Long journey of a hostel | Sunday Observer

Long journey of a hostel

26 September, 2021

It is an important milestone of the College Boarding House. At present the RCH is the second home to over 300 students. All of them are Grade 5 scholarship winners joining the school year after year from the remotest parts of the Island.

The Hostel enables the less affluent rural children to enter the leading national school of the nation- Royal College to pursue their studies.

The first Boarding House of Colombo Academy (subsequently named Royal College) had been established during principal Boake’s regime around 1868.

At the beginning it had accommodated around 20 to 30 boys, most being sons of mudliyars and planters. The boarding house had been a part of the school building at St. Sebastian hill.

Ashley Walker, a Cambridge graduate, was the first permanent boarding master.

A fine cricketer, Walker promoted playing cricket among the boarders. The first Royal College cricket team had been mostly composed of boarders.

Around 1905 the school was compelled to close its boarding due to serious illness spreading among boarders owing to the bad condition of the nearby lake.

College administration and the old boys had carried out many campaigns to open a new hostel but the Government of the day was not in favour. For many years the Alumni lobbied for funds from the Government but every effort failed.

In 1939, the Royal College Union (RCU) generously advanced Rs. 1,000 for the school to reopen the hostel with the blessings of then Minister of Education C.W.W. Kannangara. The RCU appointed 14 members as Board of Governors with F.C. De Saram as Honorary Secretary and Convener. The principal was the ex officio Chairman. With deep gratitude we mention here about the cooperation rendered by Maha

Mudliyar Sir James Obeysekara for the boarding to be housed at a mansion aptly named “Maligawa” owned by him.

When it was reopened in 1939 there were 26 boarders. B. A. Mendis and H. R. Fernando were in charge with overall supervision by H. J. Wijesinghe.

In 1941, the British Army took over the college buildings and the maligawa hostel due to the Second World War spreading in South Asia.

The college was relocated in Bandarawela as well as the boarding. The boarding master was Perimpanayagam. There were 48 boarders.

The Bandarawela Boarding House was managed on the same lines as the Colombo establishment (principal and board of governors of the RCU).

September seems to be associated with the reopening of the college hostel.

After the war ended, on September 15, 1946, the hostel reopened with 50 boarders at the former teacher training college building at Cinnamon Gardens. (now part of Royal College).

Warden B. C. Anghie was assisted by B. St. E. De Bruin and M. J. K. Cantley with A. Mendis as matron.

In 1952 C.E. Belleth replaced Anghie when he relinquished his post as warden.

By 1954, the hostel had four dormitories. After serving the college and hostel in the best traditions, Bellath retired in 1966. He is remembered with great gratitude for uplifting the standards of the hostel. W. Jinadasa became his successor.

In 1967, the Education Ministry wanted the hostel building to be used as classrooms and the hostel was closed.

Protest rallies

Hostellers had many protest rallies about the closure, but the Minister Education Iriyagolle was adamant that the hostel should be closed down.

This had bad consequences. hostellers had to find accommodation at private boarding houses across the city and in suburbs. This disrupted the studies and sporting carriers of the hostellers.

In 1971 the college authorities convinced the Government to reopen the hostel. A building constructed for the centenary celebration of the Ministry of Education was used to house the new boarding.

In September 1971 the current RCH was reopened with Earnest Amarasekara as the warden. He worked tirelessly during day and night to develop the newly opened hostel. He was well supported by the RCU.

Amarasekara maintained very high standards. He reintroduced many activities that were carried out at the hostel before its closure in 1967.

Hostellers got an opportunity to listen to many distinguished old Royalists such as Sydney de Soysa, Major General C. H. Fernando, Cambridge boxing blue Danton Obeysekara, J. W. Subasinghe and Air Vice Marshal Harry Goonatilake who visited the hostel under the guest speaker scheme reintroduced by Amarasekara.

Amarasekara was also the Master in Charge of badminton, table tennis, junior cadetting and junior cricket at college. He encouraged hostellers to engage in sports activities. Soon many hostellers were majority members of college hockey and basketball teams.

P. N. S. Kariyawasam who was among the inaugural batch of hostellers under Amarasekara in September 1971, captained the College First XI Cricket Team in 1975.

In 1973 the hostel housed nearly 100 students. We are grateful to Amarasekara for all the good work he did to develop the reopened hostel. He left the hostel in 1973.

