Remembering Sir Charles Henry de Soysa

Sir Charles Henry de Soysa

Prince of Wales’ College

The 173rd Birth Anniversary of Sir Charles henry de Soysa falls on 3rd March 2009. The Prince and the Princess of Wales’ Colleges have taken the necessary steps to commemorate this occasion on a grand scale. This year the task or organizing is shouldered by the Prince of Wales’ College old Boys’ Association. The descendents of the De Soysa family has given their whole hearted corporation to make it a grand success.

In 1892 the then Ceylon lost one of her greatest sons. He was a paragon of mankind, a great philanthropist. Born on 3rd march 1836 at Indama, Moratuwa he was a scion of an ancient worrier clan the Manikka Nilayitta Artha Deva Nallur Adiarasa Warshawipula Sannaddha whose original home was Devinuwara down south. Upto date is regarded as city of the Gods. He is the only child of late W. Jeronis de Soysa and of late Mrs.. Muthuthanthrige Francisco Cooray. Though born to one of the Wealthiest families from boyhood he decided to serve the down trodden. Educated by Private tutor. He learnt his English at John Garth’s English School at Rawatuwatte and his Sinhala at the Paliyagodalla Temple also at Rawatawatte. He rounded up his education at St. Thomas College, Mt. Lavinia initially functioned at Mutual. It was only after that he took over the management of his father’s estates and the vast business empire. When his uncle Susey de Soysa who died childless left his another large legacy with Wisdom and enterprise he developed the business enterprise into a huge economic Kingdom which included coffee, citronella, coconuts, cinnamon, Plumbago Mines, Internal transport, export trade. Not stopping at that he bought real estates in upcountry especially from Kandy, Colombo and Moratuwa. According to family sources he owned almost 100,000 acres. Probably never before or since had such wealth and property been Concentrated in the hands of an individual.

He married Moratuwa’s richest heiress Cathenne de Silva or 4th February 1863 and blessed with eight sons and seven daughters. Not overawed by his wealth and power he diverted his attention to serve the oppressed without paying heed to race, cast, creed with the key of Anglican Christian Charity and legacy he devoted his entire life for the underprivileged locally and in foreign soil. Mr. de Soysa was a pioneer or many fields of endeavour long before the corporative movement was launched in our country. He commenced a corporative society for carpenters and craftsmen in Moratuwa. Though not given the full credit actually he is the pioneer of the corporative movement in Sri Lanka. He introduced a system of free education and scholarships in the schools he started in his home town. The founder of the Prestigious Prince and princess of Wales’ Colleges at Moratuwa. He also pioneered the concept of state farms in the country when he started 160 acre Alfred Model farm in Narahenpita. Not stopping at that he ventured into the health sector. It was he who started the de Soysa Maternity Hospital and the Eye Hospital. He also started various housing schemes for the homeless, donated lands out of his benevolence to the mankind and due to his limitless donations, gave rise to the popular saying ‘Ara Soysa". There by it became the most common household word.

When Prince Alfred the Duke of Edinburgh visited Sri Lanka in 1870 he stayed at his Palatial Mansion sprawling over a vast area, which is presently called Alfred House Gardens. He hosted a banquet for Prince Alfred attended by over 300 guests. Two days later the highly thrilled prince threw a party at the Government House to him and his family members.

Of all the services he initiated the greatest contribution could be named as the inauguration of two leading schools in the island, Prince and Princess of Wales’ Colleges. In 1876 the then Governor Rt. Hon. Sir William Gregory laid the foundations stones for both schools amidst a glittering function. Among the valuable items deposited with the foundation stone was a glass receptacle enclosing a scroll with inscription of gold letters which read "for the Glory of god and his son, our Lord Jesus Christ É". At the same time in addition two vernacular schools at Holy Emmarnes Church premises.

The history of Modern Prince of Wales’ College falls into three eras under the Principalships of J. B. C. Rodrigo, M. E. C. Fernando and H. L. B. Gomes. Till Mr. Fernando erected the statue of Mr. De Soysa at the school Premises under the Architectship of 0Tissa Gunawardene the students had to trek to Holy Emmarnes Church to pay homage to the founder on the founder’s day but as a tradition the trek is still maintained.

After the trek Christians participate in a remembrance service at the Holy Emmanuel Church while the Buddhists get back to their respective college shrines to pay homage.

This year the traditional service is to be given by venerable Devapriya de Silva, Archdeacon of Galle, a distinguished old boy of the College. The main functioned connected with this year’s celebrations organised by the de Soysa family members will be held at the de Soysa circle near Town Hall, Colombo in the afternoon at 4.30 p.m.

It is once in a life time a person of this calibre is born.

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