Dominion of Ceylon

Dominion of Ceylon
Island of Ceylon

Flag Coat of arms
"Sri Lanka Matha"
About this sound Music
Capital Colombo
Language(s) Sinhalese, Tamil, English
Religion Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism
Government Parliamentary democracy
 - 1948-1952 George VI
 - 1952-1972 Elizabeth II
Governor General
 - 1948-1949 Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore
 - 1949-1954 Sir Herwald Ramsbotham
 - 1954-1962 Sir Oliver Ernest Goonetilleke
 - 1962-1972 William Gopallawa
Prime Minister
 - 1948-1952 Don Senanayake
 - 1952-1953 Dudley Shelton Senanayake
 - 1953-1956 John Lionel Kotalawela
 - 1956-1959 S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike
 - 1970-1972 Sirimavo Bandaranaike
Legislature Parliament of Ceylon
 - Upper house Senate
 - Lower house House of Representatives
Historical era 20th Century
 - Independence 4 February 1948
 - 1971 JVP Insurrection 1971
 - Republic 22 May 1972
 - 1948 65,610 km2 (25,332 sq mi)
 - 1948 est. 7,060,000 
     Density 107.6 /km2  (278.7 /sq mi)
 - 1956 est. 8,100,000 
     Density 123.5 /km2  (319.8 /sq mi)
 - 1962 est. 11,000,000 
     Density 167.7 /km2  (434.2 /sq mi)
 - 1971 est. 12,800,000 
     Density 195.1 /km2  (505.3 /sq mi)
Currency Ceylon Rupee
Historical states
in present-day
Sri Lanka
Karte von Ceylon.jpg
History of Sri Lanka

The Dominion of Ceylon, known today as Sri Lanka, was a dominion, in the British Empire between 1948 and 1972. In 1948, British Ceylon was granted independence as the Dominion of Ceylon. In 1972, the Dominion of Ceylon became a republic within the Commonwealth, and its name was changed to Sri Lanka. The Dominion of Ceylon was an island country in South Asia, located about 31 kilometres (19.3 mi) off the southern coast of India.

The country has also been a centre of the Buddhist religion and culture from ancient times as well as having a strong Hindu presence.[4] The Sinhalese community formed the majority of the population; Sri Lankan Tamils, who were concentrated in the north and east of the island, formed the largest ethnic minority. Other communities included Moors, Burghers, Kaffirs, Malays and the indigenous Vedda people.

The major export and mainstay of the economy was the production of tea, coffee, coconuts, rubber and cinnamon, which were native to the country.[5] After over two thousand years of rule by local kingdoms, parts of Sri Lanka were colonized by Portugal and the Netherlands beginning in the 16th century, before control of the entire country was ceded to the British Empire in 1815.[citation needed]

During World War II, Ceylon served as an important base for the Allied forces in the fight against the Japanese Empire.[6] A nationalist political movement arose in the country in the early 20th century with the aim of obtaining political independence, which was eventually achieved in 1948 following peaceful negotiations with the British.



Independence and growth

Don Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of Ceylon

Following World War II, public pressure for independence increased. British Ceylon achieved independence on 4 February 1948, with an amended constitution taking effect on the same date. Military treaties with the United Kingdom preserved intact British air and sea bases in the country; British officers also continued to fill most of the upper ranks of the Army. Don Senanayake became the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. Later in 1948, when Ceylon applied for United Nations membership, the Soviet Union vetoed the application. This was partly because the Soviet Union believed that the Ceylon was only nominally independent, and the Britain still exercised control over it because the white, educated elite had control of the government.[7] In 1949, with the concurrence of the leaders of the Sri Lankan Tamils, the UNP government disenfranchised the Indian Tamil plantation workers.[8][9] In 1950, Ceylon became one of the original members of the Colombo Plan, and remains a member to this day as Sri Lanka.

Don Senanayake died in 1952 after a stroke and he was succeeded by his son Dudley. However, in 1953 - following a massive general strike or 'Hartal' by the leftist parties against the UNP, Dudley Senanayake resigned. He was followed by John Kotelawala, a senior politician and an uncle of Dudley. Kotelawala did not have the personal prestige or the political acumen of D. S. Senanayake.[10] He brought to the fore the issue of national languages that D. S. Senanayake had suspended. In 1956 the UNP was defeated at elections by the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, which included the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by Solomon Bandaranaike and the Viplavakari Lanka Sama Samaja Party of Philip Gunawardena. Bandaranaike was a politician who had fostered the Sinhala nationalist lobby since the 1930s. He replaced English with Sinhalese as the official language. He was the chief Sinhalese spokesmen who attempted to counter the communal politics unleashed by G. G. Ponnambalam.[8] The bill was known as the Sinhala Only Bill, and also made Sinhalese the language taught in schools and universities. This caused Tamil riots, as they spoke the Tamil language and it had not been recognized as an official language. These riots culminated in the assassination of the prime minister, Bandaranaike. His widow, Sirimavo, succeeded her husband as leader of the SLFP and was elected as the world's first female prime minister. In 1957 British bases were removed and Sri Lanka officially became a "non-aligned" country. The Paddy Lands Act, the brainchild of Philip Gunawardena, was passed, giving those working the land greater rights vis-a-vis absentee landlords.[11]


