A Brief Interlude
SIR EDWARD PAGET
Sir Edwards Barnes was duly replaced by Lieutenant-General Sir Edward Paget. A little more than three months after his arrival in the island, Paget, having made a thorough inspection of the building, wrote to Earl Bathurst, the Colonial Secretary in London, on the subject of Mount Lavinia.
It is interesting to note that Sir Edward Paget's Private Secretary was John Rodney, a member of the Legislative Council which had approved the outright purchase of the land around the house, following the case presented previously by Brownrigg. Rodney therefore had extensive knowledge of the history of this country residence, and would have been of significant help to the new Governor.
Paget sent the following letter to the Colonial Secretary, providing much detailed information as to how the house had fared up to 1822, and referring to the fact that Barnes in March 1821 had already raised the question of the state of Government Houses, even submitting a report before he left for India.
|Right Hon. Earl Bathurst|
29th May 1822
I cannot but refer your Lordship to remark in Sir Edward Barnes despatch No. 9 of 14th March 1821on the state of the Houses and Barracks belonging to the Government commencing with that appropriated for the Governors Residencies and I can fully confirm the Major General's report from my own observation and in proof of one part of it.
I have only to assure you that I have (been) obliged from necessity to hire a small confirmed Bungalow outside the Fort, while King's House should undergo such repairs as are absolutely necessary to prevent its destruction. The House at Mount Lavinia, which is always from the temporary nature of its construction, requiring repair, being if possible in a worst (sic) state.
The Barracks for the troops, the Church, the Public Offices at Colombo are all in the same dilapidated and ruinous state.
Representations of the necessity of repairs are daily made from every part of our ancient possessions, while in the interior the Cantonments for the Troops sanctioned by your Lordship in 1817 are but merely convenienced and their situation in this respect is not creditable to His Majesty's Government.
I have no intention in anything I have here said to convey to your Lordship the most distant (reflection on) the administration of my Predecessors. In respect of the general subject of repairs, I should be wrong if I did, for my own, or that of any future Governor would fall into the same course of concern hereafter, from the natural effect of local causes experienced in a more temperate climate.
Here the alternate succession of excessive heat and violent rain, overcomes the tenacity of all materials used in the external part of a building and (renders) constant attention and repair unavoidable.
The materials themselves, particularly for roofing are not procurable in such excellence (as) in Europe, which of course increases their liability to decay and both causes naturally... produce a necessity for keeping up an establishment apparently extravagant, for the purpose of making those occasional repairs without which very soon the buildings would require to be wholly built anew.
Your Lordship must be fully aware from the tenor of the Despatch I have above alluded to (by Sir Edward Barnes) that his sentiments (on) the necessity of extensive improvements in the state of public buildings entirely agree with my own and equally.
But if during this interval all the public works are to be left neglected, I can only with the experience of what has passed, anticipate a general ruin of what permanent buildings do exist and a continued expense in keeping up temporary cover where such buildings are only in contemplation which in a few years will more than amount to the cost of a solid structure.
A different picture now emerges of the condition of the house Mount Lavinia in the year1821. Fourteen years after the construction of the original house by Sir Thomas Maitland, it had clearly fallen into a state of disrepair and needed much attention. The same appears to have been the case for the Barracks at Mount Lavinia and in Colombo as well as other public offices, including King's House, the Government House in Colombo. The construction materials available could not sustain constant environmental ravages, with heavy rain being a particular problem, whilst the sun's intense heat formed another serious consideration, not forgetting the salty spray thrown up by the sea. There was an obvious need to maintain such buildings on a regular basis, to avoid the destruction and damage inflicted, not by man's neglect alone, but by nature. When building his house in the country, it is likely that Maitland may not have realised that succeeding Governors of the island would be equally desirous of occasional retreats to this idyllic country residence. Had he had some inkling of it, he may not have looked so sparingly at the cost of building Mount Lavinia, and could have put to good use a part of the 20,000 sterling pounds remaining from the sale of government houses, making his country house a more enduring structure.
Although Sir Edward Paget was to serve the shortest term of any British Governor, a period of nine months, from 22nd February 1822 to 6th November 1822, his interest in Mount Lavinia was evident from the beginning. Continuing the plea that Barnes had made during his first term of office in the island, Paget now took upon himself the cause of saving Mount Lavinia from further destruction.