Bernard VanCuylenburg

NIGHT OF TERROR DAWN OF HOPE. – By Bernard VanCuylenburg


Please note that the names of the Superintendent and the Assistant Superintendent in this story are pseudonymns used for reasons of journalistic propriety. The officer in Charge of the Maskeliya Police Station at the time Mr.Ivan Boteju, a star athlete and an old boy of St.Anthony’s College Kandy, passed away about fifteen years ago. The name of the plantation too has been substituted by a pseudonym.

The shades of night began to fall when the sun said ‘goodbye’ to the mountains. Then the mists began rolling in, embracing the landscape of green tea in its mantle, and another busy day on this large tea plantation was ensconced in the bosom of the nights stygian darkness. In his large estate bungalow a young Assistant Superintendent Tony Richards then a bachelor, settled down to his usual routine. Pouring himself a stiff tot of the amber liquid that cheers, he indulged in his passion  –  listening to his collection of jazz records. As he played one record after another, one drink followed the other and this pleasure often led him to go to bed in the wee small hours.

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The legend that was Tom Deen had its genesis on the playing fields of St. Anthony’s College Kandy, when he first attended cricket practice for the Under 12 team. Thus began a fairy tale when in no time this promising youngster graduated to the Under 14 team before one could say “How’s that?” in cricketing parlance ! Following this meteoric rise, he was called for practice for the Under 16 side. You guessed correctly……he had hardly taken his middle at the batting crease in the Under 16 team, when he received the call to attend practices for the first eleven side. And there the tremendous potential of this legend came to life when the powers that be soon realized they had a fast bowler the likes of which had not been seen at St.Anthony’s for a long time. At the other end was his partner Saliya Doranegama. They were a formidable pair. Like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Tom Deen and his bowling partner Saliya Doranegama blazed a trail of glory on the green turf , earning the reputation as being the fastest opening bowlers in schools cricket, hurling down the red ball like a weapon of mass destruction making life very uncomfortable for batsmen. Sports journalists writing in the national newspapers at the time had some colourful adjectives paying tribute to their prowess with the ball, using phrases like ” Deen the destroyer”, “Terrors of the turf “, ” A batsman’s worst nightmare” etc….. In the ‘Big Match’ of 1953 against Trinity college, Deen won the prestigious “Eagle” for his haul of eleven wickets.

Apart from his tearaway reputation as a bowler, Deen could swing a mean bat to destroy any bowling attack ! The Anthonian – Josephian encounter of 1954 played at Darley Road

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    A MEMORY OF MURDER By Bernard vanCuylenburg


From serial killers to celebrity victims, sensational murder cases tend to grab one’s collective imagination and just wont let go. In the past I wrote some articles about famous murder cases of English planters on the tea estates. The first was about the murder of Mr.John Frank Whitehouse, the Superintendent on Madampe Group Ratnapura in 1949 in the article titled “Tales from the Thotum”. The second, was the article “Murder at Midnight” which was about the murder of Mr.George Pope the Superintendent on Stellenberg Estate Pupuressa in 1941, and the third, “Murder around the Bend” was regarding  the murder of a young  Superintendent on Talgaswella Estate, Galle, Mr.Roger Blumer in 1939. In the first story titled TALES FROM THE THOTUM, I also briefly dealt with the murder of Mr.Geoffreys, the Superintendent on Kenilworth Estate Ginigathena by his chief clerk I believe in the late thirties. The title of this article was later changed to “Marked for Murder”.

The tragic incidents depicted in this article are similar to those in the article “Murder around the Bend”. Robbery was the only motive for the murder of Mr.Roger Blumer on Talgaswella estate, and the murder depicted in this article. They were both killed while returning to their respective estates with the labourers wages. Turn back the hands of time to the year 1851, the year when a young Assistant Superintendent on Galantenna Estate Galaha, Mr.E.A.Morgan was returning to the estate on horse back with the cooly pay, the phrase used in the lingua franca of the plantations for ‘Labourers Wages’, and was waylaid and murdered en route.

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Since his prodigious feats with bat and ball at the tender age of six on his home turf of St.Clair in Sydney, Liam Doddrell is a name that has been attracting wide attention for lovers of cricket over the years. Following  my articles about Liam a few years ago when the cricketing world sat up and took notice of this promising youngster while the press eulogized his prowess out in the middle, it appears that this consummate young cricketer has     the potential to make the jump to senior international cricket today. It wont be wrong to surmise that this could be his next big move. His meticulous and promising talent, his skill in every aspect of the game, his precision with bat and ball which is free – flowing and very easy on the eye, and his cricketing intellect makes Liam the next best prospect in the gentleman’s game ! 

 While Liam has a legion of fans, his progress is of special interest to many old boys of Saint Anthony’s College in Kandy because he is the grandson of that Anthonian cricketing great, the late Charlie Joseph whose wizardry on the cricket field is legendary. Sadly, Charlie isn’t around today to foster and further develop Liam’s talent.

 In an email which I received from Liam’s Dad Daryn, he mentions Charlie telling him that if he and Samantha (Charlie’s daughter) ever had a son, they should  introduce him to the game of cricket which apart from the sporting aspect, was a game which built character.

 Daryn adds that coming from New Zealand a country famed for its rugby, he always worried that he had no skills in cricket and often wished that Charlie was around. So in those early years he took Liam to the nets on the weekends and bowled to him. Apart from that Liam was always in the backyard practicing by hitting the ball against the brick wall and he basically trained himself ! It soon became apparent that young Liam was talented in every aspect of the game  – batting, bowling, fielding, and even as a wicket keeper. He was virtually a one man team ! By the age of 12, his batting technique was well beyond his years. It was obvious that the lad had a natural talent like his illustrious Grand Dad. But that was then. Today, indications are that Liam is one of the best young prospects in cricket.

Liam is now 17 years old and has been selected as a member of the New South Wales Cricket Academy which nurtured him from the age of 12. He started out of as a number 3 batsman, a very good bowler, and an excellent fielder.  Over time his bowling has improved significantly and this has been an asset to him and his team.

