Jeronis de Soysa

Mudaliyar Jeronis de Soysa Dissanayake
Born 19 April 1797
Ceylon, Moratuwa
Resting place Holy Emmanuel Church
Nationality Ceylonese
Education Palliyagodella Buddhist Temple
Occupation Coffee Planter, Industrialist and Ayurvedic Physician
Known for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy
Title Wasala Mudaliyar
Religion Buddhist & Christian
Spouse(s) Francesca de Soysa Lamaethani
Parent(s) Warusahennedige Joseph Soysa (1764-1839) Kurukulasuriya Senadige Francisca Peiris
Relatives Sir Charles Henry de Soysa
Sir Wilfred de Soysa
Bishop Harold de Soysa
A. J. R. de Soysa
A. H. T. de Soysa
Sir Bennet Soysa

Gate Mudaliyar Jeronis de Soysa (19 April 1797 – 28 May 1862) was a pioneering Ceylonese entrepreneur and philanthropist. He was a pioneer coffee planter and an industrialist who became the wealthiest Ceylonese of the 19th century by establishing the largest native commercial enterprise of the era. He was instrumental in the establishment of the first Ceylonese bank and is often referred to as a father of private enterprise. He was the first Mudaliyar to be elevated in recognition of his philanthropy.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

Early life

Jeronis de Soysa was born on 19 April 1797 at Moratuwa.[7] He was the second son of Warusahennadige Joseph Soysa (Jose Rala), an Ayurveda practitioner and Kurukulasuriya Senadige Francisca Peiris. He had seven brothers and three sister and was affectionately known as Babaseñor. Both his father and grandfather Bastian Soysa and earlier ancestors; Don Francisco, Juan and Manual Soysa Muhandiram were salt and grain merchants having interests in the transportation, boat building and the agricultural sector.[7][8][9] Their ancestor was the lay custodian of the Devinuwara Temple, Matara at the time of its destruction in 1587.[10][11][12] Jeronis’s parents originally wanted him to become a Buddhist monk and sent him to the Palliyagodella Temple Rawatawatta Moratuwa for studies. Jeronis excelled in the Ayurvedic system of medicine, the Sinhala language and Astrology. He became an Ayurvedic practitioner and possessed a charming personality. De Soysa married Francesca Coorey, daughter of Mututantrige Bastian Cooray and Kurukulasuriya Senadige Justina Pieris in 1833.[8][9][13] Mututantrige Sebastian Coorey, an ancestor of Francesca had built the Rawatawatte Dutch Chapel in 1675.[14][15]

Business & Industry

De Soysa inherited a small fortune from his uncles Daniel Peiris and Hendrick Peiris III, who were ship owners with Yatra building yards at Oruwella, Panadura and Grandpass, Colombo.[6][8][9][16][17][18] He invested this in expanding the trading network between the Maritime and Kandyan Provinces with the assistance of his brothers. In 1820 he established himself as a general merchant in Kandy, becoming one of the first Sinhalese to do so.[5][6] He introduced cart transportation between the seaports and the plantations which had till then been carried out on foot and was able to dominate the industry till the building of the railway.[9][19] Meanwhile, Jeronis also became famous as Babasingha Vedamahatmaya, a sought after Ayurvedic physician in Kandy and was reputed to have saved the lives of numerous plantation Tamils.[7][13][20][21] Jeronis’s business prospered and he received several government supply contracts, including one that involved in the construction of the Colombo-Kandy road. These investments enabled him to accumulate the large capital necessary to buy/rent the monopoly for the supply of arrack. Later, he curtailed his investment in the distillery and tavern industry.[5][13][22]

In 1836 de Soysa bid for the Diyatalawa kanda 'Kings Garden-Rajmal Uyana' in Hanguranketa (against British planters such as George Bird) at the request of the Korale (administrative officer) of the region that had been appointed by king Sri Vikrama Rajasinha.[4][7][20][23][24] This was an overgrown coffee (flower) estate previously used by the Kandyan kings as a country retreat. He also purchased many of the cinnamon estates that were previously owned by the Dutch administration in Moratuwa, Ratmalana, Dambuwa and Katunayake, citronella plantations in Ahangama and coconut plantatins throughout the island. His land holdings in Colombo consisted of several estates that stretched between Galle Face and Panadura.[25] The De Soysa and Peiris merchant houses established the first Ceylonese bank; the Bank of Kandy at Dalada weediya and Pettah, Colombo, becoming the largest native commercial enterprise of the era at a time when European owned banks were reluctant to extend credit to the Ceylonese and the high interest rates of the Nattukkottai Chettiars.[3][4][5][17][26] De Soysa was also reputed for his treatment of employees and had relied to a greater extent on the low country population.[5][27][28] He played a significant role in improving agriculture and the infrastructure in the Kandyan province and the coastal districts.[3][8][13][21]


