Remembering Revd WJT Small, A Saint In Our Times

Nihal de Alwis, presenting a Memoir on Revd Small, the dedicated Principal of Richmond who became a Ceylonese  …. 

Rev. Walter Joseph Thombleson Small was born on the 4th of July 1883 in Boston, England. He lived in Sri Lanka from 1906 to 1926 and again from 1953 to 1979. He died in Sri Lanka after an accident on the 28th of December 1979. He grew up during the Victorian era and grew up in a Methodist environment imbued with Christian values.



His father was Walter Thomas Small a draper by profession and an active leader of the Methodist Church in Lincolnshire, and a town councillor. His mother Emily Tombleson was from another devout Methodist family in Barton. Rev Small had one younger brother., Maurice Waddingham Small (1894) and two sisters. One sister was married and lived in Boston and the other married in 1906 and lived in Germany, where Rev Small  had met his wife.


His primary education was at Boston Grammar School. He attended this school from his age of 9 to 18. Mr William White was the Headmaster. At the age of 13, he had gained first class Honours in the junior Oxford Local Examination, whilst he also excelled in cricket, athletics and swimming. He passed the Senior Oxford Local Examination in 1899 when he was 16 years old. He earned a scholarship and continued to win scholarships in the London Matriculation, and Inter-Science examination. When he was 18 years, he commenced studies at Cambridge. Three years later he earned a First Class Honours in the Mathematical Tripos, being ranked Seventh Wrangler in 1904. In 1905 he obtained his B. Sc. He decided to continue to stay at Cambridge and earned a First Class in the Theological Tripos, Part 1. He also earned the Mason Prize for Hebrew Scholarship in Cambridge University, whilst he obtained his MA in 1908. He had a love for languages and was conversant in Latin, Greek, French, Hebrew and German.


Rev Small had inherited that revivalist background. Whilst he had been teaching in a village awaiting results from his exams, he had received a telegram informing him of his success at the exam. He decided to share this good news with the Methodist Minister. The Minister was thrilled and posed him a relevant question saying “My young friend, God has been very good to you and has done great things for you. What are you going to do for “HIM”?  This created a great impact on the mind of Rev Small when he decided to complete his Bsc and Theological Tripos and gave serious thought  to this valuable remark. He entered the Methodist Ministry in 1906 along with RevD. Arthur Stanley Beaty (who had arrived earlier than Rev Small to Richmond and acted as Principal due the sudden death of Rev Darrel). It was the time he had visited his sister in Germany that the request came from the Wesleyan Missionary Society to fill the vacancy at Richmond College.

Rev James Horne Darrel (Principal) had died whilst nursing the boys who had contacted  “enteric “ fever in the boarding school. He was a Principal and missionary who sacrificed his life whilst treating his students, unmatched in the history of any school. His first impression of the school had been expressed by him to Carlton Samarajeewa in his own words saying It was a case of love at first sight and ‘Sripada (Adams Peak) has ever since been a special attraction for me. It is visible from Richmond Hill too, & whenever I visit Galle during the North East Monsoon I always go out into the garden early in the morning to see if it is on view behind Hinidum Kande.”

ASSUMES OFFICE AS PRINCIPAL                                                                                Revd. Small was 23 years old, when he assumed office at Richmond College in 1906 on the 3rd of November  under [these] very tragic circumstances, after the sudden death of his processor a much devout educationist  Rev D. H. Darrel, who sacrificed his life by caring for his students in the Hostel affected by enteric fever. He was taken to Richmond from the railway station in a buggy cart. A person with no administrative experience, [he remained]  undaunted [and faced up to the] numerous problems pertaining to health and finances [that beset Richmond then]. He had to face these issues with no headmaster to assist him. Mr P. De .S. Kularatne, who was a student at the time, had this to say:  “We saw the new Principal with the assembly in session, saw a young man in a cap and gown, bending down every now and then picking up something from the road, as he came down the Hill. He had been picking up pieces of paper which we had probably thrown away as we came down the hill from the boarding house. His opening address to the students revealed that, he was disturbed that many of the students had left after the demise of Rev Darrel, including some of the best, but he was certain that a new generation of boys who are worthy will fill their place. He stood up to the numerous challenges, with implicit trust in God. He ably adjusted himself, learning the local language Sinhala which was very grammatical and not the normal spoken Sinhala, he acquired it with great commitment.


