The Brownrigg Gold Medal (1819)

Among the most cherished possessions in the collection of S. R. De Fonseka , (Mudaliyar) was a gold medal presented by Governor Brownrigg to Johannes De Fonseka, (Mudaliyar) dated 21st November 1819 ( see reference section – The D’andrado Papers ). Johannes de Fonseka, Mudaliyar was the son of Franciscu de Fonseka and father of Sebastian de Fonseka Mudaliyar and Manuel de Fonseka, Mudaliyar. The exact reason for the presentation of this medal is not very clear at this point, and most details have been collected from published material. The medal is no longer in the possession of the De Fonseka families, and the whereabouts of it are not known.

A sword with a gold hilt worn by the Mudaliyar has been in the family for some time. The chain which was part of the mudaliyar jacket is said to have been converted to a necklace.  Mudaliyar S. R De Fonseka was also in possession of a letter No 390 of May 1892 from the Govt. Agent Western Province, conveying permission from H. E. the Governor (required by the Govt. Minute of 10/11/1876 regarding Govt. Medals inherited from ancestors) to Mudaliyar S. R. De Fonseka to wear this medal on official occasions. The image on the right shows a similar medal worn by Mudaliyar Henry Fredrick de Fonseka on a ceremonial occasion.

The medal displays a remarkable similarity to the Royal Coat of Arms in use today.  In the official coat of arms the shield shows the various royal emblems of different parts of the United Kingdom: the three lions of England in the first and fourth quarters, the lion of Scotland in the second and the harp of Ireland in the third. It is surrounded by a garter bearing the motto Honi soit qui mal y pense  (Evil to him who evil thinks), which symbolizes the Order of the Garter, an ancient order of knighthood of which the Queen is Sovereign. The shield is supported by the English lion and Scottish unicorn and is surmounted by the Royal crown. Below it appears the motto of the Sovereign, Dieu et mon droit   which means ‘God and my right’. The plant badges of the United Kingdom – rose, thistle and shamrock – are often displayed beneath the shield. 

And if you ever wondered about the size of the medal, the above photograph of Henry Fredrick de Fonseka (Mudaliyar) wearing it may give an indication of the size. The palm sized medal was worn on ceremonial occasions by the Mudaliyar members of the family.

Patrick Peebles in his book ‘Social Change in Nineteenth Century Ceylon’ gives us indication and an analysis of the recipients of various gold medals issued by British Governors North(7), Maitland(1), Brownrigg(11) and Barnes(9).

‘Elegant gold medals with glowing inscriptions had become important symbols of government patronage in the Dutch period, and the British continued to issue them. Brownrigg handed out eleven splendid Gold Medals of different gradations to mudaliyars who served in Kandy during the rebellion of 1817-1818.

‘Of these 28 medals, the great majority were awarded to the leading goyigama mudaliyars of the Western Province. One was awarded to a Tamil, one to a Kandyan Singhalese, and only four to non-goyigama – Cornelis and Johannes de Fonseka (both Karava), George Nadoris de Silva (salagama) and Mathew Gomes (rajaka). Solomon Dias Bandaranaike received two medals.’

The rebellion of 1817-18 referred was led by the Kandyan upper class families,  while a subsequent rebellion in 1848 was led by the masses. ( This was led by two low country Singhalese, one being Puran Appu of Moratuwa). The British quelled the rebellion with  ruthlessness, where the heads of families of of leading Kandyan officials and families who were suspected to be loyal to the Kandyan cause, were executed or banished, some to the Island of Mauritius. The purpose of this was to prevent any ‘Pretender’ to the Kandyan throne from arising in any future uprising. Many low country mudaliyars accompanied Brownrigg’s troops in 1815 and served during the rebellion of 1817-1818, and were rewarded. They served in a Military capacity, as well as in an administrative role as Interpreters etc.

My search for the reason for the granting of this medal, led me to many books on the rebellions of Kandy. All the books portray the views of the Kandyan subjects and do not give any clue to as to the role played by the low country Mudaliyars etc who joined the campaign. I have not been able to get any  direct evidence linking  Johannes De Fonseka with the rebellion of 1817. A search of the dispatches by Governor Brownrigg to the colonial office, now stored in the Public Records Office at Kew, London ( Documents CO 54/74-76 ) also proved futile. Future research may shed some details on this.

The book ‘The Great Rebellion of 1818’ by Tennakook Vimalananda contains correspondences between Governor Brownrigg and other colonial officials which adds some details to this. In his dispatch no 169 (CO 54/61) to Earl Bathrust, Secretary of State explains the difficulty in getting the assistance of the Singhalese Headmen and the Burgher class, even at double the salaries, to serve in the Kandyan regions as officials and Interpreters. This is one indication that the Native Headmen took on administrative tasks for the British.

P.E. Peiris in his book ‘Singhalese and the Patriots, 1815 – 1818’ which deals with this rebellion mentions the granting of some Gold Medals, but unfortunately omits the names of the people who received them. (page 650).

The Ceylon Government Gazette, of 31st January, 1820 however gives us one of two possible reasons for the granting of this medal. Also included in the Gazette are two letters, one written by the Native Headmen of the Maritime Provinces to Governor Brownrigg and his Excellency’s reply. These letters have been reproduced at the bottom of this page.

On the 29th of January, 1820. 

“His Excellency then invested the following Native Headmen of the Maritime Provinces with superb Gold Medals as rewards for their respective merits, either through a long course of zealous employ in the Maritime Provinces or of their eminent services in the Kandyan Country during the late rebellion” (Their were nine recipients).

  • Don David Jayatilleke Abesiriwardene Ilangakoon, First Maha Modelier.
  • Arrumogatapully Coomarasamy Malabar Modeliar of the Governor’s Gate and Chief Malabar Interpreter to Government.
  • Don Abraham Dias Abeysinha Ameresekere Modeliar.
  • Johannes Louis Perera Cooroowe Modeliar.
  • Johannes Fonseka Warnesoorige Wijetoenga Samerenayke Modeliar of the Commissariat Department.
  • Matthew Gomes Samereratne Rajapakse Modeliar.
  • Don Cornelis De Alwis Wijewardene Sameresinha Titular Mohandiram of the Salpitty Corle.
  • Don Adrian De Silva.
  • Daniel Johannes Rodrigo.

His Excellency afterwards conferred the rank of a Mohandiram upon Johannes De Silva Jayasinghe late Aratche of His Excellency’s Guard as a reward for his long and faithful services.

Additional Information:
Letter written by the Maha Modeliar and the Native Headmen of the Maritime Provinces and his Excellency’s reply.

         Photo of medal Courtesy Rosemary De Fonseka