Count Maurice Maria de Mauny Talvande of France

A brief synopsis of his life and times


Count de Mauny of Talvande, whose actual name was Maurice Maria Talvande, was born on March 21, 1866 in Le Mans. His father was Felix Talvande. He adopted the prefix of "Count de Mauny" from his mother, Mme Margeruite de Mauny Talvande, and the suffix of " from his father, Felix Talvande, who was a bank manager in provincial France. His father died in 1901, in or near Nantes and his mother died in 1907 in Pontvallain. His mother, whose full name was, Margeurite Adelaide Louise Froger de Mauny was born in 1842. Her parents were Alexandre Jacques Eduard Froger de Mauny and Henriette Martin Lavallee.

His father, Felix Talvande was born in 1832 and his parents married in Le Mans on June 8 1862. Maurice was born four years later in Le Mans where his father was then employed as a bank manager of the Le Mans branch of Banque de France until 1866. After 1868 Felix worked as a banker at Portet-Lavigierie et Talvande which became the Bank Talvande in 1882 until it and Talvande himself were made bankrupt in 1889. The bankruptcy was announced on March 17, 1889 where his company, Talvande & Company, and himself were both declared insolvent. Marguerite applied for legal separation from Felix in 1890 and thereafter resided with her mother at Domaine du Bourg in Pontvallain, which had been in the possession and ownership of the de Mauny family since 1859.

On the death of his mother, Maurice inherited Domaine du Bourg, the family home, which he then sold and shared the proceeds of 17,000 francs with his brother Roger and sister Suzanne-Marie. Roger had a son named Albert Talvande.

Marriage & Children

Count Maurice Maria de Mauny Talvande married Lady Mary Elizabeth Agnes Bynge, daughter of the fourth Earl of Strafford, Henry William John Byng, on June 24, 1898. The wedding was a great social occasion and attended by the Princess of Wales, Princess Christian and Prince and Princess Saxe-Weimer.

His Books

Maurice is reported to have written three books, during his lifetime, titled as follows:-

1. "The Peace of Suffering 1914-1918", published in England by Grant and Richards of St Martins Lane in London in 1919. The book is supposed to reveal extensive evidence for his state of mind just after WW I. It also provides a specific timetable for his whereabouts during this period as the chapters are dated and geographically documented.

2. "Gardening in Ceylon", a book which reveals the Count’s abilities not only in the field of gardening but also his talent as a distinctive writer in English since he was a native French speaker after all.

3. "The Gardens of Taprobane", published by Williams and Norgate of Great Russel Street, London in 1937, and edited by Bernard Miall. The book is an important classic on gardening in Ceylon and also serves to illustrate a great deal of facts about de Mauny himself. This very rare 320 page edition is written in the form of a diary which covers almost six months of its author’s life in Ceylon.

The books that he wrote give a great deal of information of his life and its chronology with many facts that can be extracted related to places, events, dates and times. The Gardens of Taprobane, on page 266, relates,

"I vividly remember the first time I saw Gloriosa Superba in flower. It was in the greenhouse of a friend of mine at Parkstone, near Bournemouth ... I asked my friend where it came from. He told me that he had dug up the rhizome himself in the jungle in Ceylon.... This is why I came here the following winter (1912); and once here, I made Ceylon my second home; the home I had dreamt of. The second time I came across Gloriosa Superba was in December 1912. I had just landed in Ceylon and was motoring up-country."

In his book, Gardening in Ceylon, which was published by H W Cave & Company in Colombo in 1921, he made great attempts to describe the making of a garden, its formation, climate, altitude of the ground, the soil and other relevant details of foliage. The successive chapters of the book provide descriptions and illustrations of gardens, including those of the Roehampton Estate, the Netherleigh Estate, the Leefe Garden in Colombo, the Haggala Botanic Gardens, and the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens.

