About Choosing a School. Royalist Sons of Thomian Fathers


The perennial debate that sparks off  when old Royalists  and old Thomians meet  often centres around the claim over which  of the two schools had a better record in producing successful men. There is no doubt that both schools have produced men of eminence whether it be national leaders, academics, professionals, sportsmen, businessmen or those immersed in the fine arts. One unfailing test of the claim of superiority is to ascertain what eminent old boys themselves  look for when choosing an educational institution for their own sons.

Let’s start with national leaders. The first Prime Minister DS Senanayake, a man to whom a lot of “horse sense” has been attributed, had both his sons Dudley and Robert educated at his old school S Thomas. DS studied only up to the 7 th standard at STC and was known as” Kalay John”. He had two elder brothers nicknamed “Colombo John” and “London John”. London John was none other than FR Senanayake the only one of the three brothers to receive a tertiary education. He was also the only one of the three brothers to study at Royal College. That must have had a great impact on him as all his sons RG (Richard Gotabaya) CU (Upali) and FT (Tissa) were admitted to Royal where they had their entire secondary education.

SWRD Bandaranaike is often referred to as the most brilliant product of S Thomas although he attended school at S. Thomas only for a couple of years! He was mostly tutored at home by a resident tutor from Britain  AC Radford employed by SWRD’s father. He however must have appreciated the value of an education at Royal in preference to S Thomas, as his only son Anura received his education there.

Premadasa of course staked his claim, which according to his detractors was a mythical education he was supposed to have received at St Joseph’s! He even built some edifice there at enormous cost, so the school would have been more than pleased to admitting his son. However, in his wisdom he chose to educate his only son at Royal. GG Ponnambalam who had part of his education at St Joseph’s would not trust the old school to educate his son Kumar who attended Royal right through from Prep School through College till he left to follow his father’s career.

There was also Sir Oliver Goonetilleke arguably the most distinguished old boy of Wesley College who chose to send his only son Ernie to Royal. Mahinda Rajapakse would have dearly loved to send his sons to Royal as he himself would have preferred for his own education, to follow in the footsteps of his cousin George Rajapakse who captained the cricket first eleven and scored twin centuries in the encounter with Trinity. The area rule imposed by Royal came in his way and he had to make do with an education at Thurstan College, while choosing S Thomas for the education of his sons. President Sirisena has a son named Daham who attracted some notoriety at the Royal Thomian Match of 2016 by barging uninvited to the VIP enclosure and earning the wrath of old boys of both schools. He was wearing the colours of Royal, but I do not really know whether he received his education there at any time.

Now let’s get to the Board of Governors of S Thomas which is a group of about 8 people including the Warden, representative of the Diocese of the Anglican Church which runs the school, and a few loyal old boys. For many years they were Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, Sir James Obeysekere, Mr CEA Dias, and Dr GH de Saram. Apart from Sir Solomon (who admitted his son SWRD to S Thomas) all the other members of the Board of Governors of S Thomas sent their sons to Royal, obviously knowing that their progeny could receive a better education there! Sir James Obeysekere for instance sent his only son JP Obeysekere to Royal, JPO later attended Cambridge University after which he flew to Ceylon in his own aircraft! Dr GH de Saram (who played for S Thomas in the famous 9 run match) sent his son GSW de Saram (later Prof of Forensic Medicine) to Royal where he was a tremendous asset to his old school always officiating at Athletics meets etc. Prof GSW sent all his sons, Willie, Christopher, John, and Allan to Royal and all had remarkable careers later.CEA Dias educated his son Stanley at Royal, and grandson Michael captained Royal at cricket. So one could surmise that even the Board of Governors of S Thomas had an unconcealed admiration and respect for the education provided by Royal, so much so that their own progeny were educated there in preference to S Thomas.

