Admiralty House - 200 years of naval tradition | Sunday Observer

Admiralty House - 200 years of naval tradition

16 February, 2020
Front view of Navy House
Front view of Navy House

Trincomalee is renowned for its maritime tradition and naval history. Located in the Sri Lanka Navy Eastern Naval Command Headquarters is a majestic mansion. Admiralty House, commonly known among the naval fraternity as Navy House is an opulent residence, designed to reflect the structure of a steam ship. We were able to visit this mansion and discover the finest naval traditions coming down from the Royal Navy. The unique aspect of Admiralty House is that it can be entered via land and also by sea - it has its own private pier.

We drove up a paved terrace, and on our left was an imposing staircase with brass railings that glistened in the sun. On the right was a beautiful garden. Fleet Chief Petty Officer (FCPO) K.A. Kumara is in charge of this naval mansion. The large hallway is covered with silver spades and name plates. Fleet Chief Kumara explained, “This mansion was acquired in 1810 for the Commander in Chief of the East Indies. Since then every visiting President, Prime Minister and Navy Commander (foreign and local) are invited to plant a tree when they stay here. The spades they use are later hung on this wall along with their signature which they place on a plaster mould. As you walk outside to the gardens you see the trees that were planted, now in full bloom.” Admiralty House was purchased for 1,750 pounds by the Royal Navy and renovated. In the early days security was provided by the British Rifle Regiment.

Ancient antiques

On the right side is an elegant dining room with a round table. This VIP table can accommodate 11 chairs. In keeping with colonial naval tradition the person sitting at the head of the table would be the visiting Head of State or the Commander of the Navy. This large room has beautiful antiques - a sea chest, a navigation wheel from an old ship, a chest of drawers and a cupboard full of cutlery and crockery that is two centuries old. The left side of the wall has framed photographs of all the retired Commanders of the Sri Lanka Navy and the right side wall has a massive maritime map drawn during colonial days showing the sea routes to Ceylon. Dining takes specialsignificance as Navy cooks and stewards swing into action to deliver succulent cuisine. Certain Western dishes are still prepared as per Royal Navy recipes and served with wine! On VIP occasions the main table can accommodate 21 guests.

Bell from Burma

Admiralty House has nine large and comfortable bedrooms, including a Presidential Suite. The large rooms reflect the grandeur of colonial architecture. All the beds have wooden frames that rise above them, covered with a soft cloth canopy. The entire residence has a balcony of about eight feet, offering a 360 degree view. A cozy living room has a piano and many photographs of British Navy families. There is a separate room for linen and dry stores. The kitchen has been upgraded in keeping with present day trends. Accommodation and dining is available on the ground floor for the Flag Officers of visiting Admirals. On the left side of the house is a large bell cast in Burma during the 16th century. It was donated by Rear Admiral Charles Austin in 1850. It had been used decades ago to ‘muster’ the serving sailors for daily duty.

It is uncertain if the bell was ceremonially rung to welcome visiting special guests. The last British Commander to reside here was Admiral Hillary Biggs. In October 1957 the Royal Navy handed over the entire Trincomalee Naval Dockyard to the Government of Ceylon.

Fleet Chief Kumara added, “This residence has hosted many important guests. Our staff of 17 is made up of Navy stewards, cooks, housekeepers and gardeners. We have a daily cleaning routine- with emphasis on polishing the brass handles and fittings. The main balcony and the gardens are used for cocktail parties.” The view from the main balcony is stunning with a glimpse of the sea in the distance and some islands. The Sri Lanka Navy still operates the VIP boat used to bring in visiting Admirals from foreign countries. We walked outside to the sprawling gardens where there were many trees. The entire compound covers 23 acres. A stable was also stationed on the left of the garden, although there were no horses. It has been a custom in colonial days for senior Navy officers to indulge in horse riding. Walking for about 30 minutes we came back to the pier to witness a dazzling sunset. Admiralty House offers a glimpse of how the Royal Navy maintained its rich hospitality. It is commendable that the Sri Lanka Navy has maintained this regal mansion and continues to sustain the best of Naval traditions.