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20th Century Historians: Rev. Fr. S G Perera

By Chryshane Mendis

The student of the colonial history of Sri Lanka has undoubtedly come upon the name of S. G. Perera in their studies. Fr. S. G. Perera, a Catholic Priest of the Society of Jesus was an exemplary scholar of the last century and whose parallels are unheard of. Publishing over a dozen books and over 300 articles in journals, his contributions to the history of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka and the history of the Portuguese, Dutch and British periods of the island have aided the development of historical knowledge to a great extent in Sri Lanka; what could be called his magnum opus, the translation of the ‘Conquista’ of the 17th century Portuguese historian Fr. Queyroz, is the single most important Portuguese literary work which is the basis for any historical study on the Portuguese period. His proficiency of the Portuguese language gave him access to numerous original sources which he has translated and made available to the public is part of the wonderful legacy of this great historian of Lanka.

Fr. S. G. Perera (image from The Aloysian 1946-1950, Volume 06, No. 03 )
Tombstone of Fr. S. G. Perera in Dadalla cemetery

Simon Gregory Perera was born in June 1882 in Kalutara and attended school first at Holy Cross College Kalutara, then after a brief stay at St. Joseph’s College he finally completed his education at Wesley College. After completing his education at the age of 18 he passed the Government Clerical examination and joining the Government Service was posted to the Land Registry Office at Ratnapura. In 1905 at the age of 23 he followed his missionary calling and joined the Society of Jesus, a congregation of the Roman Catholic Church and left for a Jesuit College in India. He was ordained a Jesuit Priest on November 21st 1917 and was the first Sinhalese to of the order. From there he went to Rome and his scholarly nature soon made him Professor of Missionology at the Gregorian University Rome. He followed the academic career and served as the Principal of St. Servatious College Matara and was a long term member of the tutorial staff of St. Aloysius College Galle teaching Latin in the Upper Forms. He also served as the Vicar General of the Galle Diocese of the Catholic Church. Further he was the editor of the Ceylon Literary Register, member of the Ceylon Historical Commission and was a council member of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. He passed away on the 19th of February 1950 and is buried in the Dadalla cemetery in Galle.


His greatest contributions

Fr. S. G. Perera in his last days (image from The Aloysian 1946-1950, Volume 06, No. 03 )

Out of the many works of Fr. S. G. Perera, the translation of the work of the 17th century historian Fr. Queyroz can be seen as the most important. The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon was written by the Jesuit Priest Fr. Fernao De Queyroz in Goa and completed by 1687. This work contains the entire history of the Portuguese in the island written from the Portuguese perspective after much research by the author. This work is considered only second to the Mahawamsa in its historical value and is one of the main references of any student of history of Sri Lanka. In a time of less native literature in regards to the political aspect of the 16th and 17th centuries, this work has aided us to understand more of our history of those periods and is a treasured historical document. The existence of such a manuscript came to light in the late 1800s to Fr. Joseph Cooreman, S.J. who was the Vicar General of Galle, he had communicated this to Mgr. Ladislaus Zaleski the then Apostolic Delegate of the East Indies residing in Kandy and he obtained a copy of the manuscript from the original at Rio de Janeiro. Dr. Paul E. Pieris who later examined the manuscript identified its great value and secured another copy from Rio de Janeiro which he used in his works; this copy was purchased by the Government in 1912 or 1913 and published it as it was in the original form in 1916. In 1918 the Government entrusted the translation of this work to Fr. S. G. Perera who completed this translation over a period of 10 years and finally published it as “The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon” in 3 volumes through the Government Printer in 1930. This translation into English made this valuable piece of history accessible to generations of scholars. The laborious task of translation and research of Fr. Perera can clearly be seen in the very well written Introduction to this book where he traces the origins of the author and the writing of the book and its fate.

