Legend of Mike Wilson

When I first dived into Conch in 2004 (a 3555 ton big English oil tanker ship sunken near the coast of Akurala on the night of June 3, 1903) I simply understood why ship wrecks are so special within the divers. If you compare it with a normal coral reef, a ship wreck has a long story which attached to maritime history. It needs special attention when you dive in to a wreck than normal recreational diving procedures, in return you are well-rewarded. Sometimes you might be able to find some hidden treasure too! Identifying a shipwreck in the ocean & exploring the treasure is not as simple as I say here or you would see in a movie. Only handful of people in the world had ended up with success stories, yet some people have even sacrificed their lives for such causes. Even when you are just reading this, there are a countless number of ships lie on the beds of oceans with plenty of unrevealed secrets. Most of all, billions worth treasure still lies within those artifacts. Shipwrecks are simply legends!

Even though, people are not that aware, coasts of Sri Lanka is full of shipwrecks! As far as I know, Arthur C. Clarke and Mike Wilson are pioneering adventurers who dug this subject & actually made a success story at the end of the day. Both of them had passed away by now, after gaining very different aspects in the later parts of their lives. Anyway, my enthusiasm on this subject became increased while started reading about their adventures. While "Reefs of Taprobene" explains about their initial diving around the country to identify the wrecks and "The treasure of the great reef" reveals how they identified the Moghul time ship wreck near Great Basses & how they discovered the treasure. Everybody knows about Arthur C. Clarke. Apart from all adventurous work done by them, I started wondering about the extra-ordinary capacity and energy of Mike Wilson through these books. He is simply a wonderful character! For me hero is not Arthur C. Clarke, but Mike Wilson! Anyway, his later life took a very different path way!!

Mike Wilson & Arthur C. Clarke

Mike Wilson's early life

Mike was born in London, England. He sailed to east with Merchant ships in his early life and then joined army. Then he was transferred to Parachute regiment & then again attached to special Frogmen unit of Royal Navy, where he became a very successful carder. After he discharged from the duties, he moved to Australia & became a licensed pearl diver. He was so crazy in scuba diving and under water explorations. He dived in Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Anyway, what is important from our point of view is, he moved to Sri Lanka with Arthur C. Clarke in 1956 & decided to stay in Sri Lanka, discovering her crystal clear waters & marine life.

They started exploring the Indian Ocean around Sri Lanka for coral reefs & wrecks as soon as they come to Sri Lanka. They were accompanied by the marine biologist: Mr. Rodney Jonklass. He has done a remarkable role in identifying the tropical fishes in Sri Lanka and Jonklaas's loach (or Lepidocephalichthys jonklaasi) is a rare endemic fresh water fish in Sri Lanka, which was named to commemorate his scientific service to the industry. They spent an enjoyable life in Sri Lanka while diving, diving with Sharks, catching fishes with spear guns, reading historical data & traveling everywhere. First under water filming in Sri Lankan waters were done in this era, for the first time in the history.

See what Arthur C. Clarke has to say about the motive force that made him fascinated of Indian Ocean around Sri Lanka;

“When I left England to join Mike Wilson on The Great Barrier Reef in 1954, I had np plans for any further under-water expeditions. However, during the afternoon that the P&O Himalaya stopped in Colombo, I met Ceylon’s pioneer skin diver, Rodney Jonklass, and he infected me with his enthusiasm for Indian Ocean.”

First underwater filming in Sri Lankan waters..

Treasure in the Great Basses
On March 12th 1961, Mike left to Kirinda with two other American boys to dive in Great Basses. They did some diving & filming as usual & had a good time. One morning, the sea was not that clear enough for filming, which made them decide to have a swim (as Arthur C. Clarke said later, it was the luckiest thing ever happened to them). They swam a long to find some more new regions of the reef. When they were about to return back, Mike observed something interesting on the sea bed. That was a small old canon, glittering with the sunshine. This simple incident was the starting point of a great discovery, a new ship wreck with treasure, which hadn't been identified by anyone else!

Words of Arthur C. Clarke;


Ran Muthu Duwa
In order to start the detail survey about the wreck in the next season, they needed some money to utilize. They needed a boat of their own & other equipments. When they were thinking of solving this financial problem, Mike came up with another bright idea of producing a Sinhala movie with under water scenes, which they can manage easily. This idea presented the first Sinhala Colour film Ranmuthu Duwa to Sinhala film history. Mike Wilson was the director while famous Gamini Fonseka, Joe Abeywickrema and Jeevarani Kurukulasooriya did the main roles. Nanda Malini, Amaradewa & Narada Dissasekara joined as vocalists while some lyrics were written by Mahagama Sekera.
Ranmuthu duwa was released in 1962 & it became very successful. From the money they earned, they did the exploration & managed to identify the wreck as a ship belongs to Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb (1658-1707, son of the great Shah Jehan who built the Taj Mahal in Agra, India)  which was sent off for trade in the far east but was sunk in a storm off the Great Basses. Also they discovered some silver treasure in it. Boat they built to do the expedition was named Ran Muthu.

