Britishness in Ceylon and Outmigration

Michael Roberts

As a result of the prolonged processes of Western colonisation in Sri Lanka aka Ceilao, one witnessed processes of acculturation that one can designate as “Westernisation” (including, here, the adoption of Christianity in its differentiated forms). One consequence of this process was the admiration and loyalty towards Britain displayed by some Ceylonese when that imperial country became embroiled in threatening world wars.

Thus, during World War One a handful of Ceylonese rushed to UK to enlist in the British fighting units. A high proportion of this lot may have been Burghers, but there certainly were some Sinhalese among this stream of Empire loyalty.

My focus here is on the interwar years 1919-1940 …. And developments during World War Two. Let me deploy a striking photo of the Royal College cricket team in 1931 as my point of departure.

Captained by FC de Saram (“Derek” to his friends) this eleven was undoubtedly an illustrious group. One such figure, albeit less famous, was JCW Rock or John Rock:  he was multi-talented and received school colours in rugby, athletics, tennis, boxing and cricket.[1]  He was the son of a Barbadian in the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service who also bore the same initials JCW. John Rock Jnr migrated to Britain in the 1930s and his talents[2] were lost to the island.

This step on his part leads me to a central question, the raison d’etre for this essay: how many of the other ten players remained in Ceylon in, say, 1939/40 when the Second World War broke out. We know that FC Derek de Saram returned to the island after his stint at Oxford in the early 1930s, joined the military reserves during the war and then went on to chart an illustrious career on the local cricket field. Russel Heyn also matured to play cricket for the BRC and to represent Ceylon in cricket.  But what careers did the others forge …. especially the Burghers. Did any of them migrate before the Second World war? or rush to join the British wartime endeavours during World War Two?


FC de Saram on song in England (perhaps when he made a century for Oxford against the Aussies)







I focus on the Burgher personnel because we know that

  1. the degree of Westernization was quite pronounced in their circles.
  2. Burghers featured prominently in Ceylon’s armed forces from the 1880s to the early 1960s.
  3. Burgher women probably constituted a high proportion of those who married British servicemen in the 1940s and then moved abroad with their husbands in the immediate postwar years. and
  4. Burghers constituted a high proportion of those who responded to the upsurge of Sinhala nationalism in the 1950s and the SLFP’s capture of government power under Bandaranaike in March 1956 by migrating to Australia and other Western countries then … yes, in the mid-1950s;[3] ………………. and thereafter in subsequent decades – – either directly, or with preliminary migration to some African countries.


This line of inquiry has already yielded results courtesy of that huge store of knowledge known as Hugh Karunanayake. Hugh tells us that De Kretser, Porritt and Van Dort were still around in the 1950s and 1960s. Here is his “note”:

HL de Kretser continued to live in Manning Place Wellawatte. His house was opposite the Gospel Tabernacle Church. He was in later life a leading Cricket umpire. His son Crosbie (L.C) opened batting for Royal in the 1960s. He lives in Australia and is a man of the cloth going as Rev Crosbie de Kretser. Living opposite the church may have influenced him in his choice of his future career!

FR Porritt was one of the four brothers who represented Royal at cricket, including FEW(Billy) the only known instance of an ambidextrous bowler, who would bamboozle batsmen by suddenly changing from right arm pace to left arm spin. Their father was an Englishman who married the daughter of Dr Emmanuel Roberts.[4]

HR Van Dort was known as “Podge” and became a professional musician adept at the drums and double bass. Used to be part of the well-known band of the time — Luis Moreno and his Muchachoes’.

AI Weinman, I think, was a brother of Aubrey Weinman the rotund Supdt of the Dehiwela Zoo.”

I now await further data, but Hugh’s information indicates that this set of Burgher men at Royal did not think of abandoning Ceylon till the 1950s-and-thereafter.


Foenander, SP 1924 Sixty Years of Ceylon Cricket, Colombo, Ceylon Advertising & General Publicity Co.

Graham, David 2021 “defining Ethnicity in Sri Lanka and the United States: David Graham’s Story,” 31 December 2021,

Graham, David 2022 “Behind the Scenes: Radio Plays in Sri Lanka in the 1970s and 1980s,” 11 January 2022,

Perera, SS 1999 The Janashakthi Book of Sri Lanka Cricket, 1832-1996, Colombo.

Roberts, Michael 2006 Essaying CricketSri Lanka and Beyond, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publishers.

Michael Roberts et al: People Inbetween. The Burghers and the Middle Class in the transformations within Sri LankaRatmalana, Sarvodaya Printers, 1989.

Michael Roberts: “The Nomenclature and Lineaments of White-Brown Cohabitation in British Ceylon: A Puzzle, 16 October 2021,

Thuppahi 2021 “Revelations: Nationalities in the 1871 Census of British Ceylon,” 1 November 2021,

ALSO–93A Memorable SSC Moment in 1973


[1] See SS Perera, Janashakthi Book of Cricket, 1999, p. 439.

[2] However, his sister Jean Rock married Lucien De Zoysa (cricket and entrepreneur and their son was the late Michael De Zoysa: mercantile executive, cricketer, radio announcer and stalwart of the SSC.

[3] I know that Michael Wille and his brothers from Royal College and Cedric Auwardt from St. Aloysius College in Galle migrated to Australia in the mid/late 1950s and am presuming there were others [who were not debarred by the White Australia policy who moved then.

[4] Dr Emmanuel Roberts was a Sinhalese from the Ratnajinendra lineage and authored the Materia Medica. He married a Burgher lady. His sons were planters and sportsmen; while the late Karel Roberts was a journalist.


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2 responses to “Britishness in Ceylon and Outmigration

  1. anoma abeyerwardene

    Most interesting. I would like to know what happened to L.C.Khoo, a Burmese who captained Royal at cricket from 1916-19 and seems to have later been at Cambridge. Did he settle down in England? There is a rather fetching TV chef called Rachel Khoo.

  2. Somasiri Devndra

    Your linking of Westernization and adoption of Christianity is well taken – but only in regard to the Protestant church(es) in the urban areas. In the “outstations” Roman Catholicism strongly rooted in Sinhala and Tamil cultures was the norm and continues to be so, even today. This was not Westernization. Just a thought!

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