BAWA - Family #1251
1 Bawa (Ceylon Moor)
2 Ahamadu Bawa, Proctor S.C., + Name Not Known (Muslim)
2 2nd spouse of Ahamadu Bawa, Proctor S.C., + Georgina Mathilda Ablett (France)
3 Proctor Benjamin William ("Benny" Bawa, K.C., (1865 – 1923) + Bertha Marian Campbell Schrader, born 06/06/1876 on 18/12/1908. Bertha Marian is the daughter of Frederick Justin Schrader & Elizabeth Harriet Campbell, (daughter of Alexander Campbell and ? Pereira, second marriage). Ref: ,
4 Bevis Bawa, Landscaping Professional, Owner and resident of a large mansion called "Brief" at Bentota
4 Geoffrey Bawa, Lawyer, Architect & Designer, b:1919, d:May 27 2003, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Extracted from: Contributions made by Burgher police officers to the Sri Lanka Police
by Herby Jayasuriya - Daily News Thu Feb 27 2003
With regard to police cricket, the first match was played on 24 September 1898 against Royal College. Burgher officers who played in this historic match were A S Toussaint, G. Perkins, H. Collette8 and H. T. Toussaint. Royal College won the match by an innings. Some of the Burger police officers who played for All Ceylon at cricket were "Puggy” Shockman9 and T H Kelaart. Another Burgher officer who excelled in sports was Inspector Edward Gray who was an excellent bowler in cricket and was the Police All Ceylon and Commonwealth Games Boxing Champion.
‘Pug’ Schokman married Peggy Noel Laurette Bawa, daughter of Alfred James Bawa and Martha Elaine Van Twest.
Peggy Noel Laurette Bawa also married Patrick Cyril Bernard Sproule on Oct 9, 1909, son of Edward Cyril Lambert Sproule & Minnie Treherne Cooke
Proctor Ahamadu Bawa
Extracted from: “Preserving the spirit of a forgotten world” - anecdotal glimpses of the New Oriental Hotel, Galle Fort, by Joe Simpson. firstname.lastname@example.org
About twenty-five years before that particular Battle of the Ramparts was waged, another, gentler form of engagement took place at the Oriental Hotel. It so happened that the then-tiny number of lawyers practicing in Galle used to meet regularly for lunch at the hotel. One day, a subscription list made its way around the table, to enable a stranded French Mademoiselle to return home. Proctor A. Bawa, a charismatic Muslim Supreme Court lawyer, wanted more details. Mr. Barker, the hotel manager, explained to him that the young lady in question had met an English planter on leave from Ceylon while on board ship in the Mediterranean. He had courted her, proposed marriage, and had been accepted. He had suggested to his fiancée that she settle her affairs in France, then sail to Ceylon to join him in her new life as a planter’s wife. This she had promptly done, and after “burning her boats” she had disembarked at Galle and taken a room at the Oriental Hotel, expecting a joyful reunion with her amour…only to discover to her anguish that the cad was already married!
Now penniless, she wanted only to return home. Proctor Bawa, touched and no doubt intrigued by this saga, met with the lady, found her to be attractive and so presented her with a business proposal: he would arrange for her to stay on at the Oriental for a week as his guest, so that they could become better acquainted, then if she was willing, he would marry her but if not, he would pay for her passage back to France. Charmed beyond words, the young lady accepted the proposal. At the end of the week they were engaged to be married, Proctor A. Bawa generously pensioning off his existing wife in order to clear the way! Thus was created the famous multi-cultural Bawa family starting with their son, Appeal Court Proctor Benjamin William (“Benny”) Bawa K.C. (1865 – 1923), a man with Clark Gable-like looks who has been described as “one of the all-time giants of the bar”, and who was briefly acting Solicitor-General for Ceylon before becoming Private Secretary to the Governor. One of B.W. Bawa’s sons in turn was Bevis Bawa, the 7’ tall Ceylon Light Infantry officer who introduced his fellow artist, the Australian Donald Friend, to Sri Lanka in the 1950s. Another – who became more famous than all of the family put together – is Geoffrey Bawa, the former lawyer who ultimately became the internationally celebrated architect and designer of numerous prize-winning projects throughout South Asia, among which in Sri Lanka are the Ruhuna University Agricultural Faculty and the new Parliamentary complex at Kotte. Oddly enough, the one and only time that I ever met Geoffrey Bawa was in 1974 at the NOH, probably only a few steps away from the spot where his grandfather first met his grandmother. I remember him as a large, pink-faced, burly individual. From what I can gather at the time of writing (late 2001), Geoffrey Bawa nowadays is wheelchair-bound after suffering a severe stroke, but still retains his zest for life nonetheless.
