Justice Cornelius, Father of Pakistan Cricket

November 14, 2020 | By

Although Lahore and Karachi had been one of the main cricket centers of India before partition but after Pakistan came into being in 1947, it was Hon’ble Mr. Justice Alvin Robert Cornelius H. Pk who had actually sown the seed of the game in Pakistan.

He was born in Agra, U.P India on May 8, 1903. He was the eldest son of Professor Israel Jacob Cornelius who taught Mathematics at Holkar College in Indore. The Cornelius Prize in Mathematics is still awarded annually by the college to outstanding students. Professor I. J. Cornelius was a close friend of I.I. Chundrigar who later on became the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

He was a descendent from a family of Naikor landholders who rendered military service to the Madras East India Company. The family name was Kait Pillay. After the conquest of Burma in 1885, one member of the family, Perayya Kait Pillay who had fought in Burma, settled in the Central Provinces. He became a school teacher and a Christian, adopting the name Cornelius.

A. R. Cornelius’ father was Peryya’s son. His mother was Tara D’Rozario. The D’Rozario family were also Christian converts from Hinduism. His grandfather, Michael D’Rozario was Deputy-Range Officer Forests in Central India.

A. R. Cornelius was brought up a Presbyterian and converted to Roman Catholicism in 1931 after his marriage to Ione Francis, a devout Roman Catholic. She was the daughter of a Pathan Khushal Khan Safi, a convert who took the Christian name Leo Francis, and the granddaughter of a Persian-Punjabi, Miran Bakhsh Utarid. Both her father and grandfather were civil surgeons in the Punjab Medical Service. Her paternal grandfather Said Shah Safi was in the Foreign and Political Department of the Government of India. Said Shah, though a Christian convert did not change his name.

A. R. Cornelius attended St. John’s College, Agra and received a bachelor of sciences degree from Muir College, a constituent unit of Allahabad University. He ranked first in his class winning all available awards including Homersham Cox Gold Medal for Mathematics. He gained his degree in Mathematics and LLB in civil law and wrote a comprehensive thesis on history of religious law in 1924. He describes his Islamic education in his own words as, “My own education was in scientific subjects and what I learnt of Islam was a mere smattering of the Persian language for the purpose of passing the matriculation examination. Our teacher in the State High School at Indore was a member of the family of Nawab of Jaora, whose knowledge of Persian was much wider than he cared to show. He was not too interested to impart knowledge. So, the students learnt the prescribed material by heart, gaining the meanings of words and sentences much more from each other than from the teachers”.

He did study some Persian, Arabic and the vernaculars as part of his ICS (Indian Civil Service) probationer’s training. His later judicial writings and judgments suggest not only his respect for but also his profound knowledge of Islam. According to well-known advocate, Hamid Khan, Justice Cornelius translated into English Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani. However, due to circumstances it could not be published and is now untraceable.

After passing the ICS competitive examination in India, he was sent as a probationer for two years study at Selwyn College of Cambridge University where he obtained LLM in law. Upon his reluctant return in 1926 he joined the Indian Civil Service and was posted at Ambala district in the Punjab.

From 1926 until his death he lived and worked in Punjab mostly in Lahore. He had a fascination for Punjab and regarded it as the best-administered province in the sub-continent. Cornelius regarded Lahore as his city.

In 1930 he was appointed to the judicial branch of the ICS as an assistant commissioner and served as a district and sessions judge in various districts of the Punjab, including Amritsar, Jullundur and Lahore. He began his judicial career in the Lahore High Court in 1943 and in 1947 he was one of the 157 officers who opted for Pakistan. The other one thousand remained in India. His first assignment in Pakistan was the drafting of laws governing the assets of evacuees and refugees victimized by the Partition. He was appointed to the Lahore High Court in 1946. He was posted in April 1950 as Secretary of Law and Labour, headed by Jogendra Nath Mandal, a position he held till May 31, 1951.

After the assassination of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan Cornelius left the government assignment and was appointed as an associate judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in November 1951 and continued as a judge with regular intervals until 1953 when he was confirmed as a senior judge of the Federal Court of Pakistan. President Ayub Khan nominated Cornelius to become the fourth Chief Justice of Pakistan and he was elevated to the post in 1960. He remained the Chief Justice till he retired on February 29, 1968.

Later on, he also served as the minister of law in the cabinet of Gen. Yahya Khan from 1969 till the fall of Dacca in December 1971. Yahya asked Cornelius and G. W. Choudhry of East Pakistan to draft a constitution. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto objected to this assignment saying, “He is ‘Dhimmi’ (Non-Muslim), how can he make a constitution for a Muslim state?”

After Bhutto took over as the President of Pakistan, he asked Cornelius if he would seek support in Christian countries for the release of Pakistani prisoners of war in India. Cornelius declined the offer.