Unfortunately a few injuries proved a setback for Liam. However 2019 was the watershed year for this rising star who really blazed a trail of glory. Liam made the New South Wales under 17 team and played in the National Cricket Carnival in Mackay in September. It was his performance in this carnival that won him selection for the  Under 17 Australian team. This was one of his greatest achievements. At this cricketing fiesta, Liam was clocked bowling at a speed of 136 km. Daryn says that he was very proud of Liam especially as a Kiwi Dad. There are  many great batsmen in Australia around Liam’s age, but bowlers as fast and precise as Liam are rare.

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A WORLD OF FRIENDS – By Cam Lucadou – Wells

The following article was published in THE DANDENONG STAR JOURNAL of the 31st March 2020.(ref:

Cam Lucadou-Wells

The well travelled Bernard VanCuylenburg’s worldly interests dont only span five languages but millenia of history. For two decades, the 76 year old multi linguist has volunteered as an English language tutor for migrants and new arrivals at the AMES School in Dandenong. His students have landed from as far away as Afghanistan, China, Sudan, and Vietnam. Each a window to history and culture, each a friend to Bernard. Such is his dedication, he learned Mandarin – thanks to AMES in recent years, to better support some of his Chinese students. “You get more than you give because you meet many different cultures”, Bernard says of his role as a Volunteer Tutor. “They have got so much to teach you It is a two way street You also learn to be a good listener”. Motivation is high among his students though they are bewildered by the sheer size of Australia. He adds, “You find they appreciate the chances they have in this country”.

Bernard has travelled widely to many parts of the world and his travels always have a historical focus. Some of his favourite tours have been with history groups to explore the ancient Mayan, and Aztec cultures in Mexico, Guatamala and Honduras, and the Inca culture of ancient Peru. “History is a fascinating prism to take a long view of the world at present” he says. He has toured China four times, not just to discover her 5000 year old history, but also to improve his language skills. It unlocked to him a land of many surprises and  gave him a deep insight into the psyche of her people . “These trips widened my horizon, and you would be surprised to see how many friends I made” he says. He further states “The Chinese have a quaint sense of humour  –  for example they think that any foreigner speaking their language must have something wrong with him or her !!. This only further adds weight to the mistakenly held belief that Mandarin is a difficult language to learn. If you want to learn a language with your heart, you will learn it.”

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It seems that we are reliving the glory days of Anthonian cricket thanks to Tilak and now Frankie Amerasinghe, who have taken us back to that great College by the mighty Mahaveli where “we had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun” to quote the lines from a hit song of yesteryear. Recently Tilak and Frankie sent me interesting information of cricket in the mid fifties which I am forwarding to you. I am sure it will be appreciated by cricket enthusiasts and all true blue Anthonians. 

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As an introduction to the crux of this story, I have to part the veil of time and go back to the early sixties in Ceylon, when a friend of mine and I went to the Trio Cinema in Slave Island to watch what was then rated as one of the best horror movies of its time  – “Cult of the Cobra”. Directed by Francis D.Lyon, this film was about six GI’s stationed in India, secretly photographing the arcane rituals of a group of Cobra worshippers ! In the film which the GI’ s were making, the bizarre climax was that some of the cult worshippers participating in these rituals turn themselves into snakes ! What was more horrifying was  the High Priest of this cult of snake worshippers, catching the GI’s red handed in the act of filming, and throwing a curse on them which could turn them into snakes !! After they return to the USA a mysterious woman enters their lives, and accidents began to happen resulting in the deaths of these GI’s. And before each death, a shadow of a cobra can be seen. This opening paragraph will have relevance in the concluding paragraph of this story when a slithery visitor from the reptilian world  –  the world of the Elapids  –  decided to announce its presence to a humble housewife.

Mr.and Mrs.Clarence Palmer were a quiet Burgher couple who lived in the suburb of Mt.Lavinia in the early fifties. This was a time when life was easy paced, people had time for each other, values were simple, and the “Pearl of the Indian ocean” lived up to its reputation. Mr.Palmer was employed by the postal department and Mrs.Palmer was a housewife looking after hearth and home. Mr.Palmer was a model employee and well liked by his bosses. One day he received a registered letter from the department confirming a well deserved promotion which made them both very happy because they could use the extra income. However, this promotion came with one major condition. His new position was at the main post office in Kandy which meant a transfer. Having lived in Colombo all their lives, transferring to Kandy was the biggest move they had to make. Stoic and calm as ever Clarence and his wife visited Kandy beforehand in good time before the commencement of his new job, and were able to rent a small house for a very reasonable price in a small hamlet close to Kandy  called Aruppola. Getting a house in the town was beyond their means as far as rent was concerned, but the small house they obtained suited them both. A week before he began work at the Kandy post office, the couple moved into their new home.

Today, this little hamlet has paid the price of progress and is crowded beyond imagination. It once was an idyllic place abundant with a  variety of trees and lush vegetation, blessed by Mother Nature’s bounty. The temple was the most important building in the area, and the sound of the temple drums with their pulsating rhythm added an air of sanctity to the bucolic landscape. The good folk of Aruppola were salt of the earth human beings and made the newcomers very welcome. The couple settled in beautifully, and the bracing climate was a boon after the heat of Colombo.

Life was good  until one Saturday morning while working in his garden, Clarence Palmer saw something which filled him with terror and shifted the tectonic plates of his calm demeanour !  A few feet away was a large cobra slithering its way very slowly by the small path in front of his house !  The reptile was in no hurry and went along at a measured pace. Clarence reacted as any human being would on perceiving a cobra  –  any snake for that matter. Cobras are venomous and potentially dangerous to human beings. Cobras are Elapids  – a type of poisonous snake with fangs fixed to the top jaw at the front of the mouth

and is famous for one of the most iconic displays of snake poses  –  the rearing hooded display, hissing and raising the upper portion of their bodies to stand erect. This defensive display is one of the most distinctive  characteristics of the cobra, and is purely an intimidating gesture to any potential enemy. My Dad was a tea planter and during his career he had a few close encounters with cobras and I was witness to two which I remember to this day.

But despite its fearful reputation the cobra is generally a shy snake avoiding confrontation with human beings as much as possible. Of course this is something which would never cross the mind of any human being when coming face to face with a cobra or any snake !

