The Legitimacy of Codrington College

Codrington College in Barbados, British West Indies. stands as a monument to its founder Christopher Codrington, the Younger. Munificent indeed as the bequest was, it was ennobled by the life and character of the man. Codrington descended from an old Gloucestershire family, whose name goes back as far as the fourteenth century. His grandfather, also named Christopher, as well as his father, gathered his possessions and sailed for the West Indian island of Barbados around the year 1643. This first Codrington bought land on the windward side of the island and amassed a considerable fortune from sugar and molasses.

The second Codrington enhanced the family fortunes not only in Barbados but also extended them to Antigua and Barbuda, to the extent that he became one of the richest planters in the West Indies. In 1689, Codrington became Governor General of the Leeward Islands, being recommended by the retiring Governor General as “a gentleman of great estate here in Barbados, and much beloved by the inhabitants, and suggested for the office by them.”
The third Codrington, known in West Indian history as Codrington the Younger, was born in the parish of St. John, in the island of Barbados, in 1668. After receiving the rudiments of education and acquaintance with the learned tongues in that island, Codrington was sent to England, at the age of twelve, where he enrolled as a student of Dr. Weadle at Enfield, near London. Codrington “went up” to Oxford in 1685 and remained there until 1699. In 1689, Codrington was elected to a probationer Fellowship and was formally elected to a Fellowship the following year.
Indeed. Codrington’s career at Oxford is characterized by a diversity of interests, academic and otherwise. His amazing success in so many varied endeavours evoked opprobious lines from his detractors and eulogies from his admirers. “No spark,” declared one detractor, “had walked up High Street bolder.” Again:

“He had scarce put on the Tufted Gown,
And wildly viewed the colleges and town,
But Fortune, who no time would let him lose,
Gave him a Royal Infant for his Muse,
And him he sung with Whimsies in his Brains,
Praising a borrowed prince with borrowed trains”.

Even more abusive and personal are Sir Richard Blackstone’s verse:

“By nature small and of a dwarfish breed,
Peevish was sent to school, to write and read
Where bribed by gifts and pedagorgirk Don
Abused the Father and deceived the Son;
And grooped one’s Sugar, as he the other Spoiled,
Thence, swollen with figures and possessed with Tropes,
On Isis, he bestowed his Parents’ hopes”.
But Codrington had his followers and his defenders: “His career astonished his contemporaries not merely by its swiftness in achievement but also by its extraordinary diversity.”
“His whole life,” says Harlow, “was swift, short kaleidoscopic and brilliant. He was famous as a scholar and wit, yet he has left nothing of solid achievement. in either scholarship or literature. He was a skillful and courageous soldier, a born leader of men, who caught the eye of William of Orange and gained high promotion, Yet no one would place him among the famous commanders of his age… ”
Tickell links Codrington with Addison and Steele:

Where Codrington and Steele their verses unrein,
And from an easy unaffected strain
A double wreath of laurel binds their brow
For they are poets and are warriors too”.


Clearly, then, Codrington, though brilliant in many ways, spread himself too thinly and consequently has made no permanent place as philosopher, scholar, soldier or man of letters. Like Raleigh, his versatility has been his bane. Just because be could do so many things well, his abounding vigour diffused itself. He attempted too much. As a scholar, a soldier, a statesman, he could have won high distinction. But to attempt all three was too much for one short life. Too much, that is to say, if one has an eye on the eternal garland.
Burrows speculates that:

“We cannot doubt that much more yet would have come from the mind of such a man, cut off at the age of forty-two. Religion and philanthropy mourned his early loss. Literature might well believe that she was deprived of some great classical work which would have matched the pages of antiquity, some history of the Revolution and William’s wars perhaps, free from the modern exigency of brilliant composition, graced with the style of Thucydides or Clarendon, and commanding the admiration and assent of ages, since it would have been the relation of an actor and eyewitness”.

Only one stanza of a poem written to his friend, Sir Samuel Garth finds a permanent place in anthologies:

“Ask me not, friend, what I approve or blame
Perhaps I know not why I like, or damn;
I can be pleas’d: and I dare own I am
I read thee over with a lover’s eye,
Thou hast no faults, or I no faults can spy
Thou art all beauty, or all blindness I”.


