Part 4 out of 5
In the mean time, the roar of water caused by the rapid passage
of so many large animals approached nearer and nearer. Palliser
and I had taken splendid positions, so as to command either side
of the herd on their arrival, with our gun-bearers squatted
around us behind our respective trees, while the non-sporting
village followers, who now began to think the matter rather
serious and totally devoid of fun, scrambled up various large
trees with ape-like activity.
A few minutes of glorious suspense, and the grand crash and roar
of broken water approached close at hand, and we distinguished
the mighty phalanx, headed by the largest elephants, bearing down
exactly upon us, and not a hundred yards distant. Here was luck!
There was a grim and very murderous smile of satisfaction on
either countenance as we quietly cocked the rifles and awaited
the onset: it was our intention to let half the herd pass us
before we opened upon them, as we should then be in the very
centre of the mass, and he able to get good and rapid shooting.
On came the herd in gallant style, throwing the spray from the
muddy water, and keeping a direct line for our concealed
position. They were within twenty yards, and we were still
undiscovered, when those rascally villagers, who had already
taken to the trees, scrambled still higher in their fright at the
close approach of the elephants, and by this movement they gave
immediate alarm to the elders of the herd.
Round went the colossal heads; right about was the word, and away
dashed the whole herd back toward the tank. In the same instant
we made a rush in among them, and I floored one of the big
leaders by a shot behind the ear, and immediately after, as bad
luck would have it, Palliser and I both took the same bird, and
down went another to the joint shots. Palliser then got another
shot and bagged one more, when the herd pushed straight out to
the deep lake, with the exception of a few elephants, who turned
to the right; after which Palliser hurried through the mud and
water, while I put on all steam in chase of the main body of the
herd. It is astonishing to what an amount a man can get up this
said steam in such a pitch of excitement. However, it was of no
use in this case, as I was soon hip-deep in water, and there was
an end to all pursuit in that direction.
It immediately struck me that the elephants would again retreat
to some other part of the forest after having made a circuit in
the tank. I accordingly waded back at my best speed to terra
firma, and then striking off to my right, I ran along parallel to
the water for about half a mile, fully expecting to meet the herd
once more on their entrance to the jungle. It was now that I
deplored the absence of my regular gun-bearers; the village
people had no taste for this gigantic scale of amusement, and the
men who carried my guns would not keep up; Fortunately, Carrasi,
the best gun-bearer, was there, and he had taken another loaded
rifle, after handing me that which he had carried at the onset.
I waited a few moments for the lagging men, and succeeded in
getting them well together just is I heard the rush of water, as
the elephants were again entering the jungle, not far in advance
of the spot upon which I stood.
This time they were sharp on the qui vive, and the bulls, being
well to the front, were keeping a bright look-out. It was in
vain that I endeavored to conceal myself until the herd had got
well into the forest; the gun-bearers behind me did not take the
same precaution, and the leading elephants both saw and winded us
when at a hundred paces distant. This time, however, they were
determined to push on for a piece of thicker jungle, which they
knew lay in this direction, and upon seeing me running toward
them, they did not turn back to the lake, but slightly altered
their course in an oblique direction, still continuing to push on
through the forest, while I was approaching at right angles with
Hallooing and screaming at them with all my might to tease some
of the old bulls into a charge, I ran at top speed through the
fine open forest, and soon got among a whole crowd of half-grown
elephants, at which I would not fire; there were a lot of fine
beasts pushing along in the front, and toward these I ran as hard
as I could go. Unfortunately, the herd seeing me so near and
gaining upon them, took to the ruse of a beaten fleet and
scattered in all directions; but I kept a few big fellows in
view, who were still pretty well together, and managed to
overtake the rearmost and knock him over. Up went the tail and
trunk of one of the leading bulls at the report of the shot, and
trumpeting shrilly, he ran first to one side, then to the other,
with his ears cocked and sharply turning his head to either side.
I knew this fellow had his monkey up, and that a little teasing
would bring him round for a charge. I therefore redoubled my
shouts and yells and kept on in full chase, as the elephants were
straining every nerve to reached a piece of thick jungle within a
couple of hundred paces.
I could not go any faster, and I saw that the herd, which was
thirty or forty yards ahead of me, would gain the jungle before I
could overtake them, as they were going at a slapping pace and I
was tolerably blown with a long run at full speed, part of which
had been through deep mud and water. But I still teased the
bull, who was now in such an excited state that I felt convinced
he would turn to charge.
The leading elephants rushed into the thick jungle, closely
followed by the others, and, to my astonishment, my excited
friend, who had lagged to the rear, followed their example. But
it was only for a few seconds, for, on entering the thick bushes,
he wheeled sharp round and came rushing out in full charge. This
was very plucky, but very foolish, as his retreat was secured
when in the thick jungle, and yet he courted further battle.
This he soon had enough of, as I bagged him in his onset with my
remaining barrel by the forehead shot.
I now heard a tremendous roaring, of elephants behind me, as
though another section was coming in from the tank; this I hoped
to meet. I therefore reloaded the empty rifles as quickly as
possible and ran toward the spot. The roaring still continued
and was apparently almost stationary; and what was my
disappointment, on arrival, to find, in place of the expected
herd, a young elephant of about four feet high, who, had missed
the main body in the retreat and was now roaring for his departed
friends! These young things are excessively foolhardy and
willful, and he charged me the moment I arrived. As I laid the
rifle upon the ground instead of firing at him, the rascally
gunbearers, with the exception of Carrasi, threw down the rifles
and ran up the trees like so many monkeys, just as I had jumped
on one side and caught the young elephant by the tail. He was
far too strong for me to hold, and, although I dug my heels into
the ground and held on with all my might, he fairly ran away with
me through the forest. Carrasi now came to my assistance and
likewise held on by his tail; but away we went like the tender to
a steam-engine; wherever the elephant went there we were dragged
in company. Another man now came to the rescue; but his
assistance was not of the slightest rise, as the animal was so
powerful and of such weight that he could have run away with half
a dozen of us unless his legs were tied. Unfortunately we had no
rope, or I could have secured him immediately, and seeing that we
had no power over him whatever, I was obliged to run back for one
of the guns to shoot him. On my return it was laughable to see
the pace at which he was running away with the two men, who were
holding on to his tail like grim death, the elephant not having
ceased roaring during the run. I accordingly settled him, and
returned to have a little conversation with the rascals were
still perched in the trees. I was extremely annoyed, as these
people, if they had possessed a grain of sense, might have tied
their long comboys (cotton cloths about eight feet long)
together, and we might have thus secured the elephant without
difficulty by tying his hind legs. It was a great loss, as he
was so tame that he might have been domesticated and driven to
Newera Ellia without the slightest trouble. All this was
occasioned by the cowardice of these villainous Cingalese, and
upon my lecturing one fellow on his conduct he began to laugh.
This was too much for any person's patience, and I began to look
for a stick, which the fellow perceiving he immediately started
off through the forest like a deer. He could run faster than I
could, being naked and having the advantage of bare feet; but I
knew I could run him down in the course of time, especially as,
being in a fright, he would soon get blown. We had a most
animated hunt through water, mud, roots of trees, open forest and
all kinds of ground, but I ran into him at last in heavy ground,
and I dare say he recollects the day of the month.
In the mean time, Palliser had heard the roaring of the elephant,
followed by the screaming and yelling of the coolies, and
succeeded by a shot. Shortly after he heard the prolonged yells
of the hunted villager while he was hastening toward my
direction. This combination of sounds naturally led him to
expect that some accident had occurred, especially as some of the
yells indicated that somebody had come to grief. This caused him
a very laborious run, and he arrived thoroughly blown, and with a
natural desire to kick the recreant villager who bad caused the
If the ground had been ever tolerably dry, we should have killed
a large number of elephants out of this herd; but, as it
happened, in such deep mud and water the elephants had it all
their own way, and our joint bag could not produce more than
seven tails; however, this was far more than I had expected when
I first saw the herd in such a secure position.
On our return to the village we found Palliser's horse terribly
gored by a buffalo, and we were obliged to leave him behind for
some weeks; fortunately, there was an extra pony, which served
him as a mount home, a distance of a hundred and fifty miles.
This has been a sad digression from our argument upon instinct
and reason, a most unreasonable departure from the subject; but
this is my great misfortune; so sure as I bring forward the name
of an elephant, the pen lays hold of some old story and runs
madly away in a day's shooting. I now have to speak of the
reasoning powers of the canine race, and I confess my weakness.
I feel perfectly certain that the pen will serve me the same
trick, and that it will be plunging through a day's hunting to
prove the existence of reason in a hound and the want of it in
the writer. Thrash me, good critics; I deserve it; lay it on
with an unsparing thong. I am humiliated, but still willful; I
know my fault, but still continue it.
Let us think; what was the subject? Reason in dogs, to be sure.
Well, every one who has a dog must admit that he has a strong
share of reason; only observe him as he sits by your side and
wistfully watches the endless transit of piece after piece, bit
after bit, as the fork is conveying delicate morsels to your
mouth. There is neither hope nor despair exhibited in his
countenance - he knows those pieces are not for him. There is an
expression of impatience about the eye as he scans your features,
which seems to say, "Greedy fellow! what, not one bit for me?"
Only cut a slice from the exterior of the joint - a piece that he
knows you will not eat - and watch, the change and eagerness of
his expression; he knows as well as you do that this is intended
for him - he has reasoned upon it.
This is the simple and every-day performance of a common
house-dog. Observe the pointers in a field of close-cut stubble
- two well-broken, reasonable old dogs. The birds are wild, and
have been flushed several times during the day, and the old dog
has winded them now in this close-cut stubble, from which he
knows the covey will rise at a long range. Watch his expression
of intense and yet careful excitement, as he draws upon his game,
step by step, crouching close to the ground, and occasionally
moving his head slowly round to see if his master is close up.
