138th Birth Anniversary of Rev. Canon W. E. Botejue:
Rev. Canon Welatantrige Edwin Botejue’s 138th birth anniversary fell yesterday. His revered memory is respectfully recalled on this day for his outstanding contribution as a Priest, Politician and Patriot, being certainly one of the most eminent citizens of Ceylon of the Twentieth Century: The Canon’s devotion and dedicated service to his faith, his motherland and her people spanned over three quarters of the last century.
Canon Botejue was the eldest son of Rev. Welatantrige Louis Botejue and Welatantrige Elizabeth Botejue both of whom hailed from the Welatantrige Clan of Kotte, Elizabeth his mother was a teacher of English of no mean repute in the days of British Colonial era that had introduced the Anglican Faith to Ceylon through its missionary arm the “Church Missionary Society” popularly known as the “CMS.”
In his memoirs written in his own hand which was not published Canon Botejue confesses that his desire to follow his father’s footsteps and enter the Holy Order of the Anglican Church however was delayed till his father’s death because of the racist policies advocated and practiced by the CMS during the colonial era.
He has noted that the CMS was creating a division among the Christians by referring to the local converts to Christianity as native Christians and segregating them into a Church called a Native Church and in other Churches native Christians were confined to separate pews.
Canon Botejue stood up valiantly against this racist policy openly practiced by the CMS “It was very fortunate”, Canon Botejue has further noted, “that the Bishop of Colombo then, The Rt. Rev. Dr. R. S. Copplestone who was physically, intellectually and morally head and shoulders above the rest of the clergy opposed the policy of racial churches and supported the battle against the racist policy of the CMS.”
Canon Botejue has recorded an incident that occurred in the Mirihana Parish when His Lordship Rt. Rev. Dr. R. S. Copplestone refused to take the Chair at a public meeting at which he had been invited to preside, till the Sinhala Parish Priest Rev. Father Silva was also accommodated on the stage.
Cannon Botejue has also recorded in his memoirs that his rebellious spirit led him to trouble that caused him to face an inquiry held by the Metropolitan of India when he stood up for his brother Tamil Priests who had a grievance at that point of time.
Canon Botejue even as a student of Trinity College, Kandy had earned a reputation by contributing articles to Newspapers of that day in particular to “The Ceylon Independent” edited by George Wall on matters of political and public interest. Later he was invited to write leading articles and had become a versatile writer and speaker in both English and Sinhala.
He has noted that his entry into active politics was due to his popularity that he had earned as a political analyst through his contributions to Newspapers of that time including the “Ceylon Daily News” printed and published by Lake House founded by the late D. R. Wijewardene who was among his closest friends and supporters of his political career.
Canon Botejue has recorded in his memoirs that at or about the time of his father’s death he had taken to teaching as a stepping stone to enter the legal profession. He was a teacher in a Christian School at Ambalangoda when he had intimation of the death of his father who was then the parish priest of the Anglican Church of Kesbewa.
He has faithfully recorded that from the moment he heard the news of his father’s death an invisible voice kept on ringing in his ear, urging him, “step into your father’s shoes.” That was the turning point of his life.
He decided to forsake the worldly path of a more lucrative profession of a lawyer for a less remunerative but more glorious one of greater spiritual value in the service of his faith and God.
He acted in positive response to the invisible voice. Cast away his earlier prejudice against the CMS and decided to enter the Priesthood of the Anglican Church of his father’s faith that he served unflinchingly till his last breath.
Canon Botejue is remembered for his contribution towards the good of the Anglican Church effecting radical changes in its administration and later when the question of Church Union arose advising and guiding its destiny as the President of the Anglo Catholic Union.
In his political career, he is counted as a “freedom fighter” among the pioneers of the Reform Movement of Ceylon in her struggle for Independence from colonial rule. He was the first Clergyman Legislator to be elected to the Legislative Council of Ceylon to represent the Sabaragamuwa Province when the British Raj in 1921 extended the principle of elected representation and granted a limited number of elected members to represent the nine provinces in a Council dominated by an official majority that acted and voted en bloc on the direction of the then colonial Governor Sir William Manning who presided.
Canon Botejue has publicly said that life as a legislator at that point of time was frustrating and disappointing. No motion or resolution in the Legislative Council moved by the elected members that was not acceptable to the Governor saw the light of day. But the elected representatives of the day acted together in unity for the common good and public weal at all times.
On one occasion the elected unofficial members were able to convince the colonial Government of their importance and the need for more liberal reforms to ensure wider more significant and effective representation.
As a protest against the implementing of the Woodrenton - Fernando salaries scheme for upper grade Government officials, despite the unanimous vote of the elected members against it, 14 of them resigned. At the By-election held thereafter all fourteen were re-elected, (including the Canon then Hon. Rev. W. E. Botejue) and returned to the Legislative Council demonstrating manifestly the quality of both the legislator and the voter then.
However, despite the frustration and constraints faced by the elected representatives then, Canon Botejue had the distinction of achieving success. Although a priest of the Anglican Church he stood up valiantly for the rights and privileges of the Buddhist Clergy guaranteed under the provisions of the 1815 Convention signed by the British Raj. In the Legislative Council he spoke in glowing terms of the pride of place to be given to the yellow robe and moved the Government to grant the privilege of reserved compartments and free railway warrants in the CGR to the Buddhist Priests when there was a need for it.
M. P. de Z. Siriwardene speaking on behalf of the SLFP and the entire opposition endorsing the sentiments expressed by the Leader of the House added, “Canon Botejue fought for the issue of Railway Warrants for Buddhist Monks when there was an agitation for it. He also fought for the rights of those in the gemming industry.”
The Bishop of Colombo the Rt. Rev. A. R. Graham Campbell who unveiled a portrait of Canon Botejue on the occasion marking the Golden Jubilee of his ordination said.
“The Courageous and Honourable One who has ever sought to tread the path of duty and has laboured alike to serve his Country and his God. May the example of such as Canon Botejue continue to inspire the generations of the future.”