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Dominion of Ceylon

Coordinates: 6°56′04″N 79°50′34″E / 6.93444°N 79.84278°E / 6.93444; 79.84278
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Anthem: Sri Lanka Matha (1951–1972)

God Save the King (1948–1951)
Location of Ceylon
and largest city
6°56′04″N 79°50′34″E / 6.93444°N 79.84278°E / 6.93444; 79.84278
Common languagesSinhala
GovernmentUnitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
• 1948–1952
George VI
• 1952–1972
Elizabeth II
• 1948–1949
Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore
• 1949–1954
Lord Soulbury
• 1954–1962
Sir Oliver Ernest Goonetilleke
• 1962–1972
William Gopallawa
Prime Minister 
• 1948–1952
D. S. Senanayake
• 1952–1953
Dudley Senanayake
• 1953–1956
Sir John Kotelawala
• 1956–1959
S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike
• March 1960–July 1960
Dudley Senanayake
• July 1960–1972
Sirimavo Bandaranaike
LegislatureParliament of Ceylon
House of Representatives
4 February 1948
• Republic
22 May 1972
1956[2]65,610 km2 (25,330 sq mi)
• 1956[2]
CurrencyCeylon Rupee
Preceded by
Succeeded by
British Ceylon
Sri Lanka
"Sri Lanka". Retrieved 30 March 2010.
"Ceylon Independent, 1948–1956". World History at KMLA. Retrieved 30 March 2010.

Ceylon[1][3] was an independent country in the Commonwealth of Nations from 1948 to 1972, that shared a monarch with other dominions of the Commonwealth. In 1948, the British Colony of Ceylon was granted independence as Ceylon. In 1972, the country became a republic within the Commonwealth, and its name was changed to Sri Lanka.



Independence and growth


Following the Second World War, public pressure for independence increased. The British-ruled Colony of Ceylon achieved independence on 4 February 1948, with an amended constitution taking effect on the same date. Independence was granted under the Ceylon Independence Act 1947. Military treaties with the United Kingdom preserved intact British air and sea bases in the country; British officers also continued to fill most of the upper ranks of the Ceylon Army. Don Stephen Senanayake became the first prime minister of Ceylon. Later in 1948, when Ceylon applied for United Nations membership, the Soviet Union vetoed the application. This was partly because the Soviet Union believed that the Ceylon was only nominally independent, and the British still exercised control over it because the white, educated elite had control of the government.[4] In 1949, with the concurrence of the leaders of the Sri Lankan Tamils, the UNP government disenfranchised the Indian Tamil plantation workers.[5][6] In 1950, Ceylon became one of the original members of the Colombo Plan, and remains a member as Sri Lanka.

D. S. Senanayake died in 1952 after a stroke and he was succeeded by his son Dudley. However, in 1953 – following a massive general strike or 'Hartal' by the leftist parties against the UNP – Dudley Senanayake resigned. He was followed by General Sir John L. Kotelawala, a senior politician and military commander and an uncle of Dudley. Kotelawala did not have the personal prestige or the political acumen of D. S. Senanayake.[7] He brought to the fore the issue of national languages that D. S. Senanayake had suspended. Elizabeth II, Queen of Ceylon, toured the island in 1954 from 10 to 21 April (She also visited in 1981 from 21 to 25 October after the country became a republic.[8]).

In 1956 the UNP was defeated at elections by the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (1956), a coalition of Leftist parties which included the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and the Viplavakari Lanka Sama Samaja Party of Philip Gunawardena.

Bandaranaike was a politician who had fostered the Sinhalese nationalist lobby since the 1930s, and led a populist campaign promising to uplift the Sinhalese race. Keeping to his main campaign promise, he replaced English with Sinhala as the official language. The bill, known as the Sinhala Only Bill, also made Sinhala the language taught in schools and universities. This disadvantaged many Tamils, as they spoke the Tamil language and it had not been recognised as an official language, leading the Tamil political parties to launch a satyagraha (non-violent protest). This led to a rise in communal tensions and later, the first pogrom against the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Despite the abortive Bandaranaike–Chelvanayakam Pact, as an attempt to reduce communal tensions, there was a resurgence of violence in the form of the pogrom.

