Newspapers in Ceylon

Newspapers in Ceylon

The accrual of newspapers published in the island to the National Archives was a result of a historical evolution when William Colebrooke who was appointed by the British Government to look into the affairs of administration of Sri Lanka on 11th April 1829 recommended the necessity of commencing newspapers to curtail the powers enjoyed by the British Governor. He also stressed that the non-existence of independent newspapers was the main cause for the excessive powers of the Governor. As a consequence of the recommendation made by the Colebrooke Commission, Governor Wilmot Horton who arrived in the Island on 23rd October 1831, was notified to commence a newspaper. When the Ordinance No.5 of 1839 was introduced and came into operation, the printer or a Publisher of every newspaper had to deliver everyday or which such paper published on the day next following which is not a holiday, a copy to the Colonial Secretary, Colombo. It was further amended by the Act No. 18 of 1951 and according to sec. 7 of 1951, all the newspapers which were sent by the printer or publisher to the office of the Register General was changed to be delivered to the Registrar of Books and Newspapers. When the Act No. 7 of 1976 was introduced, the printer or publisher of every newspaper was obliged to deliver a copy of an unsigned newspaper in addition to a copy of signed newspaper to the Registrar of Books and Newspapers. Accordingly, the additional unsigned copy of every such newspaper is transmitted to the Sri Lanka National Library services Board.

As such, the newspaper collection in the National Archives is governed by laws of legal deposit and is a rich source material for the study of various aspects of the History of Sri Lanka. This source although a printed material is a contemporary source material for the study of Political, Economics, Social and Cultural aspects of Sri Lanka.


LANGUAGE: Sinhala, Tamil, English & Malayali


Under the auspices and with the encouragement of the British Government the "Colombo Journal" was published on 1st January 1832. It was printed at the Government Press edited by George Lee its superintendent. The Governor's private secretary and son-in-law. Henry Tufnell was appointed as the Assistant Editor. Although it was patronized by the government, the editor always emphasized that the Colombo Journal was an independent newspaper. Sir Robert himself was a frequent contributor under various pseudonyms and Capt. Anderson with George Turnor, the gifted translator of the Mahawansa wrote articles. Under orders from the British Government, Colombo Journal was discontinued on 31st December 1833. The reason given for its closure was that the newspaper field should be left to private enterprise. However, it could be stated that the Colombo journal's severe criticism of the British Government led to its closure.

At a time when the only newspaper which criticized to Government was closed Down there was a clear demand for a free newspaper. The merchants of Colombo, G. Ackland and E.J.Darley joined to commence a newspaper entitled, "The Observer and Commercial Advertiser", which was first published on 4th February 1834. This is the commencement of the Observer newspaper which is still published in Sri Lanka. The first editor of this newspaper was George Winter and he was charged in the courts for criticizing a police officer. However, the printer and the reporter was freed on8th November 1834. George Winter was succeeded by E.J. Darley and continued till 24th July 1835. In 1835, Dr. Christoper Elliott who was the Colonial Surgeon serving at Badulla was appointed as the editor of Observer. The Scottish born Elliott gave up his job to become a journalist. He was a dedicated editor and changed the name of the paper to "Colombo Observer". Under the editorship of Christopher Elliott, the Observer severely criticized the government. During the time of the 1848 Rebellion, the Observer played a vital role in molding the public opinion driving the Ceylonese against the government with star4ting news such as that the Tooth Relic was destroyed by the British. The editor wanted the British rule in the island to end soon.

