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Coordinates: 6°54′16″N 79°51′40″E / 6.90444°N 79.86111°E / 6.90444; 79.86111

Royal College Colombo
Latin: Disce aut Discede
("Learn or Depart")
Sri Lanka
Type Public
Established 1835
Founder Sir Robert Wilmot-Horton, 3rd Baronet
Principal Upali Gunasekara
Grades Class 1 - 13
Gender Boys
Age 6 to 19
Enrollment 8000
Colour(s) Blue and gold


Publication Royal College Magazine,
The Royalist
Former pupils Old Royalists

The Royal College of Colombo (commonly known as Royal College) was founded in January 1835. It is considered to be the leading Public School in Sri Lanka.[1] The oldest public school in the country,[2] it is a National School, as such it is funded by the central government as opposed to the provincial council providing both primary and secondary education. Royal College is often referred to as the Eton of Sri Lanka[3] and it was selected as one of best innovative colleges in the world by Microsoft in 2009.[4]

Royal College has produced many distinguished alumni, including Presidents of two countries, a Sultan, and three Prime Ministers.



Situated in a quiet residential suburb of Colombo known as the Cinnamon Gardens, it occupies an area of 34 acres. The college is funded by the Ministry of Education, which appoints its Principal. The Principal is the head of the administration of the College and is assisted by a Vice Principal. The school is divided in to three sections: the primary school (the former Royal College Preparatory School), middle school and the upper school, each coming under a deputy principal (the head of the primary school is known as the Headmaster/Headmistress). The college educates close to 8000 students in both secondary and primary education.


Royal College Building

The school was founded by the Rev. Joseph Marsh, the acting Colonial Chaplain at St. Paul's Church as the Hill Street Academy in 1835, as a private institution with 20 students, mainly from the upper class community situated at Hill Street, Pettah. In 1836, Sir Robert Wilmot-Horton, the British Governor of Ceylon, based on the recommendations of the Colebrooke Commission converted it, as the Colombo Academy[5], into an English public school modeled on Eton College, with Marsh continuing as Head master. The oldest public school on the island with the governor as its patron, it gavee to the children of leading Ceylonese an education which would make them fit to be citizens of the British Empire and serve as the principal public school and a model for other government schools that were to be built in Ceylon.[6] In 1836 the school was moved to San Sebastian Hill, Pettah, (prior to which it was at Maradana, next to Hulftsdorp) it would stay there for another 75 years before being shifted to Thurstan Road.

In 1859 it was renamed Colombo Academy and Queens College and affiliated to the University of Oxford. In 1865 the Morgan Committee of inquiry into education recommended that it be reorganized and that scholarships should be awarded to study in Oxford[5]. It became the Colombo Academy once again in 1869.

In 1881 it was renamed Royal College Colombo with the royal consent from Her Majesty Queen Victoria. The Gazette Notification giving Her Majesty's approval to change the name of the school appeared on July 31, 1881. The same year the first cadet battalion in Ceylon was formed at the College, attached to the Ceylon Light Infantry. The Royal College Union was formed in 1891 as the first alumni society in the country.

Old College Building (1911-1921), now the University of Colombo

On August 27, 1913 the school was moved to its new building at Thurstan Road (which is now the main building of the University of Colombo). Ten years later on October 10, 1923 the school moved once again, this time to the newly built Victorian styled building on Reid Avenue, which it still occupies. This move was due to the suggestion made by a higher education committee in 1914, which suggested that Royal College should be converted into a University College. Due to the objections made by members of the Royal College Old Boys Union, especially by the speeches made by Frederick Dornhorst, KC, the then Governor of Ceylon, Lord Chalmers instead created a separate University College named University College Colombo, at the schools former premises which became the University of Colombo in the later years. With the introduction of free education in Ceylon in 1931, Royal stopped charging fees from its students thus proving education free of charge to this day.

