Chapter 26 – The Economy Grows

The story of A.P.Rowlands, the Entrepreneur, his half brother and sister and his other brothers and their descendants is the continuation of this documentary of the Rowlands’ of Ceylon and India, in the Twentieth Century.

After the death of Richard William Rowlands in 1891, his wife was left with three sons to educate and support. Carolyn took to providing sewing services to the people of Nuwara Eliya and maintained the family home at “Peach Cottage” as best she could. The Ferdinands’ family helped when possible until her eldest son William Oswald Rowlands (nicknamed “Wally) took a job as a “Forester” in the Nuwara Eliya District and supplemented the family income.

Stella Muriel Rowlands (nee Arndt)

The family then moved to Colombo.

In September, 1898, the Colombo Tram System opened, and by the 1940's had 7.5 miles of track and 52 cars. The tram shown was one that connected the Fort area with the suburbs of Pettah and Borella.

                                                                                          Colombo Streetcars 

In an article in the The Sunday Times – Tissa Devendra states “This was an age when motor cars were unknown, the European elite sped to work in rickshaws drawn by wiry ‘coolies’ and ‘natives’ of standing trundled along in ox-drawn buggy carts. Electric tramcars would have been a sensation for the silent speed with which they moved large numbers of people to the far corners of the then ‘Garden City of the East’. Although the steam engines of the CGR carried passengers from town to town, there was no mode of public transport within the city till the advent of tramcars. It is difficult to imagine the sensation they would have caused and the panic they struck in rickshawmen and cart-bulls.

Colombo Tram  

A few First Class seats up in front were reserved for Europeans – the Master Race. Henry W. Cave (Book of Ceylon 1908) devotes quite a few pages to tram travel as the best way of seeing the sights of scenic and exotic Colombo. A long arm mounted on the flat roof linked trams to the electricity lines that powered their silent progress. Trams were about the size of a small bus and came in two models. The earliest and commonest, illustrated here, had 10 or 12 long rows of wooden slatted benches in ‘toast rack-style’ facing forward. The other was rather like a railway compartment with a doorway at the centre, benches along the sides and a ceiling rod for standee passengers to cling to. Some unique features distinguished the “driver’s cabin”.

The Maradana Tram (picture)

The driver steered the tramcar while standing. Steering was by an impressive metal tiller with a shining brass knob as a handle. At his feet was the button for the loud bell he clanged to announce halting places and clear the tracks of carts, cyclists and pedestrians.
Two broad footboards, one above the other, ran along the length of the tramcar – for the ticket collector’s progress and steps for passengers to mount and dismount. Trams were very passenger-friendly and had very short runs between halts. In the same tradition as the CGR, most tram drivers were burly Burgher gents in impressive khaki uniforms”.

The Colombo Tram System closed in 1960.

To further assist the family’s income, Cecil Ernst Rowlands at the age of 15 years, joined the Ceylon Mounted Rifle Regiment when it was formed in 1892. He was in the initial enrolment of 62 – C.E.Rowlands Trooper No: 55. He may have trained as a Telegraphist as this appears on his grave stone.

In an article compiled by Major Anton Edema, SLLI he states that “The Regiment was raised on the 12th of July 1892, by the late Colonel, Evelyn Gordon Reeves, VD who was in command until 1913, a period of 21 years. It was then known as the “Ceylon Mounted Infantry”, a mounted company attached to the “Ceylon Light Infantry” of which regiment His late Majesty King Edward VII (then Prince of Wales) was Colonel in Chief. Shortly after formation, they became a separate unit of the Ceylon Defence Force known as the “CMI” or the Ceylon Mounted Infantry and it was not until 1906 that the designation of the Regiment was altered to The Ceylon Mounted Rifles.

On the first day of enrollment, 62 members joined and with the exception of the period during and just immediately after the Great War, the regiment has always been up to strength.

