Sunday, March 05, 2006

The way the Cookie conquered

The way the middle class urban people of Ceylon kept home and cooked in the old days: (based on an interview conducted with a Burgher lady in Colombo whose Mum was 80 and living at the time). The lifestyle described applies to all middle and upper class urban communities of that bygone era in Sri Lanka.

1. What do you recall of your mother’s/grandmother’s dealings with preparing the meal for the household?

My paternal grandmother lived down High Street (now W A Silva Mawatha) in Wellawatte in Colombo 6. It was a very large and sprawling old house, very open and airy with big open Verandahs, and at the back of the house, was the Servants Quarters.

There was a cook, a houseboy, a driver and an "ayah" (maid). There was also the rickshaw man, and the tailor who lived in separate rooms outside. My grandmother would summon the cook, Jane, to her and would discuss with her the menu for the day, every morning.

I do not remember my grandmother ever doing much cooking herself, but when she wanted something special made (like her famous "Pol Kiri Badun” A coconut milk dish) which she always wanted made for her youngest child, my dad, she did it herself! Jane's was never good enough-- Jane herself told me this several times when she later worked in our home!!

2. Did they, as many of my relatives seem to have, sit down with a cook at the start of a day and decide what the meals for the day would be and then send the cook off with the money to buy the produce?

I think I have already answered that question by my answer above! I remember the driver being sent off to do the purchasing, but not daily. They bought quite a lot and stocked the fridges (referigerator’s). But probably they did so before fridges were a part of their lives.

3. Who dealt with the hawkers who came to the door?

My aunts remember that my granny was very particularly about the quality of the meat the cook brought home and wasn’t about sending her back to get something better.

My mother often told us of how her mother dealt with hawkers herself, and yes, she was so very particular about the quality. Mum used to say that the woman selling cashews would bring her entire basket of nuts to my grandmother (who was an expert sweet-meat maker) and Granny would choose all the biggest nuts. Of course they paid for the nuts by the 100 in those days. Also fresh live chickens used to be brought to the door by vendors, and Granny would chose the heaviest ones. The same with eggs and crabs etc My granny would make her famous Marzipans, Cheese Straws and Chocolate Fudge with the freshest of ingredients.

During the World War II, when nothing was imported, Cargills (and/or Millers) asked my Granny to supply them with her famous sweets to replace all the imported ones, and she became quite famous for it.

Furthermore, the older folk had the competitive knack of bargaining with the many vendors who used to call over at their doorstep on a daily basis. There were the fishmongers, of whom Martha Akka from Moratuwa was famous in Bambalapitiya and Wellawatte, the green “Keera” vendors, and the fruit vendors. They all carried wicker basketloads of produce on their weary heads and trekked all the way to Colombo from far corners, viz Panadura, Moratuwa, and even Gampaha.

Dealings with these vendors was done n Shillings (a legacy of the British Pound, Shilling & pence currency system of old), where One Shilling was equivalent to Ceylon Fifty Cents. The vendors were also smart enough to fix their prices according to the bargaining capabilities of the buyers and it was a cat and mouse game, so exciting to watch, every morning at these homes within the many towns of Colombo.

Then there was the broomstick vendor who trudged along on his four-wheeled contraption carrying all kinds of brooms, mops, Ekel Brooms for raking in the leaves, floor mats and cleaning equipment. On his footsteps came the Gotmaba Roti man in the evenings, clanging away his metal Gothamba ladle on to the sides of his cart making a din that could be heard a mile away. Complementing this gang was he Kadalai man, who carried his load in a basin on his head, filled with all varieties of spicy gram, chic peas, and nuts.

Gone are these door to door salesmen and saleswomen of yore who provided an excellent service of delivering fresh produce to almost every single home in the city.

4. Did they rely on the cook to cook the breakfast and the lunch, and have more of a hand in the dinner?

Yes! They did rely on the cooks to cook breakfast and lunch, but very often, they did the dinner themselves. Breakfast was always string-hoppers, hoppers, roti or other "local" food, mostly. I remember the “Ogurulang” (is that how it is spelt??) a kind of loose scrambled egg dish with lots of onions and dill seed which was always there with the string-hoppers and “kiri hodhi” (yelloe coconut milk gravy) and “pol sambol” (red hot chili-coconut scraping mix). The table was laid along with the teapot, full of steaming hot tea covered by a cloth tea-cosy on a separate wooden tray, along with the cups and saucers, sugar and milk and the tea strainer on a separate saucer.
Lunch always consisted of rice, beef curry and fish curry, three vegetable curries, a “mallun” (spicy green leaf mix), something fried, and several bottles of chutneys and pickles.

Fruit always followed.

5. Were there dishes that your mother/grandmother would never let the cooks make?

My Granny always made the Christmas cake, for example.

Of course! the revered Christmas Cake and Breudher were never made by anyone else! My maternal grandma did much more cooking than my paternal Nanna. Granny was a big strong Irish woman with her hair in a bun who did lots of cooking. Nanna was a petite genteel darling of a woman who married my grandfather when she was only 18 and the "Belle of Kalutara" and he a much older and previously married man. He wed her and brought her to Colombo and bought three houses for her, two in Wellawate and one in Colpetty. Needless to say, he spoiled her rotten, and she had servants at her beck and call, so did not do much cooking herself.

Granny on the other hand, did loads of cooking! She had her specials. Jewel like Marzipans which were laid out to "bake" in the sun, and looked too good to eat! Then she made her famous trotter stew-- heavenly! Then there was her Turkish Delight, Marshmallows, Chocolate Fudge, etc.

6. Did your family follow the common pattern of having rice and curry for lunch and a more European style meal for dinner? Whose recipes were used for the latter, or for any of the European style meals?

Yes, dinner was and still is with us, a more European meal. I remember my mother throwing her hands up in exasperation when once interviewing a cook who, when asked what "issaraha kaama" (“the first meal” or European food) she knew, she replied "Istew, Bistake, Cutlis"!! (meaning Stew, Beef Steak and Cutlets). Mother exclaimed "that is all they know to make". The dinners I remember in my home (or at my grandmothers or aunts') usually was a Stew, or Steak and Kidney Pie, Kedgeree, Bombay Roast, Crumb Chops, with the accompanying vegetables etc. If we had string-hoppers for dinner, they would be accompanied by Mulligatawny, Beef Curry, Pol Mallun (A chillie hot coconut scraping mix with “Kooni” small dried shrimp) and sometimes Potato “Thel Dhala” (fried in oil).

My grandmother’s and Mother all had their own recipes for these dishes, and all of them tasted different when cooked by any of them, but equally delicious.

7. Did you have a cook at all? Was the cook male or female? How old were they when they came into service? Where did they come from? How did your mother/grandmother know about where to find them?

Yes, my grandmother's cook, Jane, came to work for us when my Dad got married to my Mum. She was already trained by Nanna, and knew exactly what Daddy liked to eat!! Nanna made sure of that! When she left, we had a male cook, a Tamil man from a tea estate who had cooked for the British planters and who always kept a poker face and stood stock still to attention when spoken to. My brother and I tried so hard to make him relax and laugh awhile, but he just refused to do so!

My cousins were planters, and usually servants were recruited from the old Colonial style Tea Estates. From what I know of my grandparent's servants, and my aunt’s, servants came to work for them at a very young age, and generally stayed on till a ripe old age.

Jane went to work for Nanna when she was very young, and worked for my parents for many years, taking care of me as a baby as well. She even came back to work for me after I married and cooked for me when I had my first baby! I have an aunt whose cook, Soma, has been with her for over 47 years!

Usually servants who worked for one person brought along others from their villages for family and friends whenever needed.

8. How were the cooks paid? Did they get holidays? Where did they sleep and eat?

The servants in our homes had their own quarters--separate rooms and bathrooms. Salaries of course varied with the times, but were usually not very much. These people were so very poor and had next to nothing in their villages, so it was a massive privilege to work in our homes and live comfortable lives. They were paid monthly, and were given holidays usually for the Sinhala & Tamil New Year, when they went home having spent a lot of their earnings on new colored cotton fabrics for the women’s “cloths" (traditional lower wrap-around garment) and jackets and also for the men's sarongs.

