Why innocent Henry Pedris was executed by the British


by Walter Wijenayake

The execution of the 27 years old National Hero-Dunugo Edward Henry Pedris during the riots of 1915 at Welikada Jail on July 07, 1915, by the British was one of the most tragic events recorded on the tenure of the Europeans, since 1915.

He was born on August 16, 1888, as the only son of a family of five of Dunugo Disan Pedris, one of the richest businessman in Pettah, Colombo and Malline Pedris of Karandeniya.

He had his primary education at the Colombo Academy, Pettah, then at S. Thomas’ College, and back again at his first school which by then had moved to Colombo 7, renaming Royal College. In both schools, he engaged in sports as well as studies. He was a top scorer in to the cricket team.

After his school career, he was much interested in horse riding and excelled as a horse-man and had wide knowledge about Horses and took part with the National force as a commissioned officer in the Colombo Town Guard and served in it as an efficient as well as a law abiding officer maintaining peace as his desire was.

While he was so on, in his career a Russian Prince handed ever to the Pedris family a horse named "Rally" causing Henry to ride the horse very smartly as a prince riding a horse. This exercise made the British rulers and their executives envious of him. Sometime later, on a pleasant day, this smart Royalist stopped at a Cinema Hall and kept seated for the purpose and when a British official had walked in and demanded his seat, which he refused it saying he too had paid the same fare and would enjoy the film from that seat. That was also and other incident that made the British become envious of this handsome youth.

It was at this time, on May 28, 1915, that the communal riots, usually known as the ‘Muslim riots’ broke out over a petty incident in Gampola town. The Muslim traders in the neighbouring town of Kandy decided not to allow any procession of the Buddhists to disturb worship at their mosque by the beating of the traditional drums, flutes and using any other musical organs.

The Buddhists on the following full Moon Poya Day of Vesak held their usual perahera following the usual route. When the Perahera was passing the Mosque, some irresponsible persons began to jeer and throw stones at the passing perahera. There was a pandemonium and it spread to Matale, Kegalle and even to Colombo, resulting in a large number of deaths and loss of property, Martial law was proclaimed on June 02 and continued till August 30, 1915. However within ten days normalcy was restored through the rigor of the martial law in the country. The British used untrained volunteers , many of them employed on the plantations and commercial establishments, shops and factories to suppress the riots and they shoot hundreds of civilians who had hardly anything to do with the riots. The volunteers together with the Punjabi soldiers unleashed a reign of terror in villages occupied by Sinhala Buddhists.

Of this exercise the Sinhala people harassing the Muslims spread throughout the country like a whirl-wind until June 06,1915. Muslims sustained heavy losses. In accordance with the records available, 86 mosques were damaged, around 5 boutiques and shops were looted, 35 Muslims were massacred 198 injured and four women raped, 17 Christian churches were burnt down.

In the case of Edward Henry Pedris, he was accused, without any supporting evidence of having shot at a Muslim mob in the Pettah. Another fabricated story was that he had incited people to march to the city of Colombo from Peliyagoda. He was arrested and tried by a social military court and sentenced to death.

Sir Hector Van Culenburg, the elected legislative Council member pleaded on behalf of Henry Pedris, but the British Government did not pay any heed to his pleadings. Many leading citizens of the island like Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan intervened, but to no effect. But the British rulers were adamant that Henry Pedris should die. Their hope was fulfiled that he was shot dead on July 07. 1915 at the Welikada Prison. This execution has been vividly recounted by A. E. Goonesinghe who was among the patriots who also had been unjustifiably imprisoned in the Welikada prison.

Before the execution. Henry Pedris had made a request that he be executed by a Punjabi firing squad, rather than a British squad, as they were Non Christian and Asians. However it did not happen that way.

The British refused to hand over the body to his grieving parents in order to arrange a burial in accordance with the rites of Buddhists.

It was noted that the body was buried secretly at the cemetery in Colombo,on the same day mid-nightunder martial law declared in the whole island, perhaps for the first time under British rule.

D. D. Pedris the father of Henry Pedris kept silent on the matter as he did not want any more of his family members imprisoned by the British. The father had not only lest his only son, but he also lost two of his sons-in-law who had also been imprisoned in the Welikada Prison. Disheartened D. D. Pedris died a broken man later. The mother of Henry Pedris became a Dasa Sill Mathawa.

The multitude of arbitrary and unjustifiable acts committed by the brutal British during the riots led to the formation of the Ceylon National Congress which after the gaining of independence for this island in 1948 gave strength to the patriotic leaders of this country to organise themselves for a concerted campaign to liberate the country from the cruel British rule. The Sri Lankan patriotic leaders took the cue from the death of Henry Pedris and organised numerous movements to free the country from the yoke of the brutal British imperialism.

Henry Pedris the young patriot sacrified his tomorrow for our today. We now enjoy the fruits of independence thanks to the men of calibre of Henry Pedris.

The temple ‘Isipathanaramaya’ was erected in his memory by his father in Colombo. Malline Pedris the mother of Henry Pedris, gifted land for Malikaramaya Temple in Dematagoda, in 1920.

The Henry Pedris statue was erected at a strategis Junction that leaders to Isipathanaramaya Temple. It was unveiled by the late President J.R. Jayewardene on July 07, 1978. The play ground behind the statue was named the Edward Henry Pedris Stadium’ and was declared open by R. Premadasa on July 07, 1957-1987.

However, on 07-07-2011, it counts 96 years since the demise of Edward Henry Pedris.

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