A tribute to C. H. de Soysa (1836-1890)
The gentleman philanthropist

This article is a dedication to the generosity of my great-great grandfather Charles Henry de Soysa (1836-1890) to commemorate his 166th birth anniversary on 03rd March 2002. He was a gentleman and a great philanthropist who lived in 19th century Ceylon.

C. H. de Soysa was born in 1836, the only son of Gate Mudaliyar Jeronis de Soysa and Francisca de Soysa nee Cooray. He was educated at St. Thomas College, Mutwal. He married Lady Catherine de Soysa in 1863 and they were blessed with fourteen children. He was one of the wealthiest land owners during his time, and owned more than 28,000 acres of paddy fields, tea, rubber, coffee and coconut estates mostly in Moratuwa, Colombo, Hanguranketha, Panadura, Marawila, Kandy and Galle. He also owned the Bagatalle Walauwa later named "Alfred House" and its 120 acres in Kollupitiya, Colombo.

C. H. de Soysa’s generosity towards the people of our country was a well known fact. In order to grasp the magnitude of his generous charitable contribution and the impact made by him to the society and culture of our country, one has to imagine the 19th century period of Ceylon under British colonial domination, where the Singhalese, Tamil and Muslim population lived without proper means of education, healthcare or basic infrastructure facilities. Even today our society benefits from the contributions made by C. H. de Soysa.

C. H. de Soysa used only his own wealth for the construction and donation of hospitals, churches, schools, playgrounds, roads, bridges, and irrigation tanks, wells, houses and ambalamas. He donated lands and paddy fields to Buddhist temples and money and houses to poor families. It is also well known how he encouraged Sinhalese and Tamil poets and authors by publishing their work.

The most noteworthy charitable contributions made by C. H. de Soysa were the construction and donation of the hospital in Colombo namely The de Soysa Lying-in-Home now known as "De Soysa Maternity Hospital" to the public. He donated land and buildings to the Eye Hospital, Colombo and to the Medical Research Institute (MRI) Colombo. He also donated land and buildings and was the Founder of "Prince of Wales" College and "Princes of Wales" College in Moratuwa. He also built and donated St. Mathias Church to the people in Lakshapathiya and constructed roads, bridges and amabalamas in Lunawa, Colombo, Marawila, Moratuwa and donated it to the government for public use.

In recognition of his charitable contribution and his generosity to the people of Ceylon, C. H. de Soysa was awarded the Rank and Title of Knight Bachelor by Her Majesty Queen Victoria of England, but due to his untimely death in 1890, the Rank and Title of the Widow of a Knight Bachelor was awarded to Lady Catherine de Soysa in 1891.

The government of Sri Lanka in recognition of his charitable work honoured C. H. de Soysa on 3rd March 1971 by issuing a Commemorative Postage Stamp. My great grandmother Selina de Soysa Pieris who was the only surviving child of C. H. de Soysa at that time was able to attend the ceremony in 1971 and had the pleasure of being given the first stamp issued that day in honour of her father.

When I was young I was privileged to learn all these facts from my grandmother Miriam Fernando. The most interesting story she told me was how her grandfather C. H. de Soysa hosted a banquet at the Bagatalle Walauwa in honour of HRH Duke of Edinburgh in 1870 with such splendour. The crockery and cutlery used for the banquet was made of gold with exquisite local craftsmanship and even won the praise of the Duke. Incidentally the house was constructed in a short period of time, in time to commemorate the Prince’s visit.

Finally I must mention that it was indeed a privilege to learn about the great generosity of my ancestor C. H. de Soysa, a gentleman with a great vision for the future and who loved his country and its people.
K. P. S. Dilruhan Fernando