The Newtons Of Old Park View (Our Present Past 4)

[ To get caught up on this story – OUR PRESENT PAST – CLICK HERE   FOR PART 1 /  CLICK HERE FOR PART 2 /   CLICK HERE  FOR PART 3 ] 

  …     …     …     …     …     …     …     …     …     …      …     …     …     …     …     …     …     …     …     …     .

 

Charles MacArthur Thambithurai Newton was a fine-looking fellow, a dapper dresser, impeccably turned out at all times.  His appreciation of quality clothing and polished footwear was legend.  

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Young Charles Newton (standing left) and his buddies. ‘Westernised Oriental Gentlemen’, all dressed to the nines in colonial finery.  Circa 1920s. (Courtesy Eric Perinpanayagam)

 

The son of Gladwin Ponniah and Victoria Nesamma Newton of Puloly West, young Charles commenced his career as an assistant teacher at his alma mater, St John’s College, Chundikuli (Jaffna).   Charming and youthful, he became popular with the students and well respected by fellow members of staff.  Charles, who possessed a scholarly knowledge of the Tamil language, was an acknowledged pundit among his peers.  

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Staff of St John’s College, Chundikuli (circa 1930’s).  Cbarles Newton in ‘national cosume’,  seated third from left.  Principal, Father Peto (a British Anglican minister), seated centre right.
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St John’s College, Chundikuli, as it stands today, renovated and rebuilt after the civil war.  (Picture taken by this writer in 2017)

 

Young Mr. Newton of St John’s College was also known for his love of English drama and lent his wholehearted support to the school’s theatrical endeavours.  

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Photo of a scene from a Shakespearean production staged at Chundikuli Girls’ College in 1912, published in the school magazine.  (The original magazines are all accessible in the school library.)  The standard of education provided in the missions schools in northern Ceylon was very high.  English was taught as to native speakers of the language. Chundikuli Girls’ College is the sister school of St. John’s College.  The two institutions are  a stone’s throw away from each other.  (Photo taken by this writer 2017)

 There came that inevitable moment in this young man’s life — as in the lives of all young men for generations before and after him — when his elders commenced discussions on his matrimonial prospects and the family matchmakers began screening potential candidates. The young lady presented for his consideration was Miss Anne Rose Thangamma Perinpanayagam, daughter of  a wealthy landowner, Joshua Perinpanayagam of Perinpanayagam Lane.   Miss Anne Rose’s hand was backed by the gleaming promise of a substantial dowry. 

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Joshua Perinpanayagam’s great grand children standing at the entrance to Perinpanayagam Lane, Chundikuli.  Left to right:  Suhanthi, Indramathy and Indranath, children of his grandson, Barnabas Albert Thambirajah Perinpanayagam (Courtesy Suhanthi Knower)

The dashing dandy, Charles Newton,  was permitted a glimpse of the wife-in-waiting before he agreed to the nuptials. Miss Anne Rose sat demurely in her chair, directly beside her brother, Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam’s wife.  Her sister-in-law, Rebecca Ponnamma (Danvers)  Perinpanayagam was a tall, pretty lady of striking appearance.  Charles, who did a walk-by and was allowed to take a quick look from a distance away, assumed that the attractive young matron, Rebecca Ponnamma, was the proposed bride-to-be.   

 

He  declared a definite, delighted, “Yes!”    

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Mistaken identity:  Anne Rose Thangamma (Perinpanayagam) Newton in her later years, circa 1950’s (courtesy Daniel Newton)
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and her brother’s wife –  Rebecca Ponnamma (Danvers) Perinpanayagam with her oldest          grandchild, Eric. Circa 1930’s.  (Courtesy Eric Perinpanayagam)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So the match was made, the details decided on.  The date was set. The next time Charles Newton set eyes on the woman he’d pledged to marry was at the altar at St John’s church in Chundikuli, as she walked up the aisle on her father’s arm.                 

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St John the Baptist Church (known as St John’s), Chundikuli, the stage for family weddings over several generations, rebuilt and modernized after the civil war (2017).

He was perturbed to note the stature of the veiled bride.  She appeared much shorter than he remembered.  Then, when guazy fabric was moved aside to enable the bridegroom to secure the traditional marriage thali around his bride’s neck, he observed that her skin was some shades darker than his recollection served him.  

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The thali is a rope of solid 24 carat gold that the Tamil groom places around the neck of the bride.  It has the same significance as the wedding ring.  The screws in the shape of clasped hands, once put in place at the altar by the bridegroom, are traditionally never undone.  In the old days several gold sovereigns were affixed to the necklace.  This was the woman’s wealth and her insurance in case of unexpected widowhood. The symbols on the Hindu and Christian thalis differ. (The thali in the picture with a Bible, a cross and an angel engraved on it, a smaller, simpler version of the traditional thali, belongs to this writer.  It was placed around her neck by her husband on her wedding day.)

 

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A solid rope of gold (the lower necklace) – the thali worn by this writer’s husband’s great grandmother (circa 1900s)

                                                                       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                             Too late for second thoughts …

They exchanged their vows and Charles MacArthur Thambithurai Newton and Anne Rose Thangamma Perinpanayagam entered the state of Holy Matrimony.  The pair were now man and wife. 

Oral family history recalls that the disgruntled new husband made no effort to hide his dissatisfaction.

“In those days, there were no honeymoons,” an elderly great-niece-by-marriage chuckles as she remembers the story her mother told her.  “They went straight home and were sent to their room.  He ignored her completely. The relatives had to intervene.  They told him it was too late to do anything now that the wedding was over.  They advised him to make the best of the situation.”

Her eyes gleam with amusement.  “They set the stage when he walked by.  He was tricked into agreeing to the marriage …”

Posterity will never find out who the culpable ‘they’ might be …

The circumstances surrounding the nuptials of this theatre-loving thespian was comic drama worthy of Oscar Wilde and others whose plays his students performed on the stage of his beloved school, St John’s College.

“What to do?” as the local saying goes — which really means … there’s no solution to the situation, so grin and bear it!

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A wedding photo taken outside St John’s Church, circa 1920’s.  This writer located the picture in the library of Chundikuli Girls’ College,  in an original copy of the school magazine from the 20’s/30’s (2017)

 Despite the inauspicious commencement to the marriage, the couple eased into a life of domestic comfort, although history doesn’t remember Anne Rose Newton as being a lady of exceptionally cheerful disposition.

In addition to several acres of paddy land that was part of her dowry, Joshua Perinpanayagam, Anne Rose’s father, presented his daughter with a handsome property in Forest Office Lane in the fashionable Jaffna suburb of Chundikuli. 

The neighbouring block of land was given by Joshua to his son, Samuel Alfred Chellathurai (Anne Rose’s brother, who married the pretty Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers).

At a time when homes were constructed of wattle-and-daub and coconut thatch, old Joshua Perinpanayagam, they say, built the first brick-and-tile residence in Jaffna – such was the vast extent of his wealth.   