Agriculture & Infrastructure

De Soya's agricultural properties in the up-country were mostly in the Hanguranketa, Haragama and Talatuoya areas which were then thick jungle with no roads. Jeronis took the lead and with an improvised measuring stick demarcated the areas to be cleared for road and tank building. He had a network of roads built and supplemented the village infrastructure by building reservoirs for irrigating paddy fields and chena cultivations.[7][13][29]

The large scale road building projects of de Soysa include the road from Mailapitiya to Hanguranketa and Haragama and the road from Haragama to Kolongaha and Maha Oya in the Central Province. He also had the Polgasowita-Mattegoda-Delgahakanda roads of Salpiti Korale constructed. In 1839 he constructed the road from Galle road to Kospalankissa and several roads in Chilaw district. The roads from Telawela to Katubedda and Mampe, the Angulana road to Kuda-Kalapuwa and the Uyana road were also constructed in the Western Province.[7][13][21][29]

De Soysa was also an avid builder of tanks and reservoirs. In 1848 he rebuilt the ancient Malulla tank (Maloluwawe) at Hanguranketa. The Gonagama, Talatuoya, Naranvila, Kandewela and Gonawatte tanks and dams of the Central Province and the Moratuwa-Ratmalana tank in his home town are noteworthy. He also facilitated irrigation works at Kandewela and gifted land to the poor residents of Gonagama and Hanguranketa for cultivation.[7][13][29]

De Soysa also built the large Tibotuwawewatte Ambalama in Haragama and the sprawling rest house and gardens at Moratuwa for public use.[7][29] As a result of the medical and financial assistance given to the landslide victims of Kadugannawa, Jeronis de Soysa's caravans were safeguarded by Saradiel, the Robin Hood of Ceylon.[7][13] De Soysa had also met Puran Appu, a hero of the Matale Rebellion, who had on occasion disguised himself as a carter in spying missions to Kandy.[7]

Religious & Educational

On his land stood the ancient temple; Pothgul Viharaya of Hanguranketa which was in a state of collapse. After rebuilding and renovating the temple he nominated the Ven. Attadassi Thero as its Chief Incumbent and gifted the surrounding lands to the Temple.[7][13] De Soysa also built a Chaitya in Moratuwa to enshrine the ashes of his teacher Ven. Meddegama Thero.[7]

He built and financed a free Primary school and facilitated an Oriental Library in Hanguranketa. He empowered the traditional Gam Sabhas, established a Legal Aid Society, a library and an association for social reform (Sadarana Sarana Samagama) in Moratuwa.[7][29][30]

The Holy Emanuel Church (1860) was the tallest building in Ceylon

Towards the end of his life, Jeronis de Soysa embraced Christianity in appreciation of the blessings and recognition that had been bestowed on him.[8][21] To commemorate this event the Mudaliyar decided to build the Holy Emmanuel Church. On 27 December 1857, Bishop James Chapman laid the cornerstone of the Church designed by Thomas Skinner. On 27 December 1860, the Holy Emmanuel Church was consecrated by Dr. James Chapman, the first Bishop of Colombo and the event was attended by the Governor Charles Justin MacCarthy.[8][15] His brother Mudaliyer Susew de Soysa (1809-1881) gifted valuable urban property opposite the Mount Lavinia Hotel for its maintenance, which was later transferred to relocate S. Thomas' College.[7][15][29][30]


Mudaliyar Jeronis de Soysa was called to his eternal rest at the age of 65 on 28 May 1862. He was buried in the Holy Emmanuel Church, engraved as per his wishes in the Sinhala language.[8][15]


Jeronis de Soysa, often referred to as a father of private enterprise was the pioneer native entrepreneur, philanthropist and social reformer who played the role of a path-finder.[31][32] He died, leaving Charles de Soysa, aged 26, entrusted with the management of an estate worth millions. His infrastructure and tank building projects were commendable, considering the fact that it came after the abolition of the traditional rajakriya system of free compulsory labour and the devastation caused following the Kandyan convention. In 1853, de Soysa was appointed Gate Mudaliyar by the Governor George William Anderson. He was the first native headman to be appointed for public benefactions as opposed to government service.[13][31]