(I cannot resist including here another colourful anecdote about Proctor A. Bawa, Geoffrey Bawa’s grandfather. Once fairly early on in Bawa’s legal career the Kandy Police Magistrate, (later Sir) Alexander Ashmore had ordered him physically carried out of court for not obeying a ruling. Proctor Bawa charged Ashmore before the Bench of Magistrates, which fined Ashmore, who in turn had the conviction set aside on appeal. Ashmore then renamed one of his dogs “Bow Wow”, and made a practice of loudly calling out the animal’s name every time he walked past Bawa’s home, making it sound just like “Bawa”! Not to be outdone, Proctor Bawa retaliated by having some posters printed and pasted all over town, which read: “Lost, stolen or strayed, a puppy called Ashmore”. Sir Alexander Ashmore eventually became Ceylon’s Colonial Secretary and gained some notoriety for declaring at a Trinity College, Kandy prize-giving that “natives” could not aspire to key posts as “locals” lacked the high sense of duty and honour that the British Government expected)!
This one's for Bevis
Extracted from the Blog Ephemereal Ruminations at http://javajones.wordpress.com/2007/07/02/this-one%e2%80%99s-for-bevis/#comment-1871
Bevis Bawa is a legend – and was in his own time as well. I was one of the fortunate to have spent long hours and even days at a time in his inestimably valued company during which I came to know and love the man for all his virtues and vices (most of which were, by then, dormant). Perhaps a bit bit of background info would be useful in getting a clearer picture, so let me start with his beginnings in brief – taken from the Preface of the book ‘Briefly by Bevis’ (a limited edition of 500 copies, published by The Sapumal Foundation in 1985).
“Bevis was born at Chapman House in Darley Road, which was then a residential area at 4.00 pm on 26th of April, 1909. His parents were Benjamin William Bawa, King’s Counsel, and Bertha Marianne Schrader of Kimbulapitiya Estate, Negombo. He was educated at Royal College, Colombo, but left school at the age of seventeen to look after the family plantations. He joined the Ceylon Light Infantry in 1929. In 1934 he was appointed Aide-de-Camp to Governor Sir Reginald Edward Stubbs by cable while on a trip to China, and went on to serve on the staff of Sir Andrew Caldecott, Sir Henry Monk Mason Moore and Lord Soulbury, up to 1950. In 1922 Bevis Bawa accompanied his parents to England and there, nine months later, his father died. On his father’s instructions the family returned home, travelling via the continent. He recalls very vividly his extraordinary experiences on this extensive ten months’ tour of Europe in 1949. In 1934 he toured the Far East extensively, including Japan and China and went on a tour of India in 1946. His final trip abroad was in 1958, when he took a round trip to the Far East, spending a month in Japan. Landscape gardening, which began as a hobby, turned into a lucrative business when his resources became depleted after his considerable foreign travels.”
I first met Bevis when I spent a year in Sri Lanka on a leave of absence from my work whilst living in the States in 1970-71. It was a brief meeting at a mutual friend’s home in the south, but when I met him at his home ‘Brief’, in 1977 or 78, he managed to recall our original meeting and even described some of my idiosyncrasies of that particular period. A few years later, with his sight deteriorating to such an extent that he could hardly see except for very blurry images, he asked me to help him with the landscaping of Sigiriya Village Hotel. I was in the Landscape Consultancy business myself at the time and I supposed that this, plus the fact that we hit it off and had, in addition, several mutual friends (like Laki Senanayake, Dominic and Barbara Sansoni, Chitrasena and Vajira and some others), made him choose me. I was, of course, delighted and that was the real beginning of a close friendship that lasted until his death in 1992.
Following the completion of the landscaping of Sigiriya Village, I had lots of ‘scaping work at many of the hotels in the Bentota area which involved spending many days at a time in situ. Many of the plants I used were purchased from ‘Brief’ – a welcome source of income for Bevis, who had by then splurged most of his not inconsiderable fortune and had started giving away portions of his land to the many folk that had served him faithfully over the years. Not only did he give away the lots of land, he also designed and built each of these beneficiaries a small but aesthetically pleasing home for them and their respective families. His poultry farm, the occasional tourist visitors to ‘Brief’ and sale of plants from his beautiful garden, were his only sources of income at the time and this state of affairs would continue until his demise. Anyway, realising that spending time with Bevis during my off hours was no comparison to remaining at whichever of the hotels I was landscaping, I made ‘Brief’ my base (invited by Bevis, of course, which I accepted) – much to Bevis’ delight, as he craved company that he could relate to. By that time, of course, he was totally blind and one of his greatest pleasures was being read to – and this I did, when we were not absorbed – him regaling me with his endless slew of hilarious anecdotes and me wondering at his memory and gasping at the brilliance of his wit and the agility of his mind as he recalled long gone incidents in minute detail, each one dovetailing into another – and so it would go. I read to him – Michael Ondaatje’s ‘Running In The Family’ was one that he particularly enjoyed, as he knew most of the characters referred to and filled me in on the more colourful stuff that even Michael wasn’t aware of.
‘Brief’ was the name of Bevis’ home and gardens, which he built long before his brother Geoffrey took to architecture (I’m not sure of the year he built it) and it did seem to me that Geoffrey’s greatest architectural influence would have to be Bevis. Looking at ‘Brief’ before looking at anything of Geoffrey’s early work may give you an idea of what I mean. The gardens at ‘Brief’ however, reflect the influence that the European gardens he enjoyed during his tours, had on him, although his mastery at his art enabled him to combine the formal, ornamental arrangements with his own indigenous bits of ‘natural’ aesthetics. His great friend the artist Donald Friend, who spent long periods of time at ‘Brief’ also contributed in no small measure to the imaginative arrangements with his erotic sculpture and paintings. The entrance gates in particular are a fine example of what I mean. A description of this is as follows:
“…At some unspecific point we went up a rise into a beautiful avenue of Sealing Wax palms to a stone gateway where the sculptured posts were of nude males whose cocks formed the noses of faces below. And then there was a circle where we parked with a wall, a black and white door and a large bell..”
That was a description of the American poet and film-maker James Broughton, a mutual friend – but more of James later (I’ll have to do this in a subsequent post).
The book that I referred to earlier is a compilation of Bevis’ ‘articles’ – as he describes it in the Introduction: “..Many people collected cuttings of my articles, and a large number were keen on my having them published in book form. This I could not afford to do on my own. Some offered to sponsor the venture, but they were typically Sri Lankan, and nothing came of it. Now thirty years later, my friend Harry Pieris and some sponsors not yet known to me decided that they would undertake the task..”
Bevis was also a caricaturist par excellence. A friend and contemporary of Aubrey Collette, his caricatures, with his witty captions, were regularly featured in the press. Other contemporaries and friends were Arthur Van Langenburg, George Keyt, Lionel Wendt, Harold Pieris, Chitrasena, Harry Pieris, David Paynter and others of that ilk in those heady post-colonial days. A self-taught, or more appropriately, ‘intuitive’, landscape-architect and architect, Bevis’ eye for proportion and space combined with his ‘feel’ for the types of plants that would fit his scheme of things, made his gardens have his special touch. The houses he built for his loyal staff also reflected his eye for functional aesthetics and Karu’s house is a fine case in point (Karu is one of his loyal ‘retainers’, in whose house James Broughton stayed in – next post).
Bevis was afflicted with glaucoma, which resulted in his blindness during his last decade and also with diabetes, which further complicated matters and led to his disabilities – and ultimately to his death. The Dancer and I visited him at ‘Brief’ one morning. He had been more or less in a semi-comatose state, with periods of clarity in between. Fortunately for us, he was awake and was thrilled to see the two of us (he has known The Dancer from the time she was a child) and we proceeded to have a conversation – just like old times. He was as I remembered him and when we were ready to leave, I promised to come back and see him again soon, to which he replied that I always promised him I would, but that it was always too long between visits. We kissed him goodbye and waved as we left the room. He went to sleep and was hardly conscious until he died early the next day.
Wonderful fusion of bygone days
The Art of Donald Friend, Ceylon. Compiled by the Australian High Commission, Sri Lanka. Reviewed by Ulrik Plesner.
Donald Friend loved Ceylon. He had met Bevis Bawa on a boat from England, and come for a week and stayed for five years. Both Donald and Bevis were amusing, sometimes extremely funny and intelligent, and they shared a sense, even a love, of the absurd. Bevis was languid and laid back, like one imagines a 17th century French aristocrat - in the mural picture on page 15 of the book one sees him languishing on a long chair fanned by servants.
Donald was furiously curious and observant and he instantly translated what he saw, or thought he saw, into drawings and paintings. He worked from eye to hand in a flash. He once said to me, with precision: "I am an artist, like a dog is a dog". He was also amusingly malicious. I first met him, slightly drunk, at an upcountry party, where he had found the hosts' 17th century 'Knox: Ceylon’ and was sitting in a corner making lewd illustrations to the text in the margins.
Like Gaugain on his Pacific island Donald lived in a shack on Bevis' rubber estate near Alutgama and worked furiously all the time. He loved the beauty and drama of everything around him, he loved the feeling that nobody in Ceylon ever had more than one foot on the ground at a time, he loved the enormous plants, the village architecture, the teeming village life, the physical elegance of villagers and fishermen going about their work, the birds hooting, and the ever curious village boys.
Out of this absorption in the physical beauty and fascination with what he saw around him, came a huge outpouring of marvelous works of art, some of the best in his long life as an artist.
The catalogue for the recent exhibition organized by the Australian High Commission at John Keells: "The Art of Donald Friend, Ceylon" is a glorious book on Friend's work in Ceylon. It is beautifully produced and brings back the full splendor of his art, the richness and throbbing life in his pictures of the myriad people who populate the towns and houses, and the wonderful fusion of fact and fantasy that was life in Ceylon as we saw it in those more innocent and optimistic days.
Donald was lucky, as I was, to have fallen into a group of gifted and amusing people. Bevis' brother Geoffrey Bawa, Barbara Sansoni and later Laki Senanayke and Ismeth Raheem, were all serious artists and architects having a great time. United in shedding the drearier side of the colonial past and exposing the real spirit of Lanka that was alive and well all around us.
I have one personal comment. Not that it matters for Donald or his art, but it does matter to me and to historical accuracy. I felt that in Donald Friend we had among us a great artist. He was having a hard time and was completely broke, living off Bevis Bawa’s generosity. It was I, and not Geoffrey as the catalogue claims, who spent considerable effort to convince clients to buy Donald's pictures for the houses Geoffrey and I designed, or to commission mural paintings for larger buildings. In some cases I incorporated a sum of money in the building budget for "contingencies" and when it was un-spent, spent it on "decoration" by Donald, with the client’s permission.
This was more or less the case for the first and fabulous mural at Baurs’ entrance, and the large story-telling painting of Galle (a century before the tsunami), and the other pictures done for the entrance of what was then the P&O Line office at Mackinnon, Mackenzie. It was also the case for what I believe is one of the great un-executed works of art of our time, a 60 metre long by 9 metre high mural (of which the maquette still exists) for Baurs’ warehouse in Grandpass.
This catalogue/book shows what a goldmine of happy and life enhancing art Donald Friend created in Ceylon. Each of the murals alone could almost be the subject of an illustrated publication, and since nothing lasts forever, one must hope that this book will inspire a Sri Lankan or an Australian publication of all the surviving works of Donald Friend in Sri Lanka.
(Ulrik Plesner was Geoffrey Bawa's partner from 1959 to 1967, and worked with Barbara Sansoni, Laki Senanayake and Ismeth Raheem finding and measuring historical works of architecture in Sri Lanka).
An article from The Art of Donald Friend, Ceylon by Ismeth Raheem
Donald Friend's legacy as an artist in the architect's domain has rarely been evaluated. Friend had a special rapport with Sri Lanka's leading architects and designers including Geoffrey Bawa, Danish-born Ulrik Plesner and the talented and charismatic landscape designer Bevis Bawa (Geoffrey's elder brother).
Friend's engagement with this group and others in the architectural profession lasted almost 25 years, extending from his chance meeting with Bevis in 1949 to his work with Geoffrey in Bali in the early 1970s. In numerous collaborative projects, he contributed his paintings and sculptural work within the context of architectural and landscape design.
One of Friend's early tasks after moving to Sri Lanka in 1957 was to assist in the architectural renovation of the state-owned Bentota Rest House along the south west coast of Sri Lanka. He and Bevis Bawa designed and produced statues, garden furniture, fountain sculpture and a range of artifacts to adorn the newly landscaped garden of this sea-side resort.
