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Grandpa’s Grandpass

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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.

References

1. The d’Andrado Manuscripts – J.H.O. Paulusz

The Sri Lanka Archives Volume 11 1984

2. Notes on some Singhalese families

Paul Pieris

3. The Chieftains of Ceylon – J.C. Van Sanden

1936

4. Changing Face of Colombo R.L. Brohier

1984

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

1803

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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Features

Development after the elections

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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.

EXISTENTIAL ISSUES

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.

PROVINCIAL COUNCILS

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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Features

A blazing story!

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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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Features

Top local stars to light up ARISE SRI LANKA

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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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