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The entrance to Forest Office Lane (2017) (photo taken by this writer)
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A wattle-and-daub, coconut thatch building typical of the time (circa 1900’s)

 

 

 

 

Chundikuli, in the early nineteen hundreds, boasted modern homes with flower gardens and shady trees, built in the Dutch and colonial styles and was where the residence of the British Government Agent was situated. It was the posh part of town.  

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Old Dutch houses in Jaffna town, circa 1900’s
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War-damaged colonial home in Tellipalai (2017) (Photo taken by this writer)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Government Rest House, Jaffna (circa 1900)

Charles Newton built Old Park View on his wife’s dowry property.  It was a few minutes’ walk from Old Park, St John’s College and Chundikuli Girls’ College.  

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Old Park, Chundikuli, as it stands today.  The colonial Government Agent’s residence, known as the Kachcheri, was built on these sprawling grounds which he named Old Park.  He later opened the park to the public (photo taken by this writer, 2017)
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A child’s thoughts on Old Park, from the Chundikuli Girls’ College magazine, circa 1930s.  The old magazines, many falling apart, are accessible at the school library. (Photo taken by this writer, 2017)

 

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An artist’s view of the Kachcheri (the colonial Government Agent’s residence) in all its original grandeur.

 

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The ruins of the grand old Kachcheri, the Government Agent’s residence, bombed during the civil war. (Photo taken by this writer, 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles Newton was placed in charge of a satellite school of St John’s College in Urumbrai, which was later consolidated with the main school in Chundikuli. He also served as the college bursar.

Charles was a gregarious man.  He adored company.  Married to a woman who was famed as a great cook, he made every occasion an excuse for a party. Old Park View was a place of regular entertainment and his guests often received a gift at the end of an evening of jollification at his residence.  He marked the milestone of his fiftieth birthday with a special handkerchief that he presented to every gentleman who attended the celebration.

Charles was fond of animals and set up a mini zoo in the large grounds surrounding his house, with iron cages housing deer, peacocks and exotic birds.  Tales are told of Charles’ talking parrot and the pet squirrel who slept in his bed at night and answered to the name of Ganapathy.  (One sad morning the squirrel was found dead. The creature’s life was snuffed out when his sleeping master rolled over him.)

RIP little Ganapathy …

Charles delighted in agrarian pursuits and had dreams of planting every variety of fruit tree native to the island of Ceylon in the orchard around his home.  The juicy karuththa kolumban mangoes harvested on this property were, in later years, carefully boxed by Anne Rose and dispatched by overnight train to the grandchildren in Colombo.

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Typical wattle-and-daub and cadjan (coconut-thatch) homes in old Jaffna (circa 1900s)
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A shady, palm-lined lane in northern Ceylon, with an approaching bullock-drawn carriage (circa 1900’s)

Charles and Anne Rose Thangamma Newton had four children — two daughters and two sons — Grace Nesaratnam, Mercy Sugirtharatnam, Victor Joseph Jeyaratnam and Arthur Samuel Selvaratnam.  

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The Newtons of Old Park View, circa 1930s.  Left to right (seated):  Grace Nesaratnam (Newton) Aiyadore (expecting her first baby), Charles Newton, Anne Rose Thangamma (Perinpanayagam) Newton, Mercy Sugirtharatnam (Newton) Samuel (expecting her third child).  Standing: Victor Joseph Jeyaratnam (Newton).  Seated on the ground: Arthur Samuel Selvaratnam (Newton).  On Grandpa Charles’ lap: Ruby Ratnadevi , With Grandma’s arm on her: Pearl Ratnaranee (daughters of Mercy Sugirtharatnam) (Courtesy Rowena Landham)
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(2) Mercy Sugirtharatnam (Newton) Samuel (circa 1930’s)
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(1) Grace Nesaratnam (Newton) Aiyadore , circa 1960’s (Courtesy Ranji Ratnasingham)

 

 

 

 

 

 

     

 

 

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(4) Arthur Samuel  Selvaratnam Newton, circa 1950’s (courtesy Daniel Newton)
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(3) Victor Joseph Jeyaratnam (Newton)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the solemnization of the union between Charles and Anne Rose Thangamma, a marriage was arranged between Anne Rose’s brother, Joseph Alfred Thambirasa Perinpanayagam, and Charles’ sister, Jane Ponnamma Newton. These unions were termed inter-marriages, where a brother and sister were married to a brother and sister of another family. Such marriages forged strong family ties, lessened the pressure of dowry demands and kept property and wealth within clans.  

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Jane Ponnamma (Newton) Perinpanayagam (Charles Newton’s sister) with her husband, Joseph Alfred Thambirasa Perinpanayagam (Anne Rose Thangamma’s brother) and their only child, Barnabas Albert  Thambirajah, circa 1924 (courtesy Eric Perinpanayagam)

 

And now … what of Shadrak?   Remember him?

To the Newton household at Old Park View, for a short while in the early years of their marriage, so the story goes, came Shadrak Samuel, the young orphan from Vavuniya.  Anne Rose Thangamma (Perinpanayagam) Newton was Shadrak’s late mother’s first cousin. Her sister-in-law, Rebecca Ponnamma (Danvers) Perinpanayagam, was his aunt (his mother’s sister) who welcomed him into her home where he lived in the capital city of Colombo. 

Shadrak and his two brothers had been sent to Jaffna to be educated as wards of the Anglican Church.  The boys were fostered by various relatives while being schooled at Saint John’s college.  Shadrak was twelve years old when he made the bold, independent decision to terminate his formal education and take the long journey from the northern province to the south of the island of Ceylon, to seek his fortune and help support his siblings.   He might have been on a visit from Colombo some years later when the second Newton daughter, Mercy, was born.  The teen-aged Shadrak is reported to have held the infant in his arms.  

He would have been sixteen years old.  

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Charles Newton in the St John’s College Magazine.  This picture was included with his death announcemnt (1936) (Photo taken by this writer in 2017)
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The original copies of the St John’s College magazine are still available in the school library.  This writer found the photo of Charles Newton, her great grandfather, in the 1936 magazine from the bound compilation above.

 

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 Charles Newton memorial plaque in the St John’s College library. (Photo taken by this writer, 2017)
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Portrait of Dr. E. S. Thevasagayam, hanging at St John’s College in the gallery of former principals. Dr. Thevasagayam was the husband of Daisy, Charles Newton’s granddaughter, whose mother was Charles’ daughter, Grace Nesaratnam Aiyadore. Dr.  Thevasagayam, after retiring from a career in the UN, took up the postion of principal of St John’s College during the difficult civil war years.  He was a former student of the school.

 

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Handwritten burial records in the vestry of St John’s Church, Chundikuli, by means of which this writer was able to locate graves of ancestors.  Many records were lost when the church was bombed during the civil war.  There appeared to be no plans towards digitizing when this picture was taken by the writer in 2017.

