Published on September 11, 2011   ·   No Comments

Written by Harold Gunatillake

My memories
I totally agree with the sentiments and the thoughts about the
Burgher generation in Ceylon.
I did not go to a Christian denomination school like St.Thomas’, St
Peters’, on Galle Road, and Trinity, or Kingswood College in Kandy.
where most burgher boys were educated, but I came to acquaint with
them after I qualified to become a doctor. After all Duncan White who
excelled at the Olympics was a Kingswood product.

My memory goes back to the university and medical school days in
Colombo, when during the weekends cycling through Galle Road was an
anticipated pleasure and opportunity of chit chatting with the
teenage burgher girls wearing Shorty shorts and cycling along Galle
Road was a treat. It was traditionally taboo for Sinhalese, Tamil and
Muslim teenagers to be seen cycling on Galle Road or anywhere in
Shorts. Today, to my surprise I see lot of local girls cycling on
Negombo areas on the main busy roads.

The young Burgher boys and girls were a happy lot always giggling,
laughing and having fun most of the time which was not seen among
other nationalities. These teenagers gave lot of colour and joy in
the suburbs around Galle Road. That was a great asset for the country
to see such multi ethnics enjoying mateship during the post-colonial
period. Bambalapitiya was named ‘Bambalawatte’ where most of the
Burgher families lived. Bambalapitiya flats were totally occupied by
the burghers then. Some called the area,”Bamba”.

I still remember Ms Maureen Hingert, Miss Ceylon, who went on to
become the second runner-up at the Ms Universe contest 1955 lived
with her parents, down Lorensz Road running parallel to Dickman’s
Road close to the Savoy Cinema.

Situated between Lorensz Rd and Davidson Road was the New Wellington
Sports Club. The members were mainly burghers of Bambalawatte
extending to Wellawatte.The President of this Club was Richard
“Aiyar” Perera who was the chandiya (thugman) of the whole of
Bambalapitiya, Wellawate region right up to Vihare Lane in Wellawate.
He had a huge Eagle with wings spread tattooed on his back.

Kinross swimming club was very popular and it was by the sea in the
vicinity of Savoy and the access road is Kinross Ave, and the name of
the street remains the same even today. After the burghers migrated
to Australia in the late sixties and after, the popularity of the
club declined and today there are very few locals who patronise. We
use to go for dances at the Kinross Club in the old days.

We had many Dutch Burghers in the Police Force excelling themselves
in Sports and in their official duties. I remember the late Jack Van
Sanden, police officer who commenced his career in the Ceylon Police
As a sub inspector and rose to the rank of Deputy Inspector General of Police.

He arrested “Yakadaya” who was one of the most notorious criminals of
the day. Yakadaya kept his pistol on Jack’s forhead and pulled the
trigger. Fortunately, there were no bullets in the weapon and Jack
saved his life and Yakkadaya was handcuffed.

During the period of 1957/58, I was Mahara Prison doctor, and I got
married whilst working there. Yakadaya was my favourite prisoner
patient. The day I went back to work after getting married, Yakadaya
gave me a bouquet of grass, and he said,”Hamuduruwane mechari apata
dhenna puluwan” (This is all what we can give).

Van Sanden was an old boy of Kingswood College, Kandy and he
captioned the cricket team.
I cannot think of any burgher who did not participate and excel in
sports, including cricket. They did not go for foot ball (soccer) as
it was considered a “rowdy game” played by the “not so good school
boys and market jonnies. During that period they refer to good
schools as three in number- Royal, St.Thomas’ and Trinity. Then came
the catholic schools like St.Joseph’s Wesley, St Peters, and so on.
Buddhist schools were considered as ‘not so good schools’ though the
boys excelled in studies.

Then there were the famous burgher policemen like V.T.Dickman, Eddie
Buultjens and many others I faintly remember. Eddie Buultjens was the
first Ceylon boy to represent All Ceylon at Cricket.

The first Ceylonese who was appointed as Asst Superintendent of
Police was a Burgher de La Harpe. He was famous for raiding a
counterfeit money den and was rewarded handsomely with a reward of Rs

Then there was inspector Toussaint who was in charge of the Colombo Harbour.
Then there was George Von Hagt a special constable shot dead by the
infamous bandit “Sardiel”.

Another policeman who excelled in sports was Inspector Edward Gray.
He was an excellent bowler, and also a famous boxer. I think he
became a champion at the Commonwealth Games Boxing Championship.
He retired prematurely after he fell off an horse whilst on duty. He
got himself condemned in 1956 when I was working in the Orthopaedic
Department at the General Hospital.




