Leonard Woolf speaks and recollects … in 1965

leonard woolf 33 Interview with Leonard Woolf, conducted by Michael Roberts, 22 December 1965 … now digitised by Special Collections, Barr Smith Library, University of Adelaide.

leonard woolf 11  leonard-woolf 44

AT……. http://digital.library.adelaide.edu.au/dspace/handle/2440/80412

Type: Sound
Title: Roberts, Michael. Oral History Project. Tape 130. Woolf, Leonard. 22 December 1965.
Author: Roberts, Michael
Issue Date: 22-Dec-1965
Description: Interviews by Michael Roberts of retired public servants who had served in Sri Lanka (mainly in the Ceylon Civil Service), politicians and other notables.
Appears in Collections: Sound Recordings
Files in This Item:

File Description Size Format
Roberts. Tape 130 Side 2.MP3 43.85 MB mp3 View/Open
Roberts. Tape 130 Side 1.MP3 43.85 MB mp3 View/Open

The Leonard Woolf transcript has been digitised and is available as a link from the transcript listing at http://www.adelaide.edu.au/library/special/mss/roberts/transcripts%20listing/

This interview was but one step in a series of oral history recordings made by Michael Roberts in late 1965 and early 1966 — financed by the ASIA FOUNDATION in Ceylon and encouraged by Professor Karl W. Goonewardena of Peradeniya University. This work was pursued after he had submitted his D. Phil. dissertation in History and before he returned to a post at the Department of History at Peradeniya University in March 1966 and could not have been carried out without the encouragement of his wife Shona nee Graham. Later, at Peradeniya she also transcribed some of the interviews, including that with Woolf.

The ROBERTS Mss at the Barr-Smith can be located at http://www.adelaide.edu.au/library/special/mss/roberts/.  There is a link from the Series 1 description to the retyped list of interview tapes and a list of transcripts in what is called ROHP in brief. Contact cheryl.hoskin@adelaide.edu.au for more information.

MR + babyKim at Bath Place (2) (1)Michael and baby Kim at Bath Place, Oxford with New College tower in background mike + babyKim at Bath Place_edited-1 


* Christopher Ondaatje: Woolf in Ceylon. An Imperial Journey in the Shadow of Leonard Woolf, 1904-11, Harper Collins, 2005, ISBN 13: 978-0-00-2000718-4 … reviewed in http://www.island.lk/2006/05/17/midweek4.html

* Leonard Woolf: Diaries in Ceylon, 1908-1911,  being the Ceylon Historical Journal vol. IX, 1-4, 1959-60.

* Leonard Woolf: Growing: An Autobiography of the Years 1904 to 1911.

* Victoria Glenndinning: Leonard Woolf, 2006, Simon & Schuster.

Also Note http://thuppahis.com/2013/03/11/the-symposium-on-village-in-the-jungle-at-oxford-a-brief-report/

woolf growing

ROHP TRANSCRIPTS OF SOME INTERVIEWS [done way back in the late 1960s at Peradeniya by Shona Roberts and Michael R] At New Peradeniya Railway Station  SHONA and KIM Roberts at New Peradeniya station, circa 1972/73

Aluwihare, Sir Richard  68 p.
Blood, Sir Henry  62 p.
Dyson, E.T.  46 p.
Ferguson, G.H.  51 p.
Gimson, Sir Franklin  84 p.
Goonewardena, Leslie  34 p.
Hartwell, Sir Charles  45 p.
Leach, Frank  127 p.
Lucette, E.H.  34 p.
Miles, G.C.  58 p.
Mulhall, J.A.  65 p.
Newnham, H.E.  71 p.
Nihill, J.H.B.  22 p.
Roberts, T.W.  89 p.
Rodrigo, Edmund  54 p.
Sandys, M.K.T.  38 p.
Stevens, F.G.  23 p.
Strong, A.N.  180 p.
Tilney, C.E.  41 p.
Wirasinha, V.L.  53 p.
Woolf, Leonard  30 p.
Woolley, Sir Charles  45 p.

Comments on E. Leach’s book Pul Eliya  c. 100 p.
(various correspondents, arranged alphabetically

Comments on interviews  c. 300 p.
(various correspondents, including both those for whom transcripts are available and many others, arranged alphabetically).

