Part 1 out of 5
Etext prepared by Garry Gill (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Eight Years' Wanderings in Ceylon
by Samuel White Baker
CHAPTER I. Colombo - Dullness of the Town - Cinnamon Garden - A
Cingalese Appo - Ceylon Sport - Jungle Fever - Newera Ellia -
Energy of Sir E. Barnes - Influence of the Governor - Projected
CHAPTER II. Past Scenes - Attractions of Ceylon - Emigration -
Difficulties in Settling - Accidents and Casualties - An
Eccentric Groom - Insubordination - Commencement of Cultivation -
Sagacity of the Elephant - Disappointments - "Death" in the
Settlement - Shocking Pasturage - Success of Emigrants - "A Good
Knock-about kind of a Wife".
CHAPTER III. Task Completed - The Mountain-top - Change in the
Face of Nature - Original Importance of Newera Ellia - "The Path
of a Thousand Princes" - Vestiges of Former Population -
Mountains - The Highlands of Ouva - Ancient Methods of
Irrigation - Remains of Aqueducts - The Vale of Rubies - Ancient
Ophir - Discovery of Gold-Mineral Resources - Native
CHAPTER IV. Poverty of Soil - Ceylon Sugar - Fatality of Climate
- Supposed Fertility of Soil - Native Cultivation - Neglect of
Rice Cultivation - Abandoned Reservoirs - Former Prosperity -
Ruins of Cities - Pollanarua - The Great Dagoba - Architectural
Relics - The Rock Temple - Destruction of Population - Neglected
Capabilities - Suggestions for Increasing Population - Progress
of Pestilence - Deserted Villages - Difficulties in the
Cultivation of Rice - Division of Labor - Native Agriculture.
CHAPTER V. Real Cost of Land - Want of Communication -
Coffee-planting - Comparison between French and English Settlers
- Landslips - Forest-clearing - Manuring - The Coffee Bug - Rats
- Fatted Stock - Suggestions for Sheep-farming - Attack of a
Leopard - Leopards and Chetahs - Boy Devoured - Traps - Musk Cats
and the Mongoose - Vermin of Ceylon.
CHAPTER VI. "Game Eyes" for Wild Sports - Enjoyments of Wild Life
- Cruelty of Sports - Native Hunters - Moormen Traders - Their
wretched Guns - Rifles and Smooth-bores - Heavy Balls and Heavy
Metal - Beattie's Rifles - Balls and Patches - Experiments - The
Double-groove - Power of Heavy Metal - Curious Shot at a Bull
Elephant - African and Ceylon Elephants - Structure of Skull -
Lack of Trophies - Boar-spears and Hunting-knives - " Bertram" -
A Boar Hunt - Fatal Cut.
CHAPTER VII. Curious Phenomenon - Panorama of Ouva - South-west
Monsoon - Hunting Followers - Fort M'Donald - River - Jungle
Paths - Dangerous Locality - Great Waterfall - Start for Hunting
- The Find - A Gallant Stag - "Bran" and Lucifer" - "Phrenzy's"
Death - Buck at Bay - The Cave Hunting-box- "Madcap's" Dive - Elk
Soup - Former Inundation - "Bluebeard" leads off - " Hecate's"
Course -The Elk's Leap - Variety of Deer - The Axis - Ceylon
Bears - Variety of Vermin - Trials for Hounds - Hounds and their
Masters - A Sportsman "shut up"- A Corporal and Centipede.
CHAPTER VIII. Observations on Nature in the Tropics - The Dung
Beetle - The Mason-fly - Spiders - Luminous Insects - Efforts of
a Naturalist - Dogs Worried by Leeches - Tropical Diseases -
Malaria - Causes of Infection - Disappearance of the "Mina" -
Poisonous Water - Well-digging Elephants.
CHAPTER IX. Instinct and Reason - Tailor Birds and Grosbeaks -
The White Ant - Black Ants at War - Wanderoo Monkeys - Habits of
Elephants - Elephants in the Lake - Herd of Elephants Bathing -
Elephant-shooting - The Rencontre - The Charge - Caught by the
Tail - Horse Gored by a Buffalo - Sagacity of Dogs - "Bluebeard"
- His Hunt - A True Hound.
CHAPTER X. Wild Fruits - Ingredients for a "Soupe Maigre" -
Orchidaceous Plants - Wild Nutmegs - Native Oils - Cinnamon -
Primeval Forests - Valuable Woods - The Mahawelli River - Variety
of Palms - Cocoa-nut Toddy - Arrack - Cocoa-nut Oil -
Cocoa-nut-planting - The Talipot Palm - The Areca Palm - Betel
Chewing - Sago Nuts - Varicty of Bees - Waste of Beeswax - Edible
Fungi - Narcotic Puff-ball - Intoxicating Drugs - Poisoned Cakes
- The "Sack Tree" - No Gum Trees of Value in Ceylon.
CHAPTER XI. Indigenous Productions - Botanical Gardens -
Suggested Experiments - Lack of Encouragement to Gold-diggers -
Prospects of Gold-digging - We want "Nuggets" - Who is to Blame?
- Governor's Salary - Fallacies of a Five Years' Reign -
Neglected Education of the People - Responsibilities of Conquest
- Progress of Christianity.
CHAPTER XII. The Pearl Fishery - Desolation of the Coast - Harbor
of Trincomalee - Fatal Attack by a Shark - Ferocious Crocodiles -
Salt Monopoly - Salt Lakes - Method of Collection - Neglect of
Ceylon Hides - Fish and Fishing - Primitive Tackle - Oysters and
Penknives - A Night Bivouac for a Novice - No Dinner, but a Good
Fire - Wild Yams and Consequences -The Elephants' Duel - A
Hunting Hermitage - Bluebeard's last Hunt - The Leopard -
Bluebeard's Death - Leopard Shot.
CHAPTER XIII. Wild Denizens of Forest and Lake - Destroyers of
Reptiles - The Tree Duck - The Mysteries of Night in the Forest -
The Devil-Bird - The Iguanodon in Miniature - Outrigger Canoes -
The Last Glimpse of Ceylon - A Glance at Old Times.
EIGHT YEARS' WANDERINGS
Colombo - Dullness of the Town - Cinnamon Garden - A Cingalese
Appo - Ceylon Sport - Jungle Fever - Newera Ellia - Energy of Sir
E. Barnes - Influence of the Governor - Projected Improvements.
It was in the year 1845 that the spirit of wandering allured me
toward Ceylon: little did I imagine at that time that I should
eventually become a settler.
The descriptions of its sports, and the tales of hairbreadth
escapes from elephants, which I had read in various publications,
were sources of attraction against which I strove in vain; and I
at length determined upon the very wild idea of spending twelve
months in Ceylon jungles.
It is said that the delights of pleasures in anticipation exceed
the pleasures themselves: in this case doubtless some months of
great enjoyment passed in making plans of every description,
until I at length arrived in Colombo, Ceylon's seaport capital.
I never experienced greater disappointment in an expectation than
on my first view of Colombo. I had spent some time at Mauritius
and Bourbon previous to my arrival, and I soon perceived that the
far-famed Ceylon was nearly a century behind either of those
Instead of the bustling activity of the Port Louis harbor in
Mauritius, there were a few vessels rolling about in the
roadstead, and some forty or fifty fishing canoes hauled up on
the sandy beach. There was a peculiar dullness throughout the
town - a sort of something which seemed to say, "Coffee does not
pay." There was a want of spirit in everything. The
ill-conditioned guns upon the fort looked as though not intended
to defend it; the sentinels looked parboiled; the very natives
sauntered rather than walked; the very bullocks crawled along in
the midday sun, listlessly dragging the native carts. Everything
and everybody seemed enervated, except those frightfully active
people in all countries and climates, "the custom-house
officers:" these necessary plagues to society gave their usual
amount of annoyance.
What struck me the most forcibly in Colombo was the want of
shops. In Port Louis the wide and well-paved streets were lined
with excellent "magasins" of every description; here, on the
contrary, it was difficult to find anything in the shape of a
shop until I was introduced to a soi-disant store, where
everything was to be purchased from a needle to a crowbar, and
from satin to sail-cloth; the useful predominating over the
ornamental in all cases. It was all on a poor scale and after
several inquiries respecting the best hotel, I located myself at
that termed the Royal or Seager's Hotel. This was airy, white
and clean throughout; but there was a barn-like appearance, as
there is throughout most private dwellings in Colombo, which
banished all idea of comfort.
A good tiffin concluded, which produced a happier state of mind,
I ordered a carriage for a drive to the Cinnamon Gardens. The
general style of Ceylon carriages appeared in the shape of a
caricature of a hearse: this goes by the name of a palanquin
carriage. Those usually hired are drawn by a single horse, whose
natural vicious propensities are restrained by a low system of
In this vehicle, whose gaunt steed was led at a melancholy trot
by an equally small-fed horsekeeper, I traversed the environs of
Colombo. Through the winding fort gateway, across the flat Galle
Face (the race-course), freshened by the sea-breeze as the waves
break upon its western side; through the Colpettytopes of
cocoanut trees shading the road, and the houses of the better
class of European residents to the right and left; then turning
to the left - a few minutes of expectation - and behold the
What fairy-like pleasure-grounds have we fondly anticipated! what
perfumes of spices, and all that our childish imaginations had
pictured as the ornamental portions of a cinnamon garden!
A vast area of scrubby, low jungle, composed of cinnamon bushes,
is seen to the right and left, before and behind. Above, is a
cloudless sky and a broiling sun; below, is snow-white sand of
quartz, curious only in the possibility of its supporting
vegetation. Such is the soil in which the cinnamon delights;
such are the Cinnamon Gardens, in which I delight not. They are
an imposition, and they only serve as an addition to the
disappointments of a visitor to Colombo. In fact, the whole
place is a series of disappointments. You see a native woman
clad in snow-white petticoats, a beautiful tortoiseshell comb
fastened in her raven hair; you pass her - you look back -
wonderful! she has a beard! Deluded stranger, this is only
another disappointment; it is a Cingalese Appo - a man - no, not
a man - a something male in petticoats; a petty thief, a
treacherous, cowardly villain, who would perpetrate the greatest
rascality had he only the pluck to dare it. In fact, in this
petticoated wretch you see a type of the nation of Cingalese.
On the morning following my arrival in Ceylon, I was delighted to
see several persons seated at the "table-d'hôte" when I entered
the room, as I was most anxious to gain some positive information
respecting the game of the island, the best localities, etc.,
etc. I was soon engaged in conversation, and one of my first
questions naturally turned upon sport.
"Sport!" exclaimed two gentlemen simultaneously - "sport!" there
is no sport to be had in Ceylon!" -- "at least the race-week is
the only sport that I know of," said the taller gentleman.