Fr. Perera’s linguistic familiarity with the western classical languages along with Sinhala, English and Portuguese gave him access to a wide variety of original sources pertaining to Sri Lanka’s history in the libraries and archives of Goa, Lisbon, Hague, Rome, London and Paris. And thus made numerous articles and books  such as The Jesuits in Ceylon, Life of Father Jacome Goncalvez, The City of Colomobo and along with translations such as the Kustantinu Hatana to name a few.


His Library

On the suggestion of the Past Pupils of St. Aloysius College after his death, his private library of rare books and manuscripts became part of the ‘Fr. S. G. Perera Memorial Library’ created by Fr. Perniola and Fr.Chiriatti of the Society of Jesus. In 1976 this library came under the guardianship of Fr. Aloysius Pieris SJ at the Tulana Research Center in Gonawala Kelaniya where it can be still accessed today.

Through his knowledge of Portuguese and other languages Father Perera had amassed a wealth of documents and books from the Archives of Rome and Goa and a visit to the library by the writer showed the untapped wealth of knowledge of these collections. Apart from the published historical books, this library which contains more than 3000 works holds many rare books and manuscripts of the records of the Catholic Church in original Portuguese. Apart from the historical documents, his library contains many other works on various subjects such as Law, Literature, Biology and Zoology etc. The original working copy manuscript of the Temporal and Spiritual Conquest too could be found here with the side notes of the great scholar.

Fr. Perera’s  working copy of the Conquista
A section from the working copy used for his translation into English.

Below is given a selected Bibliography of the publications of Father Perera; a complete list of his lectures, published articles and books can be found in page 278 of the Journal The Aloysian 1946-1950, Volume 06, No. 03.


The City of Colombo, 1926

The Expedition to Uva made in 1630 by Constantine De Saa, 1930

The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon by Father Fernando de Queyroz, Books 1-6 in 3 Volumes (Translated), 1930

A History of Ceylon for Schools: The Portuguese and Dutch periods 1505-1796, First Edition 1932 (5 editions)

A History of Ceylon for Schools: The British period 1795-1911, First Edition 1932 (5 editions)

Alagiyawanna: Kustantinu Hatana. Critical edition, 1932

The Douglas Papers, 1933

The Tombo of the Two Korales, 1938

Historical Sketches, 1940

The Jesuits in Ceylon, 1941

Life of Father Jacome Goncalvez, 1942

A Priet’s letters to a niece on love, courtship, and marriage, 1942

The Life of the Venerable Father Joseph Vaz, 1943

Valigala: Ahalepola Varnanava. Critical edition by Fr. S.G.Perera & Mr. M.E.Fernando

The Oratorian Mission in Ceylon

Articles in the Ceylon Literary Register Third Series

The Douglas Papers – ‘Considerations concerning certain changes in regard to the Government of Ceylon’, Vol. I, 1931.

The Douglas Papers – ‘Intercourse with the Government of Kandy’, Vol. I, 1931.

The Douglas Papers – ‘Of the importance and value of the island of Ceylon’, Vol. I, 1931.

The Douglas Papers – ‘Of the establishments for administration of Justice in our Settlement in Ceylon’, Vol. I, 1931.

The Douglas Papers – ‘Establishment for the supply of Civil and Military Servants from home’, Vol. I, 1931.

The Douglas Papers – ‘On the improvement of the Agriculture and natural advantages’, Vol. I, 1931.

The Douglas Papers – ‘Of the Direct supply of articles from this country to Ceylon’, Vol. I, 1931.

The Douglas Papers – ‘Of the Pearl fishery of Ceylon as a source of Revenue’, Vol. I, 1931.

Two letters of the Dutch to Rajasinghe, Vol.I, 1931.

The Douglas Papers – ‘Answers to North’s despatches’, Vol. I, 1931.

Velapura,Vol. I, 1931.

French Maps of Trincomallee, Vol. I , 1931.

The Expedition to Uva in 1630, Vol. I, 1931.

The Douglas Papers – ‘Answers to North’s despatches’, Vol. II, 1932.

Simao Botelho, Vol. II, 1932.

Letters of Simao Botelho, Vol. II, 1932.