He was able to build up new teaching staff some of whom were: G. R. Siriwardana, C.W.W. Kannangara (father of Free Education), E. M. Karunaratna (later an eminent Criminal lawyer Of Galle), George Samarasinghe, G. R. C. Fernando, Major F. A. De S Adihetty, Major Desaa Bandaranayaka, A. W. Dissanyaka, Lionel Mendis, E.F.C Ludowyke (Snr), S. J. Hendrick, S. I. Perera, A. Dissanayaka and Misses  Rita Kale, Ms, Gunawardana.


The death anniversary of Rev J.H.Darrel was considered by Rev Small an important event and he inaugurated a medal in his memory called the “Darrel Medal” to be awarded to the best student and the inauguration saw the award being won by  S. K. P. De Silva later known as  P. De S Kularatne( a Principal Of Ananda College) in 1909.


In 1910 he had found his life partner in THEKLA GUNTHER who was born in 1880 in  Rheine Germany, three years before he was born. His comments as quoted about the meeting of his bride, he says “It was one of the most wonderful experiences in my life, to be a young man falling in love” and he further expressed “It is a wonderful thing to fall in love. You no longer are selfish as you have to think of your partner.” His wife certainly was an asset to him as a Principal as she was a trained teacher and worked as the Matron of the boarding school.  She gave medical attention to the students and those at the Hostel. If a boarder was ill, she would take him to their Bungalow and ensure treatment. Despite the epidemic which had affected the school and the surrounding village Rev Small and his wife went round treating and distributing medicines to the houses in the vicinity.

She took over the teaching in the kindergarten assisted by Miss Gunawardane (aunt of Mr Vincent Gunawardana, another dedicated teacher of ours and still with us) and by Miss Rita Kale who continued till 1955.


Besides his being the principal Rev Small was expected to conduct evangelical services. The records of the Church and Richmond College indicate the conversion of many like Messers Barnis de silva, C.S. De silva, G.A. Kodippily, D. F. Nagahawatta. Records also revealed that Mr. W. Dahanayake was recruited in the year 1922 whilst in the staff of Kingswood. But there are no records to indicate his (W. Dahanayake’s) membership with any particular church. Mr. Dahanayake and Rev Small remained as very close friends till the demise of Rev Small.


Revd Small’s philosophy in respect of sports was that it instilled practices in students to contribute to society, which contained caste and religious distinctions. He promoted the saying: ‘to win the game is great, to play the game is greater, but to love the game is the greatest. Revd. Small advocated this saying: “We work hard for the intellectual advancement of the boys but our chief emphasis is on character, and manliness. No boy should pass through these classrooms without having set before him and pressed upon him the best aims and highest ideals of Life”.

He encouraged sports to create healthy relationships, with proper social behavior, resilience, emotional development, and give [students] the skills to reach the ladder of success. He would sometimes meet the visiting teams at the Galle Railway station as Principal. To him a true sportsman was not a shirker or cheat. He firmly believed in “play and win the game of life, win and win fair.”  He was a good athlete [and] a good soccer player. He organized the house system. Houses were Hanover, Winchester, Cambridge and Windsor.

He was very spiritual and it is said he remarked: “I feel assured that without the assistance of the Holy Ghost one cannot faithfully discharge the duties devolving upon use, he firmly believed in James1:2 of the Holy Bible which says “ Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, and let steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete and lacking in nothing.”


With Scouting having the motto “Be Prepared “, eight years after this movement started in the UK by Lord Baden Powel with the Scout Commissioner being F .G. Stevens in 1915 the Richmond Troop was Registered as the 2nd Troop having followed Mahinda College which had registered as 1st.It is revealed that Lord Baden Powel had sent a personal letter congratulating Richmond. In 1916 Richmond sent had 7 Kings Scouts. In 1917 Lyn Ludowyke (Snr) at the age of 11 years had been the youngest Kings Scout in the British Empire. Rev Small gave every encouragement and there were 37 Kings scouts who won second place in the competition in the whole of the British Empire.


This was started in 1894. But under Rev Small assisted by R. O. Eade the Cadet Group was the southern Province Champion. It was later under the leadership of Major F.A. De S. Adihetty which won the “All Ceylon Shooting Cup” in Diyatalawa.