"No sport!" said I, half energetically and half despairingly.
"Absurd! every book on Ceylon mentions the amount of game as
immense; and as to elephants -"
Here I was interrupted by the same gentleman. "All gross
exaggerations," said he -"gross exaggerations; in fact,
inventions to give interest to a book. I have an estate in the
interior, and I have never seen a wild elephant. There may be a
few in the jungles of Ceylon, but very few, and you never see
I began to discover the stamp of my companion from his
expression, "You never see them." Of course I concluded that he
had never looked for them; and I began to recover front the first
shock which his exclamation, "There is no sport in Ceylon !" had
I subsequently discovered that my new and non-sporting
acquaintances were coffee-planters of a class then known as the
Galle Face planters, who passed their time in cantering about the
Colombo race-course and idling in the town, while their estates
lay a hundred miles distant, uncared for, and naturally ruining
That same afternoon, to my delight and surprise, I met an old
Gloucestershire friend in an officer of the Fifteenth Regiment,
then stationed in Ceylon. From him I soon learnt that the
character of Ceylon for game had never been exaggerated; and from
that moment my preparations for the jungle commenced.
I rented a good airy house in Colombo as headquarters, and the
verandas were soon strewed with jungle-baskets, boxes, tent,
gun-cases, and all the paraphernalia of a shooting-trip.
What unforeseen and apparently trivial incidents may upset all
our plans for the future and turn our whole course of life! At
the expiration of twelve months my shooting trips and adventures
were succeeded by so severe an attack of jungle fever that from a
naturally robust frame I dwindled to a mere nothing, and very
little of my former self remained. The first symptom of
convalescence was accompanied by a peremptory order from my
medical attendant to start for the highlands, to the mountainous
region of Newera Ellia, the sanita rium of the island.
A poor, miserable wretch I was upon my arrival at this elevated
station, suffering not only from the fever itself, but from the
feeling of an exquisite debility that creates an utter
hopelessness of the renewal of strength.
I was only a fortnight at Newera Ellia. The rest-house or inn
was the perfection of everything that was dirty and
uncomfortable. The toughest possible specimen of a beef-steak,
black bread and potatoes were the choicest and only viands
obtainable for an invalid. There was literally nothing else; it
was a land of starvation. But the climate! what can I say to
describe the wonderful effects of such a pure and unpolluted air?
Simply, that at the expiration of a fortnight, in spite of the
tough beef, and the black bread and potatoes, I was as well and
as strong as I ever bad been; and in proof of this I started
instanter for another shooting excursion in the interior.
It was impossible to have visited Newera Ellia, and to have
benefited in such a wonderful manner by the climate, without
contemplating with astonishment its poverty-stricken and
At that time it was the most miserable place conceivable. There
was a total absence of all ideas of comfort or arrangement. The
houses were for the most part built of such unsubstantial
materials as stick and mud plastered over with mortar - pretty
enough in exterior, but rotten in ten or twelve years. The only
really good residence was a fine stone building erected by Sir
Edward Barnes when governor of Ceylon. To him alone indeed are
we indebted for the existence of a sanitarium. It was he who
opened the road, not only to Newera Ellia, but for thirty-six
miles farther on the same line to Badulla. At his own expense he
built a substantial mansion at a cost, as it is said, of eight
thousand pounds, and with provident care for the health of the
European troops, he erected barracks and officers' quarters for
Under his government Newera Ellia was rapidly becoming a place of
importance, but unfortunately at the expiration of his term the
place became neglected. His successor took no interest in the
plans of his predecessor; and from that period, each successive
governor being influenced by an increasing spirit of parsimony,
Newera Ellia has remained "in statu quo," not even having been
visited by the present governor.
In a small colony like Ceylon it is astonishing how the movements
and opinions of the governor influence the public mind. In the
present instance, however, the movements of the governor (Sir G.
Anderson) cannot carry much weight, as he does not move at all,
with the exception of an occasional drive from Colombo to Kandy.
His knowledge of the colony and of its wants or resources must
therefore, from his personal experience, be limited to the Kandy
road. This apathy, when exhibited by her Majesty's
representative, is highly contagious among the public of all
classes and colors, and cannot have other than a bad moral
Upon my first visit to Newera Ellia, in 1847, Lord Torrington was
the governor of Ceylon, a man of active mind, with an ardent
desire to test its real capabilities and to work great
improvements in the colony. Unfortunately, his term as governor
was shorter than was expected. The elements of discord were at
that time at work among all classes in Ceylon, and Lord
Torrington was recalled.
>From the causes of neglect described, Newera Ellia was in the
deserted and wretched state in which I saw it; but so infatuated
was I in the belief that its importance must be appreciated when
the knowledge of its climate was more widely extended that I
looked forward to its becoming at some future time a rival to the
Neilgherries station in India. My ideas were based upon the
natural features of the place, combined with its requirements.
It apparently produced nothing except potatoes. The soil was
supposed to be as good as it appeared to be. The quality of the
water and the supply were unquestionable; the climate could not
be surpassed for salubrity. There was a carriage road from
Colombo, one hundred and fifteen miles, and from Kandy,
forty-seven miles; the last thirteen being the Rambodde Pass,
arriving at an elevation of six thousand six hundred feet, from
which point a descent of two miles terminated the road to Newera
The station then consisted of about twenty private residences,
the barracks and officers' quarters, the resthouse and the
bazaar; the latter containing about two hundred native
Bounded upon all sides but the east by high mountains, the plain
of Newera Ellia lay like a level valley of about two miles in
length by half a mile in width, bordered by undulating grassy
knolls at the foot of the mountains. Upon these spots of
elevated ground most of the dwellings were situated, commanding a
view of the plain, with the river winding through its centre. The
mountains were clothed from the base to the summit with dense
forests, containing excellent timber for building purposes. Good
building-stone was procurable everywhere; limestone at a distance
of five miles.
The whole of the adjacent country was a repetition Of the Newera
Ellia plain with slight variations, comprising a vast extent of
alternate swampy plains and dense forests.
Why should this place lie idle? Why should this great tract of
country in such a lovely climate be untenanted and uncultivated?
How often I have stood upon the hills and asked myself this
question when gazing over the wide extent of undulating forest
and plain! How often I have thought of the thousands of starving
wretches at home, who here might earn a comfortable livelihood!
and I have scanned the vast tract of country, and in my
imagination I have cleared the dark forests and substituted
waving crops of corn, and peopled a hundred ideal cottages with a
Why should not the highlands Of Ceylon, with an Italian climate,
be rescued from their state of barrenness? Why should not the
plains be drained, the forests felled, and cultivation take the
place of the rank pasturage, and supplies be produced to make
Ceylon independent of other countries? Why should not schools be
established, a comfortable hotel be erected, a church be built?
In fact, why should Newera Ellia, with its wonderful climate, so
easily attainable, be neglected in a country like Ceylon,
proverbial for its unhealthiness?
These were my ideas when I first visited Newera Ellia, before I
had much experience in either people or things connected with the
island. My twelve months' tour in Ceylon being completed, I
returned to England delighted with what I had seen of Ceylon in
general, but, above all, with my short visit to Newera Ellia,
malgre its barrenness and want of comfort, caused rather by the
neglect of man than by the lack of resources in the locality.
CHAPTER II. Past Scenes - Attractions of Ceylon - Emigration -
Difficulties in Settling - Accidents and Casualties - An
Eccentric Groom - Insubordination - Commencement of Cultivation -
Sagacity of the Elephant - Disappointments - "Death" in the
Settlement - Shocking Pasturage - Success of Emigrants - "A Good
Knock- about kind of a Wife".
I had not been long in England before I discovered that my trip
to Ceylon had only served to upset all ideas of settling down
quietly at home. Scenes of former sports and places were
continually intruding themselves upon my thoughts, and I longed
to be once more roaming at large with the rifle through the
noiseless wildernesses in Ceylon. So delightful were the
recollections of past incidents that I could scarcely believe
that it lay within my power to renew them. Ruminating over all
that bad happened within the past year, I conjured up localities
to my memory which seemed too attractive to have existed in
reality. I wandered along London streets, comparing the noise
and bustle with the deep solitudes of Ceylon, and I felt like the
sickly plants in a London parterre. I wanted the change to my
former life. I constantly found myself gazing into gunmakers'
shops, and these I sometimes entered abstractedly to examine some
rifle exposed in the window. Often have I passed an hour in
boring the unfortunate gunmakers to death by my suggestions for
various improvements in rifles and guns, which, as I was not a
purchaser, must have been extremely edifying.
Time passed, and the moment at length arrived when I decided once
more to see Ceylon. I determined to become a settler at Newera
Ellia, where I could reside in a perfect climate, and
nevertheless enjoy the sports of the low country at my own will.
Thus, the recovery from a fever in Ceylon was the hidden cause of
my settlement at Newera Ellia. The infatuation for sport, added
to a gypsy-like love of wandering and complete independence, thus
dragged me away from home and from a much-loved circle.
In my determination to reside at Newera Ellia, I hoped to be able
to carry out some of those visionary plans for its improvement
which I have before suggested; and I trusted to be enabled to
effect such a change in the rough face of Nature in that locality
as to render a residence at Newera Ellia something approaching to
a country life in England, with the advantage of the whole of
Ceylon for my manor, and no expense of gamekeepers.
To carry out these ideas it was necessary to set to work; and I
determined to make a regular settlement at Newera Ellia,
sanguinely looking forward to establishing a little English
village around my own residence.
Accordingly, I purchased an extensive tract of land from the
government, at twenty shillings per acre. I engaged an excellent
bailiff, who, with his wife and daughter, with nine other
emigrants, including a blacksmith, were to sail for my intended
settlement in Ceylon.
I purchased farming implements of the most improved
descriptions, seeds of all kinds, saw-mills, etc., etc., and the
following stock: A half-bred bull (Durham and Hereford), a
well-bred Durham cow, three rams (a Southdown, Leicester and
Cotswold), and a thorough-bred entire horse by Charles XII.; also
a small pack of foxhounds and a favorite greyhound ("Bran").
My brother had determined to accompany me; and with emigrants,
stock, machinery, hounds, and our respective families, the good
ship "Earl of Hardwick," belonging to Messrs. Green & Co.,
sailed from London in September, 1848. I had previously left
England by the overland mail of August to make arrangements at
Newera Ellia for the reception of the whole party.
I had as much difficulty in making up my mind to the proper spot
for the settlement as Noah's dove experienced in its flight from
the ark. However, I wandered over the neighboring plains and
jungles of Newera Ellia, and at length I stuck my walking-stick
into the ground where the gentle undulations of the country would
allow the use of the plough. Here, then, was to be the
I had chosen the spot at the eastern extremity of the Newera
Ellia plain, on the verge of the sudden descent toward Badulla.
