Thurstan Our Alma Mater

Thurstan School was dawned with the end of the world war two. That was in nineteen forties.It was not started as a result of free education concept brought by famous scholar and minister of education Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara. Thurstan School could be introduced as an institution of technical education, started after gaining political independence in Sri Lanka from the British rule. Thurstan was planted in an educationally rich soil. On one side was one and a half century years old Royal College and on the other side was the Colombo Campus which was of similar age. The location is a significant feature.

Reverend father A. J. Thurstan started a private technical school in 1859 in this beautiful environment and maintained it out of his own funds. This institution had been a agricultural and multimedia technical training centre for many years but had to be closed down after a few years. In 1884 with the assistance of the British Government an agricultural school was started in the same place. There was historical evidence to show that around this agricultural school there had been a flourishing cinnamon cultivation, and today Colombo 7 is known as Cinnamon Gardens due to this cultivation. The agricultural school was started by the then Director of Education Mr. H. W. Green. In 1910 it was closed down.

There was a problem of space faced by Royal College and there was a need for another school  for those students who could not gain admission to Royal. This problem went up to then Premier D. S. Senanayake and he suggested to occupy the buildings left vacant due to the shiftily of the teacher training school to Maharagama.

A new School was opened by then Minister of Education by Mr. E. A. Nugewela on January 11th, 1950 named as government Senior School at Thurstan road. There were 26 students who entered the grade one, to grade six 112 students were enrolled. There are all who passed grade 5 at Royal College. The principal of the new school was Mr. D. E. A. Shokman. During his  term he tried to raise the standard of the school curriculum in many ways. Making use of the experience at Kingswood College Kandy with his ideas about high schools he introduced a house system for sports, student leadership (Prefects), cadetting, and literary associations not second to a high school which gained high standards in sports, literacy etc. over many years. He named the houses after the for directors of Education during British rule namely Denham, Macrey, Robison and Sandeman. The first Sports meet was held under the patronage of Dr. H. W. Howes, CMG, Director of Education on Saturday the 9th of February 1952. The teacher in charge of sport was Mr. Kingsly Fernando. Inter house champions were Robison House.


Thurstan College was founded on January 11th, 1950 and was opened by the then Minister of Education Mr E A Nugawala. When it’s first Principal Mr Douglas Earle Allen Schokman addressed the assembly, where 53 students were present. However they were not students of Thurstan, but Government Senior School.
Government Senior School was formed to accommodate the overflow of students from Royal Primary who could not gain admission to Royal College in the period 1947 to 1949. These 112 students were accommodated in Form 1 [year 6], Form 11 [year 7], Form 111 [year 8], together with 53 students New Entrance to Lower Kindergarten [year 1]. These constitute the first batch of students at Government Senior School. Prasanna Abeyratna, ex-treasurer of the OBU has the unique honour of becoming its first student.

Thurstan College has grown on rich educational soil in the Colombo?s prestigious educational triangle. The college was named as THURSTAN on March 26th, 1953 on the occasion of the first Prize-Giving which was presided by the Deputy Director of Education Mr T D Jayasuriya as it abuts Thurstan Road. The name remembers the pioneer Englishman & Anglican Missionary Rev A J Thurstan who established a Private Industrial School in this site in 1859 which he maintained out of his own funds which provided both Agricultural & Craft training. After some years, the school was closed down and the British Government opened an Agricultural School in 1884 to develop the Cinnamon Industry, as Cinnamon was grown extensively in this area and even today Colombo 7 is known as Cinnamon Gardens. This school which was started by the then Director of Education Mr H W Green too was closed down in 1910.
The Government then commenced a small school for the children of the area. When Royal College was moved to Reid Avenue in 1923 to accommodate the newly established University College, the Primary section of Royal too departed and in the vacant premises the Government started the Teacher Training College with hostel facilities for both males & females. Denham hostel was a well known landmark until the late 80?s in the premises. In 1949 the Teacher Training College was shifted to Maharagama to accommodate the bigger intake of teachers and with it went the Practicing school which catered for the students in the periphery.
Thus the Government Senior School was founded in 1950 in the premises vacated by the Training College. The picturesque Government Senior School with its land mark ?Nuga ?tree flanked by the University College & Royal College in the famous educational triangle of Thurstan Road, Reid Avenue & Racecourse Avenue. It was once again made to a hive of educational activity to provide primary & secondary education to Sinhala, Tamil and English medium. 