Look at the bitch at the other end of the field, backing him like
a statue, while the old dog still creeps on. Not a step farther
will he move: his lower jaw trembles with excitement; the guns
advance to a line with his shoulder; up they rise,
whiz-z-z-z-z-z-z! - bang! bang! See how the excitement of the
dog is calmed as he falls to the down charge, and afterward with
what pleasure he follows up and stands to the dead birds. If
this is not reason, there is no such thing in existence.
Again, look at the sheep-dog. What can be more beautiful than to
watch the judgement displayed by these dogs in driving a large
flock of sheep? Then turn to the Mont St. Bernard dog and the
Newfoundland, and countless instances could be produced as proofs
of their wonderful share of reasoning power.
The different classes of hounds, being kept in kennels, do not
exhibit this power to the same amount as many others, as they are
not sufficiently domesticated, and their intercourse with man is
confined to the one particular branch of hunting; but in this
pursuit they will afford many striking proofs that they in like
manner with their other brethren, are not devoid of the
Poor old "Bluebeard!" - he had an almost human share of
understanding, but being simply a hound, this was confined to elk
hunting; he was like the foxhunter of the last century, whose
ideas did not extend beyond his sport; but in this he was
Bluebeard was a foxhound, bred at Newera Ellia, in 1847, by F. J.
Templer, Esq. He subsequently belonged to F. H. Palliser, Esq.,
who kindly added him to my kennel.
He was a wonderful hound on a cold scent, and so thoroughly was
he versed in all the habits of an elk that he knew exactly where
to look for one. I am convinced that he knew the date of a track
from its appearance, as I have constantly seen him strove his
nose into the deep impression, to try for a scent when the track
was some eight or ten hours old.
It was a curious thing to watch his cleverness at finding on a
patina. In most of the plains in the neighborhood of Newera Ellia
a small stream flows through the centre. To this the elk, who
are out feeding in the night, are sure to repair at about four in
the morning for their last drink, and I usually try along the
banks a little after daylight for a find, where the scent is
fresh and the tracks are distinctly visible.
While every hound has been eagerly winding the scent upon the
circuitous route which the elk has made in grazing, Bluebeard
would never waste his time in attempting to follow the
innumerable windings, but, taking a fresh cast, he would
invariably strike off to the jungle and try along the edge, until
he reached the spot at which the elk had entered. At these times
he committed the only fault which he possessed (for an
elk-hound); he would immediately open upon the scent, and, by
alarming the elk at too great a distance, would give him too long
a start. Nevertheless, he made up for this by his wonderful
correctness and knowledge of his game, and if the run was
increased in length by his early note, we nevertheless ran into
our game at last.
Some years ago he met with an accident which partly deprived him
of the use of one of his bind legs; this made the poor old fellow
very slow, but it did not interfere with his finding and hunting,
although the rest of the pack would shoot ahead, and the elk was
frequently brought to bay and killed before old Bluebeard had
finished his hunt; but he was never thrown out, and was sure to
come up at last; and if the pack were at fault during the run, he
was the hound to show them the right road on his arrival.
I once saw an interesting proof of his reasoning powers during a
long and difficult hunt.
I was hunting for a few days at the Augora patinas, accompanied
by Palliser. These are about five hundred feet lower than Newera
Ellia, and are situated in the district of Dimboola. They are
composed of undulating knolls of fine grass, with a large and
deep river flowing through the centre. These patinas are
surrounded by wooded hills of good open jungle.
We had found upon the patina at break of day, and the whole pack
had gone off in full cry; but the whereabout was very uncertain,
and having long lost all sound of the hounds we wandered here and
there to no purpose. At length we separated, and took up our
stations upon different knolls to watch the patina and to listen.
The hill upon which I stood commanded an extensive view of the
patina, while the broad river flowed at the base, after its exit
from the jungle. I had been only a few minutes at my post when I
observed, at about six hundred yards distant, a strong ripple in
the river like the letter V, and it immediately struck me that an
elk had come down the river from the jungle and was swimming down
the stream. This was soon proved to be the case, as I saw the
head of a doe elk in the acute angle of the ripple.
I had the greyhounds with me, "Lucifer," "Lena," "Hecate" and
"Bran," and I ran down the hill with these dogs, hoping to get
them a view of her as she landed on the patina. I had several
bogs and hollows to cross, and I accordingly lost sight of the
elk; but upon arriving at the spot where I imagined the elk would
land, I saw her going off across the patina, a quarter of a mile
away. The greyhounds saw her, and away they flew over the short
grass, while the pack began to appear from the jungle, having
come down to the halloo that I had given on first seeing the elk
swimming down the river.
The elk seemed determined to give a beautiful course for, instead
of pushing straight for the jungle, she made a great circuit on
the patina, as though in the endeavor to make once more for the
river. The long-legged ones were going at a tremendous pace,
and, being fresh, they rapidly overhauled her; gradually the
distance between them diminished, and at length they had a fair
course down a gentle inclination which led toward the river. Here
the greyhounds soon made an end of the hunt; their game was
within a hundred yards, going at top speed: but it was all up
with the elk; the pace was too good, and they ran into her and
pulled her down just as the other hounds had come down upon my
We were cutting up the elk, when we presently heard old
Bluebeard's voice far away in the jungle, and, thinking that he
might perhaps be running another elk, we ran to a hill which
overlooked the river and kept a bright look-out. We soon
discovered that he was true upon the same game, and we watched
his plan of hunting, being anxious to see whether he could hunt
up an elk that had kept to water for so long a time.
On his entrance to the patina by the river's bank he immediately
took to water and swam across the stream; here be carefully
hunted the edge for several hundred yards down the river, but,
finding nothing, he returned to the jungle at the point from
which the river flowed. Here he again took to water, and,
swimming back to the bank from which he had at first started, he
landed and made a vain cast down the hollow. Back he returned
after his fruitless search, and once more he took to water. I
began to despair of the possibility of his finding; but the true
old bound was now swimming steadily down the stream, crossing and
recrossing from either bank, and still pursuing his course down
the river. At length he neared the spot where I knew that the
elk had landed, and we eagerly watched to see if he would pass
the scent, as he was now several yards from the bank. He was
nearly abreast of the spot, when he turned sharp in and landed in
the exact place; his deep and joyous note rung across the
patinas, and away went the gallant old hound in full cry upon the
scent, while I could not help shouting, "Hurrah for old
Bluebeard!" In a few minutes he was by the side of the dead elk -
a specimen of a true hound, who certainly had exhibited a large
share of "reason."
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.
Among the inexperienced there is a prevalent idea connected with
tropical forests and jungles that they teem with wild fruits,
which Nature is supposed to produce spontaneously. Nothing can
be more erroneous than such an opinion; even edible berries are
scantily supplied by the wild shrubs and trees, and these, in
lieu of others of superior quality, are sometimes dignified by
the name of fruit.
The guava and the katumbillé are certainly very numerous
throughout the Ouva district; the latter being a dark red,
rough-skinned kind of plum, the size of a greengage, but free
from stone. It grows upon a thorny bush about fifteen feet high;
but the fruit is too acid to please most palates; the extreme
thirst produced by a day's shooting in a burning sun makes it
refreshing when plucked from the tree; but it does not aspire to
the honor of a place at a table, where it can only appear in the
form of red currant jelly, for which it is an undeniable
Excellent blackberries and a very large and full-flavored black
raspberry grow at Newera Ellia; likewise the Cape gooseberry,
which is of the genus "solanum." The latter is a round yellow
berry, the size of a cherry; this is enclosed in a loose bladder,
which forms an outer covering. The flavor is highly aromatic,
but, like most Ceylon wild fruits, it is too acid.
The sweetest and the best of the jungle productions is the
"morra." This is a berry about the size of a small nutmeg, which
grows in clusters upon a large tree of rich dark foliage. The
exterior of the berry is brown and slightly rough; the skin, or
rather the case, is brittle and of the consistence of an
egg-shell; this, when broken and peeled off, exposes a
semi-transparent pulp, like a skinned grape in appearance and in
flavor. It is extremely juicy but, unfortunately, a large black
stone occupies the centre and at least one-half of the bulk of
the entire fruit.
The jambo apple is a beautiful fruit in appearance being the
facsimile of a snow-white pear formed of wax, with a pink blush
upon one side. Its exterior beauty is all that it can boast of,
as the fruit itself is vapid and tasteless. In fact, all wild
fruits are, for the most part, great exaggerations. I have seen
in a work on Ceylon the miserable little acid berry of the
rattan, which is no larger than a currant, described as a fruit;
hawthorn berries might, with equal justice, be classed among the
fruits of Great Britain.
I will not attempt to describe these paltry productions in
detail; there is necessarily a great variety throughout the
island, but their insignificance does not entitle them to a
description which would raise them far above their real merit.
It is nevertheless most useful to a sportsman in Ceylon to
possess a sufficient stock of botanical information for his
personal convenience. A man may be lost in the jungles or hard
up for provisions in some out-of-the-way place, where, if he has
only a saucepan, he can generally procure something eatable in
the way of herbs. It is not to be supposed, however, that he
would succeed in making a good dinner; the reader may at any time
procure something similar in England by restricting himself to
nettle-tops - an economical but not a fattening vegetable.
Anything, however simple, is better than an empty stomach, and
when the latter is positively empty it is wonderful how the
appetite welcomes the most miserable fare.
At Newera Ellia the jungles would always produce a supply for a
soupe maigré. There is an esculent nillho which grows in the
forest in the bottoms of the swampy ravines. This is a most
succulent plant, which grows to the height or length of about
seven feet, as its great weight keeps it close to the ground. It
is so brittle that it snaps like a cucumber when struck by a
stick, and it bears a delicate, dark-blue blossom. When stewed,
it is as tender as the vegetable marrow, but its flavor
approaches more closely to that of the cucumber. Wild ginger
also abounds in the forests. This is a coarse variety of the
"amomum zintgiber." The leaves, which spring from the ground,
attain a height of seven or eight feet; a large, crimson, fleshy
blossom also springs from the ground in the centre of the
surrounding leaf-stems. The root is coarse, large, but wanting
in fine flavor, although the young tubers are exceedingly tender
and delicate. This is the favorite food of elephants on the
Ceylon mountains; but it is a curious fact that they invariably
reject the leaves, which any one would suppose would be their
choicest morsel, as they are both succulent and plentiful. The
elephants simply use them as a handle for tearing up the roots,
which they bite off and devour, throwing the leaves on one side.
