It had taken, decades for the College to take shape. At the behest of Sir Thomas Munro a Committee of public instruction was formed in 1826. In 1836 the duties of the Committee of public instruction was taken over by "The Committee of Native Education." The plan drawn up by the Committee did not commend themselves to Lord Elphinstone who in turn proposed nineteen resolutions which were passed unanimously. The gist of the resolutions was as follows: "That it is expedient that a Central Collegiate Institution or University should be established at Madras". "The Madras University to consist of two principal departments, a College for the Higher Branches of Literature, Philosophy and Science, and a High School for the Cultivation of English Literature and of the vernacular languages of India and the elementary departments of Philosophy and Science".
Recognition of theGovernment
These proposals of Lord Elphinstone which were afterwards known as the "Fundamental Rules" were approved by the Members of Council and received the sanction of the Government in January 1840.
First Meeting of the Governing Body
In a month's time the governing body of the University was formed and it held its first meeting on 8th February 1840. The governing body requested Thiru. Mount Stuart Elphinstone to select a suitable person for the post of Headmaster.
The choice of Thiru. Mount Stuart Elphinstone fell on Mr. Eyre Burton Powell, a Cambridge Wrangler in Mathematics, who accepted the post. Mr. Powell reached Mumbai on the 20th Sept. 1840 and could reach Chennai only on 24th November 1840, the journey from Mumbai to Chennai occupying about four weeks. In the meantime, the University Board had invited Mr. Cooper, from the Hoogly College, Calcutta to carry on the duties of the Headmaster temporarily, on a salary of Rs. 400/a month.
Emergence of Presidency College
The Preparatory School
Thiru. Cooper accepted the invitation and came to Chennai. He and his Staff opened the preparatory School in a rented building in Egmore known as Edinburgh Home on 15th October 1840 which eventually grew into Presidency College. Thiru. Cooper remained in the Preparatory School for only a few months and soon after Thiru. Powell's arrival and before the opening of the High School department in April 1841, he returned to Calcutta. The preparatory School was shifted to Popham's Broadway in 1841.
The High School
The High School was opened on 4th April 1841 in Egmore (in the Building now housing the Presidency Magistrate Court) on the Pantheon Road, Egmore. Ten years rolled on after the formation of the department of higher education. In the meantime an Elementary School was also started.
Department of Collegiate Education
On 22nd April 1852 the then Governor, Fort. St. George Sir Henry Pottinger, Constituted a body called the 'University Board' with a President and sixteen members. In the beginning of 1853, the institution entered upon the second epoch in its history. It underwent reorganisation and was developed downwards and upwards. TM High School classes were rearranged, a primary school was established and a separate collegiate department was instituted. In 1855 the collegiate department was transferred to the newly created Department of Public Instruction and the Institution formally received its present name Presidency College. With the removal of ban on starting law classes the college started law classes as well.
The University of Madras
The year 1857 marks the beginning of the third epoch in the history of the College. The present University of Madras was founded in 1857. It always be a source of pride to Presidency College that it is the mother of the University of Madras. From 1857 onwards, the College has been providing instruction in the courses prescribed by the University.
The president and Governor of the University of Madras wanted to provide adequate buildings for the University. In 1864, designs for a big building to accommodate Presidency College were called for and a prize of Rs.3000/‑ was offered to the best design. The foundation stone a new college building on the Marina was laid on October 1867 by His Excellency Lord Napier, The Governor of Madras. The College took three years to build and on its completion the opening ceremony was performed by his Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh on 25th March 1870.
Shedding of Lower Classes
The lower classes posing a hindrance to the rapid growth of the College were shed, with Elementary School in 1856, High School in 1884 and the Law classes in 1891.
The College which had been offering instructions at the B.A. level, started in 1911 Honours Classes in English, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry; Botany, Zoology, Sanskrit and History. It was also at this time the College began to provide instruction in the M.A. Degree Course. Presidency College was the first to undertake these Honours and Post Graduate Courses in all the subjects in the Faculty of Arts.
The next stage of development came in 1931, the Science subjects hitherto imparted in the faculty of Arts were dropped. Inaugurating a separate faculty of Science and the new and better Bachelor of Science courses, both pass and Honours were introduced.
The Golden Jubilee
Dr David Duncan the third Principal of the College, celebrated the Golden Jubilee of the College. He had noted in detail the notable achievements of the Fifty years in the College calendar published in 1891. This note helps us to a great extent to trace the history of the College.
The Centenary of the college was celebrated in the year 1940.It was inaugurated by his excellency Lord Erskine, the Governor of Madras on 3rd February, 1940. A centenary memorial dome including four faces of the Fyson clock with its musical bell to reach the whole of Tiruvallikeni was also constructed. The clock has several unique features. It is an electrical automatic winding clock fitted with special automatic lighting arrangements. It is worth to mention that it was designed by Prof. H. Parameswaran, Professor of Physics of this college and was assembled at the department of Physics itself with the assistance of the laboratory assistant Thiru. Munusami Naicker.
For developing Post Graduate and Research Work, the Intermediate Classes were shed in 1948. The honours classes were shed in 1958. The semester pattern introduced in 1976 was also given up in 1982.
Today the College provides facilities for research in many faculties. A joboriented course in Corporate Secretaryship was started in 1974-75. M.Com. was introduced in the academic year 1976-77. MCA was started in the year 1991-92. Vocational subject in B.sc. Physics was introduced during 1997-98 and in B.A. Economics during 1999-2000. M.Sc. Applied Microbiology was started during 1999-2000.
The Inaugural ceremony for the Post-Centenary Gold Jubliee was held on 05.04.1991. His Excellency Thiru.Bhishma Narayan Singh, Governor of Tamil Nadu laid the foundation stone for the commemoration building. The building has since been opened and it houses the faculties for Mathematics and Computer Science.
As a premier institution of higher studies under the Government of Tamil Nadu, Presidency College, offers 20 PG Courses and 18 UG Courses through 24 departments almost all of them offering research facilities leading to M.Phil, and Ph.D. degrees.
The College was granted autonomy in 1987. It has since been possible for the College to attempt limited curricular and examination reforms to make education meaningful and uptodate. Continuous assessment of student's performance during the semester and the semester - end examinations from the basis for the award of degrees. Among the benefits of autonomy are greater student - teacher interaction and a constant review, revision and updating of academic programmes. However, the Degrees continue to be awarded by the University of Madras. The Parent Teacher Association has been functioning for the welfare of the students.
In 1998 the College was Accredited with Four Stars by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council. In March 2005 the National Assessment and Accrediation Council reaccredited the college and awarded the Grade "A" (85% to 90%).
A Medical Garden was created in 1988 and is being maintained to cater to the needs of researchers and the public. A National Bio-Informatics Infrastructure Facility Centre of the Department of Biotechnology was established on 26.03.07 at the Post Graduate & Research Department of Microbiology & Biotechnology to enable the Post Graduate & Research Scholars of this College to get free access to Internet & Software on Bioinformatics.
Shift System was started for the Courses such as B.Com(CS)(English Medium), B.A. Economics (Tamil Medium) and B.A. History (Tamil Medium) from the Academic year 2006-2007. In the year 2007-2008 B.Sc., Maths (English Medium and Tamil Medium) have been added to the Shift System. Classes for the Shifts are being held from 1.30 p.m. onwards.
Hearing Impaired Courses
Since 2007-2008, the college has been offering B.Com (General) and B.C.A courses under shift II system exclusively for Hearing Impaired students with the active support of the Department of Social Welfare, Government of Tamil Nadu.