They would return from their villages with a box full of Sinhala/Tamil festival sweetmeats that consisted of “Kavun” (oil cakes), “Kokis” (Oil fried Cookies), “Bibikkan” (Jaggery & Coconut Cake), “Kalu Dodol” (Jaggery & Coconut Sweet), “Aasmi” (Coconut Oil fried Crispies) etc.!

9. Did the cook or other servant serve at table? Did they get specially dressed for it?

Yes, usually the houseboy attended to the serving at the table. He had to be nattily dressed, always, when doing so.

10. Did the cook or other servants speak much English? Could they read English?

No, they never spoke English, and considered it very rude to do so, but for sure they understood the language very well! Our old cook from the plantations, Arumugam, spoke English in a quaint way.

11. What was the feeling of the relationship(s) of the cook and servants to your family?

Servants of those days were very respectful, and humble. In our homes they were always treated very well--but were never allowed to eat with us at our table of course. They also had their own plates and cups--they could never use ours. They never sat on chairs, but on a low bench, doorstep, or on the bare floor. They slept on mats on the floor, never on beds. This was what they were used to in their villages. Usually the children in the family were closest to the servants, and next the lady of the household, but last of all the master. He would have little or nothing to do with the servants except maybe the driver.

12. Were any of the cooks/servants married and/or have kids during their service?

None of our servants were married as I remember.

13. What did they cook on? Was the kitchen inside or outside the house? What fuel was used?

They cooked, in the early years, on Wood Fires (a multi brick/stone contraption that held the cooking utensils on top of it and used firewood as fuel) and later on, on imported Keresone and Gas Cookers, inside the house. Most homes had two kitchens. One more or less used as a pantry for preparation and storage of utensils, while the other was the real kitchen, with chimney et al to disperse the smoke from the wood fires into the air and keep it away from the house.

William Aiya meets King Kong

William Aiya of Maradana challenges - wrestler King Kong

It was early fifties as I recall the Illustrious Showman, the late Mr. Donovan Andree - got down world famous wrestlers, i.e. Dara Singh, King Kong, Tiger Holden (Australia), Red Scorpion, Ali Riza Bey (Egypt), The Flying French man - George Pencheff - Flying Kick Expert, "Angel Face" - Zibisco, Haraban Singh, Hooded Terror etc.

Referee was Wong Bock Lee. These open air Bouts were held at B.R.C. Grounds, Colombo. The Late Mr. Donovan Andree was also responsible for organising shows like "Holiday On Ice" and the "Harlen Blackbirds" at the B.R.C. Grounds, Col. 7.

I can remember somewhere in 1955 - Donovan Andree was voted "Personality of the Year" by 'Ceylon Observer' readers, and if I am not mistaken Sir John Kotelawela came second. Mr. Andree was awarded the "Stanvac Trophy" (Standard Vacuum Co.) by the Ceylon Observer. He was the one who introduced Erin de Selfa - top Singer who I met at the Kinross Club - Wellawatte sometime ago - before the dreaded Tsunami. Years ago she sang at the London Paladium.

In 1980, Mr. Semage - got down wrestlers, Dhara Singh, John Powers (tattoed all over his body). The Prince etc. held at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium - I took my very young 2 sons and wife to these bouts - Mr. Semage gave me passes - for this - my wife was attached to the President's Office then.

Jiffry Younoos (Deceased - Lake House) and I Premil Ratnayake (Lake House) and a crowd of about 15 went to B.R.C. Grounds - for a wresting event. With us was Williyam Aiya of Maradana, who owned a Club, with a small billiard table opposite Ananda College. Next to this Club, a big water sump was built and filled with water by the A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions), this was wartime. William Aiya was a tough Guy and very straight, pint sized mazcular man, a James Cagney look, and very much tattoed on his chest were the words, "Budhu Sasuna Babeleva" and along the shoulders were the words, "Danna Apita Boru Mokatada" tattoed.
All of us sat on tiers - cheaper seats. First came Tiger Holden a real villain - smoking a cigar and mug of beer in his hand - he used to drink the beer and throw the mug at the crowd, who hooted him. He would burn his opponent and the Referee Wong Bock Lee - with his cigar, and be disqualified. But, he would not leave the ring - minutes later Dhara Singh and Ali Riza Bey - climbed the stage and removed him bodily - but he gave them a fight too.

Most popular with local audience was Dhara Singh, Ali Riza Bey and Haraban Singh - most hated were "Tiger" Holden, King Kong and "Angel Face" Zibisco because they played foul and even manhandled the referee. Flying Frenchman George Pencheff - always a favourite with some superb Flying Kicks.

The Grounds B.R.C. was always full for these fights one by one the fights ended. The last for the night was King Kong vs Dhara Singh - referee Wong Bock Lee. People cheered as Dhara came on to the ring - he bowed to the crowd. When King Kong came on stage, he was greeted with hoots - spat at the audience and showed his fists threatening the on-lookers. During the fight King Kong assaulted the Referee, when ordered to go to his corner.

He grabbed Dhara's eyes with his fingers, bit his ear, and at the end, Dhara was bleeding from his forehead and carried away in a stretcher. Some people say that these fights are staged - but we do not take this for a fact. Everyone was worked up now - as their favourite Dhara Singh was carried away in a stretcher William Aiya was the worst effected and angry.

William Aiya was a straight forward guy, who I have witnessed, taken on two or three tough guys at once, and also I remember Kalu Abey of Waidya Road, Dehiwela, still living taken on more than that and even challenged two Mr. Ceylons at the venue on the day of the final selection. William Aiya told us and a few of the crowd to come with him to King Kong's tent, which we did - about 25 of us, we reached his tent, and William Aiya stood closest to the tent and shouted "Ado King Kong Waren Do" several times and we were all joining him in the shouting.

After about few minutes King Kong emerged out of his tent - with a chair in his hand, lifted high above his head, dashed it on the ground and with a big roar - came towards us - what happened then was history - we took to our heels, falling over each other and ran for dear life. I cannot remember how I went home. I met William Aiya - only 2 weeks later - at Maradana and he gave me a sheepish look and did not utter word about King Kong.

- Maurice Dahanayake

Christmas in Sri Lanka

Christmas in the good old days
By Noel Crusz

Here I am on the ocean liner THE PACIFIC SKY in the Coral Sea on a pre-Christmas voyage from Sydney to New Caledonia.The memories of how we celebrated Christmas in Sri Lanka come back.The house was painted, the walls white-washed with low black taredgings all round the rooms and the chairs were re-cushioned. The traveling tailor came home, measured the rooms, and made the curtains on ourold Singer sewing machine.Red Mansion polish was applied on the cement floor, which got a shine from a heavy handled brush. Cake making was a ritual, where my mother laid the rules and we offered to help. We ate a good many cadjunuts and raisins There was the wooden ice-box with sawdust and a heavy metal covering for slabs of ice.Two weeks before Christmas the children were taken in a hired car toPettah's Main Street.

The well known shoe store was T.G.M. Perera's and we were fitted with the best shoes. Even Jamaliya's Shoe Store in Wellawatta took in orders for boots, the teenage fashion of the thirties.Before World War II, there was Ono & Co. This Japanese toy shop owned by a Mr. Numano had a wonderful array of toys from Japan.

The Main Street tailor measured us, as we provided China silk for our shirts. The silk of course was bought in early November from the Chinese peddlers who plied their trade on bicycles. Some of the Chinamen carried their bundles on their back, with a heavy stick for balance. Main Streetin Pettah in the early thirties was very narrow. It had to cope with the tram lines and bullock carts.

Our Christmas shopping included a visit to X.P. Paivas for lunch andice cream. Round the corner was The Rupee Store, where for one rupee you could buy many things.

Millers, Cargills, Simes and Whiteaways dominated the Fort shopping.We went to Hunters and Siedles and The Roche Brothers shops for many items. I cannot forget the shopping in the golden mile of Colpetty, Bambalapitiya and Wellawatta.

The Wickremesinghe Brothers headed by George imported the famous Mende Radiograms from Germany.We cannot forget the well known shops in Wellawatta: M.P. Gomez, A.W. Jansz, J.B. De Pinto, Nooranis, Jamaliya's Boot Works and many famous boutiques.