Clarence Palmer’s first thought was of the gun he kept in his house. This gun was given to him by his father and was hardly used. It was more of an heirloom. He surmised that in the time he took to get the gun, the snake would have vanished into the undergrowth. Vowing to keep the gun loaded and ready the next time this snake dared to pass his house, he immediately told his wife about the snake. But when he mentioned the presence of the cobra to his neighbour and word quickly spread in the little hamlet, the reaction of the good folk of Aruppola surprised him. They told him that this cobra lived close to the temple, was a familiar sight in the area, was completely harmless, and had been roaming this neck of the woods slithering its way through life as long as the older residents could remember ! Then came the warning that ill luck would befall anybody attempting to harm or kill this snake. Clarence was advised to ignore the snake whenever he saw it again and the reptile would do him no harm. Feigning acquiescence he listened to their words of advice, but in his heart he was determined to send the snake to eternal damnation the next time he saw it !

Time passed, and amidst the waft and web of life, the cobra became a distant memory. But fate had other plans and it seemed that the cobra and Clarence were destined to meet. The fatal encounter came one afternoon when Clarence went to his backyard to retrieve some washing which Elsie his wife had put out to dry. Close to a lump of firewood at the edge of the yard, was the cobra stretched to its full length on a rock in all its majesty, basking and enjoying the sun. Maintaining his composure, Clarence stepped back into the house and told Elsie to keep an eye on the snake while he fetched the gun which was fully loaded.  It all ended like the proverbial  gunfight and “draw” in any Western movie !  Gun in hand he stepped out into the yard very quietly, aimed at the snake squarely in his sights and pulled the trigger. Apart from blasting the snake to pieces, the sound of the gun broke the tranquility of the peaceful countryside and in a short while brought many of the folk in the vicinity to his front door to ascertain what had occurred.

Clarence informed them that he shot the snake because he could not take the risk of having it wandering about his property specially when he was away at work and his wife was alone at home. While understanding his predicament, the good folk of Aruppola seemed very agitated. They warned Clarence to take extreme care because he had killed a ‘sacred’ snake and dire consequences would follow……In good faith they told him that some form of retribution would eventuate sooner or later.The warnings came more in sorrow than in anger. Despite maintaining a steely sang froid in the face of these dire predictions, Clarence had an uneasy sensation he had not felt in a long while –   fear. That night he retired to bed with a huge dent in his confidence and for some inexplicable reason, a feeling that all was not right in his world. 

The following day Elsie and Clarence spoke about the unpleasant experience of the day before, but consoled themselves with the fact that at least they could now live in peace. There were other things to worry about in life than a dead snake ! The day of destiny came exactly three days later. Clarence as usual left for work at 7.30 am and returned about 5.30 each evening. Until he returned, Elsie was  alone at home. He once told her that under no circumstances was she to open the door if anybody knocked. There was a room in the house from which the main entrance could be seen through a window. He told Elsie if a caller was expected, she was to go to this room and gently parting the curtain assure herself that it was the caller she was expecting. One day when Clarence left for work she attended to the housework and after lunch decided to rest awhile due to a slight headache. Around 2.00 pm. she went to bed hoping to get some sleep. She had hardly dozed off into slumber land when she was awakened by what she thought was a distinct knocking on the front door. Hoping that  whoever it was would go away, she decided to ignore the sound. A few minutes later there it was again  –  a steady knock. This time she decided to answer the door and get back to sleep. Remembering her husbands advice, she first went to the room to see who could be calling at this time – it was round 2.30 on a sunny afternoon. She consoled herself with the thought that this could be the postman with a special delivery. Gently parting the curtain she had a good view of the main entrance.

It was then that the blood froze in her veins. The sight which met her disbelieving eyes nearly sent her into an apoplectic fit ! It was a scene from her worst nightmare or better still, a scene direct from the film to which I alluded in the opening chapter of this article – The Cult of the Cobra. There before the front door was a cobra. She watched in horror as the reptile half erected itself into a standing position and knocked its head on the front door as if wishing to enter ! It would then allow a time lag of about three minutes to pass before repeating the motion. I crave the readers indulgence if I digress at this point. Numerous are the well documented cases of animals grieving the loss of their owners. There was a famous case in Italy, where the owner of the dog concerned  worked in the railways and always returned home by train in the evening. Since he lived close to the railway station, his dog  went to the station every evening to meet and greet its Master.  One evening  the Master did not return home having died at work. For four years this dog went to the station every evening awaiting the Masters arrival and the canine companion became a familiar sight to travellers. He maintained this vigil faithfully until he too died, probably of grief.  There was a similar case in Japan. The “Readers Digest” featured both these stories in their editions.

About ten years ago there was the famous story of the “Truckie” in Australia who lost his dog somewhere near Alice Springs during a meal break. Since he had to maintain a rigid schedule he had no time to search for the animal and broken hearted continued his journey. Imagine his surprise when three weeks after the dog disappeared, it suddenly showed up at his home in Broadmeadows one evening looking none the worse for wear ! Words will not adequately describe the joyful reunion between dog and Master. It transpired later when the story was investigated that many pub owners and passers by etc. had fed this animal on its long journey South.

There are many cases where dogs refused to leave the graveside of their Masters, and cats that went missing finding their way home, one after five years ! This was in the USA. My logical conclusion is that the cobra at the front door of the Palmer house was the mate of the snake that was shot, and with that instinct common to animals  and reptiles, sensed this was the place that her mate was taken from her. The desperate knocking on the door was its manner of “demanding” that her mate come back. What other reason was there for this snake in all the wide world to make its way to the front door of the Palmer’s residence and then proceed to knock as if “demanding” for answers ?  Meanwhile, Elsie watching this bizarre display by the cobra at her front door seemed to be in some form of “Rigor Mortis”, and was completely paralyzed overtaken by cold fear. It seemed that life and time were suspended and reality had spilled out of its boundaries. Frozen in fear, unable to move she watched as the cobra after a few more “knocks” at the door, coiled and stayed awhile at the doorstep in resignation. Then, after what to Elsie seemed an eternity, it  moved very slowly away from the door and slithered away into the bush. It took a long while for Elsie to recover after the snake had gone. She thought meeting a ghost would not be so bad ! But to see a snake behaving in the manner that the cobra had, was a sight that would haunt her forever. She had just experienced a scene of horror from the deepest pit of hell.

