Estelle Fernando nee Roberts: Vale in Sadness & Fellowship

Michael Roberts

Estelle Barbara Roberts was born as the second child from the second bed of Thomas Webb Roberts (1881-1978) on the 2nd May 1929. She was brought up within the Fort of Galle and received her education at Southlands, Sacred Heart Convent and Richmond Colleges; but was then swept off her feet by an earnest young government servant, Charles Hubert Fernando, who played tennis at the Galle Gymkhana Club (where TW was a kind of institution and a regular).


Estelle standing on left at Sacred Heart Convent

Estelle (centre?) in performing troupe involving the Gunasekeras, Pamela (centre), Audrey on stool  & Winnie Stewart standing on extreme left

Born in 1938 as the youngest in the family, I was fortunate to have Estelle become a kind-of-mother when my mater divorced and went off to England circa 1944/45. She taught me to swim at the “Girls’ Bathing Place” about 80 yards distance from our house.

After she married and left Galle, the Fernando households in Panadura and then in Colombo were second homes for my sister Audrey and myself. My father did not possess a car in the mid-1940s-to-1960; we therefore lacked the mobility to acquire a knowledge of country Ceylon. Our only travels beyond the neighbourhood of Galle Town occurred when we visited Panadura,[1] Colombo or, on one occasion the estate area around Hatton where brother Malcolm Fernando was a planter.

Once my pater TW migrated to England[2] to live with his eldest daughter, the household of Mallie and Estelle Fernando became my second home. This solid ‘hearth’ and home continued when I returned to Ceylon in 1966 after my university studies with Shona and Kim. Thereafter, when our family settled down in Kandy and Peradeniya,[3] the Fernando households at High Street and then at Hampden Lane in Wellawatte continued to function as a second home/from/home within bustling Colombo.


Charith, Skanda, Jagath & Tanya – the four progeny …. Jagath & Estelle in conversation … and the Four in more recent times

Marge, Norah, Michael, Estelle and Sheila at Hampden Lane in the 1990s … Robertses all


In other words, Estelle Fernando was a central figure and quiet nurturer in my life’s journey. No words can capture WHAT she has meant to me …. and to Shona, Kim and Maya. The warmth of that embrace will reside in our hearts and minds forever.

Maya, Shona, Charith & Zac dwelling on photographs perhaps … because the assembly of snaps was one of Estelle’s passions


After our family’s financial circumstances improved once I secured a university job in Adelaide in 1977, the Fernando household continued to serve as a warm & welcoming base whenever I made short-term research visits to Sri Lanka. These ‘embraces’ extended to Shona, Kim and Maya during their holiday visits.

Estelle, her loyal servants,  Maya, Tissa & Anushi Abeywardena, Shona, Ann Abeywardena & Estelle’s loyal servants at 91/18 Hampden Lane

Overall, the considerable body of research and writing that I have generated would not have been feasible without the solid support I received from the Fernando household as well as the other pied a terre provided by (B) my sister Dodo and her husband, Sydney; and (C) the combined household at Kirulapona maintained by my unmarried sisters, Marge, Violet and Sheila from the 1970s through to the 2000s.

Over the last three decades or so, Estelle provided this base and all its comforts without the support of husband Mallie, who passed away prematurely from medical complications on the 1st of July 1986 at the age of 68. Her ability thereafter to sustain a wide range of activities – from teaching at Musaeus College Primary to the assiduous labour involved in her swimming lessons for young and old at the SSC swimming pool[4] – was a testimony to her strength of character.

This work at the swimming pool at the SSC did raise her profile and endeared her to several personnel in the upper-middle class, including some in high politics and in prominent sporting arenas. However, such links already existed because her sons had attended Royal College and excelled in the sports field – so that one of the stars linked to the Fernando household has been Malik Samarawickrama, the scrum-half paired with Jagath Fernando at stand-off for both Royal College, CR & FC and Ceylon. A testimony to the loyalties which Estelle evoked was provided by the presence of Malik and others at her memorial service in March and the platform appreciation provided by Eran Wickramaratne (another Royalist, all-round sportsman  and a political figure).


Amongst those assisted by Estelle was one Chandrika Kumaratunga whose two children were taught swimming at about the time when her husband Vijaya was cruelly cut down by JVP assassins on 16th February 1988.











The support received from this wide circle of well-endowed friends and the equally wide-ranging set of relatives and children within the land of Sri Lanka undoubtedly sustained Estelle after Mallie passed away. By then, moreover, Mallie had provided her with a wonderful house designed by Minette De Silva in Hampden Lane and she developed lasting friendships with some of her neighbours – none more so than Dr Henry and Vasanthi Rajaratnam right next door. These were the sort of links that marked Sri Lanka at its best.

Fare Thee Well she says from one of her favourite settings!




[1] The house sustained by my brother Gilbert and wife Jean at Panadura was the other home-from-home for Audrey and me in the 1950s.

[2] My father waited till I had secured a degree from Peradeniya University and a job as an Assistant Lecturer.  His move to the UK was, in my conjecture, kindled by (A) his strong emotional bond with my elder sister Pamela who was a doctor in Streatham; (B) his British roots albeit Barbadian as well as (C), his addiction to betting and his distaste for the ban on horse-racing imposed by the government led by Mrs Bandaranaike.

[3] In the mid-late 1960s Mr JFK and Erica Labrooy provided our family with a pied a terre for a while and then negotiated a rental annexe with Mrs Kasman at Siebel Place on the road to Kandy. We would have been floundering if not for such aid.

[4] CH Fernando – that is Mallie – had strong connections with the SSC via his Royal College network and his pursuit of tennis within its tennis courts. Mallie also had played cricket for the University College in the 1930s and sustained his interest in the game right through to the 1980s – so that cricket matches at the SSC featured in his schedule and involved interaction with several prominent personalities in the island’s history.


Filed under accountability, cultural transmission, education, ethnicity, heritage, historical interpretation, life stories, meditations, performance, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, travelogue, unusual people, world affairs

3 responses to “Estelle Fernando nee Roberts: Vale in Sadness & Fellowship

  1. EMAIL COMMENT from Nihal De Alwis of Kalahe & Nugegoda, 31 May 2023:
    Michael”, an excellent picture of your family whom we knew from our times in Galle. It certainly brings back memories of my father who had worked under yours when he was Commissioner of Excise and later on the close association we had with your family through Audrey. There were many instances when I saw your father play tennis, with Joe Abeysundara’s father at the Galle Gymkhana Club courts.Vere and Elmo, my brothers, were very close to your family. I knew you as a good sportsman at St Aloysius College Galle.
    Many years later I joined the SSC to train my children Shevanthie and Navin in swimming and when I learnt Estelle was one of the teachers, I decided to enroll them with her. This was in the early eighties, perhaps in 1985. I introduced myself to her and spoke about our family ties and she made certain that both my children were given special attention and extra hours as they too enjoyed her teaching methods and the very kind attitude she adopted towards them..She made both my children to be positive in their attempts to learn swimming and made positive thinking a habit like everything else and that they will get better at it with time. I was glad that I attended her Thanksgiving service. Perhaps she firmly believed in that proverb 3:5>”trust in the Lord with all your heartand lean not on your own understanding ” Nihal de Alwis

  2. Shevanthie De Alwis

    A beautiful reminder of what love and family was about captured so well that it paints a colorful picture in one’s mind . Aunty Estelle had an undeniable humility and sunny disposition that learning to swim with her dispelled all fear that I as a kid would endure, since I was rotund . her positive attitude coupled with her laughter was a testament to her full life . RIP to a beautiful woman who was a quiet and endearing presence throughout out our childhood.

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