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Two centuries tick by on Dockyard clock



The Belfry Gate of the Trincomalee Naval Dockyard, a national architectural monument, is unknown to many. The once twin-towered belfry is now a single tower with its twin long gone. It has served as loyal timekeeper for sailors in the dockyard for 200 years and continues to do so

by Randima Attygalle

The strategically located natural deep water harbour in Trincomalee has been coveted by traders and colonists since ancient times. The earliest reference to this port of call once known as ‘Gokanna’ is found in Mahavamsa – the great chronicle of Sri Lanka. During the colonial days, Trincomalee or Trinco as it’s commonly called, was occupied by the Portuguese, Dutch, French and the British. The fort which was built by the Portuguese to keep rival sea faring nations at bay was expanded by the Dutch.

The British captured Trincomalee from the Dutch in 1795 during the Napoleonic Wars. Under the Treaty of Amiens of 1802, the Dutch ceded Ceylon to the British. H.A Colgate in his, The Royal Navy and Trincomalee- the history of their connection (The Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies, Volume 1, Issue 1) documents that ‘in the days of sail, Trincomalee owed its importance to the variations of the monsoon, the prevailing winds in the Indian Ocean. A squadron defending India had to lie to the windward of the continent. It also required a safe harbour in which to shelter during the violent weather occasioned by the change of the monsoons in October and to a less extent in April. Only Trincomalee could fulfill these conditions. Thus its use was the key to the defence of India and the inestimably valuable British trade with India and China, which passed through the adjacent seas.’

The British used Trinco as an anchorage for Royal Navy ships in the Indian Ocean and when the steam powered ships were launched, the Royal Navy erected a coaling station to support bases throughout the British empire. Lieutenant Commander (Rtd) Somasiri Devendra, an authority on maritime archaeology, says that the Royal Navy constructed all its dockyard-related buildings along the coastline at the entrance to the port.

“The buildings were completed by 1812 and soon after this, the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars ended the threat to the Royal Navy from the French and the Dutch and the expansion of the dockyard was halted. Trincomalee became a backwater for most of the 19th Century with its major role being that of a coaling station. Coal was stored in bulk on old ships at anchor known as coaling hulks.”

Devendra explains that all buildings within the dockyard premises were accessed through the gates popularly known as Belfry Gates. These with their twin towers were built by the British in 1821. Only one tower remains today. The exact reason for the demolition of the twin and when it was done is not established. It is presumed that one of the towers was demolished when roads were being widened for heavier traffic. “This must have been somewhere between the first and the second World Wars,” says Devendra.

Most of the civilian labour working for the Navy lived outside the dockyard and the bell possibly would have been rung to mark the time of opening and closing of the gate, he said.

“The large house near the dockyard gate known as as Belfry House in which I once lived is now two houses,” he recollects. The belfry gate stands where three roads meet, marked by a traffic light believed to be the first in the country. The lights that still work well were probably needed to manage and ensure the safety of numerous vehicles carrying building material, ammunition, artillery, spare parts, and sailors and soldiers who were busy fortifying the naval dockyard and attending to the needs of ships and craft anchored in the harbour.

“When I got my driving license, there was only one set of traffic lights in Colombo – at the Kollupitiya junction. So the Trinco traffic light is probably the first in the country,” says Devendra. He adds that one of the roads controlled by these lights goes uphill to the Dutch Fort Ostenburg where the Dockyard Signal Station was situated. “It’s a steep road through forest and made of concrete, supposedly the first such road built here.”

Those who served in the Dockyard remember the belfry very well. “Traditionally, when naval officers who long served there are transferred they’re presented a replica of this landmark for display in their homes to remember their time at the dockyard,” says Rear Admiral (Rtd) Niraja Attygalle who had served many years there during his naval career.

“Two hundred years is certainly a long period for a clock to tick giving the accurate time for men in white and men in overalls in workshops as well as for naval civilian workers in the dockyard. Also, the gear mechanism and electrical circuits of the traffic lights still work perfectly.”

The responsibility of maintaining both the belfry clock and traffic lights lie with the technical staff of the dockyard and their work needs to be appreciated, says Attygalle. “Even though the original bell has not rung for years to ensure its conservation, a smaller version has taken over that duty. The quartermaster of today’s Navy Dock, standing in the shadow of the belfry, announces the time by ringing the bell as done onboard on a man-o’-war,” he says.

Although unknown to many, the Naval Dockyard Belfry which marks its bicentennial this year (its exact date of unveiling is unknown) is an iconic landmark. “This unique structure reflecting British architecture during the occupation of the Dockyard by the Royal Navy must be acknowledged for its 200-year history as part and parcel of the Dockyard fraternity,” reflects Deputy Area Commander (East), Rear Admiral Anura Danapala. “Every single Naval Officer and sailor serving today and those who have retired will undoubtedly recall with sentimental pride, the unique service the belfry has rendered over two centuries.”

“The belfy had been the timekeeper for the naval fraternity in the dockyard and may it continue to serve for several more centuries,” says the officer.

(Pic credit: Somasiri Devendra, Niraja Attygalle)

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Foreign News

Rupert Murdoch set to marry for fifth time at 92




Rupert Murdoch and Ann Lesley Smith (pic BBC)

BBC reported that media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has announced his engagement to his partner Ann Lesley Smith, a former police chaplain.

Murdoch, 92, and  Smith, 66, met in September at an event at his vineyard in California.

The Businessman told the New York Post,one of his own publications: “I dreaded falling in love – but I knew this would be my last. It better be. I’m happy.”

He split with fourth wife Jerry Hall last year.

