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?

1 comment:

Faz said...

Received from Florence Anandappa in Canada:-

Hi Fazil,

I was looking up 'Anandappa' on MSN and came across your write-up.

It was great reading and thought I should let you know. I didn't grow up in Colombo (my father was a
Gall Chetty {Alles} and my mother hailed from Kandy (Marasinghe) but I was married to Ronnie Anandappa.
I grew up everywhere - moved constantly - boarding schools etc., since my father was a civil engineer working
on roads and bridges and light-houses all over Ceylon. My mother had died soon after I was born.

I came to Canada in 1968 but miss the old country and my folks who still live there.

Keep up the good works!

Florence Anandappa (nee Alles)
Aug 11 2006