the area of Colombo about two kilometres south of the Fort and adjoining Galle Face at its rear was once an island on the Beira Lake. Slave Island consisted of a mud village, a bazaar, an excellent ground, and two “gentlemen’s villas”. Kew Road connected Slave Island to the Fort by bridges and causeways.The area is pockmarked with many streets and buildings since development work in the city was carried out during and after the British Colonial era. Wekande is one area within Slave Island bordering the Beira Lake on its south.Today, Slave Island is a very busy commercial area with many government offices, restaurants, hospitals, corporate offices, cinemas, religious places, and residencies. The Headquarters of the Sri Lanka Air Force, Sri Lanka Army, and the City Football League are also located in here.The first botanical gardens in Colombo were also located here and its links with London’s Kew Gardens are linked to Kew Road.Still slave to a name
We pass them every day but do we know their significance? In our new series, Dr. K. D. Paranavitana delves into the history of some of Colombo's famous names and places.Beira Lake, Colombo-2
Nippon Hotel in Slave IslandOld Dutch painting giving a view of the Beira LakeKompanna Veediya Railway Station, Colombo-2
The Colombo Municipality has a ward by the name of 'Slave Island', but it is neither an 'island' nor are 'slaves' found in this area. In the first half of the 20th century, local newspapers carried articles objecting to this name and wasted much ink and energy. Nothing happened and the area continued to be called 'Slave Island'.
The Beira Lake: Did Dutch Engineer De Beer build it? Some suggested re-naming it 'Malay Town', others preferred the name 'AfghanTown' as there were residents of Afghan origin.
The best suggestion made by someone in the 1940s was to call the area by the name of the famous lake which graces the location; "why not 'Beira Town' or 'Beira Plain'?"