- n.d., 1921, 1929-1930, 1933-1937, 1939-1940, 1944-1988 (Creation)
Level of description
Extent and medium
1.9 m of textual records
Name of creator
Samuel James Velupillai Chelvanayakam was born in Ipoh, Malaysia on 31 March 1898 to Viswanathan Velupillai, a businessman, and Harriet Annamma Kanapathipillai. He moved to Tellippallai, Sri Lanka, with his mother, two brothers, and sister (only his brother E. V. Ponnuthurai survived past childhood) in order to receive his early education at Union College, Tellipalai for eight years. From then he studied for five years at St. Johns College, Jaffna, and then to St. Thomas’s College, Mount Lavinia. Chelvanayakam graduated from the University of London as an external student in 1918 with a degree in Science. In 1927 he married Emily Grace Barr-Kumarakulasinghe. They had four sons and one daughter.
He was a teacher at St. Thomas’s College until moving to Wesley College in 1919 to teach Mathematics. He later became the Head of the Science Department. He attended lectures at the Law College and sat for the law examinations at the Law College while he was still teaching at Wesley College. Chelvanyakam started his legal career in the Court of Requests in Colombo. He set up a private practice first in Hultsdorp and later in St. Sebastian Hill. From the Court of Requests, Chelvanayakam moved to the District Court and later to the Appellate Courts. He was made Queen’s Counsel on 31st May 1947.
Chelvanayakam then left his practice and joined politics as a primary organizer of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) in 1944. He was elected as a member of Parliament for the first time in September 1947. On 18 December 1949, Chelvanayakam launched the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK, also known as the Federal Party) along with E. M. V. Naganathan and V. Navaratnam elected as joint General Secretaries. He was also a director of the Tamil newspaper Suthanthiran (Freedom).
Chelvanayakam was known by Tamils as Thanthai Chelva (Father Chelva) because of his interest in safeguarding the identity and interests of Tamil people.
Together with the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka he signed the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact on 26 July 1957 which would request parity for the Tamil language; cessation of colonization on traditional Tamil-speaking homelands; give reginal autonomy for the Tamil provinces; and restore the citizenship and rights of the upcountry Tamils (S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism / A. J. Wilson). On 24 March 1965 he signed the Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact which addressed the Tamil Language Special Provisions Act No. 28 of 1958 but this was not passed.
Chelvanayakam’s health declined due to Parkinson’s disease and in 1961 he had surgery in Edinburgh. After suffering from a fall resulting in head injuries in March 1977, Chelvanayakam passed away on 26 April 1977.
Immediate source of acquisition or transfer
Material was primarily collected by S. J. V. Chelvanayakam. His wife, Emily Grace Chelvanayakam, and his children, continued collecting material after his death on 26 April 1977. After Emily Grace's death on 5 August 1988 in Sri Lanka, the material was kept and preserved by her daughter, Suseelavathy (Susili) Wilson, in Toronto, Ontario.
Content and structure area
Scope and content
The fonds reflects Chelvanayakam’s career as a political leader of the Sri Lankan Tamil community, as well as documenting the daily operations of the Federal Party.
The fonds documents important political events in Sri Lanka from the 1950s to the 1970s and provides witness to the struggles faced by Sri Lankan Tamils.
The fonds also contains records relating to his family, background, and memorial material collected after his death by his wife, Emily Grace Chelvanayakam. The fonds is organized into three series and covers the periods of 1933-1937, 1939-1940, 1944-1988, with the bulk of the material being from the 1960s and 1970s.
Personal records include correspondence, personal items, financial and estate documentation, and other material. Professional records include office files, party records, correspondence, and documentation. Memorial material includes posters, newspaper clippings, and a book of condolences. The fonds is organized as follows:
- Personal material
1.1. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam personal correspondence
1.2. S. J. V. and Emily Grace Chelvanayakam correspondence
1.3. Emily Grace Chelvanayakam correspondence
1.4. Personal items
1.5. Miscellaneous correspondence
1.6. Miscellaneous family material
1.7. Financial documents
- Professional material
2.1. Professional files
2.2. Professional correspondence
2.4. Printed materials
2.5. Ceylon Newspaper Limited/ The Sutantiran
2.6. ITAK files
- Memorial material
Appraisal, destruction and scheduling
System of arrangement
Only the professional files and memorial material were kept in original order. The remainder of material was in miscellaneous folders and has been arranged by the archivist.
Conditions of access and use area
Conditions governing access
Some material may be restricted due to privacy.
Conditions governing reproduction
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Language and script notes
Physical characteristics and technical requirements
The early material from the 1940s-60s has suffered some loss from water, rust, and/or insect damage. Some material is fragile and brittle. In some cases, the archivist has photocopied material where bug frass or mould obscured the documents. Fragile material has been placed in clear acid-free sleeves.
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