SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF CHARLES HENRY DE SOYSA
Magnanimity was an exemplified character displayed by Charles Henry de Soysa from a very young age. Charles had an empathy for others around him without regard for any differences placed by society. He went so far as to part with his pocket money to aid the needy, including those that had been rejected by society.
He desired the best for others and gave the best that was there available in the land and the wider region; For instance, no school in Ceylon at the time had anywhere near the grand edifices he founded Prince of Wales' College on and no one individual envisioned and spent his personal fortune on such a grand project of educating the children of Ceylon.
Visionary with Foresight
De Soysa adopted pioneering measures to address the infant and maternal mortality which was an important issue at the time in the country and the wider world. He took upon himself to give proper meaning to the concept of the 'right to life' and invested in the future of the children of this nation.
He sponsored the introduction of science education at his old schools, conducted scientific experiments to improve agriculture and livestock farming with such ambitious projects as the Alfred Model Farm Experimental Station.
Another of the visionary movements initiated by De Soysa was the formation of the Ceylon Agricultural Association, an organisation to empower the natives to compete directly in the international market without relying on colonial agents - in order to be truly independent, a country has to be economically empowered and independent, and exercise a level of fairness in opportunity for all its people.
(This Association later evolved to become the political-centric National Association and then the National Congress)
Fairness and Equality
Lack of barriers and discrimination was another exemplified quality displayed by Charles de Soysa, for example, Princeand Princess of Wales' college was the only school in that era to give the student an option of studying in English or Sinhala (Vernecular) which also addressed the class barriers present during that era. Equality and empowerment of women was one of his key agendas, as such a third of the Cambrians were girls.
Though Sir Charles was a Christian and sponsored a Chair of Divinity (for Anglican instruction) at S. Thomas' College, his old school, he pursued a secular and non-denominational model in the schools he founded, giving no particular advantage to any particular religion.
Pioneer in granting pensions and retirement packages before the organisation of Trade Unions to demand such benefits.
When CH de Soysa established the second maternity home/hospital in Asia, he envisioned the equality of Asians and Europeans as the first hospital in colonial India treated only expatriate Europeans. He also wanted the native and European mothers and infants to be treated in the same wards.
Adaptability and Modernity
De Soysa displayed a sophisticated understanding of the constant evolution of society and the need to adjust accordingly, be it technological, educational or social.
He was a pioneer tea planter in a fledgling industry and was able to hold his own in a competitive environment usually considered the preserve of Europeans.
He promoted scientific agriculture, education and mechanisation essential for industrialisation.
He was recognised for his efforts and understanding by the Athenaeum Club, London and was the only Ceylonese (and probably the only Asian of his era) to be elected Honorary member of the prestigious institution. (The Athenaeum Club is a private members' club in London, primarily for people with intellectual interests, particularly for those who have attained some distinction in science, engineering, literature or the arts).
The commitment to expend his personal funds for the pioneering projects towards the betterment of society with the knowledge that he would not be fully appreciated due to divisions in society.
In 1871, merely an year after hosting Price Alfred, at the zenith of the greatest overseas empire the world had seen, Charles de Soysa risked all for his countrymen and for a better society by taking on the British colonial government in leading a protest campaign against the discriminatory provisions of the Village Councils Ordinance 1871.
Respecting Diversity & Tradition
CH de Soysa sponsored many projects of other religious traditions - Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. Promoted traditional as well as the emerging arts, crafts & theatre such as nurthi, nadagam and puppetry, ancient and lost works of literature such as the Hitopadesha and the Jānakī-haraṇa. In 1886, he gifted a facsimile of the historic Yapahuwa Gate to the Royal Institution (Victoria & Albert Museum) and established the Swadeshika Samgamaya of England.
In his most critical time, facing death from rabies, Sir Charles placed his trust in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
Humility and Purity of Motive
Charles Henry de Soysa was known for his humility which is something commented by almost all who knew him, native or foreign. When his uncle was appointed a Mudliyer, Charles had refused being elevated to a stature equal to that of his uncle.
No project which Charles de Soysa envisioned and personally funded was named after himself. Only the Maternity Hospital carried the family name. There was nothing personally to gain from any of his visionary endeavors for the public.