                                                           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                  To be continued …      

   [ Click here  to read Part 4: The Newtons Of Old Park View. ]     

(Scroll down for details of geneologies and more pictures)       

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Geneologies of the Danvers / Perinpanayagam/  Newton / Samuel family lines —

(These geneologies were put together using notes from the archives of the late S.E.R. Perinpanaygam, courtesy Eric and Tim Perinpanayagam)

 

The family tree gets complex and tangled with several marriages within the Danvers, Perinpanayagam, Newton and Samuel lines. This writer created a detective-style board to unravel the convolutions …
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Helen Nesamma (Newton) Karthigesu (Charles Newton’s sister), and her husband, Sinnathamby Solomon Karthigesu (courtesy Charles Manickam)

 

 

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Danvers Family Line –

Kanthar married Thangam (circa 1790) and settled in Tellippalai.  They had 4 children. One son, Kathirgamar Danvers (b. 1809) graduated from the Tellipallai English boarding school and the converted to  the Christian faith in 1834.  

 

Kathirgamar Danvers fled to Pandeterruppu after the villagers, angry that he had turned away from his Hindu beliefs, burned down the Tellipallai Church.  The American missionary, Rev. Daniel Poor, arranged a marriage for him with Anna Saveriyal of Pandeterruppu, a student at Uduvil Girls’ School.

Kathirgamar and Anna Danvers had seven children – David, Jane Elizabeth, Daniel, Gabriel, Samuel, Solomon and Joseph.  

 

Their son, David Danvers, married Harriet Theivanei. Their daughter, Jane Elizabeth Danvers married Joshua Perinpanayagam (b. 1837) Their son, Solomon Danvers, married Thangam Vethanayagam (sister of Vethanyagam Subramaniam Samuel)  

 

The tomb of the missionary, Rev. Daniel Poor, in the Tellipalai Church yard.  (Photo taken by this writer, 2017)
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Plaque at the door of the Tellipalai Church (taken by this writer in 2017)

 

The American Missions Church in Tellipalai, rebuilt after the civil war. This was the church that was burned down in reaction to Kathirgarmar Danvers’ conversion to Christianity in 1834.  Plaque (as in picture above left) by the door. (Picture taken by this writer, 2017)
The refurbished tombs of the early American missionaries in the Tellipalai Church yard. (Picture taken by this writer, 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Danvers and Harriet Theivanei had three daughters – Mary Chellamma, Elizabeth Annamma and Rebecca Ponnamma.  

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Mary Chellamma Danvers married Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel. (Solomon Danvers, Mary’s uncle, married  Thangam Vethanayagam, her husband’s sister. Her uncle her became her brother-in-law.)

Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers married her cousin, Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam.

Elizabeth Annamma Danvers married Jacob Arumainayagam.  

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Geneology records from the Bible of Kathirgamar Davers’ great grandson, Solomon Chinnathamby Samuel.  This Bible survived war and immigration (courtesy Renee Jogananthan)

 

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Perinpanayagam Family Line –

Joshua Perinpanayagam married Jane Elizabeth Danvers (daughter of Kathirgamar Danvers, sister of David Danvers).

They had 2 sons and a daughter — Samuel Alfred Chellathurai (b. 1892), Anne Rose Thangamma and Joseph Albert Thambirasa (b. 1879)  

 

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Jane Ponnamma (Newton) Perinpanayagam (Charles Newton’s sister) with her husband, Joseph Alfred Thambirasa Perinpanayagam (Grandson of Joshua Perinpanayagam) in their latter years (circa 1960’s) (courtesy Suhanthi Knower)

 

Samuel Alfred Chellathurai Perinpanayagam married Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers.

Anne Rose Thangamma married Charles MacArthur Thambithurai Newton (b. 1883).

Joseph Albert Thamirasa (b. 1879) married Jane Ponnamma Newton (sister of Charles Newton).          

 

 

 

 

Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam and Rebecca Danvers had three sons – Stephen Edgar Rasasingham (b. 1908), Donald Edwin Balasingham (b. 1909) and George Walter Kulasingham (b. 1912).  Donald died in infancy. Their adopted daughter, Anna May Gnanamanie died in her teens.  

 

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Samuel Family Line –

   

Vethanayagam (from Kaithady) married Seeniachchi (from Urumpirai).  They had 9 children – 6 daughters and 3 sons.

Their son, Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel married Mary Chellamma Danvers.

Their daughter, Thangam Vethanayagam married Solomon Danvers (Mary Chellamma Danvers’ paternal uncle).  

 

Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel and Mary Chellamma Danvers settled in Vavuniya.

They had 6 children – 3 sons and 3 daughters – (1) Sarah Chinnamma, (2) Subramaniam Vethanayagam Chelliah, (3) Shadrak Chinniah, (4) Elizabeth Thangamma, (5) Anna Chinnathangam and (6) Solomon Chinnathamby.

Sara Chinnamma Samuel married David Sinniah Kanagaratnam.

Subramanian Vethanyagam Chelliah married Annam (neé?).

Shadrak Chinniah married Mercy Sugirtharatnam Newton.

Elizabeth Thangamma married Godwin Wesley Sittampalam.

Anna Chinnathangam married Albert Kathapoo.

Solomon Chinnathamby married Mercy Atputhanayagam Gnanaratnam.  

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More beautifully handwritten  records from the Bible of Kathirgamar Davers’ great grandson, Solomon Chinnathamby Samuel.  This Bible survived war and immigration (courtesy Renee Jogananthan, Solomon’s daughter)

Shadrak Chinniah Samuel married Mercy Sugirtharatnam Newton.

They had 6 children – (1) Pearl Ratnaranee, (2) Ruby Ratnadevi, (3) Peter Ratnarajah, (4) Daniel Ratnadeva, (5) Beatrice Ratnajothy and (6) Elizabeth Ratnamalar

A seventh child, Bertie, didn’t survive childhood.  

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Newton Family Line –

Gladwin Ponniah Newton (son of Robert Newton and his wife, a Miss Phillips) married Victoria Valliamma.

They had 6 children – (1) Charles MacArthur Thambithurai , (2) Jane Ponnamma (who married Joseph Albert Thambirasa Perinpanayagam), (3) Isaac Alagaiah, (4) Ranji , (5) Julia Rasamma and (6) Helen Nesamma .  

 

Charles MacArthur Thambithurai Newton married Anne Rose Thangamma Perinpanayagam.

They had 4 children – (1) Grace Nesaratnam, (2) Mercy Sugirtharatnam, (3) Victor Joseph Jeyaratnam and (4) Arthur Samuel Selvaratnam.

Grace Nesaratnam Newton married Muthuvelu Fred Aiyadore.

Mercy Sugirtharatnam married Shadrak Chinniah Samuel.

Victor Joseph Jeyaratnam Newton married Selvamalar Thayalam Arulampalam.

Arthur Samuel Selvaratnam married Thangam (née?)  

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The David the Sexton trying to locate our ancestors’ graves (photo taken by this writer, 2017)
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David, the Sexton of St John’s Church, Chundikulli, unlocking the gate to the little church graveyard (photo taken by this writer, 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The little cemetery in the St John’s churchyard where some of the ornate, Victorian-style tombs have been refurbished after the war, while others are disintegrating into crumbling mounds of rubble. On this site, the writer and her husband  discovered the graves of ancestors and others on their respective family trees –

 

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Native Christian pastors and preachers in Jaffna, circa 1917                    (courtesy Dr. R.P. Rajakone)

Tell Me The Story, Daddy!

