A tribute to a national hero from Chilaw by his son, Sri Sangabo Corea, on his birth anniversary which falls today
Freedom fighter who defied the British
Charles Edward Victor Seneviratne Corea was the youngest in a family of two girls and three boys born to Charles Edward Bandaranaike Corea, a solicitor, and Henrietta Corea nee Seneviratne of Maha Gedara, Chilaw.

Of the three boys, the eldest, Charles Edgar Corea, was educated at Royal College and having excelled in studies and cricket, he passed out as a proctor of the Supreme Court, took to politics and in 1924 was elected president of the Ceylon National Congress. Warden Stone of S. Thomas' College described old Royalist C.E. Corea as one of the finest speakers of the English language.
The second boy in the family was Dr. Alfred Ernest Corea who was educated at S. Thomas' College. He passed out as a doctor of medicine and chose to practise in Chilaw. He was a clever doctor and what was unique about him was that he charged no fees from the poor for his services.

The youngest of the three boys was Charles Edward Victor Seneviratne Corea who was educated at S. Thomas' College and later passed out as an advocate of the Supreme Court.

Being a great admirer of his elder brother Charlie, and while enjoying a widespread practice as an eminent advocate, Victor Corea, highly influenced by his brother's dynamism and accomplishments, also took to politics and together with his brother waged a relentless fight for Ceylon's freedom.
The two brothers were hailed as a powerful combination and a force to be reckoned with. A doughty fighter for the rights of his countrymen Victor Corea courageously opposed and fought against imperial onslaughts and excesses.
The Coreas and the Seneviratnes who lived in Chilaw and Madampe were wealthy landed proprietors, owning large extents of coconut and paddy lands that were inherited from their ancestors and when C.E. Corea Snr. married Henrietta Seneviratne, the Seneviratne Coreas were acknowledged to be one of the wealthiest families in Ceylon.

Apart from the wealth that the family had inherited, the males were all professionally qualified, mainly, in the legal profession. It was a known fact that in most of the cases in the Chilaw law courts the prosecuting counsel was a Corea and the defending counsel too was a Corea. Interestingly, there were times when the judge on the bench was also a Corea! The Coreas, as a single family, while being professionals were also political activists whose contribution for the wellbeing of the people had been significant. And Chilaw, it is said was famous for 3 Cs.... Coreas, crabs and coconuts!!

The Times of Ceylon at that time said this of the two brothers:
"While C.E. Corea was a statesman of composure, his brother Victor was a colourful personality of steel guts who always championed the cause of the common man. The road to Independence has been a hard and rugged one. Immeasurable, therefore, is the country's debt to those intrepid pioneers of the reforms movement for the courage and determination they showed in the face of insurmountable odds to launch and carry out their campaigns. One such patriot was C.E. Victor S. Corea, fired by his devotion who never despaired in his efforts to make this country a better place to live in, by getting rid of the shackles of alien rule.”

In another issue, the Times of Ceylon said:
"The Tower Hall in Maradana was the scene of an electrifying drama. But Annie Botejue and Marshal Perera were not the star attractions. The occasion was a political meeting.

“It was the climax of a day of national mourning in remembrance of the declaration of martial law on June 4, 1915. As this story unfolds the speaker on the platform is Mr. C. E. Victor S. Corea. The Tower Hall was packed to utmost capacity. On the verandahs outside, a tightly-wedged mass of humanity surged to and fro, a large number remaining on the streets outside.

“Such was the magnetic attraction of Mr. C. E. Victor S. Corea that the police party present was led by the acting Inspector-General of Police himself. Mr Corea had just come out of jail after opposing the British Government and forcing its hand to abolish the iniquitous Poll Tax where every male over 18 years had to pay the government Rs. 2 by way of a Poll Tax. Victor Corea refused to pay the Poll Tax as a mark of protest and informed the governor that he was breaking their law and was prepared to go to jail and continue his fight on behalf of the people of his country as long as it takes until the government decides to abolish it.

