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Bob & Kate Ievers in Ceylon, plus Ethel, Nena and Kitty

Bob Ievers as a young man.

Robert “Bob” Wilson Ievers (1850-1905), M.A., C.M.G. (1902)


In 1912, Thomas (‘Tim’) Leopold McClintock Bunbury, (later 3rd Baron Rathdonnell), ADC to the Governor of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) married Ethel Synge Ievers. Their only child, William was born in1914 and was my father’s father.

Bob Ievers, Ethel’s father, was a high-profile civil servant in Ceylon during the late 19th century. He spoke Singhalese, wrote poetry, explored the ancient ruins of Anarahdapura and Sigiriya with H. C. Bell and was also a keen shot.

Kate Ievers (née Crawford), Ethel’s mother, descended from a Belfast merchant and once miraculously survived a scuffle with a sloth bear. Kate’s mother Nance Synge was a distant cousin of the playwright John Millington Synge.


Bob’s Parents & Siblings


Robert Wilson Ievers, known as Bob, was born in 1850, the third son of Limerick wine merchant Robert John Ievers (1800-1872), of Castle Ievers, Co. Limerick, and his wife Elizabeth, third daughter of Major Michael P. Browne, of Woodstock, Crossboyne, Co. Mayo. Robert and Elizabeth had two sons and a daughter.

Bob’s older brother, John Henry Ievers (1847-1879), who was born in Galway in 1847, served in the Royal Irish Constabulary with the rank of Sub Inspector from 1868 to 1877 and then emigrated to Australia where he joined the police in Melbourne. Mysteriously his death in 1879 was not registered in any of the six states in Australia, or contemporary newspapers, leading the family to ponder whether he perhaps died at sea or in the bush. [1]

Another brother, David Butler Ievers, died as an infant.

Bob’s sister, Frances was married on 17 June 1858, at Knockavilla Church, Co. Cork, to William Browning Gardner, Esq., solicitor, of Cork City. [2]


From Queen’s to Ceylon


Educated at Queen’s University, Belfast, where he earned a B.A., he entered the civil service in 1872 and placed first in the Ceylon Civil Service examinations. With, he duly made his way to the British colony of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) where so many Irishmen made their mark as engineers and planters, botanists and explorers, military attaches and civil servants.

By 1873, Bob was working as a young civil servant at the old Kachcheri (or District Secretariat) Building on Dam Street, Colombo. [3] The building was destroyed by fire in 2012.

Bob was not the first Ievers to visit Ceylon; St Peter’s Church at the Fort in Colombo holds the grave of Lieutenant Henry Rogers Ievers, Royal Artillery, who died there, aged 32, in 1864. [4]


The Gregory Administration (1872-77)


Sir William Gregory was Bob’s boss in the 1870s.

Bob was initially part of the administration of Sir William Gregory, who served as Governor of Ceylon from 1872 to 1877. Sir William’s wife was the celebrated Lady Gregory, a patron of W. B. Yeats and John Millington Synge. (Bob’s wife Kate was related to the Synge family.) The Gregory’s family home was at Coole Park in County Galway.

During his tenure as governor, Sir William initiated the restoration of thousands of defunct water tanks across the island, enabling the population to once again irrigate their parched mouths and rice paddies with monsoonal rainwater during the long dry seasons. When the island’s coffee industry was hit by a devastating blight in 1875, Gregory’s office encouraged the plantation of tea instead. The long-term impact of this is considerable. In 2020, Sri Lanka ranked second on tea export earnings in after China.

Gregory’s term also planted rubber trees on the island, enabling planters to meet an increasing global demand that would mushroom with the evolution of the motor car. He converted the Royal Pleasure Gardens of Kandy into the world-famous Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, a wonderful 60-hectare oasis of trees and shrubs. Lord Mountbatten enjoyed many a pensive stroll here while head-quartered at Kandy during the last world war.


Assistant Government Agent in Kegalle (1878-1885)


In 1878, a year after Gregory’s departure from the colony, Bob Ievers was appointed Assistant Government Agent in Kegalle in south-west Ceylon.

In March 1883, he was awarded an M.A, from Queen’s University, Belfast, with a recommendation from the Committee of Senate. [5]

Seven years later, in 1885, he was appointed Assistant Colonial Secretary.