In 1940 the school was again on the move this time due to the onset of World War II. The school was ordered to move out and the British Army moved in establishing a military hospital in the school buildings. Principal E.L. Bradby made sure the education of the students was carried on unhindered by moving the students in to four private villas (known as bungalows in Ceylon) at Turret Street, Colombo and shifting the 1-3 forms to Glendale bungalow in Bandarawela where it was till 1948. After the war the school was relocated to its old home on Ried Avenue, Colombo. In August 1977 the Royal Preparatory School was amalgamated to Royal College forming the school's primary school, with it came the county's only national theatre at the time the Navarangahala.

Five years earlier on May 22, 1972 the members of the House of Representatives of the Dominion of Ceylon met at the Royal Primary School Hall (Navarangahala) enacted the Republican Constitution that established the Republic of Sri Lanka.[7]

The college today

Since its establishment the main medium of education had been English; however with Sinhala becoming the official language along with Tamil, the medium of education was changed to Sinhala and Tamil. Since 2002 English as been reintroduced as a medium of education at the College. Students may select one of the three mediums in which to conduct their studies.

The school is equipped with facilities such as lecture halls, science and computer laboratories, auditoriums etc. This includes the 'College Hall' and the Navarangahala which is a national theater.

The first hostel of the Colombo Academy was established in San Sebastian in 1868, establishing Royal as one of the first boarding schools in Sri Lanka. Since then the school has maintained a hostel for students from outside Colombo, with around 230 hostelers.

Sport plays a major part in Royal College's activities. The school's facilities include a swimming pool[8], cricket and athletics grounds, tennis courts, indoor cricket nets and an international standard sports complex. The sports complex, built in 2000, a short distance from the college, hosts national and school sporting events all year round.


Royal College motto on top of the main building

The students are divided into five Houses:

  • Marsh
  • Boake
  • Hartley
  • Harward
  • Reed

The names are derived from past headmasters and principals of the college. The houses compete in all major games to win the inter-house games.


There are 165 endowed prizes and awards. The College Main Hall carries the names of those students who have won the Panel Prizes. The most coveted prize at Royal is the Dornhorst Memorial Prize, awarded (since 1930) to the most popular student each year, in the memory of Frederick Dornhorst, KC, followed by the Lalith Athulathmudali Memorial Prize for the most outstanding Royalist of the year. Prizes are awarded at the prize-giving under the patronage of the President of Sri Lanka (earlier under the patronage of the Governor of Ceylon).

The Royal Crown, is the most prestigious award a sportsman can achieve at Royal, awarded each year at the Colours Night to a sportsman who has made outstanding achievements in his field of sports while Colours are awarded to other players who have made significant contributions in the sporting arena.


Scholarship and Prizes

Prize Year of Institution
Turnour Prize 1846 -
Senior Mathematical Prize 1846 - 1934
Shakespeare Prize 1870 - 1932
English University Scholarship 1870 - 1926
Lorensz Scholarship 1876
Director's Prize 1883 - 1921
De Soysa Science Prize 1893
Sir James Peiris Memorial Prize 1905
Donald Obeysekera Prize 1912
F Dadabhoy Memorial Prize 1922
The Governor's Prize 1922 - 1947
C M Fernando Memorial Prize 1925
Harward Memorial Prize 1926 - 1963
Steward's Prize 1929
Dornhorst Memorial Prize 1930
Gate Mudaliar R E Gooneratne Memorial Prize 1933
G L Rupasinghe Memorial Prize 1934
Dr F E Weerasooriya Memorial Prize 1934
Canon Lucien Jansz Memorial Prize 1934
Adigar A Sellamuttu Prize 1935
Ruby Andries Memorial Prize 1935
Stubbs Prize 1935 - 1970
Sir Edward Denham Memorial Prize 1939
Dr C A Hewavitarane Memorial Prize 1942
Cecil Perera Memorial Scholarship 1944
The Governor General's Prize 1947 - 1972
Peter De Abrew Memorial Scholarship 1948
Dr H L H De Mel Memorial Prize 1948
Earle De Zoysa Memorial Prize 1952
P U Ratnaunga Prize 1952
J N Jimendradasa Memorial Prize 1954
E W Perera Memorial Memorial Scholarship 1954
Dudley K G De Silva Prize 1957
R H Wickramasinghe Memorial Prize 1957
Tissa Wickramasinghe Memorial Prize 1963
Amal De Mel Memorial Prize 1966
Harsha Panditha Gunawardena Memorial Scholarship 1967
T D Jayasooriaya Memorial Prize 1970
Mudaliyar L C Wijeshinghe Prize 1970
The President's Prize 1973
Omeon Mendis Memorial Scholarship 1973
1927 Group Scholarship 1978
George Rajapakse Memorial Scholarship 1973
Ajantha Wijesena Scholarship 1978
Sir Henry De Mel Memorial Prize 1983
Lalith Athulathmudali Memorial Prize 1994
J R Jayawardene Memorial Prize 1997

