TW Roberts R.I.P. ……. July 1976

A Vale in[1] Appreciation, From Miss Norah Roberts                                                                                                            Fort, Galle,  10th July 1976

Letter to: The Editor, “Sunday Observer”, Colombo

  T.W.ROBERTS ……………………………. An Appreciation[2]

At the age of 17 my father, Thomas Webb Roberts won the Barbados Scholarship from Queens College, Barbados, and entered the Oxford University where he passed both the Classical Mods and Grates in the first class before he was 21. He topped the list in the open competition for the Colonial Civil Service. He also found time to get married when he was only 18, to my mother[3] who was also 18. When he came out to the C.C.S. at 21 he had 3 children, Isabella, T.F.C and G. C. Roberts.[4]

Thereafter, he planted a child in every station to which he was appointed- Baby Berthie at Kalmunai died, Sister Marjorie at Matara, myself at Panadura, Violet at Chilaw, Sheila in England, Baby Diana at Badulla (who died at 3 years).[5]

My father had a second innings when he married again at 45, and by Miriam[6] he scored 4 more children: Pamela, Estelle, Audrey and Michael, the youngest who like his father[7] won the Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford from Peradeniya University.

In this wedding snap, TW Roberts is flanked on his left by his best man, who was none other than his second son Gilbert Roberts; while one daughter to Gilbert’s left, Dolores aka “Dodo,” served as one bridesmaid and another daugher Sheila (standing on the extreme right) was the other bridesmaid. Miriam’s mother “Ma Bastiansz Perera” is the other seated lady.

When my father was Excise Commissioner in Colombo 1920, he was “demoted” to Galle as District Judge, because he did not see eye to eye with the Governor, Sir Hugh Mammony on the site for the Ceylon University.[8] My father wrote a memorandum supporting the Colombo site. However, the “demotion” proved a great success. In Galle, my father found his happiest station, and here remained, respected and loved till his retirement.

My father has been described as one of the most prominent judges to preside over the Galle Courts, and today his photograph hangs in the Galle Law Library. “He always held the scales of justice evenly between subject and subject. Galle never had a judge of greater independence. His knowledge of human nature was remarkable” (William).

In another letter he says, “I received and found joy in the newspaper cutting (Observer) on Judges and Lawyers of Galle by William Peiris. He played a good innings there. I cannot recall any misjudgements of mine such as I recall in plenty from my younger efforts on the bench”.

Recently my father’s famous judgement in the Corea vs. Iseris Appuhamy Case was brought to my notice in the new set of Law Reports. His judgement given in Chilaw was upheld by the Privy Council.

In Galle my father was as popular off the bench as on it. He was a steward of the G.G.C [Galle Gymkhana Club] and up to date, families of men thrown out of work when the club closed down, received assistance from him, monthly.

At home we his children found in him a sterner judge — perhaps he expected a higher standard from his children. We soon learnt not to repeat questionable tales out of school, for my father frowned heavily on anything that savoured of deceit or dishonesty. I cannot for a moment imagine my father doing anything dishonest. In fact, my father’s highest quality was his integrity. Something of his shining example he has passed on to us, his children.

Dear daddy- may he rest in peace.

Miss Norah Roberts, Galle

*** ***

TW Roberts, perhaps  after his 247 n. o. for the Kalutara bar vs the Galle bar … … a Ceylon record for quite a while. The Janashakthi Book of Sri Lanka Cricket has served up this account of that event:In his scoring spree in Kalutara Roberts got his first 183 runs before lunch in two hours and his next 58 runs in 77 mintutes after lunch! He hit 4 sixes and demolished his oponents who collapsed for 60 and 37, leaving Kalutara winners by an innings and 335 runs. Later in the year, Roberts scored 70 runs with 3 sixes and 7 fours in less than 60 minutes for George Vanderspar’s All-Ceylon XI vs AO Jones’ Amateurs on the Galle Face Grounds.”

