Birth of Southlands
Long before Sri Lanka came under Western Rule, education was primarily in the hands of the priests in the village temple. It was the main institution for education. Under Portuguese and Dutch rulers the prevailing system was changed and gradually the church started running elementary schools in villages. When the British took over the administration in the 19th Century several changes were made in the country’s education system. They inaugurated the Public Instruction Department in 1869 and a number of English High schools were started in the Island under its purview.
In accordance with the Education policies which prevailed during the latter part of the 19th century the British government was content to leave the education completely in the hands of the Christian Missions who were already in the field of education in the country. Thus the ‘English Girl’s School’ which was previously run by the Government within Galle Fort had latterly been abandoned. The Methodist Mission was handed over the running of this school in 1884 and the Missionaries who began several High Schools in many cities in the Island started the ‘Girl’s High School’ in Galle in 1885 in two large down-stair rooms in a house in Fort with a group of 51 children. Miss Lucy Vanderstraten was the first Principal.
During the first decade and half the school was guided by several British Missionary lady principals who rendered their services but had been unable to continue for longer periods in tenure. Scattered evidence reveals that illness and personal tragedies accounted for this quick turnover resulting in a possible reduction in achievement
At the inception a large number of Burgher students, both male and female were attending school and a small percentage of boys were in the primary section. When the number of Sinhala and Muslim female students began increasing gradually the School was unable to accommodate all and therefore it was compelled to stop admitting boys making Southlands a girls-only school. Education was provided with a minimum of facilities in the beginning. There had been a rapid development within a few years mainly from 1902 owing to the courage and determination of a string of dedicated Principals E.Ludovici, M Westlake, M. Freethy and Miss E Ridge. Many statements by the Missionary Principals emphasize that their ideology was to produce good mothers for the society by providing a better education to a generation of girls.
Miss Edith DeVos (Ludovici) serving in the tutorial staff became the Principal being the first past pupil to hold the post. Her tenure was a remarkable period of development with the introduction of library propagating the reading habit, Western Music and Physical Training which were encouraged and developed by all subsequent principals.
A memorable era was dawned with Miss M.Westlake as Principal in 1907. More development was visible in the academic field with the introduction of science subjects to the school curriculum. To promote the subject Miss Westlake build a science laboratory and also a special unit to house the kids in the kindergarten. The financial assistance for the building construction was fulfilled with the capable management of the school funds by Miss Westlake, assisted by a special grant from the government and immense support given by the Old Pupils Association which inaugurated by Miss Westlake in 1914. This was a remarkable event during her era which became an immediate asset to the school management. She started the Girl Guide Company in 1917 Southlanders being fortunate to be the first Girl Guide Company in the Galle District. Providing boarding facilities for students and teachers for their well being by Miss Westlake in 1917 is a major event in the school history and a boarding department was started. The rapid development during her period enabled the school to be upgraded by the government in 1922. Miss Freethy who succeeded Miss Westlake, re-named the school as ‘Southlands’ in 1923 mainly to honour Miss Westlake who had her missionary training in the institution Southlands in U.K. before her arrival in Sri Lanka. The school had the right to be named as such for her geographical location too. It is a very happy coincidence because Southlands is the premier Girls school in the South and also one of the oldest girls’ schools in Sri Lanka too.
This was the birth of Southlands. Today Southlands has become a centre for learning not only in the South but also one of the national educational institutions in the Island.