Trophies and sports scholarships

  • Col. T.G. Jayawardena Memorial Shield
  • Maalin Dias Sports Scholarship
  • E L Bradby - J C A Corea Prize
  • Grp. Capt. D.S. Wickremasinghe Memorial Prize

College song

The College song is "School of Our Fathers", which is sung at the start of the school day and on important occasions. The words of the song were written by Major H.L.Reed, a Principal of the school in 1927. The music was later revised by S. Schmid.

In 1968, a shorter version of the college song in Sinhala was composed on the instructions of the Principal by the same combination which composed the first song (Messrs W.A. Wickramasena and S.J.F. Dissanayake). It is sung at the end of the school day.


Sport is a major part of Royal College, with over 21 different sports played. Royal has the annual Royal-Thomian cricket match, the Bradby Shield Encounter and the Regatta.

Other sports played at Royal include;

  • Athletics
  • Archery
  • Badminton
  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Boxing
  • Chess
  • Cricket
  • Cycling
  • Gymnastics
  • Hockey
  • Karate
  • Rifle Shooting
  • Rowing[1]
  • Rugby union
  • Soccer
  • Squash
  • Swimming/Diving[8]
  • Table Tennis
  • Tennis
  • Volleyball
  • Water Polo
  • Wushu


A Royal flag at the 128th Royal Thomian

Cricket has been played at the school since 1838. The annual cricket match against the school's traditional rival, S. Thomas' College, Mt Lavinia is the second longest uninterrupted cricket match series in the world. The original match was played between the Colombo Academy and St Thomas' College in 1879, with schoolmasters participating as well as schoolboys. From 1880 onwards, only schoolboys were allowed to play in the match.[9]

Until 2006 the tally stands with both schools winning 33 each and 61 drawn. This is preceded by the Cycle Parade which usually happens on the day before the big match, with the official objective of visiting the captain's house to encourage him.

Royal-Trinity Bradby Shield encounter

The Bradby Shield first presented by Principal of Royal College, E. L. Bradby in 1945

The annual rugby encounter against friendly rival Trinity College, Kandy is the Blue Riband of schools' rugby in Sri Lanka. Rugby was introduced at Royal in 1916, and the first historic match against Trinity was played in 1920. The Bradby Shield was first presented in 1945 by the departing Principal of Royal College, E. L. Bradby. Since 1945, two matches have taken place each year, one in Kandy and the other in Colombo. The Shield is awarded to the school that gets the highest aggregate of points in the two match series.

The Centenary match between the two schools was the second leg encounter played in 1983 - the Chief Guest was Mr E.L Bradby himself. The 2008 second leg match will be the 150th match between the two schools.

The 2002 Bradby encounter was the highest scoring encounter for Royal, led by Zulki Hamid, winning a record (39-00) in the first leg held in Colombo and winning the second leg (44-00) in Kandy, thus winning the Bradby Shield with a record aggregate of 83 - 00.

