by Clare Rider, IT Archivist 1998-2009
Since the seventeenth century, the Inns of Court have played a significant role in the development of the British dependencies abroad. The first successful attempt at overseas colonial settlement was largely financed by Middle Temple lawyers, who had been persuaded to invest their own capital in the Virginia Company, founded in London in 1606. The American colony in question, Jamestown in Virginia, did not provide the gold or other riches anticipated by the London investors. However, after a shaky start, the settlement survived and turned loss into profit with the establishment of tobacco plantations. Subsequently, many of the sons of the colonial gentry from Virginia, Carolina, Maryland and New England were sent to London to acquire legal knowledge and professional status, mainly to the Middle Temple, but also to the Inner Temple, Lincoln's Inn and Gray's Inn. William Paca, one of the signatories of the Declaration of American Independence, was an Inner Templar. Despite the loss of her American colonies, the British Empire grew in size and complexity during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The sons of the colonial administrators and judiciary dotted around the world, from Africa to Hong Kong and Tasmania, were frequently sent home to London to acquire a legal education at the Inns of Court. When did these opportunities become open to the indigenous subjects of the British Empire?
From the admission registers, it seems that the first Asian member of the Inner Temple was Aviet Agabeg from Calcutta, a student of St. John's College, Cambridge, who was admitted on 11 June 1864 and called to the Bar in 1868. He was followed, several years later, by Amanda Mohan Bose, Ali Ameer and Pathal Chandra Roy of Bengal (admitted in 1870); Arraloon Carapiel and John Apcar of Calcutta and Grija Sanker Sen of Dacca (admitted in 1871). There may have been others. The number of Asian students continued to rise in the 1870s and 1880s and included Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1888. Admissions to the other Inns of Court follow a similar pattern, with Lincoln's Inn claiming the first Indian student to join and become qualified: Ganendra Mohan Tagore, admitted in 1859 and called to the Bar on 11 June 1862. By 1885, one hundred and eight Indian barristers had been educated in England, encouraged by the Indian government, the Inns of Court and the Council of Legal Education, which granted concessions to Indian students to facilitate their training. Lincoln's Inn also recruited a number of indigenous students from further east in the nineteenth century, the first being Ng Achoy from Hong Kong, admitted in 1872 and called in 1877. Lincoln's still retains a special association with India and Hong Kong.
However, identifying black African, American and West Indian bar students poses a problem, since the majority had adopted European style names. We know from other sources that Alexander Kennedy Isbiter of Hudson's Bay, admitted to the Middle Temple in 1862 and called to the Bar in 1864, was part native American and that Thomas Morris Chester, admitted to the Middle Temple in 1867 and called in 1870, was a black American, probably the first black American to qualify as a barrister in England. Similarly without further evidence it would be impossible to detect that Christian Frederick Cole, the second son of Jacob Cole of Kissey, Sierra Leone, clergyman, was a black African. He matriculated as a non-collegiate student at Oxford University in 1873, was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1879 and called to the Bar in 1883. Cole seems to have been the first black student to join Oxford University and his appearance at university events caused considerable interest. He is mentioned in the diary of Florence Ward, the younger sister of William Ward who was a close friend of Oscar Wilde at Magdalen College in the 1870s. Whilst visiting her brother during Commemoration Week in June 1876, she recorded in her entry relating to the annual Show Sunday Promenade in the Broad Walk, Christ Church, on Sunday 18 June: 'Saw Christian Cole (Coal?) (the nigger)'. Whilst we would consider this an unacceptable remark, it must be taken in its historical context.
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: