Orphaned. Abandoned. Illegitimate. Children cared for by the Evelyn Nurseries of Kandy, 1920 et seq

Michael Roberts

 The tale of the lifeworld of Charles Braine (1877-1944) in British Ceylon presented by one of his descendants https://thuppahis.com/2022/09/21/charles-s-braine-a-rajah-of-a-planter-in-british-ceylon/ generated a side-issue: sex and/or marriage between the British personnel managing the tea, rubber and coconut plantations in British Ceylon and the labour force they commanded. The inequalities in power placed unequal sexual advantages for the planter periya dorais …. and illicit children were one outcome in some instances – a process that probably continued into the second third of the 20th century when Sri Lankans of upper-crust status with an educational background in the best local schools began to gain entry to planter-jobs.

Unlike some of his compatriots, the Englishman Charles Braine kept house with his common-law Sinhalese wife, Engracia Nona: together they fostered and educated a lively family of nine children.

Interest in this tale and comments from Joe Paiva and Errol Fernando led me to two topics of some consequence: (A) the presence in the island of an ethnic category identified as “Eurasians” as distinct from the Burghers;** and (B) the endearing and enduring work of an orphanage known as the Evelyn Nursery that had been launched by a British lady with a large heart that was matched by her architectural and organisational skill: Ms Lena Chapman ( ….).


This, then, is the occasion for the charitable world to bow its collective head towards the personnel who have sustained this institution in the best Christian spirit.  Thuppahi is pleased to present the internet account of its history. Serendipitously, as it happens, we came across a marvellous tale of the benefits of this orphanage care in the biography of one Michael Russel Johannes Bjerkhagen (1966 et seq). Bjerkhagen is now pastor of the Royal Court Parish and chaplain to the King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Bjerkhagen).

With this success story in mind, one can now take in the tale of the origins and work of the Evelyn Nursery of Kandy associated with the St Paul’s Church that is presented in the digital world: https://www.stpaulschurchkandy.lk/evelyn-nurseries.html

Miss Lena Chapman was a young English Missionary lady who came out to the East in 1900 at the request of the Zenana Missionary Society of England. She was the third Principal of Hillwood College, Kandy. She was highly educated, gifted with a rare vision of service, dedication and sacrifice. Miss Chapman possessed a dynamic and imposing personality, coupled with a keen intellectual bearing in all matters. She was graciously charming, calm and controlled with a quietness that came from an inner sense of peace and confidence. She was a strict disciplinarian and achieved results by personal example.

She was an excellent administrator, bold and fearless and successful in all her undertakings. Miss Chapman was an able Architect, eminently qualified to mould exemplary lives and construct buildings of lasting quality both of which are in great evidence at Hillwood College and at the Evelyn Nurseries – an eloquent tribute to her dedicated and unstilted service.

When she retired from Hillwood College, she continued her social work in the Kandy District. Her compassion for the poor and destitute children inspired her noble spirit to establish a home for these unwanted destitute children. She pursued this idea relentlessly, and for this purpose she purchased in 1926 “Bell vue” bungalow with approximately 4 acres of land adjoining Hillwood College, premises. This purchase was made with her own money – a legacy left by her sister Evelyn – whose name the Home now bears.

The site selected is unique. It overlooks the Kandy Lake and the Sri Dalada Maligawa and the evergreen Udawatte Forest Reserve. This idyllic spot with its numerous buildings now stands as an everlasting monument to the memory of the Founder.

Evelyn Nurseries was declared open in 1928 by His Excellency Sir Herbert Stanley, and Lady Stanley and Consecrated by Bishop Willesdon. A long overdue, and a crying need in Kandy was fulfilled.

Miss Chapman’s aim in establishing a Home of this nature was twofold. First she wanted it to be a Home for the homeless destitute children, secondly she envisaged that the establishment of this Home would help develop and foster Social Service among her students of Hillwood – both past and present.

The Home started with just a few children, but soon the news spread, and the Police, Hospital, and Social Services Officers and others interested in the welfare of children started sending children to this Home which provided them the love and care and schooling and careful upbringing. The children even enjoyed sea-side holidays at St. Thomas’s College Hostel – Mt. Lavinia during the school holidays.

The free Sinhalese School (Gregory School) now known as Gothami Balika Maha Vidayalaya was also built by Miss Chapman in the Evelyn Nurseries premises in 1928. The school was built close to the Upper Lake Road, and was meant to cater to the children of Evelyn Nurseries as well as the poor children in the neighbourhood. Mrs. Margaret Ranasinghe who was the first principal of the school and her two assistant teachers were on the staff of Evelyn Nurseries as well, until they got married and left the home.

The money required to run the Home was from the interest of Miss Chapman’s own money bequeathed in favour of the Home. Up to this day, the Home is run entirely on donations both in kind and in money. We do not receive any funds from the Government, but a few Foreign Organizations interested in the welfare of the children came forward to help and support Evelyn Nurseries from time to time.

It is fitting that we express our deep and grateful appreciation to all donors and supporters both local and overseas for their generous contributions which have ensured the maintenance of high standards and the provision of more and better facilities for the education and training of the children under our care. We are specially thankful to Terre-des-Homes – Netherlands, and Sri Lanka/Denmark Family aid Association, for their generous assistance. We also thank the Assistant Commissioner of Probation and Child Care, and the Medical Officers of Health for their help and co-operation.

Miss Chapman passed away on 31st of May in 1941 at the age of 72. Mrs. Elsie Charlotte Ekanayaka, who took over the work as Warden of Evelyn Nurseries proved to be a worthy successor to Miss Chapman. She continued the pioneering work of the Founder in the same spirit.

Mrs. Ekanayaka, with the guidance and the encouragement she received from Miss Chapman and with her own motherly qualities, had love and understanding for each child. She was kind and gentle and “Aunty” to every child in the Home, she was Warden for 35 long years, and the time came for her to retire from work.

Mrs. Dorothy Goonawardene the successor to Mrs. Ekanayake was reared under the tutelage of both Miss Chapman and Mrs. Ekanayaka. Her decision to assume responsibility for Evelyn Nurseries at a critical time for the orphaned girls, was a sure sign that God’s blessings continued to rest on Lena Chapman’s venture. Dorothy brought with her, both training and experience, vision and a sense of caring. She was also open to the possibilities of developing the work in terms of the needs of modern understanding of child care as well as “Outreach” in service to the community in the neighbourhood.

The Day Care Center, which is a project run by Evelyn Nurseries fulfils a long felt need to help and develop and the conditions of the poor and needy families in the neighbourhood. It all started when Dr. And Mrs. Frank Anderssen adopted their daughter Premika, from Evelyn Nurseries in 1974. Ever since then they have been visiting Evelyn Nurseries regularly. Their association with the Home promoted them to support Evelyn Nurseries in starting a Day Care Centre for the benefit of the very poor children in the neighbourhood – so that the mothers could go out and earn a living while their children were taken care of at the Centre.

  On the 27th of June 1977 amidst a gathering of friends and well – wishers, the late Rt. Rev. Lakshman Wickremesinghe declared open the Day Care Centre. Ever since then the Sri Lanka/Denmark Family Aid Association has been providing, the necessary funds to run the Day Care Centre – which helps and supports the poor and needy families in the area. Although the funding is done by the S.L.F.A.A. the day-to-day running is carried out by the Evelyn Nurseries Management, and the Home’s staff. Very many poor families in the area have benefited by this Project and they are very grateful to the S.L.F.A.A. for the assistance they have received in improving their standard of living. It has been our pleasure to carry out this service as a Project of Evelyn Nurseries.

Evelyn Nurseries has adapted itself to the changing pattern of today’s society. During her period Dorothy made another very important change. Until that time, once the mother or the relative left the child in the Home, the child had no connection whatsoever with her relatives or family. But Dorothy, realized that a child should know her “roots” and have some connection with a relative to stabilize the psychological balance. She made searching inquiries of relations of the children wherever possible, so that they could spend at least a day or two with them.

In December 1989 Mrs. Dorothy Goonawardene left Evelyn Nurseries after twenty years of dedicated service. Once again the management was looking out for a suitable successor. Then Mrs. Ada Gunawardena who had just given up her teaching career of 35 years was making plans for a different sort of life! was requested to take over Evelyn Nurseries. She took on the responsibility and her experience as a teacher and mother came in very useful with her work with the children.

In the long history Evelyn Nurseries, there are some names that are worthy of mention – Mr. Morely Spaar, Marianne Stainton, Mrs. C. J. Oorloff and Mr. Backhouse. Their patience, concern for the children and dedication to service was unique.

