by Dr Srilal Fernando
Though I was born in Panadura, a small village south of Colombo, my parents moved to a property in Colombo to facilitate my travelling to school. The property was located between Grandpass and Mutwal and formed part of a large estate called Mahawatte which was a grant of 58 acres to my grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather, Renaldus D’Andrado in 1788.
Delving into the family papers, the originals of which are in the Sri Lanka National Archives, was a fascinating journey into the history of the family and the areas around Grandpass. The documents form a folio called the D’Andrado Manuscripts, and these were published in the National Archives Journal Vol II of 1984 edited by J.H.O. Paulusz – retired Government archivist. Among these papers are the Act of appointment of Renaldus D’Andrado as Mudaliyar dated January 15, 1787, his last will, a plan of partition of his estate among his descendants, and the genealogical table of the de Fonseka, D’Andrado and related families. He was also nominated as one of the executors of his will by the Maha Mudliyar, the redoubtable Nicholas Dias Abeysinghe1 a remarkable man who died in 1795. The book Chieftains of Ceyon by J.C. Van Sandon has an account of him.
All six children of my grandfather Francis Samuel de Fonseka, had land along Mahawatte Road. I grew up there, and on return from England, built a house on the lawn of my mother’s property. My grandfather however never resided in Mahawatte, choosing to live in a house called “St Patrick’s” overlooking the Kelani River, close to the former country residence of Dutch Governors. His eldest son Patrick John de Fonseka was born on St Patrick’s Day.
Grandpass derives its name from the Portuguese who called it Grande Passo, and in British times came to be known as Grandpass. Before the arrival of the Europeans it was called Nagalagam Tota implying that it was a place of crossing the Kelani River even then. The road that runs from the river is called Nagalagam Street and joins Grandpass Road which continues to Pettah and Colombo Fort. In British times and till the 1950’s, trams ran along Nagalagam Street from Grandpass to Fort. As a child I recollect travelling in this tram. This was later replaced by trolley buses which ran along Prince of Wales Avenue later named Sirimavo Bandaranaike Mawatha. The name Grandpass suggested that there existed a small pass and indeed there was one called Petit Pas. It was at the point where there was a sluice gate over the San Sebastian Canal close to the present Colombo Kachcheri. A painting of the original building De Uytvlught on the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam shows a splendid building which in 1852 was altered and now forms the Colombo Kachcheri. A painting of the sluice gate by J.L.K. Van Dort in 1888 exists in the Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology in Leidan.
San Sebastian Canal is a man made canal which connected the Kelani River to the Beira Lake. In older times the Beira Lake was much bigger than it is now, and connected to the Colombo Harbour close to the place where the old Parliament building stands. It was the most important waterway through which export produce was transported for shipping. Parts of the waterway still exists, but landfill has made it narrow and since the advent of the road transport, its commercial importance has deteriorated.
San Sebastian Canal joined the Kelani River at Grandpass and this became the hub where all produce transported along the river in flat bottom barges (Paruwas) was transferred on to the canals. Cinnamon, food, sand and building products were transported this way.
Grandpass was also the main ferry across the Kelani River. It was the main Gateway to Colombo and the caretaker of the ferry had an important role to play and became an income generating source for the Dutch Company. His duties included checking the locals for arms and ammunition. Iron, gunpowder and saltpetre could not be transported into the city and duties were imposed. Arrack transported into the city was taxed at this point. A toll was charged for the use of the ferry.
In British times it continued its importance and in 1822 the river was spanned by a “bridge of boats”, a pontoon bridge which was in use till 1895. A painting of this, by the Irish artist Andrew Nicholl in
1848 is in the Colombo Museum. An original sketch done by him, now in my possession is reproduced here. The bridge of boats consisted of 21 boats anchored side by side, and a carriageway about 500 feet long ran from Grandpass to the other side of the river. For one hour each day the land traffic was stopped and two boats moved to allow river traffic. In 1895 the Victoria Bridge was built and took its place.
There were several other ferry points across the Kelani River. One was down river near Mutwal and connected the present day Sri Wickrema Mawata to Wattala on the other side. It was called Pas Betal and was the place where the Dutch having captured Negombo entered the outskirts of Colombo. Many years later the British did the same. Other ferries existed up river at Kelani Mulla, Kaduwela and Hangwella.
Ferry Crossing at Grandpass, Watercolour, 1755, Rijksmuseum
Grandpass and its surroundings in Dutch times was the favoured area for the Governors and senior officials to build their country residences. It was easily accessed with good roads, received a cool breeze in a hot climate ,and everything grew abundantly.
Governor Rickloff Van Goens 1664-1675 had a large property which was called Van Goens Village or Van Goensdorp. His son who too became Governor improved the property. Governor Iman Falck 1765-85 had a villa in Grandpass with cinnamon planted in the garden. He encouraged the cultivation of cinnamon. Till that time what was harvested was the cinnamon growing wild.
Governor Johann Van Angelbeek 1795-1796 had a country house at Grandpass. There is a detailed description of this house in Rev. James Cordiner’s, A Description of Ceylon published in 1807.
“At grandpass stands a country seat built by the late Dutch Governor Van Angelbeek. Besides a row of offices and a handsome farmyard there are two houses of one floor each for the accommodation of the family. These lie parallel to one another, and it is necessary to pass through the first to get to the second, which is raised on an embankment of the river. The stream is seen gliding along from the windows and is broad, deep and rapid. The opposite banks are clothed in thick woods.” He also mentions that after the takeover by the British, General Hay MacDowell and his staff lived there for several months at a time.
