Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike


Christ Church College
Saint Aldate's
Oxford, OX1 1DP
United Kingdom
51° 44' 56.4252" N, 1° 15' 23.958" W
Date of birth: 
08 Jan 1899
City of birth: 
Horagolla, Veyangoda
Country of birth: 
Current name country of birth: 
Sri Lanka
Date of death: 
25 Sep 1959
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Oct 1919
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

October 1919 - February 1925


Oxford, London.


Solomon Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, the fourth prime minister of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), spent six years in England. He studied between 1919 and 1925 at Christ Church College, Oxford. During his time there, he lived with a working class family as a shortage of rooms in the College had forced Christ Church to find lodgings elsewhere. Bandaranaike was struck by the hierarchical structure and social conventions that excluded him from the student fraternity.

During his first year at Oxford, his father moved to London for a year together with his sister who was presented as a debutante at Buckingham Palace in 1920. Bandaranaike tried hard to fit in and found it difficult to deal with his fellow students’ rejection, especially considering his own family’s preoccupation with status and power. In 1920 he was allotted a room in Christ Church College, sharing a corridor with Anthony Eden. After passing his classics exams with a second class degree, he switched to law.

In his third year at Oxford he became actively involved in the Oxford Union, delivering speeches on democracy, policies on India, and the British government’s policies in Egypt. He established himself as a regular speaker at the Union and his performance was praised in the Oxford Magazine for its ‘vigorous thinking and his animated, insistent delivery’ (4 May 1922) . In June 1923, he became Secretary of the Oxford Union and in March 1924 was elected Junior Treasurer. His exposure to Indian Nationalism at Oxford had a profound impact on his world view. It led him to conclude that his father’s political support for the British and the feudal system in Ceylon were anachronistic.

Bandaranaike returned to Ceylon in 1925 and became actively involved in the island’s politics and independence movement. He was elected to the Colombo Municipal Council in 1926 and joined the United National Party. He was a member of the State Legislature from 1931 onwards. He became Ceylon’s fourth prime minister in 1956 and was assassinated in 1959.


Anthony Eden, M. K. Gandhi, Gerlad Gardiner, Edward Majoribanks, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Published works: 

Towards a New Era. Selected speeches of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike made in the Legislature of Ceylon, 1931 to 1959, ed.  by G. E. P. de S. Wickramaratne (Colombo: 1961)

The thoughts of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. A selection of significant quotations from his writings and speeches, ed. by M. A. de Silva (Nugegoda: Lotus Press, 1969)

Speeches on Labour (Sri Lanka : 1978)

Devolution in Sri Lanka : S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and the debate on power sharing, ed. by K. M. De Silva (International Centre for Ethnic Studies, 1996)

Secondary works: 

Alles, A. C., The Assassination of a Prime Minister (New York : Vantage Press, 1986)

Manor, James, The Expedient Utopian: Bandaranaike and Ceylon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989)

Oberst, R.C., ‘Bandaranaike, Solomon West Ridgeway Dias (1899–1959)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2009) []

Symonds, Richard, Oxford and Empire: The Last Lost Cause? (New York: St Martin's Press, 1986)

Weeramantry, Lucian G., Assassination of a Prime Minister: the Bandaranaike Murder Case (Geneva: Studer S. A., 1969)


S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, ‘Memories of Oxford’ in Speeches and Writings (Colombo, 1963), pp. 43-44


My first task, therefore, was to kindle a real interest in the subject. I started by cracking a few jokes, making a few biting remarks at the expense of the opposition. Members began to sit up in their seats and take notice. Now that I held their attention, it was time to give them some more solid food. I proceeded to develop my argument. Soon the House hung breathless on my words; there was dead silence among the audience, which was too absorbed even to applaud. I was conscious of such power over my fellow-men as I had never known before. For a few moments I was master of the bodies and souls of the majority of my listeners. I unrolled the scroll of British history, tracing the trend of British political ideals, as they appeared to me, mounting steadily to the crest of my peroration, in which, with a lingering memory of Walter Pater, I compared the British love of freedom to the pictures of the Italian Renaissance ‘where you find a thread of golden light pervading the whole work; it is in the air, it dances in the eyes of men and women, it flickers in their hair, and is woven in the very texture of their flesh. And the thread of golden light which illumines for ever the life of this people is their love of freedom and free institutions…’. Not a sound was heard in that vast hall as I ceased, picked up my notes, and walked back to my seat. Then a storm of applause broke out, which refused to be quelled for many minutes.


The above extract is Bandaranaike’s assessment of his rhetorical skills in a debate on the proposition ‘The indefinite continuance of British sovereignty in India is a violation of British political ideals’. It shows Bandaranaike’s awareness of his skills to manipulate an audience and to communicate effectively.  The connection between Walter Pater, Italian renaissance painting and the notion of freedom in the context of India’s right of self-determination seems particularly striking in this instance.

Archive source: 

S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike Papers, National Archives Sri Lanka, Colombo, Sri Lanka