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Death anniversary of Edward Henry Pedris -July 7:

The legacy lives on

Edward Henry Pedris was born to be a leader in gaining freedom for his beloved country but fate decreed otherwise when his life was snuffed out at an early age in an arbitrary manner by the British administrators.

After the birth of three daughters Edward was born in August 1888 to his father, D. D. Pedris, a well known businessman and philanthropist, and his mother, Mallino.

From his childhood, he showed signs of independence and courage. He was given the best education possible at the Colombo Academy (now known as Royal College) and at St. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia.

As time elapsed, he evinced interest in sports, especially cricket, and was selected to play in the College team of both schools being one of the highest scorers. In school he was popular and was known as Eddie amongst his many friends, including Francis Molamure who later became Speaker of the Parliament.

Having left school, he assisted his father whenever possible but he had a predilection for horses. Soon, he established a stable at his parental house, known as “Vimal Villa” at Turret Road, now known as Dharmapala Mawatha.

These premises extended from the junction where the traffic colour light system operates midway to the Red Cross Junction. On the opposite side lived D. D. Pedris’ sister, Caroline, who was married to Muhandiram N. S. Fernando Wijeyesekera.

own horses

Not content with the horses at the stables, he wanted to own a throughbred horse which had arrived in the island, owned by a Russian Prince, “Layly”, as the horse was known, was purchased by D. D. Pedris and Edward was often found riding Lally to look after his father’s plumbago mines at Anasigalhena, sugar cane plantations and paddy fields. Whenever possible he also visited his mother’s village at Karandeniya where a house had been built for him.

This was a stop over point when travelling to Galle where his father owned extensive properties, including the house known as Dangedera where his father lived before coming to Colombo. Lally was carefully groomed and during the Easter vacation he was sent to Nuwara Eliya where Mr. Pedris owned a cottage.

Edward was also fortunate in having two illustrious uncles who were brothers of his father. They were D. C. Pedris, a lawyer, and William Pedris who owned a well known departmental store in Main Street. This store was better known for the sale of optometric goods and providing connected services.

From time to time, many rebellions and uprisings has taken place for almost 100 years during the British regime, culminating in the 1915 riots.

The First World War was being waged across the seas whilst in colonial Ceylon people were rising against the terror and arbitrary shooting by hurriedly selected European volunteers, who had no proper training, assisted by Punjabi mercenaries to quell the situation which had arisen on Vesak Day, May 28th, 1915, in Gampola.

For some time, the coast Moors, who should be distinguished from the Muslims, had a stranglehold on the poorer classes of Sinhalese who depended on the Moors for loans to purchase almost all the necessities of life. When they were in debt, their ancestral lands passed on to the Moors which created an animosity amongst themselves.

This problem had been attracting the attention of the British authorities for some time and on many an occasion they had to intervene when attempts were made by these traders to turn a situation to their benefit.

Not content with their economic stranglehold on the peasants, they turned their attention to religious processions of Buddhists. Religious processions or peraheras have been held from sacred places of worship on routes earmarked for the occasion.

Due to friction amongst various factions, the Kandyan Convention of 1815 was signed between the British and the Chieftains of the Kandyan Kingdom guaranteeing Buddhists their ancient rights, privileges and practices.

In accordance, it was the policy of local authorities not to obstruct religious processions but to regulate them so that it would not.

interfere with the worship of other religions.

On this particular Vesak Day what sparked off the riots was the incident which took place on Castle Hill Street where there was a newly built mosque.

Two carol parties had been licensed to conduct their religious processions through the streets of Kandy, subject to the condition that they should not pass the mosque with musical rituals before midnight.

By 1 a.m. when the carol parties approached Castle Hill Street, some Moors had assembled outside the mosque and fearing a breach of peace they were diverted elsewhere by the Police. However, this led to clashes between the two communities in the area and soon escalated to other parts of the country.

Martial Law was declared on 2nd June, 1915, by Governor Robert Chalmers, an academic introvert, covering the whole island, except the Northern and Eastern Provinces. It was at this juncture that the infamous “shoot at sight” order was introduced.

dark days

The hastily enrolled European planters assisted by the Punjabi mercenaries went on the rampage and atrocities and shooting at random took place introducing a reign of terror not seen in the annals of history since the dark days of Rajasinghe of Sitawaka.

