This country and its people were under foreign powers for more than four centuries. The battle of Mulleriyawa, during the Portuguese era and the Uva Rebellion during the British, were two main uprisings against colonial rule in the country’s long struggle for independence. Although they  were  not   fully successful  mainly  due to the social, economic, [...]


Don Spater Senanayake and the Temperance Movement


A picture from the past: Loading plumbago

This country and its people were under foreign powers for more than four centuries. The battle of Mulleriyawa, during the Portuguese era and the Uva Rebellion during the British, were two main uprisings against colonial rule in the country’s long struggle for independence.

Although they  were  not   fully successful  mainly  due to the social, economic, and  environmental   factors  at  that    time, the country did achieve its final goal  later  mainly due to the   commitment of a few individuals  who worked with  greater   determination  and dedication to  continue  their   struggle.

The   Senanayake  family  of    Bothale, Hapitigam  Korale, Mirigama   figured  prominently  in  the  country’s  struggle  for  Independence with   Mudaliyar Don  Spater  Senanayake,  who  was  the  head  of  the    family   and   the  main sponsor  of  the  second  stage  of  the  Temperance  Movement  which  started  in 1912  at  its  helm. He  was  the  father  of   F.R.Senanayake, who  also   rendered  valuable  service  to  the  Temperance  Movement   and  the  promotion  of  Buddhism  and  the  Buddha Sasana  in   the  country  and also   of  Don. Stephen Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of Independent Sri Lanka (then Ceylon).

The  historical  journal “Twentieth  Century  Impressions  of  Ceylon”- (original) published  in  1907, in  London and  edited   by  the  British  author   Arnold  Wright  and  H.A.G. Hulugalle’s  “The  Life  and  Times  of Don Spater  Senanayake – Sri Lanka’s First  Prime Minister, both  confirm   Don Spater’s  early   education  at  St Thomas’ College, Matale, and  entry into  the plumbago  business  at  a  very  early  age.

Mudliyar Don Spater Senanayake

According  to Wright, Don  Spater  Senanayake  was  a  very  wealthy  person  with  a  good  education who   had  started  business  on  his  own  in  the  plumbago  trade, at  the  early age  of  18. He  was   one  of  the  largest  mine  owners  in  the  island  and   controlled   the  mines  of  Ambepussa, which  had  been  worked  for  20  years  using    steam  pumping   gear  of 34 horsepower.

These mines employed   about 3000 people. Don Spater, during  that  time,  had  also  commenced  mining  operations  in parts  of   Mirigama  and Pussehena in  the  Kegalle  District. He also owned  more  than  2000 acres  in  the  Kurunegala  District  and    other  plantations  in  various  parts   of  the  North-Western  Province, in  addition  to  a large  number  of  residential  properties  in  Colombo  and  Kandy.

Arnold  Wright  further  confirms that Don  Spater  Senanayake  was  a  liberal  contributor  to charitable causes such as the Victoria  Memorial  Eye  Hospital   and  the  Indian    Famine  Relief  Fund. In  recognition  of  his  services  Don  Spater  Senanayake   was  conferred  with  the  title  of  Mudaliyar   by  Governor Sir   Joseph H.West  Ridgeway.

Jayasena  Dahanayake in  his  book   “Deshabandu  F.R.Senanayake”  introduces  F.R.Senanayake  as  a devout  Buddhist, who  spent  lavishly  to  promote  the  Temperance  Movement  in 1919  upto the  time  of  his  death  in 1925  after  which  his  elder  brother  took  his  place  in  the  movement.

K.M. de Silva, Professor of History  at  Peradeniya University   in  his  book  titled  “The Life  of  D.S.Senanayake (1884 – 1952) -Sri Lanka’s  First  Prime Minister (1948 -1952) Political Background”  describes  Don Spater  as  being  a  graphite  merchant, a planter  and  wealthy  person.

Graphite (or plumbago) was a  much  sought  after  raw  material  which   was  in  great  demand  by Japan, USA and   Europe  and   was  widely  referred  to  as ‘Black  Gold’ or  “kalu ran’. Silva  further  states  Don  Spater  Senanayake  also  held  the  prestigious  position    of  Chairman, of  the  Graphite  Manufacturers   Association.

He  was  wealthy  enough  to    provide  his  second son, Fredrick  Richard (F.R.) the  best  available  education  in  England  at  Cambridge  University  and at  the  Middle Temple Inns of Court  in London, from  which  he  graduated  as  a  barrister.

From  all  records , it  is  evident  that  with  the  wealth  and  resources  available  to  Don  Spater  Senanayake, the  necessity  to  get  involved  in  the  arrack  rental  business  did  not  arise.

However in  Dr. Kumari  Jayawardena’s book, “Nobodies to Somebodies: The  Rise  of  the  Colonial Bourgeoisie  in  Sri  Lanka” and  its Sinhala  translation “Sokkan Lokkan Wu hati” , the author states  that  Don Spater  Senanayake  had  been  involved  in  trading  in  Arrack “as arrack renter” and  had   used  the    profits   so  generated  to    help    in  the  Temperance  Movement.

After  the  demise  of  Don  Spater, the  management  of  the  Botale  Mining  Complex  and  sorting  and    processing, prior  to  export,   were  taken  over    by    his  sons  Don Charles and  Don  Stephen  Senanayake, the  first  Prime  Minister of  Sri  Lanka.

