Leonard Woolf and his friends in Hambantota
In 1904, F. Maur, the British Colonial Secretary appointed Leonard
Woolf as the deputy to Thomas Southern who was the chief officer in
Jaffna Kachcheri. Leonard Woolf had volunteered to come to Sri Lanka to
work under British colonial service. An under-current of strong
enthusiasm to make a thorough study of Sri Lanka was governing Woolf's
mind as soon as he set foot on Sri Lanka's shores. He became a social
explorer while he was dealing formally and informally with the people in
Jaffna and observing their struggle for life in the peninsula.
Thus Woolf made a broad survey of the lifestyle of people in Jaffna
simply to satisfy his natural curiosity about the new Asian country.
Subsequently Woolf studied the traditions and social customs of
Mahanuwara and marital traditions and typical dance forms in Sri Lanka.
John Jouis, the AGA for Jaffna used to entrust all his duties and
responsibilities to Woolf and Thomas Southern and pass time in freedom
with his wife in the quarters. Leonard Woolf and Thomas Southern
frequently visited John Louis who treated them well and entertained them
with friendly chat-ups and humorous tales.
However, John Louis was a short middle aged man who noticeably
ignored his duties and preferred reading books in his study.
Together to Kandy
Was John Louis transferred to Kandy on a promotion as the AGA for the
Central Province and Thomas Southern was appointed the director of
Botanical Gardens of Peradeniya.
wwLater Woolf too arrived in Kandy to assume duties as the chief
officer at 'Mahanuwara Kachcheri'. The three friends, together with
Woolf's personal servant 'Sinnathambi' (from Jaffna) stayed in a
bungalow in the picturesque surroundings at the base of Udawattakele
Woolf made arrangements to have with him his sister Bella Woolf who
was in England and propose her to his friend Thomas. Sinnathambi was
ever prepared to take care of her when Woolf had to attend to official
matters in remote regions in the vast central province.
Clifford, the inspirational figure
Hugh Clifford during this period was the acting Governor for Sri
Lanka and was living in isolation in his governor's mansion in Kandy.
His wife's tragic death made it impossible for him to reconcile himself
to life in Colombo and he seemed to be bent on becoming a virtual
recluse for the remainder of his life.
Before long, Clifford Changed his moods and attitude as Woolf's
company and frequent functions at Woolf's quarters dismissed all
disorientations from his mind. However, Clifford was Woolf's superior.
So much did Clifford count on Woolf's trustworthiness, efficiency and
friendship that he did not hesitate to appoint Leonard Woolf as the AGA
for Hambantota District (which subsequently provided much for writing
Village in the Jungle). Said Woolf on Hugh Clifford in one of his
"He (Hugh Clifford) elevated me to an unimaginable status that is
only a dream for an officer inferior in rank like me.
The post of AGA for a bigger district such as Hambantota is too much
for me and this decision by Hugh Clifford surprised my superiors. In
short he placed me above the heads of my superiors.
"I am a junior officer - too junior in comparison with the Governor.
He is above all, a man full of erotic feelings and aesthetic earnings.
"He loved women and had a wonderful ability to steal their hearts.
But most important, he had a surprising penchant for arts and culture.
Apart from that it is a pleasure to note that my friend Thomas Southern
has come to my district (Hambantota) as the District Judge for Tangalle
Life in Hambantota
However, Leonard Woolf sometimes expressed his bitter cynicism over
his own contribution towards safeguarding the interests of British
imperialism. This is most evident in the later chapters of his novel
Village in the Jungle which is a classic exposition of the colonialism
which undermined innocent, uneducated people in Sri Lanka. He travelled
to almost every village in Hambantota on foot, on cart, on bicycle and
sometimes on horseback. Leonard Woolf penned his impressions on the
general atmosphere and set up of Hambantota district.
"My residence (quarters) overlooks the vast expanse of the virgin
forest which extends upto four horizon. The ruins of the ancient kingdom
of 'Magama' lie scattered in profusion in this forest.
"The great monuments of the history of Hambantota district lie within
the wilderness... The whole environment is dry and a greater part of
'Magam Pattu' is occupied by dense forest teeming with wild animals.
Tissamaharama which has a considerably developed look and Katharagama is
not far from here.
"The stone pillars, demolished ceityas, stone statues in inscribed
caves, the temple walls with artistic frescoes are all legacies of a
proud history. All these are being destroyed by the forests being set
ablaze for chena cultivation.
More than half of my district is covered by Yala wildlife park and as
Englebreck, the director of the park claims ruined tanks and Buddhist
temples of Yala wildlife park."
Clifford back to England
Back in England, Hugh Clifford entered into a remarriage with Rodbell
who was a promising young writer there. Above all, Hugh Clifford himself
was an author who had centered his chief interest in oriental arts and
Here Leonard Woolf requested Clifford to appoint an officer to
explore and conserve the archaeological ruins which lay scattered
throughout the Hambantota district. Accordingly, the Archaeological
Department, under on order issued by Clifford informed Woolf that the
newly appointed Archaeological Commissioner Russel Ireton would deal
with the project. Leonard Woolf recorded.
"I primarily instructed Russel Ireton, my friend, about the nature
and locations of archaeological remains in Hambantota and about the
steps to be taken to conserve them.
"In 1911, I accompanied by my sister Bella her husband (Robert Lock)
and Thomas Southern left for our motherland. The new Governor informed
me that E. T. Millinton who had come to Sri Lanka with me would be
appointed the AGA for Hambantota district".
Death in Tissawewa
Following Leonard Woolf's departure from Sri Lanka, Russel Ireton
launched the project of delving into the archaeological legacy of
Hambantota in response to Woolf's earnest request.
First, Russel Ireton arrived at Maduwanwela Walauwa in Kolonna using
the route which lay through Ratnapura. After a few days, James William
Maduwanwela the chief, accompanied him to Embilipitiya and Russel Ireton
managed to arrive in Hambantota after a day's travelling on a cart.
Russel Ireton was the first archaeologist to have made a systematic
research into the ruins and Buddhist rock temples in the South.
The remains of historical monuments on the valley of Walawe river
were the first to be studied by Ireton with the official support and
friendly cooperation offered by the new AGA, E. T. Millinton.
Staying in the abodes of provincial chiefs, Russel Ireton succeeded
in investigating the sites of archaeological value such as
Tissamaharama, Yodha Kandiya, Karandu lena, Bandagiriya, Sandagiriya
Yatala and so forth.
However, tragedy touched the lives of Ireton and Millinton. Ireton
was eager to shoot birds which used to take shelter among the trees on a
small island in the middle of Tissa Wewa, when twilight hovered over the
expanse of water.
One moonlit night, Russel Ireton wallowed neck deep in the tank with
his gun pointed towards the trees on the island while Millinton was
watching on the shore.
Ireton swam towards the island to collect the hunted birds but he
drowned in the deep tank. Millinton, who jumped into the water to rescue
his friend, too sank to the bottom of Tissawewa.
A mission to preserve the archaeological legacy in Hambantota was