Category Archives: British colonialism

Last of Sri Lanka’s Burgher Ladies

A nostalgic tale in You Tube Video composed by Kel O’Neill and Eline Jongsma, here:…. Published on Aug 2, 2010

The comments over the years within the original website are revealing: a mix of rank prejudice and hate on the one hand and sensibility on the other . Those interested in this dimension of Sri Lankan history set within the development of Colombo as the island’s hegemonic centre” in British times should consult M. Roberts, Percy Colin-Thome & Ismeth Raheem, PEOPLE  INBETWEEN, Colombo, Sarvodaya, 1989.

They should attend in particular to the tables and data in the Appendices on the one hand and the two charts highlighting the prejudices of the Sinhala people in colonial times (for ‘good’  historic reasons) — prejudices revealed for instance in the writings of Piyadasa Sirisena and Anagarika Dharmapala. If readers think the Tamils did not have similar prejudices, re-visit that idea. I assert that counter speculatively albeit confidently. The data in People Inbetween happens to be sourced in the southwest where I grew up.

SEE … The thrust of the tale is that one cannot comprehend thethinking of (some) Sinhalese without attending to the colonial intrusions in the era of European expansion and how that body of sentiments was transposed unto a historical consciousness that goes further back. More recently, I have been guided by Young and Senanayake’s Carpenter Peretaya and other evidence to elaborate upon the Manichean demonization that transposes and equates ancient ogres with more recent and/or contemporary threats –a deadly process of conflation. SEE The Collective Consciousness of the Sinhalese During the Kandyan Era: Manichean Images, Associational Logic”,

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Honouring Sarath Amunugama through Essays in Home and The World”

Dhammika Amarasinghe, in The Island,  5 February 2011

The book mirrors the man. The man is Dr. Sarath Amunugama, eminent public servant of yester year, sociologist, scholar, writer, orator, poet, dramatist, connoisseur (of many things – including the fine arts) and at the end of his career, perhaps unfortunately – politician. The volume has been brought out by his ever-loyal daughters Ramanika and Varuni to celebrate their hero’s 70 years of ‘a full life’ (the title of another of their filial tributes in a different genre). The book is a festschrift in honour of Sarath Amunugama. The list of contributors reads almost like a Roll of Honour of contemporary Sri Lankan intellectual life, ranging as it does from Gananath Obeyesekere and Stanley J Tambiah through Siri Gunasinghe, J. B. Dissanayake and Carlo Fonseka to Jayantha Dhanapala, H. L. Seneviratne and Saman Kelegama (and many more of the same vintage). The standing of the contributors, almost all of whom are incidentally long-time friends and associates of Amunugama, and the wealth of high quality material encapsulated in this volume of 400 pages, makes the writing of a ‘review’ almost a daunting task. Therefore, what can be done is only to give some flavour of a selection of the contributions. The range of contributors mirrors not only the standing of the man being honoured but also the wide spectrum of his interests and accomplishments. Continue reading

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Ethnicity in Riposte at a Cricket Match: The Past for the Present 

 Michael Roberts,  a reprint of an article  published originally in Comparative Studies in Society and History 1985, vol. 27: 401-429.  which is also available in in M. Roberts, Exploring Confrontation, (Harwood Academic Publishers, 1994). **

      I. PRELUDE

Some recent essays on the relationship between history on the one hand and anthropology and/or sociology on the other concentrate on the differences in the material with which the typical practitioner deals and the types of issues likely to be addressed (Thompson 1972, 1976, 1977; Davis 1981). They have tended to compare the perspectives that anthropologists[1] and historians bring into their work. And both E. P. Thompson and Natalie Z. Davis advocate increasing mutual borrowing from each discipline: they wish the one discipline to deepen its sensitivity and to avoid the usual pitfalls by drawing on the strengths of the other. Thus, by way of illustration, one finds Thompson arguing that historians tend to be more attentive to the paradoxes and ambivalences of actual men, and that they are attuned to the discipline of context because of this attentiveness to heterogeneity, a strength which sociologists[2]—who, he says, tend to overgeneralize and to swallow heterogeneity through the manufacture of neat typologies—would be well advised to draw upon (1976: 387,394). Continue reading

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Barron’s Mss History of British Planters via Three Case Studies

Tom J. Barron … a typed Manuscript I discovered in my study; …. an article drafted in 1972/73 [see below]; … essay that does not seem to have appeared in print [see elaboration at the end] …Highlighting emphasis is the work of The Editor, Thuppahi

The history of British plantation enterprise in Ceylon is a relatively neglected topic. Most historical works on 19th and 20th century Ceylon mention the estates, but few have troubled to give them any special attention. In some ways the neglect is rather surprising for by the 1870’s. if not earlier, Ceylon was celebrated throughout the world as one of the most progressive and enterprising centres of tropical agriculture. The reputation of the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens and of its most distinguished director, Dr. G. H. K. Thwaites, extended far beyond Ceylon, and Ceylon’s contribution to the science of botany and to the study of agricultural economics was widely regarded as second to none. But, for reasons that are not difficult to detect, the planters have never greatly appealed as heroic figures to the historians of independent Ceylon. For the most part the estates were situated in the hills of the central highlands, remote from the affairs of the mass of her people; the capital and business organization which supported these enterprises were largely imported from Europe; the proprietors, superintendents and assistants who ran the estates were mostly British by birth; and the labour force was recruited principally from South India. There is another difficulty, too; considered from the standpoint of independent, nationalist Ceylon, the planters, who relied upon and openly supported the imperial political and economic systems, are not very sympathetic individuals. Dr. Bastiampillai speaks for many people in Ceylon when he refers to the planters, in his book on Sir William Gregory’s administration, as ‘petulant and peevish,’ ‘self—interested’ and ‘unreasonable.’ It is interesting to note, however, that recently some local historians (of when Dr. Lal Jayawardena and Dr. Michael Roberts are principal) have begun to challenge the notion of the ‘dual economy,‘ to question the theory that most Ceylonese were unaffected by the changes introduced by large-scale plantation agriculture, and to re-examine the achievements which the planters made. Continue reading

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James Taylor, Tea and Empire in Victorian Ceylon

“Tea and empire. James Taylor in Victorian Ceylon ” by Angela McCarthy and Tom Devine … is now in print,  July 2017, Manchester University Press, 272 pp, ISBN: 978-1-5261-1905, Price: £25.00


This book brings to life for the first time the remarkable story of James Taylor, ‘father of the Ceylon tea enterprise’ in the nineteenth century. Publicly celebrated in Sri Lanka for his efforts in transforming the country’s economy and shaping the world’s drinking habits, Taylor died in disgrace and remains unknown to the present day in his native Scotland. Using a unique archive of Taylor’s letters written over a forty-year period, Angela McCarthy and Tom Devine provide an unusually detailed reconstruction of a British planter’s life in Asia at the high noon of empire. Continue reading

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Galle’s Eternal Charm

Bandu de Silva, a reprint from The Island, 26 August 2012 … A Review Article on Galle As Quiet as Asleep by Norah Roberts

The title Galle as Quiet as Sleep made me reflect for a long time. I asked myself how this title could fit in. Finally, I reconciled myself to it. Yes, Galle’s heritage is a quiet one. The people of Galle as Norah Roberts will tell us made their contributions quietly. Even now, the town after dusk or at early dawn is so calm and placid that one does not get the feeling of being in a big city. Certainly not like Kandy which has lost its old charm. Kaluwella with its old Kittange with the Kovil adjoining it still reminds one of the 19th century or early 20th century. One could still have a glass of plain tea served by a Tamil boy in an old style tea kiosk as one met with in Batticaloa at Habarana twenty years ago. The Tamils do good business thee without any problem.

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Scots in Planting and in Ceylon

Tom J Barron: Scots and the Coffee Industry in Nineteenth Century Ceylon” in Tom Devine and Angela McCarthy (eds)

The Scottish Experience in Asia, c.1700 to the Present ……………………..pp 163-185

Part of the Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series book series (CIPCSS)

Chapter First Online: 23 November 2016

Abstract   This chapter examines the role of Scots in the coffee enterprise in Ceylon in the nineteenth century. It finds origins for the Scottish contribution in fields where Scots were established: West Indian planting, engineering, the colonial civil service, the army, business and mercantile activity and banking as well as agriculture. Family ties and chain migration are seen as elements in the recruitment of Scots for employment in Ceylon along with targeted campaigns and press appeals. How and why the social basis of migration changed in the late nineteenth century is outlined along with the difficulties which arise in estimating how large was the Scots presence. The chapter ends by indicating that their experiences in Ceylon offered Scots the means to seek further employment opportunities elsewhere. Continue reading


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