If Codrington has earned a permanent place in West Indian history, as indeed he obviously has, it is due to the bequest of his two estates for maintaining a college and for his benevolent attitude towards his slaves.
The portion of the will which created the  college reads thus:

Paragraph 8. Item: I give and bequeath my two plantations in Barbados to the Society for Propagation of the Christian Religion in Foreign parts, erected and established by my late good master, King William the Third, and my desire is to have the plantations continued entire and three hundred negroes at least kept thereon, and a convenient number of Professors and Scholars maintained there, all of them to be under the vows of Poverty Chastity and Obedience, who shall be obliged to study and practice physics and surgery as well as divinity, that by the apparent usefulness of the former to all mankind, they may both endear themselves to the people, and have better opportunities of doing good to men’s souls, whilst they are taking care of their bodies. But the particulars of the Constitution I leave to the Society composed of good and wise men. Codrington’s heir, Colonel William Codrington, raised so many difficult questions about the will, particularly about “movables”, the litigation was impossible. Finally, agreement was reached in 1742 between Codrington and the S. P. G. and Codrington settled all outstanding differences by paying S. P. G. £5,000. It was this settlement of £5,000 which enabled the Society to open the Grammar School in 1745.

But Codrington’s will did not call for a Grammar School. It called for a college with “Professors and Scholars maintained there, all of them to be under the vows of Poverty Chastity and Obedience, who shall be obliged to study and practice physics and surgery as well as divinity.” He therefore envisioned a collegiate society, modelled somewhat after the colleges at Oxford and Cambridge. The facts are, however, there were no students in the West Indies academically equipped to undertake collegiate studies. Hence the Grammar
School was erected to provide the preparatory studies so that “in time there may be scholars, properly qualified to receive instructions of the Professors hereafter to be chosen…”

The Grammar School then was the first stage in the development of Codrington College. The second stage was reached when Bishop Coleridge, first Bishop of Barbados, reconstructed the Foundation and created a college. The Reverend J.H. Pinder, a Barbadian educated at Caius College, Cambridge was the first Principal. Assisting Pinder as Tutor was the Reverend E.P. Smith of Pembroke College, Cambridge. Dr. J.D. Maycock of Barbados was the “Medical Professor”.

Twenty two students matriculated when the collegiate institution was opened on Thursday, September 9, 1830, in full civic and academic splendor. At noon, the academic ceremony began in traditional English university style. The exhibitioners wearing scholars’ caps and gown of Oxford, and the commoners wearing the commoners’ gown of the said university headed the procession from the Principal’s lodge on the west to the impressive entrance of College-hall. Following the students were the clergy, the Principal, the tutor, the Archdeacon of the Diocese, the Lord Bishop, and The Governor, Sir James Lyon. After the reading of prayers, the Bishop introduced the exhibitioners and K.B.Skeete of Barbados delivered an oration to close the auspicious occasion.

The course of study lasted three years, each academic year being divided into four terms, amounting to thirty-six weeks. The staples of the curricula were classical studies, theological studies, (with their cognates, logic and philosophy) and mathematics. The “Medical Professor” lectured on elementary anatomy, chemistry, physiology, and botany.

No account of Codrington College is complete without some reference to the work of Rawle, who, by Common Consent, is the greatest Principal ever to administer the college. A Cambridge man of great academic distinction, Rawle received a First Honours in the Classical Tripos in 1835. The following year he became a Fellow and was an assistant Tutor from 1836 to 1839. Rawle’s arrival in Barbados on March 22, 1847, heightened hopes for the success of the college. The newspaper, Barbadian, commented:

“….From the high character we have heard of the new Principal of our college, we are led to expect that the excellent institution will derive the greatest benefit from his superintendence”.


Rawle’s first great task was an encounter with Sir Robert Bowcher Clarke, the Chief Justice of the island. Clarke had marshalled influential local opinion behind him against the newly constituted college, demanding that it be restored to the former status of a Grammar School.

Rawle viewed the issue with the Chief Justice as “vital”, and entered into the debate with characteristic vigour:

I am keeping my resignation of Cheadle back for sometime, to see how this affair with the Chief Justice goes on. It is a vital question, and I would rather give up the post with all its prospects of usefulness than sanction any compromise.

Sir Bowcher Clarke was educated at the Codrington Grammar School, not on Trust funds, however, before it was removed to the Chaplain’s Lodge in 1829. He had gone on to England where he qualified in law, and returned to Barbados to practice his profession, rising eventually to the highest legal position in the island. Several of his contemporaries had been educated similarly, and had achieved outstanding success professionally and academically, some remaining at Oxford and Cambridge to be Fellows, Deans, and Professors. Sir Bowcher therefore had known Codrington’s better days, and he felt convinced that the present innovations were a letdown from the former days.
The Chief Justice gave notice that he was awaiting the return of the Bishop from the neighbouring islands to put forward his views for “untheolising” the College. Rawle was cautious, attempting to avoid an open issue. He found Sir Bowcher “a good man” but “with extreme notions,” hence he proposed “to speak plainly on the whole question of education which calls for reform.”

