Saturday Magazine
The Colombo Chetties-who were they?

By A. T. S. Paul

The advent of the Colombo Chetty community from Nagapatnam, India is well documented from 1663 during the reign of King Rajasingha 11 of Kandy, and the governorship of the Dutch Ryckloff Van Goens. With the arrival of the westerners in search of the riches of the east, the Chetties of India used the opportunity to further their trade. Tandava, M.P. Aserappa, a wealthy ship owner, arrived in his own vessel from Nagapatnam with his brother Arthurunarayan. He was a Hindu. On his conversion to Christianity, he took the name of Anthony Pieris Aserappa, Arthurunarayan died on arrival. Anthony Pieris Aserappa married an Indian lady. Their son Louis Pieris, (Hindu name Thandaramurthi) married his cousin in India. They had ten children-six boys and four girls.

The Aserappas

The eldest son of Louis Pieris, Anthony Pieris Aserappa married the daughter of Senapathi Chettiar. Due to the difficulty of finding suitable partners of the same caste and religion, the other sons, Philip Pieris, Christopher Pieris, Saveril Pieris, and Bastian Pieris Aserappa did not marry, nor did Louis Pieris's four daughters.

Anthony Pieris Aserappa had two sons, Louis Pieris and Saveral Pieris. Both were merchants.

Louis Pieris Aserappa married Anna daughter of Thomas Soosay Chettiar (1764). They had two sons, Anthony Pieris Aserappa, and Peter (Pedro) Pieris Aserappa. Louis Pieris died in 1804, Saverely Pieris remained a bachelor.

Anthony Pieris Aserappa (1769-1813) was a ship owner whose ships sailed between Nagapatnam, Colombo, and Mumbai. He married Johanna Rodrigo Thambichetty. They had four children Louis Pieris, John Pieiris, Kathalia Pieris, and Anna Pieris.

Louis Pieris Aserappa the eldest son, was Shroff of the salt stores in Negombo. He married Magdalene Jurgen Ondaatchi daughter of Solomon Jurgen Ondaatchi Interpreter Mudaliar of the Galle, Courts.

The marriage of Louis Pieris Aserappa and Magdalene Ondaatchi was fruitful. They had four children whose marriages strengthened the bonds between the Aserappa's the Ondaatchi's, and the Casie Chettiya.

The eldest son Anthony Louis Aserappa Pulle was Head master of the Mission school in Slave Island. He married Maria Ondaatchi daughter of Philip Jurgen Ondaatchi. They had no children.

The eldest daughter Magdalene Pieris Aserappa, married Johan Christoffel Fernando Pulle Chettiar son of Fernando Pulle Chettiar of Jampettah. They had two daughters Anna and Maria. Anna married Harry Casie Chetty, Interpreter Mudaliar of the District Court Colombo, later Headmaster of the Lower school of St Thomas College. Their son Godwin Casie Chetty married Jane de Rosiro. They had two sons Mervyn Casie Chetty (1913-1999) the late lawyer and poet, and Rajah Casie Chetty who died in 1974.

Peter Louis Aserappa Pulle the second son of Louis Pieris and Magdalene married Mary Ondaatchi the daughter of Peter Jurgen Ondaatchi, Their son Walter Nicholas (1864-1928) was a Police magistrate in Negombo. He married Lily Allagakoon. Their daughter Mary Rani Aserappa married Segarajasingham.

The third son of Louis and Magdalene-Solomon Louis Aserappa Pulle (1837-1902) was a Proctor of the Supreme Court, Colombo, married Mary Anne Casie Chetty (1841-1917). They had a large family of eleven. Six were girls, Alice, Evelyn, Frances, Ella, and Florrie were splinters. Maud married S.C. Kanagasundaram Chief clerk of the Colombo Kachcheri. They had four daughters Selvarani, Muthurani, Maharani and Thangarani.

Two of the five boys, Arthur Louis Reginald, and Charles Pieris were bachelors, while Anthony married Saloma Marugappa, and Ernest Proctor of the Supreme Court, married Birdie Allagakoon. They had three sons, Ernest Kingsley Aserappa BA (Cantab) Advocate, later Legal Draftsman, Hector an airline pilot, Earle, and one daughter Irene. Aserappa.

John Pieris Aserappa (1813-1861), the second song of Anthony Pieris Aserappa and Johanna Rodrigo Tambichetty was a clerk in the Colombo Kachcheri. He married Wilhelmina Amelia Jurgen Ondaatchi (1831-1891), daughter of William Jurgen Ondaatchi Interpreter Colombo Courts, and niece of Rev. Jurgen Ondaatchi. Translator and Colonial Chaplain (1835-1897) John and Wilhelmina raised a large family of eight-six girls, and two boys. Marriage with foreigners were recorded for the first time.

