Dr. R.L. Spittel was born in Tangalle on 9th of December 1881 to Dr. Fredrick Spittel. His father educated him at Royal College, Colombo. In 1905, Dr. Spittel passed out of the Ceylon Medical College as a doctor. When he joined Government service his salary was just a bare Rs. 750. He proceeded to England, did his Conjoint Diploma in 1908 and his FRCS in 1909. On his return, he was appointed as the 3rd surgeon at the General Hospital Colombo. In 1935, when he retired from Government Service, he was a Senior Surgeon and a Lecturer at the Medical College. He continued his services to the people as a Consultant Surgeon. His invaluable services towards medicine earned him the honor of being made a commander of the order of the British Empire in 1942 and a Companion of the order of St. George in1950. He was so humble that he felt undeserving of the latter award. It took a lot of persuasion by the then prime minister Hon. D.S. Senanayake, to coax him into accepting it. He was the president of the Ceylon Branch of the British Medical College from 1940 to 1946.
Despite being a medical doctor, he had a deep love for the wilds and a huge leaning towards anthropology. An avid naturalist, Dr. Spittel’s love was the jungles of Ceylon, gaining a vast arena of knowledge on its fauna and flora and also the native aborigines of Ceylon. He authored many books of which some of the well known and well read ones were “Wild Ceylon”, “Wild White Boy”, “Vanished Trails”, “Where the White Sambur Roams” which graphically described jungle adventures and the “Savage Sanctuary” which is a biographical novel based on documentary evidence on the Veddah outlaw called Tissahamy. This collection of material had been researched by Dr. Spittel himself. Dr. Spittel’s white skin and his “Medicine Man Role” was so acceptable to the Aboringine clan, that they revered him as a hero.
When he retired from Government service at 53 years of age, he ventured out to run his own nursing home called Wycherly. This, his own building, which is sprawling mansion took two years for completion by 1922 and it is of enormous heritage value today. Dr. Spittel was helped by his wife Dr. Clarie who incidentally was the fourth woman Physician in Ceylon. He passed away on September 3rd 1969, listening to the sounds of the birds in his aviary.