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Michael Roberts
Papers, mainly on Sri Lanka ca. 1800-1999

MSS 0031

Biographical Note

Michael Roberts was trained in history and the social sciences at Peradeniya University in Sri Lanka. His initial Ph.D work on agrarian policy took him into intellectual history as well as economic history and political economy. Once he began in the late 1960s to look at the social base of the nationalist movement in British Ceylon, his researches moved him into social history - this involved a study of social mobility and elite formation. This shift was further promoted by his involvement in the interdisciplinary discussions of the Ceylon Studies Seminar at Peradeniya, in which he was key founder.

His oral history work among administrators and politicians in the late 1960s provided a foundation for his deepening engagement with the phenomenon of nationalism. These researches crystallised in the four-volume Documents of the Ceylon National Congress (1977, Dept of national archives) and the edited anthology Collective Identities (Marga, 1979).

When he gained an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship to Germany in 1975-76 and then secured a post at the Dept of Anthropology at the University of Adelaide, this process of transformation continued. Teaching anthropology meant studying the subject and gaining awareness of ethnographic field study methodology. Though he never pursued extensive field studies, his researches in effect involved the deciphering of the life ways of the middle classes of modern Sri Lanka. His Caste Conflict and Elite Formation: The Rise of a Karava Elite in Sri Lanka, 1500-1931 (1982, CUP) is as much a product of Peradeniya as Adelaide, while People Inbetween (Sarvodaya, 1989) is about the middle classes of British Ceylon and the growth of Colombo city to hegemonic status.

When the ethnic conflict within Sri Lanka sharpened after 1983, Roberts’ familiarity with nationalist ideology stood him in good stead; while his anthropological awareness of human relations and inter-personal subjectivity also came in handy. Thus, his recent writings in the 1990s and 2000s have concentrated heavily on ethnic politics in Sri Lanka, both in the British period (for. e. g. studies of Anagarika Dharmapala’s thinking and the 1915 anti-Muslim pogrom) and in contemporary Lanka (Sinhala nationalist writing and the LTTE’s hero rituals). At the same time he has (a) undertaken an excursion into the pre-British era and analysed the political structure and ideological form of the state of SinhalÄ“ in the period 1590s to 1815 and (b) ventured to analyse the politics of cricket in Sri Lanka as well as abroad (see Essaying Cricket, 2006 Vijitha Yapa Publications).
(extracted from Michael Roberts' Thuppahi's blog' concerning the politics of Sri Lanka and cricket

Contents Listing

Series 1.1 Oral History Project (Ceylon / Sri Lanka) 1965-69
300 cassette tapes plus 1720 p. of transcripts etc. Comprising tapes of 154 interviews by Michael Roberts of retired public servants who had served in Sri Lanka (mainly in the Ceylon Civil Service), politicians and other notables. Also full transcripts of 22 interviews, notes and comments on other interviews, and comments on the work Pul Eliya: a village in Ceylon, by Edmund Leach.

Interview tapes listing

Transcripts listing

Digital versions of some recordings are also available through the Library's Adelaide Research and Scholarship digital repository.

1.2 Later oral history recordings

Sinhala-Tamil Politics (27 mini-cassettes)
IDP (internally displaced persons) camps (9 mini-cassettes)
Sri Lankan cricket (4 mini-cassettes)
Sinhala Consciousness (14 cassettes)

Note: we do not have a mini-cassette player. Mini-cassettes will need to be digitised before use.

Series 2 Source materials on Sri Lanka (mainly manuscripts)

2.1 Manuscripts etc arranged chronologically

Photocopied extracts from ms reminiscences of Mrs Darby Griffith ‘Ceylon during a residence in the years 1841-42’, with Robert’s ms notes. In oversize box.
Also ms transcriptions of the diary undertaken by Mr W.J.F. Labrooy, Head of History at Peradeniya University. With typescript: Essay on banyan (and the cultivation of tea) by A.P. Herbert (takenfrom Punch 23/2/1955) [2 leaves]

Advocate Dunuwille’s fee book 1859-1864. With newspaper article: Andromeda of the Sinhalese / J.A. Will Perera from The Times of Ceylon 28/9/1947; and letter from Charles H. Dunuwille to the Ceylon Daily News [n.d.] (negative photographic copies in folder) 170 leaves. Copied from Sri Lanka Archives?