When Clarence returned home and Elsie told him of her ‘ordeal’ he decided that staying in this house further was beyond question. When a cobra came calling, it was time to move on ! At work the next day he spoke of this incident to his boss, a very influential gentleman with useful connections across the hirearchy of Kandyan society as he was a Kandyan himself. Three weeks later he informed Clarence that there was a suitable house for rent in Mahiyawa which was almost in the heart of Kandy town. The owner of this house was a childhood friend of Clarence’s boss Mr.Shelton Pethiyagoda.  On the strength of this friendship he decided to give the house on lease for a very reasonable rent as a special favour.

Within a month, Clarence and Elsie moved into their new home, and to give this tale a happy ending I have to resort to the old cliche that “they lived happily ever after” until Clarence retired from the postal department after many years of service. Three years later they migrated to Australia.


There is one unavoidable fact in this story. In this wide world of creation with its myriad complex and fascinating life forms, man as a species is not the alpha and omega in the animal world.

Snakes like all living creatures are a part of life’s dazzling tapestry. The best way I can express my sentiments in this regard is to quote the famous verse of the Red Indian Chief White Cloud,  one of the greatest conservationists who ever lived. He was born in 1784 and died in1833, one of several tribal chiefs of the Ioway (Iowa) tribe, a hero to his people. His verse titled THE CIRCLE OF LIFE is literary gold. Read, digest and treasure the words of this savant. The world today ignores his words at its peril. Chief White Cloud had the gift of prescience to the highest degree, because his words are a clear warning of what is happening in the world today as far as respect for the environment and other living species are concerned.


                                                     THE CIRCLE OF LIFE.

“Man has a poor understanding of life as he mistakes knowledge for wisdom. He tries to unveil the holy secrets of Our Father, The Great Spirit. He attempts to impose his laws on Mother Earth. Even though he himself is a part of Mother Nature, he chooses to disregard and ignore this for the sake of his own immediate gain. But the laws of nature are stronger than the laws of mankind. Man must awake at last and learn to understand how little time there remains  before he becomes the cause of his own downfall. And he has a lot to learn –  to learn to see with the heart. He must learn to respect Mother Earth, she who has given life to everything  –  to our brothers and sisters, the animal and the plants, the rivers and lakes, the oceans and the wind.

He must realize that this planet does not belong to him, but that he has to care for and maintain the delicate balance of nature for the sake of the well being of our children and future generations. It is the duty of man to preserve the creation of The Great Spirit, mankind being only a grain of sand in the Holy Circle which encloses all of life. Only when the last tree has been cut and the last river and lake poisoned, will man realize that money cannot be eaten. “

Relentless hunting, adverse climatic conditions such as prolonged drought, and lack of protection have driven certain species to near extinction. To save endangered species it is essential to protect their habitats and understand the vital role of each species within the earth’s ecosystems.On a trip to new Zealand a few years back which involved some interesting travel in the North and South Island, I heard of the Maori Tribe living in the Whanganui River region who had a very interesting saying in their relation to the land, in particular to this life giving river. It is “I am the river and the river is me”. They nurtured the land in the ancient knowledge that nature has to be respected.  Snakes, like or loathe them as they slither their way doing the horizontal belly dance through life, are a part of the flora and fauna of creation. It is their world too. It is never too late to appease Mother Nature –  for all our tomorows.

Acknowledgements : I am very grateful to Clarence’s nephew a personal family friend who discussed this story with me at a family function a few weeks ago. He gave me the details for this story. Clarence and Elsie  passed away in Melbourne many years ago. They have a daughter who lives on the Gold Coast and another daughter living in Rockhampton.

Bernard Van Cuyenburg

Bernard VanCuylenburg.

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MURDER ROUND THE BEND – By Bernard VanCuylenburg


A beautiful city with a fortified Dutch Fort, world heritage site buildings, fine beaches with broad expanses of silver sand, and restaurants and hotels to cater to the most fastidious tourist is what comes to mind when one thinks of Galle.  All this and more is what the discerning traveller will experience when visiting this port city. One conjures up visions of a land with all the charm of the South –  the ubiquitous coconut palms, fishing, soaking up the sun on a sun kissed beach,and savouring the delights of a tourist haven. But Galle is not the focus of this article. In the spotlight today is a township known to residents of the area but not very familiar to the wider world, which lies in the district of Galle  called  Talgaswella.

Talgaswella is situated twelve miles from Galle. Travelling from Colombo, take the Elpitiya road at Ambalangoda, drive past lush green paddy fields, picturesque small villages, beautiful rural scenery and you reach Talgaswella township. Going to Talgaswella from Galle is only about eight miles distance through Akmeemana. One seldom associates Galle with the tea industry of Ceylon, but there are many tea plantations in the district, and Talgaswella estate is  one of them. To set the scene for this story, a brief history of this estate is timely. Talgaswella estate was first started by one of the leading estate agencies which feature prominently in the history of Ceylon tea, Messrs. Carson Cumberbatch & Company Limited. Tea was first manufactured on Talgaswella in 1920, and an Englishman named  Mr.Nikoli constructed the Superintendent’s bungalow in 1922.  He was the first Superintendent of the estate.  The bungalow as it stands today was renovated in 1924.

However, before tea was planted on Talgaswella, another sweeter crop held sway here  – Sugar !

Sugar cane was first planted  in the lower division after the installation of a sugar crane crusher.

Huge iron pans were imported from England to boil the juice from crushed sugar cane resulting in the golden treacle which is a favourite even today  –  just think of curd and honey !!. The manufacture of treacle was thus the first manufacturing process on the estate. Visit Talgaswella today and one can still see one of these pans which has been used as a pond in the gardens of the Assistant Superintendent’s bungalow in the lower division ! Apart from human consumption, treacle was also used for something totally different other than contributing to a sugar fix ! It was mixed with lime and used as plaster in construction works !  It is a widely held belief that this plaster was used in the construction of bridges, tunnels etc. particularly in the up-country areas instead of cement.

The owners of Talgaswella having experimented with sugar, were looking for new challenges. They brought about 300 rubber seeds from Matale and in 1928 cultivated two hundred acres with rubber.

Fortune favours the brave and with the success of the first crop, a sheet rubber factory was established in the lower division.