1950 – 1955

The first Principal Mr Earle Schokman was an Old Kingswoodian, who had taught at Trinity and worked with dedication to improve the newly established school. It had all the trappings which a Public School Education Institution of the time needed. A House system. Prefect system, Literary and other Cultural Societies, Sports, Cadeting and Scouts troops were formed.
No apter names could have been chosen for the Houses; Denham, Macrae, Robison, Sandeman, all past Directors of Education during the Colonial period who made great contribution to the development of education in Ceylon.
The college colours were Blue, Gold & Red, the reverse of the Trinity colours, may be for Mr Schokman to remember his days at Trinity. The motto resounds exhorting all it’s sons to move from ?darkness to light “. On Saturday February 9th, 1952 the first ever Inter – House Athletic meet was held under the patronage of Dr H W Howes, CMG, Director of Education. The teacher in charge of sports was Mr Kingsley Fernando and Robison House emerged as the first Inter-house champions.
In 1953 college commenced playing 1st Eleven cricket with many under 16 ners and they played against the 2nd Eleven teams of the bigger schools.
In this period the Lower Kindergarten and Primary classes were gradually abolished to set up a collegiate school preparing students for SSC & HSC examinations
The famous Rationalist Abraham Kavoor joined the school in this era to teach Biology. After his death according his wishes his anatomical skeleton was handed over to the Biology laboratory at Thurstan.
After laying a solid foundation Mr Schokman retired in 1955. 

1956 – 1966

Mr M D Gunawardane assumed duties in January 1956. He was a genial gentleman, but a stern disciplinarian. He was much liked the students and parents. He was able to rally the parents and reactivate the Parent Teachers Association [PTA] which was instrumental in building the first Shrine room [now demolished]. During his era, in July 1958, a two storied Science block, the new Hall & the Office complex was opened. It was during Mr Gunewardena?s era that Thurstan commenced Tennis and Neville Senaratne  was a national Tennis Champion and lateraly appointed as National Coach. Thurstan also earned a name for Table Tennis during this period and emerged runners up in the Public Schools Tournament, Ayal Jayathileke a member of this team went on to earn a Cambridge Blue the first ever by a Sri Lankan.

Mr. Gunewardenae reorganized the administration in different fields stressing on the need for academic development. In 1958 students commenced entering the Universities. The first two to enter was Nihal Gunawardane [Engineering] & Shunith Goonatelleke [Arts].
In the field of drama, Dayananda Gunawardane who was a teacher produced the famous
?Nari Bena ?play which late became a stage play of much acclaimed. Another drama which won the imagination of many was the English play produced by the Western Music teacher Mr Weerasinghe – ?Aladdin and the wonderful lamp “.
Rugby practices commenced in 1957 and in 1958 Surath Wickramasinghe became the first College Captain. Geoff Ratnam who was a member of this team rounded up a fine club career and had the distinction of captaining Ceylon and latterly being appointed national coach. The 1st XI cricketers were given the opportunity of playing with their counter parts of other leading schools both in Colombo & Outstations.
In this era Sports bloomed at Thurstan. Boxes excelled at Stubb shield meets, Athletes were winners at Group & Public School meets, the Table Tennis paddlers were a force to reckon with at Inter – school championships. Cadets won the Herman Loos shield and two Thurstanites, Harris Perera & Lalith Pieris captained the National School Cricket Association teams to Australia in 1962 & 1964 respectively. A contributory reason for such success was the active involvement of the teachers who were not only Masters-in-Charge but also were the coaches.
In 1957 the Primary classes were done away with, while classes from Form 1 [year 6] to University Entrance [year 13] prevailed. In 1958 with the onset of the communal disturbances, the multi-ethnic character of Thurstan was lost with the Tamil stream transferred to Isipathana.
In 1960’s many Thurstanites were emerging from the Universities as doctors, engineers, & graduates from other disciplines.
The Teachers Guild was an active body, which brought much bonhomie among the teachers & their families
Mr Gunawardane has been a keen Tennis player and two courts were constructed and he used to play regularly with his pupils & fellow staff members. It was during Gunewardena era that Thurstan commenced Tennis and Neville Senaratne was a national Tennis Champion and lately appointed as National Coach. Thurstan also earned a name for Table Tennis during this period and emerged runners up in the Public Schools Tournament, Prof.Ayal Jayatileke a member of this team went on to earn a Cambridge Blue the first ever by a Sri Lankan.
Despite not having a Swimming pool of their own Gavin Amarasighe emerged as a leading public schools swimmer by winning the much sought after annual two mile swim for two consecutive years.

To the later part of his era, the famous Musician Pandit Visharada Mr Lionel Algama who was the Music teacher in school at that time compiled the College song. About this time the medium of instruction in the advance level classes too were changed to Sinhala.
Mr Gunawardane’s era as the 2nd Principal of the school ended in January 1967. This could be called the period where Thurstan gained stability.


The next Principal was Mr P M Jayatillake, the might wielder of the willow, a cricketer of repute, who was the first centurion in 1928 of the “Battle of the Maroons? between Ananda & Nalanda. He came to Thurstan from Ibbagamuwa Central College where he helped this school to become a leading school in the Kurunagala district.
Mr Jayatillake was keen to involve the Old Boys’ in the activities of the School and he was able reorganize the OBU and he was able to elevate the THURSTAN – ISIPTHANA cricket match to a big match status in 1968, similarly the Rugby encounter was also played for a Trophy.
During this period Thurstan was able to produce very strong cricket teams which were able to hold their own against any school team. From this team came out the most debonair school boy batsman in that era, Diyanesh Rajaratnam  who toured India with Ceylon School team in 1969(that made history by winning the test series) and many players of this team later went on to play test cricket for Sri Lanka. Diyanesh will also be long remembered as a Commentator par excellence in Cricket & Rugby. It was during this era that Thurstan cricketers were considered to play in the much sought after zonal cricket tournaments that gave them recognition. Amitha de Costa who played from 67 to 69 emerged as a leading batsman and four years later after highly successful club career he won the first Ceylon Cap for Sri Lanka playing against Tony Lewis?s England team

The first School Magazine was also published when he was the helm. He was able to change the outlook of the students. They gained a thirst for more participation in extra curricular activities and also imbibed a sense of loyalty to the school among the students Thuratan oriental orchestra that was inaugurated in this era won the all Island championship and Sarath Kumarasinghe who learnt his basics in Esraj of the band is now a International performer based in Canada and Kalani Perera is a renowned violinist.  This period also marked a resurgence of academic activities and a significant increase in the University admissions was recorded. Dr Sunil Seneviratne Epa former president of the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA),  Dr Narendra Pinto incumbent President of the Ceylon College of surgeons, Dr Lucky de Lanerolle Director of the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital, Prof. Mahinda Rupasinghe Vice Chancellor of the Sabaragamuwa University, Prof Dillip de Silva of the Colombo University , Prof. Rohan Samarajeewa  IT specialist and Consultant World Bank, Dr Theekshana Suraweera  incumbent head of the SLIT were some of the outstanding products of this era.  

Mr. Jayatillake who lived to a ripe age of 90 + used to reminiscence his days in school when he holtansted his students to lunch every other year


Mr Siri Pandithasekara, a renowned educationalist assumed duties as the 4th Principal in March 1970. He was instrumental in organizing the first ?Kala Ullela “. And also commence the Advance level Commerce Section. During his period Amitha de Costa became the first Thurstanite to gain National honours in cricket when he was selected to play against the visiting English team in an ?Unofficial Test?. Jeff Rutnam had the distinction of leading the National Rugby team. Another notable event was the removal of the Primary section of Mahanama College from the Denham hostel in which they were occupying. Mr Pandithasekara left college when he gained promotion as Director of Education. He still keeps an active interest in school by attending various school functions all the way from Galle where he is residing and is close to 90 years

1974 – 1977

Mr A K Waidyasekara assumed duties as the Principal in the middle of 1974. During his tenure of office the Silver Jubilee of the school was celebrated with much pomp & fanfare. In his era, Thurstan was producing outstanding results in AL Commerce with large number of students entering Universities.
Boxing was also reactivated with old boy Donald Munasinghe as Master-in-Charge & coach. He produced many winners at Stubb shield & other meets. The ?Saukyadana? first aid unit also came into been during this period. 