The wild parsnip is also indigenous to the plains on the
mountains. As usual with most wild plants of this class, it has
little or no root, but runs to leaf. The seeds are very highly
flavored, and are gathered by the natives for their curries.
There is, likewise, a beautiful orchidaceous plant, which is very
common throughout the patinas on the mountains, and which
produces the very finest quality of arrowroot. So much is this
valued in the Nepaul country in India, that I have been assured
by a person well acquainted with that locality, that this
quality of arrowroot is usually sold for its weight in rupees.
In vain have I explained this to the Cingalese; they will not
attempt its preparation because their fathers did not eat it; and
yet these same men will walk forty miles to cut a bundle of
sticks of the galla gaha tree for driving buffaloes! -their
fathers did this, and therefore they do it. Thus this beautiful
plant is only appreciated by those whose instinct leads them to
its discovery. The wild hogs plough up the patinas and revel in
this delicate food. The plant itself is almost lost in the rank
herbage of the patinas, but its beautiful pink, hyacinth-shaped
blossom attracts immediate attention. Few plants combine beauty
of appearance, scent and utility, but this is the perfection of
each quality -nothing can surpass the delicacy and richness of
its perfume. It has two small bulbs about an inch below the
surface of the earth, and these, when broken, exhibit a highly
granulated texture, semi-transparent like half-boiled sago. From
these bulbs the arrowroot is produced by pounding them in water
and drying the precipitated farina in the sun.
There are several beautiful varieties of orchidaceous plants upon
the mountains; among others, several species of the dendrobium.
Its rich yellow flowers hang in clusters from a withered tree,
the only sign of life upon a giant trunk decayed, like a wreath
upon a grave. The scent of this flower is well known as most
delicious; one plant will perfume a large room.
There is one variety of this tribe in the neighborhood of Newera
Ellia, which is certainly unknown in English collections. It
blossoms in April; the flowers are a bright lilac, and I could
lay my band upon it at any time, as I have never seen it but in
one spot, where it flourishes in profusion. This is about
fourteen miles from Newera Ellia, and I have never yet collected
a specimen, as I have invariably been out hunting whenever I have
met with it.
The black pepper is also indigenous throughout Ceylon. At
Newera Ellia the leaves of this vine are highly pungent, although
at this elevation it does not produce fruit. A very short
distance toward a lower elevation effects a marked change, as
within seven miles it fruits in great perfection.
At a similar altitude, the wild nutmeg is very common throughout
the forests. This fruit is a perfect anomaly. The tree is
entirely different to that of the cultivated species. The latter
is small, seldom exceeding the size of an apple-tree, and bearing
a light green myrtle-shaped leaf, which is not larger than that
of a peach. The wild species, on the contrary, is a large forest
tree, with leaves equal in size to those of the horse chestnut;
nevertheless, it produces a perfect nutmeg. There is the outer
rind of fleshy texture, like an unripe peach; enclosed within is
the nutlike shell, enveloped in the crimson network of mace, and
within the shell is the nutmeg itself. All this is perfect
enough, but, alas, the grand desideratum is wanting - it has no
flavor or aroma whatever.
It is a gross imposition on the part of Nature; a most stingy
trick upon the public, and a regular do. The mace has no taste
whatever, and the nutmeg has simply a highly acrid and pungent
taste, without any spicy flavor, but merely abounding in a rank
and disagreeable oil. The latter is so plentiful that I am
astonished it has not been experimented upon, especially by the
natives, who are great adepts in expressing oils from many
Those most common in Ceylon are the cocoa-nut and gingerly oils.
The former is one of the grand staple commodities of the island;
the latter is the produce of a small grain, grown exclusively by
But, in addition to these, there are various other oils
manufactured by the Cingalese. These are the cinnamon oil,
castor oil, margosse oil, mee oil, kenar oil, meeheeria oil; and
both clove and lemon-grass oil are prepared by Europeans.
The first, which is the cinnamon oil, is more properly a kind of
vegetable wax, being of the consistence of stearine. This is
prepared from the berries of the cinnamon shrubs which are boiled
in water until the catty substance or so-called oil, floats upon
the surface; this is then skimmed off and, when a sufficient
quantity is collected, it is boiled down until all watery
particles are evaporated, and the melted fat is turned out into a
shallow vessel to cool. It has a pleasant, though , perhaps, a
rather faint aromatic smell, and is very delicious as an adjunct
in the culinary art. In addition to this it possesses gentle
aperient properties, which render it particularly wholesome.
Castor oil is also obtained by the natives by boiling, and it is
accordingly excessively rank after long keeping. The castor-oil
plant is a perfect weed throughout Ceylon, being one of the few
useful shrubs that will flourish in such poor soil without
Margosse oil is extracted from the fruit of a tree of that name.
It has an extremely fetid and disagreeable smell, which will
effectually prevent the contact of flies or any other insect. On
this account it is a valuable preventive to the attacks of flies
upon open wounds, in addition to which it possesses powerful
Mee oil is obtained from the fruit of the mee tree. This fruit
is about the size of an apricot, and is extremely rich in its
produce; but the oil is of a coarse description, and is simply
used by the natives for their rude lamps. Kenar oil and
meeheeria oil are equally coarse, and are quite unfit for any but
Lemon-grass oil, which is known in commerce as citronella oil, is
a delightful extract from the rank lemon grass, which covers most
of' the hillsides in the more open districts of Ceylon. An
infusion of the grass is subsequently distilled; the oil is then
discovered on the surface. This is remarkably pure, with a most
pungent aroma. If rubbed upon the skin, it will prevent the
attacks of insects while its perfume remains; but the oil is so
volatile that the scent quickly evaporates and the spell is
Clove oil is extracted from the leaves of the cinnamon tree, and
not from cloves, as its name would imply. The process is very
similar to that employed in the manufacture of citronella oil.
Cinnamon is indigenous throughout the jungles of Ceylon. Even at
the high elevation of Newera Ellia, it is one of the most common
woods, and it grows to the dimensions of a forest tree, the trunk
being usually about three feet in circumference. At Newera Ellia
it loses much of its fine flavor, although it is still highly
This tree flourishes in a white quartz sandy soil, and in its
cultivated state is never allowed to exceed the dimensions of a
bush, being pruned down close to the ground every year. This
system of close cutting induces the growth of a large number of
shoots, in the same manner that withes are produced in England.
Every twelve months these shoots attain the length of six or
seven feet, and the thickness of a man's finger. In the interim,
the only cultivation required is repeated cleaning. The whole
plantation is cut down at the proper period, and the sticks are
then stripped of their bark by the peelers. These men are called
"chalias," and their labor is confined to this particular branch.
The season being over, they pass the remaining portion of the
year in idleness, their earnings during one crop being sufficient
to supply their trifling wants until the ensuing harvest.
Their practice in this employment naturally renders them
particularly expert, and in far less time than is occupied in the
description they run a sharp knife longitudinally along a stick,
and at once divest it of the bark. On the following day the
strips of bark are scraped so as entirely to remove the outer
cuticle. One strip is then laid within the other, which, upon
becoming dry, contract, and form a series of enclosed pipes. It
is subsequently packed in bales, and carefully sewed up in double
sacks for exportation.
The essential oil of cinnamon is usually made from the refuse of
the crop; but the quantity produced, in proportion to the weight
of cinnamon, is exceedingly small, being about five ounces of oil
to half a hundred-weight of the spice.
Although the cinnamon appears to require no more than a common
quartz sand for its production, it is always cultivated with the
greatest success where the subsoil is light, dry and of a loamy
The appearance of the surface soil is frequently very deceitful.
It is not uncommon to see a forest of magnificent trees growing
in soil of apparently pure sand, which will not even produce the
underwood with which Ceylon forests are generally choked. In such
an instance the appearance of the trees is unusually grand as
their whole length and dimensions are exposed to view, and their
uniting crowns throw a sombre shade over the barren ground
beneath. It is not to be supposed that these mighty specimens of
vegetation are supported by the poor sandy soil upon the surface;
their tap-roots strike down into some richer stratum, from which
their nourishment is derived.
These forests are not common in Ceylon; their rarity accordingly
enhances their beauty. The largest English oak would be a mere
pigmy among the giants of these wilds, whose stature is so
wonderful that the eye never becomes tired of admiration. Often
have I halted on my journey to ride around and admire the
prodigious height and girth of these trees. Their beautiful
proportions render them the more striking; there are no gnarled
and knotty stems, such as we are accustomed to admire in the
ancient oaks and beeches of England, but every trunk rises like a
mast from the earth, perfectly free from branches for ninety or a
hundred feet, straight as an arrow, each tree forming a dark
pillar to support its share of the rich canopy above, which
constitutes a roof perfectly impervious to the sun. It is
difficult to guess the actual height of these forest trees; but I
have frequently noticed that it is impossible to shoot a bird on
the higher branches with No. 5 shot.
It is much to be regretted that the want of the means of
transport renders the timber of these forests perfectly
valueless. From age to age these magnificent trees remain in
their undisturbed solitudes, gradually increasing in their
apparently endless growth, and towering above the dark vistas of
everlasting silence. No on can imagine the utter stillness which
pervades these gloomy shades. There is a mysterious effect
produced by the total absence of animal life. In the depths of
these forests I have stood and listened for some sound until my
cars tingled with overstrained attention; not a chirp of a bird,
not the hum of an insect, but the mouth of Nature is sealed. Not
a breath of air has rustled a leaf, not even a falling fruit has
broken the spell of silence; the undying verdure, the freshness
of each tree, even in its mysterious age, create an idea of
eternal vegetation, and the silvery yet dim light adds to the
charm of the fairylike solitude which gradually steals over the
I have ridden for fifteen or twenty miles through one of these
forests without hearing a sound, except that of my horse's hoof
occasionally striking against a root. Neither beast nor bird is
to be seen except upon the verge. The former has no food upon
such barren ground; and the latter can find no berries, as the
earth is sunless and free from vegetation. Not even monkeys are
to be seen, although the trees must produce fruit and seed.