This position was two miles and a half from Newera Ellia, and was
far more agreeable and better adapted for a settlement, the land
being comparatively level and not shut in by mountains.
It was in the dreary month of October, when the south-west
monsoon howls in all its fury across the mountains; the mist
boiled up from the valleys and swept along the surface of the
plains, obscuring the view of everything, except the pattering
rain which descended without ceasing day or night. Every sound
was hushed, save that of the elements and the distant murmuring
roar of countless waterfalls; not a bird chirped, the dank white
lichens hung from the branches of the trees, and the wretchedness
of the place was beyond description.
I found it almost impossible to persuade the natives to work in
such weather; and it being absolutely necessary that cottages
should be built with the greatest expedition, I was obliged to
offer an exorbitant rate of wages. In about fortnight, however,
the wind and rain showed flags of truce in the shape of white
clouds set in a blue sky. The gale ceased, and the skylarks
warbled high in air, giving life and encouragement to the whole
scene. It was like a beautiful cool mid-summer in England.
I had about eighty men at work; and the constant click-clack of
axes, the felling of trees, the noise of saws and hammers and the
perpetual chattering o the coolies gave a new character to the
wild spot upon which I had fixed.
The work proceeded rapidly; neat white cottages soon appeared in
the forest; and I expected to have everything in readiness for
the emigrants on their arrival. I rented a tolerably good house
in Newera Ellia, and so far everything had progressed well.
The "Earl of Hardwick" arrived after a prosperous voyage, with
passengers and stock all in sound health; the only casualty on
board had been to one of the hounds. In a few days all started
from Colombo for Newera Ellia. The only trouble was, How to get
the cow up? She was a beautiful beast, a thorough-bred
"shorthorn," and she weighed about thirteen hundredweight. She
was so fat that a march of one hundred and fifteen miles in a
tropical climate was impossible. Accordingly a van was arranged
for her, which the maker assured me would carry an elephant. But
no sooner had the cow entered it than the whole thing came down
with a crash, and the cow made her exit through the bottom. She
was therefore obliged to start on foot in company with the bull,
sheep, horse and hounds, orders being given that ten miles a day,
divided between morning and evening, should be the maximum march
during the journey.
The emigrants started per coach, while our party drove up in a
new clarence which I had brought from England. I mention this,
as its untimely end will be shortly seen.
Four government elephant-carts started with machinery, farming
implements, etc., etc., while a troop of bullock-bandies carried
the lighter goods. I had a tame elephant waiting at the foot of
the Newera Ellia Pass to assist in carrying up the baggage and
There had been a vast amount of trouble in making all the
necessary arrangements, but the start was completed, and at
length we were all fairly off. In an enterprise of this kind many
disappointments were necessarily to be expected, and I had
prepared myself with the patience of Job for anything that might
happen. It was well that I had done so, for it was soon put to
Having reached Ramboddé, at the foot of the Newera Ellia Pass, in
safety, I found that the carriage was so heavy that the horses
were totally unable to ascend the pass. I therefore left it at
the rest-house while we rode up the fifteen miles to Newera
Ellia, intending to send for the empty vehicle in a few days.
The whole party of emigrants and ourselves reached Newera Ellia
in safety. On the following day I sent down the groom with a
pair of horses to bring up the carriage; at the same time I sent
down the elephant to bring some luggage from Ramboddé.
Now this groom, "Henry Perkes," was one of the emigrants, and he
was not exactly the steadiest of the party; I therefore cautioned
him to be very careful in driving up the pass, especially in
crossing the narrow bridges and turning the corners. He started
on his mission.
The next day a dirty-looking letter was put in my hand by a
native, which, being addressed to me, ran something in this
"Honord Zur "I'm sorry to hinform you that the carrige and osses
has met with a haccidint and is tumbled down a preccippice and
its a mussy as I didn't go too. The preccippice isn't very deep
bein not above heighy feet or therabouts - the hosses is got up
but is very bad - the carrige lies on its back and we can't stir
it nohow. Mr. _____ is very kind, and has lent above a hunderd
niggers, but they aint no more use than cats at liftin. Plese Zur
come and see whats to be done. "Your Humbel Servt, "H. PERKES."
This was pleasant, certainly - a new carriage and a pair of fine
Australian horses smashed before they reached Newera Ellia!
This was, however, the commencement of a chapter of accidents. I
went down the pass, and there, sure enough, I had a fine
bird's-eye view of the carriage down a precipice on the road
side. One horse was so injured that it was necessary to destroy
him; the other died a few days after. Perkes had been
intoxicated; and, while driving at a full gallop round a corner,
over went the carriages and horses.
On my return to Newera Ellia, I found a letter informing me that
the short-horn cow had halted at Amberpussé, thirty-seven miles
from Colombo, dangerously ill. The next morning another letter
informed me that she was dead. This was a sad loss after the
trouble of bringing so fine an animal from England; and I
regretted her far more than both carriage and horses together, as
my ideas for breeding some thorough-bred stock were for the
There is nothing like one misfortune for breeding another; and
what with the loss of carriage, horses and cow, the string of
accidents had fairly commenced. The carriage still lay
inverted; and although a tolerable specimen of a smash, I
determined to pay a certain honor to its remains by not allowing
it to lie and rot upon the ground. Accordingly, I sent the
blacksmith with a gang of men, and Perkes was ordered to
accompany the party. I also sent the elephant to assist in
battling the body of the carriage up the precipice.
Perkes, having been much more accustomed to riding than walking
during his career as groom, was determined to ride the elephant
down the pass; and he accordingly mounted, insisting at the same
time that the mahout should put the animal into a trot. In vain
the man remonstrated, and explained that such a pace would
injure the elephant on a journey; threats prevailed, and the
beast was soon swinging along at full trot, forced on by the
sharp driving-hook, with the delighted Perkes striding across its
neck, riding, an imaginary race.
On the following day the elephant-driver appeared at the front
door, but without the elephant. I immediately foreboded some
disaster, which was soon explained. Mr. Perkes had kept up the
pace for fifteen miles, to Ramboddé, when, finding that the
elephant was not required, he took a little refreshment in the
shape of brandy and water, and then, to use his own expression,
"tooled the old elephant along till he came to a standstill."
He literally forced the poor beast up the steep pass for seven
miles, till it fell down and shortly after died.
Mr. Perkes was becoming an expensive man: a most sagacious and
tractable elephant was now added to his list of victims; and he
had the satisfaction of knowing that he was one of the few men
in the world who had ridden an elephant to death.
That afternoon, Mr. Perkes was being wheeled about the bazaar in
a wheelbarrow, insensibly drunk, by a brother emigrant, who was
also considerably elevated. Perkes had at some former time lost
an eye by the kick of a horse, and to conceal the disfigurement
he wore a black patch, which gave him very much the expression of
a bull terrier with a similar mark. Notwithstanding this
disadvantage in appearance, he was perpetually making successful
love to the maidservants, and he was altogether the most
incorrigible scamp that I ever met with, although I must do him
the justice to say he was thoroughly honest and industrious.
I shortly experienced great trouble with the emigrants; they
could not agree with the bailiff, and openly defied his
authority. I was obliged to send two of them to jail as an
example to the others. This produced the desired effect, and we
shortly got regularly to work.
There were now about a hundred and fifty natives employed in the
tedious process of exterminating jungle and forest, not felling,
but regularly digging out every tree and root, then piling, and
burning the mass, and leveling the cleared land in a state to
receive the plough. This was very expensive work, amounting to
about thirty pounds per acre. The root of a large tree would
frequently occupy three men a couple of days in its extraction,
which, at the rate of wages, at one shilling per diem, was very
costly. The land thus cleared was a light sandy loam, about
eighteen inches in depth with a gravel subsoil, and was
considered to be far superior to the patina (or natural
grass-land) soil, which was, in appearance, black loam on the
higher ground and of a peaty nature in the swamps.
The bailiff (Mr. Fowler) was of opinion that the patina soil was
the best; therefore, while the large native force was engaged in
sweeping the forest from the surface, operations were commenced
according to agricultural rules upon the patinas.
A tract of land known as the "Moon Plains," comprising about two
hundred acres, was immediately commenced upon. As some persons
considered the settlement at Newera Ellia the idea of a lunatic,
the "Moon Plain" was an appropriate spot for the experiment. A
tolerably level field of twenty acres was fenced in, and the work
begun by firing the patina and burning off all the grass. Then
came three teams, as follows:
Lord Ducie's patent cultivator, drawn by an elephant; a skim,
drawn by another elephant, and a long wood plough, drawn by eight
The field being divided into three sections, was thus quickly
pared of the turf, the patent cultivator working admirably, and
easily drawn by the elephant.
The weather being very dry and favorable for the work, the turf
was soon ready for burning; and being piled in long rows, much
trouble was saved in subsequently spreading the ashes. This
being completed, we had six teams at work, two horse, two
bullock, and two elephant; and the ploughing was soon finished.
The whole piece was then sown with oats.
It was an interesting sight to see the rough plain yielding to
the power of agricultural implements, especially as some of these
implements were drawn by animals not generally seen in plough
harness at home.
The "cultivator," which was sufficiently large to anchor any
twenty of the small native bullocks, looked a mere nothing
behind the splendid elephant who worked it, and it cut through
the wiry roots of the rank turf as a knife peels an apple. It
was amusing, to see this same elephant doing the work of three
separate teams when the seed was in the ground. She first drew a
pair of heavy harrows; attached to these and following behind
were a pair of light harrows, and behind these came a roller.
Thus the land had its first and second harrowing at the same time
with the rolling.
This elephant was particularly sagacious; and her farming work
being completed, she was employed in making, a dam across a
stream. She was a very large animal, and it was beautiful to
witness her wonderful sagacity in carrying and arranging the
heavy timber required. The rough trunks of trees from the lately
felled forest were lying within fifty yards of the spot, and the
trunks required for the dam were about fifteen feet long and
fourteen to eighteen inches in diameter. These she carried in
her mouth, shifting her hold along the log before she raised it
until she had obtained the exact balance; then, steadying it with
her trunk, she carried every log to the spot, and laid them
across the stream in parallel rows. These she herself arranged,
under the direction of her driver, with the reason apparently of
a human being.
The most extraordinary part of her performance was the arranging
of two immense logs of red keenar (one of the heaviest woods).
