The Sinhala Marriage which joined the South and ColomboJune 30, 2012, 5:02 pm
By Chandrabhanu Samaraweera.
Sir Charles Henry De Soysa, a great and renowned philanthropist in Sri Lanka had eight sons and seven daughters. Being an individual who pays attention to detail, he took great pain in selecting partners for his children in their respective marriages. Most of the marriages were consummated among the Kaurawa fraternity and they too were limited to the most affluent on the said clan.
Mr. Simon Perera Abeywardena, an eminently wealthy individual from the South had three sons and a daughter. Francis got married to Rita – a daughter of C.H. De Soysa. A son of C.H.De Soysa – Arthur, desired to enter into nuptial bonds with Regina, the only daughter of Simon Abeywardena. As the two families had a long and closely established relationship, consent was given for the marriage. This marriage made history in the South. It received wide publicity in England. "The London Daily Graphic" of 02 d March 1899 gave a prominent place to this wedding. It published Wedding Photographs and a long flowery description about the wedding. The Newspaper called it ‘The Sinhalese Wedding in 1899’.
The papers described the wedding thus." The marriage between the fourth son of C.H. de Soysa and wife, and Regina Perera, took place in Colombo last month. She is the daughter of well known Simon Perera. People were gathered by the side of the road from Galle to Colombo to welcome them. As Regina was a Buddhist by birth and Arthur de Soysa being a catholic, in the month of February 1899 the marriage took place at All Saints Church of Galle.
Professor Michael Roberts’ sister Miss Norah Roberts – the librarian of the Galle Library for 04 decades (1942 -1982) authored a book on Galle for which she labored for well over 10 years. The book –"Galle as quiet as Asleep"- gives an excellent description of Perera Abeywardenas’s family in the Chapter "People are going to Galle to see the Respectable People".
The Chariot carrying Arthur de Soysa and Regina reached the Galle Railway Station for the couple to embark on to a special Carriage which took them to Colombo along with their relatives. Along the roadways there have been many decorations.
Norah Roberts in her book claims that for the first time in the History of Sri Lanka, Ice Cream was served at the celebrations held in Galle. The Ice Cream was brought directly from a ship anchored in Galle – the main harbour of Sri Lanka at that time.
It was through the Galle Harbour that the main exports and imports were done during this period. Even the Tourists were travelling through this harbour. Galle at that time was an Economic Centre of the country. Captain Bayley was the local agent for P & 0 Company and was a very close associate of Simon Perera Abeywardena. Sub Contracts on all the requirements of the P&O ships such as coal, water and other things were entrusted to Simon Perera by Mr. Bayley. Miss. Roberts further states that the removal of the debris of the wreckages of the ships that collided with the rocks in the Galle harbour, was also entrusted to Simon Perera and his company by Mr. Bayley. As this could not be satisfactorily attended to by a single individual group, Simon Perera joined hands with his brother Sinnnothchy for this purpose and made the company a family concern.
In 1899 Captain Bayley’s mansion was bought by Simon Perera. As no Sinhalese has entered this type of business venture in the past, Simon Perera Abeywardena’s Family became the Richest Family in the South. T.S. Dharmabandu in his publication the ‘Karawa Wansa’ states under ‘Belikanda Brothers’ that they were so brave that they even intimidated the Englishmen.
Simon Perera the Great Philanthropist and the wealthiest in Galle in his time, hosted Colonel Henry Steel Olcott and Helena Patrovna Blavatsky to an exceptionally extraordinary lunch which according an entry in Olcott’s diary, carried 52 curries and an innumerable amount of sweets.
C.H. De Soysa lived in Bagatale Walauwa, situated in a land, spread over 120 acres commencing from Kollupitiya. Upon arrival of Prince Alfred –Queen Victoria’s son, it was renamed as Alfred House. Prince Alfred and his entourage were given a Grand Feast at Alfred House on 27th May 1920. Well known chefs of the Island were the people who prepared the food. All utensils used were Silver and the forks and spoons were of gold and their handles made of Ivory. It is said that these utensils were shared among the De Soysa Perera Abeywardena families and their close relations. When I say that I was able to see some of these utensils with my own eyes (My Grandmother, Agnes Samaraweera – Perera Abeywardena, showed them to me once). I trust the reader will not take me to be harping on pedigree.
Arthur De Soysa started to build a massive mansion for his beloved wife. It took a very long time to be completed. Though completed by 1912 she passed away before seeing it. It was known as ‘Regina Walauwa’. Lillian de Soysa one of the five daughters of Arthur and Regina de Soysa was married to H.A.J. Hulugalle. Hulugalle - the Doyen of English Journalism in Sri Lanka in his autobiography says that though he was not given anything at the time of his marriage he is satisfied with what he got – a loving wife who supersedes everything else.
The Regina Walauwa was bought by the government in 1920 and was given to the university. It is known as the "College House" today. A road connecting the Thurstan Road to Galle Road ran by the side of Regina Walauwa and the people of that time called it "Regina Road". In Latin Regina means Queen.
Through a misinterpretation of the Colombo Municipal Council, the Regina Road was called the Rajina Road. As Rajina is Queen in English it is now known as the Queen’s Road. In Bambalapitiya Arthur’s Place is so named to remember Arthur de Soysa. Alfred Place and Alfred House Gardens are so known in memory of C.H. De Soysa. The Bagatalle Walauwa later renamed as Alfred House was situated there and it was named as such on Prince Alfred’s visit to the house as mentioned earlier in this article.
In "The Mercantile Lore" a publication by Thomas Villiers, it is said that on 08th January of 1917 the Colombo Bank was inaugurated by Arthur de Soysa. The Board of Directors comprised of S.Van Morgan, F.R. Senanayake and O.B. Wijesekera. This Bank, though it has rendered immense assistance to the Planters and Businessmen came to an untimely end due to unwise investments and poor administration. Lavish expenditure of the immense wealth accumulated by both De Soysa and Perera Abeywardena (who were the beacons of Hospitality and Social Service in 1950s) by their respective descendants saw the decline of both families which resulted the emergence of a new generation of the rich.