Charles Henry De Soysa A rare Ceylonese, his philanthropy reached far beyond our shores

Published : 10:01 am  February 26, 2015 | No comments so far |  |  (1801) reads | 

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We live in a world where traditions have been thrown aside, the past often forgotten and respect for ancestors and elders no longer exists. But it is important that we do remember and appreciate great men of the past who left their indelible footprints on the sands of time in our country’s history. One of those was the late Charles Henry de Soysa whose generosity enhanced and enriched the lives of so many people.
As his birth anniversary approaches once again, the time has come for his descendants and others, who have benefitted in one way or another, from the unprecedented philanthropy of this amazing man; to commemorate this on the 3rd of March.
Apart from his descendants, those who remember him with appreciation are representatives from the hospitals he built and past and present students of Prince and Princess of Wales Colleges.

 

“He is a rare Ceylonese, in the fact that his philanthropy reached far beyond our shores. The Great Ormond Street Hospital for children in London, Brompton Hospital, The Royal Free hospital, Victoria Chest Hospital, The hospital for accidents to Dock labourers, were all richly endowed with donations by him and some of these carry plaques with his name as a benefactor”

Philanthropists come and go, but his name stands out; as one who gave unstintingly; with sincerity, whose word was his bond,who saw far beyond his personal perspective, with a vision which was far ahead of his time.
Looking back in retrospect, at what I have heard about his life from my father, his grandson and what I have read, I am aware, that his was a life filled with the joy of giving. But what is extraordinary, is his thinking, with the fields which benefited by his largesse.
Religion, Agriculture, Education and Health were the main avenues in his unmatched and unprecedented philanthropy.

It was just recently that I heard of another deed of his generosity from another descendant, Professor Indra de Soysa, who  till recently was the Warden of St Thomas’ College, Mt Lavinia. While going through old school records, he had discovered that when St. Thomas’ was going bankrupt, the late CH came to the rescue, by donating funds to save it. He was one of the first students when the school began in other premises.

 

“He was reputed to be the wealthiest Ceylonese of his time. He lived in an era of peace and prosperity, gracious living, and contentment. He could have lived in an ivory tower; involved only with his kith and kin, inviolable and unconcerned about his fellow men.  He did inherit wealth from his father, but his business acumen and astuteness, made him venture into new fields of enterprise and development”

Today, we live in a different era; spirituality has sunk to a low level, respect for priests of all religions and teachers seem nonexistent in every vista of society. Pride, arrogance and making money for one’s own extravagance and to expand one’s own horizons, has become the order of the day. Corruption has reigned rampant over all else and it is a pity that there are still some who don’t seem to recognize the  vast difference between right and wrong. We have seen and heard recently of unprecedented abuse of power, which proves beyond doubt that power corrupts, unless it is combined with a genuine desire to help one’s fellow beings and not one’s own.
This can only be stopped if religion is a significant part of everyone’s life. This is where the life of the late Charles Henry de Soysa is an inspiration and example to everyone; irrespective of the fact of whether we are his descendants or not. The late Charles  Henry was a disciplined man and I believe that the root cause for the breakdown of law and order is indiscipline which has eroded our country from top to bottom.
Although a Christian, there is proof that Charles Henry donated to and built Temples, Kovils and Mosques as well as Churches. Agriculture is most important in a country like ours, where we should long have been self sufficient in our needs. Education is to my mind, the most important investment for our children. It is fortunate that the new government has increased the funds for Health and Education and that every mother will receive funds at childbirth. This again was the thinking of our late ancestor, when he donated The De Soysa Hospital to the country, which has benefitted countless mothers through the years. Today, we see more than ever before, the need for educated thinking, which reaches far beyond the peripheries of race, class or creed.

Dedication and commitment, to whatever our individual choice of education or religion may be, can take us to unbelievable heights. The combination of religion and education is unbeatable, and transcends our thinking, beyond violence and intimidation. Health again, is an integral part of our wellbeing. To have good health starts with the family, and ultimately benefits the nation as a whole. The late Charles Henry, had all this and probably much more on his mind, when he sought through his philanthropy; to endow these four fields so abundantly.

He also reached out to the landless, the homeless and gifted land,  paddy fields and houses, to a hundred poverty stricken farmers in far off Walapane, far away from his hometown Moratuwa. This deed in itself, shows that even in those days, when bias and prejudice dominated most minds, narrow barriers were nonexistent with him.
His kind heart reached out to whoever was in need, to all parts of the country; irrespective of differences in attitude, perspective, race, class, political slant or social standing.
He was reputed to be the wealthiest Ceylonese of his time. He lived in an era of peace and prosperity, gracious living, and contentment. He could have lived in an ivory tower; involved only with his kith and kin, inviolable and unconcerned about his fellow men.  He did inherit wealth from his father, but his business acumen and astuteness, made him venture into new fields of enterprise and development; which increased his wealth more than triplefold, which he shared with others. Although he was a pioneer, in tea and coffee planting, his inherent wisdom prevented him from investing his entire wealth, in these ventures. Thus he was untouched by the coffee crisis. He owned 74 plantations, several valuable residential properties in Colombo, its suburbs and other areas. He shipped his own tea to markets abroad, was the first Ceylonese Banker and a Founder member of the Ceylon National Congress.
The late Charles Henry’s statue stands tall at De Soysa Circus. Whenever I pass it, I say a silent prayer of blessing for his soul as we, his descendants and the nation too, owe him so much. Every mother, whose child was born at The De Soysa Hospital for women, has him to thank for what undoubtedly is a national treasure.
He is a rare Ceylonese, in the fact that his philanthropy reached far beyond our shores. The Great Ormond Street Hospital for children in London, Brompton Hospital, The Royal Free hospital, Victoria Chest Hospital, The hospital for accidents to Dock labourers, were all richly endowed with donations by him and some of these carry plaques with his name as a benefactor.
Service to God and man seems to have been his motto, an ideal philosophy for us all to follow in our own lives. This is the greatest tribute that we as his descendants can pay to him whose deeds will live forever as a monument to him.