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CHARLES HENRY DE SOYSA: It’s time to remember him with pride and veneration

3 March 2021 06:29 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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His great grandfather was a boat builder in Devinuwara, a Buddhist and a Dayake of the ancient vihara there. Charles Henry’s Grandfather Joseph began with carpentry and later became an Ayurvedic physician.  Charles’s father Jeronis developed small beginnings in business   to become a leading business magnate

 

March 3 is  a memorable day for the descendants of the late Charles Henry, the students, past pupils of Prince and Princess of Wales Colleges, mothers who have had their babies at The De Soysa Hospital for Women, and countless others who benefitted through his extraordinary largesse to our nation. As his great granddaughter, I am truly appreciative that this year, the ceremony in his memory at his statue and at the Baptist Hall was organized by the past pupils of the Prince and Princess of Wales Colleges with Professor G.L.Peiris, Minister of Education and former MP for Moratuwa as the Chief Guest. 

It’s good in this age, where loyalty and appreciation are rarely shown that they still revere and remember their Founder and benefactor; He wanted the youth of his hometown Moratuwa, to be second to none in the country where learning and knowledge were concerned. His legacy will live forever, through the minds and hearts of the students of these two schools. 

"Although an Anglican, he thought far beyond the narrow peripheries of race and religion and gave most generously to other religions, to  temples. He was known to be a just, fair and kind employer, helped the underprivileged, the differently abled, the blind, the deaf, provided dowries to those who couldn’t afford to do so for their daughters, gave land to the landless far away from his home town"

It was interesting to learn that his statue at De Soysa Circus was first unveiled in 1919. The Moratuwa Maha Sabha which has also done much to keep the legend of Charles Henry alive in more ways than one was inaugurated on April 5, 1924. The Hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his birth on March 3, 1986 was a day which we all recall with pride, the commemorative meeting was honoured by the presence of the late President J.R. Jayewardene, a lifelong family friend, the late E.L. Senanayake, then Speaker of the Parliament and many other distinguished personalities of the time. On September 29, 1990, a there was a ceremony to observe the centenary of his sad and early demise. The late Lalith Athulathmudali was the Chief Guest and most eloquent orator at this most solemn event. That the legend of the late philanthropist still lives on in these troubled times is a tribute to him and all he did through his lifetime for our nation and people. It is a rare privilege to be honoured for so long after his death. No-one it seems has done as much in a variety of fields His largesse was mainly in the fields of health, education and agriculture which show his amazing vision which reached far beyond his time. Today more than ever, it is obvious that these are the most important fields to focus on. As we, his descendants and others who respect and revere his memory, paid homage to him at his statue which stands tall at De Soysa Circus, with a great-great granddaughter,placing  floral tribute with students of the  two schools, it’s time to reflect on all he was and did and remember him with pride and veneration. 


To take a peep back through the passage of time, to the beginning, his great grandfather was a boat builder in Devinuwara, a Buddhist and a Dayake of the ancient vihara there. Charles Henry’s Grandfather Joseph began with carpentry and later became an Ayurvedic physician.  Charles’s father Jeronis developed small beginnings in business   to become a leading business magnate, thus able to amass a considerable fortune which was more than trebled by Charles Henry who possessed remarkable business acumen. He was one of the original pupils who started at S. Thomas College when it began at Mutuwal and helped the school in innumerable ways when they needed help. 

"The benefactions of Charles Henry were many but the crown of all these are widely considered to be the donation of the land and building erected for the De Soysa Hospital, which has been of immense benefit to several millions of mothers for more than a hundred years"

The benefactions of Charles Henry were many but the crown of all these are widely considered to be the donation of the land and building erected for the De Soysa Hospital, which has been of immense benefit to several millions of mothers for more than a hundred years. At that time, not too many women were able to go to hospitals for delivery and this generous act shows the amazing foresight of the late Charles Henry for supplying this need at that particular moment in time. His other benefaction of paramount importance as it concerns youth and education was the vast acreage donated by him for the erection of the necessary buildings, playing  fields etc for Prince and Princess of Wales Colleges, whose students have adorned the corridors of power in Church, State, Universities, as Captains of Industry and entrepreneurs. Although an Anglican, he thought far beyond the narrow peripheries of race and religion and gave most generously to other religions, to  temples. He was known to be a just, fair and kind employer, helped the underprivileged, the differently abled, the blind, the deaf, provided dowries to those who couldn’t afford to do so for their daughters, gave land to the landless far away from his home town, gave a vast acreage to the British government for a Model Farm in Colombo, which now houses the Golf Club and many palatial residences. His generosity to his fellow human beings and nation covered all the primary needs of man from the cradle to the grave, he built  hospitals in other places in Sri Lanka, provided amenities for the study of medicine, roads, bridges, rest houses, tanks, irrigation ,endowment to public institutions. It could well be said of him that seldom in the annals of philanthropy has so much been owed by so many to one single man. He established a co-operative Society for the carpenters of Moratuwa, was the Founder of the Ceylon Agricultural Association and the first Ceylonese Banker. 


 I amm proud that his blood flows in mine and that of my children. I end with the words my father, his grandson, the late Prof. C.C. de Silva wrote in ‘The De Soysa Saga ‘quoting from Hamlet ‘What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how expert and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a God.’

 

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