John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune
John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune
John Elliot Drinkwater

(1801-07-12)July 12, 1801
DiedAugust 12, 1851(1851-08-12) (aged 50)
Years active1848–1851 (until his death)
Known forAdvocating for education of women in India during the 19th century, Founder of Bethune college
RelativesJohn Drinkwater Bethune (father)

John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune (1801–1851) was an educator, mathematician and polyglot who is known for his contributions in promoting women's education in India.[1] He was the founder of Calcutta Female School (now known as Bethune College) in Calcutta,[2] which is considered the oldest women's college in Asia.[3] He started his professional life as a lawyer in England and came to India by virtue of his appointment as a law member of the Governor General's Council of Ministers.[4] His efforts to further women's education were actively supported by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and other members of the Bengali Renaissance.[5]

Early life

Bethune was born in Ealing, England, the elder son of John Drinkwater Bethune.[6] He studied in Trinity College, Cambridge after which he received employment as the Counsel of the Home Office. He drafted many important reforms in this position, including the Municipal Reform Act, the Tithe Commutation Act and the County Courts Act. In 1848, he was appointed as a member of the Supreme Council of India and subsequently became the President of the Council of Education.[4]

Finding the Bethune College

Supported by Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee, Ramgopal Ghosh, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, and Madan Mohan Tarkalankar, Bethune founded the Calcutta Female School in 1849.[7] The school started in Mukherjee's home in Baitakkhana (now known as Bowbazar), with 21 girls enrolled.[4]: 11–12 

The following year, enrollment rose to 80.[8] In November, on a plot on the west side of Cornwallis Square, the cornerstone for a permanent school building was laid. The name "Hindu Female School" was inscribed on the copper-plate placed in the stone and on the ceremonial silver trowel made for the occasion.[4]: 15–16  Support for the school however waned after Bethune's death in August 1851.[8] The government took it over in 1856, renaming it Bethune School after its founder in 1862–63.[9] In 1879, it was developed into Bethune College, the first women's college in India.[10]

Death and burial

John Elliot Bethune died in Calcutta, West Bengal, India, in 1851. He was buried in Lower Circular Road Cemetery.[11]


  1. ^ Chakrabarti, Kunal; Chakrabarti, Shubhra (2013-08-22). Historical Dictionary of the Bengalis. Scarecrow Press. p. 96. ISBN 9780810880245.
  2. ^ Hutchinson, John (2003). A Catalogue of Notable Middle Templars: With Brief Biographical Notices. The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. ISBN 9781584773238.
  3. ^ LBR, Team (2018-05-05). Limca Book of Records: India at Her Best. Hachette India. p. 161. ISBN 9789351952404.
  4. ^ a b c d Bagal, Jogesh Chandra (1949). "History of the Bethune School & College (1849–1949)". In Nag, Kalidas; Ghose, Lotika (eds.). Bethune School & College Centenary Volume, 1849–1949. Bethune College. pp. 11–12.
  5. ^ Riddick, John F. (2006). The History of British India: A Chronology. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313322808.
  6. ^ Annual Register. 1852. p. 319.
  7. ^ Chaudhuri, Sukanta (1995). Calcutta: The Living City. Oxford University Press. p. 87. ISBN 9780195636963.
  8. ^ a b Forbes, Geraldine; Forbes, Geraldine Hancock (1999). Women in Modern India. Vol. 4. Cambridge University Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-521-65377-0.
  9. ^ Acharya, Poromesh (1990). "Education in Old Calcutta". In Chaudhuri, Sukanta (ed.). Calcutta: The Living City. Vol. I: The Past. Oxford University Press. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-19-563696-3.
  10. ^ Bose, Anima (1978). Higher Education in India in the 19th Century: The American Involvement, 1883-1893. Punthi Pustak. p. 249.
  11. ^ Find A Grave, database and images (accessed 19 March 2020), memorial page for John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune (1801–12 Aug 1851), Find A Grave Memorial no. 105604985, citing Lower Circular Road Cemetery, Calcutta, West Bengal, India; Maintained by Chris Nelson (contributor 46617359)

Further reading