Lord Soulbury, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at Peradeniya University

This striking and rare photograph from 20th April 1954 shows Lord Soulbury leading the young Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip on their way to inaugurate the formal opening of the University of Peradeniya at its “Senate Building” — whereupon Prince Philip displayed acumen in deploying the original words –“more open than usual” when verbally administering the opening. What apt words!

This Pix has been sent to me by Gerald Peiris.

While the royal duo are clearly the stars of this outstanding moment in the island’s history, I prefer, here, to highlight the importance of two British gentlemen in Sri Lanka’s coming of age: namely, Lord Soulbury and Sir Ivor Jennings. 

I conjecture that Jennings is hidden from view in this picture. It would have been the clout he wielded with Soulbury and the DS Senanayake Cabinet from 1948 onwards that enabled him to ‘deploy’ the royal couple at this momentous occasion (one that is deeply meaningful  for all those, such as Peiris and myself, educated at this site in the 1950s and 1960s).

To drive this line of argument home, let me present other photographs which mark the role of Sir Ivor Jennings and Lord Soulbury in Sri Lanka’s difficult and tortuous passage to “dominion status” — a political position that was perhaps a notch short of “independence” in a strict sense, but no impediment in the long run.

Sir Andew Caldecott

Ivor Jennings as Principal University College 1942 et seq &

Layton was appointed Commander-in-Chief, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in March 1942,[3] and served till August 1944, with Oliver Goonetilleka serving as Assistant Civil Defence Commissioner …. and thus providing a direct conduit between DS  Senanayake and Layton 

The complicated and tortuous passage from partial political control under the Donoughmore Constitution from 1931 calls for a close study of the period 1938 (when the Andrew Caldecott Reforms Despatch was sent) to 1948.  The most thorough writings on this topic are those by KM de Silva; but fresh work by Harshan Kumarasingham, this writer and Jane Russell is also pertinent. note that the Soulbury CommissIon”s recommendations were a major step in the process towards dominion status ,,,, and as it happened, their itinerary during the working visit to the island was oganised by OEG. That he was in their ears in judicious manner is not in doubt.

Such processes must be digested when addressing the popular theory that Sri Lanka received independence on a plate because of the brave and sturdy Indian struggle for independence.

That theory is quite naive. It is oblivious  — stark blind — to the fact that the British Navy was of limited use in suppressing any armed stuggle in India — in contrast to island Ceylon …. and to the implications of World War II for the island’s significance to Britain and its allies in the period 1941-1950s.  It must not be forgotten that the war situation in the Pacific and Indian Ocena in the period 1942-45 was so perilous that Admiral Geoffrey Layton was appointed Commander-in-Chief, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in March 1942,

Subsequently,  the pressure mounted by DS Senanayake and OE Goonetilleka (with Jennings in a key advisory role in the background) in the period 1943-45 was such that DS Senanayake was able to walk up to the Colonial Office in 1945  [he had flown to UK] and ask them: “what has India done that Ceylon has not done” during the war (or words to that effect).

DS and OEG with a British VIP

The Colonial Office had no retort at hand.

The stark fact was that the India Office had more weight than the Colonial Office because the political questions associated with India were far, far more important for Brtiain THEN in 1945-47. The little island had to wait for the sub-continental situation to be sorted out.



De Silva, Chandra R. 1997 Sri Lanka. A History, 2nd Edn. New Delhi, Vikas Publishing House.

De Silva, Kingsley M. n. d. “The Second World War and the Soulbury Commission, 1939-1945 … The Stationary Office,” http://sas-space.sas.ac.uk/6132/2/vB2_Sri_Lanka_Part_I.pdf

De Silva, Kingsley M. 1993 Sri Lanka. Problems of Governance, Kandy, ICES.

H.Kumarasingham 2018 Constitution-making in Asia. Decolonisation and State-Building in the Aftermath of the British Empire, Routledg3

H.Kumarasingham 2013  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280664428_’The_Jewel_of_the_East_yet_has_its_Flaws’_The_Deceptive_Tranquillity_surrounding_Sri_Lankan_Independence/citation/download‘The Jewel of the East yet has its Flaws’ The Deceptive Tranquillity surrounding Sri Lankan Independence,” … 

Michael Roberts 2020The Democratization Process in Ceylon, 1832-1948,” https://thuppahis.com/2020/09/12/the-democratisation-process-in-ceylon-1832-1948/

Michael Roberts 2018 “How It Beccame. Documenting the cEylon National Congress,” 22 May 2018, https://thuppahis.com/2018/05/22/how-it-became-documenting-the-ceylon-national-congress/

Jane Russell 1983 Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution, Dehiwela, Tisara Prakasakayo.

Jane Russell 1981 Our George. A Biography of George Edmund De Silva, Sri Lanka.

Jane Russell 2017 “Jane Russell on Sri Lankan Political /history in Debate with Kumarasinghma’s Readings,” 24 May 2017, https://thuppahis.com/2017/05/24/jane-russell-on-sri-lankan-political-history-in-debate-with-kumarasinghams-readings/



This new find (mine by accident) depicts another ceremony which led me to wonder if it was in Kandy or Trinity College; but Sam Samarawickrema indicated that it is likely to have been a gathering in front of the Colombo Town Hall with the local dignitary being the Mayor TN Rudra … and this  has been confirmed independently by Pamela Cooray who noted the pottu on the sareed lady’s forehead as clinching identification.


Filed under accountability, British colonialism, centre-periphery relations, constitutional amendments, cultural transmission, democratic measures, education, governance, heritage, historical interpretation, Indian Ocean politics, landscape wondrous, life stories, performance, photography, politIcal discourse, power politics, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, unusual people, war reportage, world events & processes, World War II and Ceylon

7 responses to “Lord Soulbury, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at Peradeniya University

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  4. Hugh Karunanayake

    Just on the photo. the Mayor of the day was Thillainathan Rudra. The man standing next to his wife is the Municipal Commissioner William Gopallawa. Rudra a left leaning independant was replaced as Mayor by NM Perera who was subsequently ousted by the crossover over of the Communist Party MMC Anthony Marcellus to the UNP. The resulting no confidence motion was carried and one UNP member DNW de Silva publicly lamented that the ousting of NM was a “sad day for Colombo”!

  5. Comment from The EDITOR, THUPPAHI: “WOW! Volare…..!! What a memory bank reposes within this man HUGH! ….. Dankeschun.

  6. Daya Wickramatunga

    Beautiful pictures of the past, which would have then encouraged people to read about the history of Ceylon, as not a lot was then known about the land. We need to be grateful to the Brits.

  7. Rex Olegasegarem

    Regarding the photograph, Sam Samarawickrema is correct. It was in front of the Colombo Town Hall, In 1954 , I was then a Boy Scout at S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia, and we had the privilege of lining up nearest to the Town Hall stage. I recall being impressed with the Royal couple as they passed by me. Prince Philip was incredibly handsome.
    Rex Olegasegarem

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