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Author Topic: The Bracegirdle Incident  (Read 12462 times)
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alan fewster
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« on: June 28, 2010, 01:23:43 AM »

I am about to visit Sri Lanka to research a book on the Bracegirdlge Incident of 1936-37. Mark Anthony Lyster Bracegirdle was a young Australian who arrived in Ceylon in 1936.  He was a creeper under superintendant HD THomas at Relugas at Madukellle, near Matale, 90 miles from Colombo.   Appalled at the conditions under which the Tamil estate workers were enduring, he joined the  nascent Socialist Party and began agitating on heir behalf. He was promptly sacked and in late 1936, the British attempted moved against him. The Governor, Sir REginald Stubbs, ordered his deportation He was detained, but escaped and went into hiding. Bracegirdle's supporters won a case of Habeas Corpus brought on his behalf in the Supreme Court and he became a cause celebre for the nationalist cause in Celyon.

I am most keen to find any documents that might exist in unofficial archives that might refer to Bracegirdle, the controversy he caused and its aftermath , which included an official report on the constitutionality of  the actions taken against him. 

Can anyone help?
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David Colin-Thomé (Editor)
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« Reply #1 on: June 30, 2010, 11:40:42 AM »

Hi Alan,

I have placed your query on our website Facebook page as well so let's hope for some luck there. The HOCT Facebook URL is http://tinyurl.com/HOCT-FB if you wish to have a look at it.

Kind regards,
David Colin-Thome

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"You might think I say a lot about the scenery, but if you saw it, you will not think I say too much" - pioneering tea planter James Taylor describes Ceylon in a letter to his parents in Scotland
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« Reply #2 on: January 05, 2011, 05:13:09 AM »

Mark Bracegirdle
A polymath who stood against imperialism

Wesley S Muthiah
The Guardian, Friday 16 July 1999 01.28 BST
Article history

In 1936, Mark Bracegirdle, who has died of a stroke aged 86, arrived in Ceylon from Australia, and for seven months worked on the Reluges estate, Madulkelle, as an apprentice tea planter. The workforce was Indian Tamil; their hours were long, their wages low, their living conditions shocking - and they were illiterate.

Bracegirdle was openly sympathetic to the workers. So his employers booked him on a return steamer to Australia; but Bracegirdle would not go. Instead, he joined the Lanka Sama Samaja party (equal society party) and denounced conditions on the plantations.

The governor, Sir Reginald Stubbs, responded by invoking an order-in-council to force Bracegirdle to quit the island. Again, he would not go. So the governor ordered his arrest, pending deportation. A storm of protest ensued and Bracegirdle went underground. In May 1937, he addressed a 50,000-strong protest meeting in Colombo, although soon afterwards the police detained him.

Meanwhile, the state council pointed out that the governor had acted unconstitutionally and the colonial supreme court ruled that Bracegirdle had been illegally detained and must be released.

Thus did he become a key figure in the anti-imperialist movement, focusing attention within the country's educated classes on the need to end colonial rule. The case highlighted such issues as freedom of the individual, the role of the judiciary, the power of the governor and the rights of workers.

Bracegirdle came from a family of artists. His mother, Ina, was a suffragette, who had studied at the Slade school of art and was a member of the Independent Labour party. In 1928 Bracegirdle emigrated to Australia with his mother and brother. He joined the young Communist league in Sydney and during the depression worked on outback sheep farms, where he developed what became a lifelong friendship with Cynthia Reed, who later married the artist Sidney Nolan.

After the conclusion of the Bracegirdle case, he returned to England, and in 1939 married Mary Vinden, a young nurse and member of the Communist party. A wartime conscientious objector, he was involved in clandestine refugee work, helping to smuggle Jewish women out of Berlin. After the war, he qualified as an engineer and settled in Gloucestershire, where he developed friendships with Rutland Boughton, the composer, and Wogan Phillips, later Lord Phillips. A committed Labour party member, he was also an Aldermaston marcher.

In the 1970s, Bracegirdle worked as transport manager for the Zambian flying doctor service. He ended his career lecturing in engineering at North London polytechnic.

Bracegirdle knew about fungi, the history of Chinese script, Darwinism, the history of science, Marxism, Roman glass, ornithology, farming, art, design, aviation, beekeeping, Aboriginal history - and cookery. In retirement, he worked voluntarily for the extra-mural department of archaeology at London university.

His sharp, inquiring mind and sense of humour never deserted him. Days before he died, rendered speechless by a stroke, he was still writing down ideas for inventions, inquiring about the war in Kosovo and checking how his grandchildren had done in their exams.

He leaves three daughters, a son and five grandchildren.