Bishop Parry returned from his Diocesan visit to the islands in May 1847, and was immediately given a letter by the Governor in which the Chief Justice expounded his views on the future use of Codrington College, “making the College that really useful institution to the Colony, which the benevolence of the Founder contemplated, and the munificence of its endowment was so amply sufficient to accomplish”. Copies of the letter were sent to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and to friends of the Chief Justice who would use their influence in London to secure a favourable opinion from S.P.G. on Sir Bowcher’s demands.

To give perspective to the Chief Justice’s argument, it is necessary to recall that when the Reverend Mark Nicholson arrived in 1797 to be the “President” of the College, he devised a plan by which twelve boys “boarded free at the President’s table,” and the Society paid £40 annually for each until he attained the age of eighteen. At this time, they sat examinations and those who were found eligible were sent “to study one of the learned professions at one of the English Universities.” To each successful candidate, the Society paid £100 annually for four years while he studied in England. No mention was made of the study of medicine and divinity for those entering Holy Orders. Reference was made only to “one of the learned professions.” Coleridge’s reforms terminated this system, and relegated the Grammar School to the position of a preparatory school, where exhibitions were given to young men “desiring to become candidates for Holy Orders.”

Obviously, this plan was unacceptable to many influential Barbadians whose children could have hitherto been educated in England in any profession they chose, largely at the Society’s expense. The Chief Justice was the spokesman for this group, and Rawle decided to cross swords with him.

Sir Bowcher argues that up until 1829, Codrington had served the community well in that it gave professional opportunities to many who would have been otherwise denied them, and many people living in the West Indian community were “the most honourable proofs of the excellence of the principle and the complete success of its working.”

Unfortunately, this had “been changed by the ill-advised step taken in 1829, “from which date”, argues the Chief Justice, “the institution, as a charity, became exclusively confined to the Established Church. General Codrington’s intentions were said, after a lapse of one hundred and twenty years, (during eighty four of which a school had been maintained by the Society of ‘wise and good men’ as Trustees) to be carried into effect for the first time.”

The Society was thus placed on the horns of a dilemma by Sir Bowcher. Either the present proposal to use the Trust funds exclusively for those called to Holy Orders was an inaccurate interpretation of the Testator’s intention. Or, those intentions had been deliberately disregarded for one hundred and twenty years by the Trustees, during which Holy Orders formed no part of the appropriation funds. Further, the original system had produced ornaments to colonial life and society, whereas the present one was a failure, since there were only eight students in the College and two in the preparatory school and they were planning to leave. Thus, the laity were deprived of education without the enhancement of the clergy either in quality or number. The clergy, trained locally, would leave Codrington College “without the social qualifications which they might have obtained at one of the English Universities”.

Turning to the will proper, the Chief Justice contended:

“Since they [the S.P.G.] cannot carry the devise into execution according to the letter, since they must vary from the terms of the will, it is not too much to expect that they will take a liberal and comprehensive view of the wants of these communities, and of the beneficent intentions of the donor towards them, and secure for the object of his bounty, the most beneficial operation of his gift”.


Limiting the exhibitions exclusively to those called to Holy Orders, Sir Bowcher contended, was a gross violation of Codrington’s desire, “which was intended for the advancement of the study of physics and surgery, as well as for divinity.” Those intending to study medicine had the same right to trust funds as those preparing for Holy Orders. Accordingly, he advocated a return to the system before 1829, and especially to sending students to England to studv either medicine or divinity. As a lawyer himself who had been educated at the Grammar School, and particularly as law was not mentioned at all in the will, Sir Bowcher did not want to appear to be hankering for equal advantages for those following in his steps.

“If the omission of words from the devise,” he concluded, “sufficient to include the legal profession, be deem fatal to any participation by it in the Trust funds, then the conditions of the exhibition must be framed so as to exclude members of it. The experience gained by the attempt to carry on an exclusive system will have been lost.”

In a letter dated June 2, 1847, the Principal answered the Chief Justice in detail. The salient question to him was the interpretation of the will. He admitted past violation of the Testator’s intentions, but continued violation was a different question and could not be justified by precedent. The errors of the past could be rectified only by “strict observance for the future.” Rawle pointed out that although the Chief Justice had quoted the pertinent clause in the will correctly, he abandoned it when presenting his argument, inferring “hastily that the two professions of medicine and divinity have equal claims.” What is more, Rawle protested:

“the Chief Justice appropriates the property at once to another purpose not traceable in the will, viz … a school with exhibitions of £400 to England, in which the legal profession, not withstanding the omission from the devise of words sufficient to include it might rightly allowed to participate”.