Everything appears to have deserted the country, and to have
yielded it as the sole territory of Nature on a stupendous scale.
The creepers lie serpent-like along the ground to the thickness
of a man's waist, and, rearing their twisted forms on high, they
climb the loftiest trees, hanging in festoons from stern to stem
like the cables of a line-of-battle-ship, and extending from tree
to tree for many hundred yards; now felling to the earth and
striking a fresh root; then, with increased energy, remounting
the largest trunks, and forming a labyrinth of twisted ropes
along the ceiling of the forest. From these creepers hang the
sabre-beans. Everything seems on a supernatural scale - the
bean-pod four feet or more in length, by three inches in breadth;
the beans two inches in diameter.
Here may be seen the most valuable woods of Ceylon. The ebony
grows in great perfection and large quantity. This tree is at
once distinguished from the surrounding stems by its smaller
diameter and its sooty trunk. The bark is crisp, jet black, and
has the appearance of being charred. Beneath the bark the wood
is perfectly white until the heart is reached, which is the fine
black ebony of commerce. Here also, equally immovable, the
calamander is growing, neglected and unknown. This is the most
esteemed of all Ceylon woods, and it is so rare that it realizes
a fancy price. It is something similar to the finest walnut, the
color being a rich hazel brown, mottled and striped with
irregular black marks. It is superior to walnut in the extreme
closeness of the grain and the richness of its color.
There are upward of eighty different woods produced in Ceylon,
which are made use of for various purposes; but of these many are
very inferior. Those most appreciated are-
Calamander, Ebony, chiefly used for furniture and cabinet work.
Satin-wood, Suria (the tulip tree). Tamarind. Jackwood.
Halmileel. Cocoa-nut. Palmyra.
The suria is an elegant tree, bearing a beautiful yellow blossom
something similar to a tulip, from which it derives its name.
The wood is of an extremely close texture and of a reddish-brown
color. It is exceedingly tough, and it is chiefly used for
making the spokes of wheels.
The tamarind is a fine, dark red wood, mottled with black marks;
but it is not in general use, as the tree is too valuable to be
felled for the sake of its timber. This is one of the handsomest
trees of the tropics, growing to a very large size, the branches
widely spreading, something like the cedars of Lebanon.
Jackwood is a coarse imitation of mahogany, and is used for a
variety of purposes, especially for making cheap furniture. The
latter is not only economical, but exceedingly durable, and is
manufactured at so low a rate that a moderate-sized house might
be entirely furnished with it for a hundred and fifty pounds.
The fruit of the jack grows from the trunk and branches of the
tree, and when ripe it weighs about twenty pounds. The rind is
rough, and when cut it exposes a yellow, pulpy mass. This is
formed of an infinite number of separate divisions of fleshy
matter, which severally enclose an oval nut. The latter are very
good when roasted, having a close resemblance to a chestnut. The
pulp, which is the real fruit, is not usually eaten by Europeans
on account of its peculiar odor. This perfume is rather
difficult to describe, but when a rainy day in London crams an
omnibus with well-soaked and steaming multitudes, the atmosphere
in the vehicle somewhat approaches to the smell of the
jack-fruit. The halmileel is one of the most durable and useful
woods in Ceylon, and is almost the only kind that is thoroughly
adapted for making staves for casks. Of late years the great
increase of the oil-trade has brought this wood into general
request, consequent upon the increased demand for casks. So
extensive and general is the present demand for this wood that
the natives are continually occupied in conveying it from certain
districts which a few years ago were utterly neglected.
Unfortunately, the want of roads and the means of transport
confine their operations to the banks of rivers, down which the
logs are floated at the proper season.
I recollect some eight years ago crossing the Mahawelli river
upon a raft which my coolies had hastily constructed, and
reaching a miserable village near Monampitya, in the extreme
north of the Veddah country. The river is here about four
hundred paces wide, and, in the rainy season a fine volume of
water rolls along in a rapid stream toward Trincomalee, at which
place it meets the sea. I was struck it the time with the
magnificent timber in the forests on its banks, and no less
surprised that with the natural facilities of transport it should
be neglected. Two years ago I crossed at this same spot, and I
remarked the wonderful change which a steady demand had effected
in this wild country. Extensive piles of halmileel logs were
collected along the banks of the river, while the forests were
strewed with felled trees in preparation for floating down the
stream. A regular demand usually ensures a regular supply, which
could not be better exemplified than in this case.
Among fancy woods the bread-fruit tree should not be omitted.
This is something similar to the jack, but, like the tamarind,
the value of the produce saves the tree from destruction.
This tree does not attain a very large size, but its growth is
exceedingly regular and the foliage peculiarly rich and
plentiful. The fruit is something similar in appearance to a
small, unripe jack-fruit, with an equally rough exterior. In the
opinion of most who have tasted it, its virtues have been grossly
exaggerated. To my taste it is perfectly uneatable, unless fried
in thin slices with butter; it is even then a bad imitation of
fried potatoes. The bark of this tree produces a strong fibre,
and a kind of very adhesive pitch is also produced by decoction.
The cocoa-nut and palmyra woods at once introduce us to the palms
of Ceylon, the most useful and the most elegant class in
vegetation. For upward of a hundred and twenty miles along the
western and southern coasts of Ceylon, one continuous line of
cocoa-nut groves wave their green leaves to the sea-breeze,
without a single break, except where some broad clear river
cleaves the line of verdure as it meets the sea.
Ceylon is rich in palms, including the following varieties: The
Cocoa-nut. The Palmyra. The Kittool. The Areca The Date. The
Sago. The Talipot.
The wonderful productions of this tribe can only be appreciated
by those who thoroughly understand the habits and necessities of
the natives; and, upon examination, it will be seen that Nature
has opened wide her bountiful hand, and in the midst of a barren
soil she has still remembered and supplied the wants of the
As the stream issued from the rock in the wilderness, to the
cocoa-nut tree yields a pure draught from a dry and barren land;
a cup of water to the temperate and thirsty traveler; a cup of
cream from the pressed kernel; a cup of refreshing and sparkling
toddy to the early riser; a cup of arrack to the hardened
spirit-drinker, and a cup of oil, by the light of which I now
extol its merits-five separate and distinct liquids from the same
A green or unripe cocoa-nut contains about a pint of a sweetish
water. In the hottest weather this is deliciously cool, in
comparison to the heat of the atmosphere.
The ripe nut, when scraped into a pulp by a little serrated,
semi-circular iron instrument, is squeezed in a cloth by the
hand, and about a quarter of a pint of delicious thick cream,
highly flavored by cocoa-nut, is then expressed. This forms the
chief ingredient in a Cingalese curry, from which it entirely
derives its richness and fine flavor.
The toddy is the sap which would nourish and fructify the blossom
and young nuts, were it allowed to accomplish its duties. The
toddy-drawer binds into one rod the numerous shoots, which are
garnished with embryo nuts, and he then cuts off the ends,
leaving an abrupt and brush-like termination. Beneath this he
secures an earthen chatty, which will hold about a gallon. This
remains undisturbed for twenty-four hours, from sunrise to
sunrise on the following morning; the toddy-drawer then reascends
the tree, and lowers he chatty by a line to an assistant below,
who empties the contents into a larger vessel, and the chatty is
replaced under the productive branch, which continues to yield
for about a month.
When first drawn the toddy has the appearance of thin milk and
water, with a combined flavor of milk and soda-water, with a
tinge of cocoa-nut. It is then very pleasant and refreshing, but
in a few hours after sunrise a great charts takes place, and the
rapidity of the transition from the vinous to the acetous
fermentation is so great that by midday it resembles a poor and
rather acid cider. It now possesses intoxicating properties, and
the natives accordingly indulge in it to some extent; but from
its flavor and decided acidity I should have thought the stomach
would be affected some time before the head.
>From this fermented toddy the arrack is procured by simple
This spirit, to my taste, is more palatable than most distilled
liquors, having a very decided and peculiar flavor. It is a
little fiery when new, but as water soon quenches fire, it is not
spared by the native retailers, whose arrack would be of a most
innocent character were it not for their infamous addition of
stupefying drugs and hot peppers.
The toddy contains a large proportion of saccharine, without
which the vinous fermentation could not take place. This is
procured by evaporation in boiling, on the same principle that
sugar is produced from cane-juice. The syrup is then poured into
small saucers to cool, and it shortly assumes the consistence of
hardened sugar. This is known in Ceylon as "jaggery," and is
manufactured exclusively by the natives.
Cocoa-nut oil is now one of the greatest exports of Ceylon, and
within the last few years the trade has increased to an
unprecedented extent. In the two years of 1849 and 1850, the
exports of cocoa-nut oil did not exceed four hundred and
forty-three thousand six hundred gallons, while in the year 1853
they had increased to one million thirty-three thousand nine
hundred gallons; the trade being more than quadrupled in three
The manufacture of the oil is most simple. The kernel is taken
from the nut, and being divided, it is exposed to the sun until
all the watery particles are evaporated. The kernel thus dried
is known as "copperah." This is then pressed in a mill, and the
oil flows into a reservoir.
This oil, although clear and limpid in the tropics, hardens to
the consistence of lard at any temperature below 72 Fahrenheit.
Thus it requires a second preparation on its arrival in England.
There it is spread upon mats (formed of coir) to the thickness of
an inch, and then covered by a similar protection. These fat
sandwiches are two feet square, and being piled one upon the
other to a height of about six feet in an hydraulic press, are
subjected to a pressure of some hundred tons. This disengages
the pure oleaginous parts from the more insoluble portions, and
the fat residue, being increased in hardness by its extra
density, is mixed with stearine, and by a variety of
preparations is converted into candles. The pure oil thus
expressed is that known in the shops as cocoa-nut oil.