Wm. Digby. MSS: The food taxes and revenue farming system of Ceylon: a statement of the evil with suggestions for its removal. 1876. Original ms, repaired, with photographic copy of authentication by James Ruthay(?) 50 leaves. With stamp of Sri Lanka Archives?

Frederick Dornhorst. MSS: [A short account of my life] in notebook 34 x 11 cm. [20] p. With newspaper clippings ‘Westward bound’ 1886 and ‘Gossip from the west’ pasted in rear of notebook, plus ms travel itinerary of a journey through Europe 1900 [1 leaf]. In envelope with copies of the will of Frederick Dornhurst and correspondence re the estate and the Dornhurst Trust 1924-1938.Also photocopy of indenture between Ronald Joseph Godfrey De Mel and Kingsley Louis Victor Alagiyawanna as sponsors of the Dr G.C. Mendis Memorial Fund … 12 p.

British Government correspondence on the occasion of the coronation of King Edward VII 1902, copied from the Public Record Office [letter from the Indian Mohammaden Society of Colombo 18/6/1902, letter acknowledging addresses to the King from Ceylon]

Edmund Hewavitane and Namanidewage Albert Wijesekere. Court martial charge-sheet ca 1915. Spirit duplicated typescript, with ms annotations. [1], 41 leaves. With stamp of Sri Lanka Archives? Also 2 negative photographic copies.

G.L. Cooray. MSS re riot compensation for C.E.A. Dias’s car, 1915-1917 (negative photographic copies in folder) 100 leaves. Copied from Sri Lanka Archives? Plus a positive photographic copy in larger format.

Minutes of the Ceylon Reform League 1917-1920. Folder includes printed and ms rules, minutes, receipts and reports. Many leaves have been damaged and repaired with tissue overlays. In oversize box

1926 Colombo street directory (photocopy)

Memo on the policy of the Unionist Association of Ceylon, with signatures of founder members, August 1927 (negative photographic copy) 2 leaves. Copied from the Lionel de Fonseka MSS in the Sri Lanka Archives? With typescript transcript from The Ceylon Daily News 10/8/1927 ‘New political caucus: the Unionist Party of Ceylon. Sir Marcus Fernando: lengthy speech at the Little Hall’

Varsa 1803 di siduvu Ingrisi Simhala maha yuddhaya, hevat Ingirisi hatana Valigala Mundali nam kavivaraya visin prabandhakarana ladi / Valigala Kavisundara. [Sri Lanka]: Karunatilaka Appuhami, 1939. 38 p. (photocopy) Sinhalese poem.

Presidential address of Mr S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, K.C., Member of Parliament-Ceylon delivered at the Inaugural and First Business Meeting of the Ilanka Tamil Abasu Kadchi (The Federal Freedom Party of the Tamil-Speaking People of Ceylon) on 18th December, 1949, at the G.C.S.U. Hall, Colombo.15 p. (photocopy)

Extracts from letter from Ceylon 20/10/1953): “Description of the AGM of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, 1953, by a British Trotskyite” copied from file from the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, Stanford CA (photocopy)

Police file on the Ceylon Communist Party (ca 1953-54) Typescript (carbon copy): headed SECRET.

Donald Friend. Typed extracts from the Diaries, vol. 3 (The Ceylon Diaries cover the period 25/1/1957 to 22/7/1962)

Insurgency Summary and report by SA Dissanayaka of National Security on the activities of the J.V.P. 10/9/1973 and 4/1/1974 (photocopies of typescripts)

Indo Lanka Accord: photocopies of documents concerning ‘Network events leading up to meetings at the highest level’ RESTRICTED until 2025

2.2 De Silva manuscripts

MSS: [Biographical information on W.A. de Silva and family 1875-1913 (negative photographic copies in folder) [9] leaves. Copied from C.P. Fonseka MSS in the Sri Lanka Archives?

Rev. Simon De Silva. Selected extracts from the diaries. 1897-1939 (negative photographic copies in folder) 234 leaves. Copied from Sri Lanka Archives?

W.A. De Silva: letters and manuscripts 1913-1931 (negative photographic copies in folder) 56 leaves.
Copied from Sri Lanka Archives?