The fact that the founder left the administration of the estates to an organization devoted to missionary enterprises was, in Rawle’s view, a very cogent factor. The Professors were to be maintained “there,” on Codrington’s estates in Barbados, not at universities in England. The allusion to “vows of chastity, poverty and obedience” Rawle construed, to mean that the “institution was to be characterized by economy and religious discipline.” Divinity was to be the prime study, medicine and physics being added, so as to allow the clergy to minister both to body and soul. Doing good to men’s souls was the underlying principle in the bequest. “It is as an auxiliary to church efficiency, not as an object ·of equal value to it, that medical science is introduced,” he contended.

Replying to the Chief Justice’s charge that the system before 1829 was a success and the present one a failure, the Principal rejoined:

“Under the system then commenced, twelve persons received the advantages of a partly English education, at a cost of £120 each from the Charity Fund. In as much as only six of these, three clergymen and three laymen, brought back the fruits of their education to the West Indies, the average cost of each ornament to the Colonial Society was £1,440 Sterling. That a certain kind of popularity should linger about this obsolete system is intelligible, but that there can be any idea of representing it to an English Court of Equity is to me inconceivable”.


The upshot of the dispute was that the S.P.G. sided with Rawle and their letter of August 24, 1847, making this position known virtually closed the debate between the Principal and the Chief Justice. The press, and the people generally, had come around to the Principal’s side.

Rawle’s interest in education was not confined to the College, for by 1848 he was known as the “Schoolmaster General” of the island. Alarmed at the poor academic achievement of many teachers and imbued with a desire to correct this situation, the Principal invited a number of schoolmasters to Codrington during the Christmas vacation of 1848 and delivered a series of lectures to them aimed at improving their efficiency.

This was the beginning of formal Teacher Training in Barbados, asui even though Rawle did not live to see a Teachers’ College as such established in the island, the Rawle Training Institute, founded by one of his successors in 1912, Principal Anstey, in cooperation with the Barbados Government, is ample proof of the fact that Rawle is recognized as the “Father of Teacher Training” in the island.

The Society expressed the deepest satisfaction, to a step taken by the Principal, during the Christmas vacation 1848, in furtherance of the general cause of education throughout the island. This was the receiving into the College. for three weeks, of a class of Rawle’s interest in mission led him to the study of the Ashanti dialect and it was his vigilance in this study which led to the reduction of the Susa (the West African dialect) to writing. He was instrumental in setting up at Codrington in 1854, a “Mission House” specifically for the purpose of training missionaries to be sent to Africa.

“The West Indian Colonies,” Rawle observed, “which owe to Africa their cultivation and commercial importance, should be foremost in repayment, and through what instrument can they act more appropriately than through this College. It was maintained for a century by slave labour, designed from the first for missionary usefulness, and having around it the coloured population, the materials out of which an African mission should be mainly construed”.

Thus was begun the famous story of the Pongas Mission which, though of short duration was, in Bindley’s words, “one of the romances of Missionary Chivalry.” In addition, Rawle was the Knight Errant. Reverent H. J. Leacock, a Barbadian of European descent, and Mr. J. A. Duport, a Barbadian of African descent and the “first fruits” of Rawle’s Mission house, established their mission headquarters at Tintima, Sierra Leone, in the territory of Chief Kennycheck Ali and King Katty of the Pongas, in November, 1855. Addressing the King, Mr. Leacock said:

I am come to you in God’s name to do you and your people good. My friends who have come to protect me, will soon leave me, and I shall be entirely at your mercy. You can do with me as you please. I am not afraid to die, whether it be by fever or by sword. I am come with a message of mercy to you and your people. If you reject me and cut me off, I do not refuse to die. It will be better for me, for then I shall go home.


The King replied, Aye yes; but if we reject you and send you off, de great God will reject we and cut we off.
The climate proved too severe for Mr. Leacock and he died at Sierra Leone in August, 1856, but not before laying a good foundation in Christian work in that land. In October 1856, the Bishop of Sierra Leone ordained Mr. Duport, the first of Rawle’s Mission House students to be ordained. Duport had considerable success among the Africans, baptizing, among many more, a daughter of the King of the Pongas.

Thus it may be said that Codrington College, maintained for a century and a quarter by slave labor imported from Africa, had in a very remarkable way made amends for the evil years. It might have been a work of conscience. With Rawle’s departure in 1864, however, the entire Mission House program collapsed, the building being used later as the Codrington Training School, and still later as the Rawle Training Institute for teachers.