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 !
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/
ÁBOUT ONE OF THE EARLY STUDENTS AT THE COLOMBO ACADEMY, see
Michael Roberts: Facets of Modern Ceylon History through the Letters of Jeronis Pieris, Colombo, Hansa Press, 1976