“Tell me about Singapore,” I said.  “During the war. When you were a child.” Dad set his fork down, a rush of memories spilling into his eyes.

 

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The famous Raffles hotel, Singapore,  playground of the colonial elite,  circa 1920 (Google images)
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High Street, Singapore in 1945, just before the outbreak of WW2 (Google images)

 

“My father was a radio communications officer.  He worked for the British government in Singapore …”

 

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I don’t remember Grandpa James who died days after my first birthday.
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A WW2 radio communications officer (Google images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“He was a highly intelligent man, but he had a volatile temper!  He was my hero, though it was frightening to live with someone like that. He flew into a rage one day and struck me with the radio wires he was working with.  My mother had to apply a hot fomentation on my back for days until the marks subsided. I don’t remember my mother ever cuddling or kissing me. But there was plenty of food. A laden table.  She was a good cook.  My father was a hospitable man. The house was always filled with people and she fed them gladly.

 

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James and Violet. Grandpa James was part of the diaspora of English-educated Ceylon Tamils who were wooed into coveted government posts in colonial Malaya and Singapore.  He sailed home for a brief visit  when an inter-marriage was arranged for him and his sister.  Grandpa James wedded my grandmother, Violet;  grandma Violet’s brother married Grandpa’s sister, Fanny. 
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Dad’s older brother, Rigby, was born in 1935. Dad arrived thirteen months later. Granny Violet had three children during the Malaya/ Singapore years.  Dad grew up speaking Malay and Chinese.

 

“We lived in a sprawling home on Mount Rosie, surrounded by a large compound. I remember climbing fruit trees and playing for hours outside.”

 

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An old colonial home on Mount Rosie Road (circa 1940’s) which matches Dad’s description of the home he lived in as a child (Google images)
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Mount Rosie Road — the current street sign (Google images)

 

“The Japanese considered their monarch a god.  They worshipped him as such.

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Screaming headlines (Google images)

 

The West was distracted by Hitler and Stalin.  It was the perfect time for the Japanese to leap in with their own agenda.  They worked their way through the East, carving out an empire …”  

 

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Map of the Japanese Empire in 1942 (Google images)

 

“When the Japs bombed Pearl Harbour, the Americans got involved.  This was the beginning of the Pacific War.”

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Hawaii 1941.  US Soldiers watching the explosion after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. (Google Images)

  “The tanks rolled into Singapore.

 

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Japanese troops storm the shores of Singapore (Google images)

 

Headlines screamed.

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Singapore surrenders (Google images)
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Screaming headlines (Google images)
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Singapore: the newest feather in the cap of the Japanese Empire (Google images)
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Invaders patrol Singapore streets (Google images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was one of the worst defeats in British military history …

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The fall of Singapore was one of  Britain’s greatest military defeats.  The 1942 battle ended with 140,00 troops and citizens of Singapore captured, wounded or killed.  Around 80,000 British, Indian and Australian troops based in Singapore became prisoners of war.
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POWs in the Changi Prison, Singapore WW2 (Google images)

 

 

“Pretty much everyone was labelled a traitor.  They shipped them off to POW camps.  By the thousands.”           

    

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Singapore surrenders, 1942 (Google images) 

 

“So how did Grandpa survive, Dad?” I asked. Dad’s tone was matter-of-fact. “My father worked for the Japanese,” he said. My jaw dropped.                                  

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Sword held high, ready to strike.  Japanese officer, Singapore, 1940s (Google images)

“After the surrender of Singapore, the Japanese generals stood at our doorstep with drawn swords.  They threatened to cut off his head if he didn’t work for them.  There was no other option.”     “On our way to school, we’d see rows of traitors’ heads impaled on the walls.”

 

 

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POWs who were used as targets in practice had their heads blown off (Google images)
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Katana (Samurai) swords laid out in rows.  They were long, curved, single-bladed and could slice a man in half. (Google images)

 

“The Japs began losing ground after America entered the war with a powerful fleet of fighter planes and bombers.  I remember them.  There were the B-27s, B-23s, B-24s and B-26s.”

 

propagandaposter
Anti-American propaganda (Google images)
japwarposter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Chinese and Japanese were hostile to each other. If the Chinese had been for the Japanese, the Americans would never have won the war.”

 

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American bombers (Google images

“I remember watching the Japanese bombers flying overhead in formation with anti-aircraft units hot in pursuit.” “The air raid sirens could go off at any time of day and you were supposed to seek shelter immediately in the bunker, under a staircase, or under furniture.  Our bunker was in the basement of the house.”

 

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Singaporeans waiting out an air raid in a bunker (Google images)

 

“I remember the dog fights in the air, when the Japanese bombers came in V-formation and the American fighter planes went after them.”

 

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Japanese boat plane (Google images)
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Japanese fighter plane (Google images)

 

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Aerial dogfight, WW2 (Google images)
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American ground forces observing the wake created by aerial dogfights.  Pacific War (Google images)“  
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Tail pointing upwards.  Downed warplane (Singapore) and gaping onlookers.  (Google images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I stood outside one day and watched as a Japanese plane got shot down.  It caught fire and made a nose-dive to the ground.  It crashed into our compound, its tail pointing upwards.  There was a huge crater in the ground. 

After the flames burned out, the gardener ran up.  He was an eccentric Indian man.  We were all convinced he was mad. He dragged the dead airman out, pulled off his boots and pillaged the corpse.  He pocketed the wrist watch and searched for gold fillings in the teeth. Then I saw the allied planes pass overhead – massive aircraft, gleaming in the sun.  You could hear them from miles away.”

 

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Allied planes. Massive aircraft, gleaming in the sun … (Google images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

“One day my father was shaving upstairs, when a shell came flying in through the bathroom window and rolled down the staircase.  Thank God it didn’t explode.    Our home was like a refugee camp for the Ceylon Tamil community – injured boys and girls were brought there.  Providentially, Mount Rosie was never bombed.”

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Singaporean students being taught Japanese, circa 1940s (Google images)

“We attended an Anglo-Chinese school.  There was a Tamil priest on the teaching staff.  The Singaporean teachers were compelled to learn Japanese and then teach it to their students.” “Our formal schooling was sporadic through the war years.  English was forbidden.

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A Japanese class with soldiers in attendance, Singapore, circa 1940s (Google images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My father taught us in the basement bunker at night. 

We had to memorize poetry and I was able to read far beyond my years. I remember reciting The boy stood on the burning deck …    

The Japanese soldiers had funny uniforms – long, long khaki shorts and hats with elongations at the back from the brims, covering their necks.”