In 1957 British bases were removed and Ceylon officially became a "non-aligned" country. The Paddy Lands Act, the brainchild of Philip Gunawardena, was passed, giving those working the land greater rights vis-à-vis absentee landlords.[9]

Bandaranaike was assassinated on September 25, 1959, by the Buddhist monk Talduwe Somarama Thero. Bandaranaike's death led to a caretaker government headed by Wijeyananda Dahanayake.

The political alliances formed by Bandaranaike dissolving led to the March 1960 election won by the Dudley Senanayake headed United National Party. But without a stable government, another election was called in July 1960.

Bandaranaike's widow, Sirimavo, succeeded her husband as leader of the SLFP and was elected as the world's first female prime minister.



Elections in July saw Sirimavo Bandaranaike become the world's first elected female head of government. Her government avoided further confrontations with the Tamils, but the anti-communist policies of the United States Government led to a cut-off of United States aid and a growing economic crisis. After an attempted coup d'état by mainly non-Buddhist right-wing army and police officers intent on bringing the UNP back to power, Bandaranaike nationalised the oil companies. This led to a boycott of the country by the oil cartels, which was broken with aid from the Kansas Oil Producers Co-operative.

In 1962, under the SLFP government, many Western business assets were nationalised. This caused disputes with the United States and the United Kingdom over compensation for seized assets. Such policies led to a temporary decline in SLFP power, and the UNP gained seats in Congress. However, by 1970, the SLFP were once again the dominant power.[10]

In 1964 Bandaranaike formed a coalition government with the LSSP, a Trotskyist party with Dr N.M. Perera as Minister of Finance. Nonetheless, after Sirimavo failed to satisfy the far-left, the Marxist People's Liberation Front attempted to overthrow the government in 1971.

The rebellion was put down with the help of British, Soviet, and Indian aid in 1972. That same year, the country officially became a republic within the Commonwealth and was renamed Sri Lanka, with William Gopallawa serving as its first president.[10]

Government and politics

Don Senanayake, the first prime minister of Ceylon

The constitution of Ceylon created a parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives,[11] with the popularly elected House indirectly naming the Senate.[12] The head of state was the British monarch, represented in the country by the governor-general. The head of government was the prime minister, and he/she and his/her cabinet consisted of the largest political party in the legislature.

Initially, the prominent party was the UNP, the United National Party. In the first parliamentary elections, the UNP gained 42 out of the 95 seats available, and also won the elections in 1952. When the first prime minister, D. S. Senanayake, died of a stroke, his son Dudley Senanayake, the Minister of Agriculture, was appointed as prime minister. In 1956, the radical socialist SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) won the elections, and Solomon Bandaranaike took power. He was assassinated by a Buddhist monk in 1959 and his widow, Sirimavo, succeeded him as leader of the SLFP. She held office until 1977, with two exceptions in 1960 and 1965–1970, when the UNP held power. During her rule, she implemented a radical economic program of nationalisation and land reform, a pro-Sinhalese educational and employment policy, and an independent foreign policy as part of the non-aligned movement.[13]

In 1948, when Ceylon achieved independence from the United Kingdom, the governor was replaced with a governor-general. The governor-general was responsible not to London, but to the monarch of Ceylon, the local government, and the local parliament. The role was generally ceremonial; however, it did come with the 'reserve powers' of the Crown which allowed the governor-general for example to dismiss the prime minister (with power such as this, the governor-general had to act as a responsible non-political 'referee' of the government, using the national constitution as the 'rulebook'). The monarch had the following styles and titles:

  • 1948–1952: His Majesty George the Sixth, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith.
  • 1952–1953: Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith.
  • 1953–1972: Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Ceylon and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth.

In her coronation oath, Queen Elizabeth II promised "to govern the Peoples of ... Ceylon ... according to their respective laws and customs".[14] The Standard of Ceylon at the Coronation was borne by Sir Edwin A. P. Wijeyeratne.[15]

List of heads of state


From 1948 to 1972 the head of state of Ceylon was the same person as the monarch of the United Kingdom. The governor-general of Ceylon exercised the duties of the head of state.


