Herbert Dowbiggin

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Herbert Layard Dowbiggin
8th Inspector General of Police (Sri Lanka)
In office
Preceded by Cyril Chapman Longden
Succeeded by P. N. Banks
Personal details
Born 26 December 1880
Ceylon (now Sri Lanka)
Died 24 May 1966
Milden, Suffolk[1]
Profession Police officer

Sir Herbert Layard Dowbiggin, CMG, (26 December 1880 – 24 May 1966) was the eighth British colonial Inspector General of Police of British Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) from 1913[2] to 1937, the longest tenure of office of an Inspector General of Police (IGP). He was called the 'Father of Colonial Police'. He was knighted in 1931.


Dowbiggin was the sixth child of Rev. Richard Thomas Dowbiggin and Laetitia Anna née Layard. His father had translated the Bible into Sinhala, and his younger brother Hugh Blackwell Layard Dowbiggin was born in Sri Lanka. His maternal grandfather was Sir Charles Peter Layard, the Government Agent of the Western province (after whom Layard's Broadway in Colombo was named) who was himself the grandson of Gualterus Mooyaart, Administrateur of Jaffna under the Dutch United East India Company, the VOC. He was a relative of Sir Henry Austen Layard of Nineveh fame[3] and of the naturalist Edgar Leopold Layard.

Dowbiggin was educated at Merchant Taylors' School and joined the Ceylon Police in 1901. He became Inspector-General in 1913. During Dowbiggin's tenure of office in Sri Lanka, the strength of the Force was enhanced considerably and the posts of two Deputy Inspectors General were also created. He oversaw an expansion of the Force: the number of Police stations increased, so that by 1916 there were 138 all over the island.

He also modernised the Force, introducing new techniques of investigation such as fingerprinting and photography and improving the telecommunications network for the Police as well as increasing the mobility of the Force. The analysis of crime reports became more systematic. He purchased the land on Havelock Road, Colombo, on which the Police Headquarters and the 'Police Park' playing fields are located.

It was early in his tenure that H.H. Engelbrecht, a Boer wild life officer in Yala, was unjustly jailed in 1914 for allegedly having supplied meat to the German light cruiser SMS Emden.

Facing the riot of 1915, he authorised the use of draconian measures. Anagarika Dharmapala was arrested and his legs were broken in police custody; his brother died.[citation needed] E. W. Perera, a lawyer from Kotte, braved mine and submarine-infested seas (as well as the Police) along with George E. de Silva to carry a secret Memorial initiated and drafted by Sir James Peiris in the soles of his shoes to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, pleading for the repeal of martial law and describing atrocities claimed to have been committed by the Police led by Dowbiggin.[4]


In January 1930, Dowbiggin was sent to Palestine to advise on the re-organisation of the Palestine Police Force, and his report was submitted in May. It was a highly confidential document which it was considered impossible to publish at the time.[5] On his advice, the British and Palestine Sections of the Police were reinforced, and deployed so that no important Jewish settlement or group of Jewish farms was without a detachment, with access to sealed armouries, furnished with Greener guns. Each colony was provided with a telephone and the road network was improved to give the Police greater mobility.[6]

It is significant that Dowbiggin structured the colonial police force in Palestine as a civilian, rather than a military, force, including the deployment of many police stations in rural areas, based on his experience in Sri Lanka. His successor, Charles Tegart, the former commissioner of the Calcutta Police, recommended the building of highly fortified, military-style Police stations, the so-called 'Tegart forts', in Arab areas.[7]


In 1937, he retired from the service. A public meeting was organised on 10 January by a committee, including Mark Anthony Bracegirdle of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, to condemn 'the bloodstained record' of Dowbiggin as IGP of Ceylon, to mark 'the victims of police brutality and terrorism of 1915' and to condemn 'the betrayal of the Ceylonese nation by Sir Baron Jayatilaka... in attempting to identify the nation with an appreciation of Sir Dowbiggin’s [sic] services.' The popular George E. de Silva presided and A.E. Goonesinha, leader of the Ceylon Labour Party, was a guest speaker. Ten thousand people attended the meeting, held at Galle Face Green.[8] He died in Suffolk, England on 24 May 1966.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • "Sir Henry Dowbiggin." The Police Journal: A Review for the Police Forces of the British Commonwealth of Nations Vol. XXXIX No. 1 (January 1966): 328.
Police appointments
Preceded by
Ivor Edward David
Inspector General of Police
Succeeded by
Philip Norton Banks