James Reginald Toussaint, author of ‘Annals of the Ceylon Civil Service’ (1935), states that Bob was one of the best Sinhalese speakers of in the Service.  Indeed, he was also one of the few Sinhalese speakers in the service. Bob was also a member of the Cathedral Choir.

Toussaint also states that Bob ‘published a book, Mammals of the North Central Province, and contributed various articles to the Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.’ [6]


Kate Ievers, née Crawford, wife of Bob Ievers, who survived a mauling by a sloth bear in Sri Lanka.

Marriage to Kate Crawford


Sometime before 1883, Bob married Kate Crawford. She was one of two daughters of Andrew Crawford, the County Surveyor for the North Riding of Tipperary, and his wife Nance, née Synge of Slevoir and Syngefield. Her sister Bee married James ‘Jim’ Wedderburn Cooper Barry (see the Barry family here) and, I think, she had a brother.

Robert and Kate had three daughters – Nena Beatrice (b. 1883), Ethel (1885-1922, my great-grandmother) and Kathleen (b. 1886), about whom I tell a little more below.


Agent for North Central Province


In 1889, Bob was appointed Government Agent for the North-Central Province (1889), a district created by Gregory in 1873, which included Nuvarakalaviya (the present-day Anuradhapura District).

Bob Ievers is regarded today as ‘one of the great British government officials’ who operated in that region, not least because of his ‘Manual of the North-Central Province,’ published in 1889 by G. J. A. Skeen of Colombo, ‘complete with legend and history.’ The ethnographer Lokubanda Tillakaratne told me this was ‘the best piece of writing about the North Central Province up to the end of 19th century.’ [7] It was full of useful observations such as how the custom of fishing with baskets was adopted only by a group that he identified as the Sinhalese of Nuvarakalaviya.


Archaeological Work – Anuradhapura & Sigiriya


Thought to be Nena Ievers, with a Sinhalese lady.

He also did some archaeological work on Anuradhapura and his reports are available in the National Archives. In 1887, for instance, he visited the ruins of what was once a Buddhist nunnery at Pankuliya in Anuradhapura, where he saw a ‘sedent Buddha which had fallen forward.’ (Bell, p. 66).

In his ‘Report on the North Central Province’ (Administration Reports, Ceylon Government, 1887) he wrote:

“The claims of archaeology and the excavation of some and the preservation of other ruins, affords a pleasing and useful change from the monotony of the Kachcheri and Court routine”.

In 1888, he carried out further excavations on the Mirisavetiya Dagoba, using money donated by a Siamese Prince and employing prison labour. Although he had the support of Governor Sir Arthur Gordon, he ran into criticism when he began tunnelling into the Abhayagiri Dagoba, instead of restoring it and he was compelled to stop work at this site.


Shooting-Fishing-Tennis Man


Bob’s favourite recreations included fishing and tennis but, as J.R. Toussaint wrote, shooting was his favourite.

‘His favourite recreation was shooting, a pastime in which his wife joined him, much to the horror of an older generation whose ideas of propriety were much stricter than our own. His wife, Mrs. Ievers [ie: Kate Crawford] was, it is believed, the only lady in Ceylon to be mauled by a bear. This happened at Vavurniya.’

As government agent in Anuradhapura, he issued licenses to anyone wishing to shoot. “He was a good sportsman and knew what he was talking about“. [8]


An Encounter with a Sloth


Toussaint’s account of Kate Ievers surviving a scuffle with a sloth bear tallies with a report I chanced upon in a book in the Lisnavagh library called Hunting & Shooting in Ceylon (1907) by the hunter Harry Storey. In a chapter on “Bears and Water-Hole shooting” he relays an incident concerning “a plucky sportswoman, wife of a well-known and popular sporting Government official“.

Though Storey does not actually name her, I am quite certain this was Kate Ievers – mother to Ethel and grandmother to Bill Rathdonnell. She was regarded as being “as keen on sport as her husband and an excellent shot but the incident I am about to relate would have shaken the nerve of many a man and no one could have shown greater courage under the circumstances than she did”. Bob and Kate were on circuit at the time, inspecting some tank-repairing work that the Irrigation Department had been working on. [9] As Storey puts it:

“News was brought of bears amongst some rocks near a tank about 3 miles away and the lady went off very early one morning, I think, to have a look for them, accompanied by a police orderly, one Tamil headman and one Singhalese headman, her husband being too busy to come with them. Arrived at the rocks, they took up their position on a fat slab between two big rocks commanding a view of a cave or hollow among a medley of rocks below them. and had not been there long when they saw a bear walk past their front and disappear among the boulders. They then waited for the bear to return to the cave and the lady was sitting well back on her slab of rock when suddenly, without any warning, a bear rushed up from behind, knocked her over on her face at once, and began biting at her head and neck, clawing away at her back all the time. She put up her left hand to protect her neck and the bear bit that savagely whilst, with her right hand, she shoved her gun down between her feet and pulled the trigger, shooting the bear through one foot, as was afterwards found”.

“In the meantime, the two headmen were wildly firing off their guns in all directions apparently for not one shot hit the bear (luckily, perhaps, for our heroine for it is a wonder she was not shot too) until the Tamil, with the last cartridge he had, hit the animal in the head, I think, and killed it. Dreadful to relate it was then found that the police orderly, a smart young fellow, had been shot dead in the melee but how or by whom it was impossible to say; and it is a great marvel that more damage was not done as the two headmen lost their heads entirely for the time and blazed off their guns as fast as they could load them. The injured lady actually walked the 3 miles back to camp where, no doubt, her husband would be terribly upset at this time. I met them both a few weeks afterwards at a rest-house on their way to Colombo to see a doctor about the lady’s left wrist, which was stiff and unusable after the mauling, and she then told me all about the incident, only regretting that her injuries would cause her to lose the season for further shooting that year!” [10]


Gang of ‘Good Fellows’


As Government Agent of Ceylon’s North Central Province, Bob’s gang of “Good Fellows” included Alex Murray, R. B. Hellings, J. B. M. Ridout, H. F. Tomalin and F. W. Johnson.

Bob was especially close to the archaeologist H. C. P. Bell, who had similar interests, including sport. To this day, anyone who works in the Archaeology Department in Anuradhapura is referred to with the prefix ‘Bell Partiye (of the Bell’s Team)!  In 1890, the year Bell was appointed Archaeological Commissioner, he and Bob Ievers collaborated on a beautiful, humorous verse called “The Anuradhapura Anthem.” [11] That said, when Bob once admitted to Bell that he had scratched his own name on the Sigiriya Gallery wall, Bell was appalled. [12] Otherwise, the gang seem to have lived in harmonious isolation.


Government Agent of the North Province, 1896-1900


Bob Ievers in Ceylon.

In 1894, Bob was appointed Principal Assistant Colonial Secretary. From 1896 until 1900, he was Government Agent of the North Province of the island, consisting of the districts of Jaffna, Mannar and Vanni. He had a postal address at Jaffna. At one point, he estimated the number of elephants in North Central Province to be 170. According to Toussaint:

He will be remembered for the great interest he took as Government Agent of the North Province and improving the breed of horses in the island of Delft.’ [13]

Anne ‘Nance’ Crawford, Kate Ievers’ mother, died in Nenagh in July 1897.


Acting Colonial Secretary, 1902


Bob served two terms as acting Colonial Secretary of Ceylon in the absence of Everard im Thurn, the man who would later give his daughter Ethel away in marriage to Tim McClintock Bunbury. The first was from 10 November 1901 to 4 January 1902, and the second from 25 April 1902 to 24 November 1902. Toussaint states that, ‘on his appointment as Acting Colonial Secretary, [Bob] brought down a pair of these diminutive animals and was frequently seen driving them in the streets of Colombo.’ [14]

Bob Ievers in later life.

That same year, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, awarded to those holding commands or high position across the British Empire. In 1903 a species of the freshwater crustacean copepod was named Lichomolgus ieversi in his honour.


Death and Burial 1905


However, Bob subsequently he fell ill and had to leave his beloved island. He died on 10 February 1905, aged 54, while his three daughters were still young women.

He is buried in St. Nicholas Collegiate Church, Galway, where there is also a plaque to his memory. I called into the church in August 2023 but sadly the graveyard was sealed off for what looked like some form of drainage works.

Kate died in 1931.


Memorial to Bob Ievers in St Nicholas’s Collegiate Church, Galway City.

Ethel – The Lady Rathdonnell That Never Was


Ethel McClintock Bunbury (née Ievers) and her son William.