Elections in July saw Sirimavo Bandaranaike become the world's first elected female head of government. Her government avoided further confrontations with the Tamils, but the anti-Socialist policies of the U.S. Republican Party led to a cut-off of United States aid and a growing economic crisis. After an attempted coup d'état by mainly non-buddhist right-wing army and police officers intent on bringing the UNP back to power, Bandaranaike nationalised the oil companies. This led to a boycott of the country by the oil cartels, which was broken with aid from the Kansas Oil Producers Co-operative. In 1962, under the SLFP's radical policies, many Western business assets were nationalized. This caused disputes with the United States and the United Kingdom over compensation for seized assets. Such policies led to a temporary decline in SLFP power, and the UNP gained seats in Congress. However, by 1970, the SLFP were once again the dominant power.[12] In 1964 Bandaranaike formed a coalition government with the LSSP, a Trotskyist party with Dr N.M. Perera as Minister of Finance. Nonetheless, after Sirimavo failed to satisfy the far-left, the Marxist People's Liberation Front attempted to overthrow the government in 1971. The rebellion was put down with the help of British, Soviet, and Indian aid in 1972, and later in 1972 the current constitution was adopted and the name of the country was changed to Sri Lanka.[12] In 1972, the country officially became a republic, and its status in the Commonwealth was changed to a republic within the Commonwealth.

Government and politics

The constitution of Ceylon created a parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives,[3] with the popularly-elected House indirectly naming the Senate.[13] The head of state was the British Monarch, but represented by a predominantly ceremonial figure, the Governor General. The head of government was the prime minister, and he and his cabinet consisted of the largest political party in the legislature.

Initially, the prominent party was the UNP, the United National Party. In the first parliamentary elections, the UNP gained 42 out of the 95 seats available, and also won the elections in 1952. When the first prime minister, D. S. Senanayake, died of a stroke, his son Dudley Senanayake, the Minister of Agriculture, was appointed as prime minister. This kind of hereditary succession was one of the problems with the new government. In 1956, the radical socialist SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) won the elections, and Solomon Bandaranaike took power. Riots caused by clashes between Sinhala and Tamil nationalists culminated in the assassination of the prime minister, Bandaranaike. His widow, Sirimavo, succeeded her husband as leader of the SLFP. She held office until 1977, with two exceptions in 1960 and 1965–1970, when the UNP held power. During her rule, she implemented a radical economic program of nationalization and land reform, a pro-Sinhalese educational and employment policy, and an independent foreign policy as part of the non-aligned movement.[14]


In 1948, when Sri Lanka achieved independence from the United Kingdom, the Governor was replaced with a Governor-General. The Governor-General responsible not to London, but the Monarch of Ceylon, the local government, and the local parliament. The Governor-General was a largely ceremonial figure.


The government of Ceylon had several issues, the main being that the government represented only a small part of the population, mainly wealthy, English-educated elite groups. The Sinhalese and Tamil majority did not share the values and ideas of the upper-class, and this often led to riots.[14][15]


The economy of the Dominion of Ceylon was mainly agriculture-based, with key exports consisting of tea, rubber, and coconuts. These did well in the foreign markets, accounting for 90% of the export share by value.[13] In 1965, Ceylon became the world's leading exporter of tea, with 200,000 tonnes of tea being shipped internationally annually.[16] The exports sold well initially, but falling tea and rubber prices decreased the earnings, with a rapidly increasing population cutting further into those profits. In the early 1970s, the Ceylon government nationalised many privately-held assets as part of the newly-elected government's socialist policies.[17]

The Land Reform Law of 1972 imposed a maximum of twenty hectares of pland that can be owned privately, and sought to reallocate excess land for the benefit of the landless workers. Because land owned by public companies under that was less than ten hectares in size was exempted from the law, a considerable amount of land that would otherwise have been available for redistribution was not subject to the legislation. Between 1972 and 1974, the Land Reform Commission set up by the new laws took over nearly 228,000 hectares, one-third of which was forest and most of the rest planted with tea, rubber, or coconut. Few rice paddies were affected because nearly 95 percent of them were below the ceiling limit. Very little of the land acquired by the government was transferred to individuals. Most was turned over to various government agencies or to cooperative organizations, such as the Up-Country Co-operative Estates Development Board. The Land Reform Law of 1972 applied only to holdings of individuals. It left untouched the plantations owned by joint-stock companies, many of them British. In 1975 the Land Reform (Amendment) Law brought these estates under state control. Over 169,000 hectares comprising 395 estates were taken over under this legislation. Most of this land was planted with tea and rubber. As a result, about two-thirds of land cultivated with tea was placed in the state sector. The respective proportions for rubber and coconut were 32 and 10 percent. The government paid some compensation to the owners of land taken over under both the 1972 and 1975 laws. In early 1988, the state-owned plantations were managed by one of two types of entities, the Janatha Estates Development Board, or the Sri Lanka State Plantation Corporation.[18] Additionally, a revamped system of education created a glut of skilled workers that could not find employment.