In 1930 Mr. Buket was appointed Superintendent of Talgaswella. That same year a new bungalow was constructed in the upper division for Mr.I.U.Wilson who had been appointed  Assistant Superintendent. Another bungalow called “Kosgaha Bungalow” (Jak Tree Bungalow) was also constructed in the lower division. I hasten to add that from the Upper Division there were delightful scenic views of the surrounding countryside with beautiful mountains in the distance. The first Staff quarters were constructed on the right bank of the lake on the estate, and it is on record that the first conductor was Mr.Kanaththage Martin Silva who started work in 1931.


Into this fairy tale beginning when every endeavour on the estate was crowned with success, it was not long before evil reared its ugly head. Over a hundred years ago, Bishop Heber in his poem ” From Greenlands Icy Mountains ” penned a verse on Ceylon in which he wrote:

                           And though the spicy breezes

                           Blow soft oe’r Ceylons Isle

                           Though every prospect pleases

                           And only man is vile 

This verse is a lead, into the dark deeds which were to follow. I refer to the bungalow in the lower division called “Kosgaha Bungalow” which was constructed in 1930. This bungalow was constructed for a young Assistant Superintendent, Roger Blumer who commenced duties in 1930. Roger Blumer was made for planting, and planting for Roger Blumer !! The two went together hand in glove and from the moment young Blumer held a pruning knife and stepped into a tea field immersing himself in  the myriad activities required in this very demanding profession, it was apparent that this was his destiny. It did not take long for his boss the Superintendent to realize that in his young Assistant, he had a potential future Manager who would blaze a trail in the tea fields of Ceylon, no matter on which estate he worked. In Colombo, Carson Cumberbatch & Company the Agents for Talgaswella having received glowing reports of Roger Blumer’s progress sat up and took notice. Clearly, he was singled out for greener pastures, professionally speaking.

Following his meteoric rise performing his duties as Assistant Superintendent on Talgaswella, in three short years the Company  appointed Roger Blumer as Superintendent in 1933 when Mr.Bukit resigned  – an appointment welcomed by the labour and clerical staff because this young planter, apart from being a wizard in the field –   in both tea and rubber  –  was also a good administrator and had very good relations with labour, the clerical staff and factory staff.  But while Talgaswella prospered achieving good prices at the tea auctions and fast gaining the reputation of a model estate, none could foresee that there were evil minds at work with malicious intent lying low in the shadows planning to strike a mortal blow to the fortunes of this plantation   –  a blow from which they would never recover, at least in the foreseeable future. 

This was a period when there were very few rural banks to service the plantations. Consequently, each month the estate Superintendents travelled to Colombo to transport the wages in hessian bags labelled division by division. Accordingly Roger Blumer made these trips to Colombo when pay day was due during which time he also visited the Agents to discuss any official matters. One day in 1933   – his first year as Superintendent, he drove to Colombo to collect the wages, and drove back. Pay day was common knowledge and everybody knew how the pay was brought to the plantations. In those days there was no consideration given to security, and collecting the wages became another routine chore.

He returned to the estate in good time and drove straight to his bungalow. Just round a curve not far from the bungalow his way was blocked by another vehicle and in a split second he was waylaid by five thugs fully armed, who demanded that he hand over the wages.  Since there were no witnesses to the robbery, nobody will ever know if he acquiesced or put up any resistance  –  it was one unarmed man against five who were armed  –  but  the thieves shot Roger Blumer in cold blood killing him instantly and escaped with the loot. Thus ended the life of this good and decent man, leaving a son of five years behind. A pall of gloom descended over Talgaswella at the loss of this well loved planter and the manner of his death. There was suspicion that if ever a robbery was planned and executed to rob the labourers wages, it had to be done with the connivance of a person  –  or persons  – living on the estate. But justice was swift and fast and the long arm of the law reached far and wide to bring the criminals to justice. The police worked long hours meticulously following up on all the leads in their inquiries, and within ten days the five accused were arrested. The case was heard in the Galle Magistrates court, and all five were condemned to death   –  a death which they met at the hands of the Hangman in the Welikade Jail in Borella. 

If Roger Blumer’s son is alive, he will be 91 years this year. With the passage of time the murder of this Superintendent faded into the mists of memory . As the American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne said   “Time flies over us but leaves its shadow behind.”  Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the USA  and a Polymath, once wrote “Time is like a petal in the wind blowing softly by. As old lives are taken, new lives begin. It is a continual chain which lasts through eternity   –  every life is but a minute in time, but each one is of equal importance……” And Roger Blumer’s life was very special and cherished by the staff of Talgaswella and to all who knew him. Visit the estate today and just below the Superintendent’s bungalow at the spot in the road where he was murdered, a monument has been erected in honour of his memory  –  the memory of a man who paid the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty.

A few years after this crime, another estate Superintendent lost his life in silmilar circumstances, on the Colombo – Ratnapura road close to a spot where the Palmgarden tea factory now stands. That was Mr.John Frank Whitehouse, the Superintendent of Madampe Group Rakwana. He was cruelly gunned down by thugs of the underworld in the process of stealing the labourers wages. I have written about this story in an article titled TALES FROM THE THOTTAM. I later changed the title to MARKED FOR MURDER.

Acknowledgements : I am very grateful to an ex planter and an old Anthonian Norman Thompson, who

                                  provided me with the material for this article. During his planting career, Norman

                                  was Assistant Superintendent on Talgaswella estate from 1972 to 1975 It was he

                                  who first informed me of this story. And while I struggled to find a suitable title for

                                  this article, Norman to his credit came up with the one I have used which I think

                                  is appropriate..                   

Bernard Van Cuyenburg

Bernard VanCuylenburg        


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MURDER AT MIDNIGHT – By Bernard VanCuylenburg

In May 1941, the Nuwaraeliya district was rocked by the news of the dastardly murder of the Superintendent on Stellenberg Estate Pupuressa, Mr.George Pope. In an article which I wrote about ten years ago titled “Tales from the Thotum” I wrote about this crime in detail. I subsequently changed the title to “Marked for Murder”. His murder, the quick work by the police in arresting the accused, and the subsequent trial which followed which was heard by one of the most eminent judges of the time Justice Soertsz, made its way into criminal records as one of the most dramatic and brutal murders of the time.