George E. De Silva Memoirs (unpublished typescript – carbon copy, 142 leaves) [after 1933]

2.3 Mooyaart manuscripts

Letter 10/1/1813 from A.N.M. (= Anthony Noel Mooyaart, son of Gualterus Mooyaart) of Amsterdam to J.N. Mooyaart of Ceylon (Photocopy of typescript) 11 leaves. With brief biographies of the correspondents, and an undated letter from Rev. R.J. Mooyaart of Berkshire containing family information. In oversize box

Revd Henry Mooyaart. MSS: ‘Reminiscences of the Reverend Henry Mooyaart, M.A. of Oxford, late of the Ceylon Civil Service.’ 1916. Typescript copy of the original held by Mooyaart’s descendants. 79, [3] leaves, with [12] leaves of photographs.

2.4 Pieris manuscripts

Hannedige Jeronis Pieris MSS. Letters 1853-1856 (negative photographic copies) 40 leaves. Copied from Sri Lanka Archives?

Essay by Sir James Pieris 21 June 1877 on ‘Free Trade’ (negative photographic copies) 4 leaves. Copied from Sri Lanka Archives? 2 copies.

Ms letters by Sir James Pieris 6/2/1879-19/2/1886 (negative photographic copies in folder) 15 leaves. Copied from Sri Lanka Archives? 2 copies.

‘Sir James Pieris in politics 26/3/1894-19/3/1924’ negative photographic copies of “Collection of reports of meetings held in favour of Mr James Pieris’ nomination as representative  of the Lowcountry Sinhalese in the Legislative Council. Printed at the Ceylon Examiner Press” [after 1895]. With associated correspondence. In folder. Copied from Sri Lanka Archives? 2 copies.

‘H.J. Pieris MSS.’ negative photographic copies of letter in Sinhalese script. 4 leaves. [n.d.] Copied from Sri Lanka Archives?

B.P. Pieris. Draft of memoirs [after 1963] (unpublished typescript, 307 leaves) 2 copies, one annotated and inscribed ‘corrected 22/8/68’

2.5 Wijewardene manuscripts

Scrapbook on D.R. Wijewardene and the Ceylon National Association 1913-1950: contains newspaper clippings and photographs, including photographs of the funeral (Wijewardene was a political activist and founder of ‘The Ceylon Daily News’)

D.R. Wijewardene. MSS letters 1917-1938 (negative photographic copies in folder) [148] leaves. Copied from Sri Lanka Archives? In oversize box

2.6 Social History sources

Source material on life ways/styles and elite formation, including family histories, caste formation etc. With notes by Michael Roberts.

Letters re elite formation monograph 1968-71, with notes by Roberts and transcriptions of letter from Lady Dias B to Countess de S. Cannavarro 2/6/1927, and Fletcher-Cowell letter 2/8/1927 – see Caste conflict and elite formation: the rise of a Karava elite in Sri Lanka, 1500-1931 / Michael Roberts. Cambridge University Press, 1982.

‘Assorted data: Karava’: photocopies, ms notes and draft sections in envelope, including: extracts from D.A. Kotelawele typescript; article ‘Indigenous dominance in a colonial economy, the Goa Rendas, 1600-1670 / M.N. Pearson, from Mare Luso-Indicum (Geneve, 1973) v. 2p. 61-73; extract from B.D. Chattapadhyaya typescript

Genealogy of the family of Dias Bandaranayaka / R.L. Dias Bandaranayaka. [Port Colombo, after 1945] 23 p. (photocopy, with ms annotations)

Photocopied articles, photographs, cartoons and drawings from newspapers and publications, including The Ceylon Observer Centenary Supplement, Amicus Annual, Ceylon Observer Annual, Times of Ceylon, Ceylon Observer, Plâté’s Ceylon Annual ca 1858-1941, in envelope. In Oversize box