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Life style

Children’s happiness with gardening



By Arjuna Hulugalle

On October 7th 2022, Homagama Subarathi Maha Vidyalaya in Godagama Homagama commenced their Home Garden Program, with the support of Nest, a Community based Mental Health organisation. The objective was to reduce the short fall of food in the diet of the children and to deal with malnutrition in the school population. Both the teachers dealing with Agriculture and Domestic Science have been involved in the initiative.

The outcome of the programme has many positive developments. Both the teaching staff and the children have shown great enthusiasm. Children’s happiness with gardening became evident. The students began to understand the importance of eating organic vegetables and the role of vitamins and minerals in their diet. Open air exercise which gardening brings with it has added to better health. The students have also realized that our country does not have to worry about hunger and malnourishment, if one uses available resources.

The first stage of the Subarathi Maha Vidyalaya program is to create a model garden in the school premises. Even classrooms are encouraged to be used for accommodating “grow bags” with various types of yams.The second stage of the programme is to make model gardens in the homes of 100 senior students with special interest in agriculture. The parents of the students are also drawn into this program.The third stage is for the 100 seniors to concentrate on the balance 2500 students and motivate them to set up model gardens in their homes.


The Model Home Garden in School

The School garden has a representative selection of vegetables but is concentrating on Dambala, Cabbage, Long beans of two varieties, Turnips, Occra and KankunA spice garden is being developed with three varieties of chillies, two varieties of kochchi, mint, celery and pepper.

Yams are being grown in “grow bags” inside cClass rooms. The varieties propagated are Kiri Ala and Bathala.Trees grown in the school premises are Delum, two varieties of Nelli and Murunga.

Model Home gardens of the selected 100 students

These are being trained for their tasks of developing their own model home gardens and also to motivate the other 2500 students of the school and set up Home Gardens in their own homes.Intensive training sessions have been conducted starting with Dr Lionel Weerkoon, a world renowned authority on home gardens and Dr Anuruddha Padeniya who spoke on the value of organic agriculture.

The students were given packets of seeds of bitter gourd, pumpkin, kankun, Occra, long beans, dambala, green chillies and beans. Those students who have space in their homes, were also given trees and plants to be planted in their own home gardens. The saplings included Murunga, Jack, Nelli, Del, Delum, Avocado, Orange and Divul.

The Role of the Parents and the past students

The Home Garden program is supported by the Parents and past students and soon will interact more with the community at large. Already, they have contributed towards a sprinkler system for the School Garden.In the long term the Home Garden program can grow into market gardening in the community.

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Life style

Dance Epicure first Dinner Dance Theatre



Dance Epicure Shangri-La Colombo & Shangri-La Hambantota Director of Communications Ramesha Samarasinghe, John Keells Holdings Vice President, Head of Sales and Marketing (Property Group) Nadeem Shums, With My Feet Co-Founder Trevor Rajaratnam, Standard Chartered Bank Head of Consumer, Private & Business Banking Aroshana Fernando & Maliban Biscuit Group Head of Corporate Affairs & Strategy Asoka Bandara

A captivating evening of dinner and dance – Dance Epicure by ‘With My Feet’ brings UK champion dancers and the best of Sri Lankan talent to the same stage Dance Epicure, Sri Lanka’s very first Dinner Dance Theatre concept produced by With My Feet is all set to entertain and delight on the 2nd of April at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. The vision and brainchild of the legendary Naomi Rajaratnam, the uniquely curated evening of dance and gastronomy produced by the Colombo Dance Theatre will feature a roster of extraordinary international and local dancers paired with a night of culinary delight.

The latest initiative by Naomi, the Colombo Dance Theatre comprises of a company of elite international and local dancers woven firmly together by masterful choreography and a great love for dance. Dance Epicure will not only be the Theatre’s inaugural performance, but also the first of its kind in Sri Lanka; where artfully choreographed dance segments will be performed between a four-course sit-down menu. The highly anticipated event will feature the likes of world-renowned dancers – namely five-time undefeated UK National Latin American Champions Gunnar Gunnarsson and Marika Doshoris, as well as the formidable Nauris Kalva and Manuja Hughes, Blackpool Open Smooth Champions – sharing the stage with the best Sri Lankan dancers from Naomi’s own dance company With My Feet.

Naomi’s desire to uplift dancers from far-flung rural areas in Sri Lanka by providing them with the opportunities and spotlight they deserve has always been encapsulated in her dance showcases. It is with this vision in mind that Dance Epicure will also feature a heart-warming performance by the children of the Warehouse Project; an urban community solution in partnership with the Sri Narada Foundation. Additionally, as with all of Naomi’s shows, part of the proceeds from the event’s ticket sales will go towards the Dev Siri Sevana Elders Home in Welisara.

Commenting on the upcoming event, Naomi Rajaratnam said, “I am so honoured that some of the UK’s leading dancers have chosen to collaborate with us, and I am equally thrilled to be able to showcase the best of our Sri Lankan talent on the same platform.”

“The concept of a Dinner Dance Theatre has been on my mind for the longest time and I couldn’t think of a better moment to finally turn this dream into a reality,” she added. “The calibre of these world-renowned dancers paired with the best of With My Feet dancers is the perfect opportunity to offer a something truly unique to our Sri Lankan audience.”

The principal partners of Dance Epicure are Standard Chartered Bank Priority, Maliban Biscuit Manufactories, John Keells Properties, Sri Lankan Airlines, Shangri-La Colombo, Wijeya Newspapers and Capital Maharaja Group.

Tickets for Dance Epicure go on sale on Saturday the 11 th of March 2023 and can be purchased online at With My Feet social media pages will soon be updated with where tickets can be purchased offline.

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