Kala Korner - by Dee Cee

Book on Queen’s House
A visit to the Department of National Archives is always an interesting experience. It is, of course, the ideal place to look up any old newspaper or government record. The collection is so wide that it's rarely that one cannot locate a document that one needs. Few may, however, know that there are publications for sale as well.

As one walks in, there is a display of publications available for sale in a glass case fixed to the wall - not an impressive display but one can get an idea of what is available.

Though not much publicised, the latest addition to the collection among publications for sale is the lavishly illustrated 'From Governor's Residence to President's House' written by Dr. Brendon Gooneratne sometime back. This fascinating story of 'Queen's House', as we all know it, one of Sri Lanka's architectural treasures, traces its history from the time it was the private house of Jehan Gerard van Angelbeek, the last Dutch Governor of Ceylon (1796) until the time of President J. R. Jayewardene.

Of Governor Barnes, he mentions that the man who, after a tour of the island commented that what Ceylon needed was 'first roads, second roads and third roads', Governor Barnes (1824-31) ceased all work on forts and diverted labour and all available revenue to road-building. He believed that without roads "we can never be said to have secure possession of the country nor can it commercially improve". He used the skills of military engineers like Thomas Skinner and of the trained Indian artisans in the Ceylon Pioneer Lascars to build the roads.

The Kelani River was spanned by a bridge of boats, the Maha Oya by a bridge at Mawanella, and the Mahaweli Ganga by a satinwood bridge at Peradeniya which boasted a single arch 205 feet long. Mention is also made of Sir Solomon Dias Banadaranaike, Maha Mudaliyar and Ceylonese Aide-de-Camp to successive Governors of the island.

"A loyal British subject, he had been invested with the rank of Muhandiram as a young man by one of Queen Victoria's grandsons, then on a visit to Ceylon. Sir Solomon, who considered this honour a mark of special distinction asked, and received permission to introduce into his names and titles the words 'Raj Kumarun Kadu Keralu' ('Recipient of a sword from the hand of a Royal Prince')", Gooneratne writes.

An update needed
While a limited number of copies of the big book on Queen's House is on sale (at Rs 1,500/-) at the National Archives, its Director Dr. K. D. G. Wimalaratne is giving the final touches to a fresh text updating the information on the President's House right up to the present day. It is likely that we will soon see a new book, in addition to the well documented work by Brendon Gooneratne.

Incidentally, director Wimalaratne is a man who is ever willing to sit with a visitor and discuss things of the past provided he is not involved with routine meetings and other administrative work. In fact, it is high time he devoted more time to put down on paper the wealth of information he has in his possession on various matters related to Sri Lanka.

For example, it is high time he updated his 'Directory of Dates and Events', which extends only up to 1984. That is the only single document, which is a ready reference of the country's important events since 543 B.C. Then his work 'Personalities of Sri Lanka' comes up to 1990. That needs updating too.

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