Mounted Rifles Regiment Barracks Colombo 

In the year 1900, a contingent under the command of Major Murray Menzies was sent to the Boer War and took part in the following engagements –
Cape Colony
Diamond Hill,

Earning the Queen’s and the King’s Medals with 7 clasps. The cost of equipping, arming and transporting this contingent was borne by the Government, but most members took their own horses with them. For service rendered in the Boer War, a banner was presented to the regiment by his late Majesty King George V (the Duke of York) on the occasion of his visit to Kandy, April 12th/15, 1901, and at the same time medals were presented to those members of the “CMI” contingent who had returned from South Africa. 8 Members of this contingent were either killed or died of wounds, and on the 18th February, 1901,HE., Sir West Ridgeway, GCMG,KCB,KCSI (then Governor of Ceylon) unveiled a Memorial Window in St. Paul’s Church, Kandy to those who fallen in Battle, which window was subscribed for by their comrades in the regiment.

Grave of Cecil Ernst Rowlands 

In 1901, the regiment was represented at the Coronation of His late Majesty, King Edward VII, by a contingent under the command of Lieut.JN Campbell.

On 29th August 1902, tragedy struck the family with the death of Cecil Ernst Rowlands in tragic circumstances.

Up till 1903, all volunteer training had been carried out at Urugasmanhandiya, but in this year Diyatalawa was used for the first time as a Volunteer camp, and the following year the Head quarters of the Regiment was transferred to Kandy.

Ceylon Rifles Barracks (Picture)

On the 17th of March 1907, the Inspector General of Forces, HRH Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught, inspected the regiment at Kandy, and unveiled the equestrian stature ( of a trooper signaling : - “Enemy advancing in Large Numbers”) to the memory of those members of the Ceylon contingent who died in the Boer War. On this occasion, it is recorded that HRH made a noble speech.

In, 1909, General Sir John French. GCMC., Inspector General of Forces ( later Field Marshall, the Earl of Ypres)inspected the regiment at Kandy, and as a result of his visit the regiment was reorganized on a two squadron basis.

Arthur Percival Leopold Rowlands, when he turned 15 years of age also joined the the Ceylon Mounted Rifles Regiment – Trooper No: 299.

In 1905, William Oswald Rowlands (Wally), Charlotte Carolines’ eldest son married Alice Maud Muriel Thomasz (known to her nieces and nephews as “Aunty Muri), daughter of Francis Stephen Thomasz and Seraphina Gertruda Le Dulx.
Their eldest son, William F.C.Rowlands was born on 22nd November 1908. A second son named Cecil Vere Rowlands was born on 12th October 1910.
Arthur Percival Rowlands (APR) studied at the Government Technical College that was started in October 1893. In June of the same year the Havelock Race-course was opened, where in the 1960’s, APR would hold a Motor Exhibition of the first Japanese vehicles to be imported to the island.

In 1896 the name of the ‘Colombo Technical College’ was changed to the “Ceylon Technical College” to provide better facilities and a wider scheme of instruction for the students and make the college a training ground for all Ceylonese recruits to the Public Works Department, etc. The year 1896 also was the opening of the Ridgeway Golf Links in Colombo by Governor Sir Joseph West Ridgeway. APR would become a member of this golf club and win a number of Club Competitions. On completion of his studies, APR was apprenticed with the Ceylon Motor Company where he worked until he completed his training. In June 1910 the name of the “Ceylon Technical College” was changed to “Government Technical Schools”.

The population of the City of Colombo was growing rapidly and in February 1911, Wellawatte was included within the Colombo Municipal limits. The first aeroplane flight in Ceylon by a German pilot Herr Oster, took place on Christmas Day of the same year. Further successful aeroplane filghts in Colombo by two French aviators, M.Marc Pourpe and M. Geo.Vermine took place between December 10th and 12th 1912.

The Fergusons’ Directory of 1909 shows the ‘Rowlands’ residents of Ceylon being:-

Rev. W.E Rowlands.M.A. – C.M.S. (Tamil Cooly Mission) - Haputale
D.S.Rowlands – Clerk Colombo Commercial Co. - Bandarawela.Arthur Percival Rowlands (APR) studied at the Government Technical College that was started in 1893 and was apprenticed with the Ceylon Motor Company.

On 26 December 1911, Arthur Percival Rowlands married Stella Muriel Arndt who was born on 14 August 1887, daughter of Francis Samuel Arndt who was born in Jaffna in 1856 and Agnes Cecelia Alice Pereira. The wedding took place at St Michaels' Church, Kynsey Road, Polwathe.