Governor’s House at Grandpass, Watercolour, Rijksmuseum
“General MacDowell was in the habit of receiving boxes of trees and shrubs by almost every ship; and one acre and a half of ground was completely filled with them”.
He introduced Mangosteen to Ceylon and it is most likely that the first plants were at Grandpass. He is also credited with introducing many other plants, including nutmeg, cloves, apples, asparagus to Ceylon.
J.P. Lewis in his notes on Pioneers of Natural History in Ceylon says that General MacDowell on his departure in 1804 left directions with his nephew John MacDowell of the Civil Service “to give a few plants of each sort to every person who promised to nourish them”.
“His house it may be mentioned was at Grandpass, a country seat built by the late Dutch Governor Van Angelbeek”.
Lewis also mentions that Joseph Jonville, a Frenchman, was the first Superintendent of the Botanical Garden started by Governor North on the opposite bank at Peliyagoda called “Ortafoula”. Later, on Jonville’s condemnation of the first site the gardens were moved to Slave Island and named “Kew”.
Cordiner mentions that on the opposite bank of the river Governor North built a temporary bungalow where he held grand entertainments. “Excellent boats carried the party, a band and other luxuries of the feast.”.
He mentions that “on the main roads, one leading to Grandpass and the other leading to Cotta, there are many commodious houses inhabited by the Dutch and European families.
The local elite too had houses in and around Grandpass and the area leading up to Hultsdorf.
A watercolour painting of the last Dutch Governor’s house in 1757 is in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It is reproduced in Dr R.K. de Silva’s book. Two engravings, one from the front and the other from the rear is presented in Valentijn’s book of travel in 1726.
The location of the house is described in Dr R.K. de Silva’s book as North East of the present Madampitiya Road and the ferry at Grandpass. The scene shows the house looking North East from Nagalagam Street with the San Sebastian Canal on the right with the bridge over it.
Incidentally, the Town house in Colombo Fort belonging to the last Dutch Governor Van Angelbeek became the house occupied by General MacDowell for a time. It became vested in the British Government and became the King’s House, Queen’s House and now President’s House.
Large houses with extensive land, with numerous specimens of flora and fauna dotted the area extending up to Mutwal.
In British times, there is a detailed description of the Whist Bungalow in Ernst Haekel’s book “A Visit to Ceylon.” He stayed there for two weeks, a guest at the then owner Stipperger, the agent for Austrian Lloyd Shipping Company. Haeckel, a naturalist and Professor in the University of Jena, gives a very detailed description of the house and the gardens. His detailed botanical drawings inspired the Spanish Architect Antoni Gaudi. Another house in Mutwal still preserved is Elie House.
This was the preferred area of residence well into the 19th Century with schools such as St Thomas’ College starting off there. The then Catholic Bishop of Colombo acquired land to start St Joseph’s College, but eventually chose a more central location on cheaper land reclaimed from the Beira Lake. In the late 19th Century as cheap land cleared of cinnamon became available more people moved to the new area. Another factor was that the move of the main port from Galle to Colombo and the replacement of sailing ships to coal driven steam ships. This required coal bunkering. Coal was stored in old ships along the coast line near Mutwal and the wind blew the coal dust on to the shore and this became very unhygienic. Added to this, was the large scale commercialisation of the buildings leading to overcrowding and the large houses and gardens being carved up. Property prices had escalated and it was much more affordable to buy property in the recently opened Cinnamon Gardens.
Grandpass is described in most of the books on early Ceylon including the book by Robert Percival in 1803, the first book on Ceylon after the British take over.
Governor North brought in Robert Arbuthnot as the Chief Secretary for Ceylon. He in turn brought his brother George as Deputy Secretary, George kept a detailed diary which was later published by his heirs. He describes the houses occupied by General MacDowell, as quoted in the article “When North was Governor” by J.P. Lewis in the Ceylon and Antiquarian Literary Register in 1923.
An article by L.T. Gratien “Colombo in the 17th Century” in the C.A.L.R. States “at Grandpass was a noble house where Kandyan envoys used to reside when they visited Colombo. Later on, a house on Wolvendaal hill was set apart for the convoys and the house at Grandpass became the Dutch Governor’s country seat. There begun the cultivation of silkworms which gave Sedawatte its name and here in the next century was formed the first Cinnamon Estate.”
With the passage of time the areas around Grandpass has become less than salubrious. Large warehouses have come up and the area commercialised. The slums have been replaced by low to middle class housing complexes. It is no longer “Grand” and many will “Pass” by without any inkling of the rich history of the area.
1. The d’Andrado Manuscripts – J.H.O. Paulusz
The Sri Lanka Archives Volume 11 1984
2. Notes on some Singhalese families
3. The Chieftains of Ceylon – J.C. Van Sanden
4. Changing Face of Colombo R.L. Brohier
5. Old and New East Indies
Francois Valentijn 1724
6. Illustrations and Views of Dutch Ceylon 1602-1796
Dr R.K. de Silva and WGM Beumer 1988
7. Website deFonseka.com – Courtesy Jayashanth deFonseka
8. Account of Ceylon Robert Percival
9. A Description of Ceylon – James Cordiner 1807
10. A Visit to Ceylon – Ernst Haekel 1883
11. When North was Governor – J.P. Lewis
Ceylon Antiquary and Literary Register 1923
12. Colombo in the 17th Century – L.J. Gratien
Ceylon Antiquary and Literary Register Volume VIII Part IV 1923
13. Good ole Grandpass Dr K.D. Paranavitana Newspaper Article 2006
14. Some pioneers of the Natural History of Ceylon – J.P. Lewis
Spolia Zeylanica 1915
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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.
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!.
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!