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Dad’s amazing power of recollection: “The officers wore white shirt, khaki jacket and leather boots”. And the long swords he described … (Google images)
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Japanese soldiers wearing long khaki shorts and hats with “long extensions at the back”.  I was amazed at Dad’s accurate description, culled from his memories from over 75 years ago. (Google images) 

                   

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The officers wore white shirt, khaki jacket and leather boots.  I remember coming down the hill, one particular day, where the school was situated.  There were steps going up the hill to the school building. The students were all lined up on either side of the road to greet and wave flags at visiting Japanese army dignitaries.  They came in a convoy of lorries and military vehicles.  A boy standing across the street called out to me.  Without thinking, I dashed across the road to reach him, cutting through the oncoming parade.  A lorry hit me and I was knocked unconscious.  They drove on.  They didn’t stop.  The entire convoy passed over me. 

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“They didn’t stop.  The entire convoy passed over me …” (Google images)

When the parade was done, the Tamil priest — the teacher from my school – picked me up and took me to the government hospital.  Miraculously, there was no serious injury and I recovered.” “How old were you, Dad?” I queried. “I must have been about 7 or 8.” “That was nothing short of divine providence,” I commented. Dad nodded.  “Yes,” he said. “And I used to collect all the shells and metal fragments I found lying around. That was my hobby.”

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Grandma Violet looking fine, wearing a saree (1961)

 

 

“My mother carried her jewellery in a pouch tied around her waist, under her saree.  She finally buried it all outside in the garden.  When the war was over she wasn’t able to find the spot to dig it back up.” “You mean she lost all her jewellery?” I asked. Dad shrugged.  “Many people buried their valuables and never found them again.”     “The Americans bombed Singapore before the Japs surrendered.  I remember Singapore harbour up in flames.”

 

 

 

 

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Inferno.  American forces bomb Singapore, 1945 (Google images)
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Singapore harbour in flames, 1945 (Google images)

 

D-Day came and the Germans surrendered, but the Japanese hung on until the American bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  That was when they finally gave in.

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Mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan officially surrendered on September 12, 1945 after the US military dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.  About 200,000 people died in the horrific aftermath of these nuclear explosions (Google images)

Japan would never had surrendered if not for the atom bomb.  America was the only nuclear power in the world at the time.    The bombs were dropped two days apart.”

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Singapore is signed back over to the British, September 1945 (Google images)
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The British return to Singapore, 1945 (Google images)

             

 

 

 

 

My father had a radio hidden in the basement.  He tuned in at night to listen to the BBC news.  There was no other way of knowing how the war was progressing.  Suddenly one day, the war was over.  Everything fell silent.  The Japanese forces vanished.    

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The Union Jack flies at full mast over liberated Singapore, 1945 (Google images)
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The allied troops roll back in to Singapore, 1945 (Google images)

“A Ceylonese Burgher gentleman who was a friend of my father’s  – his name was Mr. Garth, an educated man, slightly brownish in complexion — ended up in a Japanese POW camp.  After we knew for sure that the war was over, my father took me with him to the POW camp.  I remember sitting  in the car as we drove there.  The camp was a place of the living dead.  Men, women and children had been starved and made to do hard labour.  We found Mr. Garth.  He had been a prisoner for four years. He was plain skin and bones.  We brought him back home. My mother had cooked a good meal and set it on the table.  Mr. Garth sat and stared at the food for quite awhile.  Then he ate slowly, savouring every mouthful.   He saved the boiled egg for the last.”

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Plain skin and bones.  A starving POW, Singapore, circa 1940s (Google images)
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Parade of prisoners in a Japanese POW camp (Google images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The war ended in September 1945. 

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Rejoicing survivors (young boys in their midst) exit the Changi prison camp, Singapore, 1945 (Google images)
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Rows of Katana swords after the surrender of Singapore at the end of the war (Google images)
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Captors now captive … Japanese forces being guarded by Indian troops in Singapore, 1945 (Google images)

 

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Captors captive. Japanese soldiers being hauled off to POW camps,  Singapore 1945 (Google images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The British returned. Many Ceylon Tamils who lived in Burma had walked to South India to escape the invasion.  They were found and rescued. Everything was in a mess.  A new administrative system had to be set up. All residents of Singapore had to get their British citizenship renewed.  Those who were not originally from Singapore were given the option of staying or receiving a free passage back to the country of their birth.  Mother wanted to stay, but Father had no choice.    He had worked for the Japanese during the war years and was declared a traitor to the British Empire.  His name was on a formal list of Traitors To The Empire that appeared in the newspapers directly after the war ended. The British arranged for our repatriation.  We travelled in a massive ship which had been used as a troop carrier during the war.  It was called the SS Arundel Castle.”

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The SS Arundel Castle. I was delighted to find a picture of the liner and amazed at the accuracy of Dad’s recollection.  (Google images)

 

Our passage was paid and they provided us with clothing and food.  With a load of over one thousand passengers – all Ceylon Tamils – the vessel set sail soon after the war was over.  The voyage lasted five to six days before we docked at Colombo harbour.   I remember being loaded onto a boat and coming ashore, where there was a big reception committee awaiting the home-comers. 

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Colombo harbour, circa 1940’s (Google images)

My mother’s sister’s daughter — my cousin, Mabel — came to meet us at the dock.  We slept the night at her home in Maradana and caught the train to Batticoloa  the next day.”

 

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Maradana Railway Station (Google images)
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The journey by rail from  the west coast of the island of Ceylon to Batticoloa on the eastern shoreline.
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In the land of their ancestors.  Rumbling through the countryside on British-built rails …  (Google images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At breakfast the next morning, a heavy-eyed Dad informed me that he hadn’t had much sleep the previous night. “The horrible scenes kept playing in my head,” he said. I picked another subject for that evening’s conversation.  A year and a half in later, after the birth of his youngest child — a son — Grandpa James returned to Singapore.  He approached the British authorities in anticipation of being reinstated into his former civil service post. Representatives of His Majesty’s government grimly reminded my grandfather that his name was etched on the infamous traitor list. They concurred that Grandpa’s only other choice would have led to the instant annihilation of himself and his young family. They graciously granted him a pension for his service to the British Empire.  Then they showed him the door. Grandpa sailed back to his native Ceylon.  He disembarked at the port of  Colombo and rode the railway back to Batticoloa in the east, where his wife had inherited extensive acreages of profitable paddy land.  

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An old steam train (1940’s Ceylon) rattling its way around the island on an efficient network of railways that still remains in use (Google images)

The new baby symbolized the end of an era in their lives. Old dreams dead and buried, life commenced anew and in earnest. The three youngsters, foreigners in the land of their parents’ birth, were constrained to learn a fifth language. English, Malay, Chinese, Japanese and now … Tamil.

 

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Settling in nicely.  Dad in his teens some years later, thriving in academics and sports, sporting his trademark moustache and burgeoning film-star looks. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If Grandpa was granted his pardon, if Granny obtained her heart’s desire, Dad wouldn’t have met Mum and allied himself with a new country and people.   And I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.     

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Looking good at 82.  Dad at Christmas service, 2017

 

 

An interesting thought which strengthens my conviction in the knowledge that life is directed by an unseen hand.  A hand that masterfully orchestrates circumstances in such a manner as to bring an undeniable destiny to pass.  With one hundred percent accuracy.                                     