The purpose of these interviews was archival. By and large the approach was empiricist in the old British tradition. As such, I expect that the questions reveal considerable naivete. Again, the audible quality will be varied and could be poor in the instance of several interviews in Sri Lanka because of street noise [totally absent in Britain] and other impediments [a vacuum cleaner in background in one case]. Note, too, that the original interviews were on spools and what we have now for conversion are cassette-tapes – which were composed in the late 1980s. This in itself was a major operation funded by the University of Adelaide and undertaken by students hired for the purpose with myself supervising.

There are 300 cassettes all told because some interviews took some time and some individuals [for e. g. Vernon Gunasekera and Colvin R. de Silva] were interviewed on several occasions. A handful of interviews were not recorded in accordance with the person’s wishes. A total of 153 persons were interviewed, comprising 31 British and 122 Sri Lankans.

COLVIN R Colvin R. de Silva

The Lankan cluster can be summarized as follows:

CCS personnel   retired                                  = 44

CCS still in office                                               = 07

Public servants –pat and present              = 22

Politicians                                                            = 39

Notables                                                              = 26

Others                                                                  = 09

TOTAL                   154

The details of the complete listing can be accessed via http://www.adelaide.edu.au/library/special/mss/roberts/…..

Series 1 Oral History Project (Ceylon / Sri Lanka) 1965-69
300 cassette tapes plus 1720 p. of transcripts etc. Comprising tapes of 154 interviews by Michael Roberts of retired public servants who had served in Sri Lanka (mainly in the Ceylon Civil Service), politicians and other notables. Also full transcripts of 22 interviews, notes and comments on other interviews, and comments on the work Pul Eliya: a village in Ceylon, by Edmund Leach.

The Librarians at Barr-Smith are in the process of digitizing all the recorded interviews unto CDs and they will be made available to scholars and interested personnel in some controlled and audited manner when the process is completed — say by early 2014.


1. from William Clarance in London (author of  Ethnic Warfare in Sri Lanka and the UN Crisis (London: Pluto Press, and Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2007 )

Michael,  Your interview of LW is of the greatest value.

In the same series, I see you have Sir Charles Hartwell – ‘ Kali Charlie’ – to former Uganda Civil Servants like me !  He was Chief Secretary there in my day and seemed to have strange illusions as to the l longevity of the very-soon- to-end Empire. ‘Kali’ is fierce in Swahili, and he was quite a formidable personality. I heard that he went on to Hong Kong and ended his career there as Chairman of the Public Service Commission. I must read your interview. How did you come across him, because he surely wasn’t old enough to have served in Ceylon ?

Best wishes


 2. from Gamini Seneviratne in Colombo:

Dear Michael,  I shd think that everybody knows that you, above all, have salvaged more of our historical records than anybody since Paul E Pieris and made them accessible for future historians (if any). Whatever their condition now, that you had recorded the reminiscences and thoughts of such a variety of people in decision-making positions at an important period of our history shd give others some impetus towards engaging in such work. What we seem to have now is a ‘Mahavamsa’ ghost written for the louts who have appropriated state power.



Filed under British colonialism, cultural transmission, politIcal discourse, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, unusual people

6 responses to “Leonard Woolf speaks and recollects … in 1965

  1. Pingback: An evening with Leonard Woolf in 1960 … with further reflections | Thuppahi's Blog

  2. It was such a pleasure to listen to these recordings. What a tremendous wealth of information on Leonard Woolf’s time in Sri Lanka. Thank you so very much for bringing this interview into the public domain.

  3. Pingback: Photographs of Colonial Ceylon: A Treasure Trove straddling the Globe | Thuppahi's Blog

  4. Pingback: Meeting Michael on Men and Matters, May 2015 | Thuppahi's Blog

  5. Ivan Amarasinghe

    Michael, Aloysians are proud of your sports, social and erudite achievements. Have you thought of leaving copies of your works in the SAC library for future generations to benefit and footprints for others to follow? Incidentally, Leonard Woolf’s wife, Virginia herself was even more famous than Leonard in British society. A product of Aryan upper class London, Virginia the tragic manic-depressivere once ferred to Lennard as “a penniless jew”, a kind of Thuppahi in London society! Here is a voice recording of Virginia: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/entertainment-arts-28231055/rare-recording-of-virginia-woolf

  6. Palmyrah

    Many thanks for this, Michael. Very pleased that there was a transcript as well as the sound recording, useful to those of us who are pressed for time.

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