Now to come to some other ‘key’ old boys of S Thomas. Bradman Weerakoon is one of the few old Thomians who entered the coveted Ceylon Civil Service and is often spruiked by Thomians as the perfect embodiment of the phrase ”men sana in corpora sano” (a healthy mind in a healthy body), as he captained the school cricket team in addition to his attainments in public service. He certainly must be having a “healthy” mind as he didn’t trust his old school when he had  to educate his son Asela, who was admitted to  Royal, and that speaks volumes for the father’s sense of judgment as Asela turned out to be a scholar in his own right and is a successful career diplomat. Senator M Tiruchelvam was an old Thomian who saw the merit of  education in Royal and had both sons including the late Neelan, have their education at Royal. Neelan and his brother Rajendra  would both have enjoyed their learning at Royal, their sons too being  educated there.  Then we have Sri Lanka’s foremost partition lawyer SJV Chelvanayakam an old Thomian  who took his penchant for partitioning to a national level  by espousing federalism! He in his wisdom had all of his sons including Chandrahasan and Vaseeharan educated at Royal. Another lawyer and former Supreme Court Judge ARH Canekeratne whose portrait adorned the pages of the Centenary Number of the Thomian Magazine, would have assumed that his sons should get a better education than he did, and had both his sons Nihal,and Ranjan educated at Royal. Ranjan’s son Kris is an international  corporate high flyer being the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Virtusa a Nasdaq quoted company in Silicon Valley with an asset register worth over US$1 Billion, reinforcing the old saying “quality begets quality”.Dr SC Paul distinguished surgeon, had his early education in a school in Jaffna, then moved to Colombo where he studied for a couple of years each at Wesley College and S Thomas College Mutwal. He married the daughter of Dr Aserappah an old Royalist, and had several children including two surgeons Dr Milroy Paul, and Dr ATS Paul, and another son a well known Civil Servant who took the name Paul Marcus Jeyarajan. Dr SC Paul in his wisdom chose to educate all of his sons at Royal, and the practice has continued to the next generation as well.

Now to get to a matter which will really raise the regard  Thomians should have for Royal. When Royal College was founded as the Colombo Academy in 1835 it was set up deliberately as a secular institution as many families in Colombo wanted their children to be raised in a non religious environment. Despite the fact that both Marsh and Boake the first Principals of Royal were “men of the cloth”, education in the school was not coloured by any spiritual doctrine thus leaving students to be capable of independent thought and vision. That philosophy seemed to have paid rich dividends. The leading ecclesiastics  in the country all were educated at the secular school called Royal College. Old Royalists who held high  church office were Archbishops Lakdasa de Mel, Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe, Bishop Harold de Soysa(the first Ceylonese Bishop of Colombo), Bishop Cyril Abeynaike, Bishop Kenneth Fernando, Canon Beven, and recently Bishop Duleep de Chickera and Archbishop Roger Herft  Archbishop of Perth, among a host of others too numerous to mention. The list goes on and on but  there are no names that come to mind from S Thomas! The well known Buddhist prelate Rev Kassappa of Vajirarama is a great example of Royal’s contribution to the cause of Buddhism, and recently retired Civil Servant and old Royalist Olcott Gunasekere followed his example and is now resident in Vajirarama as Ven Vajiraramavasi Nanaseeha Thero.

Someone recently wrote about the manner in which Royal College helped in the foundation of S Thomas in 1851. Let me add to that by referring to the munificence of an old Royalist Leslie WF de Saram who donated his 35-acre orchard at Gurutalawa to S Thomas which helped that school establish its Gurutalawa branch there. I wonder whether any old Thomian could match his magnanimity in helping his old school, leave alone a rival school.?

When I entered Royal from Prep School my Form Master greeted the new entrants with warm words of welcome followed by an exhortation to sons of old Royalists among the new entrants to raise their hands, (for identification) and almost half the class did so. After all it is the school “where our fathers learnt their way before us”.  The Government’s 2 mile radius rule introduced later kept out many sons of  old Royalists  from educating their children in the “school of their fathers”. Thanks to President JR Jayewardene however, there has been some equity restored for old boys, fifty percent of vacancies in grade 1 being reserved for sons of old boys, a reservation which we hope will continue. Educational tradition needs continuity and we hope that the rule prevails to this day. ………………. FLOREAT !

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Hugh Karunanayake: “How Royal helped spawn S. Thomas  College,” 18 April 2016,https://thuppahis.com/2016/04/18/how-royal-helped-spawn-s-thomas-college/

Michael Roberts: “People Inbetween: Ethnic & Class Prejudices in British Ceylon,3 August 2015, https://thuppahis.com/2015/08/03/people-inbetween-ethnic-and-class-prejudices-in-british-ceylon/

Mahinda Wijesinghe: “Lorenz Pereira: So Multi-talented, So Royal … A Man to Follow,” 24 April 2016, https://cricketique.wordpress.com/2016/04/24/lorenz-pereira-so-multi-talented-so-royal-a-man-to-follow/


Michael Roberts: Facets of Modern Ceylon History through the Letters of Jeronis Pieris, Colombo, Hansa Press, 1976



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6 responses to “About Choosing a School. Royalist Sons of Thomian Fathers

    A reply by a unbiased thomian to both parties.