Cornelius was always very concerned about the security of Pakistan. During the 1960s, he was more disturbed by the vulgar intrusion of foreigners who had no understanding of Islam and the culture of Pakistan. In 1962 he attended a reception given by the U.S. Counsel General in Lahore. He looked around at the many Americans present and asked Ralph Braibanti, “What are all these people doing in my country? Do they understand our culture? They are destroying it.” After presenting his respects and compliments to his hosts he left graciously and unobtrusively.

Despite holding prestigious posts all his life, the Cornelius family lived frugally and simply. He once remarked, “For our people, affluence is poison.” Cornelius and his family lived in rented government allocated houses until 1948 after which they moved to Nedou’s Hotel. In 1949, they moved into Mrs. Cornelius’ mother’s house at 13-A Waris Road Lahore until it was sold in 1952 when they moved to 6, Egerton Road. From 1953 until his death on December 21, 1991, Cornelius and his wife lived in two rooms (No.1 &2) at Faletti’s hotel in Lahore. When his wife, Ione, died in November 1989, after a marriage of fifty-eight years, he moved into a single room at Room No.1. He lived 30 years at the Faletti’s Hotel and never ever moved to the official house of the Chief Justice.

He retained his only British made car, a 1953 bottle green colored Wolsely, till the end of his life. It was always seen parked discreetly near the Out Gate of the Falettis hotel. It is now on display in the museum of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Islamabad. Cornelius always drove it himself without the fanfare or an entourage of retainers, bodyguards or drivers, to which he was entitled to as a former Chief Justice of Pakistan. The absence of ‘Chaprasis’, peons and other retainers who usually hover about a man of his status was unique in a culture of pretense.

Cornelius was one of the ten life-members of the Faletti’s hotel and that he was charged the same room rent that was in effect over three decades back. The staff at the hotel accorded him genuine affection and respect which was of a different quality than the customary deference and obsequience shown to superiors in the highly status-conscious society of Pakistan.

Cornelius, who was “Bobby” to his close friends, was a model judge who was soft-spoken, judicious, and upright. He was the epitome of patience and tolerance and was regarded as a man of justice and peace.

During an interview for the appointment of a civil judge in 1952, Cornelius as judicial examiner asked Muhammed Ilyas who became the Acting Chief Justice of Lahore High Court in 1992, “If it was proper to have an Islamic constitution when the country had non-Muslim minorities?” Ilyas replied that an Islamic state-guaranteed equal social justice for all. He was declared first in the viva voce by Cornelius.

Cornelius had a great sense of sensitivity and magnanimity. His successor Justice S. A. Rahman was to reach his retirement age on June 4, 1968, and if Cornelius had invoked his normal retirement date of May 1, 1968, the term of S. A. Rahman would have been limited to just 35 days. By voluntarily retiring on February 29, 1968, Cornelius made it possible for Justice Rahman to be Chief Justice for two extra months.

His ardent love for cricket began when he was at Cambridge. Although he played Tennis as well but for the rest of his life his main passion remained cricket. He was a visionary and was the first one to realize after partition that Pakistan needed a place in cricket so that the new country could come to the attention of the world.

When the West Indies were touring India in 1948, he hastily formed a cricket board in Pakistan with the help of Dr. Jahangir Khan, Agha Ahmed Raza Khan, Mian Mohammed Saeed and Syed Fida Hassan, to invite the tourists to Pakistan as well. Their effort bore fruit and the West Indies became the first international team to play in Pakistan.

Without a doubt, Cornelius was the main founding father figure of Pakistan cricket after partition. He was one of the three original Vice Presidents (1948-53) of the BCCP (Board of Cricket Control of Pakistan).

He became Chairman of the Working Committee, serving until he first relinquished his connection with the Board in early 1953. He was made Chairman of the first Ad Hoc Committee, in September 1960, created to run cricket in Pakistan until May 1963. His greatest achievement in cricket was to found the Pakistan Eaglets, an informal club of promising young Pakistani cricketers in 1951-52, which made tours of England for training and gaining experience.

Pakistan Eaglets was formally registered as a Society on May 23, 1953, under the signatures of A. R. Cornelius, Nawab Iftikhar Hussain Mamdot, K. R. Collector, Sardar Rashid Ahmed, Ziauddin, D. Morehouse, and Iftikharuddin.

When Pakistan defeated England at The Oval in 1954, Cornelius was very much there. With a beer mug in his hand he was going all over the place shouting, “Where is Len Hutton and Alec Bedser? Send them here, we will teach them how to bowl and bat. C-in-C of Pakistan army General Ayub Khan who was there too kept enjoying the excitement and fervor of Justice Cornelius.

In 1962 when the Pakistan team was again on a disastrous tour of England, Cornelius who believed in the bowling ability of Fazal Mahmood summoned him in his court and ordered him to join the Pakistan team immediately and save the honor of the country. Fazal obliged but sadly he had passed his prime. He was no longer the Fazal of 1954.

