The Senanayakes at STC, at Cricket and in Politics in Ceylon

Michael Roberts

In seeking details relating to DS Senanayake’s career at S. Thomas’ College after I received a copy of his school-leaving character reference from Warden Stone,[1] I received a fascinating note from Mevan Pieris[2] about young DS Senanayake’s school career and his cricketing ‘achievements’ at the big match against Royal.

“Indeed, a valuable item [referring to Warden Stone’s certificate]. At least a certified photocopy of it should be maintained at the College Library and at the National Archives, especially since he was known as Kele John who could not pass any examinations and was in what was called the Commercial Class of STC. No doubt he was physically strong and tough and would have been an ideal dormitory prefect to keep the guys quiet. ”

 ‘By the sea’ at Mutwal looking at Colombo Harbour — scenic paintng from O’Brien the 1860s

Continuing Mevan Pieris says: “The year he left STC, he played in the Royal-Thomian match, and also in the previous1901 match. He batted first wicket in 1901 and in his debut got a duck in each innings, and in the following year had been demoted to No 10 and was able to make a solitary run. He was not a bowler.”.

DS Senanayake and his two older brothers were boarders at the expensive elite school of S. Thomas’ located at Mutwal north of Colombo because they were the children of a wealthy nouveaux riches entrepreneur named Don Spater Senanayake, whose home base was in Botale near Mirigama and whose expanding economic assets were in surface graphite mines and coconut plantations as well as house property in Colombo.”[3]

Don Spater Senanayake passed away in his sixtieth year on 7 December 1907.[4] He and his family are featured prominently in Arnold Wright’s huge composition Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon (printed originally in 1907). His many assets enabled him to secure marriages for his sons with respectable Govigama families from the top drawer; and to finance FR Senanayake’s education in England.[5] These resources and connections also enabled the Senanayake brothers to take a prominent role in the temperance movement of the 1900s and 1910s and the political agitation mounted by the Ceylon Reform League (1917-19) and Ceylon National Congress in the 1920s.


The three Senanayakes & Amadoris Mendis and others at ease at their estate in Botale

Needless to say, DS Senanayake’s sons, Dudley Senanayake and Robert Senanayake were also enrolled at S. Thomas’ College, which, by then, in the 1920s, had moved from Mutwal ‘by the sea’ to another location ‘by the sea’ in Mount Lavinia in the south of Colombo. Both sons accomplished enough at cricket to secure spots in the Thomian cricket team. Thus, they feature in the cricket team captained by R. Hermon that played against St. Peter’s College, Adelaide on 19 January 1928 — when the latter squad toured Ceylon that month and played matches against the plantation clubs upcountry as well as STC, Royal and Trinity (a tour that is a clue to the gentlemanly riches sustaining the school in Adelaide).[6]



While at S. Thomas, Dudley stood out and secured colours in hockey, cricket, boxing and athletics. He was made Head Prefect at one point, while also winning “the Victoria gold Medal for the most outstanding student at S. Thomas.”[7] The cricketing careers of the two Senanayakes have been spelt out for me by Mevan Pieris:

“Dudley was a delightful batsman, and in his debut in in 1927, Dudley made 48 not out in a Thomian score of 222 runs and was unlucky to miss a half century. The Thomians won that match by an innings. In 1928, in a drawn match, Dudley made 23 and 6 runs, and his brother Robert playing his first big match made  2 and 21 runs. Robert was also a medium pace bowler but had not taken any wickets.

In 1929, the Jubilee match was played at the SSC grounds at Victoria Park, and Royal won the match by 7 wickets. The Senanayake brothers played in this match. Dudley batted at the fall of the second wicket and scored 32 and 14 runs, and his younger brother Robert, opened batting, and made 46 and 2 runs.Robert took 2 wickets in the match and Dudley the prize wicket of FC De Saram.In this Jubilee match F C De Saram of Royal made the highest score of 72  runs before being ruled LBW to Dudley.

Soon after the Jubilee match Dudley entered Cambridge and completed the Natural Sciences Tripos. He won his College Colours but could not get his Blues. Back at home Dudley took to politics and after his father DSS fell off his horse and died, Dudley became the Prime Minister of Ceylon.

Robert played in the 1930 match as well and captained the Thomian team. Royal won this match by an innings and it was in this match that the legendary Royal cricketer DB (Barney) Gunasekere made a record breaking innings of 148 runs. In addition, DB Gunasekere took 7 wickets for 57 runs in the first innings and 2 / 53 in the second. DB was truly a great all-rounder. Robert opened the batting and made 11 and 22 runs.

In 1931, Robert captained S. Thomas’ College a second time and lost again to Royal by a huge margin of 8 wickets. Royal was captained this year by FC De Saram the great, who made 140 runs in Royal’s first innings and also took 6 wickets for 52 runs in the Thomian second innings. Robert Senanayake made a duck in the first innings and 12 runs in the second innings.