    Firstly ,let me tell you that I am quite amazed at the great enthusiasm with which the writer collected all the interesting facts ,whether all true or not,it doesn’t matter.The essence of the article was written with the mind of a probable Royalist trying desperately to wave that godey blue and gold flag as if it were the most tasteful flag in the world.
    As a Thomian ,I have no doubt ,that there is a lot to be proud of in ones school. However to compare it with an equally illustrious school can be likened to being odious and childish. Having said tha , I find that royalists suffer more in this respect than thomians.
    There are a few subtle differences between these elite schools.One has a high fee to enter ,and is very selective. The other is free to all and a common govt run institution.
    One has the background of an English private school set in glorious surroundings ,while the other is a red brick nightmare built in the city of Colombo,with all the smog and noise to cope with.
    One has a religious training of the mind and discipline ingrained to the students that will make them the true men of the world. The other has no religious background at all and say, machang do what you want men, nobody will say anything.

    I can list so many more differences that hallmark each of these fascinating schools,but will not bring down either of these schools credibility ,by making odious comparisons.

    Again ,thanks for the brilliant article as it has heaps of information. If only it didn’t have a massive chip on the shoulder,to spoil the essence of the information.
    In the end we have to all live and learn, and as aThomian I can tell you ,we have truly learnt to live ,by attending Esto perpetua.

    Amarjit Paul

  2. Emailed Comment from a Sportsman linked to the SSS: “ha ha ha !!! happy New Year !!

  3. ANOTHER ROYALIST SHOT ACROSS THE BOWS:””Now this is a true story to signal the end of the old year…….. Archbishop Lakdasa de Mel an alumnus of Royal College, Colombo and Oxford University was invited to preside at the Annual Prize Giving of S Thomas College, Mount Lavinia which was in the Diocese of Colombo administered by the Church of which the Bishop was the leader. When appraised of the request the staunch old Royalist feigned ignorance of the existence of the school and inquired from his staff ”Is that the school somewhere in the southern suburbs of Colombo, next to a swimming bath? “ !!! ….. HUGH KARUNANAYAKE

  4. Sammy Cooper

    Firstly, I thought Royal College started life as the Hill Street Academy on Hill Street, Pettah? Soon after it was taken over by the government and the governor was Wilmot Horton.
    Secondly, SWRD Bandaranaike sent his son to Royal, I hear because STC refused to be nationalized.
    Thirdly, this is a question – when STC was founded in 1851, some students from Royal transferred to STC, why? apparently because it was cheaper! Is this correct?

    • Hi, Sammy. Royal College did indeed begin its existence as the Hill Street Academy. I will leave it to Old Royalists to furnish forth the other facts concerning its origins, which are quite well known.

      Whether it was SWRD Bandaranaike who refused to send his son to STC or STC (in the shape of Reggie de Saram) who refused to admit his son is a matter much debated. I have no opinion on it save to say that, given the state of relations between Bandaranaike and de Saram (who were distant cousins, had been contemporaries both at STC and at Oxford and knew each other only too well), it seems incredible that Sunny even considered placing his son in Kunji’s care. This is one of those tales about which no-one could possible know the truth except the principals themselves, and I bet they never talked about it. Maybe Sirima told somebody, but how much did *she* know? SWRD, by repute, never told her anything.

      The story about some Colombo Academicians (there was no Royal College as such in those days) coming to STC because it was cheaper is true, although it is not the whole story. S.S. Perera’s history of Royal College gives the basic facts. Other details are recorded in a very early twentieth-century issue of the STC Magazine and confirmed by an unpublished (manuscript) source preserved in the UK. The full story will appear in my own history of St Thomas’s, which is still very much a work in progress at this time.

  5. I have no info on your Questions 2 and 3.
    i believe the COLOMBO ACADEMY of the late 1830s and 1840s went on to become Royal College. This school produced such luminaries as Charles ambrose Lorenz, Richard Morgan, James de Alwis, James Dunuwille, the Nell brothers and Charles Ferdinands. For some exhilarating data on these personnel see
    A = ROBERTS, Facets of modern Ceylon history through the letters of Jeronis Pieris: Hansa Publishers Colombo. 1975
    B = rOBERTS, COLIN THOME & RAHEEM People inbetween, Colombo Sarvodaya Publications, 1989

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