Sunday, 25 November 2012

Colonel Olcott and Ceylon

Bill Cawley on a Leek connection to Sri Lanka and bloody business now.
The American Colonel Henry Olcott is the only speaker, as far as I am aware, at the Nicholson Institute ever to have a national day proclaimed after him as well as appearing on a national stamp. Olcott spoke at the Institute in November 1889 as the guest of Ralph de Sneyd Tunstall of Onecote- mystic, collector and eccentric. Both were engaged in the Theosophical Society founded in New York by Madame Blavatsky
The Society developed in response to the interest shown in the Victorian period in spiritualism and Eastern religions. Sneyd who was fascinated with the occult met Blavatsky in 1889. He fell under the spell of the movement and arranged that Olcott later to become President of the Society to give a talk in Leek.
Olcott was a very interesting man. He was the only Yankee journalist to attend the execution of John Brown in 1859 after the failed uprising at Harper’s Ferry- one of the causes of the American Civil War.
He was also a member of the board of inquiry set up after the assassination of President Lincoln. He later moved to Ceylon or Sri Lanka as it is now known and was one of the instigators of the Buddhist Nationalist revival which fuelled the independence movement. He is commemorated on a Sri Lankan stamp and the death of his death 19th February is honoured by the lighting of candles.

Sri Lanka is in the news now. There are substantial accusations of war crimes carried out by the army following the ending of a particularly bloody civil war involving the separatists Tamil Tigers who also committed atrocities. Over 40,000 civilians, many of them children, died in the final stages and covering up of these events has caused international condemnation. They are not brought to book because they have powerful friends in India. The Indians don’t want to upset the Sri Lankans as their business interests are threatened. In the same way that the Russians excuse the behaviour of the Syrians and the West overlook the Chinese actions in Tibet. Sadly commercial interests will always trump human rights every time and the result is innocents suffer.