How Royal helped spawn S. Thomas College

Hugh Karunanayake, courtesy of The Ceylankan, Vol. XX: No. 2, May 2016,  where the title is “Royal College role in the Birth of S. Thomas College”

S. Thomas College Mount Lavinia was established in Mutwal on 3rd February 1851. It was then described as a “Collegiate School’ which was much akin to what was later to emerge as a secondary school. The intention of its founders was to establish a College and a School. The latter was designed to prepare candidates for admission into the College. The College was to prepare students for entry into tertiary education including Theology and Divinity Studies. When initially established it was not possible to differentiate between School and College, there being 70 students in the whole institution and not enough students to commence the College. One year later with the arrival of Warden Wood the College was opened in January 1852 with 20 students, the rest being included in the Collegiate School.

STC3The original school building in Mutwal — from WT Keble History of St Thomas College 1937

A little known fact is that of almost the entirety of the first 20 students in the College section, 10 were from the Colombo Academy (now known as Royal College) and most of the others from an institution known as the Colombo Central School — then regarded as a school second only in standard of education to the Colombo Academy. The Colombo Academy was the leading educational establishment in the country and was a fee levying school for over a century until the introduction of free education in 1944.  The influx of students from the Academy arose following an increase in school fees pursuant to a recommendation from the Central School Commission in 1848 which also recommended the closure of the Academy.

The old boy lobby of the Academy proved too strong however and. the former fees were restored following public outcry and some of the boys from the Academy returned from S. Thomas to their former school. The Academy of course continued to expand later changing its name to Royal College.   The boys who joined from the Academy were outstanding students at St Thomas during its early years and it could therefore verily be said that the successful birth of S. Thomas College was in great measure due to a transfusion from Royal College!           


Charles Silva Wickremasekera

Frederick Jayetilleke

Wilmot Horton de Saram

John Lucious Dassanayake

Jonathan Silva

George Fernando                                                                                                                                                    

Simond De Melho Aserappah.

William Dias Bandaranayake                                                                                 

John De Melho Aserappah

Adam Rathna


 Simon Mutukistna

Peter Daniel

Edward Orr

JL Christoffelsz

Richard Van Buren’

A Weinman

John Perera

What was to be the first school magazine ever produced by S. Thomas College was published in 1853 two years after the establishment of the school. A remarkable achievement. This 36-page booklet (the title page reproduced in The Ceylankan for the first time ever since its publication in 1853) whose existence was not only unknown to the school’s historians of later years, but its contents unrecorded in any of the histories of the school. The first History of S. Thomas College by CH Christian David, published in 1894, the Jubilee Number of the School Magazine published in 1901, A History of St Thomas College, Colombo by WT Keble in 1937, and the St Thomas College Centenary Number of 1951 all acknowledge 1875 as the year in which the first issue of the college magazine took place.

There is no recorded instance of the existence of the 1853 journal the title page of which is shown here. In fact, its existence does not appear in any contemporaneous records on the history and progress of the school. The magazine was titled Exercises in English Composition St Thomas College Colombo June and July 1853. Published by the College Press, Colombo.

The journal has seven essays written by pupils of the school and a listing of the names of all 120 students including the 22 students  in the College section(in 2 classes) deemed as St Thomas College, and the 98 other students spread over four classes in  the “collegiate school”.

What is significant is that of the 22 students in the College ten were from the Colombo Academy. What is even more significant is that of the seven essays in the 1853 magazine 6 were written by students who came from the Colombo Academy! The school archives do not seem to have had a record of these essays. In the history of the school authored by WT Keble mention is made of the titles of the essays, but he did not seem to have access to its contents even while making the following comment: ”One who read these essays says, ‘We value those prose effusions on a par with the prize poems of Cambridge  of early days.’ This judgment is confirmed by no less a severe critic than Warden Wood’s successor, Warden Baly, who wrote two years later of the same students “were it not that their Latin Composition is deficient, they would be on a level with the average Oxford undergraduate in their second year.”

STC  Exercises in English Composition, 1853                                        

 STC1List of Names of College students 1853            


 STC4  The first page of Frederick Jayetilleke’s essay

The essays and their authors are:

  1. On the scripture of the Old Testament. Frederick Jayetilleke
  2. The Miracles of Christ – a proof of His Divine Mision –SL Dassanaike
  3. Untitled Essay- George Fernando

4.The character of Christ and His doctrine is proof of His Divine Mission, C. Silva Wickremasekera

  1. The fulfillment of prophecy, proof of the Divine Mission of Christ.
  2. The age and literature of Queen. Frederick Jayetilleke
  3. Advantages of the study of Geography, WHP de Saram.

