Anecdotal Lore on “Apey George,” namely, George E. De Silva, and Family

Eardley Lieversz, 16 July 2019

Interestingly, I am in touch with Apey George’s grandson, Mahindra, who lives in Melbourne. He is George Silva Junior’s son. George and his wife were good friends with my maternal aunt and uncle. They were very Burgherised. You wouldn’t consider George Jnr as a Sinhalese. He is very Burgher in his manners.

Mahendra told me recently that his grandfather was a “yakko”. But I suspect that George E De Silva was Westernised. Otherwise his wife would never have married him. He met Agnes Nell at the elite functions he used to attend. He died of a heart attack playing golf. Apey George’s wife can be seen wearing a saree in official pictures. Again, [she adopted this practice] for political reasons. But she gave her children the best English education money could buy. They were extremely Anglicised.

I will be referring to them quite a bit in my memoirs……. the Katugastota angle.

Apey G wanted his eldest son to be a Buddhist, to help his political career. So, George Jnr became a pretend Buddhist.

A Sri Lankan stamp in recognition of George’s politcal contribution

Memo from Jane Russell in UK, 17 July 2019

Hi Michael, …… I also knew George Jr and his wife Merlin. They lived in the back of St Georges (off the Peradeniya Rd, above Kandy High School) when I stayed there during my second year at Peradeniya. Minette occupied the front of the house on one side and 2 VSO’s and I had the other portion. George Jr and family (wife, daughter and I think son-in-law — a sailor perhaps??) had a flat at the back.

George Jr. was indeed Burgherish: ramrod straight and the planter in the family. He had run George’s and Fred’s estates prior to land reform and his retirement. He drank arrack which he filtered and then decantered. But I note they named their son Mahindra and their daughter was Maya, so the Sinhalese Buddhist influence was not entirely ‘put on’ for political reasons. Merlin, as far I know, was a Sinhalese Buddhist.

Minette went to Ladies College, Colombo and was in the same class as Mali’s mother, Shirlene, Sir Ernest de Silva’s eldest daughter — they were great friends. Minette was complicit in enabling Shirlene to elope with Mali’s father, Wilson Situge de Silva, younger son of a southern, Akuressa Goyigama tea-estate owning family: WS, or Sheba as he was known, was the grandson of Heenagama Appuhamy and the son of Don Samuel Situge de Silva, whom the British imprisoned in Matara prison in 1915 during the riots where he died.

Minette always wore saree outside the house and a cloth and jacket inside. She was neither Buddhist nor Anglican but very knowledgeable on all aspects of Sinhalese culture. She was steeped in Ananda Coomaraswamy. I once met Anil de Silva-Vigier, Minette’s eldest sister. She lived outside Cambridge in a lovely house in a village. She had been a journalist in Colombo and then London and set up home with a wealthy man with intellectual interests. She struck me as far more Burgherish than Minette. Minette had many Sinhalese/Tamil/Eurasian friends: she had had a crush on Bevis Bawa in her younger days, as did half of Colombo, male and female!! Then she was a great friend of Mali’s mother’s uncles in Kandy, Dr. Willie Karunaratne and Algie Karunaratne, the lawyer. She had dinner with them at least once a week.

Tissa Pilimatalawa had been a close friend of hers as had George Keyt: I found a postcard from George to Minette, when George was living in a village with his Sinhalese village wife in the 50’s (?), moaning that she had not brought her posh, rich English friends, Sir and Lady Whatnot to his house to look at and buy some of his paintings… ..

Kumari Jayawardene was her particular friend when I knew Minette: she always stayed with Kumari when she went to Colombo. That’s how I met Kumari…

Minette’s Sinhalese was grammatically correct but spoken very slowly and with a pronounced English upper class accent, though she lambasted the British and the Burghers whom she told me had bowdlerised the Sinhalese language by calling Kurunegela “Kernygalle” etc….

Cox Sproule was a great pal of Apey George’s. George was a very charming man, intensely likeable. I don’t know why Mahindra thinks he was a ‘yakko’. He’d had an interrupted education, so his English was hit and miss at times but almost everyone who knew him fell under his spell. He’d been brought up in Nuwara Eliya and was well acquainted with British sporting and leisure culture: he could dance, play tennis, cricket and golf as well as any Englishman, and he knew all the songs that Englishmen sing when they’re drunk. (“O, O Antonio”//“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do etc”). I suppose the ‘yakko’ handle comes from his caste origins…

Agnes de Silva, Apey George’s Burgher wife, was very posh. Her antecedents were from the highest DBU certification. They were Nell’s, French Huguenots, who had landed up in Ceylon via Flanders, England and South Africa. Louis Nell was Attorney General … and then there was Dr Andreas Nell…

Hope all this gen sheds some more light …….

Minnette de Silva and politician George de Silva at the 1948 World Congress of Intellectuals in Defence of Peace. Photograph: PAP


Jane at Oxford in the early 1970s

A NOTE:  Jane Russell lived in Kandy from 1973-to-1975 working on her dissertation under Professor Kingsley de Silva. This work took her to the Jaffna Peninsula for short spells and she has some striking observations on Jaffna society and its politics from the 1920s to the 1970s which require consolidated recounting. … A hint Jane. ….. Michael Roberts

ANOTHER NOTE on George E de Silva as a prominent member of the State Council and the Ceylon National Congress … and Minister of Industries, Industrial Research & Fisheries in DS Senanayake’s first cabinet (

SEE Michael Roberts: “How It Became. Documenting the Ceylon National Congress,” 22 May 2018,


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7 responses to “Anecdotal Lore on “Apey George,” namely, George E. De Silva, and Family

  1. Thank you Mike for the absorbingly interesting article on Apey George, who was well known for his howlers, some of which were fathered on Peradeniya lecturers ! … Chandra Wickremasinghe of Mahinda, Arunachalam Hall and CCS

  2. Helga Desilva Blow Perera

    Thank you, well written, and just to say “yakko” means a true ‘native’ simple pol sambal and rice person!!!

  3. Ivan Amarasinghe

    “He (George Jnr.) drank arrack which he filtered and then decantered” (Jane Russel). How exactly did he filter Arrack? In essence, was he making Kasippu?!

  4. Ivan Amarasinghe

    Absolutely scintillating memoirs and anecdotes from Jane Russell. Can’t wait to read her contribution on Jaffna 1920s – 1970s. Hope she does oblige. All in all, reading Thuppahi made my day! Thanks.

  5. Mahendra de Silva

    When I said my grandfather was a “yakko” I meant he was a true man of the
    Local people, it was not meant to be demeaning. Eardley should not have said it without that explanation.

  6. Lal Wickrematunge

    Does anyone know who George E de Silva’s brothers and sisters were? I am Rosalind’s ( Georges sister ) grandson.

  7. Niranjan Rodrigo

    George De Silva was my Grandfather’s brother; my mother was Evangeline De Silva married to Gabriel Rodrigo. It is interesting to note that Mahendra De Silva lives in Melbourne. A few of George De Silva brothers grandchildren live in Melbourne including myself.

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