A one Rupee note from 1963.

The official currency of the Dominion of Ceylon was the Ceylon Rupee. The Rupee evolved from the Indian Rupee, when in 1929 a new Ceylon Rupee was formed when it was separated from the Indian Rupee.[19] In 1950, the Currency Board, set up in 1872 as a part of the Indian monetary system, was replaced by the Central Bank of Ceylon, granting the country greater control over the currency. In 1951, the Central Bank of Ceylon took over the issuance of paper money, introducing 1 and 10 rupees notes. These were followed in 1952 by 2, 5, 50 and 100 rupees notes. The 1 rupee notes were replaced by coins in 1963. In 1963, a new coinage was introduced which omitted the monarchs portrait. Coins issued were aluminium 1 and 2 cents, nickel brass 5 and 10 cents and cupro-nickel 25 and 50 cents and 1 rupee. The obverse of the coins issued since 1963 carry the coat of arms. However, until 1966, the Ceylon Rupee remained pegged to the Indian Rupee at a value of 1:1. In 1966, the Ceylon Rupee was pegged to the U.S. Dollar at 4.76 rupees per US Dollar.[20]



Brigadier James Sinclair, Earl of Caithness inspecting a guard unit.

At the end of World War II, the Ceylon Defence Force, the predecessor to the Ceylon Army, began demobilization. After Independence, Ceylon entered the bi-lateral Anglo-Ceylonese Defence Agreement of 1947. This was followed by Army Act No. 17 of which was passed by Parliament on April 11, 1949 and formalized in Gazette Extraordinary No. 10028 of October 10, 1949. It marked the creation of the Ceylon Army, consisting of a regular and volunteer force, the latter being the successor of the disbanded Ceylon Defense Force.[21][22] The Defence Agreement of 1947 provided assurance that British would come to the aid of Ceylon in the event it was attacked by a foreign power and provided British military advisers to build the country's military. Brigadier James Sinclair, Earl of Caithness was appointed as general officer commanding Ceylon Army, as such becoming the first commander of the Ceylon Army.

Due to a lack of any major external threats the growth of the army was slow, and the primary duties of the army quickly moved towards internal security by the mid 50's. The first internal security operation of the Ceylon Army , code named Operation Monty, began in 1952 to counter the influx of illegal South Indian immigrants brought in by smugglers, in support of Royal Ceylon Navy coastal patrols and police operations. This was expanded and renamed as Task Force Anti-Illicit Immigration (TaFII) in 1963 and continued up to 1981. The Army was mobilized to help the police to restore peace under provincial emergency regulations during the 1953 hartal, the 1956 Gal Oya Valley riots and in 1958 it was deployed for the first time under emergency regulations throughout the island during the 1958 riots[23]

In 1962 several volunteer officers attempted a military coup, which was stopped hours before it was launched. This attempted coup effect the military to a great extent, since the government mistrusted the military, it reduced the size and growth of the army, especially the volunteer force, with several units being disbanded. In May 1972, when Ceylon was proclaimed a republic and changed its name to from the Dominion of Ceylon to the Republic of Sri Lanka, all Army units were renamed accordingly.[24]


After gaining independence, strategists believed that the navy should be built up and reorganised. The previous navy consisted of the Ceylon Naval Volunteer Force and the Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. On 9 December 1950 the Royal Ceylon Navy was created with the main force consisting of the former Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. The first ship that was commissioned was the HMCyS Vijaya, an Algerine-class minesweeper. During this time the navy took part in several joint naval exercises and a goodwill tour visiting the far east. However, the expansion of the navy was dramatically halted in 1962 when the captain of the navy who was relieved of his duty at the time of the attempted military coup. The navy suffered a great deal as result of the governments retribution that followed, with several of its ships sold off, reduced its size by stoppage of recruitment of officers cadets and sailors for over seven years, the loss of important Bases and Barracks and the stoppage of training in England. As a result the navy was poorly prepared when in 1971 the 1971 JVP Insurrection began, the navy had to send its sailors for ground combat operations against the insurgents.