Seventy seven years later, the aftermath of this crime still casts a dark shadow particularly on Stellenberg estate, and its memory lives on in the minds of some retired labourers of an older generation as I discovered recently. In September in the course of a visit to Sri Lanka I was privileged to enjoy the hospitality of an old Anthonian Sebastian Retty and his wife, in their home in the beautiful hamlet of Panwilatenna not far from Gampola. In terms of picture book natural beauty, Panwilatenna remains a hidden secret “far from the madding crowd” of commercial tourism. This area is blessed with stunning scenery and breathtaking scenic vistas where every prospect pleases. Mesmerizing mountain views are yours to enjoy if you care to put on your walking shoes and go where the road takes you……The area is dotted with small private tea holdings, charming little villages, desolate valleys, and undulating hills covered in a mantle of dark green forests.Here nature is at her pristine best.

Please pardon the digression, but into this story on the trail of a murder, a stone monument close to the home of my hosts compels me to introduce a historical note which goes back to the reign of King Rajasinghe the 2nd. This stone monument reads : HERE LIVED (AD 1657 – 1670) ROBERT KNOX, JOHN LOVELAND, JOHN BERRY AND WILLIAM DAY. For the record, Robert Knox an English sea captain arrived in Ceylon on the 19th of November 1659 in the good ship “Anne”. The ship was impounded by King Rajasinghe the 2nd, King of Kandy at the time, and Knox along with 16 of the crew were taken captive.

They were treated leniently but forbidden to leave the kingdom. After 19 years of captivity Knox and a companion Stephen Rutland made a daring escape to the Dutch fort in Arippu. The Dutch treated them generously and sent them to Batavia (present day Djakarta) from where they were put aboard an English ship the “Celeste” which took them to England. They arrived in London in September 1680. That was “The Great Escape” of the time ! On a poetic note, I am compelled to add that this monument an important historical landmark, stands in splendid solitude and isolation amidst picture postcard scenic splendour, bearing testimony to the fact that these intrepid Englishman once lived here.

A walk along a mountain track specially in the late afternoon when the landscape is bathed in sunsets golden glow is spiritual. The three main towns in the vicinity of Panwilatenna are Galaha, Pupuressa and Gampola. Nuwaraeliya is about three hours away. There are many tea plantations in the area, and one held special interest for me and that is Stellenberg Estate. I first heard of the “Pope Murder Case” from my Dad as a child. When my brother sister and I came home for the holidays from boarding school, one of our favourite pastimes was listening to Dad relate stories after dinner. Story telling was an art in which he excelled, and he had a flair for the dramatic. The stillness of a lonely estate bungalow at night created an atmosphere of suspense, and when he told us a “ghost story” or any tale with a tinge of mystery, the characters in the story really came to life ! As a senior student at St. Anthony’s College Kandy boarded in “The Journey’s End”, I read about this murder story in the Sunday supplement of “The Observer”, but could not cut it out for keeps as the paper had to be shared with my fellow boarders !

Now seventy seven years after this gruesome murder, here I was virtually a stones throw away from the scene of the crime. One morning, Sebastian took me to Stellenberg and along the scenic route to the estate I became determined to ” to get under the skin” of this story horrible as it was. It was a beautiful sunny day, but as we turned off to the estate from the main road, dark thoughts filled my mind at the realization that this was the same road that George Pope took that fateful night when he was killed. It suddenly occurred to me that I had some unfinished business – for want of a better phrase – to finish. Having written about this case and even receiving an acknowledgement from a veteran planter in the UK who was conversant with the story when it was first published, I wanted to “see” for myself the actual events as they happened on that fateful night 77 years ago.

Contrary to some estates which pre nationalisation were managed by the Agency Houses, Stellenberg to her credit seems to be in good hands judging by the fields which were neat and in very good condition. Conversely, some estates in the area I saw prior to this visit, would break the heart of any planter who had worked on Company managed estates. One large estate a showpiece in its heyday, had been completely abandoned after nationalisation, when a tyrannical Superintendent was forcibly driven out of the estate by a disgruntled labour force ! It is still there in ruins with grass, weeds and undergrowth flourishing where tea bushes once held sway. Only the factory still stands – a dilapidated wreck. But I digress……..

The road we travelled on Stellenberg leading to the factory and the Superintendent’s bungalow is a drivers nightmare, in contrast to the tea fields. This is characteristic of most estate roads today, due to lack of maintenance. My first stop was the factory. This was the factory to which George Pope was taken, after a search party organized by the tea maker Mr.Lodewyke found him mortally wounded by his car. In fact it was a worker on the night shift named Cassim who led the search party as instructed by Mr.Lodewyke. He found George Pope bleeding to death lying by his car at the spot where his car was waylaid that fateful night. The six assassins had done their deadly work, hacking him to death with pruning knives. Cassim broke all speed records running back to the factory to inform Mr. Lodewyke of the gruesome find. The latter then telephoned Mr.Shand, the Superintendent on the adjoining estate Delta Group, who in turn contacted the police. Whenever he left the estate in the evening usually to his club, or to visit a fellow SD for dinner, George Pope instructed the tea maker that on passing the factory on his return, the latter was to telephone his bungalow and ask the Appu to keep the garage doors open. On the evening of the 9th May 1941 he left to have dinner with the Superintendent of another estate in the vicinity. That night when he was unusually late, Mr.Lodewyke fearing something was amiss, organized a search party.

At the factory I was fortunate to meet an elderly labourer – and still more lucky to have Sebastian with me as his Tamil was more fluent than mine ! When this labourer was asked if he knew about the “Dorai” on this estate who was murdered long ago, he told us he heard about it from some labourers – now in their late eighties whose fathers had worked under Mr.Pope. He directed us to the exact spot on the road round a curve where the ambush was laid, not far from the factory. Two trees were placed across the road, while the murderers under cover of darkness hid in the tea bushes. When Mr.Pope stepped out of the car attempting to move the obstacles, they struck with pent up rage and deadly force.