These were about eighteen feet long and two feet in diameter, and
they were in tended to lie on either bank of the stream, parallel
to the brook and close to the edge. These she placed greatest
with the care in their exact positions, unassisted by any one.*
She rolled them gently over with her head, then with one foot,
and keeping her trunk on the opposite side of the log, she
checked its way whenever its own momentum would have carried it
into the stream. Although I thought the work admirably done, she
did not seem quite satisfied, and she presently got into the
stream, and gave one end of the log an extra push with her head,
which completed her task, the two trees lying exactly parallel to
each other, close to the edge of either bank.
*Directed of course by her driver.
Tame elephants are constantly employed in building stone
bridges, when the stones required for the abutments are too heavy
to be managed by crowbars.
Many were the difficulties to contend against when the first
attempts were made in agriculture at Newera Ellia. No sooner
were the oats a few inches above ground than they were subjected
to the nocturnal visits of elk and hogs in such numbers that they
were almost wholly destroyed.
A crop of potatoes of about three acres on the newly-cleared
forest land was totally devoured by grubs. The bull and stock
were nearly starved on the miserable pasturage of the country,
and no sooner bad the clover sprung up in the new clearings than
the Southdown ram got hoven upon it and died. The two remaining
rams, not having been accustomed to much high living since their
arrival at Newera Ellia, got pugnacious upon the clover, and in a
pitched battle the Leicester ram killed the Cotswold, and
remained solus. An epidemic appeared among the cattle, and
twenty-six fine bullocks died within a few days; five Australian
horses died during the first year, and everything seemed to be
going into the next world as fast is possible.
Having made up my mind to all manner of disappointments, these
casualties did not make much impression on me, and the loss of a
few crops at the outset was to be expected; but at length a
deplorable and unexpected event occurred.
The bailiff's family consisted of a wife and daughter; the former
was the perfection of a respectable farmer's wife, whose gentle
manners and amiable disposition bad gained her many friends; the
daughter was a very pretty girl of nineteen.
For some time Mrs. Fowler had been suffering from an illness of
long standing, and I was suddenly called to join in the mournful
procession to her grave. This was indeed a loss which I deeply
At length death left the little settlement, and a ray of sunshine
shone through the gloom which would have made many despond.
Fortune smiled upon everything. Many acres of forest were
cleared, and the crops succeeded each other in rapid succession.
I had, however, made the discovery that without manure nothing
would thrive. This had been a great disappointment, as much
difficulty lay in procuring the necessary item.
Had the natural pasturage been good, it would soon have been an
easy matter to procure any amount of manure by a corresponding
number of cattle; but, as it happened, the natural pasturage was
so bad that no beast could thrive upon it. Thus everything, even
grass-land, had to be manured; and, fortunately, a cargo of guano
having arrived in the island, we were enabled to lay down some
good clover and seeds.
The original idea of cultivation, driving the forests from the
neighborhood of Newera Ellia, was therefore dispelled. Every
acre of land must be manured, and upon a large scale at Newera
Ellia that is impossible. With manure everything will thrive to
perfection with the exception of wheat. There is neither lime
nor magnesia in the soil. An abundance of silica throws a good
crop of straw, but the grain is wanting: Indian corn will not
form grain from the same cause. On the other hand, peas, beans,
turnips, carrots, cabbages, etc., produce crops as heavy as those
of England. Potatoes, being the staple article of production,
are principally cultivated, as the price of twenty pounds per ton
yields a large profit. These, however, do not produce larger
crops than from four to six tons per acre when heavily manured;
but as the crop is fit to dig in three months from the day of
planting, money is quickly made.
There are many small farmers, or rather gardeners, at Newera
Ellia who have succeeded uncommonly well. One of the emigrants
who left my service returned to England in three years with three
hundred pounds; and all the industrious people succeed. I am now
without one man whom I brought out. The bailiff farms a little
land of his own, and his pretty daughter is married ; the others
are scattered here and there, but I believe all are doing well,
especially the blacksmith, upon whose anvil Fortune has smiled
By the bye, that same blacksmith has the right stamp of a "better
half" for an emigrant's wife. According to his own description
she is a "good knock-about kind of a wife." I recollect seeing
her, during a press of work, rendering assistance to her Vulcan
in a manner worthy of a Cyclop's spouse. She was wielding an
eighteen-pound sledgehammer, sending the sparks flying at every
blow upon the hot iron, and making the anvil ring again, while
her husband turned the metal at every stroke, as if attending on
Nasmyth's patent steam hammer.
It has been a great satisfaction to me that all the people whom I
brought out are doing well; even Henry Perkes, of
elephant-jockeying notoriety, is, I believe, prospering as a
groom in Madras.
CHAPTER III. Task Completed - The Mountain-top - Change in the
Face of Nature - Original Importance of Newera Ellia - "The Path
of a Thousand Princes" - Vestiges of Former Population -
Mountains - The Highlands of Ouva - Ancient Methods of Irrigation
- Remains of Aqueducts - The Vale of Rubies - Ancient Ophir -
Discovery of Gold-Mineral Resources - Native Blacksmiths.
In a climate like that of Newera Ellia, even twelve months make a
great change in the appearance of a new settlement; plants and
shrubs spring up with wonderful rapidity, and a garden of one
year's growth, without attendance, would be a wilderness.
A few years necessarily made a vast change in everything. All
kinds of experiments had been made, and those which succeeded
were persevered in. I discovered that excellent beer might be
made at this elevation (six thousand two hundred feet), and I
accordingly established a small brewery.
The solitary Leicester ram had propagated a numerous family, and
a flock of fat ewes, with their lambs, throve to perfection.
Many handsome young heifers looked very like the emigrant bull in
the face, and claimed their parentage. The fields were green;
the axe no longer sounded in the forests: a good house stood in
the centre of cultivation; a road of two miles in length cut
through the estate, and the whole place looked like an adopted
"home." All the trials and disappointments of the beginning were
passed away, and the real was a picture which I had ideally
contemplated years before. The task was finished.
In the interim, public improvements had not been neglected; an
extremely pretty church had been erected and a public
reading-room established; but, with the exception of one good
house which had been built, private enterprise had lain dormant.
As usual, from January to May, Newera Ellia was overcrowded with
months of visitors, and nearly empty during the other months of
All Ceylon people dread the wet season at Newera Ellia, which
continues from June to December.
I myself prefer it to what is termed the dry season, at which
time the country is burnt up by drought. There is never more
rain at Newera Ellia than vegetation requires, and not one-fourth
the quantity fills at this elevation, compared to that of the low
country. It may be more continuous, but it is of a lighter
character, and more akin to "Scotch mist." The clear days during
the wet season are far more lovely than the constant glare of the
summer months, and the rays of the sun are not so powerful.
There cannot be a more beautiful sight than the view of sunrise
from the summit of Pedrotallagalla, the highest mountain in
Ceylon, which, rising to the height of 8300 feet, looks down upon
Newera Ellia, some two thousand feet below upon one side, and
upon the interminable depths of countless ravines and valleys at
There is a feeling approaching the sublime when a solitary man
thus stands upon the highest point of earth, before the dawn of
day, and waits the first rising of the sun. Nothing above him
but the dusky arch of heaven. Nothing on his level but empty
space, - all beneath, deep beneath his feet. From childhood he
has looked to heaven as the dwelling of the Almighty, and he now
stands upon that lofty summit in the silence of utter solitude;
his hand, as he raises it above his head, the highest mark upon
the sea-girt land; his form above all mortals upon this land, the
nearest to his God. Words, till now unthought of, tingle in his
ears: "He went up into a mountain apart to pray." He feels the
spirit which prompted the choice of such a lonely spot, and he
stands instinctively uncovered, as the first ray of light spreads
like a thread of fire across the sky.
And now the distant hill-tops, far below, struggle through the
snowy sheet of mist, like islands in a fairy sea; and far, how
far his eye can scan, where the faint line upon the horizon
marks the ocean! Mountain and valley, hill and plain, with
boundless forest, stretch beneath his feet, far as his sight can
gaze, and the scene, so solemnly beautiful, gradually wakens to
his senses; the birds begin to chirp; the dew-drops fall heavily
from the trees, as the light breeze stirs from an apparent sleep;
a golden tint spreads over the sea of mist below; the rays dart
lightning-like upon the eastern sky; the mighty orb rises in all
the fullness of his majesty, recalling the words of Omnipotence:
"Let there be light!"
The sun is risen! the misty sea below mounts like a snowy wreath
around the hill-tops, and then, like a passing thought, it
vanishes. A glassy clearness of the atmosphere reveals the
magnificent view of Nature, fresh from her sleep; every dewy leaf
gilded by the morning sun, every rock glistening with moisture in
his bright rays, mountain and valley, wood and plain, alike
rejoicing in his beams.
And now, the sun being risen, we gaze from our lofty post upon
Newera Ellia, lying at our feet. We trace the river winding its
silvery course through the plain, and for many miles the
alternate plains and forests joining in succession.
How changed are some features of the landscape within the few
past years, and how wonderful the alteration made by man on the
face of Nature! Comparatively but a few years ago, Newera Ellia
was undiscovered - a secluded plain among the mountaintops,
tenanted by the elk and boar. The wind swept over it, and the
mists hung around the mountains, and the bright summer with its
spotless sky succeeded, but still it was unknown and unseen
except by the native bee-hunter in his rambles for wild honey.
How changed! The road encircles the plain, and carts are busy in
removing the produce of the land. Here, where wild forests
stood, are gardens teeming with English flowers; rosy-faced
children and ruddy countrymen are about the cottage doors;
equestrians of both sexes are galloping round the plain, and the
cry of the hounds is ringing on the mountain-side.
How changed! There is an old tree standing upon a hill, whose
gnarled trunk has been twisted by the winter's wind for many an
age, and so screwed is its old stem that the axe has spared it,
out of pity, when its companions were all swept away and the
forest felled. And many a tale that old tree could tell of
winter's blasts and broken boughs, and storms which howled above
its head, when all was wilderness around. The eagle has roosted
in its top, the monkeys have gamboled in its branches, and the
elephants have rubbed their tough flanks against its stem in
times gone by; but it now throws a shadow upon a Christian's
grave, and the churchyard lies beneath its shade. The
church-bell sounds where the elephant trumpeted of yore. The
sunbeam has penetrated where the forest threw its dreary shade,
and a ray of light has shone through the moral darkness of the
The completion of the church is the grand improvement in Newera
Although Newera Ellia was in the wild state described when first
discovered by Europeans, it is not to be supposed that its
existence was unknown to the Cingalese. The name itself proves
its former importance to the kings of Kandy, as Newera Ellia
signifies "Royal Plains." Kandy is termed by the Cingalese
"Newera," as it was the capital of Ceylon and the residence of
However wild the country may be, and in many portions unvisited
by Europeans, still every high mountain and every little plain in
this wilderness of forest is not only known to the natives of the
adjacent low country, but has its separate designation. There is
no feature of the country without its name, although the immense
tracts of mountain are totally uninhabited, and the nearest
villages are some ten or twelve miles distant, between two and
three thousand feet below.
