Biographical Sketch of Dr. R.L. Brohier

Dr. Richard Leslie Brohier was the son of Richard Annesley Bohier (Jr.) and Marion de Boer and was bron on 5th October , 1892.
He was of French (Huguenot) descent, the founder of the family, Captain Jean (John) Brohier having arrived in the Island Ceylon, in 1777, in service under the Dutch East India Company (VOC). His grandfather was Pater Brohier, the translator of Rev. Baldeus’ book,  “The true and exact description of the Great Island of Ceylon. “No doubt the literary tradition in the family blossomed further in Richard Leslie, resulting in numerous publications pertaining to the history and the antiquities of Sri Lanka, as well as writings on the heritage of its people.    


He lived a full life to the ripe old age of 87 years, and died on 14th  February, 1980. This year (2015) is the thirty fifth anniversary of his death and the one hundredth and twenty three year of his birth.
After his education at the Royal (Academy) College, he entered the Ceylon Technical College in 1909, for a course of Survey Training; He then joined the Survey Department in 1910, as a Supernumerary Surveyor. To assist in further development of our country, he retired prematurely at the age of 57 in 1950, at the request of the then Prime Minister, Hon. D.S. Senanayake, to become a member of the Gal Oya Development Board, where he subsequently became its Chairman.
Though a complete resume of Brohier’s attainments and writings would take much space, only some of the more salient points will be highlighted here. To first start with his career in the Survey Department:

1909  He was Appointed Supernumerary Surveyor.
1921 He passed the Senior Departmental Professional Examination and was
appointed to the grade of Assistant Superintendent of Surveys. It was during this period, when he was transferred to the North Central Province and was in charge of a party of surveyors that he reported on the new findings which are recorded in his Book.
1933 He was promoted to the grade of Superintendent of Surveys. It was during this period that he commenced writing his monumental work on the Ancient Irrigation works of Ceylon.    
1938/1946 He acted as the Assistant Surveyor General. He was the first Sri Lankan
(Ceylonese) to act in such a senior capacity in the Department.
1946/1950 He was confirmed in the appointment as Assistant Surveyor General, the first Sri Lankan (Ceylonese) to hold this office. He was appointed to act as the Deputy Surveyor General during this period, in 1947 and again in 1949. 
1946 He officiated as Secretary to the first Delimitation Commission, which was appointed in terms of the Ceylon (Constitution) Order in Council.
1950 He retired when officiating as Deputy Surveyor General, at the personal request of Hon. D.S. Senanayake, to serve as a Member on the Gal Oya Development Board.

His work while in the Department took him to every corner of the country and he has recorded his observation at first hand for posterity. In fact the Survey Department was too small for his wide range of interests and activities. He was more fortunate than Henry Parker, in having with him the new topographical maps of the Island for his research. When he was commissioned by Hon. D. S.Senanayake, the then minister of agriculture and lands in 1993, to write the book on the Ancient Irrigation Works of Ceylon, he finished writing part I, in three months. In 1934, in one year he completed part II and part III and had them published in 1935 while attending to his normal duties,  a stupendous achievement by any standards. He followed the footsteps of well-known personalities as an author of much scholarship, like Robert Knox, Rev. Baldeus, Dr. John Davy, Sir Emmerson Tennent,  Henry Parker, Ananda Coomarawany, H.C.P. Bell, H.W. Codrington, Hugh Neville, Senarath Paranavitane , C.W. Nicholas – to mention a few. These men have left to posterity, a wealth of information of our country, and we would always remember them for their literary contributions, which are living memorials to them. Brohier stood out among contemporary historians and antiquarians; he inspired statesmen like Hon. D.S. Senanayake as well as others, to renovate and bring back to life the great hydraulic heritage of our Ancients.

R.L. Brohier published many books – thirteen in his lifetime: one book was published posthumously in 1984 and now, this is going into print. To mention a few of his masterpieces that  are being used as references:-

1934-1935  The Ancient Irrigation Works of Ceylon (in 3 volumes)
1941    History of Irrigation and Agricultural Colonization in Ceylon.
1950-1951 Lands, Maps and Surveys in 2 Volumes. The first volume gives us much written Information on Surveying and land Tenure as insights to the Colonial manipulation of holding lands belonging to the Kandyan Kingdom and held them defacto and not de jure. The Second volume contains a series of maps.
1951    The Gal Oya Project in Ceylon.
1965 Seeling Ceylon.
1969 Furniture of the Dutch Period in Ceylon.
1973 Discovering Ceylon.
1973 Food and the People.
1978 Links Between Sri Lanka and the Netherlands: A Book of Dutch Ceylon.
1984 Changing Face of Colombo (Published Posthumously).

He was a prolific writer on any subject of Sri Lanka’s history and articles from his pen appeared regularly in journals and in the Newspapers, here and abroad. He first began to publish in 1924 and continued to write, almost to his end. His contributions to the journals of learned societies such as that of the Royal Asiatic Society and of the Dutch Burgher Union are too numerous to mention in detail. He was the Editor of the Dutch Burgher union journal for 19 years. The reports on Commissions and committees he served on and with which he was associated, should also be acknowledged.

He was a frequent broadcaster on radio Ceylon, later the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation,  giving talks and presenting feature documentary programmes. He presented many papers and lecturers on technical and scientific subjects to Conferences, and at seminars and meetings. He was frequently invited as a lecturer on lighter and more popular subjects, social and cultural.

In addition to serving as Secretary of the first Delimitation Commission of 1946, he served as Chairman of the Gal Oya Development Board, first Chairman of the Eastern Paper Mills Corporation, 1955-58 and Chairman of the Special Committee on the Antiquities of Ceylon, 1959. He was also a Member of the land Commission, 1955-57, and of the Salaries Commission, 1958-62. A Member of the board of Regents of Vidyalankara University, he officiated on several Panels of Wages Boards and in the Industrial Courts, and was a Member of the Public Service Commission.

He gave stature to every Institution he served on and held high office in:-  President of the Royal Asiatic Society, President of the Ceylon Engineering Association (presently known as the Institution of Engineers), President of the Ceylon Geographical Association and the Ceylon Survey Institute and President of the Dutch Burgher Union. He was co-opted as an Advisory Member on a special Committee appointed by the Tourist Board to set up a Dutch Period Museum in Colombo. To date, he is the only person who has been made an Honorary Member of the Netherlands Alumni Association Lanka. He was a Free Mason and rose to take office of high order.

He was made an Officer of the order of the British Empire in 1947.

He was awarded the degree of D. Litt. Honoris  Causa of the University of Ceylon in 1963.

He was presented with the Gold Medal of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1971, being its eighth recipient.

In 1931 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and in 1947 a Fellow of the institute of Chartered Surveyors.

Nearing the end of his long. full and illustrious lifetime, in 1978, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands conferred on Dr. Richard Leslie Brohier the honour of Officer of the order of oranje Nassau.