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Notes on the Geography of Sri Lanka: Colombo: Photo 17

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"In Memory of William Tolfrey, Esq., of His Majesty's Civil Service, who devoted his oriental learning to the propagation of the Gospel by rendering the Holy Scriptures into the Singhalese and Pali languages.  He had with intense application nearly completed a translation of the New Testament, and the last labour of his hand well described in the language of St. Paul his benignant character and the great object of his pious zeal: 'And the servant of the Lord must not strive but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves: if God peradventure will them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.' --Timothy 2nd, ii. 24, 25, 26.  He was called from his unfinished task 4th January, 1817.  Aged 39 years.  This monument is erected by the grateful public of Colombo."

Tolfrey's career began as a soldier in the Mysore and Mahratta wars, but he evidently had a literary bent even then, because his letters about those campaigns "were greatly admired for classical elegance of composition and masterly display of knowledge of his subject."  Lewis further explains that Tolfrey sold his commission and came to Ceylon in 1805, where his uncle Samuel was in the civil service.  He himself then joined the civil service and, with a knowledge of Sanskrit, Pali, Hindustani, and Tamil became the government's chief translator in 1816.  These language skills made him especially aware of the simmering tensions that ultimately led to the Uva rebellion.  According to Bennett's Capability of Ceylon (p.420) Tolfrey "was thought scarcely less than a lunatic for viewing them [these tensions] in a more serious light.   He was constitutionally of a melancholy turn of mind, and the excitement  which had at first driven him to madness ended in death."

 

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