There are native paths from village to village across the
mountains, which, although in appearance no more than deer-runs,
have existed for many centuries, and are used by the natives even
to this day. The great range of forest-covered Newera Ellia
mountains divides the two districts of Ouva and Kotmalie, and
these native paths have been formed to connect the two by an
arduous accent upon either side, and a comparatively level cut
across the shoulders of the mountains, through alternate plain
and forest, for some twenty-five miles. These paths would never
be known to Europeans were it not for the distant runs of the
hounds, in following which, after some hours of fatiguing
jungle-work, I have come upon a path. The notches on the
treestems have proved its artificial character, and by following
its course I have learnt the country.
There is not a path, stream, hill, or plain, within many miles of
Newera Ellia, that I do not know intimately, although, when the
character of the country is scanned by a stranger from some
mountain-top, the very act of traversing it appears impossible.
This knowledge has been gained by years of unceasing hunting, and
by perseveringly following up the hounds wherever they have gone.
From sunrise till nightfall I have often ploughed along through
alternate jungles and plains, listening eagerly for the cry of
the hounds, and at length discovering portions of the country
which I had never known to exist.
There is a great pleasure in thus working out the features of a
wild country, especially in an island like Ceylon, which, in
every portion, exhibits traces of former prosperity and immense
population. Even these uninhabited and chilly regions, up to an
elevation of seven thousand feet, are not blank pages in the book
of Nature, but the hand of man is so distinctly traced that the
keen observer can read with tolerable certainty the existence of
a nation long since passed away.
As I before mentioned, I pitched my settlement on the verge of
the highland, at the eastern extremity of the Newera Ellia plain,
where the high road commences a sudden descent toward Badulla,
thirty-three miles distant. This spot, forming, a shallow gap,
was the ancient native entrance to Newera Ellia from that side,
and the Cingalese designation for the locality is interpreted
"the Path of a Thousand Princes." This name assists in the proof
that Newera Ellia was formerly of some great importance. A far
more enticing name gives an interest to the first swampy portion
of the plain, some three hundred paces beyond, viz., "the Valley
Now, having plainly discovered that Newera Ellia was of some
great importance to the natives, let us consider in what that
value consisted. There are no buildings remaining, no ruins, as
in other parts of Ceylon, but a liquid mine of wealth poured from
these lofty regions. The importance of Newera Ellia lay first in
its supply of water, and, secondly, in its gems.
In all tropical countries the first principle of cultivation is
the supply of water, without which the land would remain barren.
In a rice-growing country like Ceylon, the periodical rains are
insufficient, and the whole system of native agriculture depends
upon irrigation. Accordingly, the mountains being the reservoirs
from which the rivers spring, become of vital importance to the
The principal mountains in Ceylon are Pedrotallagalla, eight
thousand two hundred and eighty feet; Kirigallapotta, seven
thousand nine hundred; Totapella, eight thousand feet; and Adam's
Peak, seven thousand seven hundred; but although their altitude
is so considerable, they do not give the idea of grandeur which
such an altitude would convey. They do not rise abruptly from a
level base, but they are merely the loftiest of a thousand peaks
towering from the highlands of Ceylon.
The greater portion of the highland district may therefore be
compared to one vast mountain; hill piled upon hill, and peak
rising over peak; ravines of immense depth, forming innumerable
conduits for the mountain torrents. Then, at the elevation of
Newera Ellia the heavings of the land appear to have rested, and
gentle undulations, diversified by plains and forests, extend for
some thirty miles. From these comparatively level tracts and
swampy plains the rivers of Ceylon derive their source and the
three loftiest peaks take their base; Pedrotallagalla rising from
the Newera Ellia Plain, "Totapella" and Kirigallapotta from the
The whole of the highland district is thus composed of a
succession of ledges of great extent at various elevations,
commencing with the highest, the Horton Plains, seven thousand
feet above the sea.
Seven hundred feet below the Horton Plain, the Totapella Plains
and undulating forests continue at this elevation as far as
Newera Ellia for about twenty miles, thus forming the second
Six miles to the west of Newera Ellia, at a lower elevation of
about nine hundred feet, the district of Dimboola commences, and
extends at this elevation over a vast tract of forest-covered
country, stretching still farther to the west, and containing a
small proportion of plain.
At about the same elevation, nine miles on the north of Newera
Ellia, we descend to the Elephant Plains; a beautiful tract of
fine grass country, but of small extent. This tract and that of
Dimboola form the third ledge.
Nine miles to the east of Newera Ellia, at a lower elevation of
one thousand five hundred feet, stretches the Ouva country,
forming the fourth ledge.
The features of this country are totally distinct from any other
portion of Ceylon. A magnificent view extends as far as the
horizon, of undulating open grassland, diversified by the rich
crops of paddy which are grown in each of the innumerable small
valleys formed by the undulations of the ground. Not a tree is
to be seen except the low brushwood which is scantily
distributed upon its surface. We emerge suddenly from the
forest-covered mountains of Newera Ellia, and, from a lofty point
on the high road to Badulla, we look down upon the splendid
panorama stretched like a waving sea beneath our feet. The road
upon which we stand is scarped out of the mountain's side. The
forest has ceased, dying off gradually into isolated patches and
long ribbon-like strips on the sides of the mountain, upon which
rich grass is growing, in vivid contrast to the rank and coarse
herbage of Newera Ellia, distant only five miles from the point
upon which we stand.
Descending until we reach Wilson's Plain, nine miles from Newera
Ellia, we arrive in the district of Ouva, much like the Sussex
Downs as any place to which it can be compared.
This district comprises about six hundred square miles, and forms
the fourth and last ledge of the high lands of Ceylon. Passes
from the mountains which form the wall-like boundaries of this
table-land descend to the low country in various directions.
The whole of the Ouva district upon the one side, and of the
Kotmalee district on the other side, of tilt Newera Ellia range
of mountains, are, with the exception of the immediate
neighborhood of Kandy and Colombo, the most populous districts of
This is entirely owing, to the never-failing supply of water
obtained from the mountains; and upon this supply the wealth and
prosperity of the country depend.
The ancient history of Ceylon is involved in much obscurity, but
nevertheless we have sufficient data in the existing traces of
its former population to form our opinions of the position and
power which Ceylon occupied in the Eastern Hemisphere when
England was in a state of barbarism. The wonderful remains of
ancient cities, tanks and water-courses throughout the island all
prove that the now desolate regions were tenanted by a multitude
- not of savages, but of a race long since passed away, full of
industry and intelligence.
Among the existing traces of former population few are more
interesting than those in the vicinity of Newera Ellia.
Judging from the present supply of water required for the
cultivation of a district containing a certain population, we can
arrive at a tolerably correct idea of the former population by
comparing the present supply of water with that formerly
Although the district of Ouva is at present well populated, and
every hollow is taken advantage of for the cultivation of paddy,
still the demand for water in proportion to the supply is
The system of irrigation has necessarily involved immense labor.
For many miles the water is conducted from the mountains through
dense forests, across ravines, round the steep sides of opposing
hills, now leaping into a lower valley into a reservoir, from
which it is again led through this arduous country until it at
length reaches the land which it is destined to render fertile.
There has been a degree of engineering skill displayed in forming
aqueducts through such formidable obstacles; the hills are lined
out in every direction with these proofs of industry, and their
winding course can be traced round the grassy sides of the steep
mountains, while the paddy-fields are seen miles away in the
valleys of Ouva stretched far beneath.
At least eight out of ten of these watercourses are dry, and the
masonry required in the sudden angles of ravines, has, in most
cases, fallen to decay. Even those water-courses still in
existence are of the second class; small streams have been
conducted from their original course, and these serve for the
supply of the present population.
>From the remains of deserted water-courses of the first class,
it is evident that more than fifty times the volume of water was
then required that is in use at present, and in the same ratio
must have been the amount of population. In those days rivers
were diverted from their natural channels; opposing hills were
cut through, and the waters thus were led into another valley to
join a stream flowing in, its natural bed, whose course,
eventually obstructed by a dam, poured its accumulated waters
into canals which branched to various localities. Not a river in
those times flowed in vain. The hill-sides were terraced out in
beautiful cultivation, which are now waving with wild vegetation
and rank lemon grass. The remaining traces of stone walls point
out the ancient boundaries far above the secluded valley now in
The nation has vanished, and with it the industry and
perseverance of the era.
We now arrive at the cause of the former importance of Newera
Ellia, or the "Royal Plains."
It has been shown that the very existence of the population
depended upon the supply of water, and that supply was obtained
from the neighborhood of Newera Ellia. Therefore, a king in
possession of Newera Ellia had the most complete command over his
subjects; he could either give or withhold the supply of water at
his pleasure, by allowing its free exit or by altering its
Thus, during rebellion, he could starve his people into
submission, or lay waste the land in time of foreign invasion. I
have seen in an impregnable position the traces of an ancient
fort, evidently erected to defend the pass to the main
water-course from the low country.
This gives us a faint clue to the probable cause of the
disappearance of the nation.
In time of war or intestine commotion, the water may have been
cut off from the low country, and the exterminating effects of
famine may have laid the whole land desolate. It is, therefore,
no longer a matter of astonishment that the present plain of
Newera Ellia should have received its appellation of the "Royal
Plain." In those days there was no very secure tenure to the
throne, and by force alone could a king retain it. The more
bloodthirsty and barbarous the tyrant, the more was he dreaded by
the awe-stricken and trembling population. The power of such a
weapon of annihilation as the command of the waters may be easily
conceived as it invested a king with almost divine authority in
the eyes of his subjects.
Now there is little doubt that the existence of precious gems at
Newera Ellia may have been accidentally discovered in digging the
numerous water-courses in the vicinity; there is, however, no
doubt that at some former period the east end of the plain,
called the "Vale of Rubies," constituted the royal "diggings."
That the king of Kandy did not reside at Newera Ellia there is
little wonder, as a monarch delighting in a temperature of 85
Fahrenheit would have regarded the climate of a mean temperature
of 60 Fahrenheit as we should that of Nova Zembla.
We may take it for granted, therefore, that when the king came to
Newera Ellia his visit had some object, and we presume that he
came to look at the condition of his water-courses and to
superintend the digging for precious stones; in the same manner
that Ceylon governors of past years visited Arippo during the
The "diggings" of the kings of Kandy must have been conducted on
a most extensive scale. Not only has the Vale of Rubies been
regularly turned up for many acres, but all the numerous plains
in the vicinity are full of pits, some of very large size and of
a depth varying from three to seventeen feet. The Newera Ellia
Plain, the Moonstone Plain, the Kondapallé Plain, the Elk Plains,
the Totapella Plains, the Horton Plains, the Bopatalava Plains,
the Augara Plains (translated "the Diggings"), and many others
extending over a surface of thirty miles, are all more or less
studded by deep pits formed by the ancient searchers for gems,
which in those days were a royal monopoly.
