Birth of Uncle-Nephew Politics | Daily News
Scandalous murder and sensational trial 112 years ago - Part I:

Birth of Uncle-Nephew Politics

On that fateful night of December 5, 1906, 22-year-old Francis Dixon Artygalle, one of the wealthiest men in the island, heir to lion’s share of the Artygalle inheritance, was talking to a visitor at the Pettah residence of C P Dias, the Principal of Wesley College and City Father. A gunman standing behind shot him at point-blank range. Being rushed to hospital in a critical condition, causing great public interest and excitement he succumbed to injuries on the following day.

The serious nature of gruesome murder compelled Dowbiggin, the Superintendent of Police, Colombo [later eighth IGP] to personally handle investigations. –‘History of Ceylon Police- Part two’—[A C Dep ex DIG]: Had Dixon Artygalle survived, he would have been the brother-in-law of the first Prime Minister, and uncle of second, third and eighth Prime Ministers of Sri Lanka.

“Scandalous murder; and sensational trial 112 yrs ago- Death of Dixon Artygalle and birth of Uncle-Nephew Politics,” is the true story of emergence of Senanayakes, Kotalawalas and Jayewardenes in Sri Lankan Politics, the source that initially financed their activities, and also the concealed hostility, enmity and rivalry for preeminence among the three families that formed the upper crust of the United National Party hierarchy for many decades that commenced during the time of this saga and reached its peak in 1952, enduring up to the end of last century.

John, a smart police officer

Madapatha in Salpity Korale is a tranquil eco-friendly getaway from the city, overlooking and cuddled up in the serene waters of the Bolgoda lake or lagoon with plenty of lush. Artygalle’s residence is located in the hamlet Colammune on the banks of this largest inland waters in the island just 20 km south of the city of Colombo. In the late 19th Century, precisely on April 1, 1886, when John Kotelawala from Madapatha in Piliyandala joined the Ceylon Constabulary [how the police were known then] as a Constable/Clerk, the OICs of the majority of Police stations were Seargents. John was a smart police officer who rose to the rank of an inspector within a few years, a privileged position enjoyed mostly by the Britishers. At that time in colonial Ceylon, most of the high ranking officers in all other institutions too were ‘Whites’.

Naina was a notorious but powerful gangster who ran several gambling dens in the city, and no police officer dared disturb his activities. As reconstructed in the stage play ‘Nainage Sooduwa’, Kotelawala had gone to the infamous gambling hideout of Naina disguised as a gambler to apprehend the ‘big boss’ and became a hero after he successfully raided all his dens and put Naina in jail.

Kotelawalas and Artygalles

Wickremesinghe Mudali of Raigam Korale helped King Rajasinghe to wage war against Portuguese in the 16th Century on the Kelani banks. During Dutch rule, they shunned ‘Wickremasinghe’ name in preference for the name of the village ‘Kotelawala’ as they became Christians to pacify the invaders and receive titular gains. However, they soon reverted back to Buddhism. –‘20th Century Impressions of Ceylon’: Arnold Wright-

After one and a half centuries, the Kotelawalas shot back to the limelight with the appearance of Don Manuel Kotelawala an inhabitant of Undugoda, Bandaragama. He had two sons; DA, the father of our Policeman Kotelawala, Grandfather of Sir John the third Prime Minister and Justin Kotalawala the Insurance tycoon and great-grandfather of business magnate Lalith Kotalawala and world-renowned Economist late Dr. Gamini Corea. The other was Muhandiram DC who left the village to settle-down in Badulla. Sir Henry Kotelawala, who represented Uva in the Legislative and State Councils in the 1920s and 30s was his son. JCT [Jack] Kotelawala, the popular LSSP Parliamentarian of the 1950s and 60s, the only Marxist in the dynasty was the son of Sir Henry. He and Sir John Kotalawala who occupied seats across the well of the old parliament in the 1950s were second cousins.

Arrack renter turned wealthy landowner from the same village was Colamunne Walawwa’s Mudaliyar Don Charles Gemoris Attygalle [1834-1901], the late father of slain Francis Dixon. He was made Mohandiram in 1885 and propped up Mudaliyar in 1900 by the colonial government. Artygalle had four children, three daughters and the only son Francis Dixon. Starting from humble beginnings and having made his initial capital by working in plumbago mining and planting,

“…born in Salpita Korale in 1834. He worked for the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens at the age of 12. At 18 he was sent to Hakgala gardens. He also supplied plants to European planters and businessman. He started his first Graphite mine in Kahatagaha.”--20th C. Impressions of Ceylon-Arnold Write

Geromis Artygalle tried his hand in highly profitable Arrack renting too. Later he branched into Coconut, Rubber, Tea and Cinnamon as a landowner who amassed a colossal wealth owning over 10,000 acres of plantations and a few plumbago mines that included the famous Kahatagaha in Dodangaslanda.

The tale that comes through grapevine for generations in the village of Colamunne, Madapatha relates how our young policeman John in his early thirties had been carrying on a covert love affair with the Walawwa’s eldest girl, the 22-year-old Alice Elizabeth, a stubborn damsel who did not heed the advice of the affluent parents to give up the relationship with the vivacious police officer. However, a few months later Artygalles, the dominant family in the Salpiti-Korale was not only constrained to give the girl in marriage to her choice but with a dowry of an enormous wealth that included 2,058 acres of rubber and coconut estates plus one-fourth share of Plumbago Mines.

The reason for the surprise change instance is not clear though the grapevine reveals that the young man’s courage and wits made him hire a middle-aged maid attached to the walawwa to convey a courteous appeal to the Artygalles which was met with unceremonious rejection. Artigalle’s uncompromising attitude put John in a blocked situation, in which he had no choice but to fight. He possessed an ability to feign and wait for a proper moment, like how he conquered Naina, by methodically working out a strategy, then move tactically and ‘attack’.

On a peaceful night when the entire village of Colamunne was asleep including the occupants of Artigalle mansion; the picturesque environs of the mansion was sparklingly illuminated by the flickers of the silvery radiance of moonlight, that even entered Alice’s bedroom through window panes.

At this hour of dimness, our young ‘Romeo’ got an idea to take a moonlit stroll around the precincts of Walawwa, which steadily advanced until he became sneaky enough to find his way to the sleeping spaces of the mansion and in to the arms of his Juliet wishing ‘let this night be forever’. It was a pledge of life in the gloom, made under the ‘heat’ of the cold night; a sense of love and fondness springing from the heart especially for the young lady. Kotalawala believed he had laid a solid foundation for a prosperous and healthy future for himself as he scooted down the slopes an hour later, and out of the sprawling locality of Artygalles, a happy and contented man.


Add new comment