“He lived on the heights and breathed the atmosphere of noble and lofty thoughts. His was a strong faith too: simple, direct and, withal, strongly reasoned. His will power was great. The faculty of rule and mastery was strong in him. But he was not overbearing. He knew the charm of gentleness, and was a man of feeling. ”
The above words eloquently sum up the life and character of Rev. J.H. Darrell. They were written by Rev. H. Highfield, a close friend and contemporary of Rev. Darrell, soon after the latter’s death.
Rev. James Home Darrell was born on the 9th of June, 1872, in the West Indies. From earliest years, he displayed brilliance as a student. Receiving his primary education in Barbados, he won a scholarship and left for England, his father’s native land. There he entered Cambridge University where he excelled in Mathematics, but eventually became a missionary.
Rev Darrell arrived in Sri Lanka in the year 1891 as a young Methodist missionary. He assumed duties as Principal of Richmond College, Galle, on 11 th September, 1896, serving until his tragic and untimely death on 12th July, 1906. The services which he rendered to the school and to the development of education in Sri Lanka during these ten years were monumental.
Apart from being an individual of great talent, Rev Darrell also possessed many qualities which made him the ideal principal.
He was equally adept at academic work, school administration and control of staff. He was a tireless worker with unbounded energy. The staff readily cooperated with him when they saw his own dedication to duty. He was also a man of great personal charm who won the affection of all with whom he came into contact.
He was instrumental in bringing about many progressive reforms.
Responsibility was delegated to the staff and senior students. The Prefect system was introduced where students with qualities of leadership were given a hand in maintaining discipline. The School Cadet Corps was established. New teaching techinques were adopted. Child centered education and regular teacher training were features of his administration. Teachers were coached to sit for the Teachers’ Certificate Examination.
In the Cambridge Examination results of 1905, Richmond earned the top position among all assisted schools in the island.
Some of the oldest buildings still in existence at Richmond were constructed during Darrell’s period. The assembly hall building which came up during that time is still being used as the main hall. This beautiful building and many others built duringthat period were designed by Rev Darrell who also personally directed the construction operations.
In the 10 years under Rev Darrell’s leadership, Richmond blossomed to be unquestionably one of the best schools in the island in education, sports and discipline.
During the 2nd term in 1906, an epidemic of typhoid broke out in the country, and many boys in the hostel contacted the disease. Day and night Darrell nursed and comforted the Children. He knew well the risk he was taking. But being a true man of God he did not care for his own life but thought only of saving the children. He fell victim to the disease and died on Richmond Hill on 12th July, 1906, Darrell’s demise at the relatively young age of 34 years was an irreparable loss to the school and to education in Sri Lanka. But in a sense it was a fitting end to a life devoted entirely to the service of others.
Darrell headed Richmond at a crucial period in the history of education in Ceylon. The public school system was in its formative years. Men like Darrell laid the foundations of a secondary school system which even today ranks among the best in the world.
Richmond honoured Darrell by naming the College hostel “The Darrell Memorial Boarding House” and the College Library “The Darrell Memorial Library”. But such acts can serve no more than as a token of gratitude, considering the magnitude of the services rendered by this great educationist.