In 1972 the "Dominion of Ceylon" became the "Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka" and the Royal Ceylon Navy became the Sri Lanka Navy. The Naval Ensign along with the Flag Officers' flags were redesigned. The term "Captain of the Navy", introduced in the Navy Act, was changed to "Commander of the Navy", in keeping with the terminology adopted by the other two services. Finally, "Her Majesty's Ceylon Ships" (HMCyS) became "Sri Lankan Naval Ships" (SLNS).

During the 1970s the navy began rebuilding its strength with the acquisition of Shanghai class gunboats form China to carry out effective coastal patrolling and carried out several cruises to regional ports.

Air Force

A De Havilland Heron of the Royal Ceylon Air Force

Early administration and training was carried out by RAF officers and other personnel, who were seconded to the new Royal Ceylon Air Force or RCyAF. The first aircraft of the RCyAF were de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunks, used as basic trainers. These were followed by Boulton Paul Balliol T.Mk.2s and Airspeed Oxford Mk.1s for advanced training of pilots and aircrew along with de Havilland Doves and de Havilland Herons for transport use, all provided by the British. The closure of British bases in Ceylon in 1956 saw the air force take over former RAF bases; Katunayake and China Bay became RCyAF operational stations while auxiliary functions were carried out at Diyatalawa and Ekala.

In 1959 de Havilland Vampire jet aircraft were acquired. However, the RCyAF did not put them into operational use and soon replaced them with five Hunting Jet Provosts obtained from the British, which were formed into the Jet Squadron.

The Royal Ceylon Air Force first went into combat in 1971 when the Marxist JVP launched an island-wide coup on April 5. The Ceylon Armed Forces could not respond immediately and efficiently; police stations island-wide and the RCyAF base at Ekala were struck in the initial attacks. Later, the Air Force acquired additional aircraft from the Us and the USSR.[25][26]

Because of a shortage of funds for military expenditure in the wake of the 1971 uprising, the No. 4 Helicopter Squadron began operating commercial transport services for foreign tourists under the name of Helitours.[27] In 1987 the air force had a total strength of 3,700 personnel, including active reserves. The force had grown gradually during its early years, reaching a little over 1,000 officers and recruits in the 1960s. On March 31, 1976 the SLAF was awarded the President's Colour. That same year SLAF detachments, which later became SLAF stations, were established at Wirawila, Vavuniya and Minneriya.

See also


  1. ^ Ashley Havinden, Michael; David Meredith. Colonialism and development: Britain and its tropical colonies, 1850-1960. pp. 12. 
  2. ^ "Sri Lanka". Retrieved 30 March 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "Ceylon Independent, 1948-1956". World History at KMLA. Retrieved 30 March 2010. 
  4. ^ "Theravada Buddhism". BBC. Retrieved 30 March 2010. 
  5. ^ "Cinnamon". Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2008. "(species Cinnamomum zeylanicum), bushy evergreen tree of the laurel family (Lauraceae) native to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), the neighboring Malabar Coast of India, and Myanmar (Burma), and also cultivated in South America and the West Indies for the spice consisting of its dried inner bark. The bark was widely used as a spice due to its distinct odor." 
  6. ^ British Prime Minister Winston Churchill described the moment a Japanese fleet prepared to invade Sri Lanka as "the most dangerous and distressing moment of the entire conflict." – Commonwealth Air Training Program Museum, The Saviour of Ceylon
  7. ^ Jennings, W. Ivor. The Dominion of Ceylon. JSTOR 2752358. 
  8. ^ a b Dr. Jane Russell, Communal Politics under the Donoughmore constitution. Tsiisara Prakasakyo, Dehivala, 1982
  9. ^ Welcome to UTHR, Sri Lanka
  10. ^
  11. ^ Kelegama, Saman (2004). Economic policy in Sri Lanka: Issues and Debates. SAGE. pp. 207, 208. 
  12. ^ a b
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^ a b
  15. ^ "Ceylon's Democracy Faces New Test in Wake of Strife; Ceylon's Democracy Confronts New Challenge in Wake of Strife". The New York Times. 1958-07-13. Retrieved 2010-05-01. 
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ "No Ceylon Devaluation". The New York Times. 1966-06-08. Retrieved 2010-05-01. 
  21. ^ "Establishment, Sri Lanka Army". Sri Lanka Army. Archived from the original on 2006-03-26. Retrieved 2006-02-04. 
  22. ^ Sergei de Silva-Ranasinghe looks back at the early days of the Sri Lanka Army
  23. ^ An evolving army and its role through time, Sergei de Silva- Ranasinghe’s article on the early days of the Sri Lanka Army
  24. ^ "Sri Lanka Army Marks 50 Years". Washingtonpost, AP News. October 10, 1999. 
  25. ^ The Night of April 5th
  26. ^ Air Attack
  27. ^ Helitours

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