Designs of cast concrete slabs in relief or engraved were used as table-tops. Incised clay tiles in various decorative designs were fired in kilns for use on walls, floors and tabletops.
It was a seminal project. Although the Rest House was subsequently demolished to make way for the Bentota Beach Hotel, designed by Geoffrey Bawa, the basic concepts and materials of many of these sculptured items produced by Bevis Bawa and Donald Friend, continue to be used by today's generation of architects and have been incorporated in many contemporary buildings, particularly in Asia.
Geoffrey Bawa and Ulrik Plesner arranged commissions for the Australian artist with their clients. The large gold leaf painting of Galle, now displayed in John Keells' headquarters, was produced under a commission arranged by Geoffrey Bawa, who also specified the thematic content of the artwork to be executed. The painting is a perceptive study of the urban topography of Galle and is a faithful rendering of important landmarks and buildings.
Friend's studies of frescoes, sculptural friezes, Buddha statues and ancient temples, recorded during his innumerable sketching tours throughout Sri Lanka, were skillfully incorporated in his paintings. His work also contains allusions to personalities of an earlier era, such as the figure of Captain F. Bayley, the former manager of the P & O Company in the latter part of the 19th century, peering through a telescope in the right of foreground of the City of Galle painting.
The City of Galle, said to be Friend's finest painting, was commissioned by the shipping firm McKinnon Mackenzie & Co., which was formerly based in Galle. On 4 April 1961, Friend noted in his diary:
"I've been working intensely and at a great pace nearly everyday from early morning until the light fails, on the big (12' x 4') panel of the mural. It comes along well. An elaborate and detailed subject - a sort of architectural fantasy of the walled fort of Galle with the harbor full of sailing ships, the sky in gold leaf."
In the Baur & Company headquarters in Fort, a mural of rural scenes of a small town bazaar was initiated by Plesner during an interior decoration project for his Swiss clients in 1960. The town depicted in the mural is supposedly Aluthgama, not far from 'Brief', in a surreal setting.
In later years, the roles were reversed when Friend visited Sri Lanka in 1971 and 1973 to commission Geoffrey Bawa, then a senior partner of the architectural firm Edwards Reid and Begg, to prepare plans for his resort development project 'Batujimbar' in Bali. Friend's influence is evident in the drawing techniques of the 'Batujimabar' brochure produced by Geoffrey Bawa's assistants, which was used successfully for the marketing of the beach houses in Bali.
This was an inspirational period for the young Sri Lankan architects, designers and draftsmen who worked in Geoffrey Bawa's studio. The excellence of Friend's pen and ink drawing technique was a sort of benchmark and style which many of us tried to emulate.
Ismeth Raheem graduated as an architect from the Royal Danish Academy, Copenhagen, in 1969. He worked for Geoffrey Bawa for over ten years, during which time he became acquainted with Donald Friend from whom he learned the technique of laying gold leaf on painting.
courtesy Sunday Times Mar 27, 2005
Brief: A garden of wit
Bevis Bawa�s garden is filled with wonderful ideas and strange paradoxes. It also reflects multifarious associations and memories.
BY VARNA S DHAR, Sunday Herald Art & Culture, Sep 18 2004
Brief is the garden of the late
Bevis Bawa, an artist and Aide de Camp to the Governor of Ceylon and
the older brother of the recently deceased famous Sri Lankan
architect Geoffrey Bawa. Brief too is located down South in Sri
Lanka close to Alutgama, a few miles away from Geoffrey's garden
In fact Geoffrey Bawa dedicated his exquisite book Lunuganga to his brother. In his dedication he mentions, brother Bevis�s contribution as ��. whose own love of gardens helped me start and maintain my own�.
The approach that Bevis adopted in Brief stands in contrast with that of Geoffrey�s. While Geoffrey Bawa having been inspired by his numerous travels attempted to convert tropical wilderness into an Italian garden in Lunuganga, Bevis�s garden Brief is wholly Sri Lankan in conception and spirit, but for a Japanese garden that is also a part of Brief. Unlike Lunuganga this garden is located amidst a different setting, it is not on a promontory, hence not surrounded by water, it is instead set deep within paddy fields.
