Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Curious Legacy of General Claude Martin

Claude Martin probably intended to follow the traditional path for Europeans in India.  He would work hard, accumulate a large amount of money and then return home in triumph.  But the last did not work out for him.  In his later years France was convulsed in revolution and at war with England.  And as a long ago deserter from the French cause to the British East India Company he would have been regarded at best with suspicion in either country.

So he stayed.  He was by now putting the finishing touches on another, even grander mansion called Constantia.

As his health began to fail in early 1800 he created a rather remarkable Will, which is only partly contained at the link.

Martin was a very rich man.  When we speak of one being able to "buy and sell" others, it was literally true in his case...there was considerable disapproval even in his time over Martin's buying of slaves.  At his death his fortune was somewhere in the neighborhood of 500,000 pounds, which in the purchasing power of that time and place would make him the equivalent of a significant multi-millionaire.  The inventory of his belongings reflected his wealth both of material things and of interests.

There were supplies and machines for bookbinding, carpentry and diamond cutting.  There were fossils, minerals, shells, an entire puppet theater, a complete suit of armor, crystal bottles for perfume of his own manufacture.  There was cloth from the Falkland Islands, a "hand in plaster of the Irish Giant", telescopes, guitars, a stuffed monkey and '1 small roomfull Hindostanee Fireworks".  The latter it seems were the work of his own personal pyrotechnician, a man whose artistry he had admired enough to make him an employee!

Being no doubt mindful of the extent of fiscal chicanery extant at that time - to which he had been a very active party one might add - Martin tried to make his Will very specific.

His various mistresses all got financial arrangements and in some instances houses.  He seems in the case of one favorite to have also left instructions on dealing with any subsequent husbands should they do her wrong.   Also arranged were funds to pay her staff of 11 servants for the rest of her life.

He deeded a number of properties in his native Lyon to various family members, although he seems to have scarcely been in contact with them.

He left a small fund for "creditable" prisoners in Calcutta, especially recommending for largess any military officers incarcerated over bad debts.

He set aside monies for the poor in Calcutta, Lucknow and Chandernagore.  The principle was to remain untouched, the interest used for a daily distribution by "a Christian padre or priest, Protestant or Chatholic or Muslim, Hindoo...".  This worthy aim is still honored in principle by the occasional distribution of alms at the tomb of Martin's favorite mistress, but a memento of the more ambitious project can apparently still be seen in the form of an obscure metal marker inside St. John's Church in Calcutta:

 "The sum of fifty thousand Sicca Rupees is a Gift granted by Major General Claud Martin To the Poor of Calcutta.  The Interest of which is to be daily distributed in perpetuity".

The point of posting such notices in public places was to reduce the chance of corrupt middlemen, a species well known to the General, from simply pocketing the money.

And most remarkably designated the bulk of his estate to the establishment and continued upkeep for a college for '..learning young Men the english language, and Christian religion if they find themselves inclined."

Much more detailed instructions followed, and after much legal wrangling a series of schools, all called La Martiniere were established in Lyon France and in Calcutta and Lucknow India.  They are all going strong 212 years after Martin's death.

Lucknow was Martin's home for most of his life, and the city most associated with him.  So it is the Lucknow school that is most closely linked to his legacy.  It is based in Martin's mansion house of Constantia, and indeed Martin's crypt lies beneath it.  Once a year on the anniversary of his death wreaths are laid there, and a Founder's Day dinner is held.  Alas, the specific menu items which Martin designated are no longer served.   The school song is an unashamed paean to Martin.  It goes in part:

All his martial deeds may die,
Lasting still his charity;
This his laurel blooms for aye,
Dead, he lives in us today.
This, then, our song shall be,
As we chant his eulogy -
"May our Founder's name endure,
Ever spotless, ever pure!"

The La Martiniere schools are to this day held in very high repute.  They are run along the lines of English Public schools but with provisions for students of lesser means to have their tuition supported.  Students are divided up into four "houses" each with their own name and color scheme.  Academics and sports are pursued with enthusiasm.

But the Lucknow La Martiniere can claim a distinction unique among schools.

The year was 1857.  Festering resentment to British abuses erupted into The Mutiny.  As rebel forces approached Lucknow the headmaster had the school fortified and provisioned to withstand a siege.  At the last moment the students and teachers were instead ordered into the Residency, the nearby government complex, and ordered to defend a section of the perimeter.

Through a long and bloody siege, until eventual relief and evacuation, the students of La Martiniere took up arms and upheld the martial traditions of their founder with distinction. They also continued their classes.  All concerned were awarded the Defense of India medal with a special clasp for Lucknow.

And the school itself?  It became the only educational institution every to be awarded a Regimental battle honor, which they are allowed to display on ceremonial occasions.

After reading this tale I started to wonder.  It just sounded a little familiar I guess.  A British style school, divided into four houses.  A place very set apart and different from its surrounding world.  A ornate castle like campus.  A gallant defense by students against formidable odds.

My goodness, you don't suppose J.K. Rowling ever heard this story?

There is by the way an active alumni association for the La Martiniere Schools.  By now male and female, they meet in various countries around the globe.  So it is that near to and far from his native and adopted homes, Old Martinians still gather on Founders Day to celebrate the life of Claude Martin.


Here are some nicely done pictures of  La Martiniere, Lucknow.
And I must note that the original "template" for Hogwarts is said by some to be here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is another literary connection St Xavier’s School in Lucknow, where Kim was educated, was based on Le Martiniere.