As a boy I went with my father to A.W. Jansz's store near High Street. We bought Dutch Edam Cheese, as an accompaniment for the Christmas breudher. I still remember Jansz bellowing to a tardy salesman:"What are you standing there shooting 'papaws'! Jansz sold liquor and all types of hardware.

We bought wire-netting to build chicken coops. The shopping spree in Colombo included a visit to Pilawoos for atreat of buriyani.

Elephant House played a significant part in booking Christmas cakes. Yet there was one last item that was in the shopping list: Fireworks. We gazed in wonder at the array of fireworks in the Fireworks Palace opposite the Fort Railway Station. Sparklers, Roman candles, sky rockets, Catherine wheels, squibs, crackers of every size were there in the showcase.

Christmas was on. The cake was made and sent to the bakery. The servants were pounding and roasting, making string hoppers and pittu, cutting up A.W. Jansz ham, with cutlets and seeni sambol.

Churches saw long queues at the Confessional. I remember well the Allied troops celebrating Christmas in Ceylon. In the Seminary in St. Francis Zavier in Bambalapitiya, the African troops came for Midnight Mass.

In Bandarawela, the Italian prisoners of war, brought tears when theysang the Adeste Fideles.As I look out now at a placid sea, the Christmas memories for an expatriate find no sequence. There were Christmas trees from up-country estates sent by train. Carol parties on Christmas Eve went about in lorries.

Arthur Van Langenberg helped me to stage a massive Christmas pageant on Christmas Eve at St. Lucia's Cathedral Square in Kotahena. There were hundreds in the cast.

The beautiful teenager Camille Cramer played Mary, as she was seated astride on a real donkey, led by a young doctor, who played Joseph. As Gerry Paul hit the Police drums, the donkey took off, with Josephclinging to its tail, and the audience, including Mary in ripples of laughter.

As midnight came, there were a never-ending sound of fireworks andsky rockets, that would surely have awoken the Christ Child. Carol parties came to the doorstep. At Kawdana, children in costume came around singing Sinhala carols. A hand cart with an illuminated crib was thebackdrop. They even brought a portable harmonium.

Of course the homes saw families sitting for a feast of string hoppers, ham, breudher, cheese, mulligatany and cake. There were presents near the family Christmas tree.

The postman, the dhoby, the baker, the fishmonger were the regular Christmas early birds. They all got cash, plus a tot of arrack or gin.As children we waited eagerly for the Sakkili Band.

These were the poor men and women who carried the night soil buckets, before the water closet and drainage era. Many householders were generous in the cash tips they gave them. An extra pint of arrack helped them in their dance!

The famous Kukul Charlie also made his trek down all the lanes. Those were the days when Donovan Andree dominated and enriched the local entertainment scene. Donovan brought down the Ice Follies.

Soon night came once more. We lit our fireworks, saw the servants lighting the big Roman candles and sky rockets. The radio blasted yuletide melodies.As my ship went on its voyage, I was dreaming not of a 'White Christmas', but of the Christmases I spent in Sri Lanka.

Nowhere in the world did I ever experience Christmas, as the Ceylonese prepare and enjoy it. I can still hear the hustle and bustle in Pettah, the cries of the street vendors and the pavement hawkers. The wailing of the mamma-pappa balloon, the rattle of the toy-carts, and the delicacies from the gram sellers are unforgettable.An Aussie Christmas is pea-nuts compared to a Christmas in Ceylon.

I do not wonder why my parents christened me Noel, and my sister Noeline.

I am reminded of J.P. de Fonseka who gave lustre to Christmas writing. He edited the Christmas issue of St. Mary's parish bulletin in Bambalapitiya. He wrote: "St. Thomas Aquinas theology avoids the Christmas cake and wine and toys and crackers and family reunions of children and parents... He considers the mystery of the GOD man, without whom the Christmas wines rejoice not and the crackers crack in vain."

[sent in by Anne-Marie Kellar in Colombo, whose parents marriage was solemnized by the Rev Fr. Noel Crusz during the time he was a priest]

Noel Crusz, the author of this wonderful piece, was the priest who married my parents at St Mary's Church Bambalapitiya in 1954. He was Dad's classmate and best buddy, and as a Wedding gift to my Dad he had arranged for Bing Crosby (who was in India at the time) to sing at the wedding, my Dad being a huge fan..Sadly, it was not to be, as Bing Crosby fell ill with diarrhea and could not make it.Noel Crusz gave up the priesthood and became a layman-- and achieved fame as a writer, journalist and broadcaster here and in Australia.

I really don't know if it's something in the air that is making so many people reminisce in the past few days of the "good ole days", as I've been getting so many such emails from folk all over the world, reminiscing about the days gone by!!

They all are so nice to read and, even though I don't consider myself "an ageing Burgher" like this writer does, I still find lights coming on in the cobwebs of my mind when I read all these beautiful articles!

Memories of the old days when we Burghers would never attend a wedding unless we had stockings, hat and gloves.

And yes, we did dress so well--even to the rugby matches at the Havies and CH, when we wore the latest fashions, and it used to be a treat to the guys to arrive early just to watch the parade of all the outfits! Everyone wore their best to church on Sundays, and no one ever travelled overseas if they were not dressed in their elegant best!

Nowadays, when I see people so shabbily dressed all the time-- even to church, I cannot help but shake my head in disgust. People walk out of their homes to rugby matches, church, the cinema etc dressed as if they had just got out of bed, very often. And it is quite a common sight to see people at airports boarding planes in rubber slippers, shorts and even singlets!
And what really makes me mad is seeing female guests at weddings dressed all in black! My word, whatever happened to etiquette and decency?? It has always been a rule that no guest ever wore either black or white to a wedding!

Oh for the days when, as the writer below states, "men wore lounge suits or, at lest long sleeved shirts to the 6 0'clock film show at the Majestic and ladies wore hats and gloves to even song at the DRC church ...."! CAll me oldfashioned, but I would give a lot to go back to those grand old days when people were so very decent and cultured and the way of life here in Colombo was so genteel and altogether so much more "civilised".

Well, we can dream, can't we?

Anne-Marie Kellar, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Nov 2006

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Random Musings of a Senile Mind


“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven” Wordsworth: Preludes

In the Nineteen Forties and early Fifties, Bambalawatte was the centre of the universe. It was where all the meaningful action took place and where the principal actors were mainly Burghers and a group of expatriates drawn from half a dozen nationalities.

This was brought most forcibly to my mind after reading the recent obituaries which appeared in the local press – one to Zoe Jayatilleke by Tita Nathanielsz; the other to David Gladwin Loos , C.C.S.. by Bradman Weerakoon.

The two articles made reference to a host of distantly remembered persons who figured prominently in those halcyon days, persons who were just names to me but spoken of quite frequently by, or were known to, my younger aunts like Beryl and Aileen and older cousins such as Allanson, Rene, Noel and Inez.

Bradman Weerakoon in his appreciation of David Loos brought to mind a dozen or so distinguished young Burgher Civil Servants of that time. While David stood out as the “Adonis” in that constellation there were others equally note-worthy such as Neville Jansz, Anton Mc Heyzer, Donald Speldewinde, Raine Wright and someone whose Christian names alone made an indelible impression on my generation of Government Service collegues as we perused the old “Civil List” – Dirk Philippus Rutgert Paulusz.

In various ways they distinguished themselves during their period in the C.C.S., despite the fact that many left prematurely either to take up more lucrative appointments in the private sector or to seek their fortunes abroad. I am informed that even in today’s war-affected Vavuniya, a portrait of Donald Speldewinde continues to hold pride of place in the Kachcheri, while the MacHeyzer Stadium is still the main venue for sports in Trincomalee.

The persons referred to in the Zoe Jayatilleke obituary included Harry Nightingale, the swimming coach; Greg Roskowski; Rolf Sando Mirsky; Marjorie Sample; Dr. Justin “Dadda” Flamer-Caldera and his brood; Harry and Olga Koch;Stanley and Christobel Livera; ‘Budgie’ Metzeling; the Driebergs and the Felsinger sisters Jean and Miriam. Though not referred to, other names conjured up by association were Yvonne Gulam-Hussain (nee Toussaint); Dr Larry Foenander, Rodney Jonklaas and Trevor Oliver (Tod) Dias.