The 2009 Bradby first leg was won by Royal (23 - 12) in Kandy. The second leg was also won by Royal (31 - 15) in Colombo. Thus Royal wins the Bradby for 2009 with an aggregate of 53 - 27.

Royal-Thomian Regatta

Royal (nearside) winning the Junior Pairs 2007 in a record time.

The Royal-Thomian Regatta is the annual regatta between Royal College and S. Thomas' College, Mt Lavinia. The Boat Race which is a coxed fours event began in 1962. By 1966, it broadened out to give rise to the regatta having a card of six events, made up of 2 Single Sculls, 2 Coxless Pairs and 2 Coxed Fours. The events take place at the Beira lake (alongside the Colombo Rowing Club) in Colombo around October each year with the T. N. Fernando Trophy awarded to the overall winner.

In 2007, under the captaincy of Maalik Aziz, Royal won the regatta with a record 40 points to nil, for the first time in its history. The Royal College Crew created records in all six events including a record for the Boat Race with a timing of 3 mins 11 secs (elapsing the previous record of 3mins 19secs).

Clubs and societies

The college magazine and the library started in 1837. Today there are over 60 clubs and societies.

Some of these are;

  • Adventure Club
  • Association for Ethnic Harmony
  • Archaeological Society
  • Architects' Society
  • Art Circle
  • Astronomical Society
  • Aviation Society
  • Buddhist Brotherhood
  • Catholic Students Union
  • Commerce Society
  • Computer Society
  • Debaters' Council
  • Discussion Forum
  • English Drama Society
  • English Literary Association
  • Environment Conservation Society
  • Film Society
  • General Knowledge Club
  • Hindu Students Union
  • Historical Society

School magazines

The college magazine dates back to 1837 when The Colombo Academy Miscellany and Juvenile Repository was published on a monthly basis during the time of headmaster Rev. Joseph Marsh. The Royal College Magazine the official school magazine was first published in 1893 and was printed at the Times of Ceylon Press. The magazine was published till the 1970s by the school press, edited by boys at the school. Its publication resumed in 1993 and has continued since.[10][11]

The Royalist is the school paper, published every quarter.

Cadet Contingent

The Royal College Volunteer Corps

The Royal College Cadet Corps is the oldest school cadet contingent in Sri Lanka. It was the first cadet battalion to be formed in a school in Ceylon in 1881, attached to the Ceylon Light Infantry. Later named the Royal College Volunteer Corps, it was attached to the Ceylon Volunteers by the Volunteer Gazette of 1905. 1979 a Senior Cadet Band Platoon was added and in 2007 Royal was one of two schools to establish the first Air Force Cadet platoons in the country.

Principals and Head Masters

Following is a list of past Principals and Head Masters of the Colombo Academy and the Royal College Colombo;

Head Masters

Name Entered Office Departed Office
Rev. J.H. Marsh (Snr), MA(Edin)
J. Brooke H. Bailey (acting)
Rev. A. Kessen


Name Entered Office Departed Office
J.F. Haslam, BA(Cantab)
Rev. Dr Barcroft Boake, BA(Dublin), DD(Dublin)
George Todd, BA(Oxon), ISO
J.B. Cull, MA(Oxon)
J.H. Marsh (Jnr), MA(Edin)
J.H. Harward, MA(Oxon)
C. Hartley, MA(Cantab)
Major H.L. Reed, MC, BA(Cantab)
L.H.W. Sampson, BA(Oxon), FRGS
E.L. Bradby, MA(Oxon)
J.C.A. Corea, MA(Lond), DipEd(Cantab)
D.K.G. de Silva, BSc(Lond), DipEd(Cey)
B.G. Premaratne, BA(Lond), MA(NY TTC)
D.G. Welikala, BSc(Lond)
D.J.N. Seneviratne, BSc(Lond), MA(Colombia), F.G.TRD, Cert(History)(Cey)
L.D.H. Peiris, BSc(Lond), DipEd(Cey)
C.T.M. Fernando, BA(Lond), CertEd(Cey), Cert Ed. Adm.(Edin)
B. Suriyaarachchi, BA(Cey), DipEd
S.H. Kumarasinghe, BA(Cey), DipEd
H.L.B. Gomes, BA(Pera), DipEd, Cert Ed. Mgt.
H.A. Upali Gunasekera, BSc(Pera), DipEd
To date


In addition to the masters, four categories of senior boys are entitled to exercise school discipline. Boys who belong to any of three categories of prefects, are entitled to wear a silver college crest on their uniform and dress in an all white uniform.

