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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

Mindset changes and the dangerous ‘Religious War’ rhetoric

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Israeli border police on patrol at the Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem (Pic courtesy Al Jazeera)

Nothing could be more vital at present in the conflict and war zones of the world than positive mindset changes and the wish of the humanist is likely to be that such momentous developments would quickly come to pass in particularly the Middle East. Because in the latter theatre almost every passing hour surfaces problems that call for more than average peace-making capabilities for their resolution.

For instance, the Islamic Supreme Fatwa Council in Palestine has reportedly warned of a ‘Religious War’ in the wake of recent allegations that Israel is planning to prevent the Muslim community from having access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem in the month of Ramadan. If true, this development is likely to further compound the Gaza violence and take it along an even more treacherous track. This is on account of the fact that religious passions, if not managed effectively, could prove most volatile and destructive.

As pointed out in this column previously, peace movements on both sides of the main divide in the region would need to quickly activate themselves, link-up and work as one towards the de-escalation of the conflict. What the Middle East and the world’s other war zones urgently need are persons and groups who are endowed with a pro-peace mind set who could work towards an elimination of the destructive attitudes that are instrumental in keeping the conflicts concerned raging.

This could prove an uphill task in the Middle East in particular. For, every passing minute in the region is seeing a hardening of attitudes on both sides in the wake of issues growing out of the violence. Accordingly, if peace-making is to be contemplated by the more moderate sections in the conflict, first, we need to see a lull in the violence. Achieving such a de-escalation in the violence has emerged as a foremost need for the region.

Right now, the Israeli state is showing no signs of climbing down from its position of seeing a decisive end to the Hamas militants and their support bases and going forward this policy stance could get in the way of de-escalating the violence even to a degree.

On the other hand, it would not be realistic on the part of the world community to expect a mindset change among Israeli government quarters and their supporters unless and until the security of the Israeli state is ensured on a permanent basis. Ideally, the world should be united on the position that Israel’s security is non-negotiable; this could be considered a veritable cornerstone of Middle East peace.

Interestingly, the Sri Lankan state seems to have come round to the above view on a Middle East peace settlement. Prior to the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime taking this stance, this columnist called repeatedly over the past few months in this commentary, in fact since October 7th last year, for the adoption of such a policy. That is, a peace settlement that accords priority to also the security needs of the Israelis. It was indicated that ensuring the security and stability of the Palestinians only would fall short of a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East imbroglio.

However, in the case of the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime, the above change in policy seems to be dictated almost wholly by economic survival considerations rather than by any well thought out principle or a sense of fairness to all relevant stakeholders.

For example, close on the heels of the regime playing host to the Israeli Transport Minister recently, it accorded a reverential welcome to the Iranian Foreign Minister as well. From the viewpoint of a small country struggling to survive, this is the way to go, since it needs every morsel of economic assistance and succour.

However, if permanent peace is to have a chance in the Middle East it would need to be based on the principle of justice to all the main parties to the conflict. Seen from this point of view, justice and fairness should be accorded to the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. Both parties, that is, should live within stable states.

The immediate need, though, is to at least bring a lull to the fighting. This will enable the Palestinian population in the Gaza to access humanitarian assistance and other essential needs. Besides, it could have the all-important effect of tempering hostile attitudes on both sides of the divide.

The US is currently calling for a ‘temporary ceasefire’ to the conflict, but the challenge before Washington is to get the Israeli side to agree to it. If the Israeli Prime Minister’s recent pronouncements are anything to go by, the US proposal is unlikely to make any impression on Tel Aviv. In other words, the Israeli Right is remaining an obstacle to a ceasefire or even some form of temporary relief for the affected populations, leave alone a political solution. However, changing their government is entirely a matter for the Israeli people.

Accordingly, if a stable peace is to be arrived at, hostile, dogmatic attitudes on both sides may need to be eased out permanently. Ideally, both sides should see themselves as having a common future in a peacefully shared territory.

Peace groups and moderate opinion should be at centre stage on both sides of the divide in the region for the facilitation of such envisaged positive changes. The UN and democratic opinion worldwide should take it upon themselves to raise awareness among both communities on the need for a political solution. They should consider it incumbent upon themselves to work proactively with peace groups in the region.

