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Taprobane Island: Part 2 – Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande


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Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Comte Maurice de Mauny-Talvande
Comte Maurice de Mauny-Talvande

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Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande, whose real name was Maurice Maria, was born on March 21, 1866, in Le Mans, France. His father Felix Talvande worked as a banker at Portet-Lavigierie et Talvande which became the Banque Talvande in 1882. The bank and Talvande himself went bankrupt in 1889. The following year, his mother Margeruite de Mauny applied for legal separation from her husband, and thereafter she resided with her mother at Domaine du Bourg in Pontvallain, their family home, which had been in the possession and ownership of the de Mauny family since 1859.

On the death of his mother, Maurice inherited the family home. He then sold it and shared the proceeds of 17,000 francs with his brother Roger and sister Suzanne-Marie.

He self-styled himself as a Count and went by the name of “Comte Maurice de Mauny-Talvande“. He adopted the prefix of “de Mauny” from his mother, Mme Marguerite de Mauny, and the suffix from his father, Felix Talvande. Later he anglicized his name to “Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande.”

On June 24, 1898, Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande married Lady Mary Elizabeth Agnes Bynge, daughter of the fourth Earl of Strafford, Henry William John Byng. Seweryn Chomet suggests that Maurice may have met Lady Mary through his friendship with her brother, George Byng, with whom Maurice briefly attended the same fashionable Jesuit-run school in Canterbury in the early 1880s. Lady Mary was 33 years old, and Maurice was 32.

It was a glamorous ‘high society’ wedding in London, attended by the Princess of Wales, Princess Christian and Prince and Princess Saxe-Weimer followed by a dazzling reception at Wrotham Park, in Hertfordshire, the bride’s family’s 18th-century mansion.

After their wedding, the new couple lived at the historic Châteaux d’Azay-le-Rideau, let by the Marquis de Biencourt.

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Chateau Azay-le-Rideau
Chateau Azay-le-Rideau

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After their marriage, the new couple lived at the historic Châteaux d’Azay-le-Rideau, let by the Marquis de Biencourt.

Châteaux d’Azay-le-Rideau built on an island on the foundations of a medieval fortress in the heart of Touraine, in the Indre is a part of the current region of Centre (Val de Loire). Created by Gilles de Berthelot, a wealthy financier liked by Louis XII, the Châteaux d’Azay-le-Rideau stands in the centre of a romantic park. This 16th-century architectural masterpiece preserved with the passing years with all the refinement, elegance and grace of an exceptional Renaissance château is now on the UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

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Maurice turned the château into a kind of academy or “university” for young Englishmen (teenage boys) from “good” English families.

In late 1898, a leading New York newspaper published a vituperative article criticising Châteaux d’Azay-le-Rideau for being “not a university, but a mere boarding house” where the main subjects taught were “cricket, polo and football”. The locals resented the “English take-over” of the historic castle.

In his book, Count de Mauny – Friend of Royalty,  Seweryn Chomet, a Physicist and Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College, London, reveals that there were rumours of homosexuality and sexual advances made by Maurice to some of the aristocratic adolescents entrusted into his care. Eventually, Maurice had ‘owned up that it is so‘.

By late 1898, the owners of the château, alarmed by mounting local dissent and the dark rumours of (then considered) criminal activities, precipitously cancelled the lease.

The de Maunys moved on to Cannes where on April 19, 1899, their first child, Victor Alexander was born. Later they moved to San Remo and finally landed in England.

Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande possessed charm, intelligence, natural style and an uncanny skill to cultivate the friendship of the rich and famous people. His aspiration to mingle with the élite of the society; his fondness for grandiose, wining and dining; as well as his conscience-free disposition to deploy the financial resources of other people, whether morally acceptable or otherwise, surfaced in the early stages in his marriage and drove him into financial difficulties. But it seems that he never mended his ways even after his downfall and bankruptcy.

Author William Warren has suggested in his book “Tropical Asian Style,” which showcases contemporary residences throughout Southeast Asia, that Count Maurice de Mauny Talvande’s dwindling financial status, along with the many marital problems he was facing, must have forced him to move to Ceylon.

It was Sir Thomas Lipton, the tea magnate, who first invited the Count to Ceylon in 1912. During that visit, Maurice was deeply impressed by his first experience of the tropics and the serenity and beauty of the country. He vowed to return to the Island nation.

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← Previous: Taprobane Island: Part 1                         Next → Taprobane Island: Part 3

 

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Taprobane Island: Part 1 – Tambapanni the Island Paradise


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Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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The ancient historical poem Mahavamsa or the ‘Great Chronicle’ of Sri Lanka, tells that the cruel and callous Prince-regent, Vijaya, and his unruly companions, after being banished from Sinhapura in India, landed on the shores of an island. After disembarking from the ship they sat down, wearied, on the ground. They found their hands and bodies coloured by the red dust that lay there. So, they called the place Tambapanni (“copper-coloured sand”). Later on, Prince Vijaya founded his capital in Tambapanni, and the island came to bear the same name.

As time wore on, the exact location of Tambapanni as described in Mahavamsa became obscured to the world.

Ancient Greek texts describe an island nation of perfect beauty where people lived in communal peace and in perfect harmony with nature, amid tropical gardens and idyllic seas. Around 290 BC, the Greek geographer Megasthenes reported first about this island to the Europeans.

Map of Taprobana- 1588
Ptolemy’s Map of Taprobana

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The Alexandrian geographer, Claudius Ptolemy (c. 90 AD – c. 168 AD) drafted a map of the island. He identified it as ‘Taprobana’, derived obviously from the then prevailing name Tambapanni. His map carried an elaborately ornamented sketch of a wild elephant and a legend in Latin set inside a decorative frame. The map only had a vague resemblance to the Island’s broad base and tapering top.

The whereabouts of this mythical island nation were fiercely debated for centuries. Adventurous seafarers chased the dream of finding this fabled land, and a few landed at Bali islands, Madagascar and the Maldives.

Eventually, the long-sought Taprobana was identified with the exotic tropical paradise, the island of Sri Lanka, a pearl in the Indian Ocean, lying south-east of India.

Weligama

Stilt Fishing in Weligama, Sri Lanka
Stilts fishermen, Sri Lanka (Source – Написал Fergan_Trop)

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Weligama is a town on the southern coast of Sri Lanka in Matara District, 89.48 miles (144 km) from Colombo. In Sinhala, the term ‘Weligama‘ literally means “sandy village” derived after the area’s sandy sweep bay. Fishing is the main occupation of the region. It is most famous for its distinct stilt fishermen.

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The Taprobane Island

Tabrobane Island on the shore of Weligama. (Source: Google Maps)
Tabrobane Island on the shore of Weligama. (Source: Google Maps)

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A hundred yards offshore in the Weligama Bay is an islet whose traditional name is “Galduwa” meaning “Rock Island” in the Sinhalese language. In ancient times, the islet may have been a part of the mainland as it is not shown in maps of the Portuguese Colonial era. This Islet comprises 2½ acres of sheer tropical fantasy with nothing between it and the South Pole.

A hunt for an earthly paradise inspired a self-styled French aristocrat, Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande (1866-1941), a gentleman of leisure, and furniture maker, to transform Galduwa into a privately owned islet called “Taprobane Island,” which is now one of Sri Lanka’s most renowned luxury destinations.

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Tabrobane Island
Tabrobane Island

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While travelling on the Weligama By Pass road a partly hidden octagonal villa could be seen through the dense foliage atop the rocky island.

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Next → Taprobane Island: Part 2

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