The rioting and looting by the people had spilled over to Colombo where tension was at its height with conflicts between the Sinhalese and Muslims.

In Borella, Muslim shops were being attacked but the more serious incidents were taking place in Pettah where a few Sinhalese, such a D. D. Pedris, N. S. Fernando Wijeyesekera and Don Carolis had established longstanding business interests. But most of the business was in the hands of Muslims.

Despite a formidable Inspector General H. L. Dowbiggin, commanding the troops, rioting and looting was widespread and the Police were virtually helpless. Many rumours were widespread which added to the tension.

The Governor misread the situation as one being directed against the British due to the fact that some businessmen had dealings with the Germans who were at war with the British. By now over 60 prominent men who had identified themselves with social and temperance movements were taken into custody.

Among them were D. B. Jayatilaka, W. A. de Silva, F. R. Senanayake, Dr. C. A. Hewavitarana, D. S. Senanayake, John Silva, D. P. A. Wijewardena, E. A. P. Wijeratna, A. W. P. Jayatilleka and Arthus Dias. A. E. Goonasinha was arrested on 2nd June by 4 Punjabi constables, 2 Englishmen and Inspector V. T. Dickman and taken to the Welikada Prison to be incarcerated with the aforesaid prominent citizens.

Among the false rumours which were circulating at this time were that Moors from Colombo and South India were preparing to attack the Dalada Maligawa the world renowned repository of the Buddha’s Tooth Relic, that Edward had instigated a vast crowd of hostile people to march to the city from Peliyagoda and that being a commissioned Officer of the Town Guard, Edward was found firing at a Muslim mob when the attack on the “Crystal Palace” in Keyzer Street took place.

Though a shot had been fired, it was later proved in Court when the claim for insurance on the life of young Pedris came up, that the shot was not fired by him and that it was the work of some unknown person.

The desperate British authorities now decided to arrest Edward. Several British Officers along with some Punjabis, forcibly entered the residence of D. D. Pedris. They put as many of the inmates into the Orchid House and locked them up.

They then searched for any incriminating documents as they believed that some members of the Pedris family were in league with the Germans due to their business connection. When the British were arriving family members had hidden Edward and was kept under lock and key.

But he was soon located and arrested on a false pretext. He was then put into a military vehicle and under the tightest security seen up to that time taken to the Welikade Prison and put into Block L where the other leading citizens were languishing behind bars for the enormous crime of agitating for the just rights and freedom of their countrymen.

He was later moved to another cell as he was to be Court Martialled. On 1st July the Court Martial consisting of 3 ciphers who showed blatant incompetence to sift and weigh the evidence placed before it sat and on the following day young Edward was condemned to death by shooting. The death sentence was confirmed by Brigadier General H.H.L. Malcolm.

obtain his release

Events moved fast thereafter to obtain a reprieve. Valliant attempts were made by D.D. Pedris and other family members along with many influential friends to obtain his release. But it was of no avail. As E.W. Perera, Barrister-at-Law, says, “one cannot recall without a shudder of a tortured Belgium was being experienced in Ceylon .... Tyranny of all the ages was being enforced by a hand as ruthless as any exercised it in the remote past or in the more recent present.

Suspicion, frenzy and demonic lust of blood was in the air. An uniformed bureaucracy intoxicated with absolute power had lost its head and in its panic was committing atrocities which in its saner moments bureaucracy itself was ashamed to own.”

One cannot forget the tremendous sacrifice Mr. Perera made in carrying in his shoe the infamous “shoot at sight” order which was handed over to him by Henry de Mel when he boarded in early July 1915 the ship which carried him to England during World War I when hundreds of vessels were being sunk in the Mediterranean and Atlantic oceans by German submarines.

prime of life

Young Edward, in the prime of life, was to be shot by a firing squad of six on the 7th July. His distraught parents arranged for Pirith to be chanted by 6 priests a day before the shooting. Among the priests were Ven. Dangedera Saranapala Thera and Maduwanwala Seelaratana Thera. He then worshipped the priests and his parents.