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                             Until next time,      

       

sincerely

 

P.S. Dad meets his bride in Matchmaker, Matchaker! (click here) FOLLOW THIS BLOG (Go to Follow button below or on side bar or click here)

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Widow’s Dilemma: Our Present Past (2)

Click here to read Our Present Past (1)

Life changed with the grisly demise of her husband, Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel. In ways Mary Chellamma never imagined. The breadwinner struck down in his prime, she was left alone to raise month-old twins amongst six young children. There was neither time, nor expertise to tend the land which was the family’s only source of income.

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Rice farmers in Ceylon in the early 1900s, clad in loin cloths and driving buffalo yoked to hand-crafted ploughs.  Similar scenes are still to be seen in rural parts of the island (now Sri Lanka) (Google images)

Mary turned in desperation to her brother-in-law, her husband’s brother, who cultivated rice and raised cattle on the adjoining property.   He agreed to take on the management of her farm. Mary was relieved to be rid of the burden.

Blood is thicker than water, after all, and they were neighbours …

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Rice (paddy) cultivation in the early 1900s – back-breaking manual labour.  The same primitive methods are still in  practice in certain rural areas of the island. (Google images)

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Woman of faith: Grandma Harriet Danvers, wife of David Danvers (who was the son of Kathirgamar Danvers, the first convert to Christianity in the family line)

Harriet (Theivanei) Danvers – Mary’s mother, the children’s maternal grandmother – a widow herself, lived in her own home, a stone’s throw away. This pious woman was a bottomless reservoir of strength.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw evangelical activity at its height in northern Ceylon.  The numerous schools and hospitals in the region bore witness to the presence and commitment of the American and British missionaries. Mary Chellammah, a young woman still, found employment with the CMS Missionaries in the area, who offered her a position as nurse’s aide at the local missions hospital.

 

 

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The Misses Leitch ( AMSmissionaries) with Tamil converts in Jaffna.  Foreign missionaries did not venture into the untamed Vavuniya area (wary of both inhabitants and jungle animals). Mary would have been assisted by native Christians, who were sent to serve in this region (courtesy, Google images) American missionaries in Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka, where the Samuel family originally hailed from (courtesy Tishan Mills, ceylontamils.com)

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Northern provinces of Ceylon (highlighted) Vethanayagam Samuel relocated from the Jaffna province (shaded pink) to Vavuniya in the Vanni region (shaded brown)

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Bullock carts, a bull trussed up for branding,and  a young boy with branding iron in hand. (circa 1900’s, Google images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disaster struck again.   Neighbour-brother-in-law turned perfidious predator and assumed ownership of the widow’s property.  By unscrupulous means he had changes were made to the the title deeds and the cattle were re-branded accordingly.

Grandma Harriet – Paatti to the little ones – was a woman of prayer and unshakeable faith.  She was known to sit in her house for hours by herself, lost in prayer. Her hands one upon the other, palms facing heavenwards, she pleaded with tears for heaven’s favour. 

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Aunty Paranidhy (Anna Chinnathangam’s daughter) recalls the stories her mother told her. She shows me how her great grandmother Harriet’s hands reached heavenwards in prayer.

Subramaniam Vethanayagam (S.V.) Chelliah, her oldest grandson, looked in through an open window one day, and heard the old lady praying out loud in Tamil: “Heavenly Father, what am I to do about these children?  Open the windows of heaven and bless them, I pray.” (“Aandavaney, intha sinna kulanthaihalodu naan enne seivan?  Vaananthin palahanhelai thiranthu intha chiruvarhalai aasirwathiyum.”)

Irreverently tickled by the pious woman’s fervour, Chelliah summoned his brothers and sisters to witness the peep-show. The amused youngsters gawked at their grandmother while she made her petition to the unseen Almighty.

“Look at how her hands are open and reaching upwards,” he snorted with  laughter.  “She’s waiting for heaven to open and blessings to fall into them.”

The yield from the land continued to be purloined by the greedy uncle. Mary and her little ones lived in a home, which, according to the doctored deeds, was theirs no more.

Life was a struggle. 

The stuff that ugly fairy tales are made of …

When the twins – Solomon and Anna – were six years old, Mary Chellammah took ill and was confined to her bed. Grandma Harriet, who carried on as best she could, was out of earshot when young Chelliah complained, “The food is not good (chaapadu chari illai).”

“Be patient, my son,” his ailing mother urged. “I’ll be up and about to cook tasty meals for my children (porungo rasa, naan elumbitu wanthu, nalai chamaichchu kudukiren pillaihalukku)

Mary was unable to keep her promise.  Fate struck another foul blow when she succumbed to her illness and died a short while later. The six fatherless offspring of Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel  were now orphans.

Grandma Harriet – was left to raise the children on her own.

The children became unofficial wards of the Anglican Church.              

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The Anglican Church of the Holy Spirit, Vavuniya, where the family would probably have worshipped.

Elizabeth Thangamma, who showed no particular interest in academic learning, was constrained to give up her schooling in order to remain at home and help cook and care for her siblings.

The boys were fostered out to benevolent families in Jaffna, sixty miles north of Vavuniya. The providential intervention of the church enabled them to continue their education at the reputed CMS Missions boys’ school, St. John’s College , Chundikuli (Jaffna).

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St. John’s College, Jaffna, as it stands at present, renovated and reconstructed after the civil war

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Jaffna town is approxiamtely 60 miles north of Vavuniya

On Shadrack Chinniah’s twelfth birthday he received a letter from his grandmother (who remained in Vavuniya with his sisters), mailed to his new address in Jaffna.  The single sheet of notepaper was laced with weighty words of blessing written  in the Tamil language. 

Granny wrote: May you, little one, go from strength to strength, and become a millionaire (Chinnavan aigiramum siriyavan palaththa seemanum aavaan).

This birthday proved to be a milestone marking the end of Shadrack’s formal schooling.  He bade farewell to Saint John’s College where he learned to read, write and speak with the polish and ability of a highly educated individual.    His dreams lay beyond the confines of the arid northern province, far away in the colonial metropolis of Colombo.

The landscape shifted from dusty-dry to lush-verdant as the tracks snaked inland and the train rattled on its way, two hundred miles down to the capital city in the south of Ceylon.

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A steam train speeds along the British-built coastal railway lines of early 1900s Ceylon (courtesy Google images)

In his shirt pocket, pressed to his heart, was the precious birthday letter.

The memory of his mother grazed his thoughts. The grim ghost of his uncle’s unthinkable actions haunted these quiet moments.  

Shadrak pressed his face to the train window.  Coconut-thatch huts and green fields flew by.                                                                    The new life beckoned.                     

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Mary Chellamma (Danvers) Samuel, young mother of Sarah Chinnamma, S.V. Chelliah, Shadrack Chinnathamby, Elizabeth Thangamma, Anna Chinnathangam and Solomon Chinniah.    

World War I was still to come.

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the wide, wide world.  Dam Street, Colombo, circa 1900 ((Google images)

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Geneology of the Danvers and Samuel lines

Danvers family line

 * Kanthar married Thangam and had 4 children – 2 sons and 2 daughters (Circa 1790)
 * Their son, Kathirgamar Danvers (born 1809) married Anna Saveriyal.

