Royal People

A dedication to those wonderful people who served Royal Primary School & Royal College, in Sri Lanka, since 1835, and, who will be remembered for their committment, sincerety and unselfishness.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sir Ernest de Silva

Sir Ernest de Silva (1887-1957), considered to be the Greatest Philatelist in Sri Lanka's History, was a Cambridge-educated Sri Lankan philanthropist, business magnate and public figure. A wealthy and powerful polymath, Sir Ernest, who was the Chairman of the Senate of Sri Lanka and Founder-Chairman of the Bank of Ceylon, made many contributions to Sri Lankan society, including vast amounts of philanthropy. He was asked to be the first Ceylonese Governor General (Representative of the King in Ceylon, i.e. de-facto Head of State). Sir Ernest was among the pinnacle of Sri Lankan society and was the richest Sri Lankan of his generation. He was renowned and highly respected for his integrity and honesty.

Sir Ernest was one of Sri Lanka's Greatest Philanthropists of the Twentieth Century funding a vast number of projects. Among his various projects were the building of two major schools (Devapathiraja Vidyalaya and Lakshmi College) and providing free education as well as scholarships to its students. Sir Ernest and his wife the Senator Lady Evadne funded the inaugural orphanage in Ceylon; in the form of a donation of 9 acres in Katunayake. They also founded the Angela Children's Home and the Parakrama Home. Sir Ernest also built a temple; The 'Veluvanaramaya'. He gave away lands, buildings and funds to numerous orphanages, hospitals, schools, social service bodies, temples and hermitages without fanfare or publicity.

Sir Ernest was a strong Buddhist who contributed much to the advancement of Buddhism. One such instance was when he purchased an island in 1905 and offered it to Ven. Nanatiloke, the Famous German Monk, to start a hermitage (Polgasduwa) for Buddhist monks. Sir Ernest was thus instrumental in putting Sri Lanka on the map of the world of philosophy and religion. He was the President of the YMBA (Young Men's Buddhist Association) and the Kalutara Bodhi Trust. The Former President of Sri Lanka, The Late Hon.R.Premadasa, stated that 'if there was a Buddhist Temple or school that He (Sir Ernest) did not help, it was not in Sri Lanka'.

Sir Ernest was Sri Lanka's richest man and one of the richest South-East Asians of the Twentieth Century. He inherited and purchased vast areas of tea, rubber and coconut estates as well as vast amounts of land in the prominent areas of Colombo. He owned 46 Acres (7360 Perches) of land in prominent areas of Colombo, worth an approximate Rs.40 Billion ($400 million) today, mainly in the Colpetty area which is now regarded as the most expensive area in Sri Lanka. His diverse business interests included Plumbago mining, Plantations and Graphite exporting. One such estate was the famed 1000 acre (4 kmĀ²) Salawa estate which was used as a rubber plantation. He resided in one of the most exclusive properties in Sri Lanka: the 'Sirimathipaya' Mansion; equipped with horse stables and tennis courts.


Mauritius One Penny; one of the World's most Expensive stamps
Aside from public life, his central passion was stamp collecting. His Ceylonese collection is said to have been world-class, second only to the collection of King George V.[1] He gained fame for owning the Penny Black; the world's first stamp. In keeping with his charitable ways, he donated the money gained from the sale of the Mauritius One Penny (1847) stamp, considered to be the most expensive stamp in the world, (valued at $2.1 million in 1993) towards the construction of the YMBA Headquarter's Building to his relative Sir Cyril de Zoysa.[2] Sir Ernest was also known to be the one of the best Sri Lankan billiards players of his time. He has played rounds with the then world champions in his mansion and club. He was also the President of the Ceylon Turf Club and maintained a high level of integrity in the sport.

Sir Ernest was knighted in 1946 by King George VI for his services to Ceylon. In recognition of his services, Flower Road (where he resided) was renamed Sir Ernest de Silva Mawatha and a stamp was published in his honour. As he was perhaps the most respected and wealthiest Sri Lankan of his generation, Sir Ernest was asked to be the first Sri Lankan Governor General, equivalent to the Head of State (President), which he declined due to personal reasons. He was one of the first Asians to own a Rolls Royce. His former residence, the mansion 'Sirimathipaya', is now being used as the Office of the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.

He was a close friend of the late Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who was a room-mate of his at the University of Cambridge. Nehru came in 1930 to Sri Lanka to visit Sir Ernest.

Family life
Sir Ernest was born in 1887 at the 'Royal Palace', to the most affluent family in Ceylon. His parents and grandparents were hugely wealthy and owned much land all over the country. He was married to Senator Lady Evadne De Silva, a philantrophist herself, who later became the first female member of Senate in Ceylon. One of his daughters married Construction Magnate U.N.Gunasekera, whose philantrophy rivals his own, making the lineage one of the most prominent traditionally rich families in South-East Asia. The lineage is used as a standard for traditionally-rich families in Sri Lanka, as it is one of the richest, oldest, and most prominent.

Sir Ernest De Silva, died on the 9 May 1957, almost ten years after Sri Lanka gained independence; a cause he strived for. At his funeral, attended by many state officials and leaders, the then Premier S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike mentioned the loss the nation has to bear with and thanked the late philatrophist for his services for Sri Lanka saying that he was a 'true gentleman in every sense of the word'.


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