See also


  1. The History of Sri Lanka By Patrick Peebles, p.59 (Greenwood) ISBN 9780313332050
  2. Great Lives From History: Incredibly Wealthy, Howard Bromberg, pp. 263-5 (Salem Pr Inc), ISBN 9781587656675
  3. 1 2 3 Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon, by Arnold Wright, pp.538-46 (Lloyd's Greater Britain Publishing Company) ISBN 978-8120613355
  4. 1 2 3 145 YEARS OF CEYLON TEA: Ceylonese take to Coffee Cultivation, Colombo International Tea Convention Website, Retrieved 5 December 2014
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 A Bean Two Leaves and a Bud, Chapter 12 - The de Soysa Family by Ed Rowlands. Retrieved 5 December 2014
  6. 1 2 3 Ceylonese Participation in Tea Cultivation, by Maxwell Fernando: History of Ceylon Tea Website, Retrieved 5 December 2014
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 The De Soysa Charitaya, by C. Don Bastian Jayaweera Bandara and V. S. M. De Mel, pp.iii, iv, 1-79 & 104-5 (University of California) ASIN B00H1CYGL4
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 THE GREATEST VISIONARY AND PHILANTHROPIST OF MORATUWA, Tribute to Jeronis de Soysa, by B. R. Oclen. Fernando The Island (Sri Lanka) Retrieved 23 December 2014
  9. 1 2 3 4 The De Soyas of Alfred House by Rupa de Soysa, p. 13-21 & 27 (Karunaratne & Sons)
  10. Holy Emmanuel Church: Seventy-fifth Jubilee Memorials, G.O.C. Coorey, et al. (D.P. Dodangoda & Co) "The vivid picture of the de Soysas’ painted against the background of their past, harks back to the days of their social and political relationship to the sovereign power of Lanka as evidenced by the fact that the Prince of Devi Nuwara, Manikku Nila Artha Deva Nallur was originally State Secretary to His Imperial Majesty King Parakrama Bahu VI of Jayawardenapura Kotte"
  11. 112th death anniversary of C. H. de Soysa – philanthropist unequalled, Dr. K. N. M. D. Cooray Daily News (Sri Lanka) Retrieved 23 December 2014
  12. The Buddhist Vishnu: Religious Transformation, Politics, and Culture, By John C. Holt, p. 99 (Columbia University Press) ISBN 978-0231133234
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Charles Henry De Soysa; The Anepindu Sitano of Lanka, by Buddhika Kurukularatne The Island (Sri Lanka) Retrieved 1 December 2014
  14. Centenary Anniversary Publication of the Holy Emmanuel Church, p. 37, G.O.C. Coorey, et al. (D.P. Dodangoda & Co)
  15. 1 2 3 4 Holy Emmanuel Church Moratuwa: History (Official Website) Retrieved 22 December 2014
  16. Rise of the Karava in the pre Plantation Economy De Retrieved 5 January 2015
  17. 1 2 Engeltine Cottage in Kandy: The Intertwining of Three Families — Pieris, Sangakkara and Krishnapillai, by Michael Roberts. Retrieved 5 December 2014
  18. Lanka’s rich maritime heritage By Ravi Ladduwahetty The Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) (LANKALIBRARY) Retrieved 5 January 2015
  19. When the 'nobodies' made their mark Sunday Times Retrieved 10 December 2014
  20. 1 2 The hills of paradise: British enterprise and the story of plantation growth in Sri Lanka, Shiva N. Breckenridge, p.36 (Stamford Lake) ISBN 9558156833
  21. 1 2 3 4 An inspirational journey through the years, Reviewed by Manel Abeysekera The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) Retrieved 5 February 2016
  22. Extracts from 'Nobodies to Somebodies - The Rise of the Colonial Bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka', Kumari Jayawardena, (Social Scientists' Association and Sanjiva Books). ISBN 955-9102-26-5
  23. In the Shadows of the Tropics: Climate, Race and Biopower in Nineteenth Century Ceylon, by James S Duncan, p.38 (Ashgate) ISBN 9780754672265
  24. Coffee Mills Tokens in British Ceylon in the 19th Century, Srilal Fernando. Retrieved 15 September 2015
  25. The cascade of the Soysa family by PADMA EDIRISINGHE Sunday Observer (Sri Lanka) Retrieved 23 January 2015
  26. Nobodies to Somebodies: The Rise of the Colonial Bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka, Kumari Jayawardena, pp. 136-9 (Zed) ISBN 9781842772287
  27. Corporate social responsibility practices in a developing country: Empirical evidence from Sri Lanka, Susith Jude Fernando, p.100 (University of Waikato)
  28. Architecture and Nationalism in Sri Lanka: The Trouser Under the Cloth, Anoma Pieris, p.67 (Routledge) ISBN 9780415630023
  29. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Ceylon in the Jubilee Year by John Ferguson, pp. 196-7, 202, 350-1, 378 (Nabu Press) ISBN 978-1171642589
  30. 1 2 150th Anniversary Publication of the Holy Emmanuel Church, pp. 3-36, Rev. Keerthsiri Fernando, et al. (Albion)
  31. 1 2 Adam's Peak: Legendary, Traditional, And Historic Notices Of The Samanala And Sripada (1870), by William Skeen, p.369-87 (Nabu Press) ISBN 9781293898031
  32. The Fountains of Paradise:The need for investment space, Nadeem Haque Retrieved 5 February 2016
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