Calverley House in Old Colombo

Rohan de Soysa

Calverley House, built in 1868, was the residence of a famous barrister, Frederick Dornhorst KC (1849 to 1926), in whose memory there is a much coveted prize given each year at Royal College to the most popular student. It was situated in what was then Turner Road, later re-named Turret Road, and now called Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha. It was a substantial colonial style mansion typical of such late 19th century/early 20th century houses, well-suited  for such an eminent person.

The exterior view indicates that there was a horseshoe shaped driveway with “In” and “Out” gates and with a central portico, both features in favour at the time. Occupants and guests could get down from their vehicles shielded from the rain by this portico.

Entering from the portico one would find oneself in a spacious verandah whose trellis work provided further protection from the elements. Probably the young lady seated on the left was Cissie, daughter of Frederick, who was to later marry Cyril Pieris, brother of Harry Pieris, perhaps the best Ceylonese portrait painter of his time and the founder of the Sapumal Foundation. The others shown are most probably the rest of the family.

The interior evokes the ambience of the gracious life of the era. Furnished with elaborately carved chairs, desks, beds and tables made of fine woods, popular during the Victorian era,  one can imagine the occupants moving around and entertaining stylishly.

The high ceilings would have provided a cool interior even during the hot season. Even today interiors such as these provide a cool space without need for air-conditioning.

These photos were probably taken between 1910 and 1920 by Madame Del Tufo, a well-known photographer of the time. They appeared in “Images of British Ceylon” by Ismeth Raheem and Percy Colin-Thome published in 2000.

For many decades now it has housed The Buddhist Ladies College. Though it has undergone many structural changes to adapt to its present use, a few sections of the original building are still recognizable.


Filed under British colonialism, cultural transmission, heritage, historical interpretation, Uncategorized

9 responses to “Calverley House in Old Colombo

  1. Fantastic images , would like to have them in the heritage exhibition please Mr. Rohan de Soysa , greetings Nina van Dort [ Member of Exhibition : Committee . Manager/coordinator ] : VOC Heritage in Asia : The Ceylon Dutch Burghers 1640 -2015
    Exhibition Heritage Committee Amsterdam 2015: The Ceylon Dutch Burghers
    The VOC heritage in Asia : The Dutch Burghers of Ceylon 1640 -2015

  2. Reblogged this on Chuls Bits & Pics and commented:
    The photos are from the now out of print “Images of British Ceylon” by Ismeth Raheem and Percy Colin-Thome published in 2000. Gives us a peep into the gracious living of the past.

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  6. John Richardson

    Many thanks for these beautiful photos. Viewing them, it is easy to wax sentimental about the era in which they are taken. And I have fond memories of Colombo 7 homes in which I was entertained even during very difficult times. In Chapter 1 of Paradise Poisoned, I wrote this: “To spend an evening with the older generation of Sri Lanka’s elite is to be reminded of the formality, elegance and contradictions of upper-class Victorian England…. “now authentic members of Sri Lanka’s traditional elite are an endangered species, facing extinction. Sri Lanka’s present leaders, whatever their antecedents, are very different.

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