In 1932, Robert Senanayake played his 5th big match and captained STC for the third consecutive year and lost to Royal for the third consecutive time by a massive margin of 9 wickets. No Thomian captain in living memory has had such a poor record as captain as Robert, who made 2 runs in the first innings and ended with a half century in the second innings. Robert too entered Cambridge thereafter and won his College Colours at Cambridge, but not his Blues.” ….[Mevan Peiris NOTE]

Following his return from Cambridge and England, Dudley Senanayake went on to participate in the local political scene – becoming part of a ginger group within the Ceylon National Congress in the late 1930s that I have identified as the “Young Turks.[8] This cluster of relatively radical voices were mostly from the legal profession and pushed for greater attention to economic reform at the annual CNC sessions in December 1938. Then, at a “special meeting” in March 1939 this ginger group also vocifersously argued for non-cooperation with the British government if the demands presented by the Ceylonese leaders in the State Council were not met.

JR Jayewardene, Stanley de Zoysa, CPG Abeyewardena, JAL Cooray and AWH Abeyesundere seem to have been the principal figures in this ginger group; but FC de Saram[9] and Dudley Senanayake[10] were also among those stirring the pot at the outset. JR Jayewardene and Dudley Senanayake became the new CNC Secretaries in February 1940 and pressed forward with endeavours to broaden the base of the CNC and to push for greater “economic freedom” for Ceylon.

These moves then escalated into efforts to convert the Ceylon National Congress into a political party rather than a loose political front (the position favoured by the pragmatic DS Senanayake). These endeavours came to a head in December 1943 when the young reformists[11] sought admission for the Ceylon Communist Party into the ranks of the CNC – a step which led DS Senanayake, by then the leader of the State Council, to resign from the CNC.


Jennings at work …. and so too DS Senanayake on the road so to speak … and then in London in 1946(?) with OEG and ?? to press the British government of that day 

As the Soulbury Commission visited Ceylon to consider further reforms and the Second World War came to an end, the political clout of the Ceylon National Congress diminished still further. Both the backroom planning and the frontline spearheads in the push for the island’s independence rested in the hands of DS Senanayake as Leader of the State Council and the ‘schemers’ in the Office of the Civil Defence Commission, namely, OE Goonetilleke and his aide Ivor Jennings.[12] The fact that the office rooms of DS Senanayake and those of the Civil Defence Commission were in the same building facilitated this cooperation.[13] In consequence the agitation mounted by the Ceylon National Congress during the years 1944-to-1948 became a mere sideshow.


DS at a wartime function


The Soulbury Commissioners at Pelmadulla during tours arranged by OE Goonetilleke

DS and OE Goonetilleke in London with the Ceylon High Commissioner Corea in 1946 seeking to lobby the Colonial Office


Sampson Abeyesooriya (comp) 1927(?) Who’s Who of Ceylon

Vernon H. Gunasekera 1981 Life and Times of Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, Kandy.

Michael Roberts 1977 “Elites, Nationalisms and the Nationalist Movement in British Ceylon,” being a book within a book in Documents of the Ceylon National Congress and Nationalist Politics in Ceylon 1929-1950, Colombo, Department of National Archives, pp. xxvii-ccxi.

Michael Roberts 2018 “How It Became. Documenting the Ceylon National Congress,”

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

Michael Roberts 2020 “The Donoughmore Reforms in Ceylon in Retrospect: The Missing Background of Naval Power,” 18 July 2020.

Michael Roberts 2020 “Pushing th British out of Ceylon, 1918-1956,” 23 July 2020,

Arnold Wright (ed.) 1907 Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon: Lloyds’ Greater Britain Publishing Company.

Wikipedia n.d. “Ivor Jennings,”


[1] This item was kindly sent to me by Chandra Schaffter, a former Thomian who also represented Ceylon at cricket and hockey……………. See

[2] HSM Pieris also represented S. Thomas’ College at cricket and went on to play for the Ceylon sides in the 1970s, notably during the tour of England in 1975.

[3] Don Spater Senanayake was born in 1847 and a full-page photograph of him adorns page 613 of Arnold Wright’s Twentieth Century impressions of Ceylon, Colombo, 1907,.

[4] See Sampson Abeyesooriya (ed.) Who’s Who of Ceylon, red edn Colombo, 1927(?)

[5] FR Senanayake married Ellen Attygalle, the youngest daughter of Mudaliyar Don Charles Gemoris Attygalle; while his sister Maria Frances Senanayake married F. H. Dias Bandaranaike. D. S. Senanayake married Molly Dunuwila in 1910. She was the daughter of R. R. Dunuwila, then Secretary of the Colombo Municipal Council and Grace Jayatilaka, daughter of Frederick Jayatilaka of the Ceylon Civil Service and District Judge of Kalutara.

