On March 14, 1878 the school was formally opened by the Governor, John D.A. Dumaresq., C.M.G., with Rev. W. Terry Coppin as the first Principal with two assistants, W.B. Euba and J.H. Samuel both of whom later entered the Ministry and served the school as Principals. The first, batch of students was taken in in April 1878. There were 12 names on the roll. Among the twelve was George Stone Smith, the first on the list and therefore the Senior Foundation Scholar. George Smith became known later as Dr. Orishadipe Obasa of Ikija, a leader of society and the co-founder with Dr. John Randle of the Peoples' Union in 1909, the first purely political association in modem Nigeria. There were in addition to these twelve-six mission agents-in-training. By the end of the year the number on roll had increased to 23 boys and 7 agents and work had commenced in earnest.
The school uniform, which was worn on special occasions only, consisted of black trousers and a white coat and the school colours were white and gold. The uniform was changed in the twenties to white trousers, brown blazer with the school badge and straw hat with the school hatband, and the colours changed to chocolate, blue and gold; and the school motto was Numquam non paratus: "Be always prepared". The uniform was later changed into white short or trousers, white jacket with the school badge and the school cap instead of the straw hat.
The blazer is now worn on important occasions. It has remained so till today.
The school declared as its aim the preparation of young men for commercial and literary life. There can be little doubt that it was directed at the professional and businessmen in Lagos. It listed in its prospectus the subjects that were to be offered. These included English and Orthography, Writing, Dictation, Arithmetic, Algebra, Grammar, History (secular and sacred), Geography, Classics, Prose Writers and Prose. Other subjects could be given at extra cost and these were: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French and other Modem Languages, Geometry, Trigonometry, Bookkeeping, Drawing, Rhetoric and Logic, Moral Philosophy and Political Economy. There were still others such as Roman and Grecian Histories, Mythology and Antiquities, Natural Philosophy, Astronomy, Chemistry, Physiology, Geology and Botany. This prospectus was certainly too, ambitious. It aimed, too high. Even a well-equipped secondary school nowadays would be incapable of offering all the courses listed in the prospectus. It is not surprising that Ajayi had this to say about it:
"The more ambitious among us might feel envious of what rich intellectual education we missed until we remember that the Principal had but two assistants, and they were not supermen."1
However, the Principal added a proviso and that is, that he reserved the right to decide in consultation with parents and guardians what additional subject each pupil shall take up because as he stated: "premature attention to higher studies is often disastrous to real educational advancement."
Although the prospectus placed emphasis on preparing students for commercial and literary fife it also dwelt on the need to produce men of character. As the Rev. E.W. Thompson, Secretary of the Wesleyan Mission reminded those in charge of the school in 1928 "your object is to fashion men into the likeness of Christ, for He is the standard and pattern of manhood for all races". The school did take seriously from the start not only the task of imparting knowledge but of really fashioning men "unto the likeness of God". The students were given strict Christian upbringing. Attendance at morning service was compulsory at the Trinity Methodist Church and in the evening at Wesleyan Church, Olowogbowo. Attendance at Sunday School at Tinubu was also compulsory. As part of character training, boys of the school maintained for several years a bed in the Wesley Guild Hospital, Ilesha and contributed £15 annually to the British and Foreign Bible Society. This was a practical way of inculcating in the students the spirit of love and charity. That tradition has survived till today. To further generate absolute upselfishness the original motto of the school which was Numquam non paratus was changed during Euba's Principalship to Non sibi sed aliis: "Not for us but for others".