The cultivation of the cocoa-nut tree is now carried to a great
extent, both by natives and Europeans; by the former it is grown
for a variety of purposes, but by the latter its profits are
confined to oil, coir and poonac. The latter is the refuse Of
the nut after the oil has been expressed, and corresponds in its
uses to the linseed-oil cake of England, being chiefly employed
for fattening cattle, pigs and poultry.
The preparation of coir is a dirty and offensive occupation. The
husk of the cocoa-nut is thrown into tanks of water, until the
woody or pithy matter is loosened by fermentation from the coir
fibre. The stench of putrid vegetable matter arising from these
heaps must be highly deleterious. Subsequently the husks are
beaten and the fibre is separated and dried. Coir rope is useful
on account of its durability and power of resisting decay during
long immersion. In the year 1853, twenty-three hundred and
eighty tons of coir were exported from Ceylon.
The great drawback to the commencement of a cocoa-nut plantation
is the total uncertainty of the probable alteration in the price
of oil during the interval of eleven years which must elapse
before the estate comes into bearing. In this era of invention,
when improvements in every branch of science follow each other
with such rapid strides, it is always a dangerous speculation to
make any outlay that will remain so long invested without
producing a return. Who can be so presumptuous as to predict the
changes of future years? Oil may have ceased to be the common
medium of light - our rooms may be illumined by electricity, or
from fifty other sources which now are never dreamed of. In the
mean time, the annual outlay during eleven years is an additional
incubus upon the prime cost of the plantation, which, at the
expiration of this term, may be reduced to one-tenth of its
The cocoa-nut tree requires a sandy and well-drained soil; and
although it flourishes where no other tree will grow, it welcomes
a soil of a richer quality and produces fruit in proportion.
Eighty nuts per annum are about the average income from a healthy
tree in full bearing, but this, of course, depends much upon the
locality. This palm delights in the sea-breeze, and never attains
the same perfection inland that it does in the vicinity of the
coast. There are several varieties, and that which is considered
superior is the yellow species, called the "king cocoanut." I
have seen this on the Maldive Islands in great perfection. There
it is the prevailing description.
At the Seychelles, there is a variety peculiar to those islands,
differing entirely in appearance from the common cocoa-nut. It
is fully twice the size, and is shaped like a kidney that is laid
open. This is called by the French the "coco de mer" from the
large numbers that are found floating in the sea in the
neighborhood of the islands.
The wood of the cocoa-nut tree is strong and durable; it is a
dark brown, traversed by longitudinal black lines.
There are three varieties of toddy-producing palms in Ceylon;
these are the cocoa-nut, the kittool and the palmyra. The latter
produces the finest quality of jaggery. This cannot be easily
distinguished from crumbled sugar-candy which it exactly
resembles in flavor, The wood of the palmyra is something similar
to the cocoa-nut, but it is of a superior quality, and is much
used for rafters, being durable and of immense strength.
The kittool is a very sombre and peculiar palm. Its crest very
much resembles the drooping plume upon a hearse, and the foliage
is a dark green with a tinge of gray. The wood of this palm is
almost black, being apparently a mass of longitudinal strips, or
coarse linen of whalebone running close together from the top to
the root of the tree. This is the toughest and most pliable of
all the palm-woods, and is principally used by the natives in
making "pingos." These are flat bows about eight feet in length,
and are used by the Cingalese for carrying loads upon the
shoulder. The weight is slung at either end of the pingo, and the
elasticity of the wood accommodates itself to the spring of each
step, thereby reducing the dead weight of the load. In this
manner a stout Cingalese will carry and travel with eighty pounds
if working on his own account, or with fifty if hired for a
journey. A Cingalese will carry a much heavier weight than an
ordinary Malabar, as he is a totally different man in form and
strength. In fact, the Cingalese are generally a compactly built
and well-limbed race, while the Malabar is a man averaging full a
stone lighter weight.
The most extraordinary in the list of palms is the talipot. The
crest of this beautiful tree is adorned by a crown of nearly
circular, fan-shaped leaves of so touch and durable a texture
that they are sewn together by the natives for erecting portable
tents or huts. The circumference of each leaf at the extreme
edge is from twenty to thirty feet, and even this latter size is
said to be frequently exceeded.
Every Cingalese throughout the Kandian district is provided with
a section of one of these leaves, which forms a kind of fan about
six feet in length. This is carried in the hand, and is only
spread in case of rain, when it forms an impervious roofing of
about three feet in width at the broad extremity. Four or five
of these sections will form a circular roof for a small hut,
which resembles a large umbrella or brobdignag mushroom.
There is a great peculiarity in the talipot palm. Is blossoms
only once in a long period of years, and after this it dies. No
flower can equal the elegance and extraordinary dimensions of
this blossom; its size is proportionate to its leaves, and it
usurps the place of the faded crest of green, forming a
magnificent crown or plume of snow-white ostrich feathers, which
stand upon the summit of the tall stem as though they were the
natural head of the palm.
There is an interesting phenomenon at the period of flowering.
The great plume already described, prior to its appearing in
bloom, is packed in a large case or bud, about four feet long. In
this case the blossom comes to maturity, at which time the
tightened cuticle of the bard can no longer sustain the pressure
of the expanding flower. It suddenly bursts with a loud report,
and the beautiful plume, freed from its imprisonment, ascends at
this signal and rapidly unfolds its feathers, towering above the
drooping leaves which are hastening to decay.
The areca is a palm of great elegance; it rises to a height of
about eighty feet, and a rich feathery crest adorns the summit.
This is the most delicate stem of all the palm tribe; that of a
tree of eighty feet in length would not exceed five inches in
diameter. Nevertheless, I have never seen an areca palm
overturned by a storm; they bow gracefully to the wind, and the
extreme elasticity of the wood secures them from destruction.
This tree produces the commonly-called "betel-nut," but more
properly the areca-nut. They grow in clusters beneath the crest
of the palm, in a similar manner to the cocoa-nut; but the tree
is more prolific, as it produces about two hundred nuts per
annum. The latter are very similar to large nutmegs both in
size and appearance, and, like the cocoa-nut, they are enclosed
in an outer husk of a fibrous texture.
The consumption of these nuts may be imagined when it is
explained that every native is perpetually chewing a mixture of
this nut and betel leaf. Every man carries a betel bag, which
contains the following list of treasures: a quantity of
areca-nuts, a parcel of betel leaves, a roll of tobacco, a few
pieces of ginger, an instrument similar to pruning scissors and a
brass or silver case (according to the wealth of the individual)
full of chunam paste - viz., a fine lime produced from burnt
coral, slacked. This case very much resembles an old-fashioned
warming-pan breed of watch and chateleine, as numerous little
spoons for scooping out the chunam are attached to it by chains.
The betel is a species of pepper, the leaf of which very much
resembles that of the black pepper, but is highly aromatic and
pungent. It is cultivated to a very large extent by the natives,
and may be seen climbing round poles and trees in every garden.
It has been said by some authors that the betel has powerful
narcotic properties, but, on the contrary, its stimulating
qualities have a directly opposite effect. Those who have
attributed this supposed property to the betel leaf must have
indulged in a regular native "chew" as an experiment, and have
nevertheless been ignorant of the mixture.
We will make up a native "chew" after the most approved fashion,
and the reader shall judge for himself in which ingredient the
narcotic principle is displayed.
Take a betel leaf, and upon this spread a piece of chunam as
large as a pea; then with the pruning scissors cut three very
thin slices of areca-nut, and lay them in the leaf; next, add a
small piece of ginger; and, lastly, a good-sized piece of
tobacco. Fold up this mixture in another betel leaf in a compact
little parcel, and it is fit for promoting several hours'
enjoyment in chewing, and spitting a disgusting blood-red dye in
every direction. The latter is produced by the areca-nut. It is
the tobacco which possesses the narcotic principle; if this is
omitted, the remaining ingredients are simple stimulants.
The teeth of all natives are highly discolored by the perpetual
indulgence in this disgusting habit; nor is this the only effect
produced; cancer in the cheek is a common complaint among them,
supposed to be produced by the caustic lime which is so
continually in the mouth.
The exports of areca-nuts from Ceylon will give some idea of the
supply of palms. In 1853 no less than three thousand tons were
shipped from this colony, valued at about 45,000 l. The greater
portion of these is consumed in India.
Two varieties of palms remain to be described - the date and the
sago. The former is a miserable species, which does not exceed
the height of three to five feet, and the fruit is perfectly
The latter is indigenous throughout the jungles in Ceylon, but it
is neither cultivated, nor is the sago prepared from it.
The height of this palm does not exceed fifteen or twenty feet,
and even this is above the general average. It grows in the
greatest profusion in the Veddah country. The stem is rough and
a continuation of rings divides it into irregular sections. The
leaves are a rich dark green, and very light and feathery,
beneath which the nuts grow in clusters similar to those of the
The only use that the natives make of the produce of this tree
is in the preparation of flour from the nuts. Even this is not
very general, which is much to be wondered at, as the farina is
far superior in flavor to that produced from most grains.
The natives ascribe intoxicating properties to the cakes made
from this flour; but I have certainly eaten a fair allowance at
one time, and I cannot say that I had the least sensation of
The nut, which is something similar to the areca in size, is
nearly white when divested of its outer husk, and this is soaked
for about twenty-four hours in water. During this time a slight
fermentation takes place and the gas generated splits the nut
open at a closed joint like an acorn. This fermentation may,
perhaps, take some exhilarating effect upon the natives' weak
The nuts being partially softened by this immersion are dried in
the sun, and subsequently pounded into flour in a wooden mortar.
This flour is sifted, and the coarser parts being separated, are
again pounded until a beautiful snow-white farina is produced.
This is made into a dough by a proper admixture with water, and
being formed into small cakes, they are baked for about a quarter
of an hour in a chatty. The fermentation which has already taken
place in the nut has impregnated the flower with a leaven; this,
without any further addition, expands the dough when in the oven,
and the cake produced is very similar to a crumpet, both in
appearance and flavor.