[Photocopies of assorted letters and memos about the burghers and aspects of Sri Lankan Social History, in part arising from interests in the book People inbetween: the Burghers and the middle class in the transformations within Sri Lanka, 1790s-1960s / Michael Roberts, Ismeth Raheem, Percy Colin-Thome. (Ratmalana, Sri Lanka: Sarvodaya Book Pub. Services, 1989): includes letter from Dr Justin Labrooy to Michael Roberts 29/5/1990; letter from Stan Sharpe to Michael Roberts 19/8/1990; letter from Pat Jansz 16/7/1990; letter from Lorenz Ludovici 30/7/1990; postcard of Galle from Vic Misso ca. 1905-7; letter from David Goodrich to Michael Roberts 2/2/1998; letter from S.J. Kadirgamar to Percy Colin-Thome re Charles Ambrose Lorenz 12/5/1986, and reply 19/5/1986; letter from Percy Colin-Thome to Dr T.B.H. Abeyasinghe 16/6/1982 re Lorenz; ‘Leopold Ludovici: a note by Percy Colin-Thome (ms, 2 leaves); transcription of obituary of J.F. Lorenz from Ceylon Examiner 3/5/1888; letter Sam Mattau to Michael Roberts 22/8/1985 re sources; article signed A.C. [C.A. Lorenz?]; cuttings re Dutch Burgher Union Journal from Sunday Observer 6/6/1932 and Ceylon Daily News 8/6/1982; article ‘Galle: something to crow about through a (reversed) telescope / Herbert Keuneman, from Remembering Evelyn F.C. Ludowyk(?) p. 18-21; A memo from the Drieberg family.

[Photocopied sources on Sri Lanka social history to do with the Karava Caste families etc.: includes letter from Dr P.V.D. Fernando to Michael Roberts 3/11/1995; letter Tony Peries to Michael Roberts 28/3/1999; memo by Tony Peries 26/3/1999 [re field research for The Karava of Ceylon: society and culture / by M.D. Raghavan (published Colombo: K.V.G. de Silva, 1961); Genealogical table of the Varnakula Additya (Varnage) de Fonseka and the Varnakula Additya Arsanillaite d’Anderado Families of Calutara and Colombo.

Notes on Salagama flag and bali / Michael Roberts. On cards, in envelope.

Notes on Karara elite / Michael Roberts. On cards, in envelope.

Folder of notes taken from printed sources.

Various photocopied chapters, extracts etc from print sources.

2.7: Family trees

Family trees of the Dickman, Stewart, Morgan, de Saram and Pereira families, several showing the direct line from Dickman and Stewart families to Rodney de Saram (15 sheets, A2 photocopies). In map cabinet

2.8: Photographs

Photograph albums
12 small photograph albums of original photographs and photographic copies of historic sources, mostly unidentified apart from E. Plantation scenes (1 album); G. Exotica (1 album); "People inbetween" (2 albums)

Photographs of spare parts merchants (cars, bikes, etc) 1981

Panchikawatte (suburb of Colombo) 27 b&w photographs
Panchikawatte Street 21 b&w photographs
Panchikawatte Street, Maradana 18 b&w photographs

2.9: Microfilms

Anagarika Dharmapala diary extracts. 9 reels of positive microfilm.
Copied from the National Archives of Sri Lanka in 1989, reels 30-38.

Newspaper clippings album and diary of Charles Henry de Soysa (1836-1890). I reel of positive microfilm (without reel)
Copied from the National Archives of Sri Lanka.

Various mss documents related to Ceylon from the Royal Commonwealth Library in London. 1 reel.

Pages from The Ceylon Independent, The Ceylon Dily News, and The Times of Ceylon. 1 negative reel.
Copied from the National Archives of Sri Lanka.

Diaries of Edmund Rowland Jayathilake Gooneratne, colonial-era administrator and literary figure. 4 reels positive microfilm.
Copied from the National Archives of Sri Lanka.

Unidentified Sinhalese text, National Archives of Ceylon reference no. 18/78.
Copied from the National Archives of Ceylon 1979(?)

Sketch of town etc. Colombo Fort. 1 reel negative microfilm, British Library PS8250608, Add 38076.
Copied from the British Library.
[Part of British Library, Archives and Manuscripts 38076. COLLECTION of charts and plans of coasts, rivers, islands, etc., drawn for military or sailing. purposes, many of which have reference to the voyages and naval engagements of Adm. Richard, Earl Howe (d. 1799). Purchased at the sale of his collections in 1904. Transferred from the Department of Printed Books (Section of Maps)??]

