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Biographical Register - Cambridge University
sent to us by Aubrey Melder (1952-1963) Son of Allan Luther Melder (Senior Cambridge 1925) Brother of Eardley Melder (Wesley cricket & rugby-Drowned at sea July 1966).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

Rev. Henry Highfield of Wesley

                                                   One of the greatest of the many Principals, men as well as women in whom our Methodist School's glory was the Revd Henry Highfield. His birth centenary, as a grateful Custom ordains, is now been g observed by" the boys of Wesley through the land", and their families join with them in recalling and extolling the memory of a devoted teacher, a friend of our people and a Man of God. His was a long crowded and selfless life. The first thirty years were spent at Kingswood, Bath. where he was a contemporary of the equally famous Darrell, also destined for Ceylon, and at London and Cambridge Universities. There he distinguished himself in Classics and English, did examining work for London and discovered his mission as a teacher.

At the age thirty he came to Ceylon and Wesley, which he made his home for the next thirty years: in 1925 at the age of sixty he decided the time had come for him to retire and back to England. There was some talk of his being appointed Minister in charge al Kollupitiya, but Kollupitiya is too near Karlsruhe Gardens, and ex-Principals, once they retire, are wise to make the severance complete. He, therefore. got back to England. Here he continued his service as a diligent Pastor, caring for his people and, with his faithful bicycle to carry him to his work as in Ceylon. That bicycle had made history. It transformed Wesley, metaphorically, from brick to marble, from dust and dilapidation of Dam Street to airy and solid buildings in Karlsrhue Gardens. It was an exhausting form of transport but economical, and it enabled him to go round the country raising funds for new buildings. The Methodist Mission, generous as ever, had promised Rs 5 for every rupee raised locally and thus contributed the major part of the cost, 2 1/2 lakhs for the Rs 38.000 he raised. He adopted a technique which proved fruitful. If a man wrote down Rs 50 on the paper "to pay later" he would ask" and how much can you give me now?" lie might answer "Rs. 10". Highfield would then say "Thanks, I'll take that" and thus, instead of the paper promises, in which we are very lavish, he got spot cash and a lot of it. New building One November day in 1905 the foundation stone was laid and the new building opened in 1907. I remember that ceremony, being taken there by my father. And the crowd of notabilities who were present. Among them was a galaxy of local ministers, the Ferdinandos, the de Silvas the Nonises and the Wickremeratnes, the de Silvas (then as now prominent in the church) the Gogerlys, Pereras, and the Nathaniels, who rejoiced in the more stately mansions. now opening for their children and people.

It is men, however, more than buildings that make a College. Mr. Highfield gathered round him capable teachers, men of personality, prominent among them C.P. Dias, City Father and Lay Reader at Holy Trinity and the spruce. W. E. Mack, whose invaluable assistance he greatly appreciated. But he himself was the greatest among them. He loved teaching and his happiest hours were those he spent with his sixth form, teaching Latin or English (to a select few) Greek which he preferred to everything else. His pupils still enthuse over those carefully planned lessons a passage of Latin or of English neatly displayed of the blackboard before work began then his piercing comments, notes parallels and quotations, written alongside as he went on talking. These scholia he did not wipe off at once, but let them remain after the lessons. The boys copied them out, pondered over them and thus absorbed the distilled wisdom of an inspired and gifted teacher. The question whether he could have spent his time more profitably on administration than on teaching is pointless; the school was well administered for the department: did not meddle and muddle, and the value of the instruction he imparted was exceptional.

Some Pupils Among his pupils were hundreds of eminent men, the one and only Sir Oliver, Sir Mohammed Marcan Marker, legislative and State Councilor, and later Senator, Sir Gerard Wijeyekoon, the first President of the Senate, and Lawyers, but this was characteristic of him that he took more pride in the six or seven Principals of Christian Schools whom Wesley had trained C.P.Thamotheram of Hartley, E.R.De Silva of Richmond, P.H.Nonis of Kingswoodand Wesley , SVO Somanader of Central College Batticaloa, ED Thambimuttu of Christian College Kotte, FN Hettiaratchi of Cathedral College and Terence De Zilwa who had his own school at Dematagoda. These men acquired from Mr. Highfield his skill in teaching. They also took the personal interest in the welfare of the children entrusted to them. Highfield got to know his boys thoroughly, interviewed them on admission, knew their homes and their parents, visited them in sickness and health, helped them in their needs, financial and otherwise, and kept up an active correspondence with them long after they have left Wesley. From the school to the larger world was a natural transition.

He had work enough at Wesley but he took on pastoral duties in the Maradana circuit and preached from pulpits all over the island. Public matters, politics did not leave him cold. He was so troubled in mind during the riots, courageously protected those in trouble. spoke from public platforms and with equal courage wrote a resentful note on the conduct of certain Europeans '"This is not what I was taught at Cambridge as British fair play" - a statement in those days could have had serious consequences for himself. He anticipated the need for a united Lanka. It was his pride that in Wesley all communities found themselves Muslims a good number , Sinhalese,Tamils and Burghers all worked happily together. They became one fraternal band who learnt to love Wesley and her devoted Principal. The Senior leader who unveiled his portrait was right when he pointed to it as he did the unveiling with the words. . "Behold God's Good Man"

By Prof   J. L. C. Rodrigo

From the 125th Anniversary souvenir