When Havelock Town moved into Colombo City

Item courtesy of “Ëxplore Sri Lanka” in Januäry 2013, where this item is entitled “Havelock Town: From Rubber Plantation To Distinctive Suburb

From Rubber Plantation To Distinctive Suburb!   It may be unusual to find a town within a city – unless it’s a Chinatown – but as far as Colombo is concerned, before the creation of Havelock Town and the adjacent Havelock Park in the early years of the 20th Century, this land was outside the residential area, in fact a rubber plantation that formerly cultivated cinnamon, which stretched westwards to Galle Road.

Havelock Town and Havelock Park were named by the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) to honour Sir Arthur Havelock who, after a distinguished colonial career during which he governed Sierra Leone, Trinidad, and Natal, was appointed Governor of Ceylon from 1890-1895. Havelock is best-known for abolishing the ‘paddy tax’ – an unpopular levy on rice cultivation – extending the railway network to Kurunegala and Bandarawela, and bringing the benefits of medical science and education to all sections of the population.

Lady Havelock was also active in the medical sphere, responsible for creating the country’s first hospital for women and children, which bore her name until 1954 when it ceased to exist. Her name was also perpetuated by SS Lady Havelock, a vessel that, with several others, circumnavigated the Island, providing one of the ultimate tourist experiences. Soon after the departure of Sir Arthur and Lady Havelock from Ceylon (he became Governor of Madras) there was an attempt to commemorate their contribution to the country. Surprisingly, however, the plan had to be abandoned due to lack of support and public donations were returned. So it was appropriate that Havelock Town, situated 3.7 miles (six kilometres) south of Colombo Fort, was created a few years later. Havelock Town and Havelock Park were named by the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) to honour Sir Arthur Havelock… who was appointed as the Governor of Ceylon.

“Havelock Road was the principal link between Central and South Colombo. A good cross section of the community of Colombo lived there enjoying the social, recreational, educational and career opportunities that inevitably arose from living in close proximity to the city centre. Fifty years ago, there were more people from the British and Burgher communities living in Colombo and that was represented in the Havelock Road microcosm. Life was less complicated, and probably more ‘family and friend’ orientated than is possible today.”

By 1907, “the Galle Face, Victoria Park and the Havelock Town Park” were adjudged, by the editor of the book, Arnold Wright, as the major “lungs” of Colombo.

The heart of Havelock Town consisted of the parallel, equidistant Layard’s Road, Elibank Road (which was another, more subtle, tribute to Havelock as Elibank was his middle name), and Skelton Road. “Much of the land there belonged to FJ Lucas Fernando, who was among the first to build in that area,” Karunanayake informs in  a personal communication. “His house was called Norwood and had several acres of land around it. Lucas Fernando’s wife was from the Lindamullage de Silva family, which also owned a great deal of land in the Elibank Road, Skelton Road area. Another big landowner was Wellawattege William Peiris who owned the southern end of Layard’s Road.”

Havelock Park was originally 4.5 acres (1.8 hectares) in area but, as Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon reveals, among the miscellaneous expenditure of the CMC for 1905 was Rs 30,000 for an extension of six acres (2.4 hectares). By 1907, “the Galle Face, Victoria Park and the Havelock Town Park” were adjudged, by the editor of the book, Arnold Wright, as the major “lungs” of Colombo (surprisingly, the environmental sense of the word lung dates back to 1651).

During the early decades of the 19th Century, Havelock Park became – and remains – the home of several sporting clubs, although one, the Havelock Golf Club, shifted to Buller’s Road (Bauddhaloka Mawatha) where the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall now stands. At the northern end of Havelock Park is the public area named after the national hero, Henry Edward Pedris, a militia officer and prominent socialite who was executed by the British for alleged incitement of racial riots in 1915, a charge later proven false. It is believed that Pedris’ execution and the actions of the British marked the beginning of the Independence movement.

Inevitably, most aspects of that era have faded away, but the original heart of Havelock town still preserves some of the suburban tranquillity of the past even though it is surrounded by 21st century bustle. Moreover, Havelock Park remains one of Colombo’s most important green lungs, a focus of several sporting activities and gathering place for the people of an area zoned as “Colombo 5”.

Sir Arthur Havelock

Statue of  Edward Henry Pedris  … now at the corner of Isipathana Mw and Havelock Road … an ironic twist via the monies of the Pedris and Matthew family, scions of the Wahumpura caste  — ironic because EH Pedris was a member of the newly emergent Sri Lankan bourgeoisie and an officer in the Colombo Town Guards when the anti-Moor (Muslim) riots broke out in May-June 1915 …. and he was found guilty by the govt of the day of encouraging attacks on Muslim shops in the Pettah [how validly is an issue]




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3 responses to “When Havelock Town moved into Colombo City

  1. Lakshman Gunasekara

    wow! I didn’t know that rubber plantations could flourish at this low elevation and THIS close to the sea! My home at birth was a small annexe on De FOnseka Road between Dickman’s and De FOnseka Place. I was barely 1 yr old when we moved to a large rented house with large garden at the top of Charlemont Rd, Wella where I grew up. My Burgher mom’s close relatives were down Elibank Rd and Layards Rd in similarly large colonial houses until, in the early sixties they all migrated to Aussie. Some of those houses off Dickman’s are still there as company, INGO offices. Most of the roads on the left of Dickman’s (coming from Galle Rd) are still shady with large trees still lining them.

  2. Lam Seneviratne

    I received a present of a Raleigh bicycle from my parents on my 13th birthday in 1950 which I rode from Nugegoda to my school Royal College. Just past the Balapokuna area and where the present Cargills supermarket is located, was a small rubber estate with trees on either side of the road. Rubber seeds from the over hanging branches would litter the road and I used to test my skill in riding my bicycle tyre over
    them to hear the “pop”.

  3. Synthia Bob

    Very informative because I live in Havelock town

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