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Progressive politician Herbert Sri Nissanka

Herbert Sri Nissanka, K C, was born on December 7, 1898 and passed away on February 26, 1954. He received his early education at Ananda College. He later attended Royal College. Nissanka Herbert Mendis as he was then known, entered St Edmund Hall at Oxford and obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree. He was also called to the Bar by the Middle Temple and made his first appearance at the Ceylon Bar in 1923 before Sir Thomas de Sampayo, KC, as Junior to E W Jayewardene, K C.

He was an eloquent speaker and his deep and wide knowledge of men and matters coupled with his mastery of the law made him a much sought - after Counsel everywhere and especially in the criminal courts.


Herbert Sri Nissanka

S W R D Bandaranaike

He appeared in some of the sensational cases of his time. According to A R B Amerasinghe in his treatise on “The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka-The First 185 years” (Sarvodaya Publication ISBN 955-599-999-X) 1986 edition: He was not only a master of the spoken word, he also wielded the pen with consummate skill, both in Sinhala and in English. Sri Nissanka occasionally wrote to the newspapers as “HS”. One such piece was Love the Pedlar.

“But my magic stardust, silver gold and blue. I shall not ask for money as other pedlars do. If you are, by my wares, ways and means you’ll find...I will sell you stardust if you pay me back in kind.

Let me rest awhile ‘neath the roof of friends: and share your luck when in or out, whatever fortune sends.

Give me just life’s little things; simple, sweet and fine; make me welcome with a look and see my stardust shine.

Gather wayside flowers with me; sing a lilting song: let me take your arm a while when my way is long. Talk with me at twilight when the dying hearth fire gleams; and I will scatter stardust over all your new born dreams.

Magic shining stardust to keep them fair and bright, that you may never lose them in daytime or the night. Save for me a gentle smile even when I’m old and you shall have my stardust silver blue and gold.”

Courage, loyalty

Sri Nissanka’s personal loyalties were as strong as his commitment to principles. When his friend and colleague, R L Pereira was insulted by Bourdillon the Officer Administering the Government, Sri Nissanka wrote as follows:

The Officer The Ceylon Light Infantry

Sir

I have the honour to request you to forward to His Excellency the Officer Administering the Government my resignation from the regiment.

This matter has my most anxious and careful consideration and I find that it is impossible for me to hold any commission under the Officer Administering the Government in view of the communication to the Hon R L Pereira K C, refusing him admission in any of the King’s houses in the colony.

Mr Pereira is my esteemed colleague at the Bar, the Hon. member representing my electorate and a countryman of unquestioned integrity and any insult to him by the Head of the Government cannot be tolerated without protest.

It is therefore with my deepest regret that I sever my connections with a unit which it was my pride and privilege to serve. The Commission is returned herewith.

I am, Sir, Your obedient servant H Sri Nissanka CLI

Social worker

Sri Nissanka’s services to the country- in 1930 he served as a Commissioned Officer of the Ceylon Light Infantry. In 1930 he founded the Salagala Monastry and in 1936 he founded the Biyagama Monastry.In 1936 he headed the Ceylon Delegation to the Pan Pacific Conference of Buddhist Associations held in Tokyo. He was President of the Dumb Friends League and Honorary Counsel to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

He was the Member of the Board of Appeal of the Rubber Commissioner’s Department (1938) and a member of the Archaeological Commission. He served as a member of the Municipal Council of Colombo from January 1944 to December 1946. He was elected to the Kurunegala seat in the House of Representatives of the first Parliament of Independent Ceylon in 1947 as an Independent candidate. He was the President of the Thusita Goodwill Fraternity which among other things helped to improve the economic and social standing of the outcaste Rodiya people. The motto of the fraternity was “Practise thou the truth that thy brother is the same as thou”.

In 1931 he took a leading role to set up the Dehiwela zoo `at the Kalubowila quarry.