Rev   Small was a good cricketer in his youth. He had made a century in the Master’ club when they had played against Galle CC. The Richmond vs Mahinda cricket match was suspended with the demise of Rev Darrel in 1906. It resumed in 1907 with Frank Lee Woodward (Mahinda Principal) and Rev Small as umpires. In 1914 during his term the College Song in English was composed by the famous teacher Mr. J. Vincent Mendis: “Play up Boys of Richmond. “The lyrics of the Sinhala version was composed during the period of Late Mr E. R. De Silva and Mr Shelton Wirasinghe as Vice Principal by that famous lyric writer Sarana Gupta Amarasinghe: “pembara Richmond maanyeni.”



Rev Small had a moral message for Cricket arising out of a very unpleasant incident. He disliked the formation of cliques, and caste favoritism in sports. Under D. M. Rajapaksha as captain Richmond had great success. Next year a student had bribed the entire student population with sweetmeats, known as “SEENIPITTU” feed and to the surprise and anger of Rev Small D.M. Rajapaksha lost the election as Captain by a solitary vote.

Rev Small had summoned a school assembly and mentioned it as a “sad”: day for Richmond and he decided to cancel all Richmond College Cricket Fixture for the year. His message went as follows “In Consequence of the strong party feeling shown in the elections at the games club meeting I have decided to cancel all school matches for the term, etc” He did not stop at this but informed the secretary to the Cricket Association. He said: “It is a painful step to take but ”good will come out of evil. He further removed D.M.Rajapaksha from Richmond and entered him to Wesley College and offered him the Captaincy at Wesley. It was a farsighted move ensuring that there will be no unhealthy rivalries. He had expressed the following view; “habits and ideals unconsciously impressed on boys during their school going days remained with them for the rest of their lives. I am compelled to believe him as It happened with a class mate of mine who was dishonest in the 4th standard and later on in employment as a Postmaster he lost his job for dishonesty.


It was the heyday of the British Empire, but he managed to mingle with the locals with great humility and he claims this was mainly because of his wife who did not belong to the ruling class and was a German. He had said that “Thekla his German wife and close associate, Lionel Mendis who was a teacher at 20 years and later a theological, student helped having learnt Sinhala to lose the superiority complex”.

Rev Small was always orderly and methodical. The Small family were associated with cleanliness and diligence. Perhaps he had desired to follow the scripture as stated in 1st Corinthians 14: verse 40 which says: “All things must be done decently and in order.”


His contention was that ”As pooling of all the Spiritual and mental resources of the various members of the Church in readiness to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit”. He certainly believed  that” Richmond [should] be distinguished by the character of the men she turned out.”


Though the OLD BOYS ASSOCIATION was formed in 1894 under the patronage of Rev Hartley, many distinguished old boys were elected to office namely, B.S. Jayawickrema, C.W.W.Kannangara, and E.M.Karunratna. But Rev Small, being farsighted, decided on a Colombo Branch. The Richmond College Old Boys Association of Colombo was formed in 1916 presided by him at the inaugural meeting. He later became the patron.

He also accepted that outward manifestation and evidence of faith is vital. Rev Small was calm and unruffled. He had an excellent memory of names of students and teachers and parents. A distinguished pupil of his Late Professor S. F. De Silva had this to say of him: “A good teacher I found is one who is valued of what he is, his character, the ideals he cherishes. His dedicated service to others, and such a teacher was Rev Small who walked among us radiating an influence for good on all who came to him.

Some of the sentiments expressed by Rev Small were, “We Work for the intellectual advancement of the boys: No boy passes through these classrooms without having set before him and pressed upon him the best aims of life “


Rev Small firmly believed in adhering to the school motto” Nisi Dominus Frustra” which has been from Psalm 127 of the Holy Bible saying “Unless the Lord Builds the house, those who build labour in vain”. He firmly adhered to it when the construction of the boarding etc took place. He also believed in the religion and social action with an attitude of religious harmony. He was guided by Proverb Chapter2 verse 21: “For the upright will inhabit the land, and men of integrity will remain in it.” Followed by that Proverb Chapter 3 verse 5,” Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight. “He went further by establishing a concept of community development. His aim was to make people become economically self-reliant, with community harmony, and to achieve social justice for the poor and oppressed with moral integrity.

Mr E. C. B. Wijesinghe said of Rev Small “It is easy to understand the Ultra-Nationalist character of the Richmond boys , because they were members of the National Association Of the College , which was open to masters , senior boys and pupils, but Rev Small, who started it was the first President and he aimed at producing  patriots. The result was a harvest of young men whose love for the country transcended other affiliations. Consequently, Buddhists became better Buddhists and the Christians awoke to the full glory of the example and precepts set out by Rev Small.”


