La Martinière Calcutta owes its origin to Claude Martin, the son of a casket maker and a butcher’s daughter, who was born on 5 January 1735 in Lyon, France. After leaving school, he decided to seek his fortune abroad and signed up with the French East India Company (French Compagnie des Indes) in 1751, at the age of sixteen. In India he served under Commander and Governor Joseph Francois Dupleix and General Thomas Arthur Lally in the Carnatic Wars against the British East India Company.
But, when the French lost their colony of Pondichery to the British in 1761, he accepted the offer of the British and joined the Bengal Army of the British East India Company in 1763 and ultimately rose to the rank of Major General.
In 1776, Martin was allowed to accept the appointment of Superintendent of the Arsenal for Asaf-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Awadh at Lucknow, retaining his rank but being ultimately placed on half pay. He stayed in Lucknow from 1776 until his death and during this period, he amassed a huge property, built a magnificent palace named Constantia, which included a grand library and a wonderful picture gallery. He died on 13 September 1800 and according to his will, he was buried in a vault specially prepared for his remains, in the basement of Constantia. He left the major portion of his property for founding three educational institutions in Lucknow, Calcutta and Lyon. After litigation of thirty years, the La Martinière Schools were opened in Calcutta on the 1st day of March 1836.
La Martinière Calcutta consists of two single-sex private schools in Calcutta, controlled by the Protestant Church of North India. While La Martinière School for the boys is located at 11 Loudon Street, the Girls’ School is on Rawdon Street. Actually, they face each other across Rawdon Street. At the outset, both the schools were exclusively meant for the Europeans and the prominent Bengali Christians of the City. However, that discriminating policy was abolished since 1936, by the order of the Calcutta High Court. Both the schools prepare the students for ICSC and ISC examinations, as they follow the syllabus of the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations.
The main building of the Boys' School, situated in the centre of the campus and completed in 1836, was constructed in Classic European Style, with a Round Chapel ringed by the imposing Corinthian pillars at the heart of it. While the classrooms were distributed throughout the main building, the library was originally housed above the Round Chapel and the top floor housed the dormitories for the boarders. Unfortunately, the building was stuck by a disastrous cyclonic storm in June 1897, which ruined the stately Gothic porch on the southern side of the building, as well as the magnificent blue dome, the inner portion of which was said to be painted in blue, indicating the positions of some of the constellations and the planets of the northern hemisphere. Originally, the school chapel was also housed in the said dome.
There was a time, when the library of the School was the proud owner of a mummy, along with an articulated human skeleton. Though the building was modified and the western wing was added in 1915, those lost items could not be compensated due to sufficient funds.
La Martinière School for Girls is situated right opposite the Boys’ School on Rawdon Street. The new junior school buildings are located on the north side of the campus, along with a basketball court and a memorial bust of the founder, Major General Claude Martin. The swimming pool and the old junior school building, also known as the Technical block, are located to the west, on the side of Loudon Street.
Apart from quizzes, debate, and elocution, the La Martinière Schools encourage students in sports and offers facilities in different games like, hockey, cricket, football, swimming, athletics, basketball, table tennis, boxing, and rugby. Students, who excels in any field or bring honour and laurel to the School in any extra-curricular activity, are awarded ‘Colours’, like the concept of the ‘Oxford Blue’.