Two of his final requests were that the firing squad be non Christian and that his favourite horse, Layly, remain in the stables and looked after well without being sold. This particular horse was the envy of the British community who had made several attempts to buy him.

On the fateful date, the Superintendent of Prisons came early in the morning to the cell where Edward was and requested him to dress up for the execution. He complied with great composure and courage and without flinching marched out smartly keeping step with the firing squad of Punjabi soldiers.

At the execution spot he was asked to sit on a chair and when the Superintendent handed him a handkerchief to cover his eyes, he said, I have mine” and commenced to cover his eyes after bidding Dr. Merle Perera, Prisons doctor, and others present in oriental fashion.

By 8 a.m. he was no more and the chair on which his body was dripping with blood was placed in front of the prominent political prisoners to instil fear into their minds. It did the reverse as, F.R. Senanayake, with eyes flashing, said that if the British government thought that it could instil fear, on the contrary, he said that, “even if I am forced to beg on the roads with a coconut shell I will spend all my wealth to teach these fellows a lesson”.

The Ceylon Independent of the 8th July, 1915, carried the news item which shocked the entire nation “The sentence of death passed on D.E.H. Pedris was carried out last morning at Welikada goal by shooting.”

By now the Memorial of the Sinhalese people on the riots of 1915 had been presented by patriot E.W. Perera to Mr. Bonar Law, Secretary of State for the Colonies. E.W. Perera had reached London on the 21st July and immediately set about consulting his London Solicitor, Mr. Cayley.

He had also met H.J.C. Pereira at his residence and when he heard of the atrocities and punishments meted out to the people he volunteered to give his wise and sound council to Mr. Perera till he left England 4 years later. D.B. Jayatilaka arrived in 1916 to extend his co-operation and later James Peiris, whose sagacious head carefully guided the destinies of Ceylon at its most crucial period, also joined.

Together with other leading British lawyers and Parliamentarians, they were able to get redress for their countrymen - the temperance leaders in prison were released, Governor Robert Charmers was recalled and Brigadier General Malcolm was recalled and retired. It will then be seen that England did not tolerate anything savouring of autocracy in the British Dominons.

However, the Colonial Office was reactionary but fortunately it was presided over by a statesman who could not be misled by his underlingsa and could form an independent judgement.

“Julie Hatha” became synonymous with any dreaded phase of life. It reminded people of ;the multitude of unjustifiable terror unleashed by the British for the formation of the Ceylon National Congress in 1919 which paved the way for the ultimate declaration of Independence in Ceylon.

Not only did the parents lose their son during the riots but his body was not even given so as to perform attendant religious ceremonies in his memory. Edward’s grief stricken mother, Mallika became a Dasa Sil Matha and his father who purchased a property at Havelock Town developed it to become a Temple, Isipathanaramaya which is “a thing of beauty” and is one of the finest example of modern Buddhist art in stone work masonry, sculpture and painting.

In the twenties the Times Supplement stated over two hundred thousand of rupees were spent on the statues and paintings and the result has been to emphasise the singular character of this Temple as compared with other similar structures ancient or modern.

There is a not of colour within its walls but there is nothing gavish to offend the eye. It is a triumph of religious and poetical expression in harmonious colour. Many people urged Mr. Pedris to construct a monument in memory of his son but his sad reply was, “what better monument could I build than this temple”.

A pilgrims rest known as “Edward Henry Pedris Pilgrims Rest” was constructed at Polonnaruwa with another temple.

Buried under cover

After the lapse of many decades the burial place of Edward has been located in the family burial ground at Kanatte where the British had buried him under cover of a curfew in a casket with solid brass fittings. He had been dressed in his uniform as indicated by the buttons found at the site.

A monument befitting the hero has been erected by his relatives. At the junction of Dickman Road, Havelock Road inter section, traffic colour lights, a statue has been erected and a Sports Stadium in his memory stands behind it.

May the supreme sacrifice of Edward Henry Pedris be enshrined in the hearts of the people of this country.

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