Taprobane Island: Part 3 – Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande’s Island Home in Ceylon


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Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande travelled several times between Hampshire and Colombo during and after the Great War.

When the First World War ended, he came to Ceylon on a mission to find the spot which, by its sublime beauty, would fulfil his dreams and hold him there for life.

His skills as an expert furniture maker and a gardener in Ceylon, and, later on, his writings, may have provided him with the necessary finances to supplement his travel and living. There are accounts from people who knew him in Ceylon that he also used to receive remittances from overseas, probably sent by his wife, Lady Mary, from time to time for his upkeep and living.

Ferguson’s Ceylon Directory for 1920-21 listed him as residing with his 21-year-old son Victor Alexander at ‘Ascot‘, Albert Crescent, Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo 7; the very élite and high-society area of Colombo.

Maurice had a furniture factory and workshop in Colombo. The furniture crafted most admirably had the designs of French styles of that period. A number of de Mauny-Talvande furniture pieces that survived in the hands of private owners are now highly valued and cherished in Sri Lanka.

In 1925, Maurice launched the “Weligama Local Industries” in Weligama. He claimed that he gave employment to over 200 carpenters, carvers and inlayers. By 1930, the enterprise succumbed to depression. However, Maurice restarted it in 1936.

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Taprobane Island (Source: taprobaneisland.com)
Taprobane Island (Source: taprobaneisland.com)

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Though Maurice had first visited Ceylon in 1912 it was in September 1927 that he saw for the first time and quite by chance, the rocky outcrop covered with lush foliage rising out of the sea, just beyond a broad sandy beach, at the centre of the arc of the Weligama Bay. It was the Galduwa islet. Ten years later, he recalled: “a red granite rock, covered with palms and jungle shrub, rising from the Indian Ocean – an emerald in a setting of pink coral.”

Entranced by the site, he waded across the sparkling clear waters to the islet. Ten years later, he recalled:

“There was nothing between me and the South Pole … I sat for a long while on a boulder overlooking the sea wishing that this island lost in the Indian Ocean were mine; picturing and planning what I should do with it. … I felt my heart beating with the overwhelming desire to find peace in it, the nearest thing to happiness. Yes, it must be the home which I had dreamt of so many years past.”

Having found his own island paradise, he chose to build his house on the islet and live his dream of peace and tranquillity, close to nature.

Local records show that Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande purchased the island in 1925 for a sum of Rupees 250 in the name of his son, Victor Alexander. It remained in Victor’s ownership until it was sold by public auction, in 1942, for Rupees 12,000.

Maurice named his private island “Taprobane” based on the ancient name for Ceylon given by the Greeks and also because of the island’s similarity in shape to Ceylon.

The foundation stone was laid on February 1, 1927, for an octagonal fantasy stone mansion in pseudo-Pompeian style with five en-suite bedrooms, and verandahs in every direction. Small gardens extending through the foliage to the overhanging edges, fully occupied the crest of the island.

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Infinity Pool at Tabrobane Island
Infinity Pool at Taprobane Island

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The spilling out verandahs that embrace the landscaped garden, stepped terraces hovering over the ocean, and a stunningly clear ‘infinity pool’, create a sensation of living on a landscaped cruise boat.

Maurice encouraged people to visit his islet. He received a constant stream of visitors. He has hosted heads of state, famous authors, and many business elites. His historical visitor’s book was filled with names of Kings, Princes, Dukes, Duchesses, aristocrats, Prime Ministers, and other famous personalities who visited Taprobane Island.

In the 1930s, Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande served as a member of the Weligama Urban Council. Though he possessed a natural skill to cultivate the friendship of the rich and famous, his penchant for grandiose, as well as his conscience-free disposition to marshal the financial resources of other people, whether morally acceptable or otherwise surfaced very often. Writer Joe Duncan wrote about his negative trait:

During a visit to Sri Lanka last year (2002), I came across a reference to ‘Count de Mauny’ in an as-yet-unpublished family memoir. The late writer, a prominent Ceylon civil servant during the 1930s and 1940s, mentions encountering the 73-year-old Maurice in his bathing shorts at Weligama early in 1940 and recalls having ‘fallen out’ with him on an earlier occasion. The memoirist had refused permission to the local Government Headman to decorate the Weligama beach with lighted coconut shells and to hold a procession of dancers and fireworks, all at government expense, to entertain Governor Caldecott on a private visit to ‘Taprobane’. If Count de Mauny had himself offered to pay the villagers to put on such a display, comments the memoirist, there could have been no objection, but instead, he had expected the local taxpayers (in effect) to cover the cost of what was strictly a private visit.

The above anecdote certainly ties in with certain less attractive characteristics mentioned in Count de Mauny – Friend of Royalty, by Seweryn Chomet.

In 1931, the Count was residing at Weligama, and his son, Victor Alexander, was residing at “Boxmead“, Turret Road (now Dharmapala Mawatha), Colombo.

The book, “The Gardens of Taprobane” by The Count de Mauny, edited by Bernard Miall, was published in London in 1937 by Williams and Norgate. This book is all about his Taprobane Island home and includes several black and white photos of the villa and the gardens. He has also the authored two other books titled “The Peace of Suffering 1914-1918” and “Gardening in Ceylon.”

Many renowned writers such as Paul Bowles, Robin Maugham, Shaun Mandy and Norah Burke have also given graphical accounts of the Taprobane Island.

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← Previous: Taprobane Island: Part 2                         Next → Taprobane Island: Part 4

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