Special mention has to be made about the services rendered by Dr. A. T. Navaratnam who took care of the health issues of the hostellers during this period. They treated the hostellers as their own children. Their clinic was always open for the hostellers any time of the day. They never charged for their services. Dr Navaratnam was a loyal old boy of the college.

H. Nanayakkara was appointed as the Warden after Amarasekara’s departure. Nanayakkara was both an old Royalist and a past hosteller. He was the Senior Games Master too. Hostellers benefitted immensely due to his experience and knowledge of college activities.

In 1979, the Official Language Department premises along with buildings were handed over to RCH to cope with the increased demand for hostel accommodation. The new section was opened by the President J. R. Jayewardene. Nanayakkara left the hostel in 1979.

In 1981 the Asia Foundation assisted in establishing a modern library at the RCH. From 1980-2020, the following persons were the Wardens at RCH:

C. D. Jayasinghe, R. L. Senanayake, Capt. M. N. Dharmarathne, K.H. Amaradasa and Anura de Silva.

Special mention is due for R. L. Senanayake who was the Warden for 12 long years. We appreciate his contribution to the development of the hostel and the hostellers.

In 1995 there were 320 students in the hostel. More and more outstation students were requesting for admissions to the hostel and the college administration was desperate to find space.

The request for an additional building for the hostel was mooted by the principal.

Then the Royal College Old Hostellers Association (RCOHA) led by Padmasena Dissanayake started a fund-raising campaign.

The awe-inspiring “Royal Millennium March”(RMM) organised by Dissanayake and his team were able to raise Rs 5.2 million in 1999 where an estimated 13,500 rallied for the largest ever recorded school walk in the island.

With the funds raised from the RMM and through other events organised by the ROCOHA membership, a new hostel building with all modern amenities were handed over to the college in 2005.

Our grateful thanks go to everyone who contributed to make this project a success. Special mention is made of the distinguished alumni and the overseas alumni associations who sponsored the construction of six dormitories.

Nalin Pathikirikorale has been leading the ROCOHA and the Hostel Advisory and the Board of Management in the recent past. Our sincere thanks go to him for his efforts.

The hostel now has its own orchestra with many talented musicians.

In 2010, a new medical centre was opened in the hostel to take care of the sick and injured. Members of the Royal College Doctors’ Association (RCDA), an offshoot of RMM, are in charge of the centre.

The management of RCH has initiated several green projects and a bio gas plant funded by the Edex arm of the RCU.

Currently the hostel administration is led by Janaka Jayasinghe. He has initiated many projects to develop infrastructure and academic activities at the hostel and students. Special attention is paid to improve the English language skills of the hostellers.

We appreciate the contributions of Kalum De Silva (President QORA) and Manik Jayakumar (former Rugby Football Captain, Sergeant of the first College Platoon to win the Herman Loose Challenge Cup in 1963 in the history of Cadeting at college, past President of the RCOBANA and their members to carry out projects to enhance English language skills of the hostellers.

Once again Dissanayake stepped forward to assist the hostellers by launching Project SEARCH (Spoken English at Royal College Hostel).

It is the most notable and the noble initiative of the 50th anniversary year.

Under the current lockdown the hostellers are remotely guided by a team of tutors who are mostly Alumni and retirees mostly domiciled in Australia and also in the USA, UK, Canada, Hong Kong and Colombo.


This project is the brainchild of Nihal de Run and includes such iconic personalities as past cricket captains Lorenz Pereira, Mike Wille, D. W. L. Liversz former Head Prefect F. R. Sirimanne, former Commanding Officer of the Army Training Centre Diyatalawa Lt Col P. V. J. De Silva, Athula Ratnayake (past President ROCOBAA) and Dr. Jaika Withana.

We now conclude this with a note from Nihal de Run (former RC Rugby Colours Man, college athlete, a NCO of the College Cadet Platoon in 1963 when RC won the Herman Loose challenge cup for the first time in history, a Queen’s Scout and the current Vice Patron ROCOBAA):

“We spent our formative years in our life in the hostel as we moved from boyhood to manhood and learnt above all to live each day with boys from varying back grounds from different parts of the country with different cultures and from different races, religions, casts, creeds and values.

It taught us to accept all types as brothers and not to see them as different. It was natural to have special friends with whom you spent more time and usually this was along the lines of sporting interests”.