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Two different views of Ceylon by two English Missionaries

by Herby Jayasuriya

During the British Colonial Era we have had Christian missionaries who came from the British Isles to Ceylon. Most of them when they retired left to their motherland to spend the last days of their lives.

However, there were some of them who loved this land so much that they decided to spend their lives even after retirement in this beautiful Isle. Two of these missionaries who were known to me who spent the last days of their lives in Ceylon were Rev. W.J.T. Small of the Methodist Church and Rev. S.F. Pearce of the Baptist Church. Rev. Small was a great educationist. He was the famous principal of Richmond College, Galle.

Before his retirement he left to England. Thereafter, after the death of his wife he returned to Ceylon to spend his last days. Rev. Pearce lived with his wife in retirement in Dombawala in the Matale district and passed away due to a heart attack.

It is not my intention to write about the lives of the above mentioned two missionaries. I wish to deal with two English missionaries who wrote two hymns with regard to Ceylon. The first of these missionaries is Bishop Herber, a Doctor of Divinity who came to India. Ceylon and Burma as a missionary of the Anglican Church in the 19th Century.

He ended his career being the Metropolitan Bishop of India, Burma and Ceylon with his headquarters in Calcutta. Bishop Herber although a Christian Missionary was absolutely a Colonialist. He never saw anything good in the people of India, Burma and Ceylon. He never realized that the Hindu and Buddhist faiths have existed long before Christianity.

These thoughts are very well brought out in a hymn he wrote titled "From Greenland's Icy Mountains". In this hymn Bishop Herber refers to Greenland, India, Africa and Ceylon. In the 2nd verse of this hymn with reference to Ceylon he states.

"What tho'the spicy breezes,
Blow softly o'er Ceylon's Isle;
Tho' every prospect pleases,
and only man is vile etc."

The word vile means wicked. We do not know why Bishop Herber came to the conclusion that the inhabitants of Ceylon were vile or wicked. The 2nd verse in this hymn written by Bishop Herber has been a very controversial verse where Ceylon is concerned.

There have been seminars held by Christian associations in the 1950s to discuss why Bishop Herber came to this conclusion i.e. only man is vile. In fact I remember as a young school boy attending a seminar on this subject chaired by the late Prof. Eliazer, a devout Christian at the YMCA, Kandy. One of the conclusions that one could come to the views of Bishop Herber of the inhabitants of this country is that he was a Rabid Colonialist who never saw any goodness of the civilized inhabitants of this fair and beautiful island.

Whilst Bishop Herber was a colonial minded clergyman the writer of the other hymn that I hope to refer to, was a man who was absolutely fascinated by the beauty of the inhabitants and the geography of this country. He was Rev. W.S. Senior who was an Anglican missionary who visited this country in the early 20th century and for a number of years was the Vice Principal of Trinity College, Kandy.

In February this year I had the privilege of reading an article written by Derrick Shockman, a distinguished old boy of Kingswood College on the birth anniversary of Rev. Senior who lived in this country for about three decades. He loved every part of this country especially he was fascinated by the hills in Haputale and the views from Haputale. In fact he used to spend his vacation at Haputale. Rev. Senior retired from Ceylon and left to England. One of his last wishes were that at his death he should be cremated and his ashes be interred in the cemetery at the Haputale Anglican Church. According to Derrick's article this was done at a service in April 1938.

This service was conducted by Canon de Saram, the former warden of S. Thomas' College, Mt. Lavinia. The Epitaph of Rev. Senior at the Anglican Church Haputale reads as follows:

"Poet of Ceylon
Saviour of Souls
Servant of God
It is not farewell".

The above Epitaph shows the deep love Rev. Senior had for Ceylon. The word "it is not farewell" may indicate the fact that even after death he had the desire to live in Sri Lanka in spirit.

Rev. Senior wrote several poems on Ceylon and perhaps the best known of them was the "Song of Lanka" whose verses have been slightly altered and adapted as the hymn for Ceylon.

The hymn for Ceylon has 4 verses and in the present context when the main focus of the country is on peace talks, it would encourage communal harmony if the citizens of this country follow the ideas set out by Rev. Senior in the 3rd verse of this hymn which is quoted below.

"Give peace between our borders.
Twixt man and man goodwill,
The love all unsuspicious,
The love that works no ill;

In loyal, lowly service,
Let each from other learn,
The guardian and the guarded,
Till Christ Himself return".

The tune of the hymn for Ceylon is another adaptation from the tune composed by John de Silva in the song "Danno Budunge" in the play "Sri Sangabo". The music for the hymn for Ceylon was composed in 1950 by the late Deva Suriyasena who did a great deal for Sinhalese folk music of Sri Lanka. The tune of the hymn for Ceylon has the same of the original tune of Danno Budunge except for the 5th and 6th lines which have been altered by Deva Suriyasena. When the hymn for Ceylon is sung in full harmony, it sounds wonderful.

To digress from the subject of Christian missionaries, I presently work in the Central Bank and the Clock Tower in front of the bank always chimes the first two lines of 'Danno Budunge' before it strikes the time. This Clock Tower is a historical monument because it was from this point that distances from Colombo were measured. This clock Tower was not properly maintained till recently.

However, the Governor of the Central Bank decided to renovate this historical monument and to maintain it. In fact the country should be grateful to the Governor of the Central Bank for renovating and maintaining this historical monument and for the ingenious method by which it chimes the first two lines of this beautiful song.

To revert to Bishop Herber and Rev. Senior and their love and appreciation of this country and inhabitants, it would be seen unlike Bishop Herber, Rev. Senior gratefully appreciated the inhabitants and the scenic beauty of this country. This is further corroborated in another poem Rev. Senior wrote titled "Call of Lanka". I shall conclude this article by quoting the 4th verse of this poem which shows the immense love Rev. Senior had for this beautiful country.

"I offer a voice, O Lanka,
I, child of an alien isle,
For my heart has heard thee, and kindled,
Mine eyes have seen thee, and smile; Take, Foster-Mother, and use it;
Tis but for a little while".

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