Signs of the Times unveiled at MLH and the first in Sri Lanka

The four Blue Plaques commemorating the four Governors of Sri Lanka’s colonial past who resided at the Mount Lavinia were unveiled in the presence of the Acting High Commissioner of the British High Commission of Sri Lanka: Mr Mark Gooding, Country Director of the British Council Mr Tony Reilly, The EU Ambassador Mr Bernard Savage, and Louis de Bernieres : British novelist 31st Jan 2011.

A blue plaque is a permanent sign installed in a public place to signify the link between notable figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived and worked. It is a uniquely successful means of connecting people and place, which indeed serves as a historical marker. Commemorative plaque schemes exist in England (the world’s first formal scheme) as well as Paris, France; Rome, Italy; Oslo, Norway; Dublin; Northern Ireland; Poland; Canada; and the United States.

The four Governors’ that resided at Mount Lavinia, in chronological order:

Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Maitland – the founder of ‘Mount Lavinia House’ and in consequence, ‘Mount Lavinia’ as a name for ‘Galkissa’ ( 1805 – 1811 ). He took up his appointment as His Majesty’s representative: the second British Governor of the island.

Sir Robert Brownrigg – Conqueror of Kandy (1812 – 1820). He took up his appointment as His Majesty’s representative: the third British Governor of the island.

Sir Edward Paget – brief interlude (1822) – He took up his appointment as His Majesty’s representative: the fourth British Governor of the island.

Sir Edward Barnes – the great road builder (1824 – 1831) – He took up his appointment as His Majesty’s representative: the fifth British Governor of the island.

Viscount Ian Maitland(19th Earl of Lauderdale) who sent his wishes for the event that led his forefather to initiate the landmark building had this to say,” Sir Thomas Maitland’s memory has been honoured by a plaque on the Mount Lavinia Hotel, on the site of the Governor’s house which he constructed in 1806 following an extensive tour of the island. The site was well chosen, well above the sea and benefiting from the sea breeze, which was important in the days before air conditioning.

Sir Thomas is not commemorated for building a house, but for his enlightened care for the people whose welfare he considered paramount. In his instructions to the Government Collectors he wrote “The sole object of Government is and always ought to be…..to ensure the prosperity of the island solely through……..increasing the prosperity and happiness of the people.” He is remembered in Sri Lanka as a caring and thoughtful administrator who took full account of local law and custom when codifying Ceylonese law.

We enjoyed a very happy week at Mount Lavinia to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the construction of the governor’s house, and on behalf of the Clan Maitland send you our greetings.

Henry Brownrigg, a descendent of Sir Robert Brownrigg had this to say,” On behalf of the Brownrigg family I am pleased and honoured that this plaque is being unveiled in memory of Sir Robert Brownrigg, who was Governor of Ceylon from 1812 to 1820 and was the second Governor to live at Mount Lavinia.

Brownrigg came from an Anglo-Irish military family, who were not particularly wealthy nor were they well connected, but though pure will and determination Brownrigg carved a career for himself in the army. Brownrigg’s career accelerated after he caught the attention of the Duke of York (the same Duke who was immortalized in the nursery rhyme ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’.

It was during Brownrigg’s governship that Mount Lavinia played a great role in Sri Lanka’s history; this was a time of turbulence in Kandy between the king, Sri Wickrama RajaSinha, and his adigars headed by Ehelepola. The British took advantage of this to annexe Kandy, which was occupied initially without opposition.

It was to the gates of Mount Lavinia that Ehelepola

ran to on hearing the tragic news of the loss of his family, where he was met and was comforted by the Governor and Lady Brownrigg.

One of Brownrigg’s first acts was to entrench the position of the Buddhist religion and to assume on behalf of King George the protection of the Buddha’s Tooth Relic previously undertaken by the Kandyan kings. This got him into some trouble with the missionaries.

His wife Sophia Brownrigg took a great interest in all aspects of Ceylonese life. She supported botanical research and she built a Rest house for people climbing Adam’s Peak.

I recall many pleasant stays at Mount Lavinia Hotel and remember the Bicentenary celebrations with great fondness. My greetings and good wishes are sent to you for a very successful evening.

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