Some of the Artifacts and treasure found from Great Basses;

One of my diving pals, Kusum managed to search the site in 2008 and captured this photo of the area. He was amazed with the beauty of the diving site.
How Mike's life changed
Mike visited Trincomalee in 1956 for the first time. He dived near Koneswarar Temple and also got some knowledge from Rodney, about what he could expect to see. He managed to find the old temple scattered beneath the sea as he was being explained. He understood it was a quite extra ordinary site with some hidden archeological and also a spiritual value. Also Mike had been told about the "Swayambhu Linga" which all the devotees of god Kataragama, were very much interested about.
"Swayambhu Linga" is somewhat, tomb like object which said to have a spiritual power, which originally found in Tibetan mountains, later brought to Sri Lanka by King Ravana, according to the legends. There said to have 69 such tombs originally. It has been kept in a sacred temple in the Koneswarar, but had been destroyed and splashed in to the sea by Portuguese invaders in the seventeenth century. Till then, this "Swayambhu Linga" was being searched by holy people worldwide who devote the legends of god Skunda, but couldn't find any trace.
When it was the time, Ranmuthu Duwa was filming near Trincomalee; Mike Wilson discovered this holy object and delivered it to Koneswarar Temple, where people started worshipping ever since. Mike came straight to the Colombo Museum archive & started reading about the history of the finding. He understood that, what he found was one of the original Lingums from 69 originals, where only few remains in the world today.
With all these findings, Mike started to believe that finding of the Lingum is not just a random happening, started to feel the power of it and finally decided to commit his entire life devoting the holy gift and do the needful rituals.
He believed that being seated alone in the presence of the Swayambhuwa Linga is, itself a part of the ritual. So he did so. He explained his experience; "One is aware of its enormous antiquity. And one's mind is able to soar back to the distant past and see all those who have sat there before."
He became a Swami (Swami Siva Kalki) and spent his remaining life in Kataragama as a devotee & doing rituals accordingly, till he passed away.

Mike Wilson as Swami Siva Kalki

"It changed me completely," he declared in an interview in The Sunday Times of 18 November, 1990. "It was diksha (initiation) and darshan (divine vision) all in one. I understood something, how I had spent many lives here in Sri Lanka already, how this was not my first. I was prompted to go to Kataragama. One needs a place to sit and ponder; that place for me was Kataragama.

Note 1 : Added on 02/09/2010
Last month I managed to visit Koneswarar at Trinco on my way to diving and photographed below object which I belived to be the legendary "Swayambhu Linga" which was discovered by Mike Wilson. People I met at the Kovil was not much aware about history, but they managed to tell this was discovered by Sudda (foreigner). Please correct me if I am wrong.

The Reefs of Taprobane - Arthur C. Clarke
The Treasure of the Great Reef - Arthur C. Clarke & Mike Wilson

More Interesting articles;


Anonymous said...

A very nice post.
If you need a copy of the book Indian Ocean Treasure by Arthur C. Clarke 1972, please let me know. I got one.


sumedha Obeysekera said...

Thank you my friend.

That’s so impressive. I haven’t read it as yet, but I have been searching for it. I really want to buy a copy if it’s available in any book store in Sri Lanka.

That would be really fine, if I can borrow your copy to read. I will make sure, that I am returning the book in the original condition. How could I contact you? My personal e-mail sumedha7@gmail.com

Thank you very much for your kindness Mr. Peiris.

bunpeiris said...

An e-mail is sent to you today.

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Another important article about the story;


sumedha Obeysekera said...

New Maritime archeological museum of Galle (at Galle fort) exhibits some important information and artifacts about this adventure, and also about other ongoing researches on ship wrecks around the country. I was so happy to learn that a new team of archeologists of the department has now doing some systematic studies on maritime history together with some resourceful institutions.

Rex I. De Silva said...

Hi. That is an interesting article. I knew Mike quite well and dived with him and many of the other pioneers like Rodney Jonklaas, Langston Pereira and others.

I am currently writing a book entitled "History of Diving in Sri Lanka". You may wish to visit the "History of Diving" pages in my website". Click on www.rexdesilva.org

Yes, I am the proud owner of autographed copies of all Arthur C. Clarke's books on diving.

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Hi Rex,
I am glad that you like my article. It’s an honour for me. Yep, I am already aware of your current work and I am waiting impatiently till you finish your book. (If you can remember I have sent you a mail before asking when we can read your book) I am impressed with the content you have published in the site. As an armature diver and environmental enthusiast I am sort of trying to dig about diving/maritime history as you do.
I was also in the audience on your sessions on Sea birds/bird migration at FOGSL. I would also like to mention that your talk on work of Late Biologist Mr. Martinstine (on Prof. Kotagama’s book launch) was so nice.

