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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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Development after the elections



By Jehan Perera

Many years ago, former Government Agent of Jaffna, Dr Devanesan Nesiah, explained the northern sentiment when elections were taking place.  He said there was apprehension about the possible turn of events over which they had no control.  The minority status of the Tamil people would invariably mean that their future would be determined by the outcome of the power struggle in the south of the country.  I was reminded of these words of Dr Nesiah during discussions organised by the Civil Society Platform in the northern towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna on the democratic challenges arising from the forthcoming elections.

The main theme, at the present elections in the south, and most of the country, has been the need to elect a strong government and to give it a 2/3 majority to change the constitution, accordingly.  The response in Vavuniya and Jaffna, by the members of civil society, was that a strong government would not heed the wishes of the people. Like people in other parts of the country, they felt let down by the political leaders and said they did not know for whom to vote.  The issues that they highlighted as being their concerns were economic ones, such as the lack of jobs for youth and the harm to families caused by an unregulated micro credit scheme that made them vulnerable to the predatory actions of money lenders.

The civil society members, in the towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna, did not take up the issue of the 19th Amendment and the possible threat to civil society space that the speakers from the south put before them. This indicated a longer term need to have educational programmes on the importance of the rule of law and judicial independence, in particular, to ensure justice and non-discrimination.  But they also did not comment or discuss the manifesto put out by the main Tamil political party, the TNA, which addressed longstanding issues of the Tamil polity, including self-determination, federalism, the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces or the newer post-war issues of missing persons and accountability for war crimes.


The absence of public debate, at the civil society meetings in the north on the political dimension at the forthcoming elections, may reflect a wariness about speaking publicly on politically controversial matters. Civil society groups throughout the country have been reporting there is more police surveillance of their work. The fear of falling into trouble and being seen as anti-government may have restrained the participants at the civil society meeting in the north from expressing their true feelings. On the other hand, there is also the reality that existential issues of jobs, loans and incomes are of immediate concern especially in the context of the Covid-induced economic downturn. The short term concerns of people are invariably with economic issues.

One of the salient features of the present elections has been the general unwillingness of even the main political parties to address any of the issues posed by the TNA.  This would be due to their apprehension of the adverse fallout from the electorate. It could also be due to their lack of ideas regarding the way forward. Apart from the 19th Amendment, another impediment to a strong government, that is identified by its proponents is the 13th Amendment. In the run up to the elections, there have been calls for the abolition of the 13th Amendment, which created the devolved system of provincial councils, along with the 19th Amendment that directly reduced the power of the presidency and increased the independence of state institutions. The provincial councils have been emasculated by denying them of both resources and decision making power and are condemned for being white elephants.

It has been noted, by the political commentator D B S Jeyaraj, that the TNA’s choice of focusing on issues of transitional justice, in dealing with war time violations of human rights, led to the TNA aligning itself with Western powers. This did not yield the anticipated benefits as the previous government failed to implement many of its commitments in regard to transitional justice. It would have been better to have focused instead on getting the provincial councils in the north and east to engage in more development-oriented work which would have met the existential needs of the people.


Jeyaraj has also surmised that if the TNA had chosen the path of utilising the provincial council system for development work, it could have obtained support from India, which had been the co-architects of the provincial council system, in 1987, along with the then Sri Lankan government. India has a moral obligation to contribute to developing the north and east of the country where the war raged in full fury and led to immense destruction. India’s role in destabilising Sri Lanka and enhancing the military capacity of the Tamil armed groups, including the LTTE, is a bitter and abiding memory which the journalist Shamindra Ferdinando has written extensively about.

A creative suggestion made during the civil society discussion in Jaffna was for the provincial councils to implement what governments have promised to implement but have failed to do. An example given was that of reparations to war victims. The previous government pledged to set up a system of reparations in terms of the UNHRC resolution in 2015. But, although an Office for Reparations was established, very little was done. The question was whether the provincial councils in the north and east could not have utilised their resources for the purposes of instituting schemes of reparations as it would be clearly within the policy framework of the government.

While the issues in the TNA’s manifesto will remain perennial ones to the Tamil polity, the people are looking for political leaders who will deliver them the economic benefits in the same way as in the rest of the country. The civil society meetings in the north suggests that the northern people are not showing priority interest in political issues as they believe these are non-deliverable at the present time. Instead of using its majority status in parliament and seeking to abolish the 13th Amendment, and the provincial council system, and creating a crisis with the Tamil polity and India, the new government would do better to work through them to meet the material needs of the people. They need to also realize limits of the constitution, and focus on social, economic and political pluralism and promote values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation and compromise, and consent of the governed.


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A blazing story!



The local showbiz scene is ablaze with a story about the members of a particular band, who indicated that they are undergoing a tough time, abroad, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was a video, showing the members pouring forth their difficulties, and earnestly requesting the authorities concerned to bring them back home, that got others to move into action…and the truth has come out.

After having looked into their situation, extensively, knowledgeable sources say that the video contained a load of lies and, according to reports coming our way, the band has now been blacklisted by the authorities for lying about their situation.

These guys have, apparently, gone on Holiday Visas and have, thereby, contravened the Visa conditions.

The story going around is that they have had problems, within the band, as well.

The authorities, in Sri Lanka, are aware of the situation, in that part of the world, but there are many others who are waiting to get back home and, they say, musicians can’t get into the priority list.

So, it’s likely to be a long wait for these guys before they can check out their hometown again!


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Top local stars to light up ARISE SRI LANKA



Richard de Zoysa’s brainchild, ARISE SRI LANKA, is going to create an awesome atmosphere, not only locally, but abroad, as well.

This telethon event will feature the cream of Sri Lankan talent, said Richard, who is the Chairman of Elite Promotions & Entertainment (Pvt) Ltd.

Put together as a fund-raiser for those, in the frontline, tackling the coronavirus pandemic, in Sri Lanka, ARISE SRI LANKA will bring into the spotlight a galaxy of local stars, including Noeline Honter, Damian, Mahindakumar, Rukshan, Melantha, Jacky, Ranil Amirthiah, Mariazelle, Trishelle, Corinne, Sohan, Samista, Shean, Rajitha, Umara, April, Shafie, Dr. Nilanka Anjalee Wickramasinghe, Kevin, Ishini, and Donald.

Mirage is scheduled to open this live streaming fun-raiser, and they will back the artistes, assigned to do the first half of the show.

Sohan & The X-Periments will make their appearance, after the intermission, and they, too, will be backing a set of artistes, scheduled to do the second half.

The new look Aquarius group, led by bassist Benjy Ranabahu, will also be featured, and they will perform a very special song, originally done by The Eagles, titled ‘There’s A Whole In The World.’

The lyrics are very meaningful, especially in today’s context where the coronavirus pandemic has literally created holes, in every way, and in every part of the world.

Aquarius will be seen in a new setting, doing this particular song – no stage gimmicks, etc.

The finale, I’m told, will be a song composed by Noeline, with Melantha doing the musical arrangements, and titled ‘Arise Sri Lanka.’

The programme will include songs in Sinhala, and Tamil, as well, and will be streamed to many parts of the world, via TV and social media.

Richard says that this show, scheduled for August 29th, is in appreciation of the work done by the frontliners, to keep the pandemic, under control, in Sri Lanka.

“We, in Sri Lanka, can be proud of the fact that we were able to tackle the Covid-19 situation, to a great extent,” said Richard, adding that even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has acknowledged the fact that we have handled the coronavirus pandemic, in an exceptional way.

The team, helping Richard put together ARISE SRI LANKA, include Noeline Honter, Sohan Weerasinghe, Donald Pieries, from the group Mirage, Benjy Ranabahu, and the guy from The Island ‘Star Track.’


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