Saga of Sir Thomas Maitland and his lady love
by Kapila Somaratne
Mount Lavinia, just south of Colombo is among the best known towns in Sri Lanka. For many years the town was known for its golden beach and coconut plantations and the catamarans of the fishermen. It has a natural sea pond where families come out on Saturdays and Sundays for swimming and surfing, or simply to lie under the shade of the coconut trees.
Mount Lavinia has also been known to many for the hotel which has the same name, and it is here that history and legend became interestingly interwoven to add to the romance of a beautiful location.
Among the many famous visitors to have been entertained at the hotel was Somerset Maugham, who had enjoyed watching the gulls swoop over the weaves from the hotel. This was after he had decided to give up writing.
Otherwise Mount Lavinia may well have inspired Maugham to write a love story about the lovely lass named Lovina and her affair with the Governor, Sir Thomas Maitland. Sir Thomas who was a bachelor even at the age of 46, complained to the colonial office that he did not have a country home to befit his station. To fulfil this need a mansion was built which later became the Mount Lavinia hotel.
Many are the stories centred round the governor's trysts with the lovely Lovina after whom the mansion was named. But, there are other explanations too rooted in geography and the natural surroundings, when it comes to the origin of the name Mount Lavinia. The Sinhalese who lived on the coastal belt had for long named the promontory "Lihiniya Kanda" or "Lihiniyagala" meaning the hill of the sea gull or the rock of the sea gull.
The local name for the town today is Galkissa Kissa being a somewhat obsolete Sinhala word for rock. Legend takes over once again with the story of a large treasure from a shipwreck being hidden among the rocks here.
Whatever the legends, the town came into official recognition when Governor Maitland used the postal address Mt. Lavinia, Ceylon, in 1805, while writing to the British Secretary of State, Lord Castlereagh.
The emergence of tourism as a major industry in 1960 saw Mt. Lavinia soon develop as an important Tourist resort. Less than half hours drive from the city of Colombo one could enjoy all the sun, sea and sand here.
Metamorphosis of Lovina into Mount Lavinia
Described as being "handsomely built, laid out in mahogany and calamander wood" the mansion with its white columns, polished wooden floors, intricately carved wood ceilings and wide windows open to the ocean breezes, became a secret meeting place for Sir Thomas Maitland and his lady love in an era when society cast a sternly disapproving glance at the smallest infringement of rigid morality.
For seven years Lovina flitted through a tunnel which had its opening in a well in her garden and ended in the wine cellar of the Governor's house. In 1811 the idyll ended. Sir Thomas left Ceylon, having they say, made Lovina a gift of a large extent of land.
Other Governors came and went since then. The country gained independence and gradually the romance faded into the past. But somehow the name Lovina metamorphosed into Lavinia...and gradually the town itself became Mount Lavinia.