The Hobart Papers – Thomas Greenhill, Commercial resident on Cinnamon, Vol. II, 1932.

Alagiyawanna’s Kustantinu Hatana, Vol. II, 1932.

The Revenues of Ceylon – by Simoa Botelho, Vol. II, 1932.

The Kandyan State Trial – Introduction, Vol. II, 1932.

The Kandyan State Trial – ‘Indictment and address’, Vol. II, 1932.

The First Treaty of Peace between the Portuguese and the Kings of Kandy 1617, Vol. II, 1932.

Ceylon Documents at the Hague, Vol. II, 1932.

The First Treaty of Peace between the Portuguese and the Kings of Kandy 1617, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

The Last Treaty of Peace between the Portuguese and the Kings of Kandy 1617, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

Gascon Rala – Adigar and Poet, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

The Kandyan State Trial, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

Ceylon Documents at the Hague, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

Sinhalese Documents at the Bibliotheque National, Paris, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

The Lisbon Archives, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

Ceylon Documents in the Torre do Tombo, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

The Throne of the Kings of Kandy, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

George Turnour, Vol. III, 1933-1934.

Joao Vaz Monteiro – The Earliest Portuguese Tombstone in Ceylon, Vol.IV, 1935-1936.

The Franciscans in Ceylon-Contemporary Document in the Vatican Archives, Vol.IV, 1935-1936.

The History of Ceylon 1539-1552, Vol.IV, 1935-1936.

Narendrasinghe, the Dutch and a Catholic Priest, Vol.IV, 1935-1936.

Some Ancient Grammars and Dictionaries of the Sinhala Language, Vol.IV, 1935-1936.

Slave Island, Vol.IV, 1935-1936.



Father S.G.Perera, S.J., Wesley’s Historian & Scholar by N.S.Weerasekera

Fr. S.G. Perera: The erudite scholar and historian by W.T.A.L. Fernando

Uragoda, C.G.,  Authors on Books of Sri Lanka, 1796-1948, 2011

The Aloysian 1946-1950, Volume 06, No. 03.




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20th Century Historians : D.W. Ferguson

By Chryshane Mendis

Program Coordinator,
Chryshane Mendis

Historical researches undoubtedly require reference to original sources; at present much of the original literature on Sri Lanka both local and foreign have been reproduced and translated into the present vernacular. This tedious task has no doubt aided the modern student of history to dig through original works of literature with much ease. Contributions of Donald William Ferguson in the areas of Portuguese history are a landmark in scholarship in the country and there is scarcely a student or writer of Sri Lankan history who has not benefited by the penetrating researches of Donald Ferguson.

Image taken from Gaspar Correa’s Lendas Da India, Monograph series No.01, Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka.

Donald Ferguson was part of the well-known family of Fergusons in the profession of Journalism. His father, A. M. Ferguson was from Ross-shire Scotland and arrived in the island in 1837 aboard the same ship carrying Sir Stewart Mackenzie who was to take up duties as the new Governor; He had tried his hands as a Planter, a Customs Officer and a Magistrate and finally joined the weekly newspaper Observer as co-editor along with its proprietor Dr. Christopher Elliot in 1846 and subsequently became its sole proprietor and chief editor. He was joined soon after by his nephew John Ferguson as Assistant editor who is famously known for the Ferguson Directory.

Into this family of journalists, Donald Ferguson was born in Colombo on 8th October 1853 to Alastair Mackenzie Ferguson and Anne Mackerras. He received his primary and secondary education in England at Highgate and Mill Hill where he acquainted himself with the classical languages of Latin and Greek but also with Dutch, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and French. He also made familiar of himself with Sinhala and Tamil. After completing his studies in the United Kingdom he pursued a journalistic career in Ceylon focusing on the history of the island and joined his father and cousin on the staff of the Observer as Assistant Editor. He was also the founder and chief editor of Ceylon Literary Register and the Vice President of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. His study of the Portuguese and Dutch languages enabled him to focus on the original sources pertaining to Sri Lanka’s history and through his frequent visits to England due to ill health, he was a regular visitor to the British Museum where he copied and translated documents relating to Sri Lanka. His unique access to these original works made him a prominent authority on the colonial history of the island especially the Portuguese period publishing numerous papers to journals especially to the Ceylon Literary Register and the Journal of the Ceylon Brach of the Royal Asiatic Society. In 1893 he retired to England and continued his passion with Ceylon history until his death on 29th June 1910 in Croydon.