Rev Small made a great contribution in strongly supporting the movement inaugurated By Anagarika Dharmapala. He had participated in the Temperance Association rallies where Buddhist Monks and other religious leaders were present.


Rev Small was guided by the Christian principles and found teaching a pleasure imparting his knowledge and experience and academic excellence  with a deep sense of generosity. He was found to be an excellent teacher in Mathematics, Science and Christianity. His expertise was displayed in products like Mr P.De s Kularatna  who distinguished himself as an outstanding Mathematician .He was once required to express his view about some of his best pupils and he remarked that IT was Mr S.F. De Silva a brilliant product who could have joined the Civil service but opted to, be an Prominent, educationist as well as a Buddhist Leader. He was a good disciplinarian who ensured good moral ethics and ensure punishment was meted out with no malice. His love for students never wavered when it was due. He was an exemplary, teacher as he never failed to dedicate his ideals which he cherished with a sound dedication to teaching. His visits to classes during school hours was an indication of his dedication and commitment, ensuring the best to all students. He also saw to the personal well being of many students Many students were enrolled by him sans school fees and some  others  like Mr P.De s Kularatna and Mr D.T. Devendra.


Richmond National Association  was formed  by Rev Sm on 23rd of july 1908 with mr J.Vincent Mendis as the founder. It was with the objective of fostering patriotism.Rev Samall served as its Patron. Richmond was the only school with this association This afforded a forum for educatonists like P.De.S. Kularatna, L.H. Methananda S.F.De Silva  T.U De Silva W, Dahnayaka., R.A. De Mel.It was about this time that Rev Small had, at the Methodist Synod suggested that Sinhala  Christians should celebrate the Sinhala New Year, which was accepted unanimously.

Rev Small Acts As Life Saver

It had been the 18th of September 1915 where Richmond College students went for swimming classes at Closenberg  ( Richmond did not have a swimming pool),a freak current had carried many. Rev small had rescued many  including P.B.Herath, but a teacher Mr Amarasekera ,, A.J. fonseka, and W.H. Desilva had lost their lives. Mr W Dahanyaka said “ The only Principal to rescue three of his pupils from a watery grave was Rev W.J.T.Small..” It was a difficult year for Rev Small.


During his time there were some Indian labor engaged to clear the sanitary buckets at the College Hostel. The sanitary workers decided to go on strike, which meant that the toilet buckets containing excreta  would cause a problem. He tried to dissuade them from striking but failed.  On the day of the strike he took an apron wrapped round his waist, and went to clean them. The sanitary workers least expected this and the strike was called off. This was a unique way of handling a strike. His Christ like character was well displayed !

Revd Small & ER De Silva in their latter-days

A Saintly Character

An incident had been highlighted by some old boys: when Rev Small was on his way to the Assembly Hall from his residence He had found a dead garden Lizard bloodied, battered, against a  coconut tree. He had stopped wrapped it and brought to the assembly. He had displayed this for every student to see and remarked “the boy who has done this is not fit to be in this school.” Rev Small was aware of the unacceptability from a Buddhist point of view and as a Christian  where nature must be protected. He had later remarked “If you see a bad habit begin to develop, try to nip it in the bud so that it does not become ingrained: issues are easier to sort out the earlier they are addressed.

Introduction of Buddhism

Rev Small introduced Buddhism as a subject at Richmond as he felt it as a requirement when most of the students were Buddhists. Most of the outstanding students were Buddhists and he ensured that there was religious harmony. This helped the students to realize the importance of religion in the school. And created a great impact.  He ensure cordiality with the Buddhist priests in the vicinity.

Temperance Movement

He made a great contribution by establishing this movement by helping along with the Buddhist clergy the abstinence from intoxicating drinks. As a Methodist Missionary, he gave the lead. He led the temperance movement ensuring unity among all religious organizations.


One of Rev Small’s Pupils, a distinguished pupil of Richmond and a great educationist Mr S.F.De Silva, said of him as a teacher “Who is a good teacher ?. I found in a much loved and respected Principal in Rev W.J.T. Small who possessed values, Character, ideals, radiating an influence for good on all who came to know him.” The famous words of him reflect his attitude to education “Probably some people have thought I am hard hearted. I may be, but I have a reason for it. I hold that no boy should be made free unless he is both, poor and bright.” At a Prize giving when late Mr. D. S. Senanayaka, was the Prime Minister and Chief Guest, he made this very apt remark “I humbly rejoice to have been privileged to be one of many men and women who came to this country NOT to GET, but to GIVE of the best we knew for the love of Christ.”