The garden displays rare wit and humour. It is filled with wonderful ideas and strange paradoxes. It also reflects multifarious associations, memories and is thus full of references. Gardens sometimes mirror the garden creators personality.
While Lunuganga was a subtle blend of the east and the west, a sense of careful disarray casually interspersed with the formal and the picturesque, �a garden within a larger garden�, Brief largely consists of dense tropical patches that suddenly open out onto neatly manicured spaces.
The area around the main house too consists of tidy lawns containing formal elements like a cascading waterfall, a water fountain, and a broad flight of steps, edged prominently by fountain grass and Wandering Jews (plants). Brief was not only meant to be a place merely conducive to contemplation and relaxation it was to be Bevis�s pleasure garden where the landscape provides a remarkable backdrop for his artwork.
The approach to the garden is through a rather steep circuitous pathway. Tall ornamental gates open out onto a paved driveway, an entrance plaza and the main house.
Romantic elements like water fountains, nightmarish gargoyles, and his sculptures with their strong sexual overtones combine effortlessly with the surrounding plant life, all with a punch of wit. One constantly encounters his sculptures, and other creations some of which have been given his own visage.
Bevis Bawa�s keen interest in horticulture is evident in Brief, as it is also a plant lover�s garden. The vegetation found in Brief is a rich mix of largely indigenous plants combined with a few rare and exotic species of plants.
Trees like Palms (Fish tail, Rattan, Traveller's Palm etc), Ficus, Plumeria, clumps of Bamboo (like Dendrocalamus gigantis, Bambusa vulgaris etc) and the like. A large variety of ferns like Nephrolepis exalta (Fish tail Fern), Bird�s nest fern (Asplenium nidus), tree ferns etc, Philodendrons, Monstera, Pleomele reflexa, hedges of variegated Crotons, Cyperus, creepers like Epipremnum pinnatum, money plant and even cacti vie for attention with the brightly coloured Hibiscus, Bougainvillea and Anthurium. Unlike in Lunuganga with its monochromatic austerity of the foliage Brief has a mass of vibrantly hued vegetation. A wide flight of steps with a cascading waterfall leads to the main house that is a converted old estate bungalow.
A gigantic gnarled Plumeria tree, burgeoning with diaphanous scented flowers seems to have taken over the back loggia. The outside seems to flow indoors. The whole house is composed of a series of wall courtyards, intimately scaled that still retain a sense of sanctuary yet are not restrictive as the landscape beyond continues to lurk pervasively in the background.
While Lunuganga remained minimalist, Brief is rather extravagant. The house abounds with Bevis�s collection of art, Laki Senanayake�s exquisite sketches, one of which depicts Bevis; a wondrous canvas of Galle painted by David Friend, complete the collection. A wall built completely out of bottles acts as a backdrop to one of Bevis�s sculptures. The private courtyard to the back of the house is a riot of lush green vegetation, an ochre wall with a gargoyle (Bevis� face) covered with a thick layer of Ficus repens stands at the far end.
A delightful small verandah with a planter�s chair and a small coffee table overlooks this inner garden. A centrally placed raised pool of water, which encourages the growth of a series of ferns and water lilies. The only hint of bright colour in the garden comes through a small blue window and the flaming magenta of the Bougainvillea that covers the roof of the verandah.
At the far end of this garden is a spectacular bath. It is truly a communion with nature, a walled enclosure, open to the skies overhead, only a narrow overhead ledge acts as protection from the ubiquitous rains; a shower beneath, a mass of tropical vegetation tumbles over this ledge, a water spout in the form of a gargoyle acts as a basin and a dull tarnished mirror completes the picture.
Bathing like living in this garden becomes more than just the act of cleansing and more a sensual pleasure. Brief is basically a seemingly spontaneous amalgamation of the formal with the casual. Several years have passed since Bevis�s death, yet the garden manages to resonate the maker�s presence.
In its eclecticism it still manages to create a strong sense of ing�nue, a truly marvelous place.
Jan 2 2004: A couple of days staying between Sri
Lanka’s main beach resorts, Bentola and Beruwala was
enough! We decided that we needed some relief from the legions of
beach hustlers, boat trip touts, batik shop owners and beautiful
local beach boys all wanting to part us from our Rupees in exchange
for the various goods they had to offer. We decided to spend some
time in the sanctuary of sanity known as Brief Gardens just
ten miles inland.
