I visited this place way back in 2001 and back then I had no clue as to why I had to accompany my father’s friend all the way from Kolkata for a trip to Serampore College. He seemed to be very excited about the visit and I for some reason could not figure how a trip to a college would be so exciting considering the fact that he was never a student of that college.
Once there he happily hopped around and spoke to few people in the college office and even managed for a private tour of the campus. The old gentleman who was showing us around was an ex-employee of the college so showed us all around the college campus.
The only thing that I remember was the chair used William Ward which had a very unique look and according to the guide was built specifically for William Ward since he was a printer and needed to move swiftly from left to right for managing the letterpress.
The whole perspective of this college started changing when I was reading about Serampore and realized that this college was the foundation of divinity courses not only in India but once in the whole of South Asia.
Short History of Serampore College
This college was part of the Baptist Mission Society which was established in the year 1800 by William Carey, Joshua Marshman, and William Ward. Most of the missionaries had settled away from the main city of Calcutta (Kolkata) as they were not welcome by the East India Company.
The company was not in the view of educating the native population also they feared uprising from the local religious communities.
So Carey and others had chosen upstream at Serampore which was then a Danish colony. Here along with Joshua Marshman and William Ward on the 15th of July 1818, all three together released a prospectus of a college where students will be taught in Eastern Literature and European sciences. This college will be for Asian Christians as well as others.
In the first year, there were around 37 students and it was started not from the present building that we see but instead from Aldeen House. The construction of the building started with a donation of 2500 Pounds donated by missionaries themselves. Once completed the building cost around 15,000 Pounds.
In 1821 donations were received from the King of Denmark which went towards the construction of the hostel rooms.
In the year 1827 Joshua Marshman was touring Denmark and during that tour managed to get a Royal Charter from Frederick the Sixth the King of Denmark (23rd of February). This helped the college to issue degrees of rank and honors to its students. This made them the first college in Asia to have the power to offer degrees to its students.
The Senate of Serampore is the only college in India to have the facility to confer Theological degrees.
in 1902 during Madras Decennial Conference different missionary bodies came together and decided to start an Interdenominational Senate and use the Danish Carter that was with Serampore College so that Serampore College can directly confer degrees in Theology.
The Government of India under the British Crown had appointed a Commission to study the possibility of having Theological studies in the existing Indian universities. They concluded that it was not practical to have such departments in any existing Indian University.
Dr. George Howells was the principal of Serampore college in 1907 thought that Serampore College was unutilized to its fullest potential and he believed that theological studies should be started in the college along with the regular courses.
On the 4th of December 1915, the charter was used to confer the Batchelor of Divinity degree to I. W. Johory, Rev. N. G. Kuriakos and Mr. D. N. Bevasahayam.
On the 28th of March 1918, The Serampore College Bill was passed in the Bengal Legislative Council, and on the 1st of May 1918, it was gazetted.
So during that time Serampore College had the authority to confer theological degrees not only in India but in the whole subcontinent. To date, it’s the only college in India that can confer theological degrees.
What to see at Serampore College
The college has two separate educational wings. One which deals in regular classes in Arts, Science, and Commerce streams while the other is that of Theology.
Apart from the office building, hostels, and other administrative blocs the main attraction out here are the Carey House (Principal’s Quarter), Main Building, Carey Library and Museum, Iron Gate, etc.
The whole campus is very well maintained with pristine gardens with palm trees and flowering plants. The first impressive structure that you see right in front (if you enter from the side gate) is the Leechman House which houses the Theology classrooms, staff room, student’s common room, etc.
Leechman House forms one wing of the quadrangle-shaped boys’ hostel. The rest of the three sides are the boys’ hostel with badminton courts and a garden area in the center.
A little up ahead is the Carey House (Principal’s Quarter). This is one of the most impressive buildings in the college compound. This building houses the residential quarter of the principal and guest room.
Next is the main building which was once the Main College Building. On the backside, you will find a small chapel for the residents of the college compound. The front side of the main building is the most impressive structure with the portico supported by eight columns. This is the structure that one can see from the main road.
This main building houses the main hall, library, and other faculties. One of the most impressive structures within this building is the iron spiral staircase. This entrance hall staircase was a gift from the Danish King Frederick VI in 1819.
Along with the staircase the main gate was also gifted to the college by Danish King Frederick VI in 1819.
Next to the main gate is the CLCR building (Carey Library and Research Center). In front of this building, there are three bronze busts of Joshua Marshman, William Carey, and William Ward.
Apart from this, there is the main playground and staff quarters. Across the road, there are other newer faculty blocks and Senate office.
Keeping in mind the pandemic situation prior permission was taken from the management for photography, research, and other materials.
Location of Serampore College on Map
Other Blogs on Serampore
The story of Serampore and its college by George Howells and A. C. Underwood