Ceylon Census 1946? 1 reel negative microfilm.
Copied from the National Archives of Sri Lanka.

MSS documents of Sir Henry George Ward, Governor of Sri Lanka 1855-1860. 1 reel negative microfilm.
Copied from Oxford University Library.

Office memo book 1936-37 of Sir D.B. Jayatilaka, Minister of Home Affairs. Bracegirdle file. With source documents re coconut and cinnamon lands ca 1891. 1 reel negative microfilm.
Copied from the National Archives of Sri Lanka.

Series 3: Source materials: Official publications of Ceylon/Sri Lanka

Ceylon. Governor. Message from His Excellency the Governor (Sir High Clifford) 18/5/1927 [to the Finance Committee outlining his scheme for the extension of peasant-proprietorship. Includes Appendix: The land policy of government and the reasons for land settlement (extract from the Ceylon Legislative Council Debates of November 13, 1907)
Ceylon. Sessional Paper IV (1908) Despatches relating to railway station accommodation in Colombo (3 copies)
Ceylon. Sessional Paper LVII (1908) Memorandum by His Excellency the Governor on the Colombo Harbour Works. (2 copies)
Ceylon. Sessional Paper VI (1909) Further correspondence on the subject of the Colombo Lake Development and connection with the harbour (2 copies)
Ceylon. Sessional Paper XII (1924) Scheme for protection of Colombo North from floods of the Kelani-Ganga. (2 copies)
Ceylon. Sessional Paper II (1931). Colombo District floods: report of the Committee appointed to inquire into the causes of the failure of the railway embankment forming part of the North Flood protection Scheme during the 1930 floods.
Ceylon. Sessional Paper VI (1951). Ceylon fisheries: recommendations of experts on fisheries development, research, socio-economic and industrial problems (Photocopy)
Ceylon. Administration Reports, 1894. Part IV: Miscellaneous. Public Instruction / report of Mr A. Walker.
Ceylon. Administration Reports, 1912-13. Part I: Civil. Survey / report of Mr R.S. Templeton.
Ceylon. Administration Reports, 1914. Part I: Civil. Survey / report of Mr W.C.S. Ingles.
Ceylon. Administration Reports, 1916. Part I: Civil. Survey / report of Mr W.C.S. Ingles.
Ceylon. Memorandum on the working of the Buddhist Temporalities’ Ordnance, 1889 / A.R. Dawson, Government Agent, Western Province.
Ceylon. Dept of Census and Statistics. Selected tables and diagrams. Colombo: Government Printer, 1921.
Ceylon. Dept of the Rubber Controller for Ceylon. Ceylon Rubber Census, 1928.
Ceylon. Return of the population of the island of Ceylon compiled from the seperate reports ... 1824. Colombo, 1827 (photocopy)
Ceylon. [Census of 1891: report] (photocopy, incomplete)
Ceylon. [Census of 1911] Incomplete: sections on Colombo, birthplaces and occupations only (photocopy)
Sri Lanka. Census of population and housing, 1981. Preliminary release no. 1.
Ceylon. Correspondence relating to disturbances in Ceylon. 1916. Cd. 8167 (photocopy) OVERSIZE
Ceylon. Correspondence [1915] relating to disturbances in Ceylon. 1916. Eastern no. 128 (photocopy) OVERSIZE


Alphabetical and numercal lists of the villages in the Eastern Province, showing the headman’s divisions in which they are situated and the courts which have jurisdiction over them / compiled and issued by the Dept of Census and Statistics. 1926. FRAGILE. In oversize box
Sri Lanka. Ministry of Finance and Planning. National Planning Division. Transport statistics in Sri Lanka (June 1981) with 1982 extract from Bangkok Post, and photocopies of economic, population, housing etc statistics

Series 4: Bibliography/resources listings re Sri Lanka

Manuscripts on Ceylon held in the British Library (envelope with photocopies, card references etc)
Ceylon. Dept of Census and Statistics. An annotated bibliography of the departmental publications. 1961.
Sri Lanka. Ministry of Finance and Planning. Economic Affairs Division. Bibliography on national planning in Sri Lanka [ca 1978]
De Silva, G.P.S.H. A survey of the Archives and manuscripts relating to Sri Lanka and located in major London repositories. Paris: UNESCO, 1981. 100 p.
Leslie de Saram Collection: a classified list / compiled by M.A. Gunapala, incorporating work done earlier by Mrs V. de Souza. University of Peradeniya Library, 1981 (University of Peradeniya Library publications 3)