Associated with the above and what gave Colombo at that time a very cosmopolitan character was Yvonne Bradley, a dance instructress from England; Madame Maryse Fumet, a French cookery expert; Thelma Kai who taught Hawaiian dancing and the Hawaiian guitar; Rupert Wagn, a Dane who taught the piano; Frank Harrison, a ballroom dancing teacher from Australia and Gerd Von Dinklage, a German who was Sri Lanka’s pioneer spear-fisherman.. To these must be added Ms. Marjorie Sample and Mrs. Spencer Shepherd and the two earlier mentioned Poles, Greg Roskowski and Rolf Sando-Mirsky, the latter name also bringing to mind his preferred mode of transport- the Triumph Speed Twin on which he met his untimely death..
The scenes of much of the activities of the above named were the Otters Swimming Club; the B.R.C.., Colts Cricket Club, and the Havelock Rugger Club. Strangely the D.B.U. did not feature in their revels, being much too straight-laced for the likes of the above.

A major influence in fashioning this sub-culture was the newly created Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon, headed by Clifford Dodd and assisted by Livy Wijemanne, Bob Harvey and Norton Pereira. The last of that line of Mohicans, Jimmy Barucha passed away earlier this year, creating a great void in the lives of many people of my vintage. What great pleasure Jimmy gave my aunt Daisy and me in Mutwal every Saturday night with his radio programme “Melodies that Linger”: and his characteristic introduction to each singer – “Now approaching mike- side is………”

But this little microcosm of life could not withstand the political changes that rapidly swept Ceylon from the mid 1950s. Most of the people referred to emigrated to Australia, U.K. or Canada while some of the expatriates returned to their countries of origin. The process for me was completed when we no longer saw “Pinkie” Gerreyn and Johnny Ayscough trawling the streets of Bambalawatte, the former on his Harley-Davidson, the latter in his Standard 8 Tourer.

Like many an ageing Burgher, I bemoan the passing of that happy, innocent era when men wore lounge suits or, at least, long-sleeved shirts and cravats to the 6 o’clock film show at the Majestic and the Savoy and their ladies wore hats and gloves to evensong at the DRC Church, Arethusa Lane, Wellawatte.

But “ tempus fugit “ and all of us have to accept the necessary changes which time must inevitably bring . As Shakespare wrote –

Golden lads and girls all must ,
As chimney sweepers, come to dust.”

Rodney Vandergert

Friday, March 03, 2006


Colombo City Protected Buildings
Mansions of Colombo

Sometime, in the latter part of the 1800’s, Colombo was a green city. Life, then, was simple and leisurely, calm and quiet and peaceful in many ways. There were one horse carriages and rickshaws, drawn by scrawny brown men, plying along the Galle Road in the midst of the Fort that skirted the harbor which opened out to the Indian Ocean on the west.

The name is supposed to be derived from the Sinhalese “Kola” & “Amba” meaning leafy mango tree, a tree with leave only and no fruit. Thus giving KOLAMBA which has evolved into COLOMBO. Another conjecture is that the name may have been derived from the fact that the Moor traders used to bring their boats in down the Kelani river through the KELANITOTA (Kelani Port), which evolved into KOLONTOTA and thereafter KALAMBO. The Portuguese contribution is that the name has links to Columbus.

Streets and edifices have been a significant feature of Colombo from its very early days. One of the most striking buildings, even visible from the sea as reported by the Portuguese was the Colombo Grand Mosque, supposed to have been built by the Arab traders in 1505, located at New Moor Street. All old maps from the Portuguese era show this Mosque very significantly.

Chatham Street, intersected by Queens Street on the west and York Street further east were the main streets that housed both businesses and homes. Prince Street, parallel to Chatham Street ran straight down joining up with Main Street which flowed into the Pettah. The Grand Oriental Hotel, commonly referred to as the GOH, stood magnificent and tall by the port. Today it has been converted to the Hotel Taprobane with all its fineries and modern trappings. Bristol Street stood on York Street with its polished wooden stairway. The Globe Hotel and British India were noted for their watering services to the thirsty and weary. Trees lined all the streets in beautiful cascades of brown and green enveloping the area in splendor.

York Street bordered the eastern wall and moat of the old Dutch Fort. This stretch gave way to the Registrar General’s office, the Bristol Hotel, the National Bank of India, and Victoria Arcade. Later, they too gave way to the more modern structures of concrete that have surfaced today.

Baillie Street, now Mudalige Mawatha, was wedged in between Chatham Street and Prince Street, parallel to both, and serviced the tourists with their needs of trinkets, souvenir’s, tea, Jewellery and gems.

Queen’s House, now referred to as President’s House, stood on Queen Street, bringing back memories of so many memorable days of Portuguese, Dutch and British political rule, power and fisticuffs.

The lighthouse clock tower stood gallantly at the intersection of Chatham Street and Queen Street where it still stands tall to this day in 2005. It was first built in 1857 and its conception and planning was carried out as far back as 1815.

Royal College stood in its old green location past the Fort Railway Station by the lush green plains of that area called Captains Gardens. The Galle Face Green stretched out from the Fort towards the Galle Face Hotel that clung to the western coastline where the land extended towards the south of the island.

The Beira Lake boasted of an opulence of inland water that stood right in the center of the city of Colombo running its rivulets to various parts of the city in streams and canals. The lake was named “Beira” to commemorate the name of the Dutch Engineer Johann de Beira in AD 1700, who constructed the mouth and water defences of the Dutch Fort. The lake, a long established part of Colombo, was originally an extensive “reach of flood water” from the Kelani River. It was originally called Lagoon by the Portuguese and was filled with alligators and crocodiles, thus giving the name Kayman’s Gate for a nearby street.

The military barracks, referred to as Echelon Square now, stood towards the Galle Face. St. Josephs College, the premier Roman Catholic educational institution in the city, lay more eastwards from the lake, amidst tall palms and beautiful flowering trees.

The Victoria Park, referred to now as the Vihara Maha Devi Park, stood sprawling in its lush green and vegetaion in Cinnamon Gardens.

The main towns of Colombo where people mingled and action permeated daily life were, the Fort, Pettah, Hultsdorf, and Mutuwal in the north.

It was on the 3rd of Sep 1802 that the last Dutch Governor of Colombo, van Angelbeck, killed himself for having capitulated to the British. He was buried next to his wife, Vrouw Angelbeck’s coffin in the crumbling Chapel that was used to bury eminent Dutch persons. Others who were buried there were Hertenberg, Vreeland, Van Eck, & Falk.

Angelbecks niece, Jacomina Gertrude, daughter of Van der Graaf and wife of Hon George Melville Leslie (an English Civil Servant), was his only heir. She inherited the massive mansion, Queens House (named after Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne) then and is called President House now, and the largest and most opulent in the Fort at that time. However, she was compelled to sell the house to the Government for 35,000 Rix Dollars on account of monies owed to the state by her husband who was the Paymaster General and was subject to the shortage of a sum of over 10,000 Pounds to his utter embarrassment. The deed of transfer was confirmed and completed on January 17 1804. The street on which it is located was originally referred to as KingsStreet, then changed to Queen Street and now has now been renamed to Presidents (Janadhipathi Mawatha) Avenue.

The British Raj, who took over colonial power from the Dutch in 1796, appointed John MacDowall of the Madras Service as the administrator of the city of Colombo. He was also the Collector. At that time it was estimated that the city had around 50,000 inhabitants. The Dutch and Portuguese continued to live in their occupied residences in the Pettah while the Sinhalese, Tamils and Moors preferred to live in the suburbs. The Brits too preferred the Fort and divided it into quarters based on its principal roads.

It was towards the end of 1798 that Frederik North arrived and was appointed the fist Civil Governor of Ceylon by the Brits. He brought a handpicked band of civil servants along with him to run the islands administrative affairs. Among them were Eudelin de Jonville and Antony bertolacci, a Frenchman.

One of the most noted of North’s many duties was ‘Christianization’, and towardsthat end an academy was established where the sons of rich Sinhalese, Indians and Europeans studied together. By 1801 there were 170 parish schools in the island and 342,000 native Protestants in addition to greater number of Roman Catholics, a legacy of the Portuguese era of colonialism.