Life in Ceylon

Maurice was a great traveller. It is believed that he visited Ceylon for extended periods of a time a year or two after 1910. William Warren has suggested in "Tropical Asian Style", that de Mauny was first invited to Ceylon in 1912 by Sir Thomas Lipton, the tea magnate. Warren has conjectured that it was some ‘great personal disaster’ that drove de Mauny to Ceylon. It is possible that both his diminishing financial status and also his many marital problems he was facing may have been the reasons for his move eastwards. De Mauny traveled several times between Hampshire and Ceylon soon after his bankruptcy problems.

His skills as an expert gardener and furniture maker in Ceylon, and, later on journalism, may have provided him with the necessary finances to supplement his travel and living. There are accounts from people who knew him in Ceylon that he also used to receive remittances from overseas which probably could have been sent by his wife, Mary, from time to time for his upkeep and living. It is reported that he also ran a furniture factory and workshop in Colombo. A number of de Mauny furniture pieces have survived in the hands of private owners. They are now highly valued and cherished in Sri Lanka. He started the "Weligama Local Industries" in 1925 which as he claimed gave employment to over 200 carpenters, carvers and inlayers. By 1930, the enterprise suffered at the hands of the Depression and had to be halted until better times. It was restarted in 1936. The craftsmanship was most admirable and the designs were very much French styles of that time.

Ferguson’s Ceylon Directory for 1920-21 shows that his address was ‘Ascot’, Albert Crescent, Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo 7, a very elite and high-society area of Colombo. His son, Victor, is also listed as living there. It was in September 1927 that he saw for the first time, and quite by chance, a place that was to become his final home. At the center of the arc of the Bay of Weligama, in the southern tip of Ceylon, ‘a red granite rock, covered with palms and jungle shrub, rising from the Indian Ocean - an emerald in a setting of pink coral’ was where he finally chose to build and live his eternal dream of peace and tranquility close to nature that he loved so much. He swam across the narrow straight and saw an admirable view as he reached the plateau of the rock. "There was nothing", he recalled some ten years later, "between me and the South Pole".

Having located and identified his magical island, which was only a few acres in area, de Mauny then set upon the task of building it into his future home that he had been dreaming of for so many years. The foundation stone of the house was laid on February 1, 1927 and thus initiated the beginning of what was to become a famous and much visited site by many distinguished persons. The seeds of "The Gardens of Taprobane" had been planted. The island was named "Taprobane" based on the ancient name for Ceylon given by the Greeks and also because it suited its pear-shape outline more like a mini Ceylon itself.

The local name, by tradition, for the island was "Galduwa" meaning "Rock Island" in Sinhalese. It is conjectured that the island may have been a part of the mainland in ancient times as it is not shown in maps of the Portuguese Colonial era. The name Taprobane is also considered to have been originated from the Sanskrit "Tamba Vanna" meaning "copper colored" as a reference to the many famous golden beaches of Ceylon.

The house was built on a 135 feet square area with a broad terrace surrounding it. It was octagonal in shape spanning a surface of 25 by 25 yards. This gave the resident and eight faced view of the outside world with the north side facing towards the mainland and the south facing Antarctica in the South Pole. The central hall was called the "Hall of Lotus" and was also octagonal in shape measuring 26 by 26 feet. A 30 foot high dome lined with eight panels of inlaid wood was located in the center of the hall. The panels were dyed with an opaque gold and blue color and bore designs of lotus buds and flowers. The dome was supported by eight square pillars of Wedgewood-blue, 24 feet tall. On either side of these were two light columns, 12 feet tall, making sixteen in all, terracotta with gilded capitals. They supported a white stone traverse that connected the pillars in an arch that was 12 foot span. This was hung with curtains of soft blue silk with a deep brocaded border of art noveau design at the bottom colored black and gold on cream. The rooms converged on the hall through eight arches. A Sigiriya frescoe styled border ran along the stone white walls. The whole scheme was engulfed in a golden hue by light entering through Venetian blinds created out of amber colored glass.

The furniture within was made by local craftsmen using some of the rarest woods of Ceylon. They were mainly of French style although here were many pieces that belonged to the Dutch designs too. A carpet of Maidenhair ferns and a light bronze creeper with clumps of Eucharist Lilies adorned the hall. From the north-east terrace here was a splendid view of the shoreline, the forest of coconut palms fringing the Bay of Weligama, and the copper colored sands clustered with boats on a pea-green sea. Through the entrances of iron gates, with their design of brass-headed peacocks with Prussian blue eyes one could see he openness and vastness of the mighty Indian Ocean sprawling through time.

