Individual Indian Schools: La Martiniere College

Figure 1.--This is the entrance to La Martiniere College in Lucknow India. It is one of the most prestigious private schools in India and has a fascinating history. It was the model for the St. Xavier School featured in Rudyard Kipling's "Kim".

La Martiniere is today one of India's most prestigious private schools. It has a fascinating history full of irony. It was founded by a Frenchman, but has operated as a traditional English public school. The students fought the Indian rebels in the Great Mutiny (1857), but the students are now Indians. The school was the model for St. Xavier--the school depicted in Rudyard Kipling's classic novel Kim. Today the school uniform is a blue blazer with the school crest on it, grey long trousers, black shoes, white shirt and tie.


Kim, the extraordinary Street child story written by Ruyard Kipling and set in 19th century India appeared for the first time in 1901. The novel tells of the adventures of a boy called Kim. In the story the boy is given the opportunity to go to school. Kim has befriended Teshoo Lama who sees to it that Kim goes to the best school in British India. The school is in the city of Lucknow. Kipling called the school ‘St Xavier.’ A school by this name does not exist for it is a Kipling creation. He used a real school as its model. Kipling authorities believe that the school is ‘La Martiniere.’


Photographs show that ‘La Martiniere’ is a very impressive building. It looks like more like a royal palace than a school. How the school was founded is as good a story as any fiction about boarding schools an author can invent. Indeed it is often said that fact is stranger than fiction and it is certainly true in the story of ‘La Martiniere.’ It was not a school to begin with but the home of Major General Claude Martin. Martin served in the army of The British East India Company.{HBC note: We are unsure about Martin's background. He was French. We are unsure why he was in the service of the British East India Company.] Martin on his death in 1800 left an endowment for the creation of three boy’s schools. All the boy’s schools were to be called ‘La Martiniere.’ There was one at Lucknow, another in Calcutta and the third school at Martin’s birthplace in Lyon France. At the Lucknow school Claude Martin’s body was buried in the cellar. To this day his tomb still exists there. It seems that there was method in his eccentricity because it ensured that his home would become a boarding school and not the home of other wealthy inhabitants of this region.

Nature of School

Although founded by a Frenchman, the school has the look of a British public school. The Martiniere school in Calcutta was for poor Indian children and Lucknow was for British and Anglo-Indian families. Classes are taught in English and the boys wear traditional British-style school uniforms. This is one of many examples of the extent to which the British Raj (colonial administration) influenced modern India. It is a private school and the students are drawn from the Indian elite. I am unsure what provision is made for poor or untouchable children in terms of scholarship assistance.

Battle Honors

‘La Martiniere’ at Lucknow is the only British school to possess a battle-honour. A British military style colour can be displayed on ceremonial occasions. The flag has the school coat of arms on it. The wording says, ‘Defender of Lucknow 1857.’ This was the time of the Indian Mutiny. Lucknow was under attack by rebel forces. ‘La Martiniere’ was evacuated but the senior boys stayed to defend the school and they fought ‘Shoulder to shoulder’ alongside the British residency. The younger boys sneaked, under heavy fire, through the terrain with ammunition and food for the ‘La Martiniere.’ defenders. They also helped at the temporary hospital. The schoolboys defended their school for 5 months and at last the British relief party arrived. The boys were taken to Benares. This was a hazardous journey lasting nearly 2 months. Edward Hilton, one of the boys in the siege, wrote an account of the battle. The British government changed the EIC's charter after the muntiny. The EIC's army was disbanded. The British Army and Government took over the administration of India.

Today artillery guns are decorative features to the school entrance but are also a reminder of the hard fighting which took place then. It has become a well renowned school of learning in which its students have in the words of Teshoo Lama, ‘Acquired merit.’ I am unsure how current students view this history. Many boys would be proud of such a history. This is somewhat complicated in the case of La Martiniere. The boys at the school at the time of the Mutiny were British and they were fighting Indian rebels. Now of course the students are Indians. The Mutiny is seen by Indians as a failed national uprising against the British colonizers. A reader writes, "Many boys view the school history with pride and the whole story is told on the various web sites about the College. The boys who have made web sites include their own photographs of the historic relics and the tomb of Clude Martins is featured in their pages. also there seems to be lots of comradi because old boys still keep in contact." An Indian Hindu newspaper speaks less positively about the founder, Claude Martins. the article was written by a former pupil. I guess there is mixed feelings about the school's history."


We have little information about the early students at the school. There were many European countries involved in the colonization of India. The first was Portugal and then the Dutch. Britain and Franced vied for control of India in the 18th century with Britain emerging vicorious. Whle Britain defeated French forces in India, they did not expel all Frenchmen or even confiscate their ptoperty. Thus some Frenchmen like Claude Martin who made their fortune in India remained there even ater the British victory. We are unsure to what extent French families lived in India or remained there after the British victory. As classes did not begin until 1845, we do not believe that La Martiniere when first established had a French character or catered to French boys. We do know that it became a school based largely on the British public (elite private) school system. Most of the students in the 19th century were British boys ,reflecting the large numbers of Britions that went to India to irk in the colonial administration and British companies. At first most were bachelors, but by the Victorian era, men began bringing their families. We are unsure to what extent Indian children were allowed to attend the school during the colonial era. Today of course the students are Indian boys.

School Uniform

Today the school uniform is a blue blazer with the school crest on it, grey long trousers, black shoes, white shirt and tie. What the uniform was in Kipling’s time I have not been able to determine. In Kipling’s book little reference is made to the clothes Kim wore. We learn of Kim’s feelings towards the European clothes he wore. He found them uncomfortable and restrictive. It seems there was a winter and summer uniform because Kipling says that Kim was given a white drill suit when the weather warmed. In the 1950 MGM film Dean Stockwell is shown wearing a long trousered white suit, shirt and tie. A later film about Kim, made in 1984 shows the uniform to be a grey suit, black stockings and black leather shoes. Kim wears a boater.


The curriculum has changed since the late 19th Century. Kim studied ‘surveying’ which is unlikely to be a subject offered today, that is, if it ever was offered in the first place. It might have been created in the imagination of Kipling. However, English and Mathematics will certainly be studied then as now. Modern subjects such as ‘Information Technology’ were not part of the 19th century curriculum. Kim would have recognised the games field because he was in the cricket team and this game then as now is played.

School Song

The school song is still sung. I found the words on the school web site. ‘Vive La Martiniere’ was written by F.J. Rowe. "Vive La Martiniere" by F.J. Rowe

Hail! Hail! the name we own,
Hail! to the giver;
Blessing and bright renown,
Be his forever!
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."

Faithful may we ever be
Followers of his constancy;
Firm of hand against the foe
Soft of heart to succour woe.
This then our song shall be,
As we chant his eulogy -
"May our Founder's name endure
Ever spotless ever pure!"


Hopkirk, Peter. Quest for Kim (Oxford University Press, 1996). Ch 8.

Kipling, Rudyard. Kim (Penguin, 1989).

La Martiniere web site

William Fergusson


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Created: February 2, 2004
Last updated: February 3, 2004