In the second photo one sees the two teams that played in the match where Ceylon took on Ao Jones’ Amateurs. TW Roberts is seen standing second from the right.


When my father passed away at my sister Pamela’s home in Streatham, London, I was based in Heidelberg in Germany with my family on an Alexander Von Humboldt Fellowship. I was therefore able to attend his funeral in Streatham …. with the telegram saying “Deine Vater ist tot” being sufficient for me to get through British customs.


Norah Roberts as a young woman

END NOTES added by Michael Roberts in  March 2023 as the only surviving member of his progeny.

[1] This Mss NOTE turned up in my computer files in its unedited form. Anushya Abeywardena, my grand-niece and the daughter of Ann Abeywardena nee Sirimanne (daughter of Dolores aka “Dodo” Sirimanne, nee Roberts, a younger sister to Norah), kindly prepared it for presentation on web.

[2] Norah became totally deaf after completing her education at St. Bridget’s College in Colombo and perhaps for this reason has got some facts wrong. I will be inserting corrections as Footnotes.

[3] His wife was a “Tarrant.”

[4] To my definitive knowledge based both on family lore and on information provided by Kitty Nicholls, a Barbadian relative who even visited us in Adelaide in the 2000s, Tommy and Gilbert were sent to Barbados to live with relatives and completed their schooling there – only reconnecting with the family in “Ceylon” in the 1920s or thereabouts. I suspect that Bella may have remained with her mother in UK.

[5] The eldest child Isabella (known as “Bella”) also passed way (from diptheria?) when she came out to Ceylon after completing her education (in England at a guess). Thus, TW and his first wife had to face three deaths of their beloved in Sri Lanka. …. and, THEN, the sturdy mother passed away as well. She was buried at Kanatte in Colombo (my faint memories from family lore).

[6] Miriam Perera as recorded in my birth certificate.

[7] The scholarship which brought my pater to England and Oxford was, I believe, called the “Barbados Scholarship.” He attended Hertford College and played cricket for that institution. His cricketing ability as a batsman were such (as displayed in British Ceylon in the 1900s and 1910 in both SP Foenander’s book and in the Janashakthi Book of Sri Lanka Cricket) that I wonder if he suffered from racial disadvantages in this domain when at Oxford. But maybe he was too busy with his studies and family affairs.

[8] The reference here is to Governor William Manning … presumably a typing misadventure.


Filed under art & allure bewitching, British colonialism, cricket for amity, cultural transmission, economic processes, education, ethnicity, heritage, historical interpretation, landscape wondrous, life stories, patriotism, performance, Sri Lankan cricket, sri lankan society, travelogue, unusual people

7 responses to “TW Roberts R.I.P. ……. July 1976

  1. Shane

    Professor, I am sorry for your loss

  2. G. H. Peiris

    An enjoyable read. Thanks a lot. I congratulate you on your gain. Nothing has been lost, according to the universal doctrine of impermanence.

  3. Shafee

    Excellent Read Thanks, If one could swap Lanka for the Bajan sun these days would do it in a heartbeat.

    Problems of Public Life In India & Ceylon – T.W Roberts (Scholar of Pertford College) – Finally I can now put a face to the Author of this booklet.

  4. Sorry for your loss Michael. I knew Dodo and Audrey but not Norah. This article was extremely fascinationg in its account of your father’s exploits both on and off the cricket pitch.

  5. Arun Dias Bandaranaike

    Rather important vignette; provides a wee glimpse into a time and a season that is long gone in Ceylon. It bespeaks a gentler society, one where tragedy and irksome circumstance is confronted with equanimity,

  6. Excellent revelations of your father and family as I recall my father saying he served under your father as an excise Inspector. I also recall seeing him play tennis in his eighties, at the Galle Gymnkhana Club courts. Your family members were very close to my brothers Vere and Elmo. I recall you playing for your school in cricket along with my late brother-in-law Carlyle Rodrigo. Nihal De Alwis

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