55th death anniversary C.E. Victor S. Corea | Sunday Observer

55th death anniversary C.E. Victor S. Corea

This is a Tribute to an eminent Advocate of the Supreme Court who after his own personal assessment appeared only on behalf of the innocent and a Politician who fearlessly fought to free his countrymen from the bondage of the British imperialists regardless of the consequences he had to face. This tribute has been pieced together based on original records.

It will always be a matter of pride and gratification to the people of this country that the struggle for political emancipation was launched, supported and sustained by a long line of patriots and leaders so fired by their devotion to a common cause that they never flinched, never wearied, never despaired in their efforts to make this country a better place to live in, rid of the shackles of alien rule.

The road to Independence has been a hard and rugged one, and the further it goes back, the more toilsome and arduous it becomes. Immeasurable therefore is the country’s debt to those intrepid pioneers of the Reforms movement for the courage and determination they showed in the face of almost insuperable odds to launch and carry on their campaign.

Two such pioneers were Charles Edgar Corea (C.E. Corea) and his youngest brother Charles Edward Victor Senewiratne Corea (Victor Corea) who brought honour to their hometown – Chilaw.

C.E. Corea lost his father – Charles Edward Corea (a leading Proctor of the Chilaw Bar) at the age of six, when his youngest brother Victor was only a year old. The family of 3 boys (C.E., Ernest & Victor) and two girls (Evangeline & Agnes) had to depend on their mother Henrietta, a young widow of 21 for their educational training and upbringing.

C.E. Corea entered Royal College and passed out as a Proctor of the Supreme Court just like his father and soon rose to the top of his profession. Ernest, studied at S. Thomas’ College, and passed out as a Doctor of Medicine. Victor, the youngest, also studied at S. Thomas’ College and passed out as an Advocate of the Supreme Court. Greatly influenced by his brother C.E. and his accomplishments Victor Corea diligently followed in his footsteps and became an accomplished lawyer, a trusted politician and a skillful debater.

What was most characteristic in this family was their willingness to help anyone who came to them with a problem so much so that everyone regarded them as the solution to their problems!

Being a brilliant debater and an authority in Local and International Law, Victor Corea, argued his cases with a booming voice that shook the very foundations of the courthouse where he defended his clients. He rose to eminence as a much sought after Advocate of the Supreme Court. In keeping with family tradition, he went out of his way to help the needy and even in his profession gave his services free-of-charge to clients who could not afford to pay his fees. His eldest brother who was the leading Proctor in the Chilaw Bar and his older brother who was a physician also did the same.

Being the youngest in the family Victor was an ardent admirer of his brother C.E. Corea and his sole ambition was to groom himself to acquire all the skills that made his brother the huge success he was as a lawyer and a politician. When Warden Stone of S. Thomas’ a scholar, an autocrat of commanding personality and a great teacher, acknowledged C.E. Corea (a Royalist) as one of the finest speakers of the English Language, and Principal Woodward of Richmond also said the same, debates in the Legislature were of a very high standard. He was never at a loss for words being specifically skilled at repartee. Even his British counterparts wilted under his criticism.

Victor Corea rose in protest when the British Government imposed the iniquitous Poll Tax on all Males above 21 years requiring them to pay the government Rs.2. While refusing to pay the tax because the majority in the country could not afford it, Victor Corea dared to inform the government that he was prepared to fight to the bitter end until the Poll Tax was abolished. Orders were issued to arrest Victor Corea. He spent a whole month in jail, crushing boulders on the public road as a punishment for defying the government and warning the people that not even an Advocate of the Supreme Court was above the Law.

When people came to see their hero fighting their cause on the public road, in large numbers and the numbers kept increasing with each day the British realizing that Victor Corea was determined to carry out his fight to the bitter end decided to abolish the Poll Tax and release Victor Corea. A large crowd accompanied him to a meeting at which he warned the British that their days in Ceylon were numbered. He began by relating his experiences in jail.

Diet

Being a man of wealth, he had been offered the choice of a European or “native” diet. Being a patriot he chose the “native” diet but the food was so badly prepared that for his first forty-two hours in jail he starved. The phrase “European diet” said Corea did not mean what the apologists of Government would have it mean. According to their (Prisons) Ordinance it meant ordinary food as used by Europeans as opposed to rice. It was intended originally for Europeans only, as being of a superior order, on the same principle that European government officials were paid higher salaries than Ceylonese officials of the same rank.

Corea explained that if he had chosen the European diet – even in the secrecy of a prison cell, it would have implied an admission of the inferiority of the Ceylonese and the superiority of the Huns, whether they called themselves Angles or Saxons.