Governor North was succeeded by Sir Thomas Maitland. He preferred to live by the sea at Mount Lavinia, a few kilometers south of the city of Colombo. He was responsible for moving the tombs of the Dutch interred at the Chapel in the Fort to be re-buried at the premises of the Wolfendhaal Church in the Pettah. However, when the coffins were finally moved, under a very impressive military guard and parade of fife and drums, it was General Sir Robert Brownrigg Bart, who was Governor. He was flanked by the Chief Justice, Hon Sir Alexander Johnston and the Puisne Justice, the Hon Mr William Coke.

Colombo, even had its first circulating library in 1801, run by Michael Loghlin, a merchant who had sailed in from Madras. He also ran an auction house. Many other European houses and businesses soon sprang up in the Fort. Many of those who managed these businesses were retired sea captains who found that this was a lucrative opportunity to further their careers. Amongst them were L.D. Bussch, George Steuart, George Boyd, James Steuart, F. B. Montcur, John Pierre Jummeaux, W. C. Gibson and George Winter. There was also an English watchmaker.

The Sinhalese referred to the Pettah as “Pita Kotuwa” meaning “outside the Fort” which was what it really was and is to this day. The Pettah still houses the many wholesale and retail businesses and vendors as it used to before. Although most of the business in Colombo has now been decentralized to the many smaller towns within the Pettah still stands tall as the hub of key business activity. The Central bus station is located in the Pettah and the Fort Railway Station also lies within its perimeter. It is from these two hallowed echelons of public transportation that the thousands of daily workers, tradesmen and ordinary people commute to and from the city. Many famous men of that era used to live in the Pettah. One was Sir Richard Morgan, Queens Advocate, who was born in Prince Street in 1821. Gradually the resident population moved to other localities like Hultsdorp, San Sebastian, Messenger Street, and Dias Place.

The Mudaliyars lived around the Wolfendaal and many of them were housed on Silversmith Street. Udugaha Mudaliya, grandfather of SWRD Bandaranaike, Sir Thomas de Sampayo, and a member of the Legislative Council, James D’ Alwis who was also a well known oriental scholar lived down this street.

The Nattukottai Chettiars, who were descendants of those who had migrated from South India, were mostly involved as money changers, pawn brokers, and Jewellery manufacturers, distributors and retailers. They lived and conducted their businesses in and around New Chetty Street, which was named after them, and further at Grandpass. Queen’s Advocate Selby lived in a mansion called Selby House which latyer went on to become the premises of M/S Heptulabhoy & Co, a flourishing export oriented business run by a Borah merchant who renamd it to Selby Stores.

Mutuwal too became a very fashionable suburb for residency. The Brit Collector of Customs had his home there adjoining the salt lake. The Auditor General, H A Marshall built three large residences, Rock House, Whist Bungalow and Modera House. Rock House was occupied by Sir William Coke, the Chief Justice. The Armitages occupied Modera House and Whist Bungalow was the residence of an English gentleman. Later, Sir Richard Morgan purchased Whist Bungalow on which he spent large sums of money re-decorating and refurbishing it in very lavish fineries. It is said that this extravagance almost reduced him to near bankruptcy at the time of his death and that his ghost does haunt the place ever since.

Other Mutuwal people were C A Lorensz, who later moved to Karlshrue in Borella, near the present Welikada Prison. Also four eminent personnel of the Tamil community, Sir Ponnabmbalam Arunachalam, Sir Muttu Coomaraswamy, and Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan lived in Mutuwal. Arunachalam later moved to Cinnamon Gardens, which eventually became the most fashionable and rich neighborhood within the city of Colombo.

The other towns that sprouted and bloomed and provided decent living for the rich and the famous were Kollupitiya (Colombo 3), Bambalapitiya (Colombo 4), Havelock Town (Colombo 5), and Wellawatte (Colombo 6).

One of the most famous of residence in Colombo 3 was Alfred House owned by Charles de Soysa. Its extensive grounds stretch from the plush residential areas of Bagatelle to School Lane and from Galle Road to Thurstan Road.

The Brits also set up the first botanical garden in Colombo at Kew Road in Slave Island (Colombo 2), after Kew Gardens in England. Slave Island later became to be known as Company Street or Kompanna Vidiya on account of the Rifle Regiment that was atationed there down Rifle Street.

Maradana (Colombo 10), the “Sandy Plains”, grew the best cinnamon of all in Colombo. Today it is one of the most congested parts of the whole city of Colombo.

In 1824, the population of Colombo was 31,188 of which 734 were in the Fort, 4,979 in the Pettah, and 25,475 were located beyond the Pettah. In 1871 the population of Colombo rose to 98,843 and in 1936 to 511,639. Today the city is almost 90 times as dense as it was in 1936 and its area has also expanded from 9.45 square miles in 1881 to 14.32 square miles in 1963. The Greater Colombo area today encompasses almost 38 square miles.

In Rosemead Place, in the Cinnamon Gardens locality, a palatial home called “Tintagel” was bought by the late Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike who lived in it until he was assassinated in 1958. His family continue to live there to date.

The official residence of the Prime Minsiter, “Temple Trees”, down Galle Road at Kollupitiya (Colombo 3), was originally occupied by the Lieutenant Governor, and thereafter, the Colonial Secretary. Other notable structures were the Sravasti in Edinburgh Crescent, Mackinnon House which is now the Central Hospital, Torrington House, property of W H Figg of Whittal & Co which was then occupied by the Governor Sir Herbert Stanley when Queens House was under maintenance.

Several large business houses were established in and around the Fort of which many have now passed on to Sri Lankan ownership. Some of them are noted below with their year of establishment:-

A Baur & Co – 1897
Aitken Spence & Co – 1873
Alston Scott & Co – 1848
Bartleet & Co – 1904
Belmont Mills – 1835 (later became the BCC)
Bois Brothers – 1910 (later part of Shaw Wallace & Hedges)
Bosanquet & C0 – 1881
Brodie Brogue & Co – 1846
Brodie & Co – 1867
Cargills Ltd – 1850
Carson & Co – 1871 (later (Carson Cumberbatch & Co)
Charles P Hayley & Co – 1878 (later Hayleys Ltd)
Colombo Commercial Co – 1876
Crosfield Lampard & Co – 1901 (klater Harrisons & Crosfield)
C W Mackie & Co – 1907
Darley Butler & Co – 1848
Delmege Forsyth & Co – 1892
E B Creasy & Co – 1882
Edward Cahill
E John & Co – 1876 (later amalgamated with John Keel Thompson White)
Freudenberg & Co 1896
Gordon Fraser & Co – 1895
Henderson & Co – 1903
Hunter & Co
H W Cave – 1876
J M Robertson – 1848 (later amalgamated with George Steuarts)
Leechman & Co – 1866 (later controlled by Carson Cumberbatch & Co)
Lee Hedges Ltd – 1864 (later amalgamated with Shaw Wallace)
Lewis Brown & Co – 1876
Louis Siedle
Liptons – 1890
J H vavasseur & Co
James Finlay & Co – 1890
Mackwood & Co
Miller & Co (Millers Ltd)
Sommerville & Co – 1878
The Colombo Apothecaries – 1892
Volkart Brothers – 1857 (later Volanka Ltd)
Walker Brothers – 1854
Whiteway Ladlaw & Co
Whittal & Co – 1880 (later Whittal Boustead)
Forbes & Walker

Ceylon Moor/Malay Businesses -
Moor Business Houses at Main Street, Pettah -

“COLOMBO” by Carl Muller (Penguin 1995)

1870 CEYLON – Extracted from the Ferguson’s Directory 1871-72

Population 2,128,884
Military, 2,116
Births, 63,111
Marriages, 17,150
Deaths, 40,230
Schools, 978,
Scholars, 41,490

Theodore Kramer, Empire of Germany and The King of The Netherlands in Colombo
J H Armitage, Italian & Belgian Consl in Colombo
H C Buchanon, Sweden & Norway
M Hassan Lebbe Marikar, Consul for Turkey in Colombo
G W Presscott, Commercial Agent for the USA in Colombo
M Brusola, Spanish Consul in Galle
Mons Auber, French Consul at Galle
J L Vanderspar, German Consul at Galle
H R Vanderspar, Netherland Consul nat Galle
J M Vanderspar, Belgian Consul at Galle
G S Gilkison, Vice Commercial Agent for the USA in Galle


Alstons, Scott & Company – E H Lawder
Anthony Appoo, Native Practitioner, Pettah
D S Carolis Appoo, Native Practitioner, Colpetty, Colombo 3
Armitage Brothers – J S Armitage
Bell & Company, J R, J R Bell, Tomas Wilson, A J Bell
Brighton Hotel, Hospital Square
Britton, Aitken & Company – E C Britton, E Aitken, T Clarke, T G Spence, Clake, Spence & Co, Galle

Brodie, W C & Company – W C Brodie, James Brodie, Grant Brodie & Co, London
Cargill & Company, D S Cargill, John Kydd, W Hamiltn, J Robertson, J W Buchanan, R Reid, Andrew McGile, P C de Kretser, M Perera

Carson & Company – R B Carson, Thomas Wright, G B Waddington

Ceylon Cold Stores Limited, Kompannavidiya, Slave Island, Col,ombo 2
Ceylon Company Ltd., - L J Mercer, C Bischoff, C W Horsfall, W Armstrong, G Hathorne
Chands, Chatham Street, Colombo 1

Christoffelsz & Company, Book Agents, Fort
Cowasjie Eduljie, Bombay Native Insurance Co
Crowe & Company, A & R, - Alex & Robert Crowe
Darley Butler & Company, - Samuel Butler, W W Mitchell, J M Macmartin
Dawson, Robert, - Robert Dawson
De Breard, C E, - C E De Breard
De Soysa, C H – C H De Soysa

Diana & Company, Chatham Street, Colombo 1
Duncan, Symonds & Company, - John Duncan, Charles Hood Symons
Durham, Grindrod & Company
Fonseka, F, Printer, Fort
Fowlie, Richmond & Company
Framjee Bikhajee & Company
Fryer, Schultze & Company
Galle Face Hotel, G Hawkins Manager
Gomes, B, Jeweler, Fort
J J Gomez, Native Practitioner
Green & Company, J P
John E Jones, Keppel & Company
Lee, Hedges & Company
Leechman & Company
Leechman, G & W
Mackwoods & Company

Cass Markar & Company, Chatham Street, Colombo 1
Miller & Company, W C Miller & James Smith, A C Ambrose & P Jansz, Assistants
Muller & Phipps

Nicholls, George & Company, George Nicholls, Hugh McGregor, J W Bone, R H S Higerty, Ms Higerty, J A Jansz, R W Herft, F Decker, B Janse, C J Anthopulle, V G Neydorff, P J P Mannesinghe

Nanking Chinese Restaurant, Chatham Street, Colombo 1
Nectar Café, Baillie Street (Mudalige Mawatha), Colombo 1
Nanking Chinese Restaurant, Chatham Street, Colombo 1
Nectar Café, Baillie Street (Mudalige Mawatha), Colombo 1
Noor Hameems Jewellers, Chatham Street, Colombo 1Pagoda Restaurant, Chatham Street, Colombo 1 (Rodrigo Restaurants)

Noor Hameems Jewellers, Chatham Street, Colombo 1Pagoda Restaurant, Chatham Street, Colombo 1 (Rodrigo Restaurants)
Parke Brothers, Photographers, San Sebastian
Peterson, E H, Printer & Stationer, Fort
Pieris, Jeronis
Pinto, B, Shopkeeper, Pettah
Robertson & Company, J M
Robinson & Dunlop
Rogers & Company
Royal Hotel, A Andree Lessee, J Fonseka, Manager, Fort
Royal Hotel, Chatrham Street, Fort, A Fernando, Dubash, Prop
Rudd Brothers
Sabonadiere, F R
Saunders, H S
Shand & Company, C
Skeen & Company, W L H
Steuart & Co, George (1835-date)
Strachan & Company, J I
Travellers Rest, Norris Road, Pettah, W Doyle
Thomson G Gibson & Company
Volkart Brothers
Wall & Company, George
Young & Company, W M, W M young, P W Allsup, J C Wheeler, H Ludlow, C Wyllie, S V Sansoni, J R Whitfield, Fort, Colombo

Ziard & Company, MCM, Chatham Street, Colombo 1


Bank of Ceylon
Bank of Credit & Commerce International
Bank of Madras, Baillie Street, Agent A Riach
Chartered Bank of India, Australia & China, Agents, Alstons, Scott & Co
Chartered Mercantile Bank of India, London & China, Queen Street, Manager James RobertsonComptoir D’ Escompte De Paris, Agents, George Steuart & CoCoutts & Company, Agents, George Steuart & Co
Eastern Bank
Hatton National National Bank
Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corporation
Indian Bank Ltd
Indian Overseas Bank
London Chartered Bank of Australia, Agents M/S A R Crowe & Co
London & Westminister Bank, Agents, George Steuart & Co
Mercantile Bank Ltd.
National & Grindlays Bank
Oriental Bank, Queen & Baillie Street, Manager, R V Dunlop

Peoples Bank

The National Bank of India Limited, Agents, Armitage Brothers

A L Lebbena Marikar
A L Sesma Lebbe Marikar
Ahmadoe Lebbe Marikar Meera Lebbe Marikar
Ahmadoe Lebbe Tamby
Arasi Markar Mohamedu Lebbe Marikar
Assen Lebbe Shamsudeen
Avoo Lebbe Marikar Sinne Lebbe
Bawa Saibu
C M Avoo Lebbe Marikar
Casie Lebbe Ahmedu Alie Marikar
Casie Lebbe Markar Dorey
Casie Lebbe Periya Thamby
F Lebbe Sinne Lebbe Marikar
H O L Avoo Lebbe Marikar
J L Assena Marikar
J L Ibrahim Lebbe
J L Idroos Lebbe Marikar
J L Mohammedo Lebbe Marikar
J L Uduman Kany
J Lebbe Tamby
K O L Seygu Lebbe
Kader Kandu Casie Lebbe Marikar
Kader Saibu Naina Marikar
Kassie Lebbe Noordeen
Katoe Bawa Madana Marikar
Kunjee Marikar Colanda Marikar
Lebbe Tamby Marikar Idroos Lebbe
M A Abdul Cader
M C Abdul Rahman
M C Mohamedo Usoof
M L Samsudeen Marikar
M L M Slema Lebbe
M L Rasa Marikar
M T Assen Lebbe
Mohammedu Lebbe Lebbe Kandu Marikar
N M Uduma Lebbe Marikar
Naina Lebbe Kasim Bawa
Naina Lebbe Mohamedu Tamby
Nesma Lebbe Tamby
O L Uduma Lebbe Marikar
Ossen Lebbe Abdul Kandu Lebbe Marikar (late No 42), Consul for the Sublime Port
P T Ahmadu Lebbe Marikar
P T Colanda Marikar (Stamp Vendor)
P T Sinna Lebbe Marikar
Periya Tamby Abdul Karim
S L Junis Lebbe
S L Maamuna Lebbe
S L Wapu Marikar
S Meera Lebbe Marikar
S S S Abbaas
S T Sray Lebbe Marikar
Saibo Ismail Lebbe Hadjiar
Saigu Saibu Meera Lebbe Marikar
Segoe Kandu Hadjie Marikar
Segoe Paridu Ismail Lebbe Marikar
Segu Paridu Pakeer Bawa
Seka Lebbe Casie Lebbe Marikar
Seka Lebbe Wapoo Marikar
Sesma Lebbe Avoo Lebbe Marikar
Seyadu Meera Lebbe Ismail Lebbe Marikar
Seyadu Sinna Koya Mavulana
Sinna Lebbe Pakeer Bawa
Sinna Lebbe Saibu
Sinna Lebbe Sesma Lebbe
Sinna Meera Marikar Tamby
Sinna Tamby Lebbena Marikar
Tamby Marikar Idroos Lebbe Marikar
Tamby Rasa Ahamadu Lebbe Marikar
U N Meera Lebbe Marikar
Uduma Lebbe Wapu Lebbe
Uduma Lebbe Marikar Sultan Marikar
Wapitchy Assen Tamby

CEYLON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, Established 25 March 1839
Chairman: L J Mercer
Treasurer: G B Leechman
Hon Secretary: Fred W Bois
Committee: L J Mercer, F Newman, T Kramer, W Donnan, J Duncan

