Sir Thomas Maitland, by John Hoppner, circa 1805
In the Collection of Thirlestane Castle Trust
This monumental centerpiece is a testament to the immense prosperity of Regency England, fueled to a great extent by its Colonies in the Subcontinent. Presented to Thomas Maitland, the second colonial Governor of Ceylon by his officers in that territory, the centerpiece very literally represents their new wealth in its use of over 900 ounces of silver. Iconographically, it symbolizes the exotic beauty of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), the location of the Governor's palace by the sea near Colombo, and the beginning of a new era for the Sinhalese under British rule.
Naturally a commission of this stature would be executed by the greatest silversmith of the day, Paul Storr, under the auspices of Royal Goldsmiths Rundell, Bridge and Rundell. Rundell's employed sculptor William Theed, R.A. as chief modeller in their workshops from around 1804 to 1817, and it is safe to say that Theed was responsible for the superb modelling of the central figure as well as the seahorses, dolphins, and frieze of Indian elephants. Under Storr's direction, the various skills of the silversmith -- casting, chasing, engraving, and gilding -- are all of the highest quality, and give this vigorous sculpture a rich and varied surface texture.
Ceylon had suffered under its first governor, Frederick North, whose lax policies created financial disarray, and whose commander of troops, Major-General Weymss, engaged in a disastrous war with the inland territory of Kandy. Thomas Maitland's dual appointment as both Governor and Commanding Officer in 1805 improved the situation dramatically, as he initiated peace with Kandy and used his considerable administrative skills to suppress the power of the British military, control expenditure, eliminate corruption, and support human rights for the Sinhalese, especially justice reform. Maitland did not support missionaries, and instead instated rights for Roman Catholics and Buddhists, causing the Colonial Office to label him a "pagan." Locally, he was known as "King Tom."
Maitland's five-year tenure in Ceylon was marked not only by relative peace and prosperity, but also by his legendary romance with a local girl named Lovina Aponsua. When Maitland built a new Governor's House only six months after his arrival in Ceylon, he named it Mount Lavinia, acknowledged to be in homage to Lovina. Interestingly, Mount Lavinia was built on a high rocky outcropping that juts prominently out of the coastline near Colombo. The lovely turbanned figure on this centerpiece, sitting atop a naturalistic rocky plinth, certainly personifies the Governor's House--if not Maitland's well-known love for Lovina. In 1811, after Maitland's health declined and he was called back to England, he left a large tract of land in Attidiya to Lovina. He never married, and died while serving as first Governor of Malta in 1824.