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Frederick Dornhorst, K.C. Eloquent Saviour of Royal College



“All Royalists of the present generation should specially remember two great Royalists, whose defense of the College in its darkest days saved Royal. They are Sir Richard Morgan (1851) and Frederick Dornhorst, K.C. (1916)”

S.S. Perera ‘History of Royal College’

by Senaka Weeraratne

Named after one of the schools’ greatest sons for his remarkable oratory and highly persuasive speech delivered at a Royal College Prize Giving (1916), that led to the abandonment of a proposal to replace Royal College in favour of a University College, the Dornhorst Memorial Prize has shone as the most coveted Prize awarded to the most outstanding student during the year at the Annual Royal College Prize Giving held under the patronage of the Chief Administrator of the Country (Governor or Chief Secretary in the absence of the Governor) during the colonial era or the head of the State in the post – independence period.

Frederick Schultz Dornhorst, KC, enjoys an iconic status in school history and is widely regarded as the ‘Great Spokesman of Royal College’ like Sir Richard Morgan before him, for the championship of his Alma Mater, when there were moves at the highest level of Government to abolish the institution and replace it with a university. His memorable speech at the school Prize Giving on August 10, 1916 moved the Chief Guest, the then newly appointed Governor, Sir John Anderson, to assure the gathering that he was not unsympathetic to the views expressed both by Dornhorst and Charles Hartley (Principal), in favour of the continuation of Royal College as in the past, and added that it was not fair for Royal College to be reduced to the size of a finishing school for only a few boys.

The eloquent speech of Dornhorst had ripple effect in the corridors of power leading to Royal College being spared from abolition. Instead it was shifted from its then premises at Thurstan Road to Reid Avenue (previously called Serpentine Road) in 1923 and consequently the newly established Ceylon University College took over the buildings left behind at Thurstan Road.

Dornhorst Memorial Prize

The Dornhorst Memorial Prize for the most outstanding student was commenced in 1930 and has always been considered as the pride of Royal College prizes and the equivalent of the prestigious Victoria Gold Medal of St.Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, Ryde Gold Medal of Trinity College, Kandy and Fritz Kunz Memorial Trophy for the most Outstanding Anandian.

In his last Will, Dornhorst, who died in 1926, made provision for an endowment of a prize. It is this endowment which provides the funds for the Dornhorst Memorial Prize.

The important criteria for selection for this high honour are the display of outstanding qualities of leadership, discipline, respectability, a good personality, high achievement in academic studies and sports, and close personal involvement in and selfless voluntary contributions to the welfare of others in society via Clubs and Societies and other College activities. Mere popularity alone will not suffice for this Award.

In 1994, the Lalith Athulathmudali Memorial Award for the Most Outstanding Royalist was inaugurated and in turn the Dornhorst Memorial Prize was re-designed to be the Prize for the most popular student, to be awarded on the basis of winning the highest number of votes from an electoral base comprising teachers, students ,Prefects all of the Upper School, and the Principal.

This Dornhorst award should not be confused with the Turnour Prize the oldest prize in the school which had been awarded since 1846 and the Lalith Athulathmudali Memorial Prize awarded to the most outstanding Royalist of the year since 1994

Notable Prize Winners

The Dornhorst Prize winners in the pre- independence period were:

*F.C. de Saram (1930)

*B.A.Kuruppu (1931)


*D.C.T.Pate (1933)

*R.S.Cooke (1934)

*P.G.B. Keuneman (1935) – leader of the Communist Party, former President of the Cambridge Union(1939) and Minister of Housing and Construction( 1970 -1971)

*F.H.De Saram (1936)

*M.Sivanathan (1937)

*A.E.Keuneman (1938)

*B.Mahadeva (1939) – reputed International Civil Servant

*B.St.E.De Bruin (1940)

*Neville Kanakeratne (1941) – former Ambassador to UN

*S.G.Salgado (1942)

*C.G. Weeramantry (1943) – former Judge of the International Court of Justice

*Lakshman Wickremasinghe (1944) – former Bishop of Kurunegala

*L.C. Arulpragasam (1945)

