Rev. Alexander Duff, the first missionary to India from the Church of Scotland, founded “General Assembly’s Institution” on 13 July 1830, with the support of the Governor General of India, Lord William Bentinck. At the Disruption of 1843 (when 450 ministers of the Church broke away from the parent body, over the issue of the Church’s relationship with the State, and formed the Free Church of Scotland), Duff sided with the Free Church and established “Free Church Institution”, a new educational institution in Calcutta.
The Free Church Institution, as mentioned earlier, was founded on the 4th of March 1844. For his new school, Duff rented a huge building on Nimtala Street (now Nimtala Ghat Street) in the so called native town. The building was owned by one Baboo Mothur Mohun Sen, also known as Mathur Sen, who used the place as his garden house. The huge building was popularly known in the locality as “Jorabagan Rajbari”. There was another garden house in the same locality, owned by Omichund. The existence of the two garden houses in the same area resulted to name the locality as Jorabagan, which means a pair of gardens. However, apart from paying a hefty sum of money towards the rent of the building, a lot of money was also needed for repairing and renovation of the building. But the name of Duff attached to an educational institution created a magic and monitory help in the form of donation flowing in from all over the world made a sufficient fund to enable the institution to purchase the adjacent landed property to build a new premises of their own. The proposed building for Duff College was finally constructed on the said plot of land and after the completion of the construction of the new building with 28 rooms, the Free Church Institution shifted from Mathur Sen’s garden house to the new address in the month of March 1857. It is said that the new building had 3 halls, two of which had galleries, sufficient to provide accommodation for about 1200 students. The college also had a good library of selected books and a laboratory for the Science department. The flow of incoming students increased substantially, when in 1844 the Governor General, Viscount Hardinge announced that, the government jobs would be open to all those who had studied in Duff’s College or any other similar institutions. The College got affiliation of the University of Calcutta, as soon as it was established in 1857. Rashtraguru Surendranath Banerjee was one among the most eminent students of the School.
Alexander Duff finally left India in 1863. He sailed to work in Africa and the Middle East and ultimately returned to his country Scotland, where he died in 1878 on the 12th of February.
However, The Free Church Institution and the General Assembly’s Institution were merged together in 1908 to form The Scottish Churches College and after the formal union of the established Church of Scotland and the Free Church in 1929, the college was renamed as the Scottish Church College. That was the ultimate conclusion of Duff College and the new institution with more than enough assets in their possession, decided to sell the Duff College building to the concerned authorities. As a result, in 1920 the building became the Jorabagan Thana (police station). During those early decades of the last century, when India’s struggle for independence was spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi with his non-cooperation and non-violence movement, lots of brave Bengali young blood took the risk of their lives and opted for the path of armed revolution.
The notorious British police officer Charles Tegart, the then head of the Jorabagan Police Station, used a portion of the building (former Duff College) to torture the so called “terrorists” to find out their future plans and details of their collaborators. However, in independent India the Calcutta police also followed the same procedure, in the name of so called “interrogation”, to crush the Naxalite movement of 1970s.
During those vulnerable wintry days of 1971-1972, the police were secretly alerted by a reliable source who supplied them some valuable information about the probable presence of the local ruffians with arms in the forthcoming immersion procession of Kali Puja. Following the said information, as the police intercepted the immersion procession of a local Kali Puja, they found around two concealed cartons of explosives. Immediately they arrested a few persons from the spot, confiscated the explosives and stored the cartons in a room of the police station under their custody, to be produced in a court of law later as evidence. But probably, the procedure of defusing the bombs was not followed properly. As a result, when the policemen were taking them out of the store room, the two cartons full of bombs were exploded without any indication. The impact of the explosion was unbelievable and awesome. A part of the roof of the building along with the policemen in the room was just blown off and almost all the window panes of the locality were shattered. Despite the mishap, the Duff College building continued to be the Jorabagan Thana for more than a decade and finally it was abandoned in 1988, when declared unsafe by the authority. The building is now used as a dumping place of the confiscated vehicles.
There is a misleading plaque on the Southern wall of the Duff College, facing Nimtala Ghat Street, which states that, from 1830 to 1844 the building housed the General Assembly Institution, which is now known as Scottish Church Collegiate School. It also mentioned that the plaque was unveiled by the Honorable Minister for Public Works, Sree Jatin Chakraborty on the 6th of July, 1980, on the occasion of the 150th foundation day celebrations of Scottish Church Collegiate School. But the information mentioned in the plaque is somewhat confusing and misleading, since no documentary evidence is available in support of the view that the Scottish Church Collegiate School ever operated from the building.
In recent times it was reported in the press bulletins that the authorities have decided to restore the shattered building and use it to promote tourism. Timely intervention from some interested and responsible quarter will save the witness of the Duff College before it is too late. She is a grand old beloved lady of Calcutta, a symbol of our old heritage. Even in her dilapidated state, she looks graceful and dignified with her Tuscan columns.