Obituary of James Sutcliffe

The Todmorden & District News [25th October 1878] reprinted the following Obituary of James Sutcliffe from a Calcutta Newspaper

A telegram has been received in Calcutta announcing the death of Mr James Sutcliffe, Director of Public Instruction, Bengal.

We recently stated that an unforeseen calamity had deprived him of his eyesight. Since then conflicting rumours have been coming from India regarding the general nature and state of his health. But even from the worst versions that came to us it was difficult to anticipate that, within a very short time, we should be deprived of one of our best friends, Calcutta one of its most laborious and conscientious citizens, and the Education Department of one of its most honoured members. Mr Sutcliffe died of apoplexy at Brighton where he has been staying for some time.

It was only the other day that, unable to sustain the heavy and onerous labour of the new post to which, on the death of Mr Atkinson, he had been promoted, he left India to reinvigorate that health which for more than thirty years he had managed to preserve in admirable efficiency through a course of extreme sober and temperate life.

A few months before his departure Mr Sutcliffe assured one of his friends that he had nothing to complain of as far as the climate of this country was concerned and expressed his apprehension that a cold climate might not exactly suit his constitution. This we believe must be the verdict of all those who have passed the best years of their life in India: and how curiously his apprehension has been fulfilled in this case.

Mr Sutcliffe was almost naturalised to this soil and his modes of life were thoroughly calculated to keep him sober and cheerful under our tropical rain.

He came to India when he was 25 years old, that is to say on 5th June 1847. A few months before he had taken Mathematical Honours at Cambridge having been 16th wrangler of his year. He came out as Professor of History and Political Economy at the Hindu College where the late Major D. L. Richardson was then the Principal. A fresh and raw youth with no experience to guide him and very little knowledge of the country and of the people among whom he came to dwell, Mr Sutcliffe had a career to carve out for himself in this country.

Very few of his contemporaries are to be found living at the present time. We possess no information of Mr Jones who used to electrify his pupils with his original and profound speculations regarding the things of the soul and the phenomena of the human mind, nor of Mr Grapel whose extensive literary attainments were a never failing source of wonder to the awe stricken youths. The Director of Public Instruction has now paid the debt of nature.

The only oldest member of the Education Department who survives Mr Sutcliffe is we believe Mr Hand, now of the Presidential College, who is rather languishing under the cold neglect of is official superiors.

The year 1855, which saw the abolition of the Hindu College and the birth of the Presidential College, saw Mr Sutcliffe installed as the Principal of the new institution. From that time we observe little variety to redeem the monotony of his official career.

Superficial observers would have delighted in rapid changes and promotions of every favoured official in this country in these days of Telegraph and Steam. We do not know how far the system now in vogue is beneficial. We know it for certain that it is positively injurious. A raw graduate from an English university would now be posted to a certain College and then, with the Alphabet of the Teaching art still in his mouth, he is hurried off to act as Inspector of Schools, expected to ride horse and ride hobbies with equal facility, to inspect schools and teach schools almost at random and to keep accounts and detect dishonesty all at one and the same time.

Our professor is now a fully fledged member of The Second Grade of Education Department having perhaps, during his short stay of ten years, taken furlough almost half as many times and all that is heard from him is probably a grumble at the caprice of fate which does not promote him to the First Grade or make him a Director of Public Instruction as soon as he could wish. Mr Sutcliffe saw none of these changes. He was rapidly promoted into The Graded Service, it is true but he remained the Principal of The Presidential College from 1855 to 1876, the year when he succeeded Mr Woodrow as Director of Public Instruction.

Who will say that the cause of Education has not prospered under the beneficial auspices of this great friend of Education. The Presidency College is now one of the wonders of India. Its roll of graduates includes probably every name worth uttering in this country. Its yearly successes at the examinations drew encomiums from the lips of such Viceroys as Lord Canning and Lord Northbrook. The Presidency College is the college that shines most on the occasion of the annual convocations and the most eminent and attractive person in them was certainly, for twenty years, Mr Sutcliffe. Had it not been for Mr Sutcliffe, should we ever have heard of all this success? Where was the man to unite so much honesty with steadiness, perseverance and activity.

Mr Sutcliffe never knew rest. He rose early in the morning and from early dawn he was always at his desk or devising something. Punctually to the minute, he came to his class where his instructions were always profitable. He was a most efficient teacher and we believe it was owing to him that the Presidency College became the Chosen Seat for Mathematics in Bengal. The monotony of his College career came afterwards to be relieved by his duties as Registrar of the Calcutta University. Of his admirable business like habits we may say very little, they are known to everybody who came into contact with him. He was probably the life and soul of the University.

He was not only its Registrar, but for some time, the President of its Faculties of Art, a member of the Faculties of Engineering and an active member of every committee that was appointed to introduce something new. Mr Sutcliffe was also, for a short while, the officiating Principal of Madrasa (school). To all these various and arduous works he brought a mind singularly broad, practical and cultivated. He knew how to work and cooperate with others. Opposition to a new measure he knew how to crush or conciliate.

Mr Sutcliffe knew the lights and shades of native character well. Yet, though usually shrewd and penetrating, he was kind to all. He was so especially to his pupils; many of them are personally indebted to him for all the prosperity and advancement of their after lives. His name indeed, has become a household word in Bengal.

There may be others who are more brilliant scholars or more successful educationalists or even more ambitious workers in the field of Active Reform, yet when the entire story of Education comes to be written, posterity will find no name more zealously remembered and more affectionately cherished, more carefully reserved, than that of the man who has just passed away from the world. We are sure the numerous pupils, friends and admirers of Mr Sutcliffe will do something to preserve and honour his memory. No man worked more heartily for their welfare, none bore a more sincere love for them than the Late Mr James Sutcliffe, Director of Public Instruction.

May his soul rest in peace


© Malcolm Bull 2024
Revised 17:43 / 3rd May 2024 / 9451

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