It is not to be supposed that the search for gems would have been
thus persevered in unless it was found to be remunerative; but it
is a curious fact that no Englishmen are ever to be seen at work
at this employment. The natives would still continue the search,
were they permitted, upon the "Vale of Rubies;" but I warned
them off on purchasing the land; and I have several good
specimens of gems which I have discovered by digging two feet
beneath the surface.
The surface soil being of a light, peaty quality, the stones,
from their greater gravity, lie beneath, mixed with a rounded
quartz gravel, which in ages past must have been subjected to the
action of running water. This quartz gravel, with its mixture of
gems, rests upon a stiff white pipe-clay.
In this stratum of gravel an infinite number of small, and for
the most part worthless, specimens of gems are found, consisting
of sapphire, ruby, emerald, jacinth, tourmaline, chrysoberyl,
zircon, cat's-eye, "moonstone," and "star-stone." Occasionally a
stone of value rewards the patient digger; but, unless he
thoroughly understands it, he is apt to pass over the gems of
most value as pieces of ironstone.
The mineralogy of Ceylon has hitherto been little understood. It
has often been suggested as the "Ophir" of the time of Solomon,
and doubtless, from its production of gems, it might deserve the
It has hitherto been the opinion of most writers on Ceylon that
the precious metals do not exist in the island; and Dr. Davy in
his work makes an unqualified assertion to that effect. But from
the discoveries recently made, I am of opinion that it exists in
very large quantities in the mountainous districts of the island.
It is amusing to see the positive assertions of a clever man
upset by a few uneducated sailors.
A few men of the latter class, who had been at the gold diggings
both in California and Australia, happened to engage in a ship
bound for Colombo. Upon arrival they obtained leave from the
captain for a stroll on shore, and they took the road toward
Kandy, and when about half-way it struck them, from the
appearance of the rocks in the uneven bed of a river, called the
Maha Oya, "that gold must exist in its sands." They had no
geological reason for this opinion; but the river happened to be
very like those in California in which they had been accustomed
to find gold. They accordingly set to work with a tin pan to
wash the sand, and to the astonishment of every one in Ceylon,
and to the utter confusion of Dr. Davy's opinions, they actually
The quantity was small, but the men were very sanguine of
success, and were making their preparations for working on a more
extensive scale, when they were all prostrated by jungle fever -
a guardian-spirit of the gold at Amberpussé, which will ever
effectually protect it from Europeans.
They all returned to Colombo, and, when convalescent, they
proceeded to Newera Ellia, naturally concluding that the gold
which existed in dust in the rivers below must be washed down
from the richer stores of the mountains.
Their first discovery of gold at Newera Ellia was on the 14th
June, 1854, on the second day of their search in that locality.
The first gold was found in the "Vale of Rubies."
I had advised them to make their first search in that spot for
this reason: that, as the precious stones had there settled in
the largest numbers, from their superior gravity, it was natural
to conclude that, if gold should exist, it would, from its
gravity, be somewhere below the precious stones or in their
>From the facility with which it has been discovered, it is
impossible to form an opinion as to the quantity or the extent to
which it will eventually be developed. It is equally impossible
to predict the future discoveries which may be made of other
minerals. It is well known that quicksilver was found at Cotta,
six miles from Colombo, in the year 1797. It was in small
quantities, and was neglected by the government, and no extended
search was prosecuted. The present search for gold may bring to
light mineral resources of Ceylon which have hitherto lain
The minerals proved to exist up to the present time are gold,
quicksilver, plumbago and iron. The two latter are of the finest
quality and in immense abundance. The rocks of Ceylon are
primitive, consisting of granite, gneiss and quartz. Of these
the two latter predominate. Dolomite also exists in large
quantities up to an elevation of five thousand feet, but not
beyond this height.
Plumbago is disseminated throughout the whole of both soil and
rocks in Ceylon, and may be seen covering the surface in the
drains by the road side, after a recent shower.
It is principally found at Ratnapoora and at Belligam, in large,
detached kidney-shaped masses, from four to twenty feet below the
surface. The cost of digging and the transport are the only
expenses attending it, as the supply is inexhaustible. Its
component parts are nineteen of carbon and one of iron.
It exists in such quantities, in the gneiss rocks that upon their
decomposition it is seen in bright specks like silver throughout.
This gneiss rock, when in a peculiar stage of decomposition, has
the appearance and consistency of yellow brick, speckled with
plumbago. It exists in this state in immense masses, and forms a
valuable buildingstone, as it can be cut with ease to any shape
required, and, though soft when dug, it hardens by exposure to
the air. It has also the valuable property of withstanding the
greatest heat; and for furnace building it is superior to the
best Stourbridge fire-bricks.
The finest quality of iron is found upon the mountains in various
forms, from the small iron-stone gravel to large masses of many
tons in weight protruding from the earth's surface.
So fine is that considered at Newera Ellia and the vicinity that
the native blacksmiths have been accustomed from time immemorial
to make periodical visits for the purpose of smelting the ore.
The average specimens of this produce about eighty per cent. of
pure metal, even by the coarse native process of smelting. The
operations are as follows:
Having procured the desired amount of ore, it is rendered as
small as possible by pounding with a hammer.
A platform is then built of clay, about six feet in length by
three feet in height and width.
A small well is formed in the centre of the platform, about
eighteen inches in depth and diameter, egg-shaped.
A few inches from the bottom of this well is an air-passage,
connected with a pipe and bellows.
The well is then filled with alternate layers of charcoal and
pulverized iron ore; the fire is lighted, and the process of
The bellows are formed of two inflated skins, like a double
"bagpipe." Each foot of the "bellows-blower" is strapped to one
skin, the pipes of the bellows being fixed in the air-hole of the
blast. He then works the skins alternately by moving his feet up
and down, being assisted in this treadmill kind of labor by the
elasticity of two bamboos, of eight or ten feet in length, the
butts of which, being firmly fixed in the ground, enable him to
retain his balance by grasping one with either hand. From the
yielding top of each bamboo, a string descends attached to either
big toe; thus the downward pressure of each foot upon the bellows
strains upon the bamboo top as a fish bears upon a fishing-rod,
and the spring of the bamboo assists him in lifting up his leg.
Without this assistance, it would be impossible to continue the
exertion for the time required.
While the "bellows-blower" is thus getting up a blaze, another
man attends upon the well, which he continues to feed alternately
with fresh ore and a corresponding amount of charcoal, every now
and then throwing in a handful of fine sand as a flux.
The return for a whole day's puffing and blowing will be about
twenty pounds weight of badly-smelted iron. This is subsequently
remelted, and is eventually worked up into hatchets, hoes,
betel-crackers, etc., etc. being of a superior quality to the
best Swedish iron.
If the native blacksmith were to value his time at only sixpence
per diem from the day on which he first started for the mountains
till the day that he returned from his iron-smelting expedition,
he would find that his iron would have cost him rather a high
price per hundredweight; and if he were to make the same
calculation of the value of time, he would discover that by the
time he had completed one axe he could have purchased ready made,
for one-third the money, an English tool of superior manufacture.
This, however, is not their style of calculation. Time has no
value, according to their crude ideas; therefore, if they want an
article, and can produce it without the actual outlay of cash, no
matter how much time is expended, they will prefer that method of
Unfortunately, the expense of transit is so heavy from Newera
Ellia to Colombo, that this valuable metal, like the fine timber
of the forests, must remain useless.
CHAPTER IV. Poverty of Soil - Ceylon Sugar - Fatality of Climate
- Supposed Fertility of Soil - Native Cultivation - Neglect of
Rice Cultivation - Abandoned Reservoirs - Former Prosperity -
Ruins of Cities - Pollanarua - The Great Dagoba - Architectural
Relics - The Rock Temple - Destruction of Population - Neglected
Capabilities - Suggestions for Increasing Population - Progress
of Pestilence - Deserted Villages - Difficulties in the
Cultivation of Rice - Division of Labor - Native Agriculture.
>From the foregoing description, the reader will have inferred
that Newera Ellia is a delightful place of residence, with a mean
temperature of 60 Fahrenheit, abounding with beautiful views of
mountain and plain and of boundless panoramas in the vicinity.
He will also have discovered that, in addition to the healthiness
of its climate, its natural resources are confined to its timber
and mineral productions, as the soil is decidedly poor.
The appearance of the latter has deceived every one, especially
the black soil of the patina, which my bailiff, on his first
arrival declared to be excellent. Lord Torrington, who is well
known as an agriculturist, was equally deceived. He was very
confident in the opinion that "it only required draining to
enable it to produce anything." The real fact is, that it is
far inferior to the forest-land, and will not pay for the
Nevertheless, it is my decided opinion that the generality of the
forest-land at Newera Ellia and the vicinity is superior to that
in other parts of Ceylon.
There are necessarily rich lots every now end then in such a
large extent as the surface of the low country; but these lots
usually lie on the banks of rivers which have been subjected to
inundations, and they are not fair samples of Ceylon soil. A
river's bank or a valley's bottom must be tolerably good even in
the poorest country.
The great proof of the general poverty of Ceylon is shown in the
failure of every agricultural experiment in which a rich soil is
Cinnamon thrives; but why? It delights in a soil of quartz sand,
in which nothing else would grow.
Cocoa-nut trees flourish for the same reason ; sea air, a sandy
soil and a dry subsoil are all that the cocoa-nut requires.
On the other hand, those tropical productions which require a
strong soil invariably prove failures, and sugar, cotton, indigo,
hemp and tobacco cannot possibly be cultivated with success.
Even on the alluvial soil upon the banks of rivers sugar does not
pay the proprietor. The only sugar estate in the island that can
keep its head above water is the Peredinia estate, within four
miles of Kandy. This, again, lies upon the bank of the Mahawelli
river, and it has also the advantage of a home market for its
produce, as it supplies the interior of Ceylon at the rate of
twenty-three shillings per cwt. upon the spot.