We cannot think of Ceylon without them

I have a great predilection towards Burghers. Not only because I have many
bosom cronies in that community,
but because I have spent some of the
Happiest years of my boyhood in
their homes.
The finest lady that I ever knew was a Burgher. The most select gentleman
of my acquaintance is a Burgher; and if some
unfortunate Muslim girl
fails to discover me, I could still discover
both intelligence and beauty
in a Burgher girl and – marry her;I can
have four, cant I?
This is merely a personal outburst, because a fair face seldom fails to
Floor me. But
the Burghers are not only fair of face in truth, along
with an
attractive complexion they have, in addition, such a broad sense
fair play and fair dealing that they are the easiest to get on with
in the
We have been brothers and sisters in blood for we have tasted more things
than salt together,
and I never set eyes on a Burgher but I take an instant
Liking to him
or her.

They are a Western graft upon an Eastern tree, but so well have they
acclimatized and endeared themselves to the native soil
that we cannot
Think of a Ceylon without Burghers.
Wellawatte would be a dull strip of sand; Bambalapitiya a barren wilderness
of wind; Colpetty and Dehiwala gloomy
haunts of melancholy, if there were
no Burgher girls to scatter
radiance on the way.
With their good looks and musical voices they give a definite zest to
social life,
dancing with hips of rhythm and crooning melodies that are
filled with
moonlit dreams. The sparkle of life is in their eyes and the
tremor of
love is on their lips.
They have captured all the romance in the world and shut it all to
that no Matchmakers can enter into their lives with deceitful
talk of
daughters and of dowries; and so they believe in marrying for love
believe also in all the sacrifices involved in the one great
Of Love.

They wear their hearts on their sleeves and in the frank lustre of their
eyes one can
read their very souls. Faithful as friends and forgiving as
they are always too good-natured to be obstinately malicious and
easy-going to bear any rancour.
They are the descendants of all those Portuguese who came along with
d’Almeida or of the Dutch who arrived with Joris Van Spilbergen.
former held the land for 134 years and the Hollanders for over 156,
although their governments have disappeared, the two nations remain
with us
As – Burghers.

Theirs have been some of the greatest intellects of the land. The past has
given us Dornhorst and Lorenz; the present has Blaze and
The only Ceylonese Bishop in the island was a Burgher. Maartensz and Wille
are men of the age we live in; and in
the field of sport as in the realm of
music, Kelaart, Foenander, Arndt
and Zilwa are names of high repute, while
the Van Langenbergs are men
of wide renown.

Remains also with them the blessed light of Christianity that they brought
the Island ; the Roman-Dutch Law ; the forts that they built and
canals they constructed. Those forts may crumble and the canals run
dry but
Portuguese or Dutch we have always in our midst our tried
friends the
“The Government officers”, explains the well-known Dutch Burgher historian
of Ceylon , “were known as Company’s
Servants and the non-officials as
Burghers or Viyburgers (free
Burghers)”. From these Burghers were appointed
officers for the
Burgery, an armed force composed of Tupasses, (people of
Portuguese descent). When the rule of the Company ceased in 1796
could be no Company’s Servants any longer and all the Dutch people
Ceylon became Burghers.
They are the sponsors of western art and fashion in our midst. They are a
vivacious Occidental group in a sedate
Eastern land. Cocktails and Fox
Trots will not join the Dodo as long as
there are Burghers in the country.
Besides, is not music the greatest
passion of their lives and beauty their
common heritage ? Great Race,
this, the Burghers.

Politics do not flutter them; they like the men of the land and the men of
the land are
fond of them and these happy bonds of love are often drawn
together with a ring of beaten gold and a vow before the
They are certainly not an effeminate people: The heroic spirit of
Constantine de Sa and the martial spirit of Azevedo
still linger in the
hearts of their descendants, so, in every branch
and walk of life have
proved themselves to be an honour to their
country and community.
Whether in the learned professions or in the Government service or lower
down in
the humbler crafts which the poorer ones follow for the sake of
living, they have singularly distinguished themselves by their
and integrity, just as wherever they go they must have, in their
characteristic manner and according to their lot in life, their
And musical festivals.
They fill a very big place in the social life of the country and if we
Muslims have not quarrelled with them and have found
them to be the
pleasantest of friends, it is mainly because of their
savoir faire and good
breeding and of the winning ways of their men as
of the smiling charm of
their ladies.

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