The Count was residing at Weligama in 1931. His son, Victor Alexander, was then residing at "Boxmead", Turret Road (now renamed to Dharmapala Mawatha and running from Kollupitiya junction in Colombo 3 all the way down to Liptons Circus in Colombo 7, bounding one of the most prestigious residential areas of Colombo), Colombo 7. Victor was employed at the Rosehaugh Tea Company, first as an Assistant and then as an under-manager. It is also reported in the Ferguson’s Directory that he held the position of Second Lieutenant in the Royal Navy. He went on to become a Commander in the Royal Navy in WW II, when he was awarded the DFC. He eventually went on to become the Chairman of Rosehaugh until he resigned in the early 1970’s.

Local records in Sri Lanka show that the island was actually purchased by de Mauny for a sum of Rs 250 in 1925 in the name of his son, Victor Alexander. It remained in his ownership until it was sold by public auction, in 1942, for Rs 12,000.

The Count encouraged people to visit his island. His historical visitor’s book was filled with names of Kings, Princes, Dukes, Duchesses, aristocrats, Prime Ministers, and other famous personalities from across the blue marble.

Count Maurice de Mauny Talvande died on November 27, 1941 while at the Chelvarayan Estate, Navatkuli, in the northern city of Jaffna in Ceylon. Hs remains were buried at St Mary’s Burial Grounds in Jaffna. John Lambert, a solicitor at the Chelvarayan Estate, is registered as the person who buried the body. Cause of death was given as "Angina Pectoris" which in common terms spells out as a "heart attack". The Ceylon Daily News, in its edition of Friday November 28 1941, had this printed in its obituary column:-

"The death has occurred in Jaffna yesterday of the Count de Mauny, who had resided in Ceylon for over twenty years, making his island home, Taprobane, off Weligama, one of the most attractive show pieces of the kind. A French Catholic, the count became a naturalized Englishman.

He was married to a daughter of the 4th Earl of Strafford and had one son, Mr. V A de Mauny, wo served with the British Navy in the last Great War and rejoined when the present hostilities broke out.

The late Count de Mauny’s principal hobbies, in which he was himself an adept, were the laying out of beautiful gardens and furniture craftmanship, whch he turned into an art. Besides his own at Taprobane, many of Colombo’s most pleasing gardens owe their inspiration to him.. His book The Gardens of Taprobane published in London some years ago, met with a good reception.

Count de Mauny who was nominated to the Weligama Urban Council, took a keen interest in public affairs and there was a time when he was a prolific writer to the newspapers. At one period he was even a member f the Labour Union.

The funeral takes place this morning."

A copy of the death certificate of Maurice, found among his daughter’s papers, is dated May 16, 1947 which was a year after her mother’s death. It was issued to the firm of solicitors of F J & G de Saram of Colombo who were probably the executors of the estate of both her parents.

Maurice’s son, Victor, passed away in 1978 and his daughter Alexandra died in 1989. They were both childless.

De Mauny’s island was a very famous destination for many notables from different nations. The island was sold by public auction in 1942 after having been neglected and in a state of derelict for many years. In 1951 the island was purchased, from its owner called Mr. Jinadasa, for English Pounds 5,000 by the famous American writer Paul Bowles whose first visit to Ceylon was in 1949. Bowles sold the island n 1956 to the Irish writer Shaun Mandy. For several years, since 1964, the island was in the ownership of the de Silva family whose senior member was Desmond de Silva QC, the very distinguished British barrister. The island was then on a long lease to o the very successful Hong Kong business tycoon Geofrey Dobbs. It may be interesting to note that the wife of Desmond de Silva is Princess Katharina of Yugoslavia.

Pictures taken from the Internet where the famous de Mauny Island has now been refurbished splendidly and is being marketed commercially as a resort island available for renting and occupation by tourists and others for rest and recreation.

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