Yamuna

Changes to the city of Colombo’s landscape in recent years will hardly recognize parts of the city where its homes have virtually grown out of sight. Some of the beautiful homes and gardens which once stood is no more. Havelock Road begins at the Bullers Road intersection or what is popularly known as the Thunmulla Junction, and ends at the Pamankade Bridge on the road to Kohuwala. Close to its southern end, at the intersection of Havelock Road with Maya Avenue was a popular Shell Service Station opposite to which there was the City Hospital for Animals which opened in 1947 by the then Prime Minister D S Senanayake. Adjoining the hospital was a roadway leading to the Boys Industrial School providing vocational education to young people. Next door was the home of Dr Thomasz. A fine specimen of the Traveller’s Palm- Ravenela Madagascaris grew on its front lawn.

Next door, No 498 Havelock Road was Kamala the home of Dr named after his daughter. For a few years it was tenanted by B J Lalyett a Director of Darley Butler and Co. The house was later purchased by the then Director of Education H S Perera who named it “Shalimar”. Perera died not long after he moved into the house. His British wife continued to live in the house till she passed away a few years ago.

In those premises now is the palatial residence of Dr Jayatissa De Costa President’s Counsel, Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission and loyal SLFP stalwart. In the house opposite lived Horace van Twest who served with the Ceylon Garrison Artillery during World War II. On the opposite side next door to Shalimar at No 500, a battleaxe block stood the home of Alfred West Toussaint a former Engine Driver of the Railway whose legs were severed below the knee after accidently slipping off the engine on to the railway track.

His father Alfred West Toussaint (Snr) was one of the first Burghers to be appointed as a Railway Engine Driver. At 502 stood the rambling old Caroline House in which Mrs Caroline de Silva lived for many years in the house built by her husband. The house was demolished in 1955. De Silva owned the adjoining row of houses in which lived the Fryer and Reimers families for several years. These houses have also been demolished. On the opposite side was ‘Beth-Holme’ the home of B J Pompeus, and earlier R A Honter. In the adjoining garden were several homes in one The Oasis Nurseries sold packets of Zinnia, Balsam, Dahlia, and Chrysanthemum seeds, which were all perennial favourites with the housewives of Colombo together with canna tubers, rose grafts, and a beautiful range of orchids, all very popular with garden conscious Colombo.

Oasis was bounded by Felsinger Town, a conglomeration of houses owned by the Felsinger family, on the northern side. Oasis closed down in the nineteen fifties and its former site is now obliterated with houses, and shops. Adjoining its southern border was Yamuna the home of H Sri Nissanka QC,. It was at this house that the historic Yamuna Conference was held by S W R D Bandaranaike, the first meeting of his parliamentary supporters following his resignation from the UNP in 1951. It was this meeting that led to the founding of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. The house and its garden stands exactly as it was fifty years ago, one of the few that has withstood pressures from the soaring land values in Colombo. Across the road was the Wellawatte Spinning and Weaving Mills, the largest industrial enterprise in Colombo South. It was established by Darley Butler and Co and at one time was owned by Goculdas the Maharajah of Gwalior.

The Mills employed thousands of workers most of whom lived in tenement housing around the Havelock Town, Thimbirigasyaya, Pamankade and Wellawatte areas. Its towering smokestack was a landmark in Colombo South. Its siren, which sounded at regular intervals, could be heard for miles around, and served as a signal to the end of a work shift and as a wake up call for workers due for the following shift.

The siren sounded exactly on time, so much so that people set their clocks and watches to synchronise with it. The Mills which were associated with the social history of the area was also significant in the political development of modern Sri Lanka. The origins of the trade union movement in Sri Lanka could be traced to the work force of the Mills.