• Mark Anthony Lyster Bracegirdle, anti-colonialist, born September 10, 1912; died June 22, 1999

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Ian Gardner
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« Reply #3 on: January 18, 2011, 07:19:07 AM »

A remarkable man, one with the courage of his convictions.
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« Reply #4 on: May 05, 2011, 07:04:00 AM »

Sri Lanka’s Independence and the Bracegirdle incident

Vinod MOONESINGHE, 30 April 2011
As the working people of Sri Lanka prepare to celebrate another May Day to defend our hard-won freedom, it behoves us to go back 74 years, to May Day 1937 which was a crucial one in the struggle of Sri Lanka for independence from the British Empire
On May 1, 1937, thousands of workers paraded through the streets of Colombo demanding the deportation of Governor Sir Reginald Stubbs and the sacking of Inspector General of Police Banks. The prestige of the colonial regime was in tatters and the Empire looked vulnerable in this country for the first time since 1815.

A May Day rally in the past.
Although it is fashionable in certain circles to be nostalgic for ‘The Good old Days’ when Sri Lanka was a colony, the country was in fact in the grip of an evil empire based on racism. Sri Lanka had one of the poorest indigenous populations in the world, with mortality indices lower than those of India.
Here, as in other colonies the indigenous inhabitants were treated like second-class citizens in their own land.
As late as 1942, the British Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Layton, was able with impunity to call Oliver Ernest Goonetilleke, the Commissioner of Civil Defence a ‘black bastard’.
Second World War
Before the Second World War, the British Raj was considered impregnable and independence for this island seemed like a dream. It was in this situation that, in 1936 Mark Anthony Lyster Bracegirdle, a 24-year old Anglo-Australian came to Sri Lanka to become a ‘creeper’ on Relugas tea estate in Madulkelle.
The planters were almost all white in those days and formed a privileged minority in the estate areas, living in bungalows with many servants and with their own ‘whites only’ clubs.
It was in this atmosphere that Bracegirdle began taking an active part in the independence movement. He was soon sacked, but remained in the island as an agitator.
On April 3, 1937, a meeting was held in Nawalapitiya, addressed by Mrs Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya of the Indian Congress Socialist Party, who was touring the island. Bracegirdle rose to address the gathering and was greeted with loud applause and shouts of ‘Samy, Samy’.
The effect of a white man speaking out against the White Raj was electric - it spelled ruin for the imperialist system on the island.

Mark Anthony Lyster Bracegirdle
The planters got Stubbs to deport Bracegirdle.
On April 22, Bracegirdle was given 48 hours to leave Sri Lanka.
He went into hiding and the Colonial authorities were unable to find him - which did nothing for its prestige.
The vaunted Police force created by the notorious IGP Dowbiggin scoured the countryside, but was unable to apprehend Bracegirdle.
Robert Gunawardena, later to become MP for Kotte, was responsible for hiding Bracegirdle, taking him from Colombo to Lunugala and thence to a cave behind Relugas estate.
A week later Robert picked Bracegirdle up from Relugas and took him back to a house near the Grandpass Police Station.
A few days later, on getting a tip-off, Robert moved Bracegirdle again, to a plantation bungalow in Koratota, Kaduwela (now a boutique hotel).
Here, Bracegirdle gave an interview to a reporter for the Daily News, who had been driven there blindfolded.
On May Day, placards were carried which said ‘We want Bracegirdle - Deport Stubbs’, ‘Banks Out’ and ‘Withdraw the slave proclamation’ (the deportation order).
On May 5 a motion was debated in the State Council to censure Governor Stubbs for having made the deportation order. A resolution was passed which demanded the removal of Stubbs and the withdrawal of the deportation order on Bracegirdle.
Habeas Corpus
The motion was passed by 34 votes to 7. Later that day a rally took place on Galle Face in support of Bracegirdle, which was attended by 50,000 people.
Among the speakers were SWRD Bandaranaike and DM Rajapaksa, the uncle of our current President. Robert Gunawardena went to Koratota and drove Bracegirdle to Galle Face. The latter bounded out of the car, ran to the platform and proceeded to make a speech. The Police were powerless to arrest him amidst the massive crowd.
By this time a writ of Habeas Corpus had been prepared. The case was called before a bench of three Supreme Court judges and on May 18 the court ruled that Bracegirdle could not be deported for exercising his right to free speech. Bracegirdle later returned to Britain of his own accord.
However the effects of his actions were to last long after he had gone. The seeming invincibility of the colonial regime was shown up. Furthermore, as Philip Gunawardena, one of the masterminds behind the State Council motion said, all the nation’s political forces were united on this issue against the colonial authorities.
Dominion status
The Bracegirdle issue had set the ball rolling in the process that was to culminate in the complete independence of Sri Lanka. In 1943, the Ceylon National Congress called for complete independence and in 1945 the State Council passed the Free Lanka Bill.
In 1948 the British granted us Dominion status. In 1957 all the British military bases were removed and in 1972 Parliament passed a Constitution that broke all the previous servile ties to Britain. Bracegirdle, who made such a large contribution to the initiation of this process, died in England on June 22, 1999. Sadly, he never did return to this island.

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