Alexander Duff was born in the heart of Scotland, in the parish of Moulin, Perthshire, on 26 April 1806. After initial schooling at a local country school, he studied arts and theology at the University of St Andrews and helped to establish a student missionary society. During that time, the Church of Scotland was preparing to institute its first mission and appointed Duff as the superintendent of the General Assembly’s institution in Calcutta. After a terrible voyage, which included two shipwrecks, Duff arrived in Calcutta on 27 May 1830, as the first overseas missionary of the Church of Scotland to India.
During the early part of the 19th Century, the Christian missions in India had been successful only in converting a few poor people of low-caste groups by giving them monetary benefits, while the upper caste Hindu and the orthodox Muslim families remained practically untouched. As Duff rightly assessed that the affluent communities could not be accessed by the traditional evangelical methods, he shrewdly devised the policy of introducing a western system of education in the country to slowly convert the young people belonging to the upper classes. He also felt strongly that the English language should be used as the medium of instruction, as it was the key to Western knowledge.
With the aim of teaching all kinds of secular subjects, alongside the Bible, Rev Alexander Duff founded the General Assembly's Institution on 13 July 1830, in Feringhi Kamal Bose’s house, located in upper Chitpore Road, near Jorasanko, with the support of prominent Indians like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, famous Orientalist James Prinsep and Lord William Bentinck, the then Governor General of India. During the initial period, Raja Ram Mohan Roy helped Duff by bringing in the first batch of students and convincing the guardians that reading the King James Bible does not necessarily mean religious conversion. In1836 the institution was shifted to Garanhatta, in the house of Gorachand Bysack, where the Oriental Seminary stands today.
Meanwhile, necessary fund was raised to purchase a spacious plot of land at Cornwallis Square, for the construction of a new building of the School. Mr. MacFarlon, the Chief-Magistrate of Calcutta, laid the foundation stone of the proposed building for the school on 23 February 1837. The building, designed by Mr John Gray of Burn & Co, is having the mixed influence of the Portuguese Renaissance, the Mannerist and Colonial Style of architecture, with traces of English Palladianism. Consequently, the Institution was shifted to the new building after the completion of its construction in 1839 and in the next year, it was bifurcated into School and College departments.
However, at the Disruption of 1843, when 450 evangelical ministers of the Church of Scotland broke away from the parent body and formed the Free Church of Scotland, Duff sided with the Free Church. Consequently, he left the General Assembly's Institution and established a new educational institution in Calcutta, named Free Church Institution, which commenced its work on 4 March 1843. However, in the year 1908, these two institutions founded by Duff, the Free Church Institution and the General Assembly’s Institution, were merged together to form the Scottish Churches College. Much later, after the official union of the established Church of Scotland and the Free Church in 1929, the college was renamed as the Scottish Church College.
Today, the Church of North India (CNI), through the diocese of Calcutta, administers the College. Though it is affiliated to the University of Calcutta, it enjoys autonomous status for its Faculty of Post Graduate Studies.
The Scottish Church College sits on a green campus with solar lighting. Encompassed by a garden and a lawn, the college occupies a huge area of six acres in the crowded city of Calcutta and operates in seven buildings on two campuses. The main campus consists of the main building, which is one of the oldest masonry pieces in the city of Calcutta and an ideal example of colonial architecture. The building houses the dignified college Assembly Hall, adorned with a bust of Alexander Duff.
The main building of the college is enlisted as a Heritage Building. The central library of the college, also situated in the main campus, is computerized. The second campus includes the Millennium Building and the Department of Teacher Education. Apart from the departments of microbiology, computer science and business administration, the Millennium Building also houses the fully air conditioned college auditorium, known as the M.L Bhaumik Auditorium.
Students and alumni of the college proudly call themselves ‘Caledonians’, in the name of the college festival, ’Caledonia’.