United National Party

The United National Party was inaugurated on September 6, 1946 by a combination of the Ceylon Congress and Sinhala Maha Sabha of S W R D Bandaranaike. The general election to the first parliament was held in August and September 1947. The UNP fielded 92 candidates and obtained 751,432 votes and secured 42 seats. Independent candidates with 549,381 votes won 21 seats, while the Marxist groups, the Sri Lanka Sama Samaja party gained 10 seats, the Bolshevik Leninist Party gained 05 seats and the Ceylon Communist Party won 03 seats, altogether gaining 387,544 votes and won 18 seats.

Forty two MPs headed by celebrated lawyer H Sri Nissanka QC, who had been elected as the MP for Kurunegala, assembled at his residence ‘Yamuna’ and decided to call on Bandaranaike to form the government as he had more MPs loyal to him. He further presented the resolution to Bandaranaike at his Rosmead Place residence. Bandaranaike thanked him and said D S Senanayake was a senior statesman who consistently agitated for freedom and therefore deserved to be the first prime minister of independent Sri Lanka. He did not give his consent.

Sri Nissanka who was the protagonist of the party had discussed the proposal with politicians, parliamentarians and various groups of people and found a remarkable unanimity of opinion that Bandaranaike was admirably suited to lead the proposed alternative party.

However Bandaranaike resigned from the Cabinet of Ministers on July 12, 1951 in a dramatic turn of events. Sri Nissanka was so very happy with the resignation that he presented himself at the Rosmead Place residence of Bandaranaike and congratulated him very warmly. Sri Nissanka was one of the architects of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party which was founded on September 2, 1951. Further, he was responsible for the designation, the symbol, and the colour of the party.

Demise of Sri Nissanka

D S Senanayake was succeeded by his son Dudley Senanayake on March 30, 1952. He dissolved parliament prematually seeking a fresh mandate. At the general election the UNP secured 54 seats, while SLFP secured 09 seats. However Dudley Senanayake resigned from office on October 12, 1953. Sir John Kotelawala formed the new government. Since the debacle of the 1952 general election, the SLFP achieved a greater degree of co-ordination in the organization of the party and a substantial cohesion and stability. At this juncture SLFP lost its stalwart. H Sri Nissanka; perhaps the greatest Sinhala orator breathed his last at the age of 54.

Soon after it was formed the party faced a General Election in 1952. They contested 48 seats and won nine, polled a total of 361,250 and received a percentage of 15.52 of the votes.

This desire for freedom made him endorse the word freedom as a name in his party.

Bandaranaike it is believed used the word Sri was because it was a word used in Nissanka’s name. He agitated for greater freedom and led the people to victory in 1956. Many changes came after 1956 and freedom became more meaningful.

My father Late Justice T W Rajaratnam former Judge of the Supreme Court SLFP Member of Parliament(1989-1994) was a regular contributor to the Sunday Observer column ‘Hulftsdorp-The other side’ and in the issue of February 22, 1987 he has written his experience when he was a junior to Sri Nissanka KC.

On the death anniversary of Sri Nissanka KC, which is on February 26, President Mahinda Rajapaksa will rename Maya Avenue as Herbert Sri Nissanka Mawatha. Sri Nissanka residence ‘Yamuna’ has been donated to The Buddhist Aramaya. Thus a legend is remembered for his contribution to the Legal system, the formation of the SLFP, the development of Buddhism, the development of charity, the contribution to the country, the nation and society and most of all to humanity.

The loyalists of the Sinhala Maha Sabha, including the six Members of Parliament, who had followed Bandaranaike to the opposition benches, formed the nucleus of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Foremost amongst them was D A Rajapaksa, father of President Mahinda Rajapaksa who was the pioneer to both Bandaranaike and Sri Nissanka about the will of the people and the participation of the people in a democracy. Both Bandaranaike and Sri Nissanka considered D A Rajapaksa as their mentor to win the hearts and votes of the people. Bandaranaike it is believed used the word Sri on the advice of D A Rajapaksa because it was a word used in Nissanka’s name. He agitated for greater freedom and led the people to victory in 1956. Many changes came after 1956 and freedom became more meaningful.

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