Remembering G. C. Mendis as Pioneer Historian of Sri Lanka

An Obituary Appreciation by WJF Labrooy, reprint from Daily News, 26 October 1976

G C Mendis Dr. G. C. Mendis, 1893-1976

Dr. Mendis’s contribution to the advancement of the teaching of Sri Lanka history at University level was a major factor in establishing new standards and achieving higher levels of scholarship and research in many institutions of higher learning in the island. Garrett Mendis received most of his elementary and secondary education at Kingswood College. Kandy,. founded by Mr. L. E- Blaze, himself a pioneer in promoting the teaching of Sri Lanka history in schools. Dr. Mendis Mcndis wrote two excellent text books for the purpose, assisted by the three books written earlier by Mr. L E. Blaze (1900), Mr. Donald Obeyesekere (1911). and Mr. H.W Codrington (1926).

His study of the history of his country led him to take an active interest in the nationalist movement which began in the second decade of the twentieth century.  Together with his elder brother, Lionel Mendis, he wrote pamphlets and newspaper articles in support of the Ceylon National Congress programme.

His first permanent appointment to a worthy teaching post came when he was appointed a lecturer in the Government Training College at Thurstan Road, Colombo. Sent on study leave to England he joined the London School of Oriental Studies and worked for his Doctorate under Professor Thomas William Rhys-Davids and was helped by Dr. Wilhelm Geiger as well as Sir Ralph Turner. The aim of his research was to examine the chronicles of Sri l.anka and his thesis gained him his Ph. D in 1931. Later on he was awarded the higher degree of Doctor of Literature bv the same university.

When he returned to Ceylon the University College prepared students for the London University external degree in History, and the scope was confined to medieval and modern European History, with the result that the only appointment which could be assigned to him was a visiting lectureship to teach Pali. Nothing daunted, he pressed on with his aim to have Sri Lanka History taught at graduate level.

He corresponded privately with officials In London to include a paper or two on Sri Lanka history in their Indian history courses, but met with no success owing to the absence of sufficient and suitable reading matter. Nevertheless, he obtained permission, with the assistance of Professor S. A Pakeman, to start an afternoon certificate course meant for graduate teachers and trained teachers in Sri Lanka History. The course met with great success.

Shortly after funds were provided which made it possible For University College to provide teaching in Indian History for the General and the Special external degrees of London, and Dr. Mendis was the obvious choice for the lectureship created for the purpose. He received this appointment on 1st July. 1937.

The standard or historical work and teaching at University and school level owes a very great deal to the selfless and determined efforts of Dr. G. C. Mendis to give Sri Lanka history its rightful place in our thinking and teaching. Dr Mendis continued in the service of the University until he retired in 1954.


  • Ceylon Today and Yesterday
  • Ceylon Under the British
  • The Early History of Ceylon
  • Our Heritage I
  • Our Heritage III
  • The ColebrookeCameron Papers: Documents on British Colonial Policy in. Ceylon, 1796-1833¸ed. G. C. Mendis, New. York: Oxford University Press, 1957.


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Filed under British colonialism, cultural transmission, education policy, heritage, historical interpretation, nationalism, sri lankan society, unusual people

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