Observer – Fist newspaper independent of Government Est 1834, Tri Weekly published at No 17 Baillie Street, Fort, Colombo – A M Ferguson, Jno Ferguson, H T Gardiner, J M Kardie (Chief Clerk), J Hioler (Head Printer)
Times – Est 1846, Bi Weekly – J Capper, R B Caspersz (Chief Clerk), T De Leema (Head Printer)
Examiner, Est 1846, Bi Weekly, C M Lorensz, L Ludovici, F Beven, G F Arndt (Head Clerk), C D’Silva (Head Printer)
Government Gazette, Weekly, W Skee, W H Herbert
Catholic Messenger, Weekly – C A Pavey, Printer
Morning Star (Tamil & English), Weekly – Strong & Asbury Johnpulle
Jaffna Freeman (English), Weekly, Strong & Asbury Johnpulle
Jaffna News (English), Weekly, Strong & Asbury Johnpulle
Jaffna Patriot (English), Weekly, Strong & Asbury Johnpulle
Lakrivikirana (Sinhalese), Weekly, W P Ranasinghe, D C Weerakkody
Nyanartha Pradeepaya (Sinhalese), Weekly, Don Benedict
Church Missionary Record, Quarterly, Church Missionaries
Friend (English), Monthly, Wesleyan Missionaries
Wesleyan Intelligencer, Monthly, Wesleyan Missionaries
Childrens Lamp (Sinhalese), Monthly, Rev D de Silva, Christian Vernacular Educational Society
The Christian Friend (Tamil), Quarterly, American Missionaries, Jaffna

J Barry, MD, Assistant Surgeon
M L Bartholomeusz, Assistant Surgeon
W P Charsley, CMO
J D M Coghill, MD, Supt of Convict Est
S de Aserappa, MD
M Ferguson, Surgeon
J Garvin
T Gill
J Gregory
W G Keith
A R Kilroy
A Kirwan
E L Koch, LMS
J Loos, MD
J W Margenout
J Maitland & Co, Medical Hall
G B Mowat, MD
J Nugera
O Halloran Brothers, Apothecaries
J Thwaites, MD
W G Trousdell, MD
W G Van Dort, MDCM, Borella Lunatic Asylum
W J Van Geyzel
J Wright

Coroner, Colombo: F C Willisford

Street names: On the street where you live, lived a villain called Vystwyke
by S. Pathiravitana
Sunday Observer May 28 2006

Street names do have something about them. Witness what happened when some people tried to change the name of Dickman's Road. The residents of this semi fashionable quarter protested vehemently about the proposed change.

Anyway, who was Dickman and what was he? Very probably even the oldest residents may not know who he was and on what precise grounds he was honoured by having a busy road named after him. Well, if it was not sentiment that moved the residents, probably it was the land value, which was feared may drop precipitately with a change of name, any name for that matter

Hero or villain

For whatever the reason, people don't seem to like to get up one fine morning and find that they are living in the wrong street. And whatever the name and the heroics of the person being commemorated, the fact remains that you have developed some sort of attachment to the old place where you lived.

If I was born in Arbuthnot Street, for instance, which was in Colombo 8 and has now disappeared from the A - Z street guides, I would have preferred to remain an Arbuthnot-ite simply because of its outlandish nomenclature and the distinction you earn by wearing a name like that.

And however strange my preferences are there will always be some one to oppose and be at each other's throats when some change is made as I can see from what is happening in Galpotta Road where I once was a Galpot-ite.

I have no particular grievances with the name Galpotta, though there is nothing spectacular in its landscape to illuminate either its Gal or its potta. But to see that the name of a distinguished son of Kotte had replaced the romantic name of Galpotta must have come as a surprise to many.
I am merely recording this incident just to indicate what I said at the beginning of this piece that street names do matter to some people who have to live in those areas. But I also see that some seem indifferent to street names. I used to wonder how a street in Wellawatte has come to acquire the name of Pennyquick. Who or what was Pennyquick?

I have a faint recollection that was not how the name was once spelt when I read it first. In fact I stumbled over the spelling when I saw it, for it went something like this Penecuick Road which left me baffled. The spelling, I suspected, was like Welsh or Gaelic not English.

It is unlikely that anybody remembers either the different spellings or the history of this name, but I would like to hear something more about it from some knowledgeable source.

Another street name that has baffled me is Vystwyke Road in Colombo 15. At least about this street name I have been able to get some information. Vystwyke when he landed in Ceylon during the Dutch occupation as a Governor is said to have worn an eye patch over his right eye and boastfully said that a single eye was enough to govern a small country like Ceylon.

He was the man I found who got the Aluthmawatha Road built, quite a long road at that and qualifying to be among the longest roads in Colombo.

There was a problem getting stones to pave the new road because there was no road to bring cartloads of stones along. He then decided to bring down the stones from the Fort by passing them from hand to hand. The road was built for his convenience, it is said, so that it would enable him to get a grand view of the Colombo harbour from a little hill called Buona Vista.

He was a cruel ruler all in all. He wanted to take over a house occupied by a Lieutenant in his army because the man slighted him. He first killed the lieutenant and not content with that killed the owner of the house too.

Then he got the house that was vacated razed to the ground and erected a pillar with an inscription reminding people of the fate that would befall whoever opposed him.

When justice finally overtook Vystwyke, that's how the Dutch spell his name by the way, the pillar was removed and the land given back to the family of the owner of the house.

When the new house came up, which may be there even today close to the present Indian bank down Baillie Street, a plaque was placed on its wall with words in Dutch. Its English translation reads 'Destroyed by might/Restored by right'.

Vystwyke's legacy

What finally happened to Vystwyke was that he got the justice that people dream of for such monsters. His cruelties were reported to the headquarters in Batavia where the authorities decided to summon him.

There is no record of whether a trial was held but the punishment is on record: "He was recalled and sentenced to be broken alive on the wheel, his body to be quartered, and the quarters to be burned upon a pile, and the ashes thrown into the sea."

To come to the more pleasant activities of the Dutch, they were very interested in making their surroundings beautiful and pleasing. At the back of their minds was to make Colombo somewhat like their towns back home.

One way was to plant trees alongside the roads to provide both shade and colour. Laws were passed prohibiting the lopping and cutting of branches of these trees. A visitor to the Island at this period, Christop Schweitzer, has this to say about the Colombo Fort which was referred to by the Dutch as the Castle: "Within the Castle there are many pretty walks of nut trees set in an uniform order, but they bear no fruit, only red and white flowers; the streets are pleasant walks themselves, having trees on both sides and before the houses."

The Castle was well defended. There were about a dozen bastions put up to deal with any invasions from either land or sea. All that is left of them today are a few Dutch names like Delft and Leyden, San Sebastian, and St. John's Street.

The Dutch also made use of canals if not to beautify the place at least to help them in their transportation and in the long run it helped both. If you take a look at a road map of Colombo today you may see the canals running like slim, light blue ribbons from Grandpass to Dehiwala bypassing on their way San Sebastian and Diyawannawa in Kotte.

The canals may have contained purer water then than what we have today because picnics were organised at a place the Dutch called Paradise.

The spot is just opposite the junction of Silversmith Street and Sri Sangaraja Mawatha. And here, holiday-makers relaxed by bathing in the canals.

The name Paradise Road continued to point to this place even into our times. My curiosity took me down this road once to see what Paradise looked like and was I disappointed. It was now an open marsh with clothes hanging out for drying. Obviously washer men had taken over the place.

The Dutch seemed to have taken a greater interest in the Beira lake than the British. The network of canals they built may have been dependant on the Beira too. Adjoining the old Secretariat at Galle Face there is a circular spillway built in the Beira in the shape of a basin.

Beira blueprint

This may have been to maintain the level of water in the Beira Lake so that the network of canals linked to the lake may retain a certain balance of water. A memorial stone has been found on the side of the Beira close to the Fort Railway Station carrying an inscription in the following form:

De Beer, A. D. 1700 said to be the name of the Dutch engineer connected with the work on the Beira Lake.

Some of the street names given by the Dutch describe something of significance to the place. Bloemendhal Road, for instance, meant 'a vale of flowers' not very far from where Paradise was.