At the zenith of his popularity Victor Corea came all the way from Chilaw to contest the Colombo North seat in the Legislative Council of Ceylon and fight a formidable opponent, E.W. Jayewardene (President J. R. Jayewardene’s father who was also his relative) in his stronghold. Victor Corea won the election by an overwhelming majority and was an active member from 1924 to 1930 and also served as an Executive Committee Member of the Ceylon National Congress.

When A.E. Goonesinha formed the Ceylon Labour Union and wanted a dynamic President to give the Union the desired fearless leadership, Victor Corea was the popular choice. His knowledge of labour laws, both local and international fortified with his fighting spirit to defend what was right gave the Union an aura of respectability.

Victor Corea, a firm supporter of the youth, was of the view that they should be trained to be future leaders who will diligently work towards taking their country forward. With this objective in mind he was the Founder President of The Young Lanka League and with his earnings invested in purchasing and setting up a printing press to publish an inspiring publication under the caption Lanka Tharuna Handa aimed at grooming the youth for leadership. He was only too glad to bear the cost of this entire operation.

Victor Corea, took a firm stand in what he believed was the best for the country and its people and never feared to protect what was traditional. When the Government Agent in Kandy, a Britisher, by an order issued by him stopped the beating of hewisi at the Dalada Maligawa because it was a disturbance to his household, Victor Corea, a Christian rose in protest and told the GA that if the sound of hewisi was an annoyance to his household he should shift his residence elsewhere instead of interfering with a tradition which has been coming down from our Kings and told the Diyawadana Nilame to resume the beating of hewisi in defiance to the G.A’s order. If for some reason he was frightened to do so Victor Corea told the DN that he would come to the Maligawa and beat the hewisi himself. Since Victor Corea, by this time was known to be a man who kept to his word the British government fearing that there would be a mass uprising withdrew the order and the beating of hewisi has continued, uninterrupted.

Merawela, a village in the Chilaw District earned its major income from the limestone business. When the government, overnight took over the business the senior residents of the village went in a deputation seeking Victor Corea’s support to have their rights restored. He appeared on their behalf and succeeded in having the vest in cancelled and the rights of the villagers restored.

Ever since then Victor Corea has been their champion and the chief guest at every important event in Merawela.

Victor Corea and his brother C.E. Corea who were a powerful force to reckon with protected the Muslims in the Chilaw area from the wrath of the embittered Sinhalese during the Sinhala-Muslim riots of 1915. The Corea brothers together were responsible for completely exonerating the people of Chilaw from paying damages which was a penalty imposed by the government on all citizens of Ceylon.

Although a Christian, Victor Corea initiated the construction of two Buddhist temples in Chilaw which cemented a strong bond of friendship between the two religious faiths. He was by tradition also associated with the Munneswaram Temple and handled its legal matters free-of-charge. The Bishop of Chilaw Rt. Revd. Dr. Edmund Peries and Ven. Gunananda Thera the Chief Priest of the Chilaw Temple sought Victor Corea’s advice at all times.

In 1927 when Mahatma Gandhi was to visit Ceylon he was invited to Chilaw by the brothers, C.E. and Victor Corea.On arrival in Chilaw with his entourage the guests were accommodated at ‘Sigiriya’ the stately mansion that was built by Jimmy and Agnes (sister of the Corea brothers) in the early twentieth century. At a lavish banquet hosted by the Coreas, Mahatma Gandhi formally presented Victor Corea with an impressive 15” x 20” colour poster captioned FIGHTERS FOR SWARAJ which featured mirror shaped bust size photographs of all the Freedom Fighters of India and paid a glowing tribute to Victor Corea by having his photograph also included giving equal prominence. Gandhi also presented a Spinning Wheel to C.E. Corea in appreciation of the similar campaign initiated by the Corea brothers in Sri Lanka which gave added strength to the campaign launched by Mahatma Gandhi in India.

As his youngest son I would like to express my personal view about my father. He was an amazing human being with sterling qualities always willing to help the poor and the oppressed. He never smoked, never consumed alcohol, strictly observed the laws of the land, helped everyone who came to him for help and lived an exemplary life. The hallmark of his character was that he respected the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth! He was proud to be a Sri Lankan and held his country in high esteem. Whenever he visited an estate or a paddy field villagers in the surrounding areas came in numbers to pay their respects. He enjoyed being in the company of villagers and always referred to them as the finest human beings God has created … simple, truthful, grateful and unspoilt. The poor who benefitted from his generosity loved him to the extent of regarding him as their champion and their hero … their master who will never turn away from solving their problems. In his garage and waiting room there always were families spending the whole day just helping in numerous acts of kindness and enjoying the rice that came from his paddy fields in Munneswaram cooked in king size cauldrons.

I would describe my father very appropriately in the words of William Shakespeare … He life was gentle and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world …this was a Man !

Sri Sangabo Corea

 

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