The advent of the first Sinhala newspaper
It is rather ironic that in a majorly Sinhala populated country, the
first newspapers were in the medium of English. Not so ironic, but
falling in line with the course of contemporary trends. After all, the
ruling class of this colonial outpost was English, and furthermore, the
native language and literature had plummeted low due to turbulent
politics that had raged for years, that the springing of a newspaper in
the local language seemed to be a near impossibility on linguistic and
But, it did spring, first one, and then a whole host of them. Today,
they are popularly known as pattara or puvath path, but at the outset
they were known as Nowus kadadasi or Aranchi patra. Gradually, the word
Puwath patha seeped into useage.
What was the first Sinhala newspaper? It was the Lankalokaya and it
debuted from a press in Galle in June 1860. Its price was given as 6
pence. It was published on behalf of C.W.K. Jayawardena Mudaliyar by W.
E. Eating. Editor, was lawyer William Perera Ranasinghe. These are facts
given in a text by K. D. P. Wicremesinghe, though other sources
including academics such as Dr. K. D. Paranavithana quote Ven.
Bulathgamuwe Dhammalankara Siri Sumantissa as the editor.
Facts about this newspaper cannot be easily deciphered due to the
long passage of time. The only copies available are photocopies
preserved today in the National Archives. It is the first copy of these
photocopies that gives the year of debut as 1860. Date: -- September 10.
The first page of this gives the following vital facts:
*This Pathraya, Lankalokaya is published two days a month, ie. on the
10th and 24th. A detail is added, "If these days fall on Sundays, the
paper will be published the subsequent Monday."
Following instructions are also given:
"Those who subscribe articles should send them 2 or 3 days in
"When making payments (for a monthly lot, maybe) an advance payment
has to be made. Otherwise, the payment is defunct".
Such instructions transpire a systematic management of the first
newspaper at the very outset.
Advertisements seem to have got priority right from the start. Here
is a sample on the first page itself, and is entwined with or running
with the coaches that have begun to run along the coastline, along the
Colombo - Matara road.
(The word 'coach' later seems to have erupted into the word
koachchiya not driven by horses this time, but by iron monsters).
"The food meant for the horses of the coaches running to Matara,
(according to info received) are being robbed in the stables of
Habaraduwa, Goiyyapana and Mirissa. If anybody gives us information on
these miscreants a pound will be awarded."
The rest of the pages are on the Manthrana sabha (Legislating body)
and the High Judiciary body (Uthum Adikarana sabha).
Reports of court cases and episodes related to court cases too are
given. Foreign news too is given a place. Here are some stray news.
"His highness General Aubrien has been appointed head of the troops".
"Out of those miscreants deported to Malacca from Ceylon, six have
died on the way. One of them is Goonethileka from Harispattuwa".
So Malacca has linked with South Africa and Mauritius as places of
deportation for criminals or those suspected of, treachery to state, who
seem to be in plenty.
The title of the reigning queen of the times (probably queen
Victoria) too finds mention in an instance of the withdrawal of a
There is also a curious mention of the arrival of the family of
Governor Ward at the harbour of Galle, "last Friday," but, what is
curious is the wording, "paralokaprapthavu Sir Henry Ward" or the
deceased Governor Ward. The only British Governor to die here was an
Anderson. Maybe, a bungling of words, as happens in many a newspaper
Galle harbour, however, seems to have been the entry and departure
point for international travellers. But, it was soon to give way to
Colombo harbour, till of course oceanic travel succumbed to air travel.
The city of Galle itself sank into oblivion with these developments
though its heritage aspect was never obliterated .
Coming back to newspapers, for a maiden paper, Lankalokaya does stand
high as regards content. The reasons for this can be surmised as the
patronage given by English newspapers. Since the reading clientele was
different (English readers vs Sinhala readers) there was no necessity
for rivalry and on request, news that reached the English newspapers via
cables were given over to the Sinhala papers.
(Main source: text by Siri Thilakasiri published by Godage