Reverend Canon Roy Henry Bowyer-Yin MA (Cantab) was Chaplain and Choir Master at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia from 1946 until 1962 most of it during Warden de Saram’s time. Bowyer-Yin composed the song The School by the Sea during this period.

Canon Bowyer-Yin was born in Singapore in 1910 to a Chinese father Dr Yin Suat Chwan and an English mother, Nurse Lydia Florence Bowyer.

His older brother Leslie Charles who preceded Fr. Yin to Cambridge, writing under the pen name “Leslie Charteris,” was the celebrated novelist, who created The Saint. His detective and mystery stories were made into films in the USA with The Saint played by a young Roger Moore.

Bowyer-Yin was an Organ Scholar at King’s College Cambridge where he did a Maths Tripos. He trained for the priesthood at Ripon College Cuddesdon and later served as the Chaplain of King’s College. The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, a creation of King’s College was introduced to S. Thomas’ when Fr. Yin joined STC.  This service is now celebrated at Christmas time all over the world, including Sri Lanka.

According to Wim Gunasegaram, who studied at S Thomas’ in the 1940s and early 1950s, and was a chorister trained by Canon Bowyer-Yin, the Chaplain was encouraged by Cannon de Saram to come up with an alternative for the ‘old’ College Song – Thomians Young and Thomians Old…. In response The School by the Sea was composed by Chaplain Bowyer-Yin.

Wim an engineer who now lives in the US recalls that “Warden de Saram had not been happy with the College Song because its music and words were similar to the “Pub drinking chants” in the UK!  However, tradition being what it was and is a change was never made.”

During his chaplaincy Canon Bowyer-Yin commissioned the renowned Ceylonese artist David Paynter to paint the mural in the Chapel of the Transfiguration, replacing the earlier painting of stars against a blue sky. Paynter, following the renaissance tradition in Italy which always employed contemporary local figures in Christian paintings, used Fr. Yin’s visage in his portrayal of Christ. The painting was finished long after Fr. Yin had moved back to Singapore, and he only saw the mural many years later after Wim told him.

He goes on, “Fr. Yin lived upstairs in Thalassa (The Sea in Greek), which housed the Warden’s and College office on the ground level. Fr. Yin had a small classroom upstairs, where he taught Coll(ege) Forms A and B  Maths. The student group never exceeded more than ten in total, and in my class were the outstanding Thomian and Cambridge University Cricketer P. I. Pieris and Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, the distinguished Civil Servant.

While at S Thomas’, Canon Bowyer-Yin introduced the highest standards of choral singing. Wim recalls that “Fr. Yin had a regimen of three choir practices during the school week, and a longer one on Saturday mornings. He demanded full attendance, and strict discipline from all choristers. The number of practices increased considerably before special services and choral events. As a reward for all the hours of sacrifice and dedication, he created a choristers, sacristans and servers holiday of one week at STC Gurutalawa. A greatly subsidised and affordable holiday was available to those who wanted the experience.

“As part of this experience, carrying our food and water, we would hike from Gurutalawa up past Rahangala mountain to the Ohiya Railway Station and then up to Horton Plains and World’s End. There were other hikes too, and C.T. (Cuttie) Janz later the Director of Prisons, was one of our sturdiest hikers. It was a delightful, strenuous (up to 25 mile hikes) and exhilarating holiday. We also swam in the pool gifted by Dr. R.L. Hayman, the Sub-Warden; played tennis, took part in the “Outward Bound” training camp on “off days”, sang, and played card games, when it was too rainy and cold to hike. My classmate and fellow chorister of those years, retired Professor Dr. Raja Bandaranayake of Sydney, Australia has been kind enough to help my memories with photographs and reminiscences of that era.

“Fr. Yin believed in hard work, and rewards for good efforts. He left a legacy of the highest standards and quality of choral music at S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia,” concludes Wim.

Jayantha Somasundaram Canberra

De Saram House S. Thomas’ Prep’ Kollupitiya 1957-61

De Saram House S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia 1962-68

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