The essay by Frederick Jayetilleke on the scriptures of the Old Testament created a furore and was subject to a lot of criticism in the newspapers. Bishop Chapman and Warden Wood were accused of teaching Romanish doctrines in the school. Dr Barcroft Boake Principal of the Colombo Academy and Rev GR Mutukistan participated in an acrimonious pamphlet campaign and the whole episode was for several decades referred to as the “Jayetilleke controversy”. The Bishop had been greatly distressed by the affair as noted by Keble in his history where he quotes the Bishop as stating “the College is winning its way in spite of maligners, and all looks well at home.”

Readers may be interested in the later careers of the founding batch of students at St Thomas. Here are brief notes on some of them.

 Charles Silva Wickremasekera – reached the top of the class. He was aspiring to the bar, but died early.

Frederick Jayetilleke – became Private Secretary to Chief Justice Sir Carpenter Rowe and later joined the Ceylon Civil Service.

Wilmot Horton de Saram was named after Sir Robert Wilmot Horton Governor of Ceylon who declared open the Colombo Academy in 1835. Enrolled as a lawyer and later retired as Assistant Registrar General.

John Lucius Dassenaike enrolled as a Proctor and later served as  Atapattu Mudaliyar.

Jonathan Silva – joined the Matara Bar as a Proctor.

George Fernando joined the Gampola Bar as Proctor.

Simon De Melho Aserappah and William Dias Bandaranayake continued their studies in Scotland as Medical Students. On return they joined the Ceylon Medical Service.

Adam Ratne was the son of Sri Muni Rathne a Buddhist priest who together with another Buddhist priest Ven Dharma Rama Therunnanse* went to England in 1829 with Sir Alexander Johnston Chief Justice of Ceylon. Johnston introduced them to Rev Adam Clarke a Methodist clergyman who arranged for their conversion and subsequent return to Ceylon  as clergymen. Adam was named after his father’s mentor  and later went to England himself and took to Holy Orders.(* Ven Dharma Rama was baptised under the name Alexander Dharmaratne after his sponsor Sir Alexander Johnstone. His great/great grandson Bryan Dharmaratne lives in Sydney and is a long standing member of CSA)

The Ceylankan can now claim to be the first to bring the existence of  this very significant historical document  pertaining to S. Thomas College to the attention of the public and the College, and trusts that the College can now take note of the long lost magazine –very probably the first ever production from its students during the College’s  165 year history.

***   ***

.colombo harbour from MutwalColombo Harbour from Mutwal, 1860s –-from R. K. de Silva, Early Prints of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), 1800-1900, London: Serendib Publications, 1985: 247.

Capt. Charles O’Brien’s description of this sepia lithograph in colour runs thus: “Colombo …has an interest as being the port from which nearly all the coffee and cocoa-nut oil is shipped to Europe. … It is also the port in which the rice for the support of Malabar coolies on the coffee estates is received. The import in 1860 was 3,182,204 bushels, of the value of 636,423l. The view represents the Fort, with the Custom house, the Roadstead in which are seen the large ships lading for Europe, and the ‘Inner harbour’, in which are the coasting vessels and native craft. The view is taken from Mootwal, the resort of fishing boats ….”. As Rajpal de Silva notes, the image displays several significant features predating the British government’s demolition of the fort: notably two bastions of the ramparts, the customs house, the old Queen’s House and the clock tower (1985: 257). The fort of Colombo was demolished between December 1869 and February 1871. For more details on the port of Colombo and the transformation of the city as a whole, see Dharmasena 1980; Roberts et al, People Inbetween, 1989, chap. 7; Raheem & Colin-Thome, Images of British Ceylon, 2000: 80-87, 114-19.


