In the historic town of Kumbakonam, on the northern bank of the sacred Cauvery, away from the din and dust of the town, a Provincial School started functioning in October 1854, three years before the State Universities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras were incorporated.
The School was then housed in an old pile of buildings given by the Senior Rani of Tanjore. It is said that the real founder of the School was Dewan Bahadur R. Raghunatha Rao whose pial school for teaching English to the children of his friends and neighbours became the nucleus of the Provincial School and later the College. There is reason to believe that, for sometime at least, Kumbakonam was the capital of the Chola kings and it appears that Raghunatha, the Nayak King of Tanjore, came here to be crowned on the banks of the sacred river. In the palmy days of the Mahratta Dynasty at Tanjore, the building must have been one of the royal palaces. But by 1854, it was a " straggling one with patched floor, broken doors and windows, and plaster coming off in places."
The new institution was lucky in securing the services of a few young, energetic and high-minded Englishmen and Indians imbued with a missionary zeal to tend it in its infancy. For eight years, Henry Fortey, E. C. Caldwell and T. Marden successively officiated as Headmasters. It was in 1863 that the School came to be associated with W. A. Porter who, for his untiring works in upgrading it and raising its prestige, will ever be remembered in grateful veneration. A year after his coming, the High School was raised to a Second Grade College and the lowest classes had to be abolished for want of accommodation. It is interesting note that there were then only four Colleges in the whole of South India, the others being St. Joseph's College, Trichinopoly (1844), Presidency College, Madras (1853), Noble College, Masulipatam (1864), and the Madras Christian College (1865). In 1867 the B. A. classes were opened, and the first batch of students appeared for the B. A. Degree Examination in Mathematics and History in 1869. V. P. Madhava Rao who won laurels as the Dewan of Travancore, Mysore and Baroda , had been one of the first batch of our graduates. The results continued to be so splendid that in 1872 the Director of Public -Instruction commented that "the College promised to be the Cambridge of South India," and the Government admitted that "judged from the results, the Provincial College , Kumbakonam, takes the foremost place in the Presidency." Among the graduates of the year 1872-73, mention may be made of B. Hanumantha Rao and Prof. K. Sundararama Iyer, both of whom distinguished themselves as Lecturers in the same College. Porter's attention was directed not only towards improving the results at the University Examinations but also the construction of an artistic pile of buildings with a tower in the middle. The new building, in many respects, was a reconstruction of the old one, with very few changes. It may truly be said of him that he found the College brick and left it marble. For about 15 years, except for brief intervals of absence on leave, he presided over the destinies of the College, and his able assistant Gopala Rao, one of the founder-members of the institution, continued the work during his absence and later acted as Principal for four years (1878 to '82). It was during his time that Philosophy classes were started for the B. A. Course and a Lecturer in Philosophy was appointed (1880). The citizens of Kumbakonam, in loving memory of these two pioneers, have built the Porter Town Hall and the Gopala Rao Library in the heart of the town.
Government College , Kumbakonam, is a proud mother who reckons as her sons several men who have made their mark in life. If the record of the past is so glorious, the future in the wake of our national Independence is bound to be pregnant with great possibilities. Now that the chronicler has come to the end of his task, he cannot help trying to peer with his bleared eyes into the distant future; the firmament behind is studded with many bright stars but, looking forward, one sees a bright galaxy, each member being indistinguishable, but all together producing a bright halo and extending beyond the limits of mortal vision.
In 1910 when Hodges was transferred as Inspector of Schools, J.A. Yates was appointed Principal. The strength of the College was now only 127. A sum of Rs. 97,500 was sanctioned by Government for the construction of new buildings and improvements to the old ones. Plans and estimates for the construction of quarters for the Principal were approved and a sum of Rs. 14,050 was sanctioned, but the idea was finally abandoned in 1911. Yates- found himself cramped for want of space both in the playgrounds and the laboratories, and set to work with indefatigable energy in putting up temporary sheds for class-rooms and in acquiring the ground lying east to the College as far as the present boundary wall. But practically no games except Tennis could be played because the new grounds had not been leveled and the other parts were covered with materials for the construction of the present English Hail (Room 23) and the Physics Block. But before Yates left the institution in 1914, he had the satisfaction of seeing his labours crowned with success