"He spurned the special privileges that were offered to him, as a man of wealth and chose to eat the native diet which was insipid, sleep on a wooden plank that was infested with bugs, beat coconut husks, twisted coir rope in jail and under the heat of the scorching sun broke rock boulders in public.
“Victor Corea, was known to the jailors as R.O.D. (Road Ordinance Defaulter) No. 3. Having chosen to be treated like all other prisoners he spent a month in prison, foregoing meals frequently and nursing his palms which were full of blisters. Yet, he chose not to complain but resolved to fight to the bitter end. On his second day in jail the doctor ordered that he be given a pound of bread and a little sugar daily. He spurned the sugar as a luxury and lived on a diet of plain bread. At nights he could not sleep on the hard bug infested plank with no pillow for his head.

“It transpired that hundreds of people from all parts of the country were coming to witness Victor Corea working on the public road. Fearing that he was being hailed as a hero who would emancipate the common man, the British Government decided to abolish the Poll Tax and release Victor Corea.
"A descendant of Dominicus Corea, also known as Edirilla Bandara, General of the Sinhala Army, who was crowned king of Kotte and Sitawake, Victor Corea always displayed an indomitable will and valour which were traits of his ancestors.”

According to the newspapers, his popularity, after abolishing the poll tax, was so widespread that he could have contested and won any seat in the country. At the zenith of his power, he decided to contest E. W. Jayawardene (a close relative) for the Colombo Town North Seat in the Legislative Council of Ceylon in 1924 and won the seat with a comfortable majority. Very few people of the present generation are aware that Victor Corea was the forerunner and the pioneer of the labour movement in Ceylon. He had the rare distinction of being the first President of the Labour Union which culminated in the formation of the Labour Party of Ceylon — the first political party to be formed in Ceylon. A. E. Goonesinghe who succeeded him later was his second-in-command.

Being the driving force behind the Young Lanka League, Victor Corea started his own printing press at his office in Sinhapura, Chilaw and published the Sinhala journal "Lanka Tharuna Handa" to inculcate national feeling and a distaste for what was alien and foreign, as was done by Mahatma Gandhi in India and Anagarika Dharmapala in Ceylon.

When Mahatma Gandhi came to Ceylon he visited Chilaw to attend a banquet that was hosted by the Coreas at 'Sigiriya' the house that belonged to Victor Corea's sister and husband. Here, Mahatma Gandhi presented a colour poster with the caption ‘Fighters for Swaraj’ that featured all the national heroes of India, each in oval shaped bust size photographs, to Victor Corea as his photograph too was included in the poster amongst the political giants of India. This alone was a glowing tribute to the campaign for freedom, initiated by Victor Corea.

When the beating of hewisi at the Dalada Maligawa was stopped on the orders of the Government Agent who was a Britisher, it was Victor Corea who defied the order single handedly and threatend to beat the hewisi himself if the Diyawadana Nilame did not order the temple to resume the beating of the hewisi.

Victor Corea told the GA in no uncertain terms that he should change his residence if the noise was disturbing his household instead of changing religious traditions that had been coming down from the time of the Sinhalese Kings.

Since Victor Corea was known to be a man who lived up to his word, the GA fearing a revolt, revoked the order. Even at 90, Victor Corea was the oldest lawyer practising in Chilaw, Kuliyapitiya and Puttalam courts. His meteoric rise to eminence as a lawyer made him almost an institution and young lawyers even today recall how his voice reverberated in the courts when arguing a point in law. This was clearly demonstrated when he vehemently opposed the payment of an enhanced salary to the Inspector-General of Police, Herbert J. Dowbiggin, who was responsible for the massacre of innocent Sinhalese in the 1915 riots.

In the political arena whenever a rift occurred between the North and South, Mr. Corea never permitted the rift to widen into a gulf. Many a time he crossed Elephant Pass and stretched his hand of friendship to the Tamil leaders and the rift became a bedrock of goodwill at all times.