In 1912, seven years after her father’s death, 27-years-old Ethel Ievers married Tim McClintock Bunbury, a 31-year-old Irish aristocrat who was just commencing a 2-year tenure as A.D.C. to the Governor of Ceylon. Educated at Charterhouse and Cambridge, he had become heir to substantial estates in Ireland following the death of his older brother Billy in the Boer War in 1900.

Alas, Ethel died young in 1922 and little is known of her. Certainly my father and his three sisters have virtually no knowledge of their grandmother. The late Betty Scott told me she died of a broken heart, but I never got to the bottom of why or what that meant. She had grown up in Ceylon, presumably basking in the glories of imperial tea and tennis parties, sunshine and servants. She was the second daughter of a successful civil servant who had given it his all to understand the island’s culture and language.

The she married the heir to a large estate in northeast county Carlow and moved to Ireland. Her father-in-law, the 2nd Baron Rathdonnell, was one of the most influential members of the Unionist movement in the southern half of the country. Ireland was in a state of turmoil when she and her new husband first went to stay with his parents at Drumcar, their second home in County Louth. All across the east coast guns were being landed for Protestant and Catholic militia. Led by the Goughs, cousins of the Bunburys, the soldiers at the Curragh camp were mutinying. Dublin had become the stomping ground of trade unionism, republicanism, suffragettes and anti-war movements. And the British Government had finally agreed to let the country be ruled from Dublin, albeit with Britain’s Sovereign Supremacy held intact.

If Home Rule was granted to Ireland, as planned prior to the outbreak of the Great War, then there was every chance that her father-in-law would be appointed a cabinet minister in the new government. As President of the Royal Dublin Society, his credentials for the Ministry of Agriculture must also have drawn the notice of Lloyd-George’s wartime coalition.

It can’t have been easy to fit into the Anglo-Irish world of 1914 for the young Ceylon gal who had lived her own equally bizarre, isolated life before coming to Ireland. Less than a decade later she had died in her bed. She didn’t see her husband much because he was away during the war and later on special assignments in Slovenia and Italy. His parents seem like such a formidable pair – Tom Bunbury and Kate Bruen – that she appears meek and mild in their presence, a sort of Isabella Linton if you’ve ever read ‘Wuthering Heights’. Ethel sometime stayed with her aunt Bee (Beatrice) Barry and her husband Jim at 5 Vesey Place. However, Jim Barry died in 1920.

But she did at least beget a child, William Robert McClintock Bunbury, born in London on 23 November1914. I’m told Ethel had lush red hair, a trait which would pass through to two of her three granddaughters. 

The late John Grogan, an old Ceylon hand, told me she was a devout Christian and much given to berating those who drank. (Her husband was nicknamed “Lord Silvermugs” on account of his penchant for drinking whiskey and soda out of a silver mug so she couldn’t see!).

Ethel died on 4 March 1922 aged 38 and was buried in Brookwood Cemetery, Liverpool. Her son William was eight years old at the time.

Within weeks of her death, Ireland was plunged into a brutal civil war between the Free State Army and those who felt the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty fell far short of Republican ambitions. When Tim passed away in 1937, he was buried in Liverpool alongside Ethel.


Nena Izat – Ethel’s Sister


Nena Ievers as a girl.

Ethel’s elder sister Nena (Beatrice) Ievers was born in Kegalla, Sri Lanka on 18 March 1883, where Bob was assistant government agent at the time. She obtained an MD from Edinburgh University and married a Ceylonese civil servant Norman Izat. His father, Alexander Izat, CIE, MICE, was Chief Engineer of the Daund-Manmad (opened 1878) and Bhavnagar- Gondal (1880) lines and had risen to be Director of the Bengal & North Western Railway Company.

Nena is thought to have died in about 1957. She and Norman had three children who would thus have been first cousins of my grandfather.

  1. Mary Izat, who married Frank Pilditch and had a son David. In May 2020, I was contacted by David who recalled a visit to Lisnavagh with his late mother, in the late 1950s. ‘We were on a camping holiday in a leaky tent, and I remember it rained constantly,’ says David!
  2. Katherine Izat, who married Michael King(d. 2003) and had two sons, Duncan (who died c. 2002-3) and Graham, and a daughter, Deborah. Katherine died in April 2005
  3. Alan Izat (d. 2000), who married Joan Kinnear (d. 1998) and had two sons Anthony and (Norman) John. I have been in contact with John Izat since 2 June 2004.