Monarchs of Ceylon, 1948–1972
Portrait Name Birth Reign Death Consort Relationship with Predecessor(s) Royal House
George VI 14 December 1895 4 February 1948

6 February 1952
6 February 1952 Queen Elizabeth None (position created) Windsor
Elizabeth II 21 April 1926 6 February 1952

22 May 1972
8 September 2022 Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh Daughter of George VI


Portrait Name


Took office Left office Appointer
Governors-General of Ceylon, 1948–1972
Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore
4 February 1948 6 July 1949 George VI
Herwald Ramsbotham, 1st Viscount Soulbury
6 July 1949 1953
Elizabeth II
Justice Arthur Wijewardena
1953 1953
Herwald Ramsbotham, 1st Viscount Soulbury
1953 1954

Justice C. Nagalingam

1954 1954
Herwald Ramsbotham, 1st Viscount Soulbury
1954 17 July 1954
Sir Oliver Ernest Goonetilleke
17 July 1954 2 March 1962
William Gopallawa
2 March 1962 22 May 1972



The government of Ceylon had several issues, the main being that the government represented only a small part of the population, mainly wealthy, English-educated elite groups. The Sinhalese and Tamil majority did not share the values and ideas of the upper-class, and this often led to riots.[13][16]



The economy of Ceylon was mainly agriculture-based, with key exports consisting of tea, rubber, and coconuts. These did well in the foreign markets, accounting for 90% of the export share by value.[12] In 1965, Ceylon became the world's leading exporter of tea, with 200,000 tonnes of tea being shipped internationally annually.[17] The exports sold well initially, but falling tea and rubber prices decreased the earnings, with a rapidly increasing population cutting further into those profits. In the early 1970s, the Ceylon government nationalised many privately held assets as part of the newly elected government's socialist policies.[18]

The Land Reform Law of 1972 imposed a maximum of twenty hectares of land that can be owned privately, and sought to reallocate excess land for the benefit of the landless workers. Because land owned by public companies under that was less than ten hectares in size was exempted from the law, a considerable amount of land that would otherwise have been available for redistribution was not subject to the legislation. Between 1972 and 1974, the Land Reform Commission set up by the new laws took over nearly 228,000 hectares, one-third of which was forest and most of the rest planted with tea, rubber, or coconut. Few rice paddies were affected because nearly 95 percent of them were below the ceiling limit. Very little of the land acquired by the government was transferred to individuals. Most was turned over to various government agencies or to cooperative organisations, such as the Up-Country Co-operative Estates Development Board. The Land Reform Law of 1972 applied only to holdings of individuals. It left untouched the plantations owned by joint-stock companies, many of them British. In 1975 the Land Reform (Amendment) Law brought these estates under state control. Over 169,000 hectares comprising 395 estates were taken over under this legislation. Most of this land was planted with tea and rubber. As a result, about two-thirds of land cultivated with tea was placed in the state sector. The respective proportions for rubber and coconut were 32 and 10 percent. The government paid some compensation to the owners of land taken over under both the 1972 and 1975 laws. In early 1988, the state-owned plantations were managed by one of two types of entities, the Janatha Estates Development Board, or the Sri Lanka State Plantation Corporation.[19] Additionally, a revamped system of education created a glut of skilled workers that could not find employment.



The official currency of Ceylon was the Ceylon Rupee. The Rupee evolved from the Indian Rupee, when in 1929 a new Ceylon Rupee was formed when it was separated from the Indian Rupee.[20] In 1950, the Currency Board, set up in 1872 as a part of the Indian monetary system, was replaced by the Central Bank of Ceylon, granting the country greater control over the currency. In 1951, the Central Bank of Ceylon took over the issuance of paper money, introducing 1 and 10 rupees notes. These were followed in 1952 by 2, 5, 50 and 100 rupees notes. The 1 rupee notes were replaced by coins in 1963. In 1963, a new coinage was introduced which omitted the monarch's portrait. Coins issued were aluminium 1 and 2 cents, nickel brass 5 and 10 cents and cupro-nickel 25 and 50 cents and 1 rupee. The obverse of the coins issued since 1963 carry the coat of arms. However, until 1966, the Ceylon Rupee remained pegged to the Indian Rupee at a value of 1:1. In 1966, the Ceylon Rupee was pegged to the US Dollar at 4.76 rupees per US Dollar.[21]