 

*  Kathirgamar and Anna Danvers had 7 (8 ?) children – only 1 daughter
           David, Jane, Daniel, Gabriel, Samuel, Solomon & Joseph.

 

* David Danvers married Harriet Theivanai
* David and Harriet Danvers had 3 children, all daughters.
      Mary Chellammah, Elizabeth Annamma & Rebecca Ponnamma

 

* Mary Chellammah Danvers married Subramanium Vethanayagam Samuel
* Mary Chellammah Danvers and Subramaniam Vethanayagam Samuel had 3 sons and 3 daughters –
      Sarah Chinnamah, Subramaniam Vethanayagam Chelliah, Shadrack Chinniah, Elizabeth Thangamma , Solomon Chinniah and Anna Chinnathangam

 

 *Elizabeth Annamma Danvers married Jacob Arumainyayagam
  *Rebecca Ponnama Danvers married Samuel Alfred Chelladurai Perinpanayagam
* Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers and Samuel Alfred Chelladurai Perinpanayagam had 2 sons –
Stephen Edgar Rasasingham and George Walter Kulasingham

Samuel family line –

Illanganayagar Udaiyar of Kaithady – Vethanayagam married: Seeniachi of Urumpirai
They had 6 daughters and 3 sons which included
* Subramanium Vethanayagam Samuel who married Mary Chellammah Danvers 
          &
  Thangam Vethanayagam who married Solomon Danvers (Son of Kathirgamar Danvers and Anna see above)
(From the archives of the late S.E.R. Perinpanayagam, courtesy Eric and Tim Perinpanayagam)

(Click here to read Our Present Past 3: Anna Goes To School)

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Our Present Past (1)

“So what do you want to know?” she enquired.

“Everything,” I replied.

She chuckled. “Okay.  How much information do you have already?”

“Bits and pieces.  There’s a newspaper clipping  …”

“What does it say?”

“According to Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam who wrote an article which was published in the Morning Star, a young man named Kadirgamar Danvers from Tellipalai was baptized into the Christian faith in 1835. The villagers, angered by the conversion, burned the local church down.  Danvers fled to the village of Panditherruppu, where he met and married Anna Saveriyal.”

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A clipping of the article by Rev. Donald Kanagratanam published in 1981 in the Morning Star (courtesy Eric Perinpanayagam).  The Morning Star was the oldest English newspaper in Jaffna, established by the American missionaries in 1841.

“There was a lot of missionary activity in Panditherruppu at the time.  They were more tolerant towards the converts,” she explained.

Tellipilai Church, Jaffna
The American Mission Church in Tellipalai, Jaffna (prior to civil war damage and reconstruction)

“According to Rev. Canagaratnam, Kadirgamar Danvers and Anna had seven children.  One of them was Solomon Danvers,who trained as a medical practitioner under the famous Dr. Green of Manipay.  An old Bible geneology that came into my possession recently, makes mention of only four offspring.”  

The children of Kadirgamar and Anna Danvers (as recorded in the Bible of Solomon Samuel, their great grandson) –

  • David Danvers (married Harriet  Theivanei)
  • Solomon Danvers (married Thangam Vethanayagam)
  • Jane Elizabeth Danvers (married Joshua Perinpanayagam)
  • Gabriel Danvers (married Mary Santiago)

 David Danvers (son of Kadirgamar and Anna) married Harriet Theivanei.

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Victoria Harriet (Theivenei) Danvers  (courtesy Vasanthi Narendran)
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1. Gabriel Danvers and wife, Mary (nee Santiago)     2.  Gabriel’s son and wife – Alfred Muttiah Danvers and Archimuttu – with their daughter  3. Albert Seevaratnam Danvers and his sister, Muttamma, children of Gabriel’s brother, Solomon Danvers (from notes by the late Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam)

The children of David and Harriet Danvers –

  • Mary Chellammah Danvers (married Vethanayagam Samuel)
  • Elizabeth Annamma Danvers (married Jacob Arumainayagam)
  • Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers (married Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam)

 “Mary Chellammah married Vethanayagam Samuel, who was your great grandfather,” she said.  “Her sister, Rebecca Ponnamma, married Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam. Samuel Alfred’s father was Joshua Perinpanayagam, who married Jane Elizabeth Danvers, (the daughter of Kadirgamar and Anna), David Danvers’ sister.”

My head begins to swim in a muddle of recurring last names …

“Ah … so that’s the Perinpanayagam connection.  And Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers and Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam were first cousins,” I commented.  “There’s a connection to the Newtons, too, I noticed …”

Mary Chellamma (Danvers) Samuel

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Samuel Alfred and Rebecca Ponnamma (nee Danvers) Perinpanayagam (courtesy Eric Perinpanayagam)

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Samuel Alfred Chelladurai Perinpanayagam, at age 25 (born 1872)
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Family tree notes from the files of S.E.R. Perinpanayagam (son of Rebecca Ponnamma and Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam) (Courtesy Thavo Perinpanayagam)
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Samuel Alfred and Rebecca (Danvers) Perinpanayam with their children and Rebecca’s mother, Harriet (Theivanei) Danvers (from the archives of the late Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam)

“There have been Danvers/Perinpanayagam/ Newton marriages over a few generations,” she replied. “My mother told me the old stories.  Now I can pass them on to you and they won’t die with me. I’m so happy you are doing this.” 

Her eyes grew misty.

I’m visiting the Colombo home of Aunty Paranidhi, Mum’s cousin.  We’ve just met for the first time.  She responds with ease to my barrage of questions  …

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Aunty Paranidhi, a goldmine of ancecstral history.  I managed to snatch two more visits during my brief stay in Colombo.

My journey of inquiry commenced shortly after        Mum’s funeral in 2015, when I came across a battered copy of a formal family portrait from the 1930’s.

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The photograph that began it all.  Shadrack Samuel, wife Mercy (nee Newton) and their children, taken before the birth of their youngest child, Elizabeth.  Left to right: Ruby, Pearl, Dan (seated), Peter. Beatrice is the toddler held by her father.

Faded photos on relatives’ Facebook pages – fascinating pictures of men and women from generations gone by – fanned curiosity to a compelling flame. 

The search began. 

I embarked on a voyage of e-mails, long distance calls and some stamped, addressed pieces of snail mail. Pictures, obituary notices, genealogies and newspaper clippings poured in from all corners of the globe.  Through Facebook introductions, Whats App texts and hand-written letters, relatives contacted each other on my behalf, and people I’d only heard of by name leapt onto the ancestry bandwagon.

An inundation of images and information descended on me.  Tantalizing clues, fascinating glimpses into a bygone colonial culture and whispers of a skeleton or two in the ancestral cupboards. Riveting.  The stuff bestselling novels are made of.

The first stop on the trail led me to Wellawatte (Colombo, Sri Lanka) and Aunty Paranidhi.  Her eyesight is almost non-existent, but her mind is razor-sharp, her recollection flawless. I see pieces of my mother in the facial features.  The family resemblance is evident. 