The world is a vast distance from the stage when both parties to the conflict could even toy with the idea of reconciliation. Because reconciliation anywhere requires the relevant antagonists to begin by saying, ‘I am sorry for harming you.’ This is unthinkable currently, considering the enmity and acrimony that have built up over the years among the volatile sections of both communities.

However, relevant UN agencies and global democratic opinion could begin by convincing the warring sections that unless they cooperate and coexist, mutual annihilation could be their lot. Mindset changes of this kind are the only guarantors of lasting peace and mindset changes need to be worked on untiringly.

As this is being written, the ICJ is hearing representations from numerous countries on the Middle East situation. The opinions aired thus far are lopsided in that they do not present the Israeli viewpoint on the conflict. If a fair solution is to be arrived at to the conflict Israel’s concerns too would need to be taken into account expeditiously.

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Dubai scene brightening up for SL fashion designers

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Sri Lankans are lighting up the scene in Dubai, not only as musicians, but in other fields, as well.

At the recently held Ceylon Food Festival, in Dubai, a fashion show was held, with Sri Lankan designers doing the needful.

The fashion show highlighted the creations of Pubudu Jayasinghe, Tehani Rukshika and Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya, in three different segments, with each designer assigned 10 models.

The fashion show was choreographed by Shashi Kaluarachchi, who won the Miss Supermodel Globe International 2020, held in India, and was 1st runner-up at the Mr., Miss and Mrs. Sri Lanka, in Dubai.

Shashi says she was trained by Brian Karkoven and his know-how gave her a good start to her modelling career.

She has done many fashions shows in Sri Lanka, as well as in Dubai, and has worked with many pioneers in the fashion designing field.

The designers involved in the fashion show, in Dubai, were:

Pubudu Jayasinghe,

a 22-year-old creative and skilled makeup artist and nail technician. With a wealth of experience gained from working in various salons and participating in makeup and fashion projects in both Dubai and Sri Lanka, he has honed his talents in the beauty industry. Passionate about fashion, Pubudu has also acquired knowledge and experience in fashion designing, modelling, and choreography, showcasing his multifaceted expertise in the dynamic world of fashion.

Tehani Rukshika,

who studied at St Joseph’s Girls School, Nugegoda, says she went to Dubai, where her mom works, and joined the Westford University in fashion designing faculty for her Masters. Her very first fashion show was a Sri Lankan cultural event, called ‘Batik’. “This was my first event, and a special one, too, as my mom was modelling an Arabic Batik dress.”

Shashi Kaluarachchi

Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya

has been living in Dubai for the past 21 years and has a batik shop in Dubai, called 20Step.

According to Shashi, who is on vacation in Sri Lanka, at the moment, there will be more Sri Lankan fashion shows in Dubai, highlighting the creations of Sri Lankan designers.

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Features

A mask of DATES…

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Yes, another one of my favourites…dates, and they are freely available here, so you don’t need to go searching for this item. And they are reasonably priced, too.

Okay, readers, let’s do it…with dates, of course – making a mask that will leave your skin feeling refreshed, and glowing

To make this mask, you will need 03-04 dates, and 02 tablespoons of milk.

Remove the seeds and soak the dates, in warm milk, for about 20 minutes. This method will soften the dates and make them easier to blend.

After the 20 minutes is up, put the dates in a blender and blend until you have a smooth paste. Check to make sure there are no lumps, or chunks, left.

Add the 02 tablespoons of milk to the blended date paste and mix well.

Okay, now gently apply this mixture to your face, avoiding the eye area. Use your fingertips, or a clean brush, to evenly distribute the mask all over your face.

Once the mask is applied, find a comfortable place to sit, or lie down. Relax for about 15-20 minutes, allowing the mask to work its magic on your skin.

After the mentioned time has passed, rinse off the mask with lukewarm water. Gently massage your face while rinsing to exfoliate any dead skin cells.

After rinsing off the mask, pat dry your face with a soft towel, and then follow up with your favourite moisturizer to lock in the hydration and keep your skin moisturized.

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