Vanishing Lifeways at the Foot of Galle Fort in the 1930s

Michael Roberts

The four images presented in this item were snapped by my maternal uncle Lincoln Perera (also spelt “Pereira”) in the early 1930s. They were one part of a small set of pictures that came into my hands way back in London in the 1960s when Lincoln, a confirmed batchelor, passed away there.

They had no captions or dates. However, one image shows the Old Lighthouse at the south western corner-bastion. This edifice (see pic below) burnt down in 1936  and was eventually replaced by a lighthouse at the south eastern corner which still functions today.

All four images display some fisher folk from yesteryear plying their trade  along the rocks on the western side of the Fort ramparts. These personnel were not necessarily residents within the Fort. They would have clambered in past the few rocks at sea/ground level the north western corner of the ramparts where the walled-in prison is also found .

I can vouch for the feasibility of their ‘operations’. I have clambered out of the Fort that way as a teenager. Between 1948 and 195960 my pater lived in a rented house at Middle Street not far from the Judges’ Bungalow ( a military camp for quite some time since). The Boys Bathing Place (see my Pic below) opposite the Judges Bungalow was my stamping ground—swimming snorkeling wandering with pals or alone in boys playtime mode.

Fishermen from outside the Fort used to pass along the rocks along the Fort rampart edges or fish at a spot just south of the Boys’ Bathing Place or along the big rock complex abutting the Fort yet further south where some of us used to indulge in thrilling (and risky) spray baths from waves used to dash themselves during the south-west monsoon season.  “Us” here refers to a cluster of Fort youth encompassing my sister, Audrey, the brothers Vijay & Lakshman Wickremasinghe, Rabin Pullenayagam, Tony Perera with Trevor Roosmale-Cocq  Elmo de Alwis and the Conderlags visiting from outside the fort. When Cynthia Perera joined us one of these exercises, it was a scream—that is, the rotund Cynthia screamed at high pitch because she was no swimmer and not a sea ‘urchin’ in the manner born like several of us.

Those were the days yeah!

But for the fishermen presented here, the sea was a partial source for their meagre living. We must thank Uncle Lincoln for capturing one aspect of their hard circumstances

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Photograph by Frederick Fiebig, from an album of 70 handcoloured salt prints, of the lighthouse at Point de Galle in Sri Lanka (Ceylon). Fiebig’s photographs of Ceylon, probably taken in 1852, are considered the earliest surviving photographic record of the island. Galle, on the south-western coast of the island, has a natural harbour and is one of the most ancient settlements of Sri Lanka, a port from pre-Christian times. It is protected by a promontory called the Rock or Galle Point. Galle was the main port of the island even though entrance to its harbour was dangerous because of submerged rocks and reefs, until supplanted in the 1870s after the construction of breakwaters in the development of Colombo’s harbour. The Portuguese arrived in the early 16th century and built a small fort here, but it was after Galle was captured by the Dutch in 1640 that it achieved its greatest prosperity. The English replaced the Dutch in 1796 but made few changes to the town and today it is the surviving Dutch architecture of the 17th and 18th centuries which lends Galle its charm. The lighthouse was built in 1840 and burnt down in 1936.

The present Galle Lighthouse… January 2009
Flickr Creative Commons photo by David Trattnig

photo by Michael Roberts

 View of southwestern bastion and southern ramparts today –-Photo by Juliet Coombe



Filed under British colonialism, economic processes, heritage, historical interpretation

12 responses to “Vanishing Lifeways at the Foot of Galle Fort in the 1930s

  1. Sanjay Gunawardena

    Do you have any pictures of old wind mill of galle fort? I read about it in E F C Ludowyke Book ” Those long afternoons in Colonial Ceylon” . Thank you Sir.

    • Afriad not.
      But perhapps you can re-type or copy some of the pertinent pages in THOSE LONG AFTERNOONS and post or esend to em for a spot in THUPPAHI>

  2. What a beauty the Galle Fort is, but it has to be better looked after. I have great memories of it in the early 50s, along with the persons mentioned above, some of them, my classmates in the year I spent at St. Aloysious College.

  3. Lam Seneviratne

    Is it Raja & Lakshman Wickremasinghe and not Vijay? Raja played cricket for Richmond and then for Royal. Their father Richard taught at Richmond , Principal? Lam Seneviratne

    • No… Vidya and Lakshman were Thomians and lived in Lighthouse Street. I recall Raja bowling or Richmond and then faced him when We at Ramanathan Hall played Arunachalam.

  4. Gary Ellis

    Wonderful Info Thank you Dear Friend

    • Eddie Wijesuriya

      It is correct. Vijay and Lakshman (Lucky) Wickremesinghe. Vijay, one time Chairman of the Roads Development Authority, passed away at quite a young age. He was married to Dr. Herat Gunaratne’s daughter. Lakshman, in later years worked in some capacity in the United Nations, retired and was living in Polhengoda. He passed away about four or five yeas ago, after a short illness. They lived in Lighthouse Street, and both were Thomians.

      On Fri, Mar 2, 2018 at 4:16 PM, Thuppahi’s Blog wrote:

      > Gary Ellis commented: “Wonderful Info Thank you Dear Friend” >

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  6. wijaya weerasinghe

    It’s wonderful! For me it is very important as I happen to visit Galle Fort quite often as a guide. Thanks sir for the valuable article!

  7. Sanath de Silva

    Michael, you mention here “Rabin Pullenayagam”.
    He’s a very good friend of mine.
    I used to help him in math and physics at St Aloysius’, when he was transferred to the Science Medium from Commerce,
    As destiny would choose, he settled down in Edmonton going back almost thirty years ago, with his Sister, Helene and her family, in brief description.
    He also is retired, after a very successful business career. I meet him often
    Shall convey your tidings to him.
    Best Regards,

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