Anne married Robert Smith sub editor of the Times of Ceylon. She died in 1876 of childbirth. Ellen (1848) married an Irishman, John Cowell who was a store keeper. William was a bachelor, and Angela was a spinster. Magdalene (Maria) 1848 married a German engineer Arthur Kurt Von Possoner (1833-1900). Johanna and Charlotte remained spinsters. Johan Edwin (1860-1931) who was Police, magistrate at Avissawella, married Catherine Rosa De la Harpe a Dutch Burgher. They had no children.

Kathalia Pieris Aserappa (1797-1822), daughter of Anthony Pieris Aserappa and Johanna Rodrigo Tambichetty married Philip Jurgen Ondaatchi, son-of Rev Mathew Jurgen Ondaatchi. They had no children.

The Muttiah and Muttukrishna Connections

Kathalia's sister Anna Pieris Aserappa, married, Johan Rodrigo Pullenayagam Muttiah CCS Police Magristrate Kayts in 1927. Their daughter married Rev Gabriel Rodrigo Muttukrishna They had two children. Anna and John. John's son George settled in South Africa.

The" Ice Kompaaniiya" at Kompaniveediya

Arthur Kurt Von Possner the manager of the Colombo Ice Co. was a colourful character who worked as an engineer during the construction of the Suez canal. He arrived in Ceylon and managed the first Ice factory. Prior to his arrival ice was imported as mini icebergs. This was auctioned at the jetty. Residents of Colombo wrapped cut blocks of ice in blankets to delay melting. "Eating" ice, and iced aerated drinks with brandy were popular among the social elite... The first ice machine was imported in 1863. In 1866 the Colombo Ice Co was managed by Arthur Von Possner. He lived at Glenie Street named after an Archdeacon of Colombo. This area was locally known as Kompaniveediya, named after the Ice Company. Von Possner introduced the "Elephant" as the trade mark of the company, which later became Elephant House. He used to hire a boat to take him across the Beira Lake to the Galle Face Hotel for his favourite drink. One night, after one too many he walked in the wrong direction towards the sea and shouted "Yakko botuwa genning" (Ceylon in our Times 1894-1969 p 82). Von Possner and Magdalene had four daughters, Laura, Wilhelmina (Mini), Anna, and Therese. Laura and Mini were among the social elite of their day. They remained spinsters. Anna married Wagner of the Freudenberg Company and Therese who trained as a nurse at St Thomas Hospital London married a patient named Percy Napton of San Fancisco and emigrated to California.

The Ondaatchis

The Ondaatchiis were from Tanjore South India. In 1669 Michael Jurie Ondaatchi was physician to the King of Tanjore. He was summoned by the Dutch Governor Adrian Van der Meyden to treat his sick wife. He treated her with a bath of water in which 23 jungle herbs were boiled. The Dutch Governors wife recovered. Ondaatchi was converted to Christianity, married a Portuguese wife, and adopted the name "Michael Jurgen Ondaatch". He died in 1714. His son Rev William Jurgan Ondaatchi married Hermina Whint of Holland. Their son was Peter Philip Juriaan Ondaatchi (1758-1814) He had his entire education in Holland. He was a distinguished academic, and poet, publishing books on physics, philosophy and history.

There is a tombstone in St Thomas Church Gintupitiya which reads "Natalia Aserappa wife of Philip Jurgen Ondaatchi 1787-1812 d age 25" (Running in the Family, Michael Ondaatchi p66) Dr William Charles Ondaatchi was the first Ceylonese Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens Peradeniya. He introduced the olive to Ceylon. Rev. Jurgen Ondaatchi was translator and Chaplain. His son Simon was the last Tamil Colonial Chaplain of Ceylon.

Philip Francis Ondaatchi's son, Philip Mervyn Ondaatchi served as a Major in the CLI during World war 2, and later was a planter. He married Doris Gratien sister of Noel Gratien QC, and had two sons and a dughter. The eldest son, Christopher Ondaatchi CBE millionaire businessman was born in Kandy, educated at St Thomas College and Blundells school UK. He has funded many Trusts and Institutions. The younger son, Michael Ondaatchi (1962) a famous author and Booker prize winner. He emigrated to Canada with his brother Christopher. Michael's entire education was in Canada at Duulwich College and Queens University. He has published several books.