Wedding Portrait

In 1912, at the age of 27 years, he established the Ceylon Automobile Engineering Works and was its Managing Proprietor.
The 4th April of the same year saw a match between Australian Cricketers who were on their way to England, played against a selected Ceylon team at the Colombo Cricket Club Grounds, which Ed and Chris visited in 2003.

On 20 December 1912 Stella gave birth to a daughter, Daphne Muriel Arndt Rowlands.

The Fergusons’ Directory of 1914 shows the ‘Rowlands’ residents of Ceylon being:-

Rev. W.E Rowlands.M.A. – C.M.S. Secretary, Tamil Cooly Mission - Haputale
C.B.Rowlands – C.B.Rowlands & Co. 63 Trincomalee Street, Kandy.
A.P.Rowlands – Managing Proprietor, Ceylon Automobile Engineering Works, Steuart Place, Colpetty, Colombo.
I.Jas.Rowlands – Assistant – Karandagalla – Kandy.

War was declared between Great Britain and Germany on 4th August 1914 and several German ships were captured and brought to Colombo. Germans in Ceylon gave a pledge to remain neutral and not leave the island or take part in the war. Lord Kitchener accepted a gift of tea from the Ceylon Planters association, for the use of troops in the field. A Contingent from Ceylon was accepted for service in Egypt and in October the Ceylon contingent en-route to the front were entertained by His Excellency the Governor Sir Robert Chalmers at dinner at the Grand Oriental Hotel.

In March 1915 the Centenary of British rule in Ceylon was celebrated at Kandy by the opening of a “Pinthaliya” (receptacle for drinking water) – a gift of the Governor to the people of Kandy. That same year in May, saw the breakout of serious rioting in Kandy, Sinhalese Buddhist attacking Moormen and causing much loss of life and property. The riots spread to all the Provinces (except North and East). Martial Law was proclaimed and rigorous measures taken to quell the disturbances.

Life continued at the family home in Colpetty and on 25 June 1915, Stella gave birth to a son, Cecil Walter Percival Wilford Arndt Rowlands (my father). The Birth Certificate shows that the family was living at Stewart Place, Colpetty, Colombo.

On the evening of the 9th December 1915, fourteen of the Ceylonese Contingent who went in charge of Mr.William Tyler by the “S.S.Ville de la Ciotat” were reported “missing” and believed to have drowned when their ship was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine in the Mediterranean Ocean, without warning. Life in Ceylon continued during the war years and in January 1916, a Memorial Service for the Ceylonese Contingenters who lost their lives on the “Ville de la Ciotat”was held.

On March 4, 1917, the new Colombo Central Railway Station was opened at Maradane. August 22 was the Legislative Council pass a Bill for a University College and a new Royal College as well as a Pasteur Institute in Colombo. On 1st November a Memorial Service was held at St Peter’s Church, Colombo for Ceylon men fallen in the Great War.

January 26 1918 saw the Dedication of St Thomas’ College Buildings at Mount Lavinia, where Cecil Wilford Rowlands and Ed Rowlands would be pupils.

In 1918 A.P.R. joined H.W.Cave & Company as the Assistant Manager of their Motor Department.

On 1st February 1918, Stella gave birth to a son, George Fredrick Rowlands.
On 11th November 1918, news of the surrender of Germany is received with great jubilation and a week later a telegram is received from The Secretary of State for the Colonies, expressing his appreciation of Ceylon’s share in the War.

On 25th February 1919, a statue of Mr.C.H.De Soysa was unveiled by His Excellency the Governor, opposite Queen Victoria Eye Hospital.

In September to October of the same year, an influenza pandemic sweeps over the Island, causing many deaths. In an article published by Leonard Crane titled “The 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic, and the Emerging Swine Flu Pandemic - Mankind's most devastating recorded global epidemic” states that “By the fall of 1918 a strain of influenza seemingly no different from that of previous years suddenly turned so deadly, and engendered such a state of panic and chaos in communities across the globe, that many people believed the world was coming to an end. It would later be characterized as a human-to-human transmissible case of swine flu”… Worldwide, the mortality figure for the full pandemic is believed to stand somewhere between 30 to 40 million".