From the very beginning Evelyn Nurseries has had a close link with St. Paul’s Church, Kandy. It is only fitting that we express our deep and grateful appreciation to all those who have contributed richly to the life of our children of Evelyn Nurseries. The late Metropolitent Emeritus Lakdasa de Mel, Ven’ ble James Amarasekara and the Rt. Rev. Lakshman Wickramasinghe were close friend of the Home, and were always concerned about the welfare of the children. The Bishop of Kurunagala is the Patron of our Home, and visits us and spends sometime with us whenever time permits. The Vicar of St. Paul’s is always the chairman of the selected Committee that manages the activities of the Home. Ven’ble Sam Gunawardene was Chairman of the Home for 20 years – 1977-1998. During his long association with Evelyn Nurseries, he was always there with us – in good times as well as our difficult times. We are very thankful to him for his guidance, help and encouragement at all times.

Our children attend Sunday service and Sunday School at St. Paul’s Church. Many of our girls sing in the choir and we participate in all church activities.

We have 19 children on roll – Their ages ranging from 3 & 1/2 years –18 years. Some girls attend Hillwood College, while the others attend Gothami Balika Maha vidyalaya. The very young ones attend our own Pre School. Personal care and nurture of the girls from an early age in a homely atmosphere was what the founder had in mind when she started the Home. But today’s children live in a different world than ours -and the problems they have to face are many and varied. With this in mind we are working in terms of the modern understanding of the child, we try to develop the “Whole Personality” – body, mind and spirit – so that they will be able to take their place in Society as “well balanced” individuals. Our girls do very well in their studies, sports Kandyan Dancing and religious activities. The work we do at Evelyn Nurseries is really “Team Work” with the Chairman, the Select Committee, the Warden, Home Staff and the children working together as partners towards a common goal – viz- the happiness and well – being of the children.

The Evelyn Nurseries was established on the priceless traditions of Christian Sacrificial Service, and may the spirit that moved the Founder continue to inspire us to face the future in trust and confidence in God and dedicate our lives for greater service.

Bank Details: Evelyn Nurseries Kandy, Hatton National Bank PLC
No1, Sri Dalada Veediya, Kandy, Sri Lanka
Account No: 018010002126 …………… Swift code: HBLILLX018


** This is not a new find. The ethnic category “Eurasian” has been in use in the census data in British Ceylon from 1881 at least and probably was in use earlier – -being brought across from British India. Because the label was linked to the progeny of planters with estate labour and with illegimacy, the term was  burdened with a stigma — a stain that was embodied in another label, viz. “tea bushes” that marked this supposed impregnation amongst the tea plants.


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One response to “Orphaned. Abandoned. Illegitimate. Children cared for by the Evelyn Nurseries of Kandy, 1920 et seq

  1. Sachi Sri Kantha

    Permit me again, a tangential observation. This I mention, because, it’s not about the abandoned, illegitimate children of Evelyn Nurseries of Kandy. My comment relates to your foot note on ‘Eurasian’ ethnics. Your comment related to illegitimacy and social stigma applied only to the union of Anglo (Euro) men and local women.

    The other side of the coin is the union of literate local men and Anglo (Euro) women. Their progeny also falls under the category of ‘Eurasian’. As far as I can decipher (I may be wrong here!), the progeny of this type of union did not suffer illegitimacy and stigma. There have been some wonderful progeny, by this type of union. I provide 4 examples below.
    Sir Muthu Coomaraswamy and Elizabeth Clay Beeby, in the 19th century. Their only son was reputed scholar of Asian arts and religion Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy.
    Educationist and politician P. de S. Kularatne and Hilda Muriel Westbrook. This couple had 3 remarkable children.
    Recognized Prof. of Obstetrics and Gynecology from University of Colombo – Don Abraham Ranasinghe and Anneliese Katz (originally from Germany). This couple had 4 children. Their eldest son Ananda Ranasinghe was a recognized swimmer from Royal College, and one year senior to me at the University of Colombo in the first half of 1970s. He is a marine scientist (retired now) and living in Huntington Beach, CA.
    Singapore attorney and politician Joshua B. Jeyaretnam (born in Jaffna) and Margaret Cynthia Walker. This couple had two sons.

    Finally, as for the origin of ‘Eurasian’ word, Hobson-Jobson glossary dates it’s first usage to 1844. The entry cited is ‘The Eurasian Belle’ in a few local sketches, by J.M., of Calcutta.

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