Leonard Woolf in Hambantota: An Interpretation

Question-Mark Author, deploying this title “Leonard Woolf: He penned his love for Sri Lanka in ‘Village in the Jungle’,”

Leonard Woolf who served as a colonial Assistant Government Agent in Hambantota was the author of the renowned novel Village in the Jungle. During his tenure as the Assistant Government Agent of the Hambantota District from 1908 to 1911, Woolf visited villages and jungles in Hambantota on his bicycle or a pony’s back. He conducted his inspections under the shade of massive trees. He was very much attached and devoted to his job.

Realising the inconvenience and issues faced by villagers who were involved in chena cultivation, he, while holding the colonial administrative office in Hambantota, fought for the rights of villagers, when the colonial Government attempted to impose legal barriers on chena cultivation.

He understood the pathetic plight of poor villagers whose sole sustenance was chena and paddy cultivation. Woolf had recorded in his diaries that rice was very valuable for villagers because they were able to obtain rice once in five years – only when village tanks were filled up following rains.

In his diaries and novels, Woolf mentioned that malaria was the scourge of rains which tolled the death knell for the village. Though he is not among us today, his novel ‘Village in the Jungle’ which revolves around the jungle and the villagers with whom he shared memories will live in our hearts forever.

Woolf arrived in Ceylon in 1904 and worked for three years in Hambantota. After 50 years, Wolf had said he was glad to meet villagers and officers with whom he had worked for many years. As the Assistant Government Agent of Hambantota, he closely associated with many mudliyars and village headmen. Some of the villages which he mentioned in his famous novel, are still existing though most of the characters are no more.

Woolf had been a member of Ceylon Civil Service from 1904 till 1911. In 1904, he was first attached to the Colonial Secretary’s Office in Colombo. In 1905, he served in Jaffna Kachcheri and later in several capacities such as the Collector of Customs and Additional Police Magistrate. He held the posts of Additional Assistant Government Agent of the Northern Province, Additional Police Magistrate and Commissioner of Requests of Mannar while involved in the pearl fishery. He died in Sussex at the age of 88 in August 14, 1969.

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Michael Roberts’s Interview with Leonard Woolf in late 1965 as tape-recorded … ROHP = Roberts Oral History Project at http://www.adelaide.edu.au/library/special/mss/roberts/ …. “Michael Roberts Papers now at Barr Smith Library, Adelaide University,” 4 August 2010, ………………………. http://thuppahis.com/2010/08/04/michael-roberts-papers-now-at-barr-smith-library-adelaide-university/ AND  http://www.adelaide.edu.au/library/special/mss/roberts/….. NOW (2020) also available at t he Natikonal Library Services Board in Colombo


Prabath De Silva: “Leonard Woolf as a Judge in Ceylon,” 20 November 2016, https://thuppahis.com/2016/11/20/leonard-woolf-as-a-judge-in-ceylon/

Jane Russell & Ruth Allaun: “Leonard Woolf: His Political Vision – From Innocent Imperialist to Pragmatic Internationalist,” 28 May 2014,  http://thuppahis.com/2014/05/28/leonard-woolf-his-political-vision-from-innocent-imperialist-to-pragmatic-internationalist-2/

Joe Kovacs:  “Leonard Woolf as an Accidental Civil Servant in Ceylon,” 19 November 2016,  https://thuppahis.com/2016/11/19/leonard-woolf-as-an-accidental-civil-servant-in-ceylon/#more-23392

Sapumal Foundation 2009 The Sapumal Foundation Collection : a select catalogue / compiled and edited by Neville Weereratne with photographs by Rohan de Soysa and an introduction to the Sapumal Foundation by L.S.D. Pieris, ….. Sapumal Foundation (Colombo, Sri Lanka) ….http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/37410202?q&versionId=48781754


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3 responses to “Leonard Woolf in Hambantota: An Interpretation

  1. AN EMAIL COMMENT from ANOMA ABEYEWARDENA in UK, 27 june 2021: … “Thanks,

    But I’m not sure about this love for Sri Lanka business. His coming of age was in Sri Lanka, first as a civil servant in Jaffna, where he whipped a lawyer who had the impertinence to overtake him in his horse and carriage on the road. The Jaffna Bar Association wrote to the G.A. complaining about him and saying that they wanted to have nothing to do with him. In typical fashion it was hushed up and he was sent as AGA to Hambantota, at the opposite extreme of the island. Woolf did have the grace to be humiliated by this and his “Village in the Jungle” was unique for its time in being written from the “native’s” perspective. But once he returned to England of a year’s furlough, he resigned from the Civil Service. He had no more serious contacts with the island until he returned in 1960 on a visit and was surprised by the warmth of his reception. A liberal, yes. A man who fell in love with the island, no.”

    • EMAIL RESPONSE from HEMANTHA WIJEYESEKERA, 27 June 2021: ……”Not quite correct. One or two Southern Brave Lads protested when he arrived in the South in the 1960’s as they remembered his arrogant behaviour to their grand parents when he was posted as the AGA to Hambantota, including the confiscation of a buggy for his own use.”

  2. Rasika Weerasooriya


    There was another book written by Woolf’s daughter, after his second visit to Sri Lanka, the discussions had at several places. it has been translated to Sinhala as well (Mr Beligala?), do you have any idea about that book?

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