Founded by Gour Mohan Addy in 1829, mainly for the children of the Hindu parents in Calcutta, the Oriental Seminary was the oldest, the largest, and the most respectable independent native school in Bengal. It came up during the time when, with the renewal of the Company Charter in 1813, knowledge of English became the key to professional services and business careers. However, in those days, students intending to learn English had to enroll themselves in the missionary schools. But, many orthodox Hindu parents, while fully comprehending the usefulness of English education, were very much skeptical about enrolling their boys to English schools, where they were subject to considerable religious influence. They felt insecure having seen the way the students of Derozio openly disregard the Hindu values, tradition and customs and how the Christian missionaries were tactfully paving the way to preach Christianity, by shaking the traditional faith of the Hindu boys in the name of imparting higher English education. In those days of uncertainty and anguish, the Oriental Seminary, founded by Gour Mohan, was a boon of reassurance for the worried Hindu parents about imparting the best English education in his school, free from Christian influences.
With the aim to educate the young adults of Bengal in English, Oriental Seminary, primarily a Hindu-supported school, was initially originated at Benshohata, on 1 March 1829. It had to shift its location thrice before moving into its own building at 361A, Rabindra Sarani, near the Rabindra Kanan, The school building, constructed by Martin Burn, was inaugurated by Lord Carmichael, the then Governor of Bengal Presidency, in 1914.The adjoining playground was secured much later, in 1915 courtesy Sir PC Lyon, member-in-charge of the education department and was named after him.
Initially the monthly tuition fee was Rupees three only, which was cheaper in comparison of Rupees five of Hindu School. As he intended to make his students proficient in spoken and written English, Gaur Mohan requested British teachers, like the eminent Shakespearean scholar Captain DL Richardson, to teach in his school. For junior classes he appointed the Eurasians and Bengali teachers for the intermediate classes. However, for the upper classes, he always appointed highly qualified Englishmen or Bengalis.
Gour Mohan, a gold merchant by profession, was a self-taught man and he acquired a sufficient knowledge in English literature and Science, which enabled him to look after and guide the students, as well as the teachers of the school. For some time, he took a full share of teaching also. He appointed Hermann Geoffroy, as the Headmaster of the school. He was a frustrated barrister, a Frenchman of great learning and master of several languages. During his tenure the school rose to a great height of importance due to his untiring efforts.
Unfortunately, Gaur Mohan lost his life untimely, on 23 February 1845, when the country boat carrying him capsized in the River Hooghly in a severe storm, as he was returning from Serampore, after meeting a possible teacher for his school. It is a matter of regret that no portrait of Gour Mohan is available for us to commemorate the great man, who created history in the education system in Calcutta during the days of the British Raj. Nevertheless, after his death, his brother Hurrakishto Addy took the helm of the school and also took part in teaching as well.
Oriental Seminary started a morning session for the infants in 1836. Bengali was also introduced as a medium of instruction in 1839. With the regular increase of students and to meet popular demand, three branches of the school were opened in Chitpur, Bhowanipur and Belghoria. The girls’ section of the school was opened in 1934. The higher secondary section of the school became coeducational in 1991.
The Seminary celebrated its centenary on 5 March 1929 under the presidency of Stanley Jackson, Governor of Bengal. The 150th anniversary of the school was also celebrated with suitable pomp in 1979.The Oriental Seminary is perhaps the only school in Calcutta to boast of a school archive, which was created mainly due to the initiative and drive of CP Ghosal, a senior English teacher of the school.
It is interesting to note that, Rabindranath had his initial schooling at the seminary.