1978 – 1987

Mr. P.S.Gunasekara assumed duties as the 6th Principal in January 1978. He was successful in reintroducing the Primary section to the school which was removed in 1957.This enable a large number of old boy?s to send their son?s to the school in which they had their education. Thus the bondage of Thurstan with the old boy?s was strengthened with another generation attending the same school. This revitalized the Old Boys’ Union in 1970, which was given a new lease of life and has been very active for the last 30 years doing yeoman service for the development and welfare of the alma mater.

He was able to harness the services of some senior old boy?s of the school for planning & development activities. A Steering Committee headed by Deshabandu Architect Surath Wickramasinghe was able to prevail upon the Education Department to remove their stores which were in the premises for a considerable period of time and demolish the landmark Denham hostel and convert the area to a play ground.   Thus the Thurstanites of all age groups at long last had an area to ?exercise their limbs ?Thurstan College Trust fund was created during this period. Another milestone was revival of the Annual OBU Dinner in 1986 that was well attended and the tradition continued there was a surge of interest among the students to indulge in extra- curricular activities. They were also successful in adding another floor [11 classrooms] to the science block. Thus after nearly 30 long years Thurstan was able to obtain a physical resource from the department.
Another significant milestone was that the then President, Mr. J.R. Jayawardane who was the chief-guest at a prize- giving honoured a pledge he made by allocating 5 ? acres at the old Racecourse for the construction of a playground.
Mr. Gunasekara also made much effort to develop the English education in the school.

1988 – 1992

Mr. H.D. Herman Perera assumed duties in January 1988 during the turbulent period of student unrest in Sri Lanka. He was successful in ensuring that the academic activities of the school were carried out uninterrupted. During his tenure of office he was able to bring the “Maha Pola” exhibition to the College and from this he was able to obtain funds to construct a science block.
He with the assistance of a leading government sector commercial bank was able to construct a Computer Laboratory, which was then a “first” in a government school. Mr. Perera who had the uncanny ability to plan and organize work systems had developed a comprehensive structure for the development of the school, which encompassed academic, co and extra curricular activities. Thurstan also celebrated its 40th anniversary during his period, which also saw Thurstan winning the annual cricket big match for 3 consecutive years after a barren run of 20 years. Thurstan also produced a National Squash champion in Saman Thilakaratna
He was successful in seeking the assistance of entrepreneur old boy Deshabandu Kumar Dewapura to construct a 3 storied block of class rooms costing many millions of rupees. The junior playground was constructed and all junior & second eleven cricket matches are now played. A beautiful scoreboard and a giant clock, which abuts the ground, are donations from old boy’s S.T.K Fernando & Nimal Warusawitharna.In 1990 .Under the stewardship of the Chairman of the Thurstan College trust Fund Sarat Weerasooriya the Annual Thurstanite Dinner was inaugurated at the Colombo Hilton and this event continues from year to year with increasing attendance and glamour.

1992 – 2006

Mr. R.D.M.P.Weerathunga who was the Deputy Principal assumed duties as the Principal in late 1992. The youthful Mr. Weerathunga is a new breed of professionals who have been absorbed into the Educational Administrative Service. They have been extensively trained in modern educational management techniques are now been given the onerous task of leading our schools to face the challenges of the 21st Century
He has been able to maintain a high standard of discipline in the school and has been able to mobilize all resources of the school namely; teachers, parents & old boy’s to develop the school. As soon as he assumed office Thurstan was elevated as a National School meeting the exacting criteria then laid out by the Education Department. Academic achievements have shown a gradual improvement yearly. There has been a greater in take of students from the year 5-scholarship examination. Annual prize giving has been held regularly to spur students to gain recognition. Thurstan was able to produce a Sinhala debating team of exceptional talent and they won many competitions.
 Rugby reached a very high standard with more professional inputs being given to the team and also the availability of a ground of our own at Bauddhaloka Mawatha was also a factor. They became official school champions in 1998 and were successful in beating their friendly rivals Isipathana after 35 years and also in 2005 won the Abdul Jabbar Trophy for then1st time after 38 years
Thurstan has been blessed with old boy’s who on their own volition has donated physical resources amounting to many millions of rupees which is very rare in modern day philanthropy. Kumar Dewapura block of classrooms has already been donated and maintained by Thurstanites employed by him. Graetian Gunawardhana’s donation of a modern 25 metre 6 lane swimming pool with other infrastructure facilities is a beacon to all successful old boy entrepreneur of any school to give back to their alma-mater some thing in return for what the school did for them. This was the high point in the Golden Jubilee celebration in the year 2000. There were many other activities in the year 2000 connected with the Golden Jubilee including a well attended dinner organized by the OBU.
The Principal has also been successful in obtaining the assistance of the authorities to construct a 3-storied Library cum classroom complex and extensive renovation to the school buildings. During 2003 he was able to persuade the Education Authorities that there was a need to increase the student population from the present figure of 2500 by at least another 1000 by the construction of class- room complex at the rear of the college.

