Queen Victoria Statue
Posted on November 28th, 2022

Chanaka Bandarage

A giant statue of Queen Victoria is currently on display at Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha, Colombo 7, next to Kalabhawana. It is bigger than her life size.

It is a magnificent creation.

This statue was constructed in England to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and sent to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) for public display. It was in the year 1897. The writer believes that a number of similar statutes were constructed and sent to various British colonies to commemorate the ‘great occasion’.

Queen Victoria was the Queen of England for the major part of the 19th century.  She reined the UK for 63 plus years. Her rein is considered a period of great industrial, cultural, political, scientific and military revival in the UK. She adopted the title of Empress of India in 1876. She was also the Queen of Ceylon.

Originally, this statue was on prominent display on a public road closer to Victoria Park (now Vihara Maha Devi Park). The then Governor was Joseph West Ridgeway (the Lady Ridgeway Hospital – Sri Lanka’s largest pediatric hospital (once largest in South Asia), is named after his distinguished wife).

Sirima Bandaranaike’s first government (1960 -1965) removed this statue from public display and kept it in the backyard of the Colombo museum.  It was not made available for public viewing.

That government (correctly) renamed Colombo’s Victoria Park as Vihara Maha Devi Park.

But, in 2012, the then government brought back this statue into prominence by installing it in Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha, near the SLTA courts. This was done to coincide with CHOGM (during that summit the then British PM Cameron came here and played many antics).

Unlike some of her predecessors, Queen Victoria did not sanction the killing of innocent Sri Lankans ruthlessly.  Prior to her regime, there were bitter wars between the British Army and Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe. They were extremely violent and the British lost on every occasion. Eg. The battles of  Senkadagala, Hanwella and Balana.  Then, the gruesome rebellion in 1818 where innocent people of Wellassa (women and children included) were subjected to most horrific and inhumane treatment by the British. 

During Queen Victoria’s rein, there were instances of bloody battles between the British and the locals. The British were very harsh towards those who worked against them. Noteworthy was the 1848 rebellion where Puran Appu, Gongalegoda Banda etc were brutally treated by the British (the former was executed and the latter was deported to Malacca – now Malaysia).

However mostly, during Queen Victoria’s period, Sri Lanka was peaceful and enjoyed much economic progress.

But, the relevance of displaying Queen Victoria’s statue in the centre of Colombo today needs to be re-assessed. Queen Victoria became the Queen of this country as a result of the British conquering this land. She was never elected nor selected to power by the people of this country.  It was a forcible occupation of the country by the British.

A statue of an ex state leader is installed to confirm the important contribution that she/he had made to that state. It should be the will of the people that such a statue is required and that it must be publicly and prominently  displayed. This statue does not satisfy that criteria.

The people of contemporary Sri Lanka do not know anything about Queen Victoria. The very few who know about her do not consider her as a hero or a special friend of Sri Lanka.  There is no overwhelming support in the country that her statue must be publicly displayed.

Though as stated before Queen Victoria was overall a good Queen of England, but there is no reason for us to publicly display her statue here today.  We are no longer a colony of the British. That statue should be removed from its present location and re-installed in the Colombo museum premises.

Unlike in the Sirima Bandaranaike days the statue should not be stored and hidden. It should be on public display within the Museum land – outside of the main building. People should be able to marvel this magnificent creation.  It is certainly a piece of very fine art. Our people will be delighted to view it – located not on the side of a prominent Colombo road, but within the Colombo museum premises.

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