Plus - Letter to the editor

Looking for friends of Major Roland Raven-Hart

I am researching Major Roland Raven-Hart OBE. The name seems to belong to a character straight out of an Evelyn Waugh novel. Major Raven-Hart, however, was a real person, a resident in Ceylon from 1947 to 1963.

Those familiar with Arthur C. Clarke’s biography will remember that it was Major Raven-Hart who introduced the science fiction writer to Colombo, when the ocean liner Clarke was travelling on made a half-day stop in this country in 1954.

Major Roland Raven-Hart served in the British and French armies in World War I, and in the Royal Air Force in World War II. He was also a leading canoeist, having conquered two great rivers, the Nile and the Mississippi. He wrote many books on the subject of canoeing. He was also a remarkable linguist, speaking five languages and being able to read a dozen.

Raven-Hart’s most significant contributions to Ceylon were his translations of historical accounts, such as Heydt’s “Ceylon” (1952), “Germans in Dutch Ceylon” (1953), and “Travels in Ceylon, 1700-1800” (1963). He also transcribed “The Pybus Embassy to Kandy, 1762” (1958).

Others may know of Major Raven-Hart as the author of one of the finest travel books on the island. “Ceylon: History in Stone” (1964) is based on the country’s archaeological heritage, while containing much else besides.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote that Raven-Hart “easily tops my list of ‘The Most Unforgettable Characters I’ve Ever Met’. Clarke describes him as “a tall, distinguished-looking man of sixty-five, with a straggly beard which gave him a distinct likeness to Conan Doyle’s Professor Summerlee. In many ways, Raven-Hart reminded me of that much more famous traveller, Sir Richard Burton. He had similar linguistic abilities, coupled with a love of exotic places, cultures, and mores.”

I wonder whether there is anyone out there who has met Major Raven-Hart, or who knew him to any degree, and who would like to share their knowledge and experiences with me.

I would be most grateful if they would e-mail me at, or write to me at 23/25/E Dharmapala Place, Thalawathugoda, Western Province.

Richard Boyle, Via email

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