Getting to Brief
Our journey to Brief Gardens was in a three-wheeler tuk-tuk (automated rickshaw) from our hotel. We were charged 1100 rupees (approximately $12) for our round trip tour; our driver waited the two hours it took for us to wander around the house and gardens.
You will find cheaper drivers if you hail a tuk-tuk on the main road and haggle like a local; however, for us the extra couple of dollars we paid meant that we weren’t bombarded with offers to detour to visit our drivers uncle’s Gem Shop, or his cousin’s Batik workshop. As we were towards the end of our Sri Lankan tour, we had grown weary of all these kind and persistent offers, and so for us this was money well spent.
There are no local busses to Brief and it is rather difficult to find, being down some very narrow country lanes. I also wouldn’t recommend taking a four wheeled Taxi; just prior to reaching Brief gardens lies an area of swamp land and the narrow route passes over a partially collapsed drainage tunnel which makes the road very narrow indeed. I wouldn’t encourage that you risk a close up view discovering just how many water snakes live in this swamp.
From Colombo, Brief Gardens is a hair-raising two-hour drive along the busy coast road south, and can be managed as a day trip. It is also about two hours north of the tourist town of Galle.
Introducing our host
Bevis Bawa, the founder of Brief Gardens was born to Dutch and Sinhalese parentage in 1909; his father a lawyer allegedly bought the land that Brief Gardens stands on after the payout of a successful legal brief came his way, but who initially turned the land (jokingly called Brief) into a rubber plantation.
Bevis badgered his mother for land with which to create a garden, and in 1929 his wish was granted. He chose 5 acres of land, where the rubber trees didn’t grow so well, and spent the next 60 years happily creating his dream. He also designed and built his home in the grounds.
Bevis Bawa became a renowned landscape artist and gardener. Many of the hotels in Sri Lanka sport paving stones with etched leaves moulded into them. Bevis Bawa originated the design. Brief gardens are littered with fascinating sculptures; most were self-produced by Bevis.
Of course, Bawa was wealthy and well connected in those colonial Ceylon days and was a well-known face around society, standing out not least because of his 6’ 7” frame! He became a leading advisor to a succession of British Governors before independence came in 1948. His friends who came to stay at Brief included Laurence Olivier and Vivienne Leigh, the Duke of Windsor, and many other society faces of that era. In the 1950’s he provided some stinging commentary on post independence Ceylon in a regular national newspaper article, Briefly.
His younger brother was one of Sri Lanka’s most famous sons (admittedly there is not a heap of competition!), Geoffrey Bawa the architect died early in 2003.
Bevis Bawa employed 15 gardeners to help create and maintain his gardens and as the years passed by, Bawa started to retreat more and more into his private paradise with a succession of houseguests. His most famous guest was Australian artist Donald Friend, who came for a week or two and ended up staying for some six years or so. Bawa died in 1992 and left his estate to his workers. Brief Gardens went to his head gardener.
Huge bamboo trees and an ornate gate surround the gardens. You need to ring the bell to attract attention to gain entry to the gardens. As the gardens are located down narrow lanes, it does not attract hoards of visitors and certainly no large coach parties. During our tour, only one other party of three visitors were being separately shown around.
In Sri Lankan terms, entry to the gardens and house are expensive at 350 rupees ($4!) per person (higher than many local daily incomes). However in Western terms, the gardens are cheap and you are paying for the exclusivity of the place. You also get an extensive guided tour. Our guide was one of the gardeners at Brief and one of the two main workers of the estate who supported Bevis Bawa during his old age.
The gardens and house are maintained to the way that Bevis Bawa designed them. Unfortunately, the gardens appear to be in slow decline; our guide explained that these days the income from the tours today only paid for seven gardeners and that it was a constant battle to maintain the gardens. I actually found the gardens to be in a fairly well maintained state, the patches of faintly overgrown areas only led to enhance the look.
Although the gardens are only 5 acres in size, Bevis managed to compartmentalise the gardens so there are many themes and many nooks and crannies to explore. There are tall trees, shrubs and bamboo plants in the gardens that mean that each subdivided area is private and cannot be overlooked. One of the strangest trees in the gardens was a Frangipani from whose bare branches the beautiful white with orange heart, temple flowers grow. Also visible in abundance were a number of Orchids growing from the branches of host trees. Our guide patiently gave us the names of the flowers and plants, and directed us to particular plants and shrubs that he loved. As someone used to gardening in a cool climate, the bright and beautiful varieties of plants were astonishing indeed.