“He was indeed a rare type of scholar…his life should be an example and a stimulus to us all and his memory will be cherished with gratitude by this Society” – Vice President of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society upon announcing his death.

“The quantity and quality of his work, which would have been great for a person of vigorous health, were truly surprising when one remembers the condition under which that work was produced” – extract from the first number of the Third series of the Ceylon Literary Register.

The Ferguson Collection:

This is the library of Donald Ferguson which is now in the Peradeniya University Library. (The following is referred from the article on the Ferguson collection by N. T. S. A. Senadeera from Vol. XXXIII of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1991).

Through his studies in the British Museum, he had made copies of rare works for his personal use and finally included a collection of over 300 items including rare books, manuscripts and maps. Apart from main historical books, his collection contains many kinds of obscure and recondite booklets and pamphlets on Ceylon over the last few centuries. With the acquisition of the Ceylon Observer by D. R. Wijewardene his collection known as the Ferguson collection became part of the D. R. Wijewardene Library. As stated by J. H. O. Paulusz “there are two main disasters that can overtake a library of this kind. On the death of scholar, his collection is usually sold to many others, resulting in dispersal. The other disaster is the removal of the collection or its rare contents abroad. Both these disasters were averted from the Ferguson Collection by the wisdom and foresight of Mr. D. R. Wijewardene.”

Identifying the usefulness of this valuable collection D. R. Wijewardene’s initial intention was donating it to the Sangharama and Vihara Trust of the University of Ceylon (now the Peradeniya University)but recognizing its wide appeal agreed that it should be placed within the reach of the whole island and therefore offered it to institutions to purchase the whole collection. As this did not materialise, in his last will Mr. Wijewardene directed his executors to offer it to the University of Ceylon now the Peradeniya University. On 30th May 1951 his lawyers after his death contacted the University and on the 14th August, the Vice-Chancellor accepted the offer and finally, in December 1959 the Ferguson Collection was transferred to the Library of the University of Peradeniya.

In 1948 J. H. O. Paulusz published a 75-page book from the Ceylon Daily News Press titled “The Ferguson Section of Mr. D.R.Wijewardene’s Library” describing 19 books and 4 maps of the Ferguson collection and containing a catalogue of the entire collection compiled by Mr. S. A. Mottau. This small book gives the magnitude of the collection and as Paulusz states, it is a collection put together to serve a definite end that is to promote and facilitate research among the Dutch records and to support the Original material available in the National Archives of Sri Lanka.; the collection in fact is a single unit. The book describes 19 books and 4 maps of the collection varying from early Sinhala prints to Dutch, German and Portuguese travellers accounts.

The comprehensive catalogue in the end complied by Mr. S. A. Mottau is divided by languages in order Dutch, English, French, German, Portuguese, Sinhalese and Pali, Tamil and other Indian languages and Other miscellaneous languages. These are further sub-divided into General Publications, Pamphlets, and reference books and dictionaries.

A breakdown of the catalogue with the language and number of works is as follows:

Dutch general publications – 31

Dutch pamphlets – 1

Dutch references etc – 10

English general publications – 33

English references etc – 4

French general publications – 17

French pamphlets – 4

German general publications – 23

German pamphlets – 6

German references etc – 3

Portuguese general publications – 34

Portuguese pamphlets – 10

Portuguese references etc – 9

Sinhala general publications – 1

Sinhala references etc – 3

Other… general publications – 3

Other… references etc – 4

The list contains Travel diaries, books, Tombos etc with the title of work, author and date of publication. The number of works in the above topics excludes the numerous volumes of the same work which have separate sub reference numbers. This catalogue serves as a valuable indicator of the quality and quantity of the collection and an important tool for the student of history.

