St. Thomas’ College: A Wide-ranging History of the ‘School by the Sea’-by Michael Roberts

St. Thomas’ College: A Wide-ranging History of the ‘School by the Sea’-by Michael Roberts

St. Thomas’s College


Michael Roberts

David Sansoni, whose preferred title is “STC – an unauthorised history of Lanka’s greatest Public School”

Richard Simon’s ‘history of Lanka’s greatest public school’, is an epic poem!
Epic, in its reach; poetic, in its lyricism, this towering, magnificent opus is a pearl, of both history and literature. “STC” touches the soul and core, of historophile, linguaphile and bibliophile; Christian, Lankan and, above all, Thomian.

This book is not a chronicle of STC history. Keble and Billimoria served that purpose amply. Neither is it intended to evoke feelings of nostalgia in Old Thomians wishing to relive the ‘best years of their lives’.”It is more ambitious.

The story begins in 1801, the year “modern, Western-style education” was established in British Ceylon. Fifty years of Lankan history precedes the foundation of St. Thomas’s College. This pattern – Thomian history presented against a backdrop of Lankan history – prevails throughout.

“STC” examines, in great detail, the profound effect “historical and political events affecting the country” had on the College. It records how St. Thomas’ changed “often reluctantly…” as “the habits, customs and hopes” of the country’s rulers and her people changed.

Simon’s “STC” is packed with inspiring and satisfying information about the many Thomian ‘sons’ who influenced the history of the country, beginning with the [attainment] of “mature estate” of its first alumni! The reader is reminded: “Of independent Ceylon’s first five Prime Ministers, four were Old Thomians…only the most obvious of many conduits through which the influence of Thomia flowed out into the country as a whole.” Warden de Saram’s proclamation, on Old Boys’ Day, 1949, was oft justified. “…whenever a thing is done for the first time in Ceylon, it is a Thomian who is called upon to do it”

The STC OBA’s service to and influence on College affairs is thoroughly documented; her story told in lavish prose. The reader will watch the Association grow, from Warden Miller’s “desire” (1886) and humble beginnings – formed “with a view to the strengthening of the ties which should bind a man to the place where…he has learned…the most valuable lessons of life” – to the potent force for good it soon became and remains to this day.

Richard Simon joined STC ‘Prep’ in 1964. He was six years old. He moved to STC Mt. Lavinia in 1966 and continued thereat until 1978. Simon was an active member of the Debating, Drama and Parliamentary Societies and a frequent literary contributor to the College Magazine. As a historian, Simon has published well-received histories of the John Keells Group (2006) and the Ceylon Tea Industry (2017).

“My particular interest in is the social, cultural and commercial history of the British period in Ceylon”, Simon affirms.

Other published books Simon has authored include Sri Lanka: The Resplendent Isle (Singapore, 1989, Times Editions) and Sri Lanka: The Island from Above (Colombo, 2014 & 2017, D.S.R.). His short fiction has been published by Penguin India and Himal Southasian. For the past four decades, Simon has been engaged in writing and editing books and articles about Lanka’s history and culture. He was particularly closely involved as editor in Howard Martenstyn’s very successful Marine Mammals of Sri Lanka (Colombo, 2013, Citrus).

His research in Britain for this book included stints in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, the archives of St John’s College, Cambridge, and the archives of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. At Mount Lavinia, Simon worked for five years (2014-19) in the College Library, reading every extant issue of the Magazine, as well as various Thomian Fair and Royal-Thomian Souvenirs. He spent some time at S. Thomas’ Prep as well, going through their old magazines and records. Corinne King of Victoria in, Australia (daughter of the late D.N. Pereira, long-serving teacher at STC) helped fill in many of the lacunae in the College Magazine collection.

Simon is a “researcher, who takes fresh perspectives on traditional conclusions” – a ‘myth-buster’. Yet, he does not contrive to be one. An excerpt from his Preface reads: “For the first seventy-five years of its existence, the name of my old school was customarily rendered as ‘St. Thomas’ College’ in keeping with the spelling and stylistic conventions of the day. For reasons that are…(…explained in Chapter 39), a new convention was adopted in the mid-1920s and remains in use to this day.”

“Thomians young and Thomians old”, will embrace Simon’s history and applaud him for telling it. They will be comfortable, though “This book is about St. Thomas’s College … nearly half of its chapters are not about the school at all.”

They will affirm, as the author does: “[Lanka] has enjoyed great profit of St. Thomas’s College; and the rarer and more threatened the ideas and values the school enshrines come to be in the future, the more valuable a resource it will become.” (Epilogue).

They will treasure ‘STC’.



Michael Roberts: “Ceylon Tea and Its Surrounds: Richard Simon’s Tour de Force,” 18 July 2017, …………………………………………………………..

Palmyrah: “The Height of Foreign Mountains,” 9 November 2018,

Hugh Karunanayake“How Royal helped spawn S. Thomas’ College,”  18 April 2016,

A Review Article; “Ceylon Tea and its Siurrounds: Richard Simon’s Tour de force,” 18 July 2017, …………………………………………………

Michael Roberts: “The Senanayakes at STC, at Cricket and in Politics in Ceylon,” 24 January 2022,

 Dudley Senanayake (in middle row centre) and Robert Senanayake (on the ground to the right) are among the Thomian cricketers featured in thios rare photograph reproduce d as Pix 5 in Roberts, Essaying Cricket, Colombo, 2006


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