  • Senior Prefect:, the most senior prefectorial group, who makes up the Prefects Council. Selected on academic, sport and co-curricular activity achievements, they are appointed on a probationary basis after completing the final exams at school (GCE Advanced Level). Of these only a handful are appointed as Senior Prefects. Since they have completed the final exams there are in fact older than any of the other students and effectively stay an extra year at school, their disciplinary powers extend to all students of the school. From amongst the Senior Prefects are chosen the Head Prefect to lead all prefects of the college and the Prefects' Top Board, which consists of the Head Prefect (HP), the Senior Deputy Head Prefect (SDHP) and three or four Deputy Head Prefects (DHP). Notable head prefects include: J. R. Jayewardene, Sepala Attygalle, Ranjan Madugalle.
  • Steward: selected from students in grade 12, assist the senior prefects to exercise discipline in Upper School (grades 10, 11).
  • Junior Prefect: selected from students in grade 9 (grade 8, until 1998), their disciplinary powers are limited to the students of Middle School (grades 6, 7, 8 & 9).
  • Primary Prefect: selected from students in grade 5, their disciplinary powers are limited to the students of the Primary School (grades 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5).


Notable alumni

Main Article: List of Old Royalists

The Alumni of Royal College Colombo are known as Old Royalists, they include many distinguished figures. The school has produced the first Executive President of Sri Lanka J. R. Jayewardene; the longest serving President of the Maldives Maumoon Abdul Gayoom; the last Sultan of the Maldives Muhammad Fareed Didi and also three Prime Ministers of Sri Lanka, including General Sir John Kotalawela and Ranil Wickremasinghe.

Many of the prominent leaders of the independence movement in the early twentieth century including Anagarika Dharmapala, E.W.Perera, Sir James Peiris, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan and C.A. Hewavitharne were educated at the Colombo Academy.

The school's alumni also include Shirley Amerasinghe (President of the United Nations General Assembly), Gamani Corea (Secretary-General of the UNCTD), Christopher Weeramantry (Judge of the International Court of Justice), Sir Nicholas Attygalle (First Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) Vice Chancellor), V. K. Samaranayake (Founder of the UCSC), Mohan Munasinghe (Vice President of the IPCC) & General Deshamanya Sepala Attygalle (First Sri Lankan Four-star General).

War Memorial

Situated in front of the entrance to the main hall, this is a memorial to the Old Royalists dead of the two World Wars and the Sri Lankan civil war. The war memorial is in front of the school's main building. Another memorial plaque is displayed in the entry way to the Navarangahala bearing the names of 47 Old Royalists who died in the civil war.[13]

The Royal College Union


The Royal College Union (RCU) is the alumni society (old boys association) for the college and was founded in 1891 and as such it is the oldest such alumni society in Sri Lanka. The Royal College Union was set up to further the interests of the College and its past and present members, and to keep former pupils in touch with each other and with the school. Annually the RCU organizes many events including the Royal-Thomian and carry out development projects for the college.


Royal viewed using Google Earth

Royal College in Fiction

  • In the last part of Carl Muller's trilogy Once Upon a Tender Time, the central character Carlaboy von Bloss of the final story studies at Royal.[14]
  • In Nihal De Silva's novel The Giniralla Conspiracy, a protagonist, Mithra studied at Royal College.


See also


  • Perera, S.S., History of Royal College
  • Seneviratne, D.L., The Royal College "School of our Fathers" (Colombo, Lake House)


External links and sources

Student Society


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