The village in which I first tasted this preparation of the
sago-nut was a tolerable sample of such places, on the borders of
the Veddah country. The population consisted of one old man and
a corresponding old woman, and one fine stout young man and five
young women. A host of little children, who were so similar in
height that they must have been one litter, and three or four
most miserable dogs and cats, were additional tenants of the
These people lived upon sago cakes, pumpkins, wild fruits and
berries, river fish and wild honey. The latter is very plentiful
throughout Ceylon, and the natives are very expert in finding out
the nests, by watching the bees in their flight and following
them up. A bee-hunter must be a most keen-sighted fellow,
although there is not so much difficulty in the pursuit as may at
first appear. No one can mistake the flight of a bee en route
home, if he has once observed him. He is no longer wandering
from flower to flower in an uncertain course, but he rushes
through the air in a straight line for the nest. If the
bee-hunter sees one bee thus speeding homeward, he watches the
vacant spot in the air, until assured of the direction by the
successive appearance of these insects, one following the other
nearly every second in their hurried race to the comb. Keeping
his eye upon the passing bees, he follows them until he reaches
the tree in which the nest is found.
There are five varieties of bees in Ceylon; these are all
honey-makers, except the carpenter bee. This species is entirely
unlike a bee in all its habits. It is a bright tinsel-green
color, and the size of a large walnut, but shaped like the humble
bees of England. The month is armed with a very powerful pair of
mandibles, and the tail with a sting even larger and more
venomous than that of the hornet. These carpenter bees are
exceedingly destructive, as they bore holes in beams and posts,
in which they lay their eggs, the larvae of which when hatched
greedily feed upon the timber.
The honey bees are of four very distinct varieties, each of which
forms its nest on a different principle. The largest and most
extensive honey-maker is the "bambera". This is nearly as large
as a hornet, and it forms its nest upon the bough of a tree, from
which it lines like a Cheshire cheese, being about the same
thickness, but five or six inches greater in diameter. The honey
of this bee is not so much esteemed as that from the smaller
varieties, as the flavor partakes too strongly of the particular
flower which the bee has frequented; thus in different seasons
the honey varies in flavor, and is sometimes so highly aperient
that it must be used with much caution. This property is of
course derived from the flower which the bee prefers at that
particular season. The wax of the comb is the purest and whitest
of any kind produced in Ceylon. So partial are these bees to
particular flowers that they migrate from place to place at
different periods in quest of flowers which are then in bloom.
This is a very wonderful and inexplicable arrangement of Nature,
when it is considered that some flowers which particularly
attract these migrations only blossom once in "seven years." This
is the case at Newera Ellia, where the nillho blossom induces
such a general rush of this particular bee to the district that
the jungles are swarming with them in every direction, although
during the six preceding years hardly a bee of the kind is to be
There are many varieties of the nillho. These vary from a tender
dwarf plant to the tall and heavy stern of the common nillho,
which is nearly as thick as a man's arm and about twenty feet
The next honey-maker is very similar in size and appearance to
our common hive bee in England. This variety forms its nest in
hollow trees and in holes in rocks. Another bee, similar in
appearance, but not more than half the size, suspends a most
delicate comb to the twigs of a tree. This nest is no larger
than an orange, but the honey of the two latter varieties is of
the finest quality, and quite equal in flavor to the famed "miel
vert" of the Isle de Burbon, although it has not the delicate
green tint which is so much esteemed in the latter.
The last of the Ceylon bees is the most tiny, although an equally
industrious workman. He is a little smaller than our common
house-fly, and he builds his diminutive nest in the hollow of a
tree, where the entrance to his mansion is a hole no larger than
would be made by a lady's stiletto.
It would be a natural supposition that so delicate an insect
would produce a honey of corresponding purity, but instead of the
expected treasure we find a thick, black and rather pungent but
highly aromatic molasses. The natives, having naturally coarse
tastes and strong stomachs, admire this honey beyond any other.
Many persons are surprised at the trifling exports of wax from
Ceylon. In 1853 these amounted to no more than one ton.
Cingalese are curious people, and do not trouble themselves
about exports; they waste or consume all the beeswax. While we
are contented with the honey and carefully reject the comb, the
native (in some districts) crams his mouth with a large section,
and giving it one or two bites, he bolts the luscious morsel and
begins another. In this manner immense quantities of this
valuable article are annually wasted. Some few of the natives in
the poorest villages save a small quantity, to exchange with the
travelling Moormen for cotton cloths, etc., and in this manner
the trifling amount exported is collected.
During the honey year at Newera Ellia I gave a native permission
to hunt bees in my forests, on condition that he should bring me
the wax. Of course he stole the greater portion, but
nevertheless, in a few weeks he brought me seventy-two pounds'
weight of well-cleaned and perfectly white wax, which he had made
up into balls about the size of an eighteen-pound shot. Thus, in
a few weeks, one man had collected about the thirtieth part of
the annual export from Ceylon; or, allowing that he stole at
least one-half, this would amount to the fifteenth.
It would be a vain attempt to restrain these people from their
fixed habit; they would as soon think of refraining from
betel-chewing as giving up a favorite food. Neither will they be
easily persuaded to indulge in a food of a new description. I
once showed them the common British mushroom, which they declared
was a poisonous kind. To prove the contrary, I had them several
times at table, and found them precisely similar in appearance
and flavor to the well-known, "Agaricus campestris;" but,
notwithstanding this actual proof, the natives would not be
convinced, and, although accustomed to eat a variety of this
tribe, they positively declined this experiment. There is an
edible species which they prefer, which, from its appearance, an
Englishman would shun: this is perfectly white, both above and
below, and the upper cuticle cannot be peeled off. I have tasted
this, but it is very inferior in flavor to the common mushroom.
Experiments in these varieties of fungi are highly dangerous, as
many of the most poisonous so closely resemble the edible species
that they can with difficulty be distinguished. There is one
kind of fungus that I have met with in the forests which, from
its offensive odor and disgusting appearance, should be something
superlatively bad. It grows about four inches high; the top is
round, with a fleshy and inflamed appearance; the stalk is out of
all proportion in its thickness, being about two inches in
diameter and of a livid white color; this, when broken, is full
of a transparent gelatinous fluid, which smells like an egg in
the last stage of rottenness.
This fungus looks like an unhealthy excrescence on the face of
Nature, who, as though ashamed of the disgusting blemish, has
thrown a veil over the defect. The most exquisite fabric that
can be imagined - a scarlet veil, like a silken net - falls over
this ugly fungus, and, spreading like a tent at its base, it is
there attached to the ground.
The meshes of this net are about as fine as those of a very
delicate silk purse, and the gaudiness of the color and the size
of the fungus make it a very prominent object, among the
surrounding vegetation. In fact, it is a diminutive, though
perfect circular tent of net-work, the stem of the fungus forming
the pole in the centre.
I shall never forget my first introduction to this specimen. It
was growing in an open forest, free from any underwood, land it
seemed like a fairy bivouac beneath the mighty trees which
overshadowed it. Hardly believing my own eyes at so strange and
exquisite a structure, I jumped off my horse and hastened to
secure it. But the net-work once raised was like the uncovering
of the veiled prophet of Khorassan, and the stem, crushing in my
fingers, revealed all the disgusting properties of the plant, and
proved the impossibility of removing it entire. The elegance of
its exterior only served to conceal its character-like Madame
Mantilini, who, when undressed, "tumbled into ruins."
There are two varieties of narcotic fungi whose properties are so
mild that they are edible in small quantities. One is a bright
crimson on the surface; this is the most powerful, and is seldom
used. The other is a white solid puff-ball, with a rough outer
skin or rind.
I have eaten the latter on two occasions, having been assured by
the natives that they were harmless. The flavor somewhat
resembles a truffle, but I could not account for the extreme
drowsiness that I felt soon after eating; this wore off in the
course of two or three hours. On the following day I felt the
same effect, but to a still greater degree as, having convinced
myself that they were really eatable, I bad taken a larger
quantity. Knowing that the narcotic principle is the common
property of a great variety of fungi, it immediately struck me
that the puff-balls were the cause. On questioning the natives,
it appeared that it was this principle that they admired, as it
produced a species of mild intoxication.
All people, of whatever class or clime, indulge in some narcotic
drug or drink. Those of the Cingalese are arrack, tobacco, fungi
and the Indian hemp. The use of the latter is, however, not so
general among the Cingalese as the Malabars. This drug has a
different effect from opium, as it does not injure the
constitution, but simply exhilarates, and afterward causes a
In appearance it very nearly resembles the common hemp, but it
differs in the seed. The leaves and blossoms are dried, and are
either smoked like tobacco, or formed into a paste with various
substances and chewed.
When the plant approaches maturity, a gummy substance exudes from
the leaves; this is gathered by men clothed in dry raw hides,
who, by walking through the plantation, become covered with this
gum or glue. This is scraped off and carefully preserved, being
the very essence of the plant, and exceedingly powerful in its
The sensation produced by the properties of this shrub is a wild,
dreamy kind of happiness; the ideas are stimulated to a high
degree, and all that are most pleasurable are exaggerated till
the senses at length sink into a vague and delightful elysium.
The reaction after this unnatural excitement is very
distressing, but the sufferer is set all right again by some
trifling stimulant, such as a glass of wine or spirits.
It is supposed, and confidently asserted by some, that the Indian
hemp is the foundation of the Egyptian "hashisch," the effects of
which are precisely similar.
However harmless the apparent effect of a narcotic drug, common
sense must at once perceive that a repeated intoxication, no
matter how it is produced, must be ultimately hurtful to the
system. The brain, accustomed to constant stimulants, at length
loses its natural power, and requires these artificial assistants
to enable it to perform its ordinary functions, in the same
manner that the stomach, from similar treatment, would at length
cease to act. This being continued, the brain becomes
semi-torpid, until wakened up by a powerful stimulant, and the
nervous system is at length worn out by a succession of exciting
causes and reactions. Thus, a hard drinker appears dull and
heavy until under the influence of his secret destroyer when he
brightens up and, perhaps, shines in conversation; but every
reaction requires a stronger amount of stimulant to lessen its
effect, until mind and body at length become involved in the
The seed of the lotus is a narcotic of a mild description, and it
is carefully gathered when ripe and eaten by the natives.