Sebastian and I went to the spot, and in my minds eye I could visualize Mr.Pope negotiating his way on the narrow road at night, then slowing down at the bend in the road, finally stopping to move the obstacles in his path. I always harboured some questions regarding this murder and found the answer here. First, how was it that Mr.Pope did not fine tune his antenna to the sensitivities of the situation – relations between labour and management were very strained and tenuous to say the least – did he not suspect that this could be a deadly trap ? If that were so, why did he not reverse down the road to flee the scene until he came to a spot where he could turn around and go back to where he came from, thus avoiding returning to the estate that night ? At least, he could have reversed and driven to the bungalow of the Superintendent on Delta estate adjoining Stellenberg, Mr.Shand. He knew Mr.Shand and could have stayed the night in his bungalow.

Hindsight is always easy and the trouble with hindsight is that one projects one’s thoughts to another time frame – to another time and place – whilst living in the present !! My questions were answered in an instant ! Studying the crime scene I surmised that even if he reversed, he could not accelerate downhill at speed as the road was very narrow. This was not a main road. IF he reversed, his murderers could have easily overtaken him on foot and their deadly intent would have given them wings. It was apparent that they had chosen the spot for ambush with meticulous care. George Pope was driving uphill, he had to slow down at the curve, and they were hiding in tea bushes by the road from which they could practically reach out and grab him the moment he stepped out of his car. Whichever way one looked at this, it certainly was a deadly ambush and murder at midnight. Visualizing the murder in my mind I experienced a chill although it was a day of glorious sunshine. There is a powerful form of energy here which should not be taken for granted. The most sensible thing is to always be aware of the need for caution in a spiritual sense, and make sure that one does nothing to upset the balance.

From the murder scene we headed for the Superintendents bungalow. The latter was away, and we were greeted by his Appu. He belonged to a younger generation, had heard about the murder, but could not tell us much about it. The once beautiful bungalow and the gardens were badly in need of maintenance. It still retained its colonial charm as most Superintendents bungalows do, but when maintenance is absent an air of dilapidation sets in and becomes visible. I felt a a sinister aura about this bungalow in the context of the horrible murder of its one time occupant. There is nothing so sad as to see a lovely garden, in this case what once would have been a lovely “English Country Garden” surrendering to weeds despite the beautiful roses in bloom. We could not enter the bungalow in the Superintendent’s absence, but as I stood at the entrance to the hall it occurred to me that it was through this door that George Pope left his home for the last time on the evening of the 9th May 1941 not dreaming he would never return. I wandered about the garden, keeping sight of the bungalow with my camera working overtime and my thoughts racing back to that night in 1941 – the night of the long knives, to quote the title of a film. In this case it was the night of the pruning knives. The Appu then pointed us to some labourers quarters in the distance informing us that there were two who could give us more information on the Pope murder case.

Little did I realize that within the next hour I would come face to face with two of the assailants of George Pope, Weeraswamy, and Velaithen, the letter of thanks which they wrote to the presiding Judge who heard the case Justice Soertsz, and to their defence lawyer thanking them for hearing the case, – all in print of course. This letter ended with the slogan “Long live the Sangam !” (The Union). An English translation accompanied the letter originally written in Tamil.  An inquisitive crowd surrounded us and when Sebastian introduced me as someone writing about this murder, they became very eager to help. In a short while we were introduced to two labourers whose fathers had worked on Stellenberg at the time of the murder. Better still, one of them had a full page newspaper clipping of the murder in Tamil, with the photographs which I referred to in the previous paragraph. At last – I could “see” two of the assailants. I read their letter of thanksgiving to Justice Soertsz.

But although I can read Tamil it was Sebastian who elicited all the information I needed. Justice Soertsz looked very distinguished and regal in his robes. The only photograph missing I thought sadly, was the victim – George Pope himself. Of course there was no chance of photocopying this news sheet, so I did the next best thing – I photographed the photographs in the newspaper ! Of interest were two photographs of George Pope’s car, based on a police reconstruction of the crime scene. One photograph clearly showed the car stopped in front of the two sturdy trees (not big, but big enough to create an obstacle) the way the victim saw them. The second was a photo of the car some distance away from the scene accentuating the curve in the road which compelled George Pope to reduce speed. I could not help but notice that the road we were on, now in shambles, looked in excellent condition with not a pothole in sight in the black and white photographs of Mr.Pope’s time, which were taken soon after the murder.

We spent over five hours on Stellenberg that morning and I came away emotionally drained. The macabre events that transpired that night in 1941 played over and over in my mind to the extent that I had in some way “relived” this murder in all its brutality. There were six accused. They were Weerasamy, Velaithen, Iyaan Perumal, Rengasamy, Sinne Muniyandy, and Marimuttu Velaithen. The 1st and 2nd accused, Weerasamy and Velaithen were sentenced to death by hanging. They appealed the death sentence to the Supreme Court, which was denied. Weerasamy was hung at the Welikade jail on February the 27th 1942, and Velaithen followed him the next day. The rest received a sentence of life imprisonment. Mr.Pope who had been Superintendent on Stellenberg estate since 1938 was buried in the Anglican cemetery in Pussellewa. I surmised his body would have been so badly mutilated that sending a corpse by sea all the way to England even under refrigeration would have been improbable. With an ache in my heart I realized that in this sordid story there is no mention of family. The thought that he died all alone apart from the gruesome manner of his death still fills me with sadness.


I have been asked many times for my opinion on life after death. Call it ” The Other Side”, “The Spirit World”, or “Life after Life”, I firmly believe that life continues in other dimensions. I have also been asked if I believe in “Hauntings”. My answer is in the affirmative. There are reasons why spirits become earthbound, and those reasons are mostly unhappy. A person who has lived a rich and fulfilling life is not likely to be earthbound. The low vibrations of negative emotion are what binds a spirit to the earth plain – one reason why ghost stories are full of sadness and despair. It is well known that Queen Catherine Howard the fifth wife of King Henry the 8th, still walks the halls of Hampton Court Palace screaming in terror and pleading for mercy from her ex husband King Henry. In fact The Readers Digest in one of its editions a few years ago published this story in an article titled “The Haunted Castles of Britain”.

