Story behind the Richmond Castle – The Rise and Fall of a Mudaliyar

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richmond castle in kalutara
The grandeur of the Richmond Castle | Photo by insanophobia

Richmond castle located in a rural area in Kalutara brings awe to anyone who visited the place. The calm and quiet environment, grandiose and worn out walls bring about a somber feeling to the visitors who enter this colonial mansion.

There are enough prose and accolades have been written for the castle. What my intention in this article to elaborate on the great personality behind creating this masterful abode and a bit of the history of Richmond castle Kalutara.

About Him

Mudaliyar Don Arthur de Silva Wijesinghe Siriwardena
Lafayette photography studio, Mudaliyar Don Arthur de Silva Wijesinghe Siriwardena, CC BY-SA 4.0

Full Name: Padikara Muhandiram Arthur Silva Wijesinghe Siriwardena
Born: 1888 ( Kollupitiya)
Death: 08th July 1947 (Kandy)
Father: Paulis Silva ( known as “Plumbago King”)
Mother: Isabella De Silva
Siblings: A brother and sister
Brother: Hector De Silva
Sister: Unknown
Wife: Clarice Maud Sooriyabandara (m. 1910)
Education: Great Britain

Early Days

Being of noble and wealthy family, Arthur and his brother shipped themselves to UK (Great Britain at that time) to pursue their education. While abroad having a premium English education, he befriended wealthy noble sons from all over the British Empire like himself.

One such friend was Maharaja of Raman. After the studies, he visited the Maharaja and was quite impressed by his friend’s mansion and expressed his interest in building one akin to this in Sri Lanka. The pompous maharaja, however, was not quite confident he would succeed.

This caused Arthur to expedite the project, he immediately summoned an architect and a mason from Kudaligama (A village in Kalutara district) and instructed to study the building thoroughly.

Upon arriving at Sri Lanka Arthur was appointed the Mahamudali (Head of Mudaliyars) of Kalutara region. There were 12 Mudalis working under him and 40 sentinels in attendance.

don arthur de silva and the guards at Richmond castle
Don Arthur De Silva (Seated) with his guards | Photo By The National Archives UK (CO 1069-575-27) [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

What is a Mudaliyar?

As per Wikipedia.

Mudali (or Mudaliyar) was a colonial title and office in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The Portuguese colonials created the Mudaliyar class in the 17th century by enlisting natives of different castes from the coastal areas. (source)

 

Association of Ceylon Chiefs met to celebrate the King's birthday - June 1923 under the presidency of the Padikara Mudali Nanayakkara Rajawasala Appuhamilage Don Arthur de Silva
Mudaliyars celebrating King’s birthday, headed by Don Arthur de Silva (1923) | Photo By The National Archives UK (CO 1069-581-1) [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons
His next venture was to build his dream mansion. For this, he selected an arable land in Palathota close to the Kalu River. The land was a huge one measuring 42 acres and 01 acre was dedicated to the mansion.  The mansion was to be perched atop the highest point of the land.

The Mansion

richmond castle kalutara front view
The beamed portico | Photo by Dulith Kasun

the backyard of richmond castle kalutara
The backyard, now used by orphaned children  | Photo by Dulith Kasun
  • Consists of 99 doors and 34 windows, the frames of which were made of teak woods imported from Burma (Myanmar).
  • The double-winged stairway made of teak wood adorns the main lobby.
  • The mansion had two floors and 14 rooms were there on both floors along with a dance hall and dining hall.
  • Tinted glass with designs had been done in Italy
  • Galvanized pipes were used to pump water to the upper floor bathroom.
  • Rainwater was collected on the roof and pumped through the floor via clay pipes to cool down.
  • Bath ware and tiles were imported from England.
  • Dance Hall floor had been made of teak wood and consists of apertures to disperse the cold breeze from nearby Kalu River through underground pipes. Simply amazing isn’t it?
  • Construction was completed in 1910 and opened in 10th May 1910.
  • Bedrooms are soundproof and constructed using 01 feet thick walls. Within these walls contained a wooden frame.
  • There are 12 granite statues in the garden altogether, 07 statues of small children and a statue of a mother with a child facing the bedroom of the mudaliyar.
  • There are 02 staircases to reach the second floor. The teak wood one inside the lobby and the side staircase used by servants.
A gracian statue of a Mother and child , richmond castle ground
A Graphite statue of a Mother and child | Photo Credit: Mahesh CK

