A MEMORY OF MURDER By Bernard vanCuylenburg

sri-lanka-tea

From serial killers to celebrity victims, sensational murder cases tend to grab one’s collective imagination and just wont let go. In the past I wrote some articles about famous murder cases of English planters on the tea estates. The first was about the murder of Mr.John Frank Whitehouse, the Superintendent on Madampe Group Ratnapura in 1949 in the article titled “Tales from the Thotum”. The second, was the article “Murder at Midnight” which was about the murder of Mr.George Pope the Superintendent on Stellenberg Estate Pupuressa in 1941, and the third, “Murder around the Bend” was regarding  the murder of a young  Superintendent on Talgaswella Estate, Galle, Mr.Roger Blumer in 1939. In the first story titled TALES FROM THE THOTUM, I also briefly dealt with the murder of Mr.Geoffreys, the Superintendent on Kenilworth Estate Ginigathena by his chief clerk I believe in the late thirties. The title of this article was later changed to “Marked for Murder”.

The tragic incidents depicted in this article are similar to those in the article “Murder around the Bend”. Robbery was the only motive for the murder of Mr.Roger Blumer on Talgaswella estate, and the murder depicted in this article. They were both killed while returning to their respective estates with the labourers wages. Turn back the hands of time to the year 1851, the year when a young Assistant Superintendent on Galantenna Estate Galaha, Mr.E.A.Morgan was returning to the estate on horse back with the cooly pay, the phrase used in the lingua franca of the plantations for ‘Labourers Wages’, and was waylaid and murdered en route.

In an account of this crime in a book by J.P.Lewis titled  A LIST OF INSCRIPTIONS ON TOMBSTONES AND MONUMENTS IN CEYLON, the author writes, ” On October 11th, while riding along a jungle path to the estate with money to pay the labourers, Mr.E.P.Morgan was shot by some villagers”. The records further state that despite his injuries he managed to ride to the Kitulamulla Patana where he fell from his horse, mortally wounded. The young planter was riding with this large sum of money in his saddle bow, unarmed. This road like many mountain paths had several zig zags . Suddenly, a native fired at him from a jungle thicket mortally wounding him. To his credit, Mr.Morgan maintained his sang froid and presence of mind. He attempted to run down his assailant and was able to make his escape with the money. He managed to reach his bungalow on Nilambe but so grievous were his wounds that he died that same evening. He was buried in the Old Garrison Cemetery in Kandy on October 13th. The records specifically mention that Galantenna Estate was privately owned by a Mr.Braybrooke.

Now this is where the differing accounts about this murder give the reader a huge connundrum ! In the Directory of Estates section published in THE CEYLON ALMANAC OF 1851, Mr. E.P.Morgan is listed as being the Superintendent on Charlemont Estate Hewaheta which belonged to Mr.James Caulfied and Mr.B.Dodsworth of Galantenna.

When I contacted my source of reference for information on the plantations, a former planter and old Anthonian Norman Thompson, he referred to his ‘Bible of Planters’ – The Ceylon Ferguson’s Directory and informed me that neither estate is listed therein. I can only surmise that with the passage of time both estates may have been sold more than once, and finally abandoned and simply fragmented. On a visit to Sri Lanka last year, I saw some tea properties  – one a former large Company owned estate – abandoned, and where two leaves and a bud  graced the fields, weeds and grass now reign supreme. Through the thick covering of weeds and shrub I saw some tea bushes still fighting the good fight in a last desperate stand before finally surrendering  to the undergrowth. In the case of this once Company owned estate, it was very sad to see the bungalows, factory, the large Superintendents bungalow and the general infrastructure of the estate left to the mercy of the elements which will hasten the ultimate demise of this once great and profitable plantation. The reference to Mr.Morgan’s bungalow on Nilambe in the account by P.J.Lewis

could mean that Nilambe was once a division of Charlemont estate. Norman informs me that according to his 1962 edition of The Ceylon Ferguson’s Directory, there is a Nilambe estate in Galaha with 632 acres. I presume the estate still survives today.

Another English Planter Mr.E.W.Woodhouse has left an account which states ” Young Morgan was shot by a villager as he negotiated the zig zag bends in the road with some currency notes stuffed in his breast pocket ! There was a giant tree by the road and the assassins fired at him hiding behind the trunk of this large tree. ” In both records of this murder there is no explanation as to what the places “Kitulamulla Patana” and the “Bowlana Patana” mean.

If a ray of sunshine and consolation can be gleaned from this story, it is the fact that like Mr.Bloomer on Talgaswella estate, Mr.Morgan despite his serious injuries rode on like a hero in a Western movie and fell off his horse only after reaching the Bowlana Patana thus saving the labourers wages. It is  also apparent that the authorities concerned paid scant attention to the need for security when sending a young Planter to collect labourers wages, in this case by horseback. Mr.Blumer of Talgaswella at least went by car to the bank and back. It should be noted that none of the assailants were ever arrested and one hundred and fifty nine years later, we are none the wiser as to who they were.

In the case of the murders of Mr. Whitehouse, Mr.Pope, and Mr.Blumer, all the accused were tried, found guilty and kept their date with the hangman. The assailants of Mr.E.P.Morgan went Scot free. For love of money an innocent young man paid with his life far from his native land and his loved ones. No more would this young Welshman hear the joyful uplifting strains of “HEN WLAD FLY NHADAU”  the national anthem of Wales. Translated into English the words mean LAND OF MY FATHERS. He now rests in a foreign field where ‘there will always be an England’. As for his murderers, I surmise they would have been consigned straight to hell by the fastest route ! A place at the devil’s table would rightly have been reserved for them right next to the prince of darkness.

Acknowledgements.

I am very grateful to Victor Melder who gave me the necessary information to write this story. Over the years Victor has always been forthcoming with any help I needed, when writing a particular article proved an onerous task. It is no exaggeration to say that without his assistance, many of the articles I wrote would not have seen the light of day. To him I owe a debt of gratitude.

To Norman Thompson an ex Planter and Anthonian schoolmate, my grateful thanks are due. His knowledge of the geography of the tea plantations is extensive, and whenever I sought his help, he would always throw me a life line and follow it up with some useful tips depending on the subject of the article, usually on the tea estates. Thank you Norman.

Bernard Van Cuyenburg

Bernard VanCuylenburg

 



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