Today is 3rd of March and memories of the late Sir Charles Henry linger on. His contributions to society came in the fields of heath, education and agriculture. We will pay homage to him at his statue at De Soysa Circus. We will be joined by past and present pupils of Prince and Princess of Wales Colleges, Moratuwa, the Principals and staff of the two schools and others from the hospitals, he built.
Reading through the De Soysa Saga, a historical perspective of the family history, I found that my father, the late Prof. C.C. de Silva, Charles Henry’s grandson, had written the foreword. He first describes Charles Henry’s father, the late Jeronis as the Kohinoor diamond of his parents,whose example led Charles Henry to his achievements and success, and made him share what he had with the under privileged. Jeronis had begun life with a capital of Rs 800, but died a millionaire. He too had been most generous to the poor and needy and no-one who asked for his help was sent away empty handed. Charles Henry, was one of the first pupils at S. Thomas’ College, when it was started in Mutwal in 1851. Bishop Chapman who was the founder of S.Thomas’ (STC) was a great admirer of Jeronis and when the latter died, the Bishop spoke on the text ‘Know ye not that a Prince has fallen this day in Israel.’ The first property Jeronis purchased was Hanguranketa Estate. After the auction, several English planters and businessmen offered to buy it from Jeronis at double the price. His answer was ‘I did not buy this land to make you foreigners rich, but for me and my family to prosper, to enable us to help those who needed help’. Charles was in his early twenties when his father died. The crown of Charles’ benefactions to the nation in the field of health was his donation of the land and the building for The De Soysa Hospital for women, which has helped millions of mothers for well over the last two centuries. That was a time when not many mothers went to hospitals for delivery. This donation displays his amazing foresight as a visionary far beyond his time. His other benefaction of paramount importance was the vast acreage for the erection of buildings, playing fields for Prince and Princess Colleges in Moratuwa. He wanted the people of his hometown to be inferior to none other in education. The alumni of these two colleges have adorned the corridors of power, in the Church, State and and University faculties, besides many learned professions.
It has been said that for every rupee, Charles gave the state he gave a hundred rupees in private unknown gifts to poor relatives, employees,the sick, the blind, the elderly in need, the mentally handicapped and to the socially underprivileged to provide dowries for their daughters, to churches, to temples of all creeds
It has been said that for every rupee, Charles gave the state he gave a hundred rupees in private unknown gifts to poor relatives, employees,the sick, the blind, the elderly in need, the mentally handicapped and to the socially underprivileged to provide dowries for their daughters, to churches, to temples of all creeds. Although a Christian, he was generous to all religions and saw far beyond the narrow peripheries that divide all faiths.
Only a few are remembered, wept for, sung and honoured in memory for 100 years or more after their deaths. It’s good to realize that we remain a cultured nation in which the name Charles Henry de Soysa is still honoured and cherished as one of the greatest philanthropists in this country.
I conclude with the same quotation my father used to describe his renowned ancestor, whose life reads like an incredibly fascinating fairy tale. They were these immortal words 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!
Ilica Malkanthi Karunaratne