The lotus is seen in two varieties in Ceylon - the pink and the
white. The former is the most beautiful, and they are both very
common in all tanks and sluggish streams. The leaves are larger
than those of the waterlily, to which they bear a great
resemblance, and the blossoms are full double the size. When the
latter fade, the petals fall, and the base of the flower and
seed-pod remains in the shape of a circular piece of honeycomb,
full of cells sufficiently large to contain a hazel-nut. This is
about the size of the seed, but the shape is more like an acorn
without its cup. The flavor is pleasant, being something like a
filbert, but richer and more oily.
Stramonium (Datura stramonium), which is a powerful narcotic, is
a perfect weed throughout the island, but it is not used by the
natives otherwise than medicinally, and the mass of the people
are ignorant of its qualities, which are only known to the
Cingalese doctors. I recollect some years ago, in Mauritius,
where this plant is equally common, its proprieties were not only
fully understood, but made use of by some of the Chinese
emigrants. These fellows made cakes of manioc and poisoned them
with stramonium. Hot manioc cakes are the common every-day
accompaniment to a French planter's breakfast at Mauritius, and
through the medium of these the Chinese robbed several houses.
Their plan was simple enough.
A man with cakes to sell appeared at the house at an early hour,
and these being purchased, he retired until about two hours after
breakfast was concluded. By this time the whole family were
insensible, and the thieves robbed the house at their leisure.
None of these cases terminated fatally; but, from the instant
that I heard of it, I made every cake-seller who appeared at the
door devour one of his own cakes before I became a purchaser.
These men, however, were bona fide cake-merchants, and I did not
meet with an exception.
There are a great variety of valuable medicinal plants in the
jungles of Ceylon, many of which are unknown to any but the
native doctors. Those most commonly known to us, and which may
be seen growing wild by the roadside, are the nux vomica,
ipecacuanha, gamboge, sarsaparilla, cassia fistula, cardamoms,
The ipecacuanha is a pretty, delicate plant, which bears a bright
orange-colored cluster of flowers.
The cassia fistula is a very beautiful tree, growing to the size
of an ash, which it somewhat resembles in foliage. The blossom
is very beautiful, being a pendant of golden flowers similar to
the laburnum, but each blossom is about two and a half feet long,
and the individual flowers on the bunch are large in proportion.
When the tree is in full flower it is very superb, and equally as
singular when its beauty has faded and the seed-pods are formed.
These grow to a length of from two to three feet, and when ripe
are perfectly black, round, and about three-quarters of an inch
in diameter. The tree has the appearance of bearing, a prolific
crop of ebony rulers, each hanging from the bough by a short
There is another species of cassia fistula, the foliage of which
assimilates to the mimosa. This bears a thicker, but much
shorter, pod, of about a foot in length. The properties of both
are the same, being laxative. Each seed within the pod is
surrounded by a sweet, black and honey-like substance, which
contains the property alluded to.
The gamboge tree is commonly known in Ceylon as the "ghorka."
This grows to the common size of an apple tree, and bears a
corrugated and intensely acid fruit. This is dried by the
natives and used in curries. The gamboge is the juice of the
tree obtained by incisions in the bark. This tree grows in great
numbers in the neighborhood of Colombo, especially among the
cinnamon gardens. Here, also, the cashew tree grows to great
perfection. The bark of the latter is very rich in tannin, and
is used by the natives in the preparation of hides. The fruit is
like an apple in appearance, and small, but is highly astringent.
The well-known cashew-nut grows like an excrescence from the end
of the apple.
Many are the varieties and uses of vegetable productions in
Ceylon, but of these none are more singular and interesting than
the "sack tree," the Riti Gaha of the Cingalese. From the bark
of this tree an infinite number of excellent sacks are procured,
with very little trouble or preparation. The tree being felled,
the branches are cut into logs of the length required, and
sometimes these are soaked in water; but this is not always
necessary. The balk is then well beaten with a wooden mallet,
until it is loosened from the wood; it is then stripped off the
log as a stocking is drawn off the leg. It is subsequently
bleached, and one end being sewn lip, completes a perfect sack of
a thick fibrous texture, somewhat similar to felt.
These sacks are in general use among the natives, and are
preferred by them to any other, as their durability is such that
they sometimes descend from father to son. By constant use they
stretch and increase their original size nearly one half. The
texture necessarily becomes thinner, but the strength does not
appear to be materially decreased.
There are many fibrous barks in Ceylon, some which are so strong
that thin strips require a great amount of strength to break
them, but none of these have yet been reduced to a marketable
fibre. Several barks are more or less aromatic; others would be
valuable to the tanners; several are highly esteemed by the
natives as most valuable astringents, but hitherto none have
received much notice from Europeans. This may be caused by the
general want of success of all experiments with indigenous
produce. Although the jungles of Ceylon produce a long list of
articles of much interest, still their value chiefly lies in
their curiosity; they are useful to the native, but
comparatively of little worth to the European. In fact, few
things will actually pay for the trouble and expense of
collecting and transporting. Throughout the vast forests and
jungles of Ceylon, although the varieties of trees are endless,
there is not one valuable gum known to exist. There is a great
variety of coarse, unmarketable productions, about equal to the
gum of the cherry tree, etc., but there is no such thing as a
high-priced gum in the island.
The export of dammer is a mere trifle - four tons in 1852, twelve
tons in 1853. This is a coarse and comparatively valueless
commodity. No other tree but the doom tree produces any gum
worth collecting; this species of rosin exudes in large
quantities from an incision in the bark, but the amount of
exports shows its insignificance. It is a fair sample of Ceylon
productions; nothing that is uncultivated is of much pecuniary
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.
The foregoing chapter may appear to decry in toto the indigenous
productions of Ceylon, as it is asserted that they are valueless
in their natural state. Nevertheless, I do not imply that they
must necessarily remain useless. Where Nature simply creates a
genus, cultivation extends the species, and from an insignificant
parent stock we propagate our finest varieties of both animals
and vegetables. Witness the wild kale, parsnip, carrot,
crab-apple, sloe, etc., all utterly worthless, but nevertheless
the first parents of their now choice descendants.
It is therefore impossible to say what might not he done in the
improvement of indigenous productions were the attention of
science bestowed upon them. But all this entails expense, and
upon whom is this to fall? Out of a hundred experiments
ninety-nine might fail. In Ceylon we have no wealthy
experimentalists, no agricultural exhibitions, no model farms,
but every man who settles in a colony has left the mother country
to better himself; therefore, no private enterprise is capable of
such speculation. It clearly rests upon the government to
develop the resources of the country, to prove the value of the
soil, which is delivered to the purchaser at so much per acre,
good or bad. But no; it is not in the nature of our government
to move from an established routine. As the squirrel revolves
his cage, so governor after governor rolls his dull course along,
pockets his salary, and leaves the poor colony as he found it.
The government may direct the attention of the public, in reply,
to their own establishment - to the botanical gardens. Have we
not botanical gardens? We have, indeed, and much good they
should do, if conducted upon the principle of developing local
resources; but this would entail expense, and, like everything in
the hands of government, it dies in its birth for want of
With an able man as superintendent at a good salary, the
beautiful gardens at Peredenia are rendered next to useless for
want of a fund at his disposal. Instead of being conducted as an
experimental farm, they are little more than ordinary
pleasure-grounds, filled with the beautiful foliage of the
tropics and kept in perfect order. What benefit have they been
to the colony? Have the soils of various districts been tested?
have new fibres been manufactured from the countless indigenous
fibrous plants? have new oils been extracted? have medicinal
drugs been produced? have dyes been extracted? have improvements
been suggested in the cultivation of any of the staple articles
of Ceylon export? In fact, has ANYTHING ever been done by
government for the interest of the private settler?
This is not the fault of the manager of the gardens; he has the
will, but no funds. My idea of the object of a botanical garden
is, that agricultural theories should be reduced to facts, upon
which private enterprise may speculate, and by such success the
government should ultimately benefit.
It is well known to the commonest school-boy that soil which may
be favorable to one plant is not adapted to another; therefore,
where there is a diversity of soils it stands to reason that
there should be a corresponding variety of crops to suit those
soils, so as to make the whole surface of the land yield its
In Ceylon, where the chief article of production is coffee, land
(upon an estate) which is not suitable to this cultivation is
usually considered waste. Thus the government and the private
proprietor are alike losers in possessing an amount of
Now, surely it is the common sense object in the establishment of
a botanical garden to discover for each description of soil a
remunerating crop, so that an estate should be cultivated to its
uttermost, and the word "waste" be unknown upon the property.
Under the present system of management this is impossible; the
sum allowed per annum is but just sufficient to keep the gardens
in proper condition, and the abilities of the botanist in charge
are sacrificed. Many a valuable plant now lies screened in the
shades of remote jungles, which the enterprising botanist would
bring to light were he enabled by government to make periodical
journeys through the interior. These journeys should form a part
of his duties; his botanical specimens should be his game, and
they should be pursued with the ardor of the chase itself, and
subsequently transferred to the gardens and their real merits
discovered by experiments.
But what can be expected from an apathetic system of government?
Dyes, fibres, gums may abound in the forests, metals and even
gold may be concealed beneath our feet; but the governor does not
consider it a part of his duty to prosecute the search, or even
to render facilities to those of a more industrious temperament.
What can better exemplify the case than the recent discovery of
gold at Newera Ellia?
Here was the plain fact that gold was found in small specks, not
in one spot, but everywhere throughout the swamps for miles in
the vicinity - that at a depth of two or three feet from the
surface this proof was adduced of its presence; but the governor
positively refused to assist the discoverers ("diggers," who were
poor sailors visiting Ceylon), although they merely asked for
subsistence until they should be able to reach a greater depth.
