In terms of the period of service of missionary principals at Richmond, Rev. W. J. T. Small earns second place, one year behind Rev. Alec Sneath. But Rev. Small was undoubtedly the principal who had the longest association with the College.
Although he ceased to be principal in 1922, the school continued to benefit from his counsel and guidance in all important matters. During the later years of his life, he also functioned as an effective link with the past history of the College.
Rev. W. J. T. Small was born on 4th July, 1883, at Boston, Lincolnshire in England. After graduating from Cambridge University, he joined the Methodist Mission in 1906 and received his first appointment as principal of Richmond College, succeeding the illustrious Darrell. Small was the youngest to hold this post.
Rev. Small was a brilliant teacher of Mathematics, Science and Christianity. He was also known to possess a philosophical bent. Apart from these talents, he was a fine sportsman.
Rev. Small firmly believed that proper training was an essential prerequisite for success in any activity. Accordingly, he arranged a systematic training program for all teachers.
Through personal conduct, he set an example to his staff and students. He got up early in the morning and was very active throughout the day. His attention was focused not only on academic work, but also on matters such as religious activities, discipline, cleanliness and tidiness, He led a very simple life and used to do most of his work by himself.
Sports and physical education received a special place under Rev. Small. He was frequently seen on the ground after school hours, coaching the boys at cricket, soccer, and athletics.He was able to bring further refinement to the work started by Rev Darrell. During Small’s period, the school reached a high standard in education and sports.
During the first World War, everybody was working under much mental strain, and many practical difficulties arose in administering a school. Rev. Small’s calm nature and balanced temperament were of much value in those troubled times.
A notable feature of Rev. Small’s period as principal was the formation of the National Union at Richmond. It was a significant deviation from the conservatism of his predecessors. Small gave a place to indigenous culture, religion and nationalism. Pioneer Buddhist educationists and nationalists like P. De S. Kularatne, L. H. Mettananda, S. F. de Silva and T. U. de Silva had their initial grounding in the Richmond National Union.
The Scout and Cub movements and the Richmond-Mahinda annual debate were started during his period.
In addition to the services to the College, Rev. Small also involved himself actively in the welfare of the community. He rendered valuable service during the scarcity of food in the war years and the influenza epidemic.
Rev. Small resigned from the post of principal of Richmond in 1922. Certain family difficulties and the wishes of the Mission forced him take this step. But it is believed that it was with sadness in his heart that Small left Richmond. From 1926 to 1953 he was engaged in missionary work in other countries. In 1951, he came back specially to participate in the 75th anniversary celebrations of the College.
After retiring from active service in the Methodist Mission, Rev. Small returned to Sri Lanka in 1953, and spent the last years of his life on his beloved Richmond Hill.
He was an ardent and devout Christian. A prolific writer, he authored many books on religion, some of the titles being “History of Methodism in Ceylon”, “Local Christians in Ceylon”, A Reply to Bertram Russel’s Why I am not a Christian” and “An Appendix to the Sinhala Bible”.
He was active to the last, taking a keen interest in the activities of the College and the OBA.
Rev. Small died after a brief illness on 28th December, 1978, at the age of 95, and was buried at the Dadella cemetery, beside the grave of that other great principal of Richmond, Rev. Darrell.
Extract from Richmond Centenary Magazine 1976 on Rev W.J.T Small
THE REV. WALTER JOSEPH TOMBLESON SMALL-M.A. (Cantab.), B.Sc. (Lond.)
W. J. T. Small of Richmond was one of a group of outstanding figures in the field of education in Sri Lanka in the early days of this century. Though he held high academic qualifications, he had no ambition to use them to obtain a lucrative position in the Civil Service or elsewhere. He came out as a simple missionary, and because his qualifications fitted him for educational missionary work, he devoted himself to teaching and training the boys of Sri Lanka, whom he learned to love, and to whom he gave of his best.
Early Years : He was born in England on the 4th July, 1883, and had the advantage of a good education. He entered Boston Grammar School at the age of 9. At 13 he gained 1st Class honours in the Junior Oxford Local Examination. In the Senior Oxford at the age of 16 he came out first in the United Kingdom, and was awarded a scholarship. He also won scholarships in the London Matriculation and Inter Science Examinations.
University Career : At the age of 17 he gained a mathematical scholarship to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and went up to the University at the age of 18, being one year younger than most of his fellow under-graduates. Three years later he gained a first class in the Mathematical Tripos, being placed 7th Wrangler. Having come to feel that he was called to the Christian Ministry, he decided to stay on at Cambridge and read Theology. After two years he took the Theological Tripos, again obtaining a first class, and winning the University Hebrew prize. By this time he had also gained the London B.Sc., all at the age of 23.