*Upali Amerasinghe (1946)

*Nihal Silva (1947)

*Tony Anghie (1948)

Biographical sketch

Frederick Dornhorst (1849- 1926) was one of Ceylon’s brilliant lawyers who though failing to win a Prize at the Colombo Academy, was able to shine at the Bar. He was on the staff of the Colombo Academy from 1868 to 1873. He was born on April 26, 1849 in Trincomalee and passed out as a lawyer in 1874. He was called to the English Bar in 1902. He was sworn in as a King’s Counsel in Ceylon in 1903 with Ponnambalam Ramanathan  and Thomas De Sampayo the first “silks” of the Bar of Ceylon.

In his day he was known as the “lion of the Ceylon bar’. He declined several offers for high judicial appointments. Frederick Dornhorst will be remembered as having fought and defeated Thomas Norton, ‘the lion of the Madras bar’ over the Jeronis Pieris Will Case in 1903, the second being for the prosecution in the Dixon Attygalle murder case of December 1906 (when his brother-in-law John Kotelawala, father of Sir John, was involved—he was to die on April 20, 1907 by committing suicide in prison) and the third in connection with the Pedris shooting incident during the height of the Sinhala-Muslim Martial Law riots in 1915.

Family History

His grandfather, the founder of his family in Ceylon, was known as John Christian Dornhorst. He was of German origin. He is said to have come to Ceylon from Germany in 1791 and gained employment in the Dutch Service. He was afterwards employed under the English in the Naval Stores or Dockyard as a Gunner in the Artillery and died in 1828 at the age of 65 years.

Frederick Dornhorst was the youngest in a family of nine. His father, Frederik Dornhorst (1803-1854) was a Notary and had worked for a long time as the Secretary of the District Court of Trincomalee. He lost his father when he was five years old. The family fell on hard times. In 1856 when he was seven years old his mother had decided to shift residence and left Trincomalee to come to Colombo. Dornhorst had his early education at St. Thomas’ and Royal (then known as the Colombo Academy) and at the Training College. He entered the Colombo Academy in 1861, when Dr. Barcroft Boake was the Principal.

Frederick Dornhorst himself had eight children. In a remarkable document entitled “To My Children” written around 1887 -1888, Dornhorst has left a short account of his life with the primary purpose of awakening in his children a desire to live respectably and maintain their name unsullied.

He says:

“You see my children that you have reason to be proud of your descent, and although your success in life and your social position will depend upon your individual character and although I should not like, to foster in you the pride of family, still I would like you to know that I have always been taught to lay stress upon respectability. While not despising others of low parentage you must make it your endeavour to live worthy of those from whom you are descended. Be select in the friends you keep, but be more select in the marriages you contract. Don’t marry beneath your station, and if possible, don’t do your children the injustice of being ashamed of their parents. There is a growing tendency in our midst to deprive the respectable Burghers of their undoubted social position. It will depend upon you and others of your generation as to how far that tendency will be encouraged. When the time comes for you to settle down in life, choose your spouses from families having something more to boast of than wealth or only social position. I would rather that your future partners were poor and of good birth than that they were rich but of doubtful parentage. Don’t misunderstand me. The pride of birth without individual character will be an offence and a stumbling block. But only remember that good birth to one who has attained a good social position is and will always be an inestimable advantage. Don’t despise those who have worked themselves up to a high social level, because they have no mound of ancestry to stand upon. But at the same time while you mix freely with them in society you should avoid mingling your blood indiscriminately. Especially do I address my daughter now, for remember a man raises the woman, no matter who she may be, to his level, but a woman sinks down to her husband’s position, if she marries beneath her.” (Jepharis ‘Frederick Dornhorst’ Journal of the Dutch Burgher Union of Ceylon, Vol. LXV January – December 1991 Nos. 1-4, page 12)

The above paragraph provides an insight into the thinking of people of eminence of that era in the last quarter of the 19th Century, and though much of it would seem out of date today, the insistence on living a respectable life and keeping one’s reputation unsullied is valid for all time in a civilized society.

(To be continued next week)



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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development



There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.


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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka



By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.


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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?



Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!


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