The Earl of Caithness inspecting a guard unit

At the end of World War II, the Ceylon Defence Force, the predecessor to the Ceylon Army, began demobilisation. After Independence, Ceylon entered the bi-lateral Anglo-Ceylonese Defence Agreement of 1947. This was followed by Army Act No. 17 of which was passed by Parliament on 11 April 1949, and formalised in Gazette Extraordinary No. 10028 of 10 October 1949. It marked the creation of the Ceylon Army, consisting of a regular and volunteer force, the latter being the successor of the disbanded Ceylon Defence Force.[22][23] The Defence Agreement of 1947 provided assurance that British would come to the aid of Ceylon in the event it was attacked by a foreign power and provided British military advisers to build the country's military. Brigadier James Sinclair, The Earl of Caithness, was appointed as general officer commanding Ceylon Army, as such becoming the first commander of the Ceylon Army.

Due to a lack of any major external threats, the growth of the army was slow, and the primary duties of the army quickly moved towards internal security by the mid-1950s. The first internal security operation of the Ceylon Army, code-named Operation Monty, began in 1952 to counter the influx of illegal South Indian immigrants brought in by smugglers, in support of Royal Ceylon Navy coastal patrols and police operations. This was expanded and renamed as Task Force Anti-Illicit Immigration (TaFII) in 1963 and continued up to 1981. The Army was mobilised to help the police to restore peace under provincial emergency regulations during the 1953 hartal, the 1956 Gal Oya Valley riots and in 1958 it was deployed for the first time under emergency regulations throughout the island during the 1958 riots.[24]

In 1962 several volunteer officers attempted a military coup, which was stopped hours before it was launched. This attempted coup affected the military to a great extent; since the government mistrusted the military, it reduced the size and growth of the army, especially the volunteer force, with several units being disbanded. In May 1972, Ceylon was proclaimed a republic and changed its name from Ceylon to the "Republic of Sri Lanka", and in 1978 to the "Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka". All Army units were renamed accordingly.


After gaining independence, strategists believed that the navy should be built up and reorganized. The previous navy consisted of the Ceylon Naval Volunteer Force and the Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. On 9 December 1950 the Royal Ceylon Navy was created with the main force consisting of the former Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. The first ship that was commissioned was the HMCyS Vijaya, an Algerine-class minesweeper. During this time the navy took part in several joint naval exercises and a goodwill tour visiting the far east. However, the expansion of the navy was dramatically halted in 1962 when the captain of the navy who was relieved of his duty at the time of the attempted military coup. The navy suffered a great deal as result of the governments retribution that followed, with several of its ships sold off, reduced its size by stoppage of recruitment of officers cadets and sailors for over seven years, the loss of important Bases and Barracks and the stoppage of training in England. As a result, the navy was poorly prepared when in 1971 the 1971 JVP Insurrection began, the navy had to send its sailors for ground combat operations against the insurgents.

In 1972 "Ceylon" became the "Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka" and the Royal Ceylon Navy became the Sri Lanka Navy. The Naval ensign along with the Flag Officers' flags were redesigned. The term "Captain of the Navy", introduced in the Navy Act, was changed to "Commander of the Navy", in keeping with the terminology adopted by the other two services. Finally, "Her Majesty's Ceylon Ships" (HMCyS) became "Sri Lankan Naval Ships" (SLNS).

During the 1970s the navy began rebuilding its strength with the acquisition of Shanghai class gunboats from China to carry out effective coastal patrolling and carried out several cruises to regional ports.

Air Force


Early administration and training was carried out by RAF officers and other personnel, who were seconded to the new Royal Ceylon Air Force or RCyAF. The first aircraft of the RCyAF were de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunks, used as basic trainers. These were followed by Boulton Paul Balliol T.Mk.2s and Airspeed Oxford Mk.1s for advanced training of pilots and aircrew along with de Havilland Doves and de Havilland Herons for transport use, all provided by the British. The closure of British bases in Ceylon in 1956 saw the air force take over former RAF bases; Katunayake and China Bay became RCyAF operational stations while auxiliary functions were carried out at Diyatalawa and Ekala.

In 1959 de Havilland Vampire jet aircraft were acquired. However, the RCyAF did not put them into operational use and soon replaced them with five Hunting Jet Provosts obtained from the British, which were formed into the Jet Squadron.