Call to Educational Service : It was soon after completing his studies at Cambridge, while he was on holiday with his sister in Germany, that the request came from the Wesleyan Missionary Society that he should go to Richmond College, Galle, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of the Rev. J. H. Darrell, also a Wrangler.
At Richmond : Every new school Principal is faced with difficulties : that at 23 Mr. Small succeeded such a distinguished predecessor made his task doubly difficult. He had no training in education or previous teaching experience, and was thrown straight into the water to learn to swim ! Literally, as a good swimmer, he saved lives when the occasion arose in 1915.
However, he managed remarkably well, though he always regretted his lack of training, and urged the importance of training on his
teachers. He excelled as a teacher of mathematics and of religious knowledge. I also remember him teaching French, Greek, and Science in the upper classes. He possessed the precision of the scholar and the simple language of the clear thinker.
Prowess as Sportsman : It is an undeniable fact that to command the respect of the young male, a master must give some proof of his prowess as a sportsman. From his youth Mr. Small was interested in games, and perhaps playing cricket helped him in his work at Richmond as much as any of his other gifts. He made his first century for his school in 1900, and the next in 1908 for the Richmond Masters’ Club against Galle C.C., then a first – class fixture. In 1910 the Masters’ Club, led by him, lowered the colours of the Colombo Cricket Club, Ceylon’s Premier club which included the famous W. T. Greswell, Mr. Small scoring 46. He had played football and tennis too at Cambridge. How proud his pupils were of their Principal – a scholar and sportsman.
The Man : Mr. Small rose early in the morning and began the day with private devotions. He often came down to the Practicing School and with some of the boarders kept the ‘morning watch’. After prayers and breakfast in the boarding house, he would go round the dormitories and see that they were clean and tidy. He liked things about him to be neat and could not pass pieces of paper on the floor without picking them up. He packed his day full of activity, sometimes perhaps a little too full. For a long time he did not employ a secretary or a typist, but himself kept the school accounts and attended to the correspondence.
His tastes were simple. He spent little on himself but gave secret financial aid to deserving folk. People still remember him for the help he rendered them in the “dark days” of the 1915 riots, for his assistance during the rice shortage brought about by the First Great War, and for social service during the influenza epidemic. He hated the limelight, but his simplicity made friendship with him easy as one felt there was no barrier of race or colour or intellect – even the simple-minded could make a friend of him. He still regularly helps people in reduced circumstances or who have fallen on hard times.
Mrs. Small : His marriage in 1910 brought in another valuable worker to Richmond in the person of his wife, Thekla Guenther, the daughter of a pastor of the Lutheran Church. She became her husband’s partner and helper in the College and on Richmond Hill. It is difficult to express in words the part played by her in helping her husband spiritually and in his work in Galle. Apart from the enrichment of his life through the contact with Germany, she was ready at a moment to help in every way possible.
She was a trained teacher and started the Richmond Kindergarten. She had a large share in the management of the boarding house at a time when there was no matron. She also managed the sick wards and in time of sickness was a tower of strength to all – house-masters, female staff, and parents who came to visit their sons whilst ill at school. If a boarder was rather seriously ill, she would have him removed to a room in her house, where he would be under her personal attention.
Later Work : When at his own request Mr. Small ceased to be Principal of Richmond, he continued his active life and held the following responsible posts in different spheres :
1922 — 1926 Vice Principal, Peradeniya Training Colony.
1926 — 1928 Circuit Minister at Cardiff, Wales
1928 — 1931 Member of Staff of the United Theological College, Bangalore
1931 — 1942 Circuit Minister in England
1942 — 1950 Supernumerary Minister at Tewkesbury
1950 — 1953 Chaplain of Methodist International House, London
1953 — 1962 Warden of Peradeniya Training Colony.
Ad Multos Annos : Finally he “retired” to Galle as guest of Richmond College, and continues to live in the old familiar house where he lived with his dear wife over 60 years ago. He is essentially a Christian Missionary with a zeal for evangelism, and at the age of 92 he is still busy in the service of his Master, his main interest now being his old pupils with whom he is in constant touch, visiting them in their homes and helping them with his letters and prayers.
He has edited “A History of the Methodist Church in Ceylon 1814—1964” and his publications include
“A Christian Nationalist of Ceylon.”
“Reply to Bertrand Russell’s ‘Why I am not a Christian.”
“Topical Concordance to the Sinhalese Bible.”
Men like Mr. Small, in whom the best of the Christian and liberal traditions express themselves so fully, are still, and always will be needed in Sri Lanka.
P. H. Nonis
(Extracted from Richmond Centenary Magazine 1976)