The  two  main  reasons  for  locating  the  Railway  Station  of  the  Colombo – Upcountry  line  in  1865   at  Ambepussa,  was   firstly, due  to  its  close  proximity  to  the  Ambepussa  Rest  House, its  easy  access  by  horse- carriage  and  secondly   because  of  its   closeness  to  the  graphite  mining  complex  of  Don  Spater  Senanayake, which  was  located  at  Bothale. The  graphite  extracted  from  mines  had  to  be  transported  to  Colombo (Kitulwatte  Stores)  by  rail  and  road  for  further  processing.

His  nephew  Devinda S. Senanayake  is  still  in  possession  of  the  Mining   Licences  A 508, A509, A 510, and A 583,  issued  to  Don  Spater  Senanayake and  Don  Stephen  Senanayake,  to  work  these  mines.      During  this  period, the  users  of  some  roads  were  required  to  pay  a  toll  to  the  authorities. Since  the  administrative  district  where  the  mines  were  located  was  Negombo, it  became  necessary  to  frequently  travel  between  Mirigama  and  Negombo   for  various  matters   connected  with  the  administration  of  the  mines  and  between  Mirigama  and  Colombo  for  matters  connected  with  the  export  of  graphite. Don  Spater  Senanayake  had  to  pay  a toll  to  use  them.

He  also  made  use  of  these  roads  to  move  his  labour  force  to  and  from   the  properties  he  owned  and  permitted  other  miners  too  to  use  them  to   transport  their  produce, so  that  they  could  also  fetch  better  prices.

Don  Spater  Senanayake  had  taken  a  lease  on  these   roads: Negombo – Giriulla and Giriulla – Pasyala and  paid  the  lease rentals. The  original  Lease  Deeds No 5366, 5393  issued  for  1897  dated  December 2, 1896  had  been    given  to  Devinda  Senanayake  by  Ven.  Delwala  Sri  Munindobhasa Thera  of  the  Senanayake  Mudalindaramaya,Temple, Pirisyala, and  are  still  well  preserved.

At  a  time  when  the  establishment  of  taverns  and  sale  of  toddy   was  encouraged and promoted    by  the  Colonial    Government, the Temperance  Movement  sought  to discourage  it  by    educating    the  public  of   the  evils  of  consuming  alcohol, presumably    to  prevent   the people from becoming addicted .

Addiction   to  alcohol    had  been   the  main  reason  behind  the  irrational     behaviour  of  the  last  King  of  Kandy  Sri Wickrema  Rajasinghe,   which   finally   resulted  in  the  country   falling   to the     foreign    powers. The  route  that  was  taken  to  take   John  D’Oyly   inland to Hath Korale, on January 13,1815   is  given  in the “Twentieth  Century  Impressions  of  Ceylon”  and  the  manner   in  which  the King became   addicted to alcohol  is  explained  in  the    publications, “John  D’Oyly’s  Diaries”   and  “Wadu-gaha  hatana”.


The Senanayake family home: Bothale walauwa

Prof. N. Dharmaratna,  of  the  Department of  History  and  Archaeology of  the  Sri  Jayawardenapura  University  confirms  the  availability   of  these  two  documents  in  the  Colombo  Museum  and  the Library  of  the  National  Achieves.

The  adverse effects   alcohol    has  had  on  some  other  races   may  have   been   another  reason   that  prompted  these freedom fighters to  discourage  the  use  of  alcohol.

During  the  Colonial  era, the  word  “Arrack  renter” was  used  to  describe a  person  authorized  to operate  taverns  and/or   to collect taxes. This word  has  crept  into the  Sinhala  vocabulary  as  “Arakku Rendha”.

This  position  is  further   explained  by  Prof. K.M. De Silva  in  his  book “DS-  the  life  of  D.S. Senanayake 1884 -1952, – thus during  this  period  a person  collecting  taxes, on  behalf  of  the  government  from  the  owners  of  arrack  taverns, was  called  “Arrack  Renter” in  English  and  the  same  is  used  in  Sinhala  but  pronounced  differently (Rendha).

Since  the issue  of  licences  generates  an  additional source  of  income  for  the  Government it  would  have  most  certainly  been  recorded  by  the  authorities, if  such  licences / permission  had  in  fact  been  issued, in  the  register  maintained  for  that  purpose. Perusing  the  certified  copies  of  the  relevant page of  the  register,  provided  by   the  National  Archives ,  it  is   evident from  the entries  therein  that   a  licence/permission   had , in  fact  been  granted , to  operate  a  tavern  during    the  period, 1894  and 1895., to  another  wealthy  family  by  the  same   surname, but  with  different  initials   and  of a  different address  who   lived  in  the  Negombo  District, in  the  Aluthkooru  korale, Dunagaha, Madampe.

This  coastal  area  was  well  known  for  the  production  of  toddy, distilling  arrack  and    for  making    wooden  storage  casks.

Since  the  issue  of  licences  for  operating/sale  of  alcohol    generate additional  income  for  the  authorities, if  a  licence/permit  had  been  issued  to  Mudaliyar Don Spater  Senanayake, such  information  would  most  certainly    have  been  recorded  in  this  register  and  would  not  have  escaped  the  attention  of  an  investigative  writer  such  as  Wright.

A  house  and  a  property  which  belonged  to  Don Spater was  donated  to  the    Buddha Sasana,  on  the  19th  June  1911, to  mark  the  birth  of  his  grandson, Dudley  Shelton Senanayake who  was  to   later    become    a  popular  and  much  loved  Prime  Minister  of  Sri  Lanka. This  temple  is  now  known  as  the  Senanayake  Mudalindarama  Pirivena.

It should be the responsibility of educated individuals, when describing those who were in the forefront of gaining our independence, by spending their wealth, time and also risking their lives, to be more careful in making unfounded statements  about them.

(The writer is Media Secretary of the Senanayake Foundation)


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