La Martiniere College, Lucknow, established in 1845, was founded in accordance with the Will of Major General Claude Martin. Born in Lyon, France, in 1735, the Founder died in Lucknow on 13 September, 1800. The day of his death, by his own instructions is commemorated as ‘Founder’s Day’. Under his Will, certain funds were allotted for the establishment of schools at Lyon, his birth place in France, in Calcutta and at Lucknow. In his Will Claude Martin also 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.”
For more than a generation after the Founder’s death, there was a great deal of litigation over his will. This went all the way up for consideration to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, the highest Court for British India. On 11 April, 1839, the erstwhile Supreme Court at Calcutta decreed “that a College at Lucknow be established pursuant to the will of Claude Martin.” A further decree of the Supreme Court dated 22 December, 1841, laid down a scheme for the establishment of La Martiniere College, at Lucknow. As such, La Martiniere College, Lucknow, occupies a unique position amongst the schools in India and the erstwhile British Empire.
The first Principal of La Martiniere College, Lucknow, Mr John Newmarch, recorded on 12 November, 1845, “The College began work on the 1st October last.” This date, 01 October, 1845, is taken as the actual beginning of the College and is now commemorated as Constantia Day. About seventy boys were admitted in the first session. Today, the strength on the rolls has now crossed 4000, divided in classes ranging from the Nursery to the ISC (Year 12) level. Owing to the munificence of the Founder, Major-General Claude Martin, many boys called ‘Foundationers’ are provided tuition, clothing, board and lodging at nominal fees. All scholars share equally in the benefits of the College without preference in respect of religion or economic status.
La Martiniere College was deeply affected by the events of 1857. The College was evacuated to the Residency on 13 June, 1857, on the orders of Sir Henry Lawrence, although the Principal, George Schilling, had fortified the school buildings and stocked provisions with the intention of defending La Martiniere. During the stirring events of 1857 the Principal, Masters and boys of La Martiniere played a role, which is perhaps unique in the history of the world. They defended an extremely exposed part of the southern perimeter of the Residency, withstood infantry and artillery attacks and were subjected to mining operations. In the face of great hardship they ably and successfully defended The Martiniere Post for almost five months. Meanwhile studies continued. In 1938 as recognition of the role played by them, the College was awarded colours bearing the legend Defence of Lucknow, 1857. This is a distinction no other school in the world enjoys.
Today, La Martiniere College imparts instruction through the medium of English and admission to the College is eagerly sought. Over the span of one and a half centuries, the College has produced soldiers, sailors and airmen who have done the school and their country proud in the two World Wars and in the wars of Independent India. It has also produced engineers, doctors, educationists, administrators and outstanding sportsmen, now scattered over the globe. It counts among its illustrious alumni, men of War and Peace – the Keelor brothers awarded with the Vir Chakra, for shooting down Sabre jets in the Indo-Pak War (1965) and the Nobel Peace Laureate, Dr Rajendra Pachauri.
On 01 October, 1995, the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the College, the President of India, acknowledged the contribution of the College by releasing a postage stamp of the denomination of Rs 2.00, as a mark of honour. This, again, is a mark of distinction that only a few other institutions in India enjoy.