Michael Roberts: “People Inbetween: Ethnic & Class Prejudices in British Ceylon,” 3 August 2015,


Mahinda Wijesinghe: “Lorenz Pereira: So Multi-talented, So Royal … A Man to Follow,” 24 April 2016,



Filed under British colonialism, cultural transmission, economic processes, education, heritage, historical interpretation, island economy, landscape wondrous, life stories, literary achievements, performance, politIcal discourse, religiosity, sri lankan society, unusual people, welfare & philanthophy, world affairs

27 responses to “How Royal helped spawn S. Thomas College

  1. Arun D. Bandaranaike

    Quite fascinating!….especially the reference to the “Jayatilleke controversy”, of which one is hardly aware. I wonder what all the fuss was about, that even the clergy were doing battle against a mere schoolboy!!!!!!!

  2. Lalith Wikramanayake

    Perhaps more details regarding the discovery of this document would be useful

    • Asoka Wikramanayake

      Hi Lalith! Kindly send me more information regarding the college
      Asoka Wikramanayake

  3. interestingly.. we isn’t STC known as ST. THOMAS COLLEGE instead of S.THOMAS COLLEGE? one look at the pictures from yore tell us that it should be ST.THOMAS ..

    • Palmyrah

      Hi, Ricardo.

      The ‘traditional’ spelling, as used by Thomians, is S. Thomas’ College.

      This, of course, contains two grammatical errors.

      The abbreviation of ‘Saint’ in English is — for saints recognized by the Church of England, at least — ‘St.’

      In the Catholic church, where the abbreviation is used in numerous different languages, ‘S.’ is preferred. But St. Thomas’s is, of course, an Anglican institution. So yes, it should be ‘St. Thomas’ not ‘S. Thomas’.

      Then we come to the possessive termination. In modern usage, the singular form always gets an S after the apostrophe. Hence, for example: ‘Charles’s book’, not ‘Charles’ book’. This can sometimes lead to absurdities, like ‘St. Thomas’s’s cricket team’, though these can be avoided with judicious rephrasing. However, in Victorian times the convention was different: if a singular noun was adjectivised with a possessive termination, it was treated the same as a plural ending in S: so, ‘St. Thomas’ cricket team’. Middle-aged people who are not professional writers or editors still tend to use this termination, which was common until quite recently.

      The commonest usage of all, ‘S. Thomas’ College’, is just plain wrong. And, as you have noticed, this is a ‘tradition’ or relatively recent (and fairly dubious) provenance. As far as I have been able to determine, it appears to have first slipped into the College Magazine in the 1880s in a report of the Cricket Club. It may later have been adopted by one of the more fiercely Anglo-Catholic Wardens, or possibly by one of the two early editors of the Magazine who were Catholics.

      The actual name of the College at its foundation was (and, I believe, remains) ‘The College of St. Thomas the Apostle’, so the normal usage is an abbreviation, and not in any way official.

      Hope this helps.

      • The official website of STC , which I happened to check for a talk on Lionel Wendt a few months ago, gave the name as S.Thomas College, rather to my surprise…….

  4. In my view, the title of the post is misleading.

    If Royal College didn’t exist when STC “was established in Mutwal….”, how on earth could it have “helped spawn” STC?

    I also think that the word ‘spawn’ is much more suited to the reproduction of fish, molluscs, crustaceans and such and is mostly considered derogatory when used to describe homo sapiens and/or their institutions.

    Any chance of the author being a Royalist???!!!

    • The title chosen by HUGH KARUNANAYAKE was different. I imposed the title wt ith an eye on the marketing potential — it worked too securing a record number of hits for bout three days in comparative terms over f three days. I am neither a Royalist nor Thomian. Nor am I a pedant.

      • One needn’t be a “pedant” to be factual – your “eye for marketing” notwithstanding!

        If ‘hits’ concern you more than ‘facts’, it speaks volumes for your character.

        By the way, Karunanayake’s title is just as inaccurate as yours is and I wasn’t questioning your alma mater (as you are not the author of the piece), but his.

        And here’s another falsehood by the author with the highlighted part (presumably by you) “… it could therefore verily be said that the successful birth of S. Thomas College was in great measure due to a transfusion from Royal College!”

        Again, (in case you missed the point I made earlier), Royal College didn’t exist when St. Thomas’ College was born, so how the hell could it be associated with “helping” start STC?

  5. Dear Michael,

    I hope you and Hugh will not think me presumptuous if I offer a small correction to the above. In his article, Hugh mentions ‘a recommendation from the Central School Commission in 1848 which also recommended the closure of the Academy.’