[6] St. Peters is one of the elite upper class boys’ schools in Adelaide,….  rivalling Pulteney Grammar, Wilderness, Scotch College and others. The details of the Tour of Ceylon were made available via the Library at St. Peters which has the scoresheets. The Team included one S. F. Downer and one I. H. Seppelt.  The Downes can be presented as a leading political dynasty and well-to-do property owners in South Australia, while the Seppelts are associated with wineries and landed property.

[7] From

[8] The account that follows is taken from Roberts, “Elites,” 1977, pages cxli–clx.

[9] FC De Saram joined the SL Army Reserves as an officer at some point after the Second World War had broken out. This step would have precluded any open political activity.

[10] Dudley and Robert Senanayake seem to have been keen members of the cricket club SSC where the bar, billiards and card games fostered convivial interaction. FC de Saram and JR Jayewardene were also SSC stalwarts. So, the SSC premises are likely to have been a spot where some political planning occurred.

[11] Dudley Senanayake’s position at this moment is unclear. He seems to have distanced himself from the Young Turks at some point and moved closer to his father and OEG.

[12] Ivor Jennings had been “sent to Ceylon by the British Government in 1942 as the Principal of the University College, Colombo with a mandate to create a university for that land” and [during World War Two also  served] as the Deputy Civil Defense Commissioner” (Wikipedia),

[13] For this process see Vernon Gunasekera 1980 and Roberts, “Pushing Britain out of Ceylon,” 2020.


Filed under accountability, British imperialism, centre-periphery relations, constitutional amendments, cricket for amity, cultural transmission, education, governance, historical interpretation, Indian Ocean politics, language policies, Left politics, legal issues, life stories, politIcal discourse, power politics, S. Thomas College, Sri Lankan cricket, sri lankan society, unusual people, world events & processes, World War II and Ceylon

5 responses to “The Senanayakes at STC, at Cricket and in Politics in Ceylon

  1. EMAIL NOTE from MEVAN PIERIS, 24 january 222:
    “At the book launch a few years ago of Rukman Senanayake’s book on the Senanayake-Kotalawala family conflicts, the chief guest, the then Mayor of Colombo, had the audience in fits of laughter when he referred to the three Senanayakes, FRS as London John, DCS as Colombo John and DSS as Kele John. He gave a charitable interpretation to Kele John (so called because he was a man of the field).
    My father who did agriculture at Trinity Hall, Cambridge and at Imperial College in Trinidad, worked under D S Senanayake on his return to Ceylon in 1928. He entertained a high regard for DS. “

  2. EMAIL COMMENT from GERALD PEIRIS, 24 January 2022: ….
    “Thanks, Michael. Quite fascinating.
    Incidentally, ‘Botale’ has nothing to do with the Sinhala term ‘bottle’, (as some of our friends believe). The village where the Senanayake ancestral home is located is named Bo-thale (the ‘thale’ pronounced as in Haputale) which means ‘platform of the bo-tree’. There is an old Buddhist temple close by. The land (not a large estate) that belonged to the Walavva is also quite close, and is now occupied by a Sinha Regiment camp………..
    Regards, …………….Gerry

  3. richardhermon

    Dear Michael
    The R HERMON who was captain of STC is Roy Hermon my cousin .There were 3 Hermon’s who were Cricket Captains of STC Roy, Outram (both were brothers ) and Eardley Hermon ……. Dickie Hermon

  4. EMAIL COMMENT from Chandre Dharmawardena in Canada, 19 September 2023;
    “”Dudley Senanayake was elected a life Fellow of Corpus Christie College Cambridge, and continued his links with Cambridge late into his life. I met him on one occasion in Cambridge when he was entertained at high table at Dinner by the Master and other Fellows, probabaly in 1964, as I too happened to be attached to Corpus Christie College as a student at that time.
    Dudley was also associated with B. H. Farmer, who was an authority on what was (incorrectly) called “colonization” schemes for farmers in the context of Galoya etc.

  5. COMMENT from MICHAEL ROBERTSS, 19 September 2023:

    Gerald Peiris was also at Cambrdge Uni then working on hs Ph.D under BH Farmer and could comment usefully on this topic.
    Also SEE
    • Gerald H Peiris . Fostering the Peasant Sector of the Economy: Misconceptions ………..JUNE 1, 2021

    and visit the relevant oral history interview material in the ROHP collection at the Nnational Library SErvices Board BY IDENTIFYNG the civil servants and politicians familiar with land polic and colonization schemes ( for example: M. RAJENDRA).

Leave a Reply