Associating himself with the glowing tributes paid in Parliament to Victor Corea by Dudley Senanayake on behalf of the Opposition and R.S. Pelpola, the Speaker, on behalf of the Government, M. Balasunderam (FP - Kopay) said he remembered the late Mr. Corea working on the roads in protest against the Poll Tax when he was a schoolboy at Royal College. Since that time he had known Mr. Corea to be greatly interested in the youth of the country and his sincerity of purpose had put him in the forefront of that band of national leaders whose efforts had been crowned with the attainment of Independence by this country. Unlike the pseudo-nationalists of today, the late Mr. Corea fought for the people of the country as a whole. He held no distinction between one community and another. "Let us," he said "take to heart the lesson and inspiration of his life.”

Victor Corea clashed with Governor Sir Hugh Clifford, the highest bureaucrat in the country, regardless of the consequences. In a letter dated April 2, 1927 he said:

"Let me assure Your Excellency that there never was, nor is there now in existence, any section of us whose object was to undermine authority, and to bring Law and Order and all who represented them into ridicule, hatred and contempt. Proud as I am of my nationality, and dearly as I would like to have my people regain complete Independence and hold their own with the rest of the free nations of the world, I love my country too much to wish to change the stable and strong Government our fathers wisely chose than a century ago.

“Whatever the faults of Englishmen, I have learnt that they know to rule; and now that England has imparted to us that knowledge, and in view of our traditions of a glorious past, can you blame us if we grow impatient at your delay to put us on a footing at least equal to that of Australia or South Africa.
“Your Excellency knows well that I have no personal grievances against you. But as one, in whose veins runs the blood of the ancient rulers of this country, I was keenly interested in the welfare of my people and I had viewed with strong disapproval several of your actions when you were Colonial Secretary.”
He had occasion to write this letter when Governor Clifford, in a speech delivered in London at the Hyde Park Hotel referred to "a little core of rot" which Victor Corea thought was a reference to the party demanding self-government for Ceylon.

The governor, in his six-page letter in reply, to Victor Corea, dated April 3, 1927 written at 11.50 p.m. takes the trouble to explain as follows:
"My phrase, 'the little core of rot' I used to describe the attempt that was then being made to discredit Authority and to bring into hatred and contempt those whose duty it chanced to be to exercise authority in Ceylon.... that was why I was sorry to hear you say on November 30th, 1925 that you stood for that evil thing. I think I understand the aspirations of those who desire self-government in Ceylon and sympathise with them too as much as any man living; but for those who desire, by slow means or by swift, to convert this beautiful island into a shambles, or who think that by making Authority on their own account, personally can find nothing but condemnation.

“Also I am very far from being convinced that that really is your point of view; for if I thought otherwise, I should hardly take the trouble to write this letter to you, now on the very eve of my final departure from Ceylon, and at a time when the burden of work laid upon me calls for no gratuitous additions.
“I should be very glad to see your son if you will send him to call upon me; or better still if you will bring him to see me.”

(The last paragraph is in reference to my brother, Carlton when he returned to Ceylon after passing the Civil Service Examination in England)

Give him his due place
The Urban Council, Chilaw, sometime back unanimously decided to construct a memorial in honour of my father C.E Victor S. Corea. At the chairman's request, I agreed on behalf of the family to produce and bear the cost of the memorial. Kalasoori Ariyawansa Weerakkody, one of Sri Lanka's most gifted sculptors, was commissioned to do the honours.

The memorial comprises a statue of C. E. Victor S. Corea, in a standing posture against an imposing backdrop illustrating in relief, highlights of his services to the nation. The memorial of a national hero must be suitably installed in an appropriate spot in the town.

Victor Corea, has been named a national hero by the Government of Sri Lanka and the purpose of the memorial is that present and future generations will draw inspiration from what he has done for the people and the country during his time. Such a memorial, if not appropriately located will fail to serve its purpose. As such the Urban Council and the Chilaw District Bar Association must do justice to a national hero who has brought distinction to his hometown.

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