De Fonseka Family of Kalutara (Ceylon)

By Samson Abeyesooriya, Lecturer on “Prominent men of Ceylon” “Daughters of Lanka” Etc. Independent Press.

This rare booklet was in the possession of Michael Roberts, Historian and  Author who has done much research on the Social History of Ceylon. A scholar of repute, he has written numerous articles and many books on this subject. His book ‘Caste Conflict and Elite Formation’ is featured in the Reference page. The Author now domiciled in Australia handed over his copy to Dr. Srilal Fernando, a fellow Genealogist, who has kindly lent a copy to this website. My thanks to both Michael Roberts and Dr. Srilal Fernando. 

From the contents of the booklet, it can be approximately dated to the early 1940’s. It can also be assumed that Mr. Samson Abeyesooriya wrote a series of books on prominent Ceylonese families of that time, and that this booklet was part of this series.

The booklet is reproduced below, unedited and in it’s entirety.

No apology is needed for the appearance of this booklet, giving a very brief and condensed outline of a family that had rendered distinguished and meritorious services to the successive Governments and the people of this country. Since the British took over the Government of Ceylon, the advancement of the people in all directions has been phenomenal. The British Government from the very inception of its rule has been most sympathetic towards the people of this Island. They had done and are doing everything for the promotion of material prosperity of the country, and to-day the people of Ceylon owe their very prosperity and safety to Great Britain and the successive Governors, who governed this country with a fair and just hand, looking for their guidance to the One above who looks into the hearts of men.

As this booklet is concerned with only a Sinhalese family, it may not be out of place to state here that the Sinhalese. People have arrived at such a period of their existence, that the records of the past should be kept in view, both for the guidance of the Government and the generations yet to come. The Eastern people in particular, just as the people in the Western countries, look for what is best among ancient families. Birth and education go a long way towards forming character – high character: Sinhalese, from time immemorial, looked upon the ancient families and the Government always found the representatives of ancient families the most reliable at all times and seasons. This is written so briefly that “he who runs may read”.

De Fonseka Family of Kalutara.

De Fonsekas, of Kalutara, are known as a Government family, their loyalty to the powers that be is proverbial. It is the pride of the De Fonsekas that not one of their ancestors ever incurred the displeasure of any Government. In their community “De Fonsekas,” position is of the highest socially. They have been jealous of their social position for over three centuries. One has but to refer to the early historians, like Baldeus and old records or “Thombus” to see how exclusive the ancestors of the De Fonsekas were. They kept up their traditional loyalty to the Governments and their social position as a high class family of chiefs could. They are to-day as proud of their high birth as well their own loyalty to the British Government as their great and illustrious ancestors were. The loyal spirit of the ancestors of the De Fonsekas are so visible to-day in the members of the family, like their ancestors they always stand up for Government, they realise as all sensible people do that after all it is Government that knows, what is best to the country always. 

Anyone looking at the careers of the present senior members of this family, Mr. S. R. de Fonseka, J.P., U.P.M. Mudaliyar of the Governor’s Gate, and retired Mudaliyar and Deputy Chairman of the Moratuwa Local Board; Mr. H. F. de Fonseka, retired Mudaliyar of the Public Works and Irrigation Departments; and Mr. E. C. de Fonseka Proctor, Supreme Court and Notary Public, cannot fail to notice that the old spirit of loyalty of their distinguished ancestors is in them. They have studiously kept aloof from any movement that went against Government, on the contrary, they have always stood up for all Government measures.

Adigars and Dissawas were the holders of the highest end most responsible positions of honour and trust in the times of the Sinhalese, the Portuguese and the Dutch even the British Government to-day honours its high class Kandyans with such honours. The ancestors of the De Fonsekas were Adigars and Dissawas. We find Baldeus and other historians referring to the ancestors of the family in very high and complimentary-terms. The influence of the De Fonsekas was always on the side of Government, and to-day, too, their voice is heard on the same side. Such splendid loyalty !