The ‘Supernatural’ and everything associated with it is is too complex a topic for “discussion” in this article. But in my readings on the Supernatural I found that more and more scientists are convinced that accounts of “life after life” merit serious study and research. A few years ago Doctor Raymond Moody in his book “Life After Life” detailed over one hundred cases of life beyond the grave. Soon after the publication of Doctor Moody’s book, the sensation hungry press and television media gave it wide publicity.
Anyone who puts forward an idea that is contrary to all scientific views and long established beliefs is a suitable target for ridicule. The good Doctor was no exception, and he had his detractors.A  firestorm of discussions and debates on life after death followed. This resulted in many Doctors, Psychiatrists and spiritual leaders launching independent investigations to review the data in Doctor Moody’s book. They were surprised to find – and more surprisingly reached the unanimous conclusion that the Doctor’s observations and the cases he mentioned in his book were verified and confirmed – namely, that upon a person’s death existence does not cease, but on the contrary the soul continues to hear, to think and to feel…….If you want the stimulus of unexplained phenomena and a theory to fit them and cause you to think, this provocative book should fit the bill.

I spent an entire day at Hampton Court Palace on a visit to England a few years ago. I visited the passage where the haunting which I mentioned takes place, and asked two police officers who were rostered to work the night shift at the palace about the veracity of this story. I expected a flippant answer with words like “Do not believe everything you read” “We have never seen anything” even “Poppycock !” – in fact any answer in the negative. Their reply to my question really gave me food for thought. – Quote ” We have seen this spectre so many times that we dont take notice anymore !!”. The world knows that Queen Ann Boleyn the second wife of King Henry the 8th sometimes walks the Tower of London. There have also been sightings of the luckless Queen in the gardens of her childhood home, Hever Castle in Kent on the anniversary of her death. Sightings which have been well documented. I was asked if there were any hauntings on Stellenberg estate. I never ventured to ask anybody . This was the last subject I wished to discuss as I felt it was too sensitive. Most estate folk are very superstitious and I did not wish to open the floodgates because by this time I was drained of all emotional energy.

But who knows ? Perhaps in the dead of night when the world sleeps, on this lonely estate one still hears the plaintive voices of the protagonists of this murder, mingled with the howling wind as they in a ghostly re-enactment play out the tragic events of that dreadful night seventy seven years ago……The night has a thousand eyes…..

I remember seeing a tombstone in a small cemetery not far from Balangoda many years ago. It read “Sacred to the memory of Mr.H.G.Ross – fatally shot at Galbodda Estate Ratnapura in May 1937”. My attempts to obtain information on this murder always drew a blank.

In conclusion, my heartfelt thanks are due to the following, without whose help writing this article would have proved an uphill task :

Old Anthonian Sebastian Retty and his wife for their hospitality, specially to Sebastian for taking time off despite a busy work schedule to take me to Stellenberg Estate and help me in my inquiries there.

Victor Melder for providing me with relevant information from his well stocked library which filled in many blanks, thus making my task easier.

Norman Thompson, whose geographical knowledge of the tea plantations of Ceylon is phenomenal. He shared this knowledge with me not once, but many times before.

To them I owe a debt of gratitude.
Bernard Van Cuyenburg

Bernard VanCuylenburg.

Murder at nightMurder at night

Murder at night



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A few months ago I wrote an article titled “David and Goliath” which featured a young English tea planter Mark Anthony Bracegirdle, who rocked the colonial establishment when he sided with the workers and the unions, by demanding better living conditions for  the estate labourers on the plantations. His colonial masters were dumbfounded and furious to find that it was “one of their own” who by the courage of his convictions, proved to be the proverbial thorn in their side.

This story is about another hero George Wall  – an Englishman – a philanthropist who fought for the rights of the Ceylonese in the days of colonial rule almost a hundred years before Bracegirdle. I wonder how many will remember the Town Hall end of the De Soysa Circus in Slave Island, Colombo. There was an ornate fountain here with an inscription in mosaic which read “GEORGE WALL – PHILANTHROPIST – 1820 – 1894. I dont know if this fountain still stands and I came across it during a ramble in the gardens over fifty years ago. It was not working then and if it is still there, I am sure it is not working now !, It is a tribute to a giant among men, and will perhaps part the veil of time and evoke a host of memories particularly to Sri Lankans of an older generation, who reminisce on life in the land we once called home.

George Wall had many strings to his bow and was a luminary in his own right. Using more romantic prose, it could be said that in an academic sense he wore a coat of many colours.

 Apart from being a salt of the earth human being who never lost the common touch, he was a coffee planter, botanist, astronomer, politician,and a merchant. Above all this he was a great humanitarian. He came to Ceylon in 1846 and became Acting Manager of The Ceylon Plantations Company which then was in Kandy. Many years later  this Company moved to Nuwaraeliya and managed their estates from there until the nationalisation of the plantations. He inaugurated The Planter’s Association and held the position of Chairman for twenty eight years though not consecutively. While Acting Manager of the company in Kandy, he resided in a building which today is the Hotel Suisse. He also owned a home in Nuwaraeliya.

He was  a member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Legislative Council and resigned from both. But it is his stand for the rights of the Ceylonese working class and advancing unpopular reforms in their favour, for which he is most remembered. In later years he became the editor of “The Ceylon Independent” one of the most popular journals of the time, and this was his platform to voice his opinions by one of the strongest weapons at his command – his pen ! He became a prolific writer and did not win any sympathy from his English colonial masters by his scathing editorials. Conversely, the working class looked upon him as the greatest of all Englishmen in the islands public life. Like a lion that roared, George Wall used his pen to maximum effect in order to drive fear into the ruling class of the colonial establishment.

As a  businessman he won and lost fortunes but it is sad to record that fate did not treat him kindly in the end. Four years after his arrival in the island, he opened his own firm in Colombo, George Wall & Company. It was one of the pioneer European firms in Ceylon which lasted till 1879 and collapsed in the coffee crash. This collapse spelled the loss of George Wall’s fortune. This champion of the working class returned to England in 1894 and died a few days after his arrival in a Home in London. It is on record that this man of noble spirit who once paid three hundred English pounds for a single lens for his telescope died nearly bankrupt.

Men of his calibre were seldom seen again and the lion’s roar was silenced, until Mark Bracegirdle almost eighty years later arrived on the scene to rekindle the flame of fairplay and justice on behalf of the underdog.
Bernard Van Cuyenburg

Bernard VanCuylenburg

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