James Peiris

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The Honourable Sir
James Peiris
Sir James Peiris.JPG
Vice President of the Legislative Council
Personal details
Born December 20, 1856
Died 1930
Nationality Ceylonese
Alma mater St John's College, Cambridge,
Colombo Academy (Royal College, Colombo)
Occupation Politics
Profession Barrister
Religion Christian

Sir James Peiris (December 20, 1856 – 1930), JP, was a prominent figure in the Sri Lankan independence movement and a Vice President of the Legislative Council.

Early life and education[edit]

The young James Peiris was educated at the prestigious Royal College, Colombo.
James Peiris obtained a double first at St John's College, University of Cambridge. He went on to become the first non-European President of the Cambridge Union Society in 1882.

Born on December 20, 1856 to T Martinus Pieris and Apolonia de Soysa, a wealthy family who faced comparative poverty 15 years later along with the death of his father. Peiris was educated at the prestigious Colombo Academy (now Royal College, Colombo) where he excelled in studies winning the Turnour Prize and Shakespeare prize. He won the English University Scholarship in 1877 and proceeded to the St John's College, Cambridge at the University of Cambridge. At Cambridge he had the rare distinction of obtaining a double first - a first class in the Law Tripos and a first class in the Moral Science Tripos.[1] There he was the first non-European to be elected President of the Cambridge Union in 1882. Peiris was called to Bar at the Lincoln's Inn in England thus becoming a barrister. He refused to join the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service but instead started a law practice. In 1902 he accepted for a short time the office of District Judge of Galle. As a lawyer he played a great role in constitutional reform.

Peiris was elected Vice-President of the Legislative Council of Ceylon in 1924. The President was the Governor of Ceylon.

Political career[edit]

Peiris's first entry into politics was as a Member of the Colombo Municipal Council from 1898 to 1908 representing the Slave Island ward, and served on the Public Works Council.

There was wide support for Peiris' nomination to the Legislative Council. On two occasions when nominations had to be made for the position of "an educated Ceylonese" James Peiris was passed over. Many public meetings were held to support his nomination. There was no doubt that he enjoyed the confidence of the overwhelming majority of the educated Ceylonese. He was, however, never to be nominated to a position in the Legislative Council, notwithstanding his ability and integrity. Immediately the elective principle was introduced into the Legislative Council, Peiris was elected unopposed.

Peiris and Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan led the campaign for a Royal Commission of Inquiry and the vindication of the reputations of those who had been falsely accused during the riots of 1915. Seeing the horror unleashed by the British governor and his advisers, he initiated and drafted a memorandum in great secrecy supported by other prominent members of society in order to bring it to the attention of the King and his majesties government. It was taken to England hidden in the sole of a shoe by E. W. Perera. As a result of this the governor Sir Robert Chalmers was recalled.

The Legislative Council was reconstituted in 1924 with a majority of elected representatives. Peiris was elected as Vice President - a position he held until his death in 1930. The post of President was held by the Governor. Peiris accepted in 1925 a knighthood from the King and he was a Justice of the Peace for the whole island.

He was first to propose the creation of a University College in Colombo. Following the establishment of the University College, Colombo (later to become the University of Ceylon), Peiris was a Member of the Advisory Council of the new University College.

Family & personal life[edit]

In 1889, Peiris married Grace de Mel daughter of Jacob de Mel and had 2 sons and 2 daughters: Ethel, Louise, Leonard and Devar Suriya Sena. He was a devoted Christian and a standing committee member of the Church of England Synod. He was a Fellow of the Colonial Institute, a Vice President of the Sinhalese Sports Club, founding Secretary of the Royal College Union, member of the Orient Club and the Ceylon Social Reform Association. He was an excellent horse rider.


Peiris is considered as one of the few distinguished Sri Lankan statesmen prior to its independence. In his honor one of the major streets in Colombo is named Sir James Peiris Mawatha and so is Sir James Peiris Hall a Hall of Residence at the University of Peradeniya. The Sir James Peiris Memorial Prize is one of the prestigious prizes awarded annually at Royal College, Colombo.

See also[edit]

Sources & External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Peiris, James (PRS878J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.