Capt. Francis Jenkins, Commissioner of Assam (1834-64) was the first British official to send a dispatch to the Government of India in 1834 for “talking some active measures to provide instruction to the Assamese youth”. He recommended the establishment of schools to impart English education in the sadar stations of “Gauhati, Darrang, Nowgong and Bisnath”. Jenkins also immediately collected a sum of Rs 1,740 from the residents of Guwahati, including north Guwahati, for the purpose of setting up an English school in the town which then had a population of about 5800.

Within a year, in 1835, the approval of the Government of India, the run by the East India Company, came and a school was established with 58 students on its rolls. Mr. Singer was appointed its headmaster on a salary of Rs 150 a month. 


The establishment of the Gauhati School laid the foundation of modern education in the province of Assam. The number of students began to rise and by 1840 had shot up to 340. Donations for the school poured in from different quarters. The Raja of Cooch Behar Daya Ram Baruah and Juggo Ram Phukan contributed Rs 1000 each while Dihingia Gosain of Kurua contributed Rs 500. Emphasis was given to study of English. Subjects taught in the junior classes included Wilson’s Chronology, Yate’s Elements of Natural Philosophy and English Grammar. Use of globes, arithmetic, translation and composition were also taught. The senior class course included Meshman’s History of India, Homer’s Illiad and Elements of Natural Philosophy. 

In 1838 Mr. Robinson was appointed the new headmaster of Gauhati School, now named the Gauhati Seminary, on a salary of Rs 300. By that time schools had opened in different parts of Assam, with Christian missionaries also contributing to the growth. However, the standard of education could not reach the desired heights. Even the Guwahati Seminary results failed to meet expectations. Initial euphoria vanished and from 1844 there was a steady decline in enrolment in English classes. Daily attendance of the students came down. Students entered class according to their convenience, not routine. 

Ultimately, the school authorities decided to be tough. They amended school rules, imposed stricter discipline and began to seek cooperation from the guardians to bring students to book. According to rules set in 1852 the guardians had to sign an undertaking that their wards would be present in school by 11 am. Doors would be closed for latecomers. 

But even amid such chaos there shone a few success stories. Anundoram Barooah, the first Assamese ICS (Indian Civil Service) was a product of the school. Another student, Bolinarayan Bora, became a Gilchrist scholar. Zalinur Ali Ahmed and Sibram Bora, the first two Assamese to enter the Indian Medical Service, were also the school’s alumni as were Manick Chandra Baruah and Abdul Majid.

In 1862-63 public representation was made to the government for the establishment of a college in Guwahati. In response the government decided to raise the status of the Gauhati Seminay into a collegiate school “for political grounds of endeavoring to train up natives of the province for offices and responsibility and trust.” 

 In 1865 the school was officially declared a collegiate school, the first ever school in northeastern India to achieve this status. Classes started in this collegiate section with a new academic session in 1866. The government sanctioned a sum of Rs 12,000 towards additional expenses of the upgraded section. Some teachers were also brought from outside the province, particularly from government colleges in other parts of British India. That is how Babu Lakshmi Narayan Das, the officiating professor of Mathematics of Benaras College, came to the Gauhati Collegiate School. 

Within a few years a law section was becoming popular among the people. “The establishment now consists of eight English masters and a law lecturer, a surveying master, two pundits and a maulvi. The class is now attended by 100 lads,” mentions British official W W Hunter in his report of 1874. This was shocking because that year, according to Hunter, Gauhati town, “the civil headquarters and the only town in the district”, had a population of 11,942 -- more than double the population in 1835 when the school was started.  

The results of the school on its elevation to collegiate school were on the whole not satisfactory. Of 938 students who matriculated from Calcutta University in 1872, there were only four from the Brahmaputra valley. In the First Arts (FA) examination that year none of the students who appeared from the school were successful. Ultimately FA classes were closed down although the junior section continued to flourish. In the beginning of the 20th century the school once again began to blossom, and was renamed the Cotton Collegiate School. Its alumni excelled in different spheres thus setting shining examples of scholarship.