Edwin Wijeyeratne

Sir Edwin Aloysius Perera WijeyeratneKBE  (8 January 1889 – 19 October 1968) (known as Edwin Wijeyeratne) was a Sri Lankan politician, diplomat, and one of the founding members of United National Party. He was a Senator and Cabinet Minister of Home Affairs and Rural Development in the government of D.S.Senanayake.


Wijeyeratne received his primary education at the village school in Rambukkana. When nine years old, he transferred to Handessa Village School in Gampola, where he stayed at the home of his future wife, Leela Pethiyagoda. He was subsequently educated at St Mary’s College, Kegalle, before completing his secondary education at St Joseph’s College, Colombo where he passed the Cambridge Senior exam with Honours. He won 15 prizes at his last school prize giving.[1]After leaving school, he taught at Lorenz Tutory whilst pursuing an early career in journalism, where he received tutelage under one of the greatest editors Ceylon had hitherto, Armand de Souza, whom Governors feared and officials dreaded. Wijeyeratne subsequently entered Law College and qualified as a lawyer in 1929.

Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne with
Queen Elizabeth II

Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne with First Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru

Professional career

Edwin Wijeyeratne quickly built up a large legal practice. He was an expert in Civil and Kandyan Law, and in Buddhist Ecclesiastical Law. He entered the State Councilin 1931 from Kegalle, where he served until 1936. He did not stand for re-election at the State Council in 1936, however, he remained at the Bar from 1936 to 1947.

Political career

During his early days in journalism, Wijeyeratne became political secretary to Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan and was one of the co-founders of a political group, the Young Lanka League. He was a chief live wire in Ceylon’s struggle for freedom, having been among the hundreds of Ceylonese arrested by the British colonial government during the riots of 1915.[2] Others who faced imprisonment without charges included prominent figures of the independence movement such as FR Senanayake, DC Senanayake, DS Senanayake, Baron Jayatilaka, Dr CA Hewavitarne, WA de Silva, Arthur V Dias, John Silva, Piyadasa Sirisena and A E Goonesinha.

Wijeyeratne was a co-founder when the Ceylon National Congress was founded by Sir P Arunachalam and Sir James Peiris. During British colonial rule, when the Lord Soulbury commissioners were on their way to Kandy, DS Senanayake had stationed Wijeyeratne bare-bodied, in a paddy field in Kegalle.[1] There, he was introduced to the commissioners as a typical Sinhala farmer and who spoke in English to the commissioners and impressed on them the need for Ceylon to obtain self-government. A special invitation was thereby sent to Ceylon by Jawaharlal Nehruand the Indian Congress to visit India for a discussion regarding the independence of Ceylon. Wijeyeratne, DS Senanayake, George E De Silva, JR Jayawardene, Sir Claude Corea and HW Amarasuriya were among the delegates.

On 21 December 1940, Wijeyeratne was appointed President of the Ceylon National Congress. His Joint Secretaries were Dudley Senanayake and JR Jayawardene. During this period he was chosen to lead the Ceylon National Congress delegation to London. In 1947 Wijeyeratne was appointed to the Senate which was a non-elected upper house of parliament. There he served as acting leader. He subsequently succeeded Sir Oliver Goonetilleke as Cabinet Minister of Home Affairs and Rural Development in DS Senanayake’s government in July 1948. He was a member of the Commission on the Death Penalty which first recommended the abolishing the death penalty from Ceylon in 1958.

Family life

Tissa, Nissanka and Cuda

Wijeyeratne married Leela Pethiyagoda of Meewaladeniya Walauwa, Gampola and had three sons and a daughter. The eldest, Tissa Wijeyeratne was a Barrister at Law and served as the Additional Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs and Defence, as Sri Lankan Ambassador to France and to Switzerland, and as Senior Advisor (Foreign Affairs) to Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. His second son, Dr Nissanka Wijeyeratne, was former Cabinet Minister of Education, Higher Education and Justice, Diyawadana Nilame (Chief lay Custodian) of Temple of the Tooth, and later the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the Russian Federationand former member of the governing body of UNESCO. The youngest son, Dr Cuda Wijeyeratne is a consultant psychiatrist.

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