Many lessons could be learnt from this intense loyalty and patriotism. Mr. E. C. do Fonseka, the most active senior member of the clan, the other two Mudaliyars being retired pensioners, recognises that the patriotism of the Sinhalese is bound up with the English Government and he both by example and precept brings to the minds of all people the blessedness of being members of the mighty British Empire. Mr. F. E. Guneratne, Mohotti Mudaliyar of Galle, the greatest living authority on ancient families in Ceylon, speaks of De Andrado and De Fonsekas high Chieftains, as most respectable members of their community. De Andrado (Adigar) was the maternal ancestor of Mr. E. C. de Fonseka.

As this is a very brief outline of the family, it is impossible to give in detail the services rendered by all their distinguished ancestors. According to Baldeus’ History of East Indies and Ceylon, Manuel Andrado (Adigar) rendered signal service to the Portuguese Government. Don Michael de Fonseka (Adigar) married in 1658 a daughter of Adigar Andrado. Both these ‘high chiefs and their ancestors, as well as descendants, served the several Governments with unfailing loyalty. It is not proposed to deal here with the history of Captain de Fonseka, or of Francis de Fonseka, the scholar.

The respect in which the ancestors of this family was held by all communities could be gauged from the following three instances. When Ehalapola, the Prime Minister of the Sinhalese King having migrated from the Sabaragamuwa Province into the Western Province, inquired for the most respectable and respected personage of the District, he was taken to the Walauwa of Gate Mudaliyar de Fonseka, who hospitably entertained him for several days. The Prime Minister, on taking leave of his host, presented him with a gold chain. The fact of the most exclusive and aristocratic Prime Minister’s being Mudaliyar de Fonseka’s guest shows the acknowledged & accepted high social position of the then head of the family. The ancestors of the family moved and associated with men of equal status only. This was borne out by the fact that it was only a de Fonseka, excepting the relatives who had the honour of sitting at the breakfast given in connection with the then Maha Mudaliyar’s daughter’s wedding when His Excellency the Governor, the Hon. Fredrick North (afterwards Earl of Guilford) presided. The friendship that existed between a Maha Mudaliyar and the ancestors of this family was again proved by the Maha Mudaliyar appointing a member of this family as the executor of his will. This testifies to the mutual confidence they had in each other.

Then a line of Mudaliyars and Muhandirams followed, as we are more interested in the chiefs who had rendered yeoman service to the British Government. References must be made to the valued services rendered to the early British Government by Johannes de Fonseka Wijetunge Arseculeratne, Mudaliyar of the Governor’s. Gate. (Great grand-father of Mr. E. C. de Fonseka) As a matter of recognition of the services he rendered to the British Government in putting down rebellions, he was awarded a gold medal and chain by Governor Sir Robert Brownrigg in 1815.

It may be mentioned that when the Gate Mudaliyar administered Kalutara and Panadura, his district extended from Wellawatte to Alutgama. His son, Mudaliyar Selestinu de Fonseka, walked worthily in the footsteps of his sires. He had the pleasure of seeing his Sons and nephews in offices of Government, every one worthily maintaining the high traditions of the family. Several members of the family took to the learned professions, mercantile and agricultural pursuits with marked success. People of Kalutara yet remember the father of Mr. E. C. de Fonseka, Muhandiram, John Henry de Fonseka as a man of influence and uprightness, who always taught his descendants to look upon the British Government as the best and the highest form of Government. The services rendered by Mr. S. R. de Fonseka, Mudaliyar of the Governor’s Gate, is well known -just before his retirement he was made J.P., U.P.M.

Mr. H. F. de Fonseka, too, received the rank of Mudaliyar as an acknowledgment of his services to the Government. Mr. E. C. de Fonseka, unlike his brothers, became a Proctor of the Supreme Court and a Notary Public. Mr. De Fonseka married Evangeline Marian, the only daughter of the late Mr. W. A Fernando, a leading Plumbago merchant of his day; today Mr. E. C. de Fonseka is the proprietor of W. A. Fernando’s extensive Plumbago business as well as of some of the finest coconut, rubber and tea estates in Ceylon. Both Mr. & Mrs. E. C. de Fonseka are devoted members of the Church of England, they take an interest in all movements that have for their object the amelioration of the condition of the masses. They as devout Christians never fail to teach their children and all those who come under their influence, that text in the Scriptures, “Fear God and honor the King.”