    I believe the decision to close the Academy was taken some months after St. Thomas’s College had begun functioning. At any rate, Barcroft Boake was informed of it in a letter dated 4 July 1851 (SLNA Lot 6, No. 2111). It is difficult to imagine that the Commission waited three years to inform the principal of the Academy of such a decision.

    The public campaign for the preservation of the Academy, to which you refer, was led by that prominent former Academician, Richard Morgan. It led the Governor, Sir George Anderson, to suspend closure for a year pending a review of the matter – which was never held. The Academy stayed open.

    The above is based on S.S. Perera’s ‘History of Royal College 1835–1985’ (1986, Colombo, Lake House), in which the letter mentioned above is referenced, together with the name of the Governor who made the decision to keep the Academy open.

    Many thanks to you both for an excellent read. As someone who has actually studied the matter under discussion, I should like to say that I did not find anything misleading or false — or, indeed, pedantic — in the article. As for the title, it expresses an opinion, something everyone is entitled to.

    • Interesting last paragraph!

      If you “did not find anything misleading or false…in the article”, please explain how, if “Royal College didn’t exist when St. Thomas’ College was born, how the hell could it be associated with “helping” start STC?”.

      And sure, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but let’s not confuse ‘opinion’ with ‘fact’ – particularly when one is attempting to present the ‘history’ of STC.

      • You know me in real life, Mr Jones. If you wish me to answer the above question — although the answer is clearly obvious from the foregoing — you can ask me next time we meet. Meanwhile, please accept my kind regards.

      • Thanks for the response (and regards) Richard, but since I have no idea when or if we will meet in the near future, and also since what is clearly “obvious” to you is not to me ( and also since readers of this post may be interested in your answer), why not state the “obvious” here?

        However, since I am baffled at how some entity could be responsible for something if that entity didn’t exist (at that time) and the ‘reasoning’ is “obvious” to you, I’ll be grateful for your explanation.


  6. Hugh

    This is for the edification of java jones whoever he may be.As everybody knows the Colombo Academy and Royal College are the one and same institution.i wonder whether jj believes that Ceylon and Sri Lanka are TWO different countries.Or is that part of the education he received in a school that does not know its own history.

  7. Fortunately (or not), the link with this rather belated response was sent to me or I would never have seen it!

    Thanks for the attempt at “edification”, Hugh – not to mention your attempt at sarcasm (anther failure!).

    ” … everybody knows the Colombo Academy and Royal College are the one and same institution…. ? Really?? That’s your assumption that is really verrry iffy!

    And no (for your edification), I don’t believe that Ceylon and Sri Lanka are two different countries. Surprised?!!

    As for that crack about “a school that does not know its own history”, I’ll leave it to readers to decide whether such a stupid statement even deserves an answer!

    • Hugh Karunanayake

      JavaJones i would not attempt to debate anything with a person who does not have the intestinal fortitude to reveal his identity but prefers the cowardly option of hiding behind a pseudonym and making statements that are plainly false or lacking in logic. This we have to attrribute to the education he received?.

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  9. It was Rev Roy Henry Bowyer Yin who changed ‘St Thomas’ to ‘S Thomas’ during his tenure as chaplain of the college. He proposed to Warden De Saram that they use the proper old English format to drop the simple ‘t’ in ‘St’ when followed by a capital ‘T’ [of Thomas].

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  13. Gary Ellis

    Magnificent Research.Congratulations.

  14. Rustom Jalaldeen

    I would like to know, in which Year The Colombo Academy ceased to exist?
    I would be grateful to anyone who would please enlighten me on this.
    Thank you,
    Rustom Jalaldeen.

  15. D.Lam Seneviratne

    Hi Rustom, Queen Victoria by Royal Decree changed the name of “The Colombo Academy” to “The Royal College”. This was notified from the Colonial Secretary’s Office on His Excellency’s command by the Gazette. Colombo, dated 23rd July 1881.

  16. Sanjay Gunawardena

    Hi Gentlemen, Is there a data base or way to find names of former school teachers at STC Mutwal & Mt lavinia? My great grandmother “Emelia Carolina Jayasinghe nee “Bastianz /Altendorff” (Her mother’s name was Anna Caroline Poulier.. … per DBU data base) has taught at this school. I am searching for my ancestry and trying to find when and where she passed away or any other info. If any of you can give some input, it will be much appreciated. My email address Thank you!

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