Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edward William Saranealis (1902–1971)

by Regina Ganter

This article was published:

Edward William Saranealis (1902-1971), jeweller and dentist, was born on 2 February 1902 on Thursday Island, Queensland, eldest of seven children of Yahatowgoda Baddallegay Saranealis, a jeweller and dentist from Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and his English-born wife Alice, née Stewart. Thursday Island was a pearling centre. Its cosmopolitan population included Japanese, Chinese, Indonesians and Torres Strait Islanders. (Sir) James Burns had visited Galle in southern Ceylon in 1882 and recruited twenty-five workers for his pearl-shell fishery. By the 1890s a sizeable Singhalese community lived on Thursday Island; most of them, like Y. B. Saranealis, came from Galle and its surrounding villages. The date when Saranealis reached Thursday Island remains uncertain, but in 1897 he advertised the opening of his jewellery, watchmaking and pearl-dealing business in Normanby Street. Reputedly, he enjoyed the patronage of Lord Northcote, the governor-general of Australia.

After the death of his father in 1919, Eddie Saranealis became head of the household and carried on the family business with the assistance of his brother Donsiman Heriverto ('Hubby'). The firm of pearl merchants and manufacturing jewellers continued to trade as Y. B. Saranealis from a two-storey building in Douglas Street. In his spare hours Eddie drew on the books in his father's professional library to study dentistry. After a faculty of dentistry was established at the University of Queensland in 1934, the Queensland government allowed the Dental Board to register graduates in dentistry and, in certain cases, persons who had practical rather than academic qualifications. Saranealis passed a special examination and was authorized to practise as a dentist on 3 November 1936. He set up a dental clinic in Hastings Street.

In 1942 civilians were ordered to evacuate Thursday Island. Saranealis worked for a time as a dentist at Townsville. Returning to the island in 1946, he resumed his dental practice and his jewellery business. He played in the town band and was a member of the local council. A bachelor, he spent a number of his weekends and holidays with his brothers in their launch Mitzi. They visited other Torres Strait islands and travelled to the tip of Cape York Peninsula where they hunted ducks. The Mitzi was also used for pleasure cruises and for entertaining prominent visitors to Thursday Island.

Saranealis suffered from emphysema. He died of pneumonia on 2 October 1971 at Thursday Island and was buried with Anglican rites in the local cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. C. H. Foley, Timeless Isle (Thursday Island, Qld, 1982)
  • W. S. Weerasooria, Links Between Sri Lanka and Australia (Colombo, 1988)
  • A/38244 (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

Regina Ganter, 'Saranealis, Edward William (1902–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 February, 1902
Thursday Island, Queensland, Australia


2 October, 1971 (aged 69)
Thursday Island, Queensland, Australia

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