ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 2, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 14
Funday Times - Our Heritage funday times logo

Pioneering archaeologist Bell

Ruvanveli Seya in Anuradhapura at the time of the excavations

Today we boast of the grandeur of our ancient culture and our civilization. If not for the pioneering efforts of a British archaeologist, we would not have been able to talk of the splendour of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa or Sigiriya. He was H. C. P. Bell (1851-1937), a name synonymous with archaeology in Sri Lanka.

Bell came to the country in 1873 as a member of the Ceylon Civil Service and remained here until his death on September 6, 1937. He was the first head of the Archaeological Survey, as the Department of Archaeology was originally termed, from 1890 to 1912. It was he who organized archaeology in the island and he conducted excavation and conservation work at the ancient cities.

His was a painstaking task of recording in detail most of the ancient monuments that were scattered all over. His reports containing all the information of the sites he excavated are referred to as 'Bell's Reports' and form an indispensable source of information to students of history and archaeology. Bell also pioneered the scientific research in Sri Lankan epigraphy by starting the prestigious journal, Epigraphia Zeylanica.

In addition to the search of monuments in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, the first two kingdoms of Sinhalese kings, the first excavations of Sigiriya were conducted by Bell.

Bell was also an authority on the history of the Maldives.

He spent his retirement actively involved in antiquarian studies and writing.

Three more British civil servants functioned as Commissioners of Archeology before the first Sri Lankan, Senerat Paranavitana took over in 1940. They were A. R. Ayrton (1912-21), Captain A. M. Hocart (1921-29) and A. H. Longhurst. In between the last two, J. Pearson and Paranavitana acted in the post of Commissioner from 1929-35.


When tramcars were popular

Tramcar days in Colombo Fort

A popular form of transport in the city of Colombo in the early part of the 20th century was the electric tramcar. In 1892 the Colombo Municipal Council called for tenders for the construction of tramways in the city. Three years later a contract was signed with a private sector firm, Boustead Brothers and the Colombo Electric Tramways were opened for traffic on January 11, 1900. The first to open was the Grandpass route. It was followed by the Maradana route. Later most parts of the city was covered and it became a convenient mode of transport to city dwellers.

On September 1, 1944 the tramcar service was taken over by the Municipal Council paying Rs. 3.6 million to Boustead Brothers.

Colombo was the first city in South Asia to own a tramway. Tramcars were replaced by a trolley bus service in the fifties. When the Municipal Council requested the Government to amend the Motor Traffic Ordinance allowing it to run a trolley bus service, permission was given to run trolleys only on routes where the tramcars ran earlier. By this time the Council had made a commitment of Rs. 5 million to purchase trolley buses hoping that the government would allow it to run the trolleys everywhere in the city. Soon the Council's transport system began to show a chronic deficit and the Council found it difficult to make it a viable operation. The trolley bus service was closed down from January 1, 1965.


Indo-Lanka talks

D. S. Senanayake and Jawaharlal Nehru

Indian labour in estates has been a problem concerning the governments of Sri Lanka and India for many decades. Discussions on the question of repatriation of these persons had been held several times. One of the earliest of those discussions, popularly referred to as 'Indo-Lanka talks' was held on September 4, 1941.

This discussion was between two "political giants" of the two countries – Sri Jawaharlal Nehru from India and D. S. Senanayake from Ceylon, as our country was then known. The discussions held in Colombo lasted 20 days.


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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.