Peter (Pedro) Pieris Aserappa Pulle (1787-1844) was a much married man. His first mariage was in India to Muttukrishna daughter of Raja Sri Abraham Devanasan Muttukrishna, who was a Christian. The only daughter of this marriage Christina Pieris Aserappa married Abraham Jurgen Ondaarchi son of Thomas Jurgen Ondaatchi in 1834. They had one daughter Julianna Ondaatchi (1834). She was fifteen years old when she married William Jurgen Ondaatchi who was fifteen years her senior. There was no issue from this union. They adopted Walter Nicholas Aserappa.

The De Melho Wannigakoon's

Their recorded ancestry dates way back to 1669 when Don Simon De Mehlo Wannigakoon was born.

He had seven children, John (1729-31), Rev. Philip (1723-90), Johanna (1725-75), John (1727-71), Magdalene (1729-77), Susanna (1733), and Simon (1741-86). Rev Philip Wannigakoon married Magdalene Jurgen Ondaatchi in 1744. They had a family of seven. Christina (1745), Rachel (1748). Susanna (1750), Simon John (1751), Antonia Victoria (1752), Magdalene (1754), and William (1761).

Antonia Victoria married John Carr Arndt in 1765. They had a daughter Magdalene Elizabeth (1786) and a son Bernard Christian Arndt (1799). Both their children married Burghers. Magdalene married twice. Hendrick Steindeker in 1786, and Rev Christian Schrader in 1798. Bernard Christian married Anna Elizabeth de Niese in 1799.

The youngest son of Don Simon De Mehlo Wannigakoon 1696 was Simon De Mehlo Wannigakoon (1741) Mudaliar of Jampettah Street. He had two daughters, Jackoba Magdalene and Anna Julianna Wannigakoon Jackoba Magdalene married Rev Jurgen Ondaatchi. Anna Julianna married William Jurgen Ondaatchi brother of Rev. Jurgen Ondaatchi. She later married Peter Pedro Pieris Aserappa who was previously married to Muttukrishna of India. Anna Julianna was born in 1801 and died seventy years later.

Peter Pedro Pieris Aserappa and Anna Julianna Wannigakoons children were John De Melho (1831) Simon De Melho (1832), Loovis De Melho (1836), Anthony De Melho (1837), and Philip De Melho (1840). All adopted the pre fix De Melho to their names after their grandfather Simon De Melho Wannigakoon.

The descendents of John De Melho and Simon De Melho were prominent citizens of this country.

Descendents of the early Aserappas

Peter (Pedro) Aserappa and Anna Julianna Wannigakoon had five children. The eldest son, John De Melho Aserappa (1831-1891) was a businessman and proctor of the Supreme Court in Avissawella. By 1867 he had settled down in Colombo. John De Melho built his home Zion House at Maradana Road Borella. He wished to live in close proximity to the Church, the Hospital, and the Cemetery.

St. Lukes Church where he worshipped was opposite his home. The General Hospital was round the corner and the Kanatte Cemetery a short carriage drive away. Selina his wife was a devout Christian. Her example and teaching of the scriptures led to the conversion of a Malayalee employee. Mrs. Aserappa urged the CMS Secretary of the time to start the Church of Ceylon Malayalam Mission to minister to Malayalee converts in Ceylon. Mrs. Aserappas convert — Paul, became an Evangalist in the Malayalam Mission and later, under the influence of the Pentecostal Missionaries from Australia became a member of the Penetecostal Chruch, going on to found the Ceylon Pentecostal Mission where he is still remembered as Pastor Paul.

John De Melho Aserappa

John De Melho and Selina Perera had three girls and five boys. Their eldest daughter Amelia was born at Avissawella 1845. She married Cecil James de Silva Foreman platelayer in the railway. In 1893. His father was a Station Master, They had a family of seven. The eldest Cecil Ernest (1894) a Inspector of Police, married Gladys Dhanapala of Kurunegala. Amelia Octavia (1895) married Dr. Arthur Perera LMS, while Florence Beatrice 1897 married S. E. N. Nicholas. The second son John Albert (1898-1966) Conservator of Forests who was educated at Trinity College Kandy and Kebel College Oxford, married Irene Aserappa daughter of Ernest Aserappa. A famous cricketer in his day. Mabel married Dr. D. B. J de Silva, later Medical Superintendent of the General Hospital Colombo. Aileen (Lena) 1905 married C. E. Simithraaratchi first Ceylonese Principal of Trinity College Kandy. Edward Reginald (1906) Shell Company married Mary Jayaweera.

