Henry Thambiah

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Deshamanya Justice Dr
H. W. Thambiah
H. W. Thambiah.jpg
Puisne Justice of the Supreme Court of Ceylon
In office
Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Canada
In office
September 1975 – December 1977
Personal details
Born (1906-05-28)28 May 1906
Jaffna, Ceylon
Died 1997
Alma mater St. John's College, Jaffna
Jaffna Central College
University College, Colombo
Ceylon Law College
Profession Lawyer
Ethnicity Ceylon Tamil

Deshamanya Justice Henry Wijeyakone Thambiah (also spelt Tambiah) (1906–1997) was a Ceylonese academic, diplomat, lawyer and judge, born in Sri Lanka during British colonial rule. He was a Commissioner of Assize, High Commissioner and judge of the Supreme Courts of Ceylon and Sierra Leone.[1][2]

Early life and family[edit]

Thambiah was born on 28 May 1906 in Jaffna in northern province of Ceylon.[3] He was the son of David Thambiah, a surveyor, and Thangamma, daughter of Dr William Thillayampalam Paul and sister of Dr S. C. Paul. Both his parents died when he was child.[4] Thambiah was educated at St. John's College, Jaffna and Jaffna Central College from where he passed the London matriculation in the first division.[3][4] His ambition was to be an engineer. After school he entered University College, Colombo and graduated in 1928 with a BSc (Hons) degree in maths and physics.[3][4] He taught physics for a year before becoming interest in the legal profession. He joined Ceylon Law College in 1930 and qualified as an attorney-at-law in 1933, winning a prize for coming first in the examinations.[3][4] He received a LLB (Hons) degree from the University of London in 1934, coming first amongst overseas students.[3]

Thambiah married Leela, daughter of C. D. A. Sherrard from Point Pedro. They have four children – Gulendran, Rajendran Jeyanathan, Rajeswari and Anthony Sudir.[3]


After qualifying Thambiah practised law. Thambiah also worked as a visiting lecturer University of Ceylon and Ceylon Law College and an examiner at the Council of Legal Education between 1938 and 1953.[3][4][5] He obtained a PhD from the University of London in 1949 and in 1954 he was called to the Inner Temple.[3][4] In 1956 he became a QC.[3][4] He then joined the judicial service in 1956, serving as a Commissioner of Assize for fiver years before being appointed to the Supreme Court in 1960.[3] He was a Supreme Court judge for twelve years.

Later life[edit]

After retiring Thambiah moved to West Africa, serving as a judge on the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone and an appeals court judge in the Gambia.[3] He was awarded a LLD by the University of London in 1973 for his services to Sri Lankan law.[4] He was president of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka from 1974 to 1976.[6] Thambiah returned to Sri Lankan in 1975 and started the Tamil section of the Law Faculty at the University of Colombo.[3] He served as the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Canada from September 1975 to December 1977.[3][4] He then served as chair of the Law Commission.

Thambiah was awarded the Deshamanya title, the second highest civilian honour in Sri Lanka, in 1993.[3] He died in 1997 aged 91.[4]


Thambiah wrote many books during his life:[3]

  • Dominion of Ceylon
  • Landlord and Tenant in Ceylon
  • Law of Insolvency
  • Laws and Customs of the Tamils of Jaffna (1950, Times of Ceylon)
  • Laws and Customs of the Tamils of Ceylon (1954)
  • Principles of Ceylon Law
  • Sinhala Laws and Customs (1968)
  • The Judicature of Sri Lanka in its Historical Aspects

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wickramasinghe, Chandra (1 June 2003). "Gulam Tambiah". The Island, Sri Lanka. 
  2. ^ "A shining example". Sunday Observer, Sri Lanka. 29 May 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Arumugam, S. (1997). Dictionary of Biography of the Tamils of Ceylon. pp. 217–218. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Maniccavasagar, Chelvatamby (15 May 1997). "Dr. Tambiah – an outstanding lawyer and judge". Daily News. 
  5. ^ "Our History". University of Colombo. Archived from the original on 8 July 2012. 
  6. ^ "Past Presidents 1952–1999". Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka.