Saga of a Child Genius – Bertram Elibank Devepurarathna
Posted on March 14th, 2019

Senaka Weeraratna

This is a story of a child genius who shone brilliantly at Royal College, Colombo when the school was located at St. Sebastian Hill, Hulftsdorp.

A Royal College Magazine of that period devotes 3-4 pages to his invention and heaps praise on him.

Bertram Elibank Devepurarathna was the inventor of a mechanism that improved the Reversing Gear in Steam Engines and his patent was registered in London in 1910. He was again successful in registering a Patent in London in 1913 in respect to a device that improved the valve mechanism for internal combustion Engines.

His name was always on the lips of the late Judge of the World Court, Christie Weeramantry, as Bertram Devepurarathna’s sister Enid later became Christie Weeramantry’s mother, and wife of Gregory Weeramantry (father of Lucien, Christie and Douglas).

Christie Weeramantry during the time he was a Professor of Law at Monash University had no clue of the whereabouts of his maternal uncle. He mentions this in his autobiography.

Fortunately, Thiru Arumugam, an Engineer has done the hard research and published an article recently in a Magazine called ‘ The Sri Lankan ‘ based in Australia.

Bertram had his residence at No. 1, Hulftsdorp street (not far from Royal College at San Sebastian Hill). His father was David Devapuraratna, leading Proctor and prominent member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Ceylon, who had the means to educate his son in England.

Bertram Devepurarathna after completing his studies at Royal College had left for England for further studies in Mechanical Engineering in Glasgow in 1912. He was able to register his second patent in 1913. It is said that during the war he was flying a test plane and that it crashed and he was seriously injured. It was then decided to send him back to Colombo to convalesce in a warm climate.

After completing his studies in 1917 ( he had graduated as an Engineer by this time) he had embarked on a ship ‘ P & O Nyanza’ to return to Ceylon.

On the way the ship, within 25 miles off the shores of England, was attacked by a German Submarine and badly damaged.

Both Bertram Devepurarathna and another gentleman from Ceylon called Walter de Silva, were seriously injured and died in Hospital after they were taken back to England in the badly damaged ship.

Available records reveal that Bertram Devepurarathna had died in 1918, when he was 23 years old, and ashes interred in a British cemetery.

I must thank Hugh Karunanayake currently resident in Melbourne for sending me this article written by Thiru Arumugam, pursuant to an inquiry by me about Bertram Devepurarathna, having read a substantial account on him (3-4 pages) published in an old Royal College (pre – First World War) magazine.

Senaka Weeraratna

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