spiral staircase in richmond castleThis spiral staircase was made using an alloy metal | Photo Credit: Nina Mara

patterns in glass panes , richmond castle
Exquisite floral patterns embedded in glass panes above the doors | Photo Credit: jacqueline
doorframes of richmond castle
A doorframe with tinted glasses | Photo Credit: Nilantha

Did you know? The opening of the mansion and the wedding was held on the same day.

the banquet hall of richmond castle
The banquet hall | Photo Credit: Sahan Rupasinghe
inside the richmond castle sri lanka
View towards the front from top of the main staircase. | Photo Credit: Suren Galappaththi

How did he fund this project?

You’d be wondering by now a project this large must have cost a large fortune. So how did he get the money?

In addition to the money he inherited, he was a successful businessman whose industries were lace, gem, graphite, plantations, and agriculture.

The Wedding

don arthur de silva wedding photo richmond castle
The couple and the esteemed guest at the wedding | Photo by LondonE3Traveller

The wedding of the Mudaliyar and Clarice Maud Sooriya Bandara was full of grandeur. Due to the rapport that Mudliyar had with the English government, none other than Prince and Princes of Wales were in attendance at the wedding.

The bridal couple was drawn in a carriage pulled by four white horses. Only one other Sri Lankan bestowed with this honor. A Special train service between Colombo – Kalutara was provided by the government to facilitate visitors.

It is said that Indian Maharaja I mentioned earlier was also present for this event and he had expressed his wonder and praised Mudaliyar for his achievement.

Being a devout Christian, the marriage took place in Infant Jesus church in Kalamulla under the blessing of the God. The wedding cake is said to have been 24 feet high and decorated with emblems of small boys.

Prestigious life

The Mudaliyar was a loyal friend of the English government and wasn’t hesitant in supporting the government in any way he could. For his loyalty and services to the community, the government bestowed the title “Padikara Muhandiram” upon him.

Being a devout Catholic the church appointed him as the papal knight for the east of the roman catholic church. He was also the recipient of many honors offered to him by United States, Britain, Italy, Belgium, Spain, and Portugal. He is also said to have been a close friend of the Pope.

Donations

  • Donated large sum of money to Lady Ridgeway Hospital
  • Donated an estate of 81 acres known as “Ira Handa Yawa Estate” for the welfare of poor children.

The Failed marriage and the Death

The Mudaliyar was so fond of children, which is quite evident by the statues erected at the garden of Richmond castle. These Grecian statues were places such that those would be visible through his bedroom window.

Unfortunately for him, the couple wasn’t gifted with children. And there had also been hearsays of an affair between the wife and a servant of the castle. Eventually, on 04th July 1941, he annulled the marriage and proceeded to write his last will and left the mansion at Queens Hotel, Kandy. He met his death in 08th July 1947 alone in his hotel room (No 37) at the age of 59.

His last will left the castle to the public trustee and requested the castle to be converted to a children’s home. In case the public trustee fails to manage the property, catholic church should take over. His wife was also to receive Rs 300 and 250 coconuts as long as she remains unmarried.

Public trustee, however, still manages the property along with a house for the destitute children. Please refer to the following posts for more information on visiting this well known day outing place in Kalutara.

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References

  • Sri Lanka Sinhala Family Genealogy – WorldGenWeb 
  • Study On Ancient Mansions (Walawwas) In Sri Lanka – (SAITM)
  • The tragedy of Richmond Castle – The Nation
  • The Mudaliyar of Richmond Castle – The Island

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