David Pilditch thinks Nena died in 1957.


Kitty de Glanville – Ethel’s Sister


Named as Kate Ievers, this is thought to be Bob and Kate Ievers’ daughter, also known as Kitty.

The younger sister Kathleen Crawford Ievers (Kitty) married Bertram George de Glanville of the Ceylon Civil Service. The de Glanville family is considered in more depth here.




With thanks to Margaret Levin, Joe Simpson, Lokubanda Tillakaratne, John Izat, Liz Barry, the Rev. Keith Barry, David Pilditch, Tim & Sue Francis and Robert Allen.





[1] Born in Co. Galway in 1847, John Henry Ievers (was discharged with a gratuity on 31/12/1877 due to ill-health. He emigrated to Australia and applied to join the police in Melbourne, Victoria (Public Record Office, Melbourne – Reference: VPRS 937, Unit 493, Bundle 3) but died unmarried in Australia in 1879 aged 31. (Thanks to Jim Herlihy).

The Ievers family of Mount Ievers also made a substantial impact in the Australian province of Victoria during the 19th century. Click here for more.

[2] Cork Examiner 19 June 1858.

[3] Following my first visit to Sri Lanka in May 2002, I established email contact with an old colonial hand named Joe Simpson, now living in Canada. In answer to a request for information on Robert Wilson Ievers, he forwarded me much information, obtained from “a SL-born friend in Australia, from his extensive library,” including the notion that Bob went to the Colombo Kachcheri in 1873.

[4] In the book “Tombstones and Monuments in Ceylon ” there is reference to a Henry Rogers Ievers who died in Ceylon on 2 September 1864, aged 32, and was buried in St Peter’s Church in the Fort, Colombo. He was a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. He was married in Colombo on 14 June 1860 to Elizabeth Anderson. She was very tall, and he was very short. He must have been of the same family as RW Ievers, CCS, CMG.

[5] Civil & Military Gazette (Lahore) – Friday 10 March 1882, p. 5.

[6]Annals of the Ceylon Civil Service“, J. R. Toussaint (1937).

Rata Sabhawa of Nuwarakalaviya: Judicature in a Princely Province: And Ethnographical and Historical Reading (2023) by Lokubanda Tillakaratne

[7] In April 2020, I was contacted by the Anuradhapura-born ethnographer Lokubanda Tillakaratne, who worked for UCLA’s Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars. He confirmed that Bob was one of the great British government officials in the North Central Province. ‘I have a copy of his Manual of the North Central Province which is very dear to me as it is the best piece of writing about the North Central Province (my province) up to the end of 19th century. Professor Leach heavily used Ievers writings for his book ‘Pul Eliya’, a village in the province where Ievers was the Government Agent.’ The Caste Court system (Rata Sabhawa) existed in North Central Province until 1935. Tillak Lokubanda is the author of ‘Rata Sabhawa of Nuwarakalaviya: Judicature in a Princely Province.  An Ethnographic and Historical Reading,’ published in 2023.  This is a comprehensive  examination of Nuwarakalaviya history during which the Rata Sabhawa was part of the people’s lives.  It also examines caste system, role of the Chiefs, and post-Rata Sabhawa period, its relationship to Kandy Kingdom, Niti Niganduwa and other literature sources, how Sandesha poets missed Nuwarakalaviya altogether, and how the Chiefs there are different and independent from the Chiefs elsewhere in Kandy other parts of the country. This is the only book on Rata Sabhawa written in English in Sri Lanka.

[8]Hunting & Shooting in Ceylon“, (1907), H. Storey, p. 303.

[9] Hunting & Shooting in Ceylon (1907), H. Storey, p. 303.

[10] Hunting & Shooting in Ceylon (1907), H. Storey, p. 303.

[11] This appeared in The Times of Ceylon of 1917 in the Christmas number, long after Bob had passed on. The anthem is is included in ‘H.C.P. Bell – Archaeologist of Ceylon and the Maldives’ by Bethia N. Bell and Heather M. Bell.

[12] See “H.C.P. Bell: Archaeologist of Ceylon and the Maldives” by B.N. Bell and H.N. Bell (Archetype Publications, Denbigh, 1993).

[13]Annals of the Ceylon Civil Service“, J. R. Toussaint (1937).

[14]Annals of the Ceylon Civil Service“, J. R. Toussaint (1937).