile in circumference, and the Martinière contingent, along with a detachment of the 32nd Regiment of Foot, were garrisoned in a strongly built house containing tykhanas (cellars) and adjoining outhouses. The position became known as The Martinière Post and was a mere thirty feet distant from Johannes House, held by the rebels, and as a consequence, was exposed to heavy shelling.
Apart from actual fighting, the boys performed a number of tasks within the Residency compound – some ran messages to the hospital, watched over the sick and wounded, ground corn and manned the telegraph connecting the Residency to Alam Bagh; others were seconded to domestic duties in place of native servants who had absconded. Despite the dangers, casualties among the boys were few. Two died of dysentery and two others were wounded in action. Their diet consisted of mutton and buffalo-head soup. On one occasion, a mine blew down the outer room of The Martinière Post, but the boys defended the breach and after several days of bitter fighting managed to drive off the enemy housed opposite their camp.
Plaque – “These doorways were defended by the Martiniere boys when the front of the building had been blown up by the enemy’s mine”
Major Gorman in his Great Exploits – The Siege of Lucknow wrote that the Martinière boys erected an amateur semaphore on the Residency tower from instructions given in a number of the Penny Encyclopaedia. The semaphore enabled General Outram to advise the commander of the relieving force Sir Colin Campbell ‘to give the city a wide berth’, avoiding the heavy enemy batteries on the direct road to the Residency. The fiercest fighting of the advance that followed was at the Martinière College, strongly defended by the mutineers. Sir Colin dislodged them, occupied the college, setting up another semaphore on its roof to communicate with Outram. The Martinière contingent took part in the secret evacuation of the Residency, and the rambling journey of six weeks across India which followed, until finally arriving by boat at Benares. After the Siege the college was temporarily moved to Benares. Classrooms were established in bungalows and the school routine .