A Brief History of Mount Hermon School
(Extracted from “Under the Old School Topee”
with the kind permission of author Hazel (Innes) Craig)


I'm sure those early American Methodist missionaries who founded my old alma mater, Mount Hermon, originally named Queen's Hill School for Girls, would not have considered it a public school in the English sense of the word. They were totally without pretensions as to the provision of a socially pukkah school for the middle class and were primarily motivated to provide a secondary (High School) education for the 'children of missionaries and other English speaking people in the land' (India). The school that was to become Mount Hermon was founded in 1895 under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopalian Church of America. Its founder and first Principal was Miss Emma Knowles, a missionary sent out to India with the Women's Foreign Missionary Society in 1881. Emma Knowles played a major role in establishing the Wellesley Girls High School in Naini Tal and having worked at the Calcutta Girls' School she realised the need for a similar school to be set up in Darjeeling's favourable climate. Her plan gained the approval of the Church authorities in the United States as well as in India, but no financial aid was forthcoming from either quarter. It was only by borrowing and by paying rent out of her missionary salary that she was able to open her school in 1895 in a rented house called 'Arcadia' in the heart of the town, with just 13 pupils on the rolls. Disaster struck in 1899 with the great landslip of that year, killing ten pupils. In 1900 the school re-opened in two rented houses named 'Queen's Hill' and 'The Repose', which were later purchased with a third house, 'Woodville', on ground leased from the Maharaja of Burdwan. These premises were above the railway station, and the school officially became 'Queen's Hill School for Girls'. A new wing was added in 1902 with financial aid from the Women's Foreign Missionary Society and building grants from the Government of India.

Emma Knowles worked tirelessly for her school until 1915, and retired from active missionary service a few years later. Her greatest hope was to see her school established in a permanent building `before her call should come'. She died in 1924 aged 84, but she got her wish when Miss Carolyn Stahl, who became Principal in 1918, was able to write and tell her of the purchase of the Mount Hermon Estate in 1920. A slump in the tea industry led to the sale of the large estate belonging to the Lebong Tea Company, an ill wind which blew some good for the Methodist missionaries looking for a site for the school. The site was bought for a bargain price of Rs.50,000/- by Bishop Frederick Fisher of the Thoburn Methodist Church in Calcutta. Fred Fisher was the moving spirit behind the purchase of the site and the building of the new school. Later he was to instigate the purchase of Fernhill in 1927, which was to become the senior boys' living accommodation - again at a bargain price, a mere Rs.35,000/-. Cottages sprang up on the new estate and the school itself was officially opened in 1926, still called Queen's Hill and by then taking many more boys. In 1930 the school was re­named Mount Hermon School, incorporating the original Queen's Hill School for Girls and Bishop Fisher's School for Boys, eventually becoming the fully integrated co-educational boarding school that I knew in the 1940s.

The story goes that the school received its name during a prayer meeting of some of the missionaries, the Bishop and Miss Stahl seated around Miss Stahl's fireplace. 'When they rose from their knees after praying, the name 'Mount Hermon' came to them...' This is a snow-capped mountain 9,232ft high on the Syrian Lebanese border, 25 miles west south west of Damascus, and I am struck by the fact that other non-conformist missionaries also named their school after a biblical place - the Hebron School down in Coonoor, later to move to Ootacamund. (Hebron lies in the biblical valley of Eshcol and is reputed to be one of the world's oldest towns and the burial place of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.)

Since the school was founded in 1895, for nearly 60 years it was run by the methodist Episcopal Church of America through its Calcutta Schools Society, the Management Committee comprising members of other non-conformist churches and missionary societies under the chairmanship of the Calcutta Methodist Bishop. In the early 1950s a new 'united' committee took over, with co-operating missions from the Australian, New Zealand and British Baptist societies, as well as British Methodists, the Presbyterian Church of Wales and the Church of Scotland. The religious ethos of the school remained evangelical, as it does today, but the largely American influence came to an end with the appointment in 1954 of the Reverend D G Stewart, an Australian Baptist, as principal. David Stewart was Principal for ten years and was then succeeded by Graeme Murray, a New Zealand Baptist, who held the post for 15 years. In 1979, the Reverend John Johnston, an Australian Baptist and the school's Senior Master, became Principal, retiring in 1989 after 30 years' service on the school staff.

Today Mount Hermon has an Indian Principal, Dr Arun Nehemiah MSc, PhD, an Anglo-Indian Vice-Principal, Mr A L Edgar, MA, MEd, and a largely Indian staff coping with nearly 700 pupils." There is also a flourishing Teacher Training College on the Estate, until recently the responsibility of Mrs Valerie Johnston. Many of its trainees are Anglo-Indian. The College was established in 1972 when the Undergraduate Men's Training College at St Thomas's School at Kidderpore, Calcutta, was transferred to the management of the newly-formed Mount Hermon College of Education Society by Government order and with the co-operation of the Governing body of St Thomas's School. The Mount Hermon TTC is recognised by the Government of Bengal's Education Department and students are awarded their trained Teacher's Certificate for Anglo-Indian Schools after a two year course. The College accepts both men and women students with hostel accommodation provided.

© Hazel Innes Craig (1990)

Emma_Knowles.jpg (81145 bytes)

Emma Knowles

Miss Carolyn Sthal Edited.jpg (15148 bytes)

Carolyn Stahl (Stahl Collection

Lila Engberg.jpg (378026 bytes)

Lila Engberg (1934 Yearbook)

Bishop Fredrick Fisher.jpg (56053 bytes)

Bishop F.B. Fisher


Mr_Dewey.jpg (62101 bytes)

Halsey E. Dewey

Murray_and_Johnstons.jpg (38702 bytes)

Mrs. V. Johnston, Mr. G. A. Murray and Rev. J. Johnston

1963 Mr Stewart.jpg (85614 bytes)

Rev. D. G. Stewart.

(Please click on thumbnail images above to see the picture in full-size and  higher resolution)


Some of the Former Principals of Queen's Hill 
  and Mount Hermon School

1895 - Miss. E. L. Knowles 1944 - Rev. J. R. Boyles
1918 - Miss C. J. Stahl 1945 - Rev. H. E. Dewey
1929 - Rev. E. S. Johnston 1947 - Mrs. R. Forsgren
1931 - Miss R. Field 1951 - Rev. H. E. Dewey
1931 - Mrs. L. Engberg 1953 - Rev. G. B. Workman
1935 - Miss R. Field 1954 - Rev. D. G. Stewart
1938 - Rev. H. E. Dewey 1964 - Mr. G. A. Murray
1942 - Rev. M. A. Clare 1979 - Rev. J. A. Johnston


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