When the Observer attacked Sir Robert Horton relentlessly, in order to challenge this newspaper, the governor aided to commence another newspaper. As a result, on 3rd May 1837 the first issue of the New English newspaper "Ceylon Chronicle" appeared. The first editor of this paper was Rev. Samuel Owen Glenie, the Colonial Chaplain and later archdeacon of Colombo. The Bishop of India objected to this appointment and George Lee, the Postmaster General was appointed. The Governor and the member of the civil service contributed to the Colombo Chronicle. The Chief Justice and Auditor-General supported the Observer editor. In the 1970's the paper was a great success. However, in 1946 it purchased by a syndicate. At this time "Ceylon tomes" commenced publication. The Weslyan press started a newspaper entitled "Ceylon Advertiser and General Intelligence" on 23rd September 1845. Fullerton became the editor of this newspaper. This newspaper ceased publication after the death of the editor on 3rd April 1840. The Observer. The Chief Justice and Auditor-General supported the Observer editor. In the 1970's the paper was a great success. However, in 1946 it purchased by a syndicate. At this time "Ceylon tomes" commenced publication. The Weslyan press started a newspaper entitled "Ceylon Advertiser and General Intelligence" on 23rd September 1845. Fullerton became the editor of this newspaper. This newspaper ceased publication after the death of the editor on 3rd April 1840. The Observer newspaper was passed into A.M. Ferguson. The Ferguson family dominated the newspaper publication with A.M. John, Donald and R.H. Contributing towards its success. John Ferguson who was a prolific writer served as the member of the Legislative Council. R.H. Ferguson sold the paper to a syndicate of a member of the European Association who in turn sold to D.R. Wijewardena in 1923. On 7th September 184 witnessed another English Newspaper entitled the "Examiner" Bessell became the editor and John Capper contracted many articles. The British merchants who owned this paper sold it to R.H. Lewin soon after, it passed into the hands of a group of lawyers with Charles Ambraze Lorram, Sir Harry Dias, James de Alwis, D.F. Ferdinands and J.R. Dunuwille. The paper exerted a powerful influence during C.A. Lorenz was the editor. In 1870 ill-health compelled him to withdraw the supervision over the newspaper, and Leopard Luduvici took over. He was followed by Francis Bevan. The Examiner paper ceased publication in 1900.

In the year 1964, a bi-weekly newspaper called "Kandy Herald" was published. This was started by some planters. It was printed in the office of the Times of Ceylon. Richard Morgan was regular contributor to this paper. A Local newspaper entitled "Jaffna Freeman" commenced publication in 1862 and was closedown in 1879. The "Catholic Messenger" which commenced publication in 1869 voiced the opinion of the Catholics.

The "Ceylon Independent" news paper saw the light of the day on 4th July 1888. The first editor of this paper was George Wall who agitated for a more responsible form of government to Sri Lanka. The paper later passed into the hands of Sir Hector Van Cuylenburg, and subsequently A.E.Buultggens who was involved in the Buddhist revival movement. Ceylon Independent has a new leaf of life when it was under the editorship of that great teacher and historian L.E.Blaze. It ceased publication in 1937.

At the end of the nineteen century few other English paper such as "Jaffna Catholic Guardian", " Hindu Organ" and "Ceylon Native Opinion" were published but never gathered momentum.

Twentieth Century English Newspapers

At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were 13 English newspaper in the Island. The first newspaper to be published at the turn of the twentieth century was "Ceylon Mohamdam" (1900-1917). The "Ceylon Standard" newspaper was published in 1908 by a group of wealthy Sinhalese. Hindus, the editor. The editor died shortly and this went into liquidation. At this time the owners of the "Morning Leader" newspaper the de Soysa family purchased the proprietary rights of Ceylon Standard. Charles Pieris, Sir James Pieris, and Mr. W.A. de Silva, the famous Sinhala novelist owned this newspaper. Morning Leader paper was very powerful moulded the public opinion when it was under the editorship of Armond de Souza. From 1907-1921, this paper played a vital role during the Riots of 1915 when Armond de Souza criticized the Martial Law proclaimed by the Governor. After the demise of Armond de Souza, Prof J.C.L. Rodrigo became the editor of Morning Leader. Morning Leader went out of business and ceased publication in 1932.

During the first decade of the nineteenth century D.R. Wijewardena, the newspaper magnate of Sri Lanka, commenced the publication of "Ceylon Daily News" on 3rd January 1918. D.R. Wijewardene purchased the rights for independence from the British rule. Ceylon Observer (Sunday) edition commenced on 4th February 1923. Ceylon Daily News had distinguish editors, such as F.A. Martinus, S.J.K. Crowther, A.V. Kulasingham, H.D.Jant and E.T. de Silva, who was a pioneer and activist in the national movement.

During the second half of the twentieth century, the following English newspapers gave birth. Viz, Samasamajist, (1937), Sun (1964.10.16-1990.12.26), Siyarata (1963.01.04), Weekend, (1965.10.17-1984.08.31), Ceylon Daily Mirror (1961.02.01-1984.08.31), Island (Sunday) (1991.10.04), Island (Daily), (1981.11.16). The Times newspaper group which existed for a period of 131 years was taken over by the Government on 3rd August 1977. However, The Times newspaper group was liquidated by the Government. Ranjith Wijewardena, the son of D.R. Wijewardene purchased this newspaper in 1987. Wijaya newspapers re-published the Sunday Times from7th June 1987. The new significant addition of a newspaper during the 1990's was the "Sunday Leader" which commenced publication on19th June 1994 and became a very competitive with the other older English newspapers in the island.

