Sir James Peiris was born on 20 December 1856. He was born into a home of wealth and privilege. But a fundamental change in the family circumstances took place when the boy was 15 years. His father's sense of honour led him to the financial rescue of a brother whose speculations had led to bankruptcy. Much of the family wealth and property was used up to rescue the brother's and family sense of honour. His father fell sick as a consequence of the problems and died at the early age of 43. The mother and two sons faced comparative poverty. The mother took in boarders in the large house which was all that was left of the family property. James had to walk daily about 15 miles in total to and from school. His mother could not afford the oil for the lamp and therefore he had to start study at dawn, go to school and when he came back stop work at dusk.
His daughter Louise Cooray (Appendix A) makes the following comment based on personal experience, in a letter of advice to her grand children:
"He has told us how this hard struggle strengthened their characters and made strong men of them. In after life when he was prosperous he never lost touch with his less fortunate brethren and was able to understand their needs and difficulties. Never allow yourself to get too soft. It not only weakens your character but deprives you of sympathy with the sufferings of others. For a life of ease and pleasure seems incompatible with an understanding of human nature and its needs."
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