It has been suggested to me that I should take this opportunity to recall the circumstances of the birth of the “Daily News” and some of the more important incidents of its career. Twenty-five years is a long time in the life of an individual and there are only three members of the present large [...]


The birth of a newspaper: The “Daily News” in the making

To mark the centenary of the Daily News, we publish extracts of an article written by its founder, the late D.R. Wijewardene, on the occasion of the silver jubilee of the newspaper

D.R. Wijewardene

It has been suggested to me that I should take this opportunity to recall the circumstances of the birth of the “Daily News” and some of the more important incidents of its career. Twenty-five years is a long time in the life of an individual and there are only three members of the present large organisation, including a peon, who were responsible for the first issue of the ‘’Daily News’’ which was published on January 3, 1918.

It is not possible to deal with the subject adequately without providing a background of autobiography; but I must apologise in advance for anything in the following account that may appear unduly personal.

My interest in politics began during my undergraduate days at Cambridge. There were other kindred spirits, from India, Ceylon and other parts of the East, who felt the surge of the nationalist revival in Asia. There was a wave of unrest in India as a result of Lord Curzon’s action in partitioning Bengal, and prominent Indian leaders came over to England and addressed meetings to enlighten the British public on the situation in their country. Amongst them there was Lala Lajpat Rai, a great nationalist and scholar, who had been deported under an obsolete law. Bepin Chandra Pal and Surendranath Benerji, generally known as the silver-tongued orator of Bengal, drew large audiences. There came to England also Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a member of the Imperial Legislative Council, a statesman who made great sacrifices in the service of his country. His was a towering intellect and he was as respected by the rulers as he was loved by his countrymen. He impressed on me that every educated young man,Indian or Ceylonese, had a part to play in the public life of his country and must be prepared to make sacrifices for his country’s welfare.

I met Mr. Gokhale often at the National Liberal Club and had many long and interesting talks with him on political questions of the day. He asked me to accompany him on his great mission to South Africa as one of his Secretaries. To my great regret I was not able to accept the invitation.

A friend of Ceylon

It was during this period that the Liberal Party had come into power with a phenomenal majority and hope revived in all subject countries of an amelioration of their political condition. One could not walk in to the National Liberal Club without treading on the toes of Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament. A change from that anti-Asiatic feeling, which was at its height, following the assassination of Sir Curzon Wylie, an official of the India Office, was overdue.

One of the best friends Ceylon and Indian students had in London in those days was Mr. F.H.M. Corbet, to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude for many kindnesses. He had many influential friends in and outside Parliament. Incidentally, it was in Mr. Corbet’s chambers – he was born in Ceylon and as a lawyer used to appear before the Privy Council before he came out to India as Advocate-General of Madras – that I first met E.W. Perera, who was even then a keen politician and displayed many of the qualities which gave him a leading position in the legislature many years later.

Every mail from Ceylon brought news of popular discontent with the reactionary administration of Sir Henry Mc- Callum who had Sir Hugh Clifford as his Colonial Secretary.

Mr. Corbet showed me the ropes in the delicate task of interesting Members of Parliament in the domestic affairs of a Crown Colony. Amongst those whom I was able to interest were Sir Henry Cotton, who put the first questions in the House of Commons on the desirability of extending the principle of representative government to Ceylon, Sir John Jardine, Sir Herbert Roberts, afterwards Lord Clwyd, leader of the Welsh Liberals, and Mr. A. Mc Callum Scott, all of them stout champions of subject peoples.

Reforms mooted

The first Reform deputation, which was received by Colonel Seely (now Lord Mottistone) on behalf of the Marquis of Crewe, the Secretary of State, was arranged by E.W. Perera and myself with the help of Mr. Corbet. We succeeded in persuading Mr. H.J.C. Pereira, who had booked his passage to leave for Ceylon in a few days, to lead the deputation which was introduced by Lord Courtney. It resulted in the grant of the so-called Educated Ceylonese seat in the Legislative Council, the only one for which the general population of the Island could elect a member.

Two years later I organized a second deputation. This time it was to meet Mr. Lewis (afterwards Lord) Harcourt and protest against the establishment of numerous toddy taverns in various parts of the Island. Sir Baron Jayatilaka and Sir Marcus Fernando, among others, put the case for the Ceylon temperance movement. Sir Marcus (he was knighted many years later) had come to England after the reverse he suffered in the election for the Educated Ceylonese seat and I had the pleasure of putting him up for election to the National Liberal Club.

When I returned home, after being called to the Bar, I was brought into close contact with most of the prominent political leaders of the time. But politics had not got beyond personal and communal issues and what there was of it came chiefly from the Law Library at Hulftsdorp. There were, among the leaders of the legal profession, men who were eminently fitted for political leadership, but the legislature had not yet made any considerable demands on this reservoir of talent. Fresh from a sojourn in a more exhilarating political atmosphere, I was anxious to see a more positive approach to local problems. The Ceylon National Association, the oldest political organisation in the Island, was dormant and inactive. I was elected to the Secretaryship and, putting my energies into its revival, succeeded in making it a live force in the country. Together with Sir P. Arunachalam and Sir James Peiris I helped to organise the Social Service League of which I was one of the three Secretaries.

The riots

In 1915 there came the riots. No event of the past century had a more potent influence in shaping the mind of a people than the brutality with which the riots were suppressed. The effect was similar to that of the partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon and the Jallianwallabagh incident. The riots marked the point when the people of Ceylon decided that without political freedom, any relation between the ruler and the ruled was one of master and slave.

The aftermath

During the riots I was holding a commission in the C.L.I., and perhaps due to my connection with the Social Service League and National Association my house was searched by a private of the European Town Guard, a European Police Sergeant and a posse of Punjabi soldiers. D.S. Senanayake and his brothers, F.R. and D.C., W.A. de Silva, D.B. (now Sir Baron) Jayatilaka and C. Batuwantudawe, who had figured prominently in the temperance movement and of whom four were destined to become ministers in later years under the Donoughmore Constitution, were thrown into prison. From now on the political history of Ceylon was to be different.

Temperance workers foresaw that without political freedom and a voice in the management of their own affairs there was no liberty. Those who were devoting themselves to temperance came over to politics and there was a great accession of workers to the political cause – and none more zealous than the present leader of the House, D.S. Senanayake.

At this time those who were responsible for governmental misdeeds attempted to drive a wedge between the Sinhalese Buddhists and Sinhalese Christians by trying to make out that the latter had no connection with the riots. This move failed and as things returned to normal, and the Government permitted it, a great public meeting was held at the Public Hall to protest against the iniquities which had been committed. A definite move was made to prevent Sir James Peiris and other Sinhalese Christians from participating, – but Sir James, a man of high principle and sterling integrity frowned on it.

The National Association, now galvanised into life, continued to take an active interest in all political events of the day. Frequent meetings were held, memoranda drafted, memorials sent to the Secretary of State and when occasion demanded public meetings held.

The pioneer

The man who gave much-needed direction and drive during the next phase of the national movement was just emerging into a public career. Sir P. Arunachalam had shone brilliantly as a Civil Servant. He was a scholar, philosopher and a proved administrator. He had now divested himself of his official habiliments and was looking round for an opportunity for service in a different field, under freer conditions. I persuaded him to deliver his epoch-making address on ‘’Our Political Needs’’ at a meeting of the National Association. That address was both a starting point and a blue print for the important constitutional changes which followed, and was listened to by a large audience in the Victoria Masonic Hall.

The immediate outcome of the meeting was the formation of the Ceylon Reform League for the sole purpose of putting forward the case for a substantial measure of responsible Government for Ceylon. I was joint Secretary with W.A. de Silva. Sir P. Arunachalam was our President and his habit of visiting the League’s Office regularly and putting in a day’s work was another instance of his sincerity and devotion to duty. The Ceylon National Association and Reform League held under their joint auspices a National Conference which voiced the demands of the country.

It was the precursor of the Ceylon National Congress which was inaugurated in the following year.

A Free Press

Such then was the background of my incursion into journalism. I remember how some years before, when I was still in England, Mr. Corbet emphasised to me the importance, of a well-informed public opinion for which a free an independent Press was a sine qua non. Mr. Corbet went so far as to cable to Sir Hector Van Cuylenberg, then proprietor of the ‘’Ceylon Independent,’’ enquiring whether he would sell his newspaper.

It was a few years later that I bought the ‘’Dinamina,’’ one of my brothers also taking a share. I had the inestimable advantage of the close co-operation of Sir Baron Jayatilaka. He not only gave me his advice and encouragement but wrote many of the leaders and special articles.

The ‘’Ceylon Daily News,’’ as Sir P. Arunachalam wrote in his message, published in the first issue, was fortunate in the time of its birth. New forces were at work, stirring the national consciousness. The newspapers at the time were the ‘’Ceylon Morning Leader,’’ edited by a clever journalist, the late Armand de Souza, the ‘’Ceylon Observer,’’ the ‘’Times of Ceylon,’’ the ‘’Ceylon Independent,’’ and the – ‘’Ceylonese.’’ The last-named was started by Sir P. Ramanathan, Mr. Hector Jayawardene and others and at a later stage Mr. Francis de Zoysa, a man who never wavered from his principles, was an active Director, and always took a great interest in the “Daily News” too. The ‘’Ceylonese’’ always had a vigorous nationalist policy and in make-up and presentation of news inclined to American methods. But the business side of the newspaper was sadly mismanaged and it went under the auctioneer’s hammer on a writ of F.R. Senanayake’s for Rs. 21,000.

The sale was fixed for a date in December 1917, I had decided to make an offer and went to the sale. F.R. Senanayake and his brother D.S. arrived shortly afterwards and as they were in a hurry to keep an appointment elsewhere F.R. asked me to bid up to Rs. 21,000, the amount of his writ.

I was in an embarrassing position when I found that the bidding was not lively and the best offer was about Rs. 15,000. I bought the paper, including plant and goodwill for Rs. 16,000 and in addition paid F.R. a cheque for the difference between the purchase price and the amount of the mortgage. Many people shook their heads and said that another man was preparing to walk the streets.

I hardly realized the problems involved in running a daily newspaper. We had not much time to prepare our first issue. It is recorded that eighteen months of careful preparation preceded the first issue of the London ‘’Daily Mail.’’ We had about as many hours to prepare.

I had been a regular reader and admirer of the London ‘’Daily News’’ under the editorship of A.G. Gardiner, since my undergraduate days, and I decided to call the new paper the ‘’Ceylon Daily News.’’ I had no Editor although nearly all the readers of the ‘’Ceylonese’’ came over, as the sales figures showed. The late F.F. Martinus, a well-known journalist of his time who had retired from the practice of his craft, might be considered the first editor as he was in charge for the first week of the paper’s existence. I borrowed his services from one of my brothers for whom he was working in a business office. The great stand-by of the paper in those days was J.R. Weinman, a prolific and ready writer with an inexhaustible fund of knowledge and reminiscence. A.V. Kulasingham, now Crown Advocate of Jaffna, who had been on the editorial staff of the ‘’Ceylonese,’’ was editor for a brief period. He was succeeded by S.J.K. Crowther, with whose co-operation I was able to establish the paper on its present secure footing.

One of the reasons for the rapid success of the ‘’Daily News’’ was the fact that it came to represent the new forces referred to by Sir P. Arunachalam. The ‘’Morning Leader’’ under Armand de Souza had passed its hey-day. The ‘’Ceylon Independent’’ had failed to keep pace with the march of time. The ‘’Ceylonese’’ could not survive the difficulties resulting from the war and other causes owing to divided ownership and counsel.

No one who was associated with me in the publication of the ‘’Daily News’’ had political ambitions, Nor did I embark on the sea of journalism to bring home any rich argosies. There are more comfortable methods of making money than the newspaper profession affords. I staked a great deal on the venture. The paper had the ideals of public service and national progress before it. In the pursuit of those ideals the organisation which I started with a few dozen men has grown and has been established on a solid foundation.

Early friends

The ‘’Daily News’’ was of course helped by many who were in the main current of politics. I would like to refer in this connection to the late E.T. de Silva, a contemporary of mine in London, who wrote many editorials and special articles. His early death cut short a life which showed brilliant promise. He was a powerful speaker and had he been given the normal span of life, he would undoubtedly have been one of our leading public men.

From the earliest days the ‘’Daily News’’ had many contributors whose work was greatly appreciated by readers. Leonard Woolf, the author of ‘’Village in the Jungle’’, who had retired some years earlier from the Ceylon Civil Service and made a name for himself as an author and journalist in London, was among these.

Elsewhere in this Supplement Frederick Grubb writes of his long and memorable connection with the ‘’Daily News’’ as its London Correspondent. He was a friend of Sir Baron Jayatilaka who arranged the appointment of Mr. Grubb during a visit to London in 1919. It is not too much to say that Mr. Grubb’s weekly despatches did as much as anything else to establish the paper in the front rank of Ceylon journalism.

One of the best features of the paper for many years were the occasional and well-timed letters signed ‘’E.J.S.’’ Mr. Samerawickrame’s influence on Ceylon politics was unobtrusive but unfailing and real. He was guide, philosopher and friend of the paper till the very last days of his life.

But the most prolific of them all was the Editor himself, whose gift of light satire found plenty of scope in his articles signed ‘’Jacques’’. Crowther’s connection with the paper terminated early in 1931, the year in which the Donoughmore Constitution was inaugurated. He was succeeded by H.A.J. Hulugalle, the present occupant of the editorial chair. Hulugalle had joined the ‘’Daily News’’ in the first year of its existence, straight from school as a lad of nineteen years. He grew up with the paper and, except for a brief interlude as a law student, was engaged in various departments of the ‘’Daily News’’. After a brief period as Editor of the ‘’Ceylon Observer’’ he became Editor of the ‘’Daily News’’. His balanced judgment has served the paper well in the new era which opened with the Donoughmore Constitution.

The new order

Up to the introduction of the new Constitution, the incentive of office did not influence politicians. Even those who went before the Donoughmore Commission with proposals for reforms did not expect that the Ministerial system would take the form it took. A wide gulf divided the bureaucracy from popular movements and the men behind them. The “Daily News” played its part as a stern critic and was never intimidated. On more than one occasion it was threatened with the big stick and various penalties were held out, but it pursued an independent policy always, while being in close contact with the political organisations of the day.

The new Constitution brought new factors into Ceylon politics. Ministers and Executive Committees now formulated policy and promoted Government measures. The ‘’Daily News’’ was often obliged to criticise old friends and attack their policies when they were wrong. The last twelve years have in many ways been a difficult period for a newspaper, with the roots and traditions of the ‘’Daily News’’, but it has succeeded in steering a course which, those associated with the paper believe, has been in the best interests of the public.

Such success as it has achieved during a quarter of a century is principally due to the fact that the public approved of its policy and methods, and gave it its confidence.

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