Remembering a tyrant in the name of freedom
Posted on August 25th, 2012

Janaka Perera

 It is now six decades since the name of the place where the Lion flag was hoisted on February 4, 1948 was changed from Torrington Square to Independence Square in Colombo. 

A 100 years before, on July 29, 1848 British Governor Lord Torrington declared Martial Law to brutally crush the Matale uprising (July-August 1848) sparked off by oppressive taxes which included a road-tax, a shop-tax, a gun-tax, and a dog-tax. The fourth sentenced to death all puppies above three months old whose proprietors could not pay the tax.  All appeals many citizens made to Governor Torrington against the imposition of the taxes were disregarded.

The reign of terror he unleashed resulted in a bloodbath.

Yet ironically today 164 years after the uprising  it is not the name Independence Square that people are reminded of in daily verbal communication but that of Governor Torrington.  We also still have Torrington flats in Colombo in memory of the same Governor.  If we get into a bus and ask for a ticket to Nidahas Chathurasraya (Independence Square) we need not be surprised if the conductor wonders where the hell it is.  But he definitely knows where “ƒ”¹…”Torrington’ is. Whether we speak in Sinhala, Tamil or English it is the same.

This is a consequence of not having the common sense to introduce name which would be easy for the ordinary citizen to pronounce quickly.  The problem is not with the Independence Hall but the with name given to the square to replace “ƒ”¹…”Torrington’   

The name Brownrigg Road was replaced with Keppettipola Mawatha since it was under Governor Brownrigg’s rule that Keppettipola who led the 1818 Uva uprising was executed.   Likewise an appropriate easily pronounced name for Torrington Square should have been that of the innocent Buddhist monk, Venerable Kudapola who was executed in full robes by firing squad on Torrington’s orders.  At the Courts Martial held in Kandy the monk was falsely accused of withholding information on the rebel leaders although there was not a shred of evidence to substantiate the charges.  

Ven. Kudapola was a bhikku who lived as a hermit in a forest cave before he was brought to Kandy handcuffed to be tried for “ƒ”¹…”high treason.’ The news of his execution spread like wildfire. The senseless murder of a Buddhist monk under the pretence of justified execution enraged citizens of all classes.

The news traveled not only to England but also to the USA which had won its War of Independence (1775-1783) just 68 years before.  Also, like the Matale uprising the American Revolutionary War against England too was the outcome of unjust taxes (starting with the Stamp Act of 1765) imposed on the settlers.  Memories of the British yoke were still fresh in the American settler’s mind.  Neo-imperialist ambitions which were to corrupt the Americans had not yet emerged. Hence their empathy with the Sinhala patriots is reflected in the following excerpts from an article titled “ƒ”¹…”English in Ceylon’ The United States Journal and Democratic Review of May 1851 reporting the execution of the Venerable Kudapola:

 “”¦On these absurd and unintelligible charges the poor Buddhist priest
was dragged before a military tribunal; tried by military judges, not
one of whom understood the language in which the evidence against him
was given; convicted and shot! Several attorneys who were present at
the trial; and who did understand the language, felt satisfied that
the witnesses for the prosecution had perjured themselves for the
purpose of currying favor with the Governor, and that the priest was
innocent. Under this impression they be sought the Governor to postpone
the execution. In vain Lord Torrington’s answer was By G, sir, if all
the lawyers in Ceylon said that the priest was innocent, he should be
shot tomorrow morning. And shot he was. More, Earl Grey, in answer to
Lord Torrington’s dispatch announcing the execution, pronounced the
death of the Buddhist priest to be highly satisfactory!…”  

 Of the two rebel chiefs, Puran Appu (Veera Hennedige Francisco Fernando) was captured and executed on August 8, 1848.  The other, Gongalegoda Banda (Wansapurna Dewage David) was flogged 100 times in public at Kandy on January 1, 1849 and sent to exile to Malaya where he died on December 1 of the same year.

The Matale uprising marked a transition from the feudal form of anti-colonial revolt to modern independence struggles. It was fundamentally a peasants’ struggle.

Faced with the impossibility of getting justice in Sri Lanka, Colombo Observer editor Dr. Christopher Elliot and Advocate John Selby engaged the services of a barrister in London and had the issue brought up the British Parliament.  An inquiry held by a Committee of the House of Commons revealed the gruesome details of Torrington’s suppression.   The Committee included such eminent personalities as Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone.  Consequently the House recommended the appointment of a Royal Commission to investigate the Torrington’s excesses but the latter being a close relative of the then British Prime Minister (Lord John Russell) the matter was quietly shelved. 

States further The United States Journal and Democratic Review:

The history of Lord Torrington’s administration in Ceylon affords an epitome of English rule, wherever throughout the world, by force, or fraud, or violence, she has succeeded in planting her guilty flag. The horrors perpetrated during 1848 in the island-gem of the East, are the counterpart of those of which, from time to time, during
a period of seven centuries, the green isle of the West has been the
victim.“
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(The United States Magazine and Democratic Review Print: Vol. XXVIII, No. CLV, – 1851 May, p. 409 p. 410 p. 411 p. 412 Publisher: J.& H.G. Langley, New York – Original text courtesy of the Cornell University proto-type Digital Library Collections – Making of America Reformatted Text in HTML put Online at Lakdiva.net with their Permission)

 

3 Responses to “Remembering a tyrant in the name of freedom”

  1. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    Funny thing is these British swines hail their own nationalistic leaders who fought invaders of Britain while they just slaughtered nationalists in other countries who fought British invaders! We need to wipe out every reminder of this satanic race in our nation beginning with removing Vampire Victoria’s name from Bridges and Dams. There is no Sri Lankan leader who has ever emphasised this notion as most of them came from the ‘Colompurans class’ or better know as murderous English speaking ‘Colombons’ which unfortunately still prevail and are kicking. The Liberal Party in England is duplicated in Sri Lanka. The English Society is represented in Sri Lanka. The Old Fool JR attempted to Anglisize Sri Lanka. What an influence these pigs have on our society and psyche of our people? Why do we address these swines as Lords still? (this is how English people gain respect from others) Is this the conditioning we have gone through to accept these titles bestowed by British royalty, who wiped out our Royalty?. Why not drop these titles of our leaders to begin with – beginning with Mr. John Kotelawala, who apparently never gave in to British but accepted this stupid honour? Indeed funny!
    As my father’s good freind Ven. Mahinda of Tibet observed ‘ Suddage padayath Sinhalayaata mihiri naadayeki’ – translated ‘ even the ‘Fart of an Englishman(here Sudda) is music in the ears of Sinhalese’. Protestant church and other Christian churches are the bastions of flag carriers of this British in our mother land and that will continue for a very long time, unfortunately.

  2. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    Just a footnote to above – although coming from the same stock, Americans, Canadians and even Australians don’t take especially English that seriously as Sri Lankans, especially politicians do.

  3. Melbourne Patriot Says:

    good article

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