112th death anniversary of C. H. de Soysa, patriot and philanthropist unequalled

Warusahennadige Charles Henry de Soysa Dharmagunawardane Vipula Jayasuriya Karunaratne Dissanayaka was born on the 03rd March 1836 at Moratuwa. He was a direct descendant of the Warusahennadige family which was in charge of the Devinuwara Maha Vishnu Dewale as its Basnayaka Nilame when it was sacked by the Portuguese in the 16th century. He was the only surviving child of Gate Mudaliyar Jeronis de Soysa and Mututantrige Prancisca Cooray. He was educated at Palliyagodella temple and later on at St. Thomas College Mutwal.

On the 04th of February 1863, he married Catherine, the only child of Chevalier Lindamulage Jusey de Silva, Knight of St. Gregory and Weerahennadi Weerabala Jayasuriya Patabendige Anna Fernando.

C. H. de Soysa’s contribution for the benefit of the people of this country in the fields of health education and religion is unparalleled even now. In 1866 he constructed the Katubedda road at Moratuwa and handed it over to the government. All buildings donated and set apart as charitable institutions, roads, bridges, tanks built by his father and uncle Gate Mudaliyar Susew de Soysa were kept in good repair as when they were alive.

In April 1870 he entertained HRH the Duke of Edinburgh at Bagatelle Walauwa later called Alfred House in honour of the prince’s visit. This house was situated in Colpetty, the grounds of which extended from Galle Road to Thurstan Road and from Bagatelle Road to School Lane, an extent of 120 acres now occupied by several hundred houses.

The Alfred model farm at Narahenpita inaugurated by C. H. de Soysa in December 1871 also commemorates the prince’s visit. The sum of 10,000 Pound Sterling and 87 acres of land in Kanatta were set apart for this project.

He was not only the first Ceylonese planter and exporter but was also the first Ceylonese banker for he was instrumental in establishing the Bank of Kandy in 1860.

In 1875 he built the Prince and Princess of Wales Colleges to commemorate the visit of the Prince of Wales. These two educational institutions were built on a land of fifteen acres in extent between Galle Road and the Lunawa Lake. The ceremonial opening was performed by HE Sir William Gregory, the Governor of Ceylon, on 14th September 1876.

St. Mathias Church at Lakshapathiya, Holy Emmanuel Churches at Moratuwa and Hanguranketha, St. John’s Church and School at Panadura, Hospitals at Lunawa, Marawila and Panadura, The Bacteriological Institute now known as the Medical Research Institute (MRI), were also built by the de Soysa family.

In 1889 this philanthropist constructed the Lunawa Road from the main road to the station, the railway station and the bridge spanning the Lunawa lagoon. He also erected the de Soysa building and six other buildings at Galle Face, Colpetty. When the Colombo museum and medical college were built he contributed to the cause.

At his own expense he arranged for printing and publication of work by the poet Kumaradasa and the Rev. Weligama Sri Sumangala.

He built and equipped the de Soysa Lying in Home now called the de Soysa Maternity Hospital at Kynsey Road with his own funds. This institution along with the Medical Museum attached to the Medical College donated by Mudaliyar Susew de Soysa, were both ceremonially opened on the 09th of December 1879.

He sponsored the Moratuwa Carpenters Society on Co-operative lines long before the concept of co-operation was introduced to this country. In 1884 he founded the Ccylon Agricultural Association which was a forerunner of the Ceylon National Association that agitated for reforms in the first decade of the twentieth century. He also sponsored the Moratuwa Association which was a forerunner of several welfare and public spirited organizations such as the Moratuwa Mahajana Sabha.

While in England in 1886 he contributed to Guys Hospital London, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, St. Georges Hospital Middlesex, University Hospital, St. Mary’s Hospital, Charing Cross and Westminster Hospitals, Victoria Chest Hospital, Queen Charlotte Lying in Home, Seamen’s Hospital, Royal Free Hospital, Royal Ophthalmic Hospital and many other institutions too numerous to mention.

He also purchased rare antiques such as the Yapahuwe Gate and other items which gifted to the museum.

The modernity of his broad outlook also finds expression in his attitude to religion. Although he was a Christian he readily supported Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian Institutions. The numerous churches he built in Moratuwa, Hanguranketha, Panadura and Marawila, the several temples he built in Ratmalana, Moratuwa, Marawila and Hanguranketha, Hindu Kovils in Jaffna and the land he donated to mosques in Colombo bear testimony to the catholicity of his religious outlook.

C. H. de Soysa died of hydrophobia on 29th of September 1890. His wife Catherine was the first Sinhalese to be granted the rank style and precedence of a widow of a Knight Bachelor of the realm.

At the time of his death C. H. de Soysa owned over 74 plantations of coffee, coconut, cinnamon and citronella totalling over twenty seven thousand acres. His immovable assets included residential properties in Moratuwa, Kandy and Colombo. His capital investments lay distributed in mines, industries, oil mills and import export business.

When the Colombo Municipality compiled an estimate of the assets held by the Sinhalese in the city of Colombo in 1915, the estate of C. H. de Soysa was appraised at Rs. 1,034,410.00 the only one to reach the million mark and this was after some of his investments had been dispersed among his children who also figured in the list.

Unlike most people nowadays who collect donations for charitable institutions which are ultimately named after them, C. H. de Soysa’s contributions were all from his own personal wealth.

He will be remembered as one who developed his talents and used them on behalf of his fellowmen regardless of race and religion, giving them freedom from want, ignorance and disease and freedom of expression.
Dr. K. N. M. D. Cooray