Grave of Charlotte Caroline Rowlands 

Niall. P. A. S. Johnson and Juergenmueller in an article titled “Global Mortality of the 1918–1920 Spanish Influenza Pandemic”, in summary states “ The influenza pandemic of 1918–20 is recognized as having generally taken place in three waves, starting in the northern spring and summer of 1918. This pattern of three waves, however, was not universal: in some locations influenza seems to have persisted into or returned in 1920. The recorded statistics of influenza morbidity and mortality are likely to be a significant understatement. Limitations of these data can include non-registration, missing records, misdiagnosis, and non-medical certification, and may also vary greatly between locations. Further research has seen the consistent upward revision of the estimated global mortality of the pandemic, which a 1920s calculation put in the vicinity of 21.5 million. In Ceylon (Sri Lanka) whose population at that time was 5,109,000, 91,600 people died".

One of them being Charlotte Caroline Rowlands who succumbed to the disease on 6th June 1919.

Cecil Rowlands, then a four year old recalls his grand-mother arriving in a carriage, quite ill and being taken to hospital where she died. Charlotte Caroline Rowlands (nee Don)

She was buried in the same grave as her son Cecil Ernst Rowlands.

The Fergusons’ Directory of 1920 and 1922 shows the ‘Rowlands’ residents of Ceylon being:-
A.P.Rowlands – Assistant, H.W.Cave & Co, Steuart Place, Colpetty, Colombo.
F.Rowlands – Assistant – H.W.Cave & Co, Colombo.(could APR have given his brother Cecil Frederick, born in 1873, for whom no death record can be found, a job?).
W.O.Rowlands – Forester, Forest Department, Nuwara Eliya.

On December 12, 1919, The Ceylon Motor Trader’s Association (CMTA) was formed under the aegis of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, under the chairmanship of Mr.E.J.Hayward. The objectives of the Association were to promote, foster and protect the welfare of the various business interests of the Motor Vehicle franchise holders in Ceylon.

Arthur Percival Rowlands (Picture)

The membership of the Association was open to any franchise holding organization, firm or person engaged in the Motor Trade. The motor trade in Ceylon included any business engaged in importation, exportation, buying, selling, distributing, repairing, servicing, maintaining or manufacturing of Motor Vehicles of any kind by the Motor Vehicle Franchise Holders in Ceylon. A.P.R as he was fondly known as, the founding joint director of the Rowlands Limited, was a member of the CMTA and also an inventor, and was renowned for building the first 'Zephyr' car in Ceylon from scrap. The Ceylon Motor Show at Victoria Park was opened by H.E. the Governor on 22nd January 1921.

On 11 January 1922. tragedy once again struck the family when Stella Muriel Rowlands died at her sister Grace’s house in Dickmans Road, Bambalapitiya, giving birth to her fourth child, a baby girl, who also did not survive.

Because the baby died before she could have been baptized, she not given a name and was not buried with her mother but in a separate grave in the un-consecrated “Church of England in Ceylon” Section of the Kanatte cemetery in Colombo.

Dr Percy de Zylwa recalls that his parents who purchased St Andrews Hotel, Nuwara Eliya (converted to a hotel in January 1896) in 1920 were good friends with William Oswald (Wally) and Alice Maud Muriel Rowlands (Muri) who lived at Mahagasthota and also Arthur Percival Rowlands who still maintained “Peach Cottage” in Chapel Street, Nuwara Eliya, not far from St Andrews Hotel. He remembers staying overnight with Vere Rowlands at their house and being fascinated by the condensation on the windows of the bedroom in the morning. The families were regular churchgoers and met at Holy Trinity Church, Nuwara Eliya on Sundays.

A.P.R was devastated at the death of his wife and with a business to run looked to Stella’s sister Grace who lived in Wellawatte, to help him bring up the children. It was during this period that Daphne was sent to stay with the De Zylwa family in Nuwara Eliya for a period of time and Dr Percy remembers her sharing a room and playing with his sister.

Grave of Stella Muriel Rowlands 

On 26th May 1921 another important event took place when a flotilla of six destroyers of the U.S.A Navy arrived in Colombo. APR would have taken the children to see the sight of the ships, together with thousands of others who would have flocked to the Colombo Harbour. On 20th September 1921 the Church of England Synod decided to admit women to future sessions and on 20th November the new additions to St Michael & All Angels, Polwatta was consecrated.

