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Sunday, 11 October 2015





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Roadside mementos left behind

Our local rulers have been very modest about the authorship of their creations which modesty in many instances serves a headache to later day historians and researchers. Only king Nissanka Malla thought of them and inscribed his name in all artefacts belonging to his reign. In fact, he overdid it and planted his name on works of other rulers too, according to legendary hearsay.

Colombo National Museum

Coming to the subject concerning our rulers of the west, it is better to sieve out the British lot for a good many of them left their names not on their actual creations but on street boards of the mega city. Did they do it themselves? No. They did not stoop to such vain glory as to seek publicity via street boards but the circle around them can be held responsible. Not that it was a criminal or derogatory act but it had its negative side too. For example, the name of the founder of our museum, Gregory, had over the years got contaminated to Girigoris on the particular name board. Trying to nationalize the name? It sounded more a mix of Porto and Dutch (akin to Cornelius).


It is better to start with North, the first governor. Is there a North Road? No. The Colombo - Jaffna road is sometimes referred to as North road, but it had nothing to do with Frederick North for road building actually began with Barnes. But strangely or not so strangely, Guildford Crescent in Colombo 7 is connected to him, for he was later bestowed the status of Sir Guildford. Next we come to Maitland who in that neighbourhood is again commemorated by Maitland Crescent. Then on to Brownrigg Road, now no more, after the role played by governor Brownrigg to suppress the 1818 rebellion got raked in independent Lanka in all gory detail.

The next governor Paget ruled only for one year but he has left behind Paget Place today domiciled by a very powerful figure.

Barnes Place again in Colombo 7 is an inadequate tribute to Governor Barnes who lisped the mantram, "First roads, second roads and third roads "and went on to tie the island in a whirl of highways, connecting the metropolis not only with Kandy but with all the main cities. Horton however, who succeeded him left a whole place as a Horton Place today considered a luxury enclave. Mackenzie Place commemorates governor of the same name while Campbell Place has been left behind by Sir Colin Campbell.


Now comes Torrington Road and Place both erased from the map of Colombo city today, as a retaliation to his harsh acts as the shooting of a Bhikkhu. The name Independence Square has replaced it but still Torrington seems smooth to the local tongue in this strange world of ours, despite it being the name of a foul imperialist. Then, Ward Place by Governor Ward who sweated over the Colombo - Kandy railway line and introduced the electric telegraph bringing the island into the epicenter of communications, too is no adequate recognition.

McCarthy Road, memento to governor McCarthy is today renamed Wijerama Road. Onto Rosemead Place. Was there a governor Rosemead? No. He was really Robinson, later conferred the title of Lord Rosemead. And now comes Gregory Road, Gregory Place, even Gregory lake in far away Nuwara Eliya, all in memory of Governor Gregory who loved the island and made a name by spawning our museum.

Longden Terrace in the heart of the city runs as a memento to governor Longden. Now comes Gordon. Stanmore Crescent is named after him, for he later got elevated to Sir Stanmore. Why should the gardens of President's HOUSE be named after him? The riddle remains and the Gordon Gardens goes on made more famous or infamous by the historical landmark etching Portuguese arrival. A whole town plus stretch of famed road, ie. Havelock Town and road run in memory of governor Havelock. No wonder for he had an initial hand in the electrification of the city. Then comes Ridgeway. Familiar name? Yes. Due to the Ridgeway hospital. But it is named after the lady, again something amiss there, for it was Lady Havelock who had laboured over it though it was opened by Lady Ridgeway. The Colombo Eye Hospital too owes itself to the Ridgeways at the initial stage.


Going out of point, Governor Ridgeway made another novel legacy, that is to the name of the most famed politician in our country, i.e. Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike. Who was behind this christening? Obviously the father of SWRD, Maha Mudaliyar Solomon Bandaranaike, coming down a long line of Pandarams.

Who built the picturesque and colourful EYE Hospital? It solidified itself during governor Blake's time. Today Blake Road of Borella runs in his honour but dishonour sets in when it is called mere Belek paara. McCallum Road is special to Lake House, for a number of years it ran by this stately building in honour of governor McCallum when plans for self-government under Donoughmore reforms were in the offing. Sentiments ran so high as regards freedom that many a street name bonding with colonialism was abandoned. Hence McCallum gave way to D R Wijewardena Mawatha who was the foremost architect of Lake House.

The McCallum bookshop too is a memento of this governor. Now enters governor Chalmers but though he was well versed in Pali and Buddhism, the Chalmers granaries are the only namesake left behind.


And why Mannings Flats in the heart of the town? And even Manning Town? All in the name of governor Manning who strained himself over reforms for the colony about to gain independence. Governor Clifford seems the last governor to have his memory retained on the streets of the capital, that is via Clifford road. After this, the practice of naming Colombo streets after governors seems to have disappeared perhaps due to frenzied national sentiments fast growing. Any roads in Colombo named after our own kings? Dutugemunu Road off Kohuwala presents the only example as far as the writer is aware.

The Kandyan kings had no good word for Colombo and in fact Rajasinghe II dubbed it the city of evil, and wished the city be razed to the ground.

He was however provoked by a personal prejudice for his younger brother Wijepala of Matale and was parading the streets against him, flanked by Portuguese soldiers!


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