The admission of overseas students to the Inner Temple in the 19th century

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Two years later, the Oxford Chronicle of 29 June 1878, in its account of Encaenia, noted that, before the procession entered, 'Some amusement was caused by "Three Cheers for Christian Cole", a gentleman of colour, of University College, who had entered the Theatre a few moments previously and was standing in the area'. Cole became known in Oxford as 'Old King Cole', a nickname employed in a contemporary cartoon. Whilst Oxford and Cambridge Universities seem to have started to accept black students in the 1860s and 1870s, the same period as the Inns of Court, it appears that non-denominational University College London commenced almost 30 years earlier. London University's first (quarter) black American student, an emancipated slave called Moses Roper, was admitted to UCL in 1838, whilst Indian students appeared in the admission registers from at least the 1840s.

To understand the timing of these developments, it is necessary to look at the historical context of our colonial past, particularly in relation to India. In the decades preceding the Indian mutiny of 1857, the subject of the education of indigenous Indians had prompted debate. In acquiring sovereignty over India, the British had inherited a complex and multi-layered society. At the top of the hierarchy sat the previously independent princes and urban intelligentsia (concentrated in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, the main bases of British trade), who were cultured and well educated. At the bottom stood the mass of the population, condemned in many cases to ignorant poverty. By negotiating with the princes, rather than toppling them from their thrones, the British had made powerful allies. However, there was no serious suggestion that Indians should play a part in Imperial government until the 1830s, when the question was considered in the lead up to the passing of the India Act of 1833. Foremost in the movement for native recruitment to the East Indian civil service were Sir Charles Trevelyan and Thomas Macaulay, who were serving in India at this time. Whilst many amongst the British establishment feared that the education and employment of Indians would threaten the British Empire, Trevelyan and Macaulay argued the reverse, although appreciating that it would take some time to achieve true integration. Macaulay declared in a speech on the India bill in 1833:

I feel that, for the good of India itself, the admission of natives to high office must be effected by slow degrees. But that, when the fullness of time is come, when the interest of India requires the change… to refuse to make that change lest we should endanger our power… is a doctrine of which I cannot think without indignation.

Central to this development was the education of the indigenous population. In arguing that this education should be in the English language and should follow the British tradition and syllabus, Macaulay wrote in his famous 'Minute of 2 February 1835 on Indian Education':

In one point I fully agree with the gentlemen to whose general views I am opposed. I feel with them that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, opinions, in morals and intellect.

Although universities and colleges were subsequently established in a number of Indian towns and cities, the sons of the rich continued to be sent to England to receive a traditional education at the Indian civil service college at Haileybury, at the universities and at the Inns of Court. The majority were to return to their native country to pursue a career in the Indian civil service and judiciary. It is significant that the first Indian to return from England to serve in the Indian civil service, in 1864, was Satyendranath Tagore, a relative of Ganendra Mohan Tagore, the first Indian to be called to the bar in London. The Tagore family of Calcutta were to play a significant part in the social advancement of their country, including promoting the liberation of women.