My pen flies across the pages of the notebook I balance on my lap …

“So Mary Chellammah – David and Harriet Danvers’ daughter – was given in marriage to Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel.  He was a farmer who owned land in Urumbrai – 

Vethanayagam Samuel and Mary Chellammah had six children –

  • Sarah Chinnamah (married David Sinniah Kanagaratnam)
  • Subramaniam Vethanayagam Chelliah (married Annam)
  • Shadrack Chinniah Samuel (married Mercy Sugirtharatnam Newton)
  • Elizabeth Thangamma (married Godwin Wesley Sittampalam)
  • Anna Chinnathangam (married Albert Kanthapoo)
  • Solomon Chinnatamby Samuel (married Mercy Atputhanayagam Gnanaratnam)
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Subramaniam V. Chelliah

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Rebecca Ponnamma

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Elizabeth Thangamma

Shadrak Chinniah

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Anna Chinnathangam
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Solomon Chinnathamby

“Aunty Renee found handwritten notes in her father’s Bible  – that’s the Bible I mentioned.  She sent me scanned copies of the geneologies recorded on the fly leaf.  My heart almost stopped when I saw how the entries confirm the details set out in Uncle Donald’s article.  Just imagine, how information from a source in Australia confirms the data acquired from another source in Western Canada! Within weeks of each other.  It has to be providence!”

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Handwritten family records from great uncle Solomon Samuel’s Bible

“Your interest is inspiring,” she commented. “No one seems to care about these things these days. Renee is Solomon Chinnathamby’s daughter. He had ten children.  She is my first cousin.”

 “Yes, I know. I remember great uncle Solomon Samuel and the annual Christmas visits to his home in Mutwal. 

“Anna and Solomon were twins,” she continued.  “Shadrack Chinniah was your grandfather.  Anna Chinnathangam was my mother.  And Rebecca Chinnammah was the mother of Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam who wrote the article you told me about.  He was my cousin and your mother’s.”

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Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam (standing) with his sisters and mother, Rebecca Ponnamma

“According to the genealogy in the Bible, Anna Saveriyal – Kadirgamar Danvers’ wife – was a Bible Woman,” I noted.

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Bible Woman, circa late 1800 – early 1900’s.

“Bible women worked among the women in the village.  They visited the homes, shared the gospel of their faith and cared for them,” she explained.

A group of Bible Women (1910), Bibles in hand. (Courtesy ceylontamils.com)

“I remember your mother,” I said. “We called her Asai Granny. She came to stay with us once when I was about seven years old.  I remember the glasses and the white hair knotted at the back of her head.  She taught me how to make a rag rug with strips of leftover material and a hairpin.  I never forgot that.”

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Anna Chinnathangam (Asai Granny) as I remember her

Aunty picks up the threads of her narrative …

“Vethanayagam Samuel, a successful farmer, wanted more land.  After the birth of his two oldest children, he relocated his family to Vavuniya in the undeveloped Vanni region of the northern province of Jaffna.  In those days, people of the Vanni were considered wild and uncouth, even the British avoided the area, so land was dirt cheap. Samuel disposed of his property in Urumbirai, and with the proceeds from the sale, invested in several acres in Vavuniya. He built a house for his growing family and began to cultivate the land.

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Jaffna province in northern Sri Lanka (Ceylon)

Once established and beginning to prosper, Samuel encouraged his brother and family move to Vavuniya and make a new life for themselves. The brother sold his land in Urumbrai and purchased the stretch of property adjoining Samuel’s fields. The families became neighbours.

Vethanayagam Samuel distinguished himself as a prominent citizen and earned the respect of his peers.  He was appointed chairman of the village council, which was a position of authority and responsibility.

The were no proper roads in the region.  Daily journeys on foot could involve traversing stretches of jungle inhabited by snakes and wild animals.  Legend has it that Samuel was skilled in the art of herbal medicine and would venture into the jungle in search of plants for his potions.

The farming life called for disciplined manual labour.  The older children, still all under ten, had to wake up at dawn each day to perform assigned chores.

Sarah Chinnammah had the unenviable job of cleaning out the cattle shed.  One morning she pretended to be asleep and refused to be roused.  Her father, whose task it was to wake her up, finally declared, “If my child is really asleep, her feet will move.”

Rebecca reacted as expected and wiggled her toes.  She received a spanking for her naughtiness and was shooed out of bed to complete her daily task.

The twins – Anna and Solomon – were born in Vavuniya.  During the pregnancy, an astrologer made a grim proclamation.  He declared that the birth would not be a good omen and would bring about the untimely demise of both parents (Samuel and Mary).

Solomon showed no signs of life when he was born.  The midwife placed the tiny body on a banana leaf outside on the open verandah of the home and rushed back inside to attend to the mother who had gone into labour with a second baby – a twin – whose appearance was an unexpected surprise.  Rebecca, the oldest child, sat beside the lifeless form of her new little brother, shedding tears over the loss.  Providence intervened when a fly settled on the infant, who shuddered in response and began to bawl loudly as if nothing had been the matter. 

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Solomon Samuel in his twilight years.  He lived to a ripe old age and was known for his vigour and boundless energy.

Custom dictated that on the thirty-first day after the delivery of a chid, a traditional ceremony of cleansing (thudakku kaliththal in Tamil) must be carried out.  The woman who had given birth would take a ritual herbal bath and the house had to be washed and cleaned from top to bottom.

Vethanayagam Samuel and his wife were about to begin the task of house-cleansing when a message came from the village counsel.  Samuel was needed to arbitrate on a matter involving a dispute.  Samuel sent word asking to be excused. He requested that the vice chairman to act on his behalf.

A second summons came.  The matter was urgent, they said.  His presence was mandatory.

Samuel left home on the mission of mediation, assuring his wife he would return in an hour.  He conferred with both parties and reached a verdict.  The disgruntled man who hadn’t been favoured by the decision, reached for a weapon concealed in his clothing and struck a heavy blow.  Samuel’s head split open.  Never pausing to retaliate, Samuel re-tied his turban and headed home. Blood gushed down from the wound in his head.

He passed a pond (kulam) as he walked, and saw the family dhoby (washerman) scrubbing his way through a pile of villgers’ clothing. 

‘Dhobies’ – washermen – human washing machines, beating garments against rocks and washing boards to get them clean. Circa late 1800s, northern Ceylon.

Samuel stepped in to cool off and dipped his head in the water.  The dhoby, concerned to see how the water turned crimson from the blood, reached for some fresh-washed clothing spread out on the ground to dry.  Samuel shed his blood-stained linen, donning the clean sarong (veshti) and turban offered by the dhoby. He walked into the house to his waiting wife, stepped over the threshold and announced that he was ready to start cleaning. Then, barely pausing for breath, Vethanayagam Samuel collapsed at her feet and died.

In an instant Mary Chellammah Samuel found herself a widow with six young children on her hands.  Rebecca – the oldest – was 10, the twins – Solomon and Anna – were barely a month old.

Rebecca Chinnammah, a child herself, had to take charge of a brood of fatherless siblings while her mother attempted to salvage the pieces of their shattered lives.

Click here  to go to Part 2:  Widow’s Dilemma

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