He was a moving spirit behind the Lahore Gymkhana Cricket Club. He was often seen riding his bicycle to the ground to play cricket. He was an average club cricketer and bowled slow Off-breaks. He batted right-handed at the lower middle order. Nevertheless, he loved to impart cricket instruction to players like Test cricketers S. F. Rahman and Imtiaz Ahmed. He was quite affectionate towards S. F. Rahman off and on the field, who is now known as Maulana Fazlur Rahman Al-Azhari author of several religious publications of high intellectual and moral thought. When the first volume of Hadees Sahih Bukhari was first translated in English in Pakistan, it was presented to Cornelius, who in turn gave it to Maulana Fazlur Rahman to check it for any faults or omissions.

During President Zia-ul-Haq’s government, Maulana Fazlur Rahman conducted a six months training course for Qazi courts under the Sharia law at Mubarak Masjid in Islamia College Lahore where he had been a Khateeb for over thirty years. At the concluding session, he invited Justice Cornelius, who was known to be a relentless defender of Sharia and arguably played the most important role in including some Islamic values in the legal institutions of Pakistan. As the guest of honor. Not only Cornelius came to the session but also delivered a speech emphasizing the importance of Islamic values. He explained that Law should be culture-sensitive and Islam was a valid foundation for a universal society. Undoubtedly Cornelius was one of the greatest legal philosophers who believed in the idiom, “It is virtue that moves Heavens; there is no distance to which it does not reach.”

I came to know Justice Cornelius and his wife in the winter of 1980 when I returned from America with my American wife Becky and daughter Ambereen. We were introduced to Mrs. Hazel Taylor by our friend Brigadier Bill Deller, the Defense Attache at the British Embassy in Islamabad and his wife Deirdre. Mrs. Hazel Taylor owned the Renala Estate where she owned thousands of acres of land and bred thoroughbred horses for racing. During my college days I had seen her many times from afar at the Race Course at Lahore during the Derby Meets. Since my American in-laws were in the business of breeding thoroughbred horses in America as well, both Hazel and Becky became very fond of each other and Hazel became a family to us. She was related to the British royal family and had one son John Taylor who ran a similar breeding farm in South Africa. John loved cricket and would often come to Lahore Gymkhana to watch cricket.

Since we lived in Sahiwal, landowner Colonel Conville of our area and Roberts family who grew cotton in Khanewal were our close friends. They were all friends of Cornelius’s as well. It was Hazel who introduced us to the Cornelius family as well as the Mohsin who owned the Mitchells Fruit Farm at Renala Khurd which was adjacent to Hazel’s farm. For the next 10 years we remained very good friends with Justice Cornelius. A bond of genuine respect, friendship and affection grew between us, though Cornelius always addressed me as ‘Mr. Latif.’ After his wife died, he became quite lonely and his health started to go down and gradually he became bed ridden. He had one loyal attendant who looked after him most diligently. They had two children and their son Michael lived in England. Every Christmas we would visit them and Mr. Cornelius would offer me a drink saying, “I can only afford a Murree Whisky because that’s what my pension allows me to have.” He smoked ordinary Will’s cigarettes and lived honorably within his means and yet he was a gracious host.

I once asked him what he thought of the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto case? He laughed and replied, “Case? What case? There was no case. Had it come before me; I would have thrown it out of the window.”

My daughter, Ambereen, had come on holidays from Samford College U.S.A in 1991 and we both went to see Mr. Cornelius which turned out to be the last time. He was quite unwell and was in bed when we met him. He smiled warmly and was happy to see Ambereen whom he knew since her childhood.

Only a few days back I had seen news in a daily newspaper that the government of Nawaz Sharif had offered to treat Mr. Cornelius abroad. I asked Mr. Cornelius when will he be going abroad? Immediately he became serious and was greatly displeased. He said, “Mr. Latif, I am sorry to say you have wasted all these years and yet you do not know me. I do not own a single inch of land or property in Pakistan. I have never taken or accepted any favour from anyone in my life. Do you think I will tarnish my image at the very end of my life by accepting an offer like that? I cannot go before my Maker with a blackened face. I have lived here and will die on this soil without going anywhere. With this he extended his hand as we shook it. Tears welled up in our eyes, it was the last goodbye.

Few days later the father of Pakistan’s cricket was no more. Mr. Cornelius died on December 21, 1991, four days short of Christmas. He was buried at Lahore in the Jail Road cemetery. He was 88.

Najum Latif

Najum Latif is an author at ScoreLine and has written numerous articles published at ScoreLine.org.

He is a businessman, Author, Researcher, Cricket Historian, Freelance Writer. member of Government College Lahore Cricket Team (1961-64). Wildlife conservationist, Former member of the Chief Minister of Punjab Committee of Management of Lahore Zoo and Safari Park. Established the first cricket museum of Pakistan at Lahore Gymkhana. Former adviser to the Chairman University Grants Commission of Pakistan.

MCC Member executive council old Ravians Union Government College University Lahore, Alumni Forman Christian College Lahore.

You can connect him on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter

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