This part of Colombo seems to have combined business with recreation.

Close to Grandpass the Dutch used to grow flowers and the place was named Orta fula, flower garden, and got called Malwatta in Sinhala. They also tried their hand at making silk, Orta sela, a silk garden, and experimented with silkworms that had been brought down from Japan by the Portuguese. From the silk came the name Sedawatta.

Kotahena is said to have got its name from the kottan trees that grew close to the sea. The Portuguese called it Kottanchina. The Dutch called it Korteboam meaning short trees because they found that the spray from the sea close by had hindered the growth of the trees. And the British are said to have anglicised it into Cotton China.

But people seem to have mercifully ignored that and it has failed to stick. Street names around Hulftsdorf, meaning the 'village of Hulft' named after the Dutch General Hulft (who lost his life in the siege of 1656) seem to have been named after the trees planted around here like Masan gas and Damba or Jambu. They have been anglicised into Messenger Street and Dam Street today.
Having come to the end of my story I still like to know why we wish to have the name of a notorious villain like Vystwyke perpetuated. Do we really care about street names, or is it that we just don't care what name it is as long as our vanities are not hurt?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Galle Road

Musings on the 100 year-old Galle Road

At the tail end of the 19th century foreigners entering Ceylon entered the country not from Colombo but from what was known as Point de Galle. The Colombo port then was not too safe a place to anchor a ship. Until the breakwaters that came up at the end of that century to make the Colombo port a safe haven for ships, it was Point de Galle or Galle, as we know it today, that was the point of entry. But why was it called Point de Galle?

An American traveller, Henry Heusken, who was on his way to assume office as the first secretary to the pioneer US legation in Japan, gives an answer. He says that when the audacious Vasco de Gama ‘went ashore with a handful of men he saw the smooth beach of the Spice Island. Setting foot aground he heard the familiar crowing of a great many roosters and for that reason he called it Punto di Galle, Roosters’ Point.’So the Roosters’ Point was then as attractive a place as the city of Colombo. It has a ‘lovely little bay surrounded by coconut groves and in the distance high mountains appear with the famous Adam’s Peak from which according to tradition, that venerable father - others say it was the God Buddha - betook himself in one single stride into the kingdom of Siam. The inhabitants will still show you his footprint, five times longer than that of an ordinary foot.’Since Galle was an arrival and departure centre, travelling to and from it on land was quite adventurous.

It so happened that one of the pioneer Protestant missionaries working in Jaffna had to visit Galle to meet two other missionaries who were arriving by ship to Galle. It took him two weeks on foot to do the near 300 mile journey from Jaffna to Galle. But as ill luck would have it they did not turn up. It was a costly misadventure. As the readily available transport system in the early 19th century was the palanquin, Samuel Newell, the missionary, employed fourteen men for the journey from Jaffna. Disappointed but not defeated he dismissed his palanquin team retaining four men to carry the palanquin and rode in it to Colombo which took him three days. There were rest houses those days, but they were more like ambalamas. You could rest in those places but you had to prepare your own food. Newell does not record what he saw on this journey nor could he, preoccupied as he may have been with his problem, have had time to appreciate the beauties of nature as other travellers who described the Galle - Colombo run as a near paradisiacal beauty.

Half a century later another visitor to Ceylon who, this time, rode in a stage coach from Galle said, ‘The drive to Colombo is the most delightful it has been my good fortune to take. For seventy two miles the road runs along the sea coast, bounded on either side by the finest coconut trees that form an avenue which partially protects the vehicle from the sun, the whole distance. ‘The roar of the Indian Ocean is heard, as it breaks monstrously on the shore; and occasional glimpses are caught, and vistas of the surrounding country, while towering aloft in the distances stands Adam’s Peak - a mountain that has for ages been the object of veneration to thousands of pilgrims from every part of India and Ceylon...On every side Nature seemed teeming with life and motion.’ But the coach itself, he said, which was clumsy and heavy and rather harsh on the horses would not past muster in America.More ecstatic praise of the road to Colombo from Galle comes in 1879 from a round the world traveller from America. “Future travellers will soon miss one of the rarest treats in Ceylon. The railway will soon be completed from Colombo to Galle, and the days of coaching will cease forever. We congratulate ourselves our visit was before this passed away, as we know of no drive equal to that we have now enjoyed twice, and the last time even more than the first...There is no prettier sea shore in the world, nor a more beautiful surf.’ This is Andrew Carnegie, the multi millionaire who laid the foundations for the industrial might of America. All that I knew about Ceylon, he says, is a line from that hymn written by Bishop Heber about the spicy breezes blowing soft over Ceylon’s isle. Now that is not really true. For a foreigner, and an American at that, what he knew about Ceylon before he came here is truly amazing. I do not think that even the most erudite Ceylonese of that time knew as much about Ceylon’s social, economic, religious background as much as he did.

Incidentally, most Christians in the English-speaking world had heard about Ceylon for the first time when they sang Bishop Heber’s hymn in church. The hymn is not at all complimentary to us and I would like to reproduce the two verses though it may offend most Sri Lankans:What though the spicy breezesBlow soft over Ceylon’s isleThough every prospect pleasesAnd only man is vile!In vain with lavish kindness,The gifts of God are strewn;The heathen, in his blindness,Bows down to wood and stoneCarnegie recited these verses to the Ceylonese guide who accompanied him and asked him what he thought of them. The guide promptly replied that the man who wrote it was a damn fool. He also asked Carnegie if any one in his country really believed that the ‘heathens’ bow down to stone and wood when there was a supra being above. Carnegie said that he himself believed as many others did and ‘little girls and boys collected pennies to give the missionaries to go and tell the heathens how wrong and foolish it was to bow down to wood and stone and how angry God is to have anything worshipped but himself.’To soothe the injured feelings of his guide Carnegie explained that Bishop Heber was only using poetic licence to express himself, but the guide insisted that ‘Bishop Heber had wronged his beloved Ceylon and did not know what he was writing about.’It is said about Carnegie that he was a self-educated man. In the process of educating himself he seems to have read very, very widely. He understood quite well that there was no difference between an idol and a cross because both of them, he said, were only symbols of an invisible power.

Being a well-read man he also knew quite a lot about Buddhism, not only about its philosophy but also its importance socially to the Buddhists of Ceylon. He knew that, “One condition of the cession of the sovereignty to Great Britain was that this religion should be held inviolable with its rights and privileges, its monasteries and temples and all pertaining thereto. In the language of the greatest European authority, although government support is no longer given to it, its pure and simple doctrines live in the hearts of its people.”He was also very knowledgeable and knew that European rule had wiped out the estimable local government system that prevailed in this country. The British restored it in 1871 “ and the people are not yet done rejoicing at the restoration of their village institutions.”

And here follows some valid advice for our modern politicians - “It will not do to conclude, as many do, that India and Ceylon and others of the eastern lands, are left almost bare of just laws and fair administration, for nothing could be further than the truth. The village elders chosen by the people of Ceylon, for instance, administer laws, which are the growth of centuries, and as such are far better adapted to the real conditions which exist than any other system of laws, no matter how perfect.”

Directing his attention to the geological features of this country, Andrew Carnegie has something very revealing to say. Here is the man, described by the Americans as their king of steel and a captain of industry, expressing his views on a little known subject relating to our natural resources. “Iron ore exists in Ceylon in vast deposits and is remarkably pure, rivalling the best Swedish grade. It has been worked from remote times, and native articles of iron are preferred even today to any that can be is not beyond the range of possibility that some day Britain may import some of this unrivalled stone for special uses. There are also quicksilver mines and lead, tin and manganese are found to some extent.” These items were, of course, known to the Sinhala engineers in the days of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.When John Davy travelled round our country in the early 19th century he witnessed the processing of iron ore by our blacksmiths.

He also noticed that they knew how to make steel but did not reveal to him the know-how and the names of the ‘vegetable’ ingredients used in the process. That they had mastered the subject of metallurgy is shown by the skill they displayed in making firearms. The Portuguese did not teach them that, but the fact that the arms they produced and the gun powder they made were far superior has been admitted by Portuguese historians.

Written By: S. Pathiravitana
Weekend Standard Newspaper - Mar 11 2006