It was just about a hundred years ago that people began to think education for their children should be provided by the Government. Before that there were schools for the rich. The “not-so-rich” or the poor had very few schools, mostly provided by the Church and charitable people.
In the early 1700’s, many such schools were established in England. So it was that when the Rev. Richard Cobbe was appointed Chaplain to the Honourable East India Company’s Factory at Bombay, he founded in 1718, in a building not far from the present Cathedral of St. Thomas in the Fort, a small free school where twelve poor boys were housed, clothed, fed and educated by just one master. That Charity School was the grain of mustard seed from which the mighty tree of Barnes has sprung.
A hundred years passed by. Another East India Company Chaplain, the Venerable Archdeacon George Barnes, realised that the Charity School could not possibly meet the needs of the hundreds of children then without any education. So he appealed for funds and started the Bombay Education Society in 1815, the oldest Society in the city interested in the welfare and upbringing of children. The first small school was taken over. Numbers grew rapidly until it was apparent that new grounds and school buildings were essential. A large airy site at Byculla was given by the Government. This time the girls were also provided for. New school buildings were opened in 1825. One of the copper plates commemorating the opening is now on the wall of Evans Hall, Barnes School, Devlali. The other remains with Christ Church School, Byculla, which with the parish church there, stands on part of the land given originally to the B.E.S. Much of the land was later sold to help build Barnes.
The B.E.S. Schools, as they were popularly known, were primarily boarding Schools for Anglo-Indian boys and girls, mainly belonging to the Anglican Church. However, day-scholars were admitted and they came from all castes and creeds.
For another hundred years there seems to have been little change. Then in the early 1930’s, the B.E.S. amalgamated with the Indo-British Institution which had been founded by the Rev. George Candy, in about 1837. Byculla was by then crowded and unhealthy. Plans initiated by Sir Reginald Spence and Mr. Haig-Brown, to move the Boarding part of the schools away from Bombay to the cooler and healthier Deccan Plateau began to take shape. A site of more than 250 acres at Devlali was purchased. On November 17, 1923, Sir George Lloyd laid the Foundation stone of Evans Hall.
Less than two years later, January 29, 1925, a special train brought the first boarders to Devlali. With a ceremony befitting the occasion and in the presence of many distinguished guests, Barnes was declared open by Sir Leslie Wilson, Governor of Bombay and patron of the Bombay Education Society.