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