English Newspapers (Cumulative index)

Colombo Journal (1832-1833), Observer and Commercial Advertiser (1834), Ceylon Chronicle (1837 - 1946), Ceylon Times (1846-1870), Galle Telegraphy (1870-1871), Kandy Herold & Planter weekly chronicle (1868-1869), Ceylon Morning Leader (1907-1932), Ceylon Daily News (1918 to date), Ceylon Observer (1923 to date), Jaffna Catholic Guardian (1894-1949), Sun (1964-1990), Hindu Organ (1900-1949) Weekend (1965-1984), Ceylon Daily Mirror (1961-1979), Weekend Express (1966-todate), Sunday Leader (1993-todate), Island (1981 to date), Sunday Island (1991 to date), Sunday Times (1993-todate.)

Sinhala Newspapers in the nineteenth contrary

The birth of Sinhala newspapers in Sri Lanka was witnessed in the second decade of the second half of the nineteenth century. The first Sinhala Newspaper to be published in the county was "Lanka Loka" at Galle in June 1860. It was published twice a month by W.E. Eaton. This ceased publication soon and the attempts to revive it on 4th August 1996 failed. The printer never registered this paper under the Newspaper Registration Ordinance No.,5 of 1839.

The first Sinhala newspaper registered under the ordinance was "Lakmini Pahana". This newspaper commenced publication on 17th September 1862. Gunatilake Athapattu Mudiyar of Galle, Pandit. L.W. Batuwatudawe, Koggala Pandit, Ven. Walane Siddhartha Thera were instrumental in giving birth to this paper. The First editor was Koggala Pandit or Johannes, Panditatilake followed by Pandit Batuwatudawe from 1st July 1866. He was succeeded by Matara Dharmaratne on 28th July 1883 upto the year 1924. Due to hid ill-health as Munidasa Kumaratunga became its editor on 20th June 1934 and as a result this newspaper gained popularity. Under the editorship of V.S. Ranasinghe, "Lakrivikirana" commenced publication in 1863. This was a Sinhala Buddhist paper which fought for the rights of the Buddhists. In the year 1891 Lakrivikirana became a daily newspaper. The first daily Sinhalal newspaper was "Dinapatha Pravurthi" edited by Don Cornellis Weerakody. This paper was an unbiased one which aimed at serving the general public and supporting the British Government. Its editor was C.Don Bastuab Hataweera /babdara, ut ceased oybkucatuib ub 1907. The companion paper of Catholic Messenger was commenced by the Catholics on 7th July 1866 entitled "Gnanaratha Pradeepaya.

At the end of the nineteenth century., the Sinhala newspaper reached popularity and circulation as the English Newspapers. Some of the leading Sinhala Newspapers were "Lanka Pradeepaya" (1895-1913) "Kavata Kathikaya", the cartoon newspaper, (1872-1913) "Sarasavi Sanderesa, the organ of the Buddhist Theorophical Society, "Swarajjaya" (1872-1928) and "Satbasa" (1894-1901). During this period Sarasavi Sandarasa edited by Pundit Weragama Punchi Bandara brought in a new spirit into Sinhala Writing. He introduced a free style, elegant and popular, which created a new era in composition of Sinhala prose. H.S. Perera who founded the "Dinamina" newspaper was on the staff of Sarasavi Sanderesa.

Sinhala Newspapers in the twentieth Century

At the turn of the twentieth century witnessed the birth of many important and popular newspapers of the island, some still with the general public even in the 1990'2. "Lakmina" (1913-1956)" Dinakara Prakasha" (1915-1916), "Sinhala Samaya" (1903-1916), Sinhala Jatiya (1901.02.25) edited by Piyadasa Sirisena "Sinhala Bauddhaya' commenced by Anagarika Dharmapala as the Sinhala Organ of the Maha Bodhi Society on 5th May, 1906, "Dinamina "Commenced by H.S. Perera on 7th February, 1909, "Swadesha Mithraya" (1924-1940) edited by D.W. Wickramarachchi, Silumina (1930-03.1930) under the propietorship of D.R. Wijewardena produced brilliant Sinhala Journalists at the Lake House group of newspapers, such as Martin Wickramasinghe (Dinamina & Silumina), D.B. Dahanapala, Piyasena Nissanka (Dinamina & Silumina) "Nidahasa" (1934-1960), "Samasamajaya" (1936.07.10) the Sinhala organ of the Lanka Samasamaja Party, Lankadeepa of the Times group, (1947.10.27) which was taken over by the government in 1977 and purchased by Ranjith Wijewardena under Wijaya Newspapers and published from 10th September, 1991, "Siyarata" the Sinhala Organ of the United National Pacary, (1947.04.18) were other newspapers to be reckoned with.