The Royal Ceylon Air Force first went into combat in 1971 when the Marxist JVP launched an island-wide coup on 5 April. The Ceylon Armed Forces could not respond immediately and efficiently; police stations island-wide and the RCyAF base at Ekala were struck in the initial attacks. Later, the Air Force acquired additional aircraft from the US and the USSR.[25][26]

Because of a shortage of funds for military expenditure in the wake of the 1971 uprising, the No. 4 Helicopter Squadron began operating commercial transport services for foreign tourists under the name of Helitours.[27] In 1987 the air force had a total strength of 3,700 personnel, including active reserves. The force had grown gradually during its early years, reaching a little over 1,000 officers and recruits in the 1960s. On 31 March 1976, the SLAF was awarded the President's Colour. That same year SLAF detachments, which later became SLAF stations, were established at Wirawila, Vavuniya and Minneriya.

See also



  1. ^ a b The Sri Lanka Independence Act 1947 uses the name "Ceylon" for the new dominion; nowhere does that Act use the term "Dominion of Ceylon", which although sometimes used was not the official name.
  2. ^ a b Havinden, Michael A.; Meredith, David (1 June 2002). Colonialism and Development: Britain and its Tropical Colonies, 1850-1960. Routledge. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-134-97738-3.
  3. ^ International treaties Archived 21 March 2017 at the Wayback Machine also referred to the state as "Ceylon", not the "Dominion of Ceylon"; "Ceylon" was also the name used by the UN for the state.
  4. ^ Jennings, W. Ivor. Ceylon. JSTOR 2752358.
  5. ^ Jane Russell, Communal Politics under the Donoughmore constitution. Tsiisara Prakasakyo, Dehivala, 1982
  6. ^ "Welcome to UTHR, Sri Lanka". Archived from the original on 16 July 2012. Retrieved 16 February 2010.
  7. ^ "Sri Lanka – United National Party "Majority" Rule, 1948–56". Countrystudies.us. Archived from the original on 12 October 2011. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  8. ^ "Commonwealth visits since 1952". Official website of the British monarchy. Archived from the original on 12 April 2015. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  9. ^ Kelegama, Saman (2004). Economic policy in Sri Lanka: Issues and Debates. SAGE. pp. 207, 208.
  10. ^ a b "Dominion of Ceylon definition of Dominion of Ceylon in the Free Online Encyclopedia". Encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com. Archived from the original on 2 March 2012. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  11. ^ "Ceylon Independent, 1948–1956". World History at KMLA. Archived from the original on 11 September 2009. Retrieved 30 March 2010.
  12. ^ a b "Sri Lanka : Independent Ceylon (1948–71) – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Britannica.com. 4 February 1948. Archived from the original on 11 June 2012. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  13. ^ a b "WHKMLA : History of Ceylon, 1956–1972". Zum.de. Archived from the original on 30 March 2012. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  14. ^ "The Form and Order of Service that is to be performed and the Ceremonies that are to be observed in the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in the Abbey Church of St. Peter, Westminster, on Tuesday, the second day of June, 1953". Oremus.org. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
  15. ^ https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/40020/supplement/6240 The London Gazette, no. 40020 of 20 November 1953, pp. 6240 ff.
  16. ^ "Ceylon's Democracy Faces New Test in Wake of Strife; Ceylon's Democracy Confronts New Challenge in Wake of Strife". The New York Times. 13 July 1958. Archived from the original on 22 July 2018. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  17. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 July 2011. Retrieved 27 March 2010.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ "Features". Priu.gov.lk. Archived from the original on 19 January 2004. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  19. ^ "Sri Lanka – Land Tenure". Country-data.com. Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  20. ^ "Ceylon (Coins)". Archived from the original on 24 September 2010. Retrieved 7 February 2010.
  21. ^ "No Ceylon Devaluation". The New York Times. 8 June 1966. Archived from the original on 15 June 2018. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  22. ^ "Establishment, Sri Lanka Army". Sri Lanka Army. Archived from the original on 26 March 2006. Retrieved 4 February 2006.
  23. ^ "Sergei de Silva-Ranasinghe looks back at the early days of the Sri Lanka Army". Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 30 March 2010.
  24. ^ Sergei de Silva-Ranasinghe (2001). "An evolving army and its role through time". Plus. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 30 March 2010.
  25. ^ The Night of April 5th Archived 9 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ Air Attack Archived 8 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ Helitours Archived 18 January 2008 at the Wayback Machine