After his retirement from Richmond College, he was succeeded by Rev Alec Sneath and was appointed Chaplain of the English Training College in Peradeniya. In 1962 due to the contribution he had made towards education to this country, the Prime Minister at the time  Mrs Sirimawo R.D. Bandaranike awarded him DISTINGUISHED  CITIZENSHIP. He never lost touch with Richmond and was accommodated in the Principal’s bungalow as adviser to the Principal.

His Loving Sacrifices

He was very interested in astronomy and was closely associated with the Society along with Arthur C. Clarke, Rev Mervyn Fernando Mr Gunawardana the secretary and my brother Elmo de Alwis. When Yuri Gagrin visited Sri Lanka, he had received two passes and opted to take the Grandson of his Pupil Late Dr J.H. F. Jayasuriya and stood in the queue.


The organizers were Ranjan Rajawsan, Nimal Bandaranyaka, Neil Dias, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, P.J.H. Gunasekera, Walter Gurusinghe , R. L.De Silva and myself. The Chief Guest was Rev Small with guests of honour being the Late Mr E. R. De Silva, Mr Shelton Wirasinghe and Mr J. H. Gunasekera. It was a dinner dance at the NOH Galle Fort the most prestigious hotel with a band called Zambezies. But [it was a dance] with no liquor. Unfortunately we could not prevent the guests using the Hotel bar or bringing their own liquor. Unfortunately some were worst for liquor and became boisterous and I acted fast by serving a knock-out drink [so that it all] ended. But Rev Small observed this and inquired from me and I said that some of them had fainted through exhaustion; about which he remarked sarcastically “Oh Fainted Ah.” We never had it again as that was a good lesson we learnt.


My father Felix David Lionel De Alwis was a pupil of his and he frequented our ancestral home “Rockhill” in Kalahe, Wanchawala, Galle where he would have  some lunch and a small snooze. But my father never permitted him to travel by bus as he always sent him to Galle in our car. He enjoyed his visits and meeting my Dad. Later, many years after in 1975 he had heard that my father was ill and visited him at my sister Fidelia’s residence at 38/2 Gower Street, Colombo 04 in the heavy rain and my sister had given him a room with change of clothes etc and dressed his wounded leg. She ensured he had a good meal and provided transport.


Reminiscing the changes taking place at the time, he said “But the winds of change were blowing as, was evident at the election of 1956. Some of the coming changes were for the better but whatever may be said The Sinhala Only Policy, has caused a split in the Nation, which was tragically apparent in the serious communal riots of 1958 and now again “

* “Hatred does not cease by hatred but by love”

* One of the things I have learnt from experience is that of all sins pride is one of the most deadliest and one mostly beset us”


On the 24th Of December 1978 I learnt that Rev Small had been warded at the Frazer Nursing Home and I did pay him a visit. He appeared to be very drowsy. I introduced myself and spoke to him, and he claimed that due to his fault he fell off the bus at Chatham Street and never blamed the driver who took off before he descended it. My good friend Elmore Perera, former Surveyor General and Attorney at law, had also visited him and to him he had remarked “ Elmo I could  not take my foot off the bus in time and I fell”. His saintly conduct was quite evident.

A NOTE: My gratitude to Professor G.V.P. Somaratna whose publication assisted me in gathering some useful data to compile this article, beside my own experience with this rare Saint. I wish to quote him in his own words “The saint in English was originally used in Christianity for a person who was considered worthy of veneration for their holiness or sanctity. It is agreed that Rev W.J.T.Small & the saints in Christianity have many resemblances.” Rev Small’s face and his smile were full of radiance. His actions and conduct as a Priest and Principal displayed the true virtues of a saint as I recall the Hebrews Chapter 12 verse 2. which says “Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection, for the sake of the joy which was still in the future , he endured the cross , disregarding the shamefulness of it ,and from now on has taken hisplace on the right hand of God’s throne .”Certainly, Rev Walter Joseph Thomas Small is a “SAINT OF OUR TIME “

Rev Small was certainly a disciple of God who taught many Richmondites Christian values as mentioned in Psalm 24:4 “ He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who doesn’t lift up his soul to what is false and doesn’t swear deceitfully, he will receive blessings from the Lord”. We are certain he is a Saint with the God Almighty.

………….. Nihal De Alwis ……   05/01/2022



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