Catalogue of the Archives of the Dutch Central Government of Coastal Ceylon, 1640-1796

Description of the Subordinate Components

   Local Boards under control of the Central Government.

The "Scholarchale Vergadering".
Together with the "kerkeraad" (church council), the "scholarchale vergadering" or the board of "scholarchen" played the most prominent part in the propagation of the Dutch Reformed Church in this Island. Being an institution which existed over the whole of the Dutch empire, its set of instructions which always applied to the "scholarchen" dates as far back as 25 December 1663 [1]. These boards were established in the Colombo dessavony, and in the "commandementen" of Jaffna and Galle. They were entrusted with work which at the present day comes under the various headings of mission work, educational work and registration, although the words are too pretentious to be applied to a society which existed under pre-eminently rustic conditions. Nevertheless, a centralised organisation can be traced which was intended for the mission, with education and registration as means for achieving this religious object. From very early times the "scholarchen" of the Colombo dessavony assembled the first Monday of every month in the church in the Fort, that is the old Portuguese church, and the dessave presided at its meetings. Strictly speaking, the assembly consisted of the clergy and the laity, the latter being originally two honourable citizens, who alone, at that time, bore the name of "scholarch" [2]. Later however, the word "scholarchen" was interpreted to mean the full board, and the Central Government was represented by the "fiscaal ", the "pakhuismeester" and the "soldyboekhouder". Moreover the dessave as chairman was the most prominent member of this board [3]. In the villages, schools and churches were closely connected; where a church was established teaching would be done. Several schools would come under one church. This indicates that the schools, were parish schools; many of them were church schools, church and school being under one and the same roof.
The schoolmaster, who had to be a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, had to pass an examination before he received from the "scholarchen" his appointment written on an ola. He had to prove his knowledge of the catechism, reading and writing of one of the vernaculars, and arithmetic, so as to be equipped to impart to the children some practical knowledge. It was the duty of the schoolmaster not only to see to the teaching but also to keep a watch over the Christian population in his parish. He had to register births, deaths and marriages, and furnish monthly reports for Colombo. With the help of the dhobies, who were under obligation to report to him events of this nature in the village [4], he was able to carry out this difficult task. At meetings and burials certain fees were paid which covered the expenses on education, and for which the "scholarchen", informed by the schoolmasters, were held responsible. From the reports of the schoolmasters, the "tombohouder", a clerk attached to the board of "scholarchen", compiled the school tombos, which quite rightly are called parish registers. The total number of schools in the Colombo dessavony has varied slightly from time to time, but it never exceeded 53. Once a year a special commission of two members of the "scholarchen" visited the schools and churches. The "predikant", who knew the vernacular, examined the pupils, the old pupils and the schoolmasters. Reports on their findings, addressed either to the full board or to the Governor, as well as more detailed lists, are found among the old records. The "scholarchen" were not allowed to interfere with matters of doctrine, which had to be referred to the "predikanten".
Strangely enough, no manuscript reports on the schools of the Colombo dessavony have been preserved here. Except for two reports which are preserved among the records of the Wolvendaal church, the only two reports known are those printed by Valentijn [5]. Among the Galle records, however, several reports on these interesting visits are extant.
The records of the "scholarchale vergadering" of Colombo are very scanty indeed. In view of the composition of the board, however, it is not surprising to find that some of them have been preserved in and are stored with the records of the Wolvendaal [6] church.
In the archives of the Central Government, the "scholarchen" take prominence through the series of school tombos, the parish registers which at present are used chiefly for genealogical purposes.
Those who wished to marry had to register in their respective parishes; if they were cousins, they had to obtain a special permit from the board of "scholarchen", which in practically every instance was given in view of the difficulties regarding the inheritance of land. Company's officers had always to obtain permission to marry, from the "scholarchale vergadering".
Marriages and baptisms took place when the "scholarchen" visited a parish on their annual circuit. The names of those who were married and baptised were entered in the register. Although the intention was to promote Christianity, the desire for registration on the part of the people was so great that very often even those who did not really practise Christianity presented themselves for baptism merely to have their names entered in the register. Deaths were also registered.
The school tombos were continued in British times. Often pages which were in a bad condition were copied. Several volumes seem to be entirely British records of the 19th century. It would, however, be hardly justifiable, and definitely not practical, to separate the purely Dutch school tombos from their British copies. The school tombos have been geographically and alphabetically arranged, the arrangement of the files in respect of each school or parish being chronological. The "tombohouders" of the school tombos were clerks who possessed a knowledge of the vernaculars; their names are not indicated anywhere.
As mentioned earlier, two complete files and some loose pages of school tombos of the late 17th century are found among the records of the Wolvendaal church.