The eldest son of John De Melho Aserappa and Selina Perera was John Jeramy (1867-1918) He married Anna Maria Timm a German lady from Hamburg who died during World War 1. John Jeramy thereupon married Prudence De Vlesschawwer (1881-1951) by which marriage she had a daughter Mary Clementine (Tinica) and Dr. John Jeramy Aserappa MD. During World War 2, Dr. John was held by the Germans as a prisoner of war. He worked as a doctor among the prisoners, and contracted tuberculosis whilst a POW. He died in May 1946.

John De Melho a second son, Edward Peter Aserappa (1869) qualified as a doctor LRCP LRCS. He was a Provincial surgeon in Ceylon. He remained single.

Mary Julia (1871-1965) married Lazarus Jayawardene, Registrar of Births and Marriages. Mary Julia and Lazarus had two daughters, May Adelaide (1910), Dulcie (1911), and a son. May Adelelaide (Ada) married Dr Leslie De Lanerolle, Dulcie married G. W. Stork.

Richard Humbert FCH born in 1874. He qualified in England as an engineer. He joined the Indian Railways. In 1910 he married Hetty Baron. Hetty was the daughter of Edwin James and Martha Baron of London. Richard and Hetty’s children was Richard Edwin (1910-46) a Major General of the Corps of Engineers Indian Army, Hetty Susan (1912), and John Philip (1917). Richard Edwin married Mary Bird. They had a daughter Jennifer Mary MA (1948) and Lynn Grace (1949). John Philip of the Ceylon Civil Service married Wilhelmina (Dutch). He later retired from the Ceylon Civil Service to join the Colonial Civil Service in Hong Kong.

Fredrick Rudolph 1874-1922 was unfortunately a chronic invalid.

Laura Selina was born at Zion House, Borella in 1880. She married Edward Charles Bakmiwewa, President of the Village Tribunal Kurunegala in 1907. There was no issue from this marriage. They adopted Alec Barrington.

Christian Victor, the youngest son was born at Zion House. He qualified in England as a doctor. On his return to Ceylon, he was appointed Chief Medical Officer of Health Colombo. He married Leilawathie Srinivasam daughter of Balasundum Sirinivasam Bar at Law Inner Temple. They were married at Davids Church Gaya Bihar India in 1919. They had two sons, Harindra (1919), Ajit Kumar (1921), and two daughters Padmini Vannaruha and Dilkusha. Dilkusha (1923) married Senanayake and Padmini Vannaruha married Capt Malcolm De Costa who served in the Navy in World War 2.

Simon De Melho Aserappa (1837-1906) was the second son of Peter Pedro Aserappa and Anna Julianna Wannigakoon. He was sent to England for his education as a teenager. He qualified as a doctor. He was the first Ceylonese to obtain the degree of MD Edin, where he was a contemporary of Lord Lister. He was the first Ceylonese Chief Medical Officer of the Colombo Municipality. He married Emily Julia Wake (1838-1905) in London in 1858. Emily Julia was the second daughter of Bishop William Basil Wake.

Since Emily Julia was barren, Simon with the consent of Julia, contracted a surrogate marriage.

He daughter Dora Elenor Aserappa (1877-1940) married Dr. S. C. Paul (1872-1942) on the 4th of May 1899. They had six sons and three daughters.

Dora's brother Colin Florian Aserappa (1873-1891) died aged 18 at the eve of his departure to England for his education.

Louvis De Melho Aserappa (1836-37) the third son of Peter Pedro Aserappa died aged one.

The last son of Peter Pedro Aserappa and Anna Julianna Wannigakoon, was Anthony Dr Melhi Aserappa (1837-1868). He was a MA of Glasgow, and a Barrister at Law. He practiced at the Batticoloa Courts.

The Slave from Africa.

Historical slaves were shipped from Zanzibar East Africa to Ceylon and auctioned at Slave Island. Colombo. The last will of Peter Pedro Aserappa No. 936 dated 23 Nov. 1844 2. reads" It is the will and desire that after the death of either of us, in consideration of the long and faithful service of our slave Bey Manuel, he be allowed to go at large if he desires it; but should he be inclined to remain in the service of the survivor, it is our will and desire, he be protected and his wants provided for by the survivor and our children as long as he choose to remain in service".

I am grateful to some direct descendents of John de Melho Aserappa a family for giving me the details of the Colombo Chetties from their family records.

It is our hope that this detailed history of the lives of the Colombo Chetties will help other Chetty families to trace their ancestry back to 1663.