F. J. de Saram

F. J. & G. de Saram

Today, it is popular to deride colonialism and its aftermath; but there are undoubtedly those who will look back at those times and consider the occasions it afforded a blessing.

If not for the promulgation of the Crown Lands Ordinance of 1840, which paved the way for the Colonial Government to acquire and sell vast tracts of the island’s land to Europeans to facilitate the coffee plantations, perhaps there would have been no occasion for Fredrick John de Saram to set up in business.

The firm credits 13 May 1841 as the day de Saram commenced his conveyancing practice to provide services in land transfers to the British mercantile community thronging the island. Some names that still ring familiar – George Steuart & Company, James Finlay & Co – were among those first clients.

At this time, viharagam and devagam (which belonged to temples), and nindagam (which belonged to leading families) were acquired and converted into British plantations. De Saram was retained by the colonial masters to act on their behalf to affect the conveyancing and for legal representation when villagers instituted action seeking to assert their inheritance rights.

In this way, de Saram won the confidence of the British community with the thoroughness and diligence with which he attended to these matters; and as demand for his services – and reputation – grew, so did the caseload, which compelled the firm to hire several associates, including his son George.

The firm grew apace, as various legislation brought work its way, such as the Joint Stock Companies Ordinance No. 04 of 1861. Many of the companies established under this act were registered by F. J. de Saram.

When de Saram passed away, George was made a partner, and he renamed the firm his father had started as F. J. & G. de Saram.

At a time when the responsibility for matters of civil administration was to be passed to the Ceylonese, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce consulted F. J. & G. de Saram when drawing up recommendations for a draft constitution for a country on the cusp of independence. The firm’s commendations included the lofty ideals of racial impartiality and proper administration of justice.

Many emerging enterprises were incorporated, and had their memoranda and articles of association drawn up by the firm, and F. J. & G. de Saram remains the trusted advisor to companies that have survived the passage of time.

F. J. de Saram: charting the course of corporate law.