In 1994 Thurstan felicitated its first Cabinet Minister Mahinda Rajapakse at largely attended Dinner. We also saw the first Thurstanite to win a Sri Lanka Test cap in Niroshan Bandaratillke and Sampath Perera had the honour of captaining the National football team while Shimal Aponso represented the national junior badminton team. In Table Tennis Chamara Dushmantha became the National champion.
The long felt need of the College, the formation of Western & an Oriental Band became a reality. There is an active interest by the children in the primary classes in drama and they have performed well at all island competitions. In this period the College Western Brass Band performed exceptionally well at inter school competitions and could easily be considered one of the best in the Island. A Band Display held at the BMICH organized by Thurstan with many leading schools participating was an event of much stature with modern technology in lighting, sound and Multi media being used for the first time in such a display.
After 13 years due to the good offices of the President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in 1997 Thurstan was finally officially given the title for the ground at Bauddhaloka Mawatha. Facilities were made available to play Rugby from 1998 for 5 years until the redevelopment of the ground commenced in mid 2003 so that Cricket could be played. The work on the cricket ground was completed in mid 2005 and first eleven matches were played in the 2005-6 season.
The ground has under ground sprinkler irrigation system, first to be installed in School ground. It has 5 centre turf wickets, with many as 9 practice turf wickets in addition to Matting and concrete wickets
We were extremely happy that Mr Kumar Dewapura at that time once again came to help his alma-mater and his Pavilion with modern facilities will be available for use when the first match is being played at the reconstructed ground
Thurstanites are now domiciled in many countries. To keep in touch and to help College OBU branches have been formed in England, New Zealand & Australia. The official WEB – which was launched in early 2003. With this facility, Thurstanites living all over the world has access to its history as well as current activities on the school
Thurstan was able to produce a Prime Minister, when Hon Mahinda Rajapksa was sworn on April 3rd 2004 as the 19th Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. He was felicitated by functions at School and by the OBU. The function organized by the OBU was best ever function organized with many of his class-mates, Old Thurstanites, young & old and may of his teachers in attendance.
Another Old Boy Chandra Fernando became the first Thurstanite to hold office as the Inspector General of Police when he assumed office in October 2004.
We also saw in 2004, after a lapse of 25 years, 3 Thurstanites – Tharindu Lanka Prasada, Dilan Samarweera, M U I Kulasekara were awarded the Presidential Scout Award, the highest honour in the field of scouting.
Perhaps the grand finale is the success of the first ever Thurstan Walk in the form a Parade held on October 30th 2004.From all accounts it was a spectacular success. Many who witnessed and participated in the event were unanimous in their accolades for a “job well done”.
Participation exceeded 4000 [ may be about 2200 students, 1000 parents and about 800 old boy’s ] .
It took about 1 hour for the procession to pass one point & the length of the Parade would have been about 1.5 to 2 Km.when the front of the Parade was near the College grounds at Stanley Wijesundera Mawatha, the tail had just left College winding it’s way down Thurstan Road, Thunmulla Junction, Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Stanley Wijesundera Mawatha where the entrance to the ground is situated.
The Prime Minister Hon Mahinda Rajapaksa as an Old Boy lead the walk & walked the whole distance of 3.5 Km. He stood at a point in Guildford Crescent to watch the whole Parade pass through which was much appreciated by the participants.
An estimated 90 % of School boy’s & Old Boy’s wore the special T shirt & Cap which had the logo ” Proud to be a Thurstanite ” and the spouse had the T shirt stating that ” Proud to be with a Thurstanite “
Perhaps add icing in the cake, was when Hon Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in as the President of the Country soon as he celebrated his 60th birthday on November 18th. Thus he has the unique honour of being the youngest Member of Parliament when he was just 24 years, Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister and now the President, a record which is hard to be broken

