Dr Sanobar Haider is Assistant Professor, Department of History, MBP Government PG College, Lucknow
A visit to the magnificent Constantia which is more popularly known as the La Martiniere College for boys is definitely a sight to behold. The freshly restored and renovated campus is awe inspiring and stands tall rising into the blue skies above.
La Martiniere College, a premiere boys educational institution, established in 1845, was founded in accordance with the Will of Major General Claude Martin. Martin was born in Lyon, France, in 1735 and grew up to be a great adventurer and visionary. He was a French army officer who served the French, and later the British East India Company in colonial India. Martin rose to the rank of Major-General in the British East India Company's Bengal Army. He left a substantial lasting legacy in the form of his writings, buildings and the educational institutions that were founded posthumously.
Martin died in Lucknow on 13th September, 1800. The day of his death is commemorated as ‘Founder’s Day’ according to his instructions as per the will under which certain funds were also allotted for the establishment of schools at Lyon, his birth place in France, in Calcutta and at Lucknow. The college website provides information about the Will of Claude Martin in which he directed that “my house at Luckperra or Constantia House with all the ground and premises belonging to the house and all the ground around it, none is to be sold or detached from it.” The will went on to define his purpose, which was “for to keep the said Constantia House for school or College for learning young men the English language and Christian religion if they found themselves inclined.” The architecture of Constantia is a complex weave of the Nawabi fantasy and the Gothic barracks, interlaced with Georgian colonnades with the turrets and loopholes of a medieval Mughal couplas and Palladian arcades.
As we enter the campus from Gate no.4 of the college, we are enthralled by the picturesque Gori Bibi ka maqbara set in the middle of a tastefully done garden. A green domed structure with stairs leading to the main edifice, the tomb is dedicated to Boulone Lise a young girl for whom Marin had great affection and regard. Gori Bibi, as she was popularly called, is believed to be the daughter of Nawab Fazal Khan Bahadur, the grandson of the Prime Minister of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, and was the most beloved and faithful companion of Major General Claude Martin. He mentioned her lovingly and with great respect in his will, leaving instructions for her care and wellbeing after his death and for a tomb to be constructed for her, near him. This tomb is a simple yet a beautiful piece of art and looks like a song sung in stone.
As we move further, we come across two graves of the British Generals and two cannons which have recently been installed near the graves. The graves belong to Major Hodson and Captain D’Costa of the period when the first war of Indian independence was fought. Walking further we are enchanted by the beautiful rows of bungalows allotted to the members of the staff on the campus. The guest house which hosts guests from all over the world is also located behind the tomb of Gori Bibi. Finally, we reach the main building of the estate the majestic Constantia with the Laat just opposite to it fixed in the middle of the lake. A look at the Constantia (which is painted beige more like the color in which most of the buildings of the erstwhile kingdom of Awadh were painted), astounds us with is grandeur. It is generally believed that Claude Martin was driven by an aspiration to protect his personal property and belongings even after his death. According to his will, he wanted himself to be buried under Constantia House and therefore lies buried in a specially-made cellar in the basement of Constantia House. The key feature of this Gothic colonial structure were the Greek statues atop its terrace and tall colonial pillars and the arched glass windows.
A broad flight of stairs leads us to the East Terrace of Constantia which has an imposing central Cannon which was used by Lord Cornwallis during the Siege of Seringapatam against Tipu Sultan. Right behind this canon is a grand bell that has the name of the Major General Claude Martin engraved on its base. The chapel is again a marvel of architectural glory. It is decorated with large mirrors, inlaid marble tables and imported paintings. The stucco work done on the ceilings is inspired from the stories of the Bible and is a sight to behold. The carvings done in blue and yellow represent the College colours .The chapel is equipped with an old piano which is called the Pipe organ was built by John Dressers of Walsall, England, to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of the College, 1895. The organ is used daily for Divine Service when the College is in session. It has two manuals and a pedal board with four ranks of pipes for the great manual, three for the swell and one for the pedal, making it a 'small 8 rank pipe organ' with a total of 385 pipes of different tonal colours and timbre. For wind supply, the organ only has a manual blowing system and definitely one of its kinds. In the room adjoining the chapel is the stone bust of Claude Martin with pictures belonging to the era decorated on the walls. A flight of stairs leads one to the top floors of the building with which ends at the Crown which is the top of the Constantia. The same staircase also takes one to the basement where the founder sleeps in peace. A signboard reads that the Major General had died in 1800 at the Farhad Baksh Kothi in Lucknow, and as per his wishes, his body was embalmed and kept in a grave in the Constantia.
This is the only school in the world to have received Royal Battle Honours for its role in the war of 1857. La Martiniere College was institutionalised on October 1, 1845 and the day is celebrated as the Constantia Day every year. The School also commemorates the death of Major General Claude Martin on September 13, which is celebrated as the Founder's Day every year. The building which is a remarkable piece of history has been beautifully restored by the Principal Carlyle McFarland, who is presently working on the construction of the College Museum which will be exhibiting artifacts, documents, paintings and stories belonging to more than 175 years. The visit to this historically magnificent edifice was truly enriching and is a must for anyone who visits Lucknow as it represents a living monument besides being one of the best educational institutions of the city of the Nawabs.