His notable works:

His most notable contribution can be stated is the translation of the Decadas of de Barros and do Couto in the title of The History of Ceylon from the Earliest times to 1600 A.D. in No. 60 Vol. XX of the Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1908. The Decadas were a history of the Portuguese in India and Asia first written by the historian Joao De Barros and later by Diogo Do Couto. Ferguson’s translations are those of the sections pertaining to Sri Lanka and makeup one of the most important Portuguese works referred to by historians alongside the great work of Father Queyroz (The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon). In a period of less Sinhalese literature this work serves as an important source of reference to study the political situation of the island from the beginning of Portuguese rule till 1600 A.D. This work has been the base for all students of the colonial history of the island and who are therefore in debt to Donald Ferguson for making available such a piece of history.

Some of the other important contributions of his were the translation of another Portuguese historical work being the Lendas Da India by Gaspar Correa which focuses on the early period of Portuguese activities in the island and also the correct identification of the date of arrival of the Portuguese in the island which took place in 1506 and not in 1505 as commonly known, this is now accepted by Historians.

Below is a list of all his publications in the Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society:

“A Belgian Physician’s Notes on Ceylon in 1687-8”,  Vol. X (35), 1887.

“Captain Joao Ribeiro: His work on Ceylon and the French Translation Thereof by the Abbe Le Grand”, Vol. X(36), 1888.

“Ribeiro’s Account of the Siege of Colombo in 1655-56(Tr)”, Vol.XII (42), 1891.

“Robert Knox’s Sinhalese Vocabulary”. Vol.XIV (47), 1896.

“A Letter from the King of Portugal to Raja Sinhe II”, Vol.XVI (50), 1899.

“The Inscribed Mural Stone at the Maha Saman Devale, Ratnapura”, Vol. XVI (50), 1899.

“Alagiyawanna Mohottala, the Author of “Kusajataka Kavyaya”, Vol. XVI (50), 1899.

“A Chapter in Ceylon History in 1630”, Vol. XVI (51), 1900.

“Joao Rodriguez De Sa e Menezes” Vol. XVI (51), 1900.

“Correspondence Between Raja Sinha II and the Dutch”, Vol. XVIII (55), 1904.

“Joan Gideon Loten: The Naturalist Governor of Ceylon (1752-57) and the Ceylonese Artist de Bevere”, Vol, XIX (58), 1907.

“The Discovery of Ceylon by the Portuguese in 1506”, Vol. XIX (59), 1907.

“The History of Ceylon, From the Earliest times to 1600 A.D.: As Related by Joao de Barros & Diogo do Couto (Tr.)”, Vol. XX (60), 1908.

“Letters from Raja Sinha II to the Dutch”, Vol. XXI (62), 1909.

Posthumous publications:

“Mulgiri-Gala”, Vol. XXII (64), 1911.

“The Earliest Dutch Visits to Ceylon”, Vol. XXX (80), 1927.

“The Earliest Dutch Visits to Ceylon”, Vol. XXXI (81), 1928.

“The Earliest Dutch Visits to Ceylon”, Vol. XXXI (82), 1929.

“The Earliest Dutch Visits to Ceylon”, Vol. XXXI (83), 1930.

“Gaspar Correa’s Lendas Da India (Tr)” with an introduction by Gaston Perera, Monograph series No. 01, 2010.



Uragoda, C.G.,  Authors on Books of Sri Lanka, 1796-1948, 2011

Gaston Perera, Gaspar Correa’s Lendas Da India (Tr) with an introduction by Gaston Perera, Monograph Series No. 01, 2010.  (Appendix I – The Donald Ferguson Collection in the University of Peradeniya Library by N. T. S. A. Senadeera, Appendix III – Obituary Notices on Ferguson’s Death(extract from Obituary Notice in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland  and extract from the first number of the Third Series of the Ceylon Literary Register))