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Yet More About the Burghers of Ceylon/ Sri Lanka-by J. Godwin Perera


Source:Island

Of those Burghers, Oh! Those Burghers, we can only dream In the Arts, in Sports, in Law , or the Groves of Academe They were the brightest of the bright, the very, very, best. Whether North or South of Lanka, whether East or West.

The Burghers were indeed a very talented and dedicated community. They were a minority in numbers, but their contribution to this country was major in every sense of the word.

Unfortunately for this country the post 1956, cry of ‘Sinhala Only’ and allegations made by political demagogues that the Burghers were breeding a ‘thuppai culture,’ ringing in their ears they left for pastures new. Specially to Australia. Sri Lanka’s loss was Australia’s gain.

It will be recalled that the writer had submitted a previous article on the Burghers. It set off refreshing (many) and recriminating (few) ripples. Those whose names were not there but should have been there were pointed out. Those whose names were there but should not have been there were also pointed out. This then is another attempt to create more ripples. But trepidation tugs at the elbow. The Muse murmurs ‘Don’t rush in where even angels fear to tread.’ But determination gets the better of discretion.

But first a necessary clarification as to who is a Burgher?

The term ‘Burgher’ cannot be loosely used. It was defined by law in 1883 by the then Chief Justice before a Royal Commission by which a Burgher was one whose father was born in Ceylon having at least one European ancestor on one’s direct paternal side, regardless of the ethnic group of the mother or whatever other ethnic groups may be found on the father’s side. This is why true Burghers always have European surnames. Hence you will find names strung along the alphabet from – Anthonisz to Ludowyk to Weinman.

However there was one problem with one of these names. Pereira – spelt with an ‘i’ was Burgher. Perera spelt without and ‘i’ was Sinhala. But this problem became a trifle complicated because there was another group of Pereiras who were neither Burgher nor Sinhala. They belonged to the Baratha’s community.

Let’s now start the ripples flowing. NB: Since this article is not segmented by professions or surnames, the Burgher names are in bold letters. After all ‘B’ for Burgher. ‘B’ for bold.

Since cricket is much in the news with our own LPL tournament successfully concluded and the Jaffna Stallions emerging victorious. Here is something to think about and discuss over a beer. Playing for St Joseph’s College in their match against Royal in 1952, Milroy Brohier pummeled the Royal bowling to score 174 in just over 2 hours. Royal scored only 74 in the 1st innings and 79 in the second innings giving St Joseph’s an innings and 314 run victory. It must be noted that Milroy’s score by itself exceeded Royal’s total score in that match. Will a cricket statistician clarify whether this an all-time record in the annals of Inter-School cricket in Sri Lanka ?

Now that the Jaffna Stallions have got an honorable mention, remember that hilarious comedy ‘He Comes from Jaffna.’ It was written by Prof. E. F. C Ludowyk who was a Shakespearean scholar, author and playwright. When the University College was converted to the University of Ceylon he was appointed as the first Professor of English in 1942. Later in 1952 he was appointed as the first Dean of the Faculty of Arts, in the University of Peradeniya. Amongst his other literary works are ‘ The Footprint of the Buddha’ and ‘The Modern History of Ceylon.’

Since we are on the subject of history it is appropriate to mention Dr Richard Gerald Anthonisz. He was a lawyer, educationist, civil servant. Educated at the Colombo Academy – now Royal College. He served for a short term as Headmaster of Richmond College, Galle. Being a keen student of Dutch history he was appointed to a new post of Examiner of Dutch Records. He was then appointed to another new post of Government Archivist and Librarian of the former Department of Archives. This is now the Department of National Archives.

The mention of Royal College makes it necessary to mention someone who saved the very institution of Royal from being wiped off the educational black-board of this country. He was Fredrick Dornhorst. He was a Barrister and one of the first King’s Counsels of the Ceylon. He was a most illustrious product of Royal College. His brilliant and eloquent speech at the Royal College Prize Giving in 1916 was able to convince the higher authorities of the Colonial Government to abandon the idea of replacing Royal College with a University College. Royal’s most prestigious prize for the Most Outstanding Student was named in memory of Fredrick Dornhorst.

And when it comes to memory who can ever forget Ramani Bartholomeusz. She had an ethereal beauty which endeared her to her thousands of fans. She was an actress and model. She was crowned Miss Sri Lanka in 1985 and then represented the country at the Miss Universe Pageant in that year. Ramani died under very tragic circumstances at the tender age of 20 years. Many tears were shed.

But what has happened as happened. So let’s change the subject from the heart-breaking to the humorous. Hence we mention Aubrey Collette.

He had the knack of transforming serious issues into cartoons which were incisive, satirical and humorous. These appeared in the Times of Ceylon and Sunday Observer during the early post independent years. He displayed a deep insight into the foibles and failures of politicians. In fact with his cartoons he played around with the political elite. They in turn were delighted at being featured. This brings us to the political elite. Pieter Keuneman. At Royal College he was an outstanding sportsman and student as Leader of the Debating Team, Rugger Coloursman, Prefect, winner of the Shakespeare Prize and the Dornhorst Prize which was the most prestigious prize at Royal. He had an equally brilliant academic career at Cambridge University where he gained a BA Tripos in History, Sociology and English Literature. It was here that he became an ardent Communist. He was appointed Minister of Housing and Construction in the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Cabinet of 1970.

And in recording political appointments let’s move over to Dr Richard Leslie Brohier. Educated at the Colombo Academy – now Royal College he was the first Ceylonese to join the Survey Department and rose to be Deputy Surveyor General. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and the Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Our first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake making a personal request, appointed him as Chairman of the Gal Oya Development Board.

And from here it’s a leap to the prestigious Civil Service and so to Neville Jansz . He too was educated at Royal College. ( Thanks to Dornhorst it’s ‘Esto Perpetua’ for Royal – No hard feelings dear Thomians!) From where he then entered the University College, Colombo which was affiliated to the University of London. He then qualified to enter the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service and was appointed as the country’s High Commisionder to Australia. He was then appointed Director –General of the Dept. of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defence and External Affairs.

And referring to the defence of our island’s borders we have our own navy which makes us turn to Rear Admiral D.V.Hunter – Commander the Navy from July 2, 1970 to March 31, 1973. He had the distinction of being within the historic transition when the Royal Ceylon Navy became Sri Lanka Navy on May 22, 1972.

But even as this is being written the admonition of the Editor can be heard. ‘There’s limited space for you my friend. Do not exceed it ’. OK Sir. Your will be done. PS: May there be no recriminating ripples this time!!!





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