ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 36
Funday Times- Our Heritage funday times logo

Colombo's largest and best dwelling house

Exactly 203 years ago, on February 1, 1804, the British Government took over the private house of the last Dutch Governor in Ceylon, Johan Gerard van Angelbeek in the heart of Colombo Fort. This is the house that became the official residence of the British Governor and was referred to as Queen's House – so named because the British monarch at the time was Queen Victoria.

Queen's House which became President's House when Sri Lanka was declared a Republic

Angelbeek was Governor of the Maritime Provinces from 1794 to 1796 when the British took over from the Dutch. After the take over, Angelbeek preferred to live under British rule than return to Holland. It was through his descendants that the house passed on to British hands.

The house, recognized as 'the largest and best dwelling house in the Fort of Colombo,' has been described as 'a very handsome and lofty house' situated 'in the centre of the principal street.'

Set in about four acres of land, the property was considered a very fitting place for a Governor to reside. The residence gained further attraction when Governor Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon (1883-90) laid out the Gordon Gardens at his own expense in honour of Queen Victoria's jubilee in 1887. The Gardens boast of an amazing variety of trees and a marble statue of Queen Victoria. (The place is out of bounds for the public from the time the area became a high security zone in the 1970s).

Royal visitors to Ceylon were entertained at Queen's House from the time the first royal visitor, Price Alfred, son of Queen Victoria came in 1870 up to the visit of the present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.

A statue of Governor Sir Edward Barnes has been erected in front of Queen's House in recognition of his services as a great road builder.

Queen's House became President's House from the time the constitution was changed to a Republic in 1972 and the Governor-General was replaced by a President. The last Governor-General William Gopallawa continued as President until the election of the first executive President in 1978. President Gopallawa was then replaced by J. R. Jayewardene who used President's House for ceremonial occasions and continued to live in his private residence at Ward Place.


First mail coach service

The Colombo-Kandy mail coach opposite Royal Hotel

Ceylon took the lead among Asian countries in using horse drawn carriages to transport mail, when the first mail coach service was started between Colombo and Kandy on February 1, 1832.

The prospectus of the Mail Coach Company published in the Government Gazette stated that the original proposal was to have two four-wheeled carriages running daily from Colombo and Kandy leaving at four in the morning. The outward journey was to take 14 hours and the homeward run to Colombo, 12 hours. Shares of the company were issued at £50 each and these were soon sold out.

The fare was £2.10 a seat and the coach carried all the mail from post offices along the route.

The coach started from the Rest House (also known as Royal Hotel) at Prince Street in Fort.


Governor with shortest stint

The British Governor who had the shortest stint in Ceylon, Lieutenant-General Sir Edward Paget assumed duties on February 2, 1822. He was Governor only for nine months until November 6, that year.

Paget came to Ceylon to relieve Governor Sir Edward Barnes who took up the army command in India.

However, Barnes did not last too long in the post since he fell out with the civil authorities and returned to England. Paget then took his place in India.

Sir Edward Barnes came back as Governor in 1824.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.