Grave of “Baby Rowlands” 

When the children had finally settled into a new routine at the Wellawatte house, in 1923 A.P.R set about the establishment of Rowlands Garage Motor Engineers with his good friend Mr F.C.Gibbs, whom he met when he fixed the motor of Mr Gibbs’ car that no one else had succeeded in doing.

The latter was a partner of H.W. Cave and Co which had a motor department supervised by him. In 1924, A.P.Rowlands became the Manager and Co-Proprietor.

The company was at various times the agents in Ceylon for Rolls Royce, Sunbeam, Hillman, Morris, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Wolseley cars.

A.P.Rowlands became the Manager and Co-Proprietor. “APR” as he was fondly known as, the founding joint director of the company, was an inventor, and was renowned for building the first'Zephyr' car in Ceylon from scrap.

Rowlands Garage Show Rooms

The land on which Rowlands Garage stands at Turret Road belonged to Mr A.R.H. Canekeratne who leased it to the company. His son Ranjan Canekeratne was the Managing Director of Rowlands a few years ago. I believe the company that now operates as Rowlands Limited is involved in the distribution of aluminium products and still in existence in Sri Lanka.

In later years A.P.Rowlands bought himself out of the company that he founded, and was busy marketing the Rowlands Safety Lamp and the Rowlands Watchman’s Clock that he invented. Rowlands Ltd in later years became a public joint stock company in which the founder A.P.Rowlands had no vested interest.

Book – Extracts from Seaports of India and Ceylon - Chapter on Commerce and Industrial - Subject – Rowlands Garage – Turret Road.

No place of business activity of Colombo is more note worthy than the extent to which the automobile trade has been developed there. The city in that connection can hold its own with any in the Orient; and in deed in some respects; the facilities and resources which Colombo provides in everything associated with motor vehicles are probably unsurpassed anywhere east of Suez.

New Car Display

Rowlands Garage for instance must be referred to when the motor trade of Colombo is under consideration and cannot fail to impress the stranger who may visit it with erroneous ideas of what has been accomplished locally in motor engineering. It occupies an area of about 7 acres and gives employment to over 400 persons. That alone might be sufficient to indicate its prominence and importance; but only by actual inspection of its numerous departments can the perfection of its service and supplies be properly appreciated. The work done there covers a range of operations that includes everything related to motor vehicles in all conditions in which they can be considered. A motor vehicle can be built there in harmony with the most acceptable ideas of orthodox design or embodying and uncommon features in capacity or appearance that may be desired.

It has become a comparative simple matter now in all up-to-date garages to effect with skill and rapidity the ordinary kind of repairs consequent on accident, neglect or ignorance; but the best makes of cars can sometimes develop extraordinary idiosyncrasies of imperfection that can even baffle experienced motor experts and it is in difficulties of that kind as well as repairs of every description that Rowlands Garage substantiates its claim.

Its machinery equipment is of the most comprehensive kind including acetylene welding, electro-plating and vulcanising; and any part of the mechanism of any car, including gear wheels can be produced at Rowlands Garage with celerity truly astonishing.

Rowlands Garage Second Hand Cars

Rowlands Garage is agent for Rolls Royce, Sunbeam, Crossley, Hillman, Chevrolet, Oakland, Pontiac and Chandler cars which are displayed in its large and handsome showroom.
An interesting department of the business is one for second-hand cars which are taken in part payment of new ones; and many an excellent bargain is there procurable by the discerning.

Rowlands Garage is an evolution of the former motor department of the business of H.W.Cave & Company and has developed enormously since it was taken over in 1923 under its present name by Mr F.C.Gibbs (previously a partner of the Firm) and Mr A.P.Rowlands".

The Fergusons’ Directory of 1925 shows the ‘Rowlands’ residents of Ceylon being:-

A.P.Rowlands – Manager and Co-Proprietor, Rowlands Garage Motor Engineers, Turret Road, Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo.
E.Rowlands –Assistant Superintendent Rusiyagama Mahawela.

It was at this time that A.P.Rowlands was courting Doctor.Rachel Sperling Christoffelsz.

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