Armand de Souza (29 October 1874 – 1921) was a Ceylonese newspaper editor and democratic activist.
De Souza was born in Assagaum, Goa, to an ancient Roman Catholic family belonging to the Saraswat Brahman community. He was the tenth descendant of Roulu Camotin who had converted to Catholicism at the point of the sword in 1537, changing his name to Diego de Souza at his baptism. Armand de Souza was the son of a famous advocate, Antonio Narcisso Vasconcellos de Souza, himself the son of a famous advocate and Latin scholar, Antonio José de Souza. Orphaned at a young age, he was left in the care of an aged grandmother who arranged that the boy’s uncle, Dr Lisboa Pinto, should adopt him. Dr Lisboa Pinto, the Honorary Consul of the United States in the Colony of Ceylon, enrolled the fifteen-year-old de Souza at the Royal College Colombo. Principal John Harward of Royal College encouraged de Souza’s passion for history and English literature. De Souza cut his editorial teeth as the editor of the Royal College Magazine. At school he was known for his writing and oratory. De Souza was expected to be called to the Bar in the family tradition, but he fell out with his uncle and made his own way in life.
De Souza received his journalistic training at The Times of Ceylon where he was a highly valued member during his eight years of service. He moved to the Standard because he disagreed with the editor of the Times of Ceylon, Mr Roles, on public issues. He founded the Morning Leader in July 1907, but as he was only thirty-three years old he took on the role of Chief Reporter and Sub-Editor, leaving the Chief Editor’s position to Mr. J. T. Blazé. However the proprietors soon insisted that De Souza should take over, replacing Mr Blazé’s gentler prose with his forceful rhetoric. Over five years “he brought about a renaissance among the different communities in regards to matters social, political and intellectual. He was greatly responsible for the national awakening among the different classes and communities of the permanent population of the island…..to a very large extent to the awakening of the Singhalese in particular”. Through editorial advocacy for constitutional reform he secured for the people of Ceylon the right to elect four members, including one ‘Educated Ceylonese Member’ to the Legislative Council that had from its inception on 22 May 1834 to 15 November 1911 consisted merely of official and appointed members. He then fought for the election of all unofficial members according to constituencies and for an unofficial majority in the Legislative Council. He was opposed to racial representation in the Legislative Council and to the representation of the two major races respectively by two families over several generations.
In 1914 De Souza was indicted for writing an editorial entitled “Justice at Nuwara Eliya” that suggested that Thomas Arthur Hodson was sympathetic to the views of the constabulary when he tried cases as District Judge and Police Magistrate. He was represented by Mr Bawa K.C. before a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court(Renton, Pereira and De Sampayo) that sentenced him to one month simple imprisonment, reportedly without a proper hearing. The result was that there was a huge public protest. The Hon. Harry Creasywrote to the press that “[i]t is as important to every man and woman in this colony that the Press should have full liberty to criticise and praise or condemn the actions of the government and all public officers as it is that the Courts should sternly repress any undue license in such criticisms or condemnations”. The Press joined in to support De Souza. After six days in his cell, De Souza was released by order of Sir Robert Chalmers, the Governor. He was led from the prison in a chariot, by a grateful people, to much public clamour.
De Souza documented the race riots in Ceylon in 1915 in a book entitled Hundred days: Ceylon under martial law in 1915. This book is in the library of Leonard Woolf, now in the Washington State University Libraries special collection.
De Souza died of enteric at the age of 47 in 1921. Among those who wrote tributes and appreciations after de Souza’s death was the Revd. A. G. Fraser, Principal of Trinity College, Kandy. His piece that appeared in the Morning Leader on 18 May 1921 is reproduced below in full.
“The news of Mr Armand de Souza’s death came as a great shock, for I had not even known he was ill. I believe Ceylon could hardly have had a greater loss. Few realise how much he did for us all. How many for instance, give him the credit for his work during the war? In his paper, by far the most widely read, he was constantly cheery and brave, and did more to keep up the spirits of Ceylon during that time than any one man, to my mind.
Again, he had a lion’s share in the introduction of the reforms, and I am glad he saw them in, with the promise of things to come. But I need not chronicle his public deeds. Comparatively few knew what an excellent lecturer he was. He was there seen at far greater advantage than his paper, for he was there free to be himself. And he worked then for peace and better understanding between all races in Ceylon, and gave his hearers his great dreams and visions.
He was intense and vital in all he did. Very delicate, he did an enormous amount of work, and like Stevenson always showed a ‘Morning Face’. He was a gallant and brave spirit and did not seek his own.
No one who knew him at all closely would fail to be struck by the beauty of his family life, and his chivalrous devotion to those who had first claim on him. His was a great generous nature and he spent himself freely, and Ceylon has lost in him one of her very best.
He made mistakes and made enemies, as anyone of his integrity and energy must. I have come under his lash as much as anyone in days long past. But I never found any personal animus in him, and he was always ready to hear the other side and to revise his judgments. I found him straight, and he was my friend”.
He was father of Senator Doric de Souza of the LSSP (the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, Sri Lanka’s Trotskyist party) and Torismund de Souza, Editor of the Times, as well as Aleric and Lena who both died early. Actress Fabianne Therese is his great-great-granddaughter. (Source)