July 28, 2015
Sir Robert Stanes is a name to reckon with among Coimbatoreans as he is still being remembered as ‘Father of Coimbatore’s industrial development’. Yes, but for his business interest and concerted efforts, Coimbatore wouldn’t have seen such rapid strides. Stanes Group of Companies located on Trichy Road, West Club Road and Race Course, and Stanes Mill stands testimony to Robert Stanes’ dynamism in setting up his business empire in the erstwhile ‘Manchester of South’.
In 1862 he established Stanes School while his elder brother Thomas Stanes set up a similar school in Coonoor. Many old students of Stanes Anglo Indian School, who are now in top positions, visited the school premises few years ago and shared their happiness with their school mates. Joy knew no bounds for them when they sat in the classroom where they had studied several years ago. They interacted with the teachers and students. What more, the grandsons of Robert Stanes also visited the school premises in 2004.
Sulaiman Jamal, who passed out of Stanes School in 1961, and now runs a business in Bengaluru recalled the good old days at Stanes by saying: “Our cricket team was the best and we used to compete with other school teams those days. As captain of the school team in 1960-61, we had beaten many college teams. We were unbeatable. But when we got distracted by the girls, we lost wickets easily,” he added.
Hubert Johnson, who was school captain in 1960 said that he only realized he had studied with the most beautiful girls, long after her had passed out of the school.
The women however thought the boys were a bit boastful. “We had the opportunity to evolve under a very disciplined education system,” says Geetha Narayan who passed out in 1962. She joined Stanes in 1957 when she was in class 7 and finished her schooling there. The boarders were allowed to go home once a month. But for students like Geetha whose father was in the military, their principal used to take them on outings.
“The then principal Rev. Fr. H. O. Fowler used to take us all for an outing and buy us a few snacks. Only later did we know that he was treating us from his own meagre salary,” she said.
Tracing the history of Sir Robert Stanes, Rajesh Govindarajulu, former governing council member of INTACH and a historian said that somewhere in the 1880s, Stanes after tasting success as coffee planter launched the first inland coffee curing plant in India under the brand Stanes & Co. However, the company suffered huge loss forcing him to return back to London.
Referring to Robert Stanes’ autobiography, Rajesh said that in those days a failure in business was considered a disgrace. However, Stanes started his business again with much optimism, which fetched him name and fame across the country. When Coimbatore Municipal Council was formed, Robert Stanes was made its Chairman.
At the time of his death, Stanes was in possession of cotton mills, coffee and tea plantations, coffee curing plants, motor works and tire retreading plants. Sir Robert died in Coimbatore in 1936 and is buried alongside his wife, Harriet Huntingdon Harris (1843–1901) at All Saints’ Church, Coonoor.