Series 5: Sources: maps re Ceylon/Sri Lanka (in Map Cabinet)
See item listing

Also 3 small boxes of slides of maps

Series 6: Writings/publications etc. on Sri Lanka by others

Jiggins, Janice. Family and caste in the politics of the Sinhalese. (PhD – History) University of Sri Lanka, Peradeniya Campus. 1973.
Obeyesekere, Ranjini. A grief ago: five stories (Special issue of The Thatched Patio v. 4 no. 5 (Sept/Oct 1991) Published: International Centre for Ethnic Studies (Photocopy)
'Truth Tigers' Foreign Correspondent Episode 32, Series 11. 1 DVD.
Assorted photocopied extracts and articles, reprints and newspaper cuttings.

Series 7: Michael Roberts research notes on Sri Lanka

Sinhalese castes from the Censuses of 1814-16 and 1824-27. MS notes and tables.

Ethnic distribution in selected towns 1901 & 1911. Ms and typed notes and tables.

Ethnicity of select occupations according to province, 1911. Ms and typed notes and tables.

Census data 1881, 1891, 1901: categories and nationality. Ms nots, photocopy

Card files

  • Blue card file boxes – research for Roberts’ book Caste conflict and elite formation: the rise of a Karava elite in Sri Lanka, 1500-1931 (Cambridge University Press, 1982)
  • Red file boxes – Ferguson – book on surveys
  • 3 file boxes – research notes for Roberts’ PhD (not used in thesis – immigration/agrarian history/nationalism)
  • Card file – 8 boxes on land policy 1962 – for Robert’s thesis
  • Red card file - 1927 Colombo housing. Arranged by name/nationality with street addresses

Series 8: Coded data sheets

Housing project
Colombo project undertaken by Michael Roberts, Kingsley and K. Garbett 1978-1980 re economic and social problems within Colombo
Coded data sheets on land transfers, housing assessment register 1949 (with copies of coding scheme), and Bullers Lane Housing Scheme

Tenement lists for Colombo 1868-69
Coded data sheets, coding scheme and some correspondence (associated with the Colombo project above) See also photocopies in Oversize box.

Marriage advertisements ca 1970 (research not written up)
Coded data sheets, coding scheme, and newspaper advertisements

Series 9: Writings/publications by Michael Roberts on Sri Lanka

Interviews and notes on contemporary Sri Lankan politics (photocopies of ms notes) RESTRICTED UNTIL 2025
"People of righteousness march on for Sri Lanka" / Michael Roberts 7 June 2011 5 p. Printout.
"People of righteousness 'pursue campaign against Sri Lanka with missionary zeal'" / Michael Roberts 20 June 2011 [5] p. Printout.
Remainder to be listed.

Series 10: Research material collected/writings by Michael Roberts – other subjects

10.1 Anzac Symbolism
Research material collected for a proposed book on ‘Anzac: Today and Yesterday’ / Michael Roberts, Chris Flaherty, Jeff Doyle and Mark Tiggeman.
Includes photographs, draft chapters, newspaper clippings, photocopies of articles.

10.2 Race/ethnicity/multiculturalism/ Australian culture and language/Australian national identity/Aborigines
Mainly photocopies of articles. Includes material used in teaching of course on Ethic Identity and Ethnic Conflict 1996.

10.3 Cricket
Including web articles (available online from
Also numerous photographs digitised and stored on internal drive

10.4 Other
Including gambling in Bali; politics in Vanuatu and Fiji, and India; copy of letter from Don Bradman declining invitation to Australia Sri lanka Association reception 27/12/1989
Also numerous photographs re Sri Lankan politics digitised and stored on internal drive
Interview with Dr Michael Roberts on "Emotions and the person in nationalist studies", paper delivered at Nationalism Today Conference (Osaka, Japan, March 18-21, 1992) University Radio 5UV [n.d.] 1 CDR.

Rare Books & Special Collections

The University of Adelaide
Rare Books & Special Collections
Level 1, Barr Smith Library
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