Any person who thoroughly understands the practical cultivation
of the sugar-cane can tell the quality of sugar that will be
produced by an examination of the soil. I am thoroughly
convinced that no soil in Ceylon will produce a sample of fine,
straw-colored, dry, bright, large-crystaled sugar. The finest
sample ever produced of Ceylon sugar is a dull gray, and always
moist, requiring a very large proportion of lime in the
manufacture, without which it could neither be cleansed nor
The sugar cane, to produce fine sugar, requires a rich, stiff,
and very dry soil. In Ceylon, there is no such thing as a stiff
soil existing. The alluvial soil upon the banks of rivers is
adapted for the growth of cotton and tobacco, but not for the
sugar-cane. In such light and moist alluvial soil the latter
will grow to a great size, and will yield a large quantity of
juice in which the saccharometer may stand well; but the degree
of strength indicated will proceed from an immense proportion of
mucilage, which will give much trouble in the cleansing during
boiling; and the sugar produced must be wanting in dryness and
There are several rivers in Ceylon whose banks would produce good
cotton and tobacco, especially those in the districts of
Hambantotte and Batticaloa; such as the "Wallawé," the "Yallé
river," the "Koombookanaar," etc.; but even here the good soil is
very limited, lying on either bank for only a quarter of a mile
in width. In addition to this, the unhealthiness of the climate
is so great that I am convinced no European constitution could
withstand it. Even the natives are decimated at certain seasons
by the most virulent fevers and dysentery.
These diseases generally prevail to the greatest extent during
the dry season. This district is particularly subject to severe
droughts; months pass away without a drop of rain or a cloud upon
the sky. Every pool and tank is dried up; the rivers forsake
their banks, and a trifling stream trickles over the sandy bed.
Thus all the rotten wood, dead leaves and putrid vegetation
brought down by the torrent during the wet season are left upon
the dried bed to infect the air with miasma.
This deadly climate would be an insurmountable obstacle to the
success of estates. Even could managers be found to brave the
danger, one season of sickness and death among the coolies would
give the estate a name which would deprive it of all future
supplies of labor.
Indigo is indigenous to Ceylon, but it is of an inferior quality,
and an experiment made in its cultivation was a total failure.
In fact, nothing will permanently succeed in Ceylon soil without
abundance of manure, with the exception of cinnamon and
cocoa-nuts. Even the native gardens will not produce a tolerable
sample of the common sweet potato without manure, a positive
proof of the general poverty of the soil.
Nevertheless, Ceylon has had a character for fertility.
Bennett, in his work entitled "Ceylon and its Capabilities,"
describes the island in the most florid terms, as "the most
important and valuable of all the insular possessions of the
imperial crown." Again he speaks of "its fertile soil, and
indigenous vegetable productions," etc., etc. Again: "Ceylon,
though comparatively but little known, is pre-eminent in natural
resources." All this serves to mislead the public opinion.
Agricultural experiments in a tropical country in a little garden
highly manured may be very satisfactory and very amusing.
Everything must necessarily come to perfection with great
rapidity; but these experiments are no proof of what Ceylon will
produce, and the popular idea of its fertility has been at length
proved a delusion.
It is a dangerous thing for any man to sit down to "make" a book.
If he has had personal experience, let him write a description of
those subjects which he understands; but if he attempts to "make"
a book, he must necessarily collect information from hearsay,
when he will most probably gather some chaff with his grain.
Can any man, when describing the "fertility" of Ceylon, be aware
that newly-cleared forest-land will only produce one crop of the
miserable grain called korrakan? Can he understand why the
greater portion of Ceylon is covered by dense thorny jungles? It
is simply this - that the land is so desperately poor that it
will only produce one crop, and thus an immense acreage is
required for the support of a few inhabitants; thus, from ages
past up to the present time, the natives have been continually
felling fresh forest and deserting the last clearing, which has
accordingly grown into a dense, thorny jungle, forming what are
termed the Chénars" of Ceylon.
So fully aware are the natives of the impossibility of getting
more than one crop out of the land that they plant all that they
require at the same time. Thus may be seen in a field of
korrakan (a small grain), Indian corn, millet and pumpkins, all
growing together, and harvested as they respectively become
The principal articles of native cultivation are rice, korrakan,
Indian corn, betel, areca-nuts, pumpkins, onions, garlic,
gingelly-oil seed, tobacco, millet, red peppers, curry seed and
The staple articles of Ceylon production are coffee cinnamon and
cocoa-nut oil, which are for the most part cultivated and
manufactured by Europeans.
The chief article of native consumption, "rice," should be an
export from Ceylon; but there has been an unaccountable neglect
on the part of government regarding the production of this
important grain, for the supply of which Ceylon is mainly
dependent upon importation. In the hitherto overrated general
resources of Ceylon, the cultivation of rice has scarcely been
deemed worthy of notice; the all-absorbing subject of coffee
cultivation has withdrawn the attention of the government from
that particular article, for the production of which the
resources of Ceylon are both naturally and artificially immense.
This neglect is the more extraordinary as the increase of coffee
cultivation involves a proportionate increase in the consumption
of rice, by the additional influx of coolie labor from the coast
of India; therefore the price and supply of rice in Ceylon become
questions of similar importance to the price of corn in England.
This dependence upon a foreign soil for the supply involves the
necessary fluctuations in price caused by uncertain arrivals and
precarious harvests; and the importance of an unlimited supply at
an even rate may be imagined when it is known that every native
consumes a bushel of rice per month, when he can obtain it.
Nevertheless, the great capabilities of Ceylon for the
cultivation of this all-important "staff of life" are entirely
neglected by the government. The tanks which afforded a supply
of water for millions in former ages now lie idle and out of
repair; the pelican sails in solitude upon their waters, and the
crocodile basks upon their shores; the thousands of acres which
formerly produced rice for a dense population are now matted over
by a thorny and impenetrable jungle. The wild buffalo,
descendant from the ancient stock which tilled the ground of a
great nation, now roams through a barren forest, which in olden
times was a soil glistening with fertility. The ruins of the
mighty cities tower high above the trees, sad monuments of
desolation, where all was once flourishing, and where thousands
dwelt within their walls.
All are passed away; and in the wreck of past ages we trace the
great resources of the country, which produced sufficient food to
support millions; while for the present comparatively small
population Ceylon is dependent upon imports.
These lakes, or tanks, were works of much art and of immense
labor for the purpose of reservoirs, from the supply of which the
requisite amount of land could be irrigated for rice
cultivation. A valley of the required extent being selected, the
courses of neighboring or distant rivers were conducted into it,
and the exit of the waters was prevented by great causeways, or
dams, of solid masonry, which extended for some miles across the
lower side of the valley thus converted into a lake. The exit of
the water was then regulated by means of sluices, from which it
was conducted by channels to the rice-lands.
These tanks are of various extent, and extremely numerous
throughout Ceylon. The largest are those of Minneria, Kandellai,
Padavellkiellom, and the Giant Tank. These are from fifteen to
twenty-five miles in circumference; but in former times, when the
sluices were in repair and the volume of water at its full
height, they must have been much larger.
In those days the existence of a reservoir of water was a certain
indication of a populous and flourishing neighborhood; and the
chief cities of the country were accordingly situated in those
places which were always certain of a supply. So careful were
the inhabitants in husbanding those liquid resources upon which
their very existence depended that even the surplus waters of one
lake were not allowed to escape unheeded. Channels were cut,
connecting a chain of tanks of slightly varying elevations, over
an extent of sixty or seventy miles of apparently flat country,
and the overflow of one tank was thus conducted in succession
from lake to lake, until they all attained the desired level.
In this manner was the greater portion of Ceylon kept in the
highest state of cultivation. From the north to the south the
island was thickly peopled, and the only portions which then
remained in the hands of nature were those which are now seen in
the state of primeval forest.
Well may Ceylon in those times have deserved the name of the
"Paradise of the East." The beauties which nature has showered
upon the land were heightened by cultivation; the forest-capped
mountains rose from a waving sea of green; the valleys teemed
with wealth; no thorny jungles gave a barren terminable prospect,
but the golden tints of ripening crops spread to the horizon.
Temples stood upon the hill-tops; cities were studded over the
land, their lofty dagobas and palaces reflected on the glassy
surface of the lakes, from which their millions of inhabitants
derived their food, their wealth and their very life.
The remains of these cities sufficiently attest the former amount
of population and the comparative civilization which existed at
that remote era among the progenitors of the present degraded
race of barbarians. The ruins of "Anaradupoora," which cover two
hundred and fifty-six square miles of ground, are all that remain
of the noble city which stood within its walls in a square of
sixteen miles. Some idea of the amount of population may be
arrived at, when we consider the present density of inhabitants
in all Indian houses and towns. Millions must, therefore, have
streamed from the gates of a city to which our modern London was
comparatively a village.
There is a degree of sameness in the ruins of all the ancient
cities of Ceylon which renders a description tedious. Those of
"Anaradupoora" are the largest in extent, and the buildings
appear to have been more lofty, the great dagoba having exceeded
four hundred feet in height; but the ruins do not exhibit the
same "finish" in the style of architecture which is seen in the
remains of other towns.
Among these, "Toparé," anciently called "Pollanarua," stands
foremost. This city appears to have been laid out with a degree
of taste which would have done credit to our modern towns.
Before its principal gate stretched a beautiful lake of about
fifteen miles circumference (now only nine). The approach to this
gate was by a broad road, upon the top of a stone causeway, of
between two and three miles in length, which formed a massive dam
to the waters of the lake which washed its base. To the right of
this dam stretched many miles of cultivation; to the left, on the
farther shores of the lake, lay park-like grass-lands, studded
with forest trees, some of whose mighty descendants still exist
in the noble "tamarind," rising above all others. Let us return
in imagination to Pollanarua as it once stood. Having arrived
upon the causeway in the approach to the city, the scene must
have been beautiful in the extreme: the silvery lake, like a
broad mirror, in the midst of a tropical park; the flowering
trees shadowing its waters; the groves of tamarinds sheltering
its many nooks and bays; the gorgeous blossoms of the pink lotus
resting on its glassy surface; and the carpet-like glades of
verdant pasturage, stretching far away upon the opposite shores,
covered with countless elephants, tamed to complete obedience.
Then on the right, below the massive granite steps which form the
causeway, the water rushing from the sluice carries fertility
among a thousand fields, and countless laborers and cattle till
the ground: the sturdy buffaloes straining at the plough, the
women, laden with golden sheaves of corn and baskets of fruit,
crowding along the palm-shaded road winding toward the city, from
whose gate a countless throng are passing and returning. Behold
the mighty city! rising like a snow-white cloud from the broad
margin of the waters. The groves of cocoa-nuts and palms of
every kind, grouped in the inner gardens, throwing a cool shade
upon the polished walls; the lofty palaces towering among the
stately areca trees, and the gilded domes reflecting a blaze of
light from the rays of a midday sun. Such let us suppose the
exterior of Pollanarua.
The gates are entered, and a broad street, straight as an arrow,
lies before us, shaded on either side by rows of palms. Here
stand, on either hand, the dwellings of the principal
inhabitants, bordering the wide space, which continues its
straight and shady course for about four miles in length. In the
centre, standing in a spacious circle, rises the great Dagoba,
forming a grand coup d'oeil from the entrance gate. Two hundred
and sixty feet from the base the Dagoba rears its lofty summit.