One of my favourite areas was the eye catching (and I guess obvious) Japanese water gardens, a series of well planted square pools descending down a lawned slope in front of the house. Another, an exclusive and private bar-b-q area was a place much loved by Bevis Bawa.
Enhancing the gardens are the sculptures produced by Bawa and his houseguests. I spotted a beautiful water trough designed by Bawa, with a turtle design, edged by terracotta tiles hand produced by Donald Friend. In and amongst the fronds of long green and white leaves other sculptures poke through waiting to be discovered, for example, a delicate long nosed boy and a stylised horse looking out over the gardens. Another beautiful object, a moon stone (a Buddhist Alter stone) was set into the wild gardens.
At the end of his life, Bevis Bawa was living as a Buddhist; the peace and calm of these beautiful gardens would probably even convert manic old me after a while.
Perhaps the best parts of the gardens are those close to the house; an area that almost seems like an extension of the house itself, a green living outdoor shower room, an outside WC with a wall of moss and ivy and two pagan faced planters overflowing with more greenery.
Close to my own heart, a patio wall stood largely made from wine bottles! The bottle were held horizontally by setting bottle necks a little space apart, surrounded by concrete. From the patio, the wall is dappled with circular shafts of light. From behind, the body of the bottles have become covered with deep green moss and mould from the humid air. In front of this textural green wall stood a beautiful sculpture of a naked and… um excited man. Around the rear of the house lay another small area set aside for beautiful Orchids.
During our tour, as well as describing the gardens and flowers, our guide was also telling stories about his former employer and his life (from which most of the first part of this review originates). The respect and love for the old man was clear.
The house looked just as if its owner had nipped out for the afternoon. The house, an open plan single story white washed building looked simple and functional. The library was crammed with both serious looking leather bound tomes, together with more lightweight and well-thumbed paperback novels. The wicker chairs were placed to enable the sitter the best view out through the patio doors, or the low windows.
On the walls and on the heavy wooden antique Dutch furniture, an eclectic display of paintings, wall hangings and sculpture caught the eye. An antique Balinese Batik, slowly moulding in the humid atmosphere, a mural of Sri Lanka made and left by one of Bawa’s houseguests with paint flaking and fading in the heat and light, and a mind-boggling number of styles of statues and paintings produced by Donald Friend. I wish that my former lovers were anything like as generous and talented.
Our Grand Departure
While we were left to our own devices in the house, our guide slipped off to collect and create a small bouquet of flowers, surrounded by sumptuous green foliage for look and protection. My wife’s flowers included a ginger flower, and a small bird of paradise. He explained that he had chosen waxy leaved flowers to enable them to keep for two weeks and survive the flight home.
As is traditional in Sri Lanka, we tipped our most helpful guide and we were waved off in our three-wheeled tuk-tuk in grand style.
If statues of naked young men offend, then perhaps Brief Gardens isn’t quite the place for you. That said there is much more to see and enjoy at Brief than these few statues.
I took many photographs of Brief Gardens, but the fierce equatorial light contrasting with the deep shade of the undergrowth means that getting quality photographs are tricky. Consider the use of flash in order to enhance the light in the foreground, and do not be afraid to snap away. At least you will guarantee a few good photos!
On your way to Brief Gardens, you will probably pass through the town of Dharga. When we passed by, there was a traditional food market, stall holders selling their fruit and fish from traditional wood made market stalls, covered by palm leaf roofs. Further towards Brief you will pass a number of traditional country shops with their display of orange King Coconuts for drinking. You might want to linger a while to soak in the atmosphere and pay 30 rupees ($.40) for a King Coconut for drinking. The stallholder will chop the top of the Coconut with a machete for you, and give you a straw.
Extracted from: Memories of Galle 70 years ago, by Cecil V. Wikramanayake
Frequent visitors were Bevis Bawa, a close friend of Uncle Guy, Wijayananda Dahanayake, a teacher, Jimmy de Livera, an Excise Inspector, Edgar Ephraums a businessman - the father of the lovely Sylvia who a few years later became the pulse of my heart when we studied together at Richmond College.
Extracted from: A Criticism of Mr Ramanathan's "Ethnology of the 'Moors' of Ceylon" by I L M Abdul Azeez, Editor of the "Muslim Guardian"