Rex I. De Silva said...

Hi Sumedha,

Many thanks for your kind comments. It is always great to communicate with a like-minded person. I will shortly be giving a talk on "Sharks of Sri Lanka: Identification and Narural History" you are welcome to attend.


sumedha Obeysekera said...

How Clarke memorise this adventure;


Arudra , the Nomad said...

Hello Sumedha,
I am very happy to go through the post. For me as a Hindu in India, Koneswaram is a very sacred place and it has been a dream to visit Trinco since years. Finally I could visit Koneswaram last year and had darshan of the Lord Koneswara ! Mike has been a true hero to me and I always tend to read again and again about him. He has unearthened such a divine linga and for sure the humanity is everlastingly in his debt. I wish to visit Koneswaram many times in the future too !!!!!!

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Hi Venkat,

Thank you for reading the article. Your comment has added immense value to the article since you know the true meaning of the discovery. Koneswaram remains one of the best spiritual places I would visit again and again as you wish.

By the way, one of the famous artists of Sri Lanka is doing wonderful journey of paintings with the theme of divine linga and related spirituality. If you happen to visit Sri Lanka again, try to visit one of her art exhibitions. Her name is Druvinka Madawela. You may be able to add her through Facebook also.

Best regards,

Arudra , the Nomad said...

Hello Sumedha,
Thanks for your reply. I have been an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva and we have our own Ancesteral temple in our village in India (built by my forefathers some 150 years ago). I will try to visit Druvinka's exhibition next time when I do visit Sri Lanka. I have been a fan of Sri Lanka and had toured extensively the entire country except for Jaffna and Anuradhapura. May be sometime I come back and visit them as well. Right now I am in Indonesia and am exploring some ancient Hindu temples located in Java & Bali as and when I get time off from work.
Cheers and it is great to get in touch with you.

Unknown said...

thank you for this valuable article

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Nelum..thax for the kind comment

Anonymous said...

It has been absolutely incredible and emotional for me reading this article about my Grandfather. I was an infant when he passed away and one of my deepest regrets in life has not been able to meet him. As a child bed-time stories were often about Grandad and the treasure he found. Almost seemed fairy-tale like back then. I am so thankful for people like you who keep his memory alive and allow me to feel a sense of closeness to him. Thank you so much Sumedha for this article. My mother (Yasmin Wilson) and I hold it very dear to our hearts.

Natalee Wilson Fernando.

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Thank you very much Natalee. I haven’t seen him either, but learnt through books and from few remaining few people from that wonderful era. You should be proud for your grandfather who is a legend, by all means. I am an amateur underwater photographer and I consider Mike Wilson, a role model, especially to make me inspired when things are not working well. Thanks again for your kindness. I am privileged to have your note in my article.

sumedha said...

Hi Sumedha, thank you for the excellent article. the information about the original lingam is correct as far as i could check a few years ago as well. Not many are interested in the original which is housed in an enclosure on to the right at the entrance to the present Koneshwaram temple. When inquired as to why the original was not placed in the main temple the reason was given as a new lingam had already been placed when the temple was rebuilt in the (probably mid 19th century - as the original was destroyed and looted by the Portuguese in 1587) it was not customory to replace it. However more emphasis should be given considering that it is the original.
Sumedha Chandradasa.

Rex I. De Silva said...

In 1957 Mike and I dived to recover the body of a drowned sea scout from the Beira Lake. Visibility was zero but we recovered the body nevertheless. Mike was a good and considerate person and I am honoured to have kown him.

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Thank you very much Sumedha Chandradasa. Information you provided is very important and its pretty new knowledge for me. Other who read this article too would be pleased to know those facts. Thanks again. Sumedha

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Thanks Rex, I am so pleased that you shared your invaluable experience here. I am already aware that you are a living legend in Diving, Wildlife and many other sciences in Sri Lanka. Honestly, I am one of the many people who learnt about the glorious past of Diving of our island. Many Thanks.

Maheel R Perera said...

Nice article Sumedha, although I have to confess that I did not know the existence of your blog till I started searching info about Mike Wilson. I had an opportunity to meet Mike decades ago, but unfortunately then he was beyond the realities of this world.

I am trying to restore Mike's film "Ran Muthu Doowa" and gathering information about the film. The only copy available is a low resolution (VCD quality) one.

Also glad to see the Shark man Rex is responding to the article. So is Mike's granddaughter.

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Hi Maheel, Thanks for your kind words. It should be a privilege you met Mike Wilson for real some how.

Preserving Ran Muthu Doowa is an amazing idea. I am very much thankful for your attempt and wishing you all the best.

Yep, I have only documented what I found and some resourceful people commented here have added an immense value. In fact, Rex is the only living person who got wealth of experience and knowledge on that era.