Two circular terraces, each of some twenty feet in height, rising
one upon the other, with a width of fifty feet, and a diameter at
the base of about two hundred and fifty, from the step-like
platform upon which the Dagoba stands. These are ascended by
broad flights of steps, each terrace forming a circular
promenade around the Dagoba; the whole having the appearance of
white marble, being covered with polished stucco ornamented with
figures in bas-relief. The Dagoba is a solid mass of brickwork in
the shape of a dome, which rises from the upper terrace. The
whole is covered with polished stucco, and surmounted by a gilded
spire standing upon a square pedestal of stucco, highly
ornamented with large figures, also in bas-relief; this pedestal
is a cube of about thirty feet, supporting the tall gilded spire,
which is surmounted by a golden umbrella.
Around the base of the Dagoba on the upper terrace are eight
small entrances with highly-ornamented exteriors. These are the
doors to eight similar chambers of about twelve feet square, in
each of which is a small altar and carved golden idol. This
Dagoba forms the main centre of the city, from which streets
branch off in all directions, radiating from the circular space
in which it stands.
The main street from the entrance-gate continues to the further
extremity of the city, being crossed at right angles in the
centre by a similar street, thus forming two great main streets
through the city, terminating in four great gates or entrances to
the town - north, south, east and west. Continuing along the
main street from the great Dagoba for about a mile, we face
another Dagoba of similar appearance, but of smaller dimensions,
also standing in a spacious circle. Near this rises the king's
palace, a noble building of great height, edged at the corner by
narrow octagon towers.
At the further extremity of this main street, close to the
opposite entrance- gate, is the rock temple, with the massive
idols of Buddha flanking the entrance.
This, from the form and position of the existing ruins, we may
conceive to have been the appearance of Pollanarua in its days of
prosperity. But what remains of its grandeur? It has vanished
like "a tale that is told;" it is passed away like a dream; the
palaces are dust; the grassy sod has grown in mounds over the
ruins of streets and fallen houses; nature has turfed them in one
common grave with their inhabitants. The lofty palms have faded
away and given place to forest trees, whose roots spring from the
crumbled ruins; the bear and the leopard crouch in the porches of
the temples; the owl roosts in the casements of the palaces; the
jackal roams among the ruins in vain; there is not a bone left
for him to gnaw of the multitudes which have passed away. There
is their handwriting upon the temple wall, upon the granite slab
which has mocked at Time; but there is no man to decipher it.
There are the gigantic idols before whom millions have bowed;
there is the same vacant stare upon their features of rock which
gazed upon the multitudes of yore; but they no longer stare upon
the pomp of the glorious city, but upon ruin, and rank weeds, and
utter desolation. How many suns have risen and how many nights
have darkened the earth since silence has reigned amidst the
city, no man can tell. No mortal can say what fate befell those
hosts of heathens, nor when they vanished from the earth. Day
and night succeed each other, and the shade of the setting sun
still falls from the great Dagoba; but it is the "valley of the
shadow of death" upon which that shadow falls like a pall over
the corpse of a nation.
The great Dagoba now remains a heap of mouldering brickwork,
still retaining its form, but shorn of all its beauty. The
stucco covering has almost all disappeared, leaving a patch here
and there upon the most sheltered portions of the building.
Scrubby brushwood and rank grass and lichens have for the most
part covered its surface, giving it the appearance rather of a
huge mound of earth than of an ancient building. A portion of
the palace is also standing, and, although for the most part
blocked up with ruins, there is still sufficient to denote its
former importance. The bricks, or rather the tiles, of which all
the buildings are composed, are of such an imperishable nature
that they still adhere to each other in large masses in spots
where portions of the buildings have fallen.
In one portion of the ruins there are a number of beautiful
fluted columns, with carved capitals, still remaining in a
perfect state. Among these are the ruins of a large flight of
steps; near them, again, a stone-lined tank, which was evidently
intended as a bath; and everything denotes the former comfort and
arrangement of a first-class establishment. There are
innumerable relics, all interesting and worthy of individual
attention, throughout the ruins over a surface of many miles, but
they are mostly overgrown with jungle or covered with rank grass.
The apparent undulations of the ground in all directions are
simply the remains of fallen streets and buildings overgrown in
like manner with tangled vegetation.
The most interesting, as being the most perfect, specimen, is the
small rock temple, which, being hewn out of the solid stone, is
still in complete preservation. This is a small chamber in the
face of an abrupt rock, which, doubtless, being partly a natural
cavern, has been enlarged to the present size by the chisel; and
the entrance, which may have been originally a small hole, has
been shaped into an arched doorway. The interior is not more
than perhaps twenty-five feet by eighteen, and is simply fitted
up with an altar and the three figures of Buddha, in the
positions in which he is usually represented -the sitting, the
reclining and the standing postures.
The exterior of the temple is far more interesting. The narrow
archway is flanked on either side by two inclined planes, hewn
from the face of the rock, about eighteen feet high by twelve in
width. These are completely covered with an inscription in the
old Pali language, which has never been translated. Upon the
left of one plain is a kind of sunken area hewn out of the rock,
in which sits a colossal figure of Buddha, about twenty feet in
height. On the right of the other plane is a figure in the
standing posture about the same height; and still farther to the
right, likewise hewn from the solid rock, is an immense figure in
the recumbent posture, which is about fifty-six feet in length,
or, as I measured it, not quite nineteen paces.
These figures are of a far superior class of sculpture to the
idols usually seen in Ceylon, especially that in the reclining
posture, in which the impression of the head upon the pillow is
so well executed that the massive pillow of gneiss rock actually
appears yielding to the weight of the head.
This temple is supposed to be coeval with the city, which was
founded about three hundred years before Christ, and is supposed
to have been in ruins for upward of six hundred years. The
comparatively recent date of its destruction renders its
obscurity the more mysterious, as there is no mention made of its
annihilation in any of the Cingalese records, although the city
is constantly mentioned during the time of its prosperity in the
native history of Ceylon. It is my opinion that its destruction
was caused by famine.
In those days the kings of Ceylon were perpetually at war with
each other. The Queen of the South, from the great city of
Mahagam in the Hambantotte district, made constant war with the
kings of Pollanarua. They again made war with the Arabs and
Malabars, who had invaded the northern districts of Ceylon; and
as in modern warfare the great art consists in cutting off the
enemy's supplies, so in those days the first and most decisive
blow to be inflicted was the cutting off the "water." Thus, by
simply turning the course of a river which supplied a principal
tank, not only would that tank lose its supply, but the whole of
the connected chain of lakes dependent upon the principal would
in like manner be deprived of water.
This being the case, the first summer or dry season would lay
waste the country. I have myself seen the lake of Minneria,
which is twenty-two miles in circumference, evaporate to the
small dimensions of four miles circuit during a dry season.
A population of some millions wholly dependent upon the supply of
rice for their existence would be thrown into sudden starvation
by the withdrawal of the water. Thus have the nations died out
like a fire for lack of fuel. This cause will account for the
decay of the great cities of Ceylon. The population gone, the
wind and the rain would howl through the deserted dwellings, the
white ants would devour the supporting beams, the elephants would
rub their colossal forms against the already tottering houses,
and decay would proceed with a rapidity unknown in a cooler
clime. As the seed germinates in a few hours in a tropical
country, so with equal haste the body of both vegetable and
animal decays when life is extinct. A perpetual and hurrying
change is visible in all things. A few showers, and the surface
of the earth is teeming with verdure; a few days of drought, and
the seeds already formed are falling to the earth, springing in
their turn to life at the approach of moisture. The same
rapidity of change is exhibited in their decay. The heaps of
vegetable putridity upon the banks of rivers, when a swollen
torrent has torn the luxuriant plants from the loosened soil, are
but the effects of a few hours' change. The tree that arrives at
maturity in a few years rots in as short a time when required for
durability: thus it is no mystery, that either a house or a city
should shortly fall to decay when the occupant is gone.
In like manner, and with still greater rapidity, is a change
effected in the face of nature. As the flowers usurp the place
of weeds under the care of man, so, when his hand is wanting, a
few short weeks bury them beneath an overwhelming mass of thorns.
In one year a jungle will conceal all signs of recent
cultivation. Is it, therefore, a mystery that Ceylon is covered
with such vast tracts of thorny jungle, now that her inhabitants
Throughout the world there is a perpetual war between man and
nature, but in no country has the original curse of the earth
been carried out to a fuller extent than in Ceylon: "thorns also
and thistles shall it bring forth to thee." This is indeed
exemplified when a few months neglect of once-cultivated land
renders it almost impassable, and where man has vanished from the
earth and thorny jungles have covered the once broad tracts of
A few years will thus produce an almost total ruin throughout a
deserted city. The air of desolation created by a solitude of
six centuries can therefore be easily imagined. There exists,
however, among the ruins of Pollanarua a curious instance of the
power of the smallest apparent magnitude to destroy the works of
man. At some remote period a bird has dropped the seed of the
banian tree (ficus Indicus) upon the decaying summit of a dagoba.
This, germinating has struck its root downward through the
brickwork, and, by the gradual and insinuating progress of its
growth, it has split the immense mass of building into two
sections; the twisted roots now appearing through the clefts,
while the victorious tree waves in exultation above the ruin: an
emblem of the silent growth of "civilization" which will overturn
the immense fabric of heathen superstition.
It is placed beyond a doubt that the rice-growing resources of
Ceylon have been suffered to lie dormant since the disappearance
of her ancient population; and to these neglected capabilities
the attention of government should be directed.
An experiment might be commenced on a small scale by the repair
of one tank - say Kandellai, which is only twenty-six miles from
Trincomalee on the highroad to Kandy. This tank, when the dam
and sluices were repaired, would rise to about nine feet above
its present level, and would irrigate many thousand acres.
The grand desideratum in the improvement of Ceylon is the
increase of the population; all of whom should, in some measure,
be made to increase the revenue.
The government should therefore hazard this one experiment to
induce the emigration of the industrious class of Chinese to the
shores of Ceylon. Show them a never-failing supply of water and
land of unlimited extent to be hid on easy terms, and the country
would soon resume its original prosperity. A tax of five per
cent. upon the produce of the land, to commence in the ratio of 0
per cent. for the first year, three per cent. for the second and
third, and the full amount of five for the fourth, would be a
fair and easy rent to the settler, and would not only repay the
government for the cost of repairing the tank, but would in a few
cars become a considerable source of revenue, in addition to the
increased value of the land, now worthless, by a system of
Should the first experiment succeed, the plan might be continued