The tenure of Mr Weerathunga as the 8th Principal ended in August 2006 when he went on promotion to Ministry of Education. Perhaps this period could be considered as one that Thurstan attained the rank of a BIG SCHOOL with all the infrastructure facilities available.

2006 -2008

After the departure of Mr Weerathunga, the Department of Education did not appoint a Principal for 2 years.
Mr R M Jayasekara, who was at Thurstan since 1972, was a renowned Commerce teacher. Subsequently he was elevated to the rank as the Deputy Principal and served 5 Principals in most diligent manner was given the Acting Appointment till he retired in October 2007, after serving Thurstan for 35 long years. He had encyclopedic knowledge of events at Thurstan & many Thurstanites who passed through the portals of the college. This knowledge was of immense help to the OBU and now Thurstan has officially lost this branch of history.  During his tenure Thurstan Celebrated 50 years of Rugby by conducting an Inter – schools 7 tournaments.  Football which was forgotten at Thurstan was reactivated with the help of dedicated past players
After his retirement, Mr Janaka Kumara who was the Deputy Principal to Mr Jayasekara served as the Acting Principal till July 2008. Thus he became first Thurstanite to hold this appointment. In this period, that is 2007-8 season Thurstan became the ALL ISLAND BEST CRICKET TEAM, Umesh Karunaratna the Captain was nominated as the SCHOOL BOY CRICKETER OF THE YEAR & Geeth Kumara as the Runners-up and they won a host of other awards. All these were first for Thurstan. During this period Mr Jayantha Wickrmaratna became the 2nd IGP from Thurstan


Mr Wimal Gunaratna was appointed as the Principal in August 2008. He was the Director of Education Western Province before his appointment. With his immense knowledge of the education system, he has put in place an educational infrastructure to improve the education at Thurstan, which is the corner stone for recognition as a reputed school. He believes that this will bring results in the short & long term.
He also has introduced new sports such as Baseball, Karate, and Volleyball and renewed the interest in Chess among the Students.

Deshabandu Kumar Dewapura Pavilion was official handed over to Thurstan on January 30th, 2009. On December 4th, 2009 the “first sod” was cut by the Ministser of Sports & Recreation Hon Gamini Lokuge for the Construction of the Rugby Grounds adjoining the Cricket grounds. This has been due to the personal interest shown by the President to uplift the standard of Rugby of his Alma Mater by providing Thurstan with a ground of its own.
To mark the Diamond Jubilee of Thurstan, RS 10 Stamp will issued which will depict the land mark “Nuga Tree” and the College building.

Thurstan over the past 60 years have produced outstanding distinguished citizens in all known spheres of public life in Cabinet Ministers, Senior Public Servants, Commanders in the Armed Services & Police, Vice Chancellors and other leading Professions in Medical, Engineering Accountancy, Architects, Commerce, Banking, Lawyers and Company Chairmen & Directors. But the most notable is Hon Mahinda Rajapaksa who was at Thurstan for 7 years, as the President of the Country gave leadership to eliminate the scourge of Terrorism which engulfed our beloved motherland for 30 long years.

Thurstan now has the entire infrastructure facilities, which a modern Public school needs to face the challenges of the 21st Century Thus it could face the coming decade with confidence to produce distinguish citizens as they have so successfully done in the last half a century.
All we need is the commitment & covenant of teachers, parents, old boy’s & well wishers to do better tomorrow then what we did today.         

Priya Paranavitane
Thurstan OBU   
January 11th,2010                                 

Our sincere thanks to Mr. Priya Paranavitane Joint Secretary OBU for sending us this article

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