Since independence in 1948 and the second half of the 20th century the following Sinhala newspapers have seen the light of the day in the country. Sunday Lankadeepa" (1949.10.12)" Janatha "(1953.05.11) a daily evening newspaper. "Davasa" (1961.08.14-1990.26), "Vanitha Vitti", (1957.04.12), "Rividina"(1961.08.20-1966.07.20) "Sarasaviya", (1963.04.10) Sinhala cinema tabloid of the Lake House Group, Iranama Attha, (1965.08.22) "Rivi Resa" (1966.07.20-1990.12.26)

In the 1990's there witnessed a spate of tabloid Sinhala newspapers, bringing in startling news, regarding the ruling party and other matters concerning public interest, such as bribery and corruption in the Public Service. These papers could be listed as follows with their dates of commencement. Viz. "Ravaya". (1990.11.04), "Lakdiva" (1992.01.26) "Kaputa", (1993.06.01) "Mura Atuwa" (1993.07.11), "Hiru" (1993.06.13), "Toppiya" (1993.01.01), "Rajaliya", (1992.04.30)", "Derana" (1993.08.08), "Dupatha", (1993.09.01), "Sathyayae Handa", (1993.07.09)

Sinhala News Papers (Cumulative Index)

Lankaloka (1860), Lakmini Pahana (1862-1919), Lakrivikirana (1864-1902), Dinapatha Pravurthi (1863-1854), Gnanarthapradeepaya (1866 do date), Kavata Kathikaya (1872-1913), Sarasavi Sanderassa (1880-1951), Lakmina (1913-1956), Dinakara Prakasa (1915-1916), Sinhala Samaya (1903-1916), Sinhala Jatiya (1905-1951), Sinhala Bauddhaya (1906-1979), Dinamina (1909 to date), Swadesha Mitraya (1924-1940), Silumina (1931 to date), Lakadipa (1947-1979) & 1991 - todae), Sama Samajaya 1936, Siyarata (1947 todate), Janata (1953-todate), Davasa (1961-1990), rividina (1961-1990), Sarasaviya (1963-todate), Aththa (1965-1995), Riviressa (1966), Divaina (1982 todate), Yukthiya (1985), ravaya (1990-todate), Lakdiva (1992-1994), Hiru (1993-1996), Trishule (1993-1994)

Tamil and Malayali Newspapers (nineteenth and twentieth century)

As far back as in 1841 "Idea Atari", or Morning Star the Tamil newspaper joined the other Sinhala and English newspapers to serve the Tamil reading public fo the Countryu. It was followd by "palliyar Nesan" in 1865 and "Illankai" Paddukkavali in 1868. With the beginning of the Tamil Newspapers during the second half of the nineteenth century,j the Malayali Community in Sri Lanka, published their first newspaper entitled " alamat Lankapuri in the country. Viz, "Pudiyananthpati (1870), "PUDINALAN KOVE (1873), "Catholica Padukavalan" (1876) "Udaya Banu" (18880), "Muslim Reisan" (1882), "Vinatha Vattini (1882), "Sivabhasingnam" (1884), "Satmaraga Patthini: (1885). During the 20th Century the following Tamil Newspapers were incirculation, viz, "Thinakaran" (1932-05-15), Thinakaran Vara Manjari", (1948.09.23), "Veerakesari", (1930.08.06)

The history of the birth and development of the newspaper in Sri Lanka clearly shows that, Sri Lanka has been a pioneering country in Asia publishing newspapers in the early nineteenth century and maintaining some newspapers even to this day. It has encouraged the publication of varied type of newspapers in three languages which was helpful in molding the public opinion of the country and establishing the democratic principles of a free press in a developing country.

Tamil Newspapers: (Cumulative Index)

Udaya Tarakai (1864-1943), Paliyar Naisam (1865), Elangai pathukavalam (1868), Alamat Lankapuri (1869), Muslim Naisan (1882) Sivapimany (1882) Sivapimany (1884), Sathiyavenda Patukavalan (1900), Islam Mithiran (1905-1940), Elakwsari (1930-1950),Thinakaran (1932 to date), Virkesari (1930-todate), Thinakaran Varaminjari (1940 to date), Dinapathi (1966-1900), Eelanadu (1959), Chintamani (1966-1974 restarted 1977).

1. Sinhala Newspapers (1862-1976)
2. English Newspapers (1832-1976)
3. Tamil Newspapers (1864-1976)
4. Other (1864-1976)