This may appear too absurd to be correct, but it is nevertheless
At the time that I commenced these sketches of Ceylon the gold
was just discovered, and I touched but lightly upon it, in the
expectation that a few months of labor, aided by government
support, would have established its presence in remunerating
quantities. The swampy nature of the soil rendered the digging
impossible without the aid of powerful pumps to reduce the water,
which filled the shaft so rapidly that no greater depth could be
obtained than eighteen feet, and even this at immense labor.
The diggers were absolutely penniless, and but for assistance
received from private parties they must have starved. The rainy
season was at its height, and torrents fell night and day with
little intermission. Still, these poor little fellows worked
early and late, wet and dry, ever sanguine of success, and they
at length petitioned the Government to give them the means of
subsistence for a few months - "subsistence" for two men, and the
assistance of a few coolies. This was refused, and the reply
stated that the government intended to leave the search for gold
to "private enterprise." No reward was offered for its discovery
as in other colonies, but the governor would leave it to "private
enterprise." A promising enterprise truly, when every landholder
in Ceylon, on referring to his title-deeds, observes the
reservation of all precious metals to the crown. This is a fair
sample of the narrow-minded, selfish policy of a government
which, in endeavoring to save a little, loses all; a miserable
tampering with the public in attempting to make a cat's paw of
How has this ended? The diggers left the island in disgust. If
the gold is there in quantity, there in quantity it remains to
the present time, unsought for. The subject of gold is so
generally interesting, and in this case of such importance to the
colony, that, believing as I do that it does exist in large
quantities, I must claim the reader's patience in going into this
subject rather fully.
Let us take the matter as it stands.
The reader will remember that I mentioned at an early part of
these pages that gold was first discovered in Ceylon by the
diggers in the bed of a stream near Kandy - that they
subsequently came to Newera Ellia, and there discovered gold
It must be remembered that the main features of the country at
Newera Ellia and the vicinity are broad flats or swampy plains,
surrounded by hills and mountains: the former covered with rank
grass and intersected by small streams, the latter covered with
dense forest. The soil abounds with rocks of gneiss and quartz,
some of the latter rose-color, some pure white. The gold has
hitherto been found in the plains only. These plains extend over
some thirty miles of country, divided into numerous patches by
The surface soil is of a peaty nature, perfectly black, soapy
when wet, and as light as soot when dry; worthless for
cultivation. This top soil is about eighteen inches thick, and
appears to have been the remains of vegetable matter washed down
from the surrounding hills and forests.
This swampy black soil rests upon a thin stratum of brownish
clay, not more than a few inches thick, which, forming a second
layer, rests in its turn upon a snow white rounded quartz gravel
intermixed with white pipe-clay.
This contains gold, every shovelful of earth producing, when
washed, one or more specks of the precious metal.
The stratum of rounded quartz is about two feet thick, and is
succeeded by pipe-clay, intermixed with quartz gravel, to a depth
of eighteen feet. Here another stratum of quartz gravel is met
with, perfectly water-worn and rounded to the size of a
In this stratum the gold was of increased size, and some pieces
were discovered as large as small grains of rice; but no greater
depth was attained at the time Of writing than to this stratum,
viz., eighteen feet from the surface.
No other holes were sunk to a greater depth than ten feet, on
account of the influx of water, but similar shafts were made in
various places, and all with equal success.
>From the commencement of the first stratum of quartz throughout
to the greatest depth attained gold was present.
Upon washing away the clay and gravel, a great number of gems of
small value remained (chiefly sapphire, ruby, jacinth and green
tourmaline). These being picked out, there remained a jet-black
fine sand, resembling gunpowder. This was of great specific
gravity, and when carefully washed, discovered the gold - some in
grains, some in mere specks, and some like fine, golden flour.
At this interesting stage the search has been given up: although
the cheering sight of gold can be obtained in nearly every pan of
earth at such trifling depths, and literally in every direction,
the prospect is abandoned. The government leaves it to private
enterprise, but the enterprising public have no faith in the
Without being over-sanguine, or, on the other side, closing our
cars with asinine stubbornness, let us take an impartial view of
the facts determined, and draw rational conclusions.
It appears that from a depth of two and a half feet from the
surface to the greatest depth as yet attained (eighteen feet),
gold exists throughout.
It also appears that this is not only the case in one particular
spot, but all over this part of the country, and that this fact
is undeniable; and, nevertheless, the government did not believe
in the existence of gold in Ceylon until these diggers discovered
it; and when discovered, they gave the diggers neither reward nor
encouragement, but they actually met the discovery by a published
prohibition against the search; they then latterly withdrew the
prohibition and left it to private enterprise, but neglected the
unfortunate diggers. In this manner is the colony mismanaged; in
this manner is all public spirit damped, all private enterprise
checked, and all men who have anything to venture disgusted.
The liberality of a government must be boundless where the actual
subsistence for a few months is refused to the discoverers of
gold in a country where, hitherto, its presence had been denied.
It would be speculative to anticipate the vast changes that in
extended discovery would effect in such a colony as Ceylon. We
have before us the two pictures of California and Australia,
which have been changed as though by the magician's wand within
the last few years. It becomes us now simply to consider the
probability of the gold being in such quantities in Ceylon as to
effect such changes. We have it present these simple data - that
in a soft, swampy soil gold has been found close to the surface
in small specks, gradually increasing in size and quantity as a
greater depth has been attained.
>From the fact that gold will naturally lie deep, from its
specific gravity, it is astonishing that any vestige of such a
metal should be discovered in such soil so close to the surface.
Still more astonishing that it should be so generally
disseminated throughout the locality. This would naturally be
accepted as a proof that the soil is rich in gold. But the
question will then arise, Where is the gold? The quantities found
are a mere nothing - it is only dust: we want "nuggets."
The latter is positively the expression that I myself frequently
heard in Ceylon - "We want nuggets."
Who does not want nuggets? But people speak of "nuggets" as they
would of pebbles, forgetting that the very principle which keeps
the light dust at the surface has forced the heavier gold to a
greater depth, and that far from complaining of the lack of
nuggets when digging has hardly commenced, they should gaze with
wonder at the bare existence of the gold in its present form and
The diggings at Ballarat are from a hundred to an hundred and
sixty feet deep in hard ground, and yet people in Ceylon expect
to find heavy gold in mere mud, close to the surface. The idea
is preposterous, and I conceive it only reasonable to infer from
the present appearances that gold does exist in large quantities
in Ceylon. But as it is reasonable to suppose such to be the
case, so it is unreasonable to suppose that private individuals
will invest capital in so uncertain a speculation as mining
without facilities from the government, and in the very face of
the clause in their own title-deeds "that all precious metals
belong to the crown."
This is the anomalous position of the gold in Ceylon under the
governorship of Sir G. Anderson.
Nevertheless, it becomes a question whether we should blame the
man or the system, but the question arises in this case, as with
everything else in which government is concerned, "Where is the
fault?" "Echo answers 'Where?'" But the public are not satisfied
with echoes, and in this matter-of-fact age people look to those
who fill ostensible posts and draw bona fide salaries; and if
these men hold the appointments, no matter under what system,
they become the deserved objects of either praise or censure.
Thus it may appear too much to say that Sir G. Anderson is liable
for the mismanagement of the colony in toto -for the total
neglect of the public roads. It may appear too much to say, When
you came to the colony you found the roads in good order: they
are now impassable; communication is actually cut off from places
of importance. This is your fault, these are the fruits of your
imbecility; your answer to our petitions for repairs was, "There
is no money;" and yet at the close of the year you proclaimed and
boasted of a saving of twenty-seven thousand pounds in the
treasury! This seems a fearful contradiction; and the whole
public received it as such. The governor may complain that the
public expect too much; the public may complain that the governor
does too little.
Upon these satisfactory terms, governors and their dependants bow
each other out, the colony being a kind of opera stall, a
reserved seat for the governor during the performance of five
acts (as we will term his five years of office); and the fifth
act, as usual in tragedies, exposes the whole plot of the
preceding four, and winds up with the customary disasters.
Now the question is, how long this age of misrule will last.
Every one complains, and still every one endures. Each man has a
grievance, but no man has a remedy. Still, the absurdity of our
colonial appointments is such that if steps were purposely taken
to ensure the destruction of the colonies, they could not have
been more certain.
We will commence with a new governor dealt out to a colony. We
will simply call him a governor, not troubling ourselves with his
qualifications, as of course they have not been considered at the
Colonial Office. He may be an upright, clear-headed,
indefatigable man, in the prime of life, or he may be old,
crotchety, pigheaded, and mentally and physically incapable. He
may be either; it does not much matter, as he can only remain for
five years, at which time his term expires.
We will suppose that the crotchety old gentleman arrives first.
The public will be in a delightful perplexity as to what the new
governor will do - whether he will carry out the views of his
predecessor, or whether he will upset everything that has been
done in the past five years; all is uncertainty. The only thing
known positively is, that, good or bad, he will pocket seven
thousand a year!* *[since reduced to five thousand pounds].
His term of government will be chequered by many disappointments
to the public, and, if he has any feeling at all, by many
heartburnings to himself. Physically incapable of much
exertion, he will be unable to travel over so wild a country as
Ceylon. A good governor in a little island may be a very bad
governor in a large island, as a good cab-driver might make a bad
four-in hand man; thus our old governor would have no practical
knowledge of the country, but would depend upon prejudiced
accounts for his information. Thus he would never arrive at any
correct information; he would receive all testimony with doubt,
considering that each had some personal motive in offering
advice, and one tongue would thus nullify the other until he
should at length come to the conclusion of David in his haste,
"that all men are liars," and turn a deaf ear to all. This would
enable him to pass the rest of his term without any active
blunders, and he might vary the passive monotony of his existence
by a system of contradiction to all advice gratis. A little
careful pruning of expenses during the last two years of his term
might give a semblance of increase o£ revenue over expenditure,
to gain a smile from the Colonial Office. On his return the
colony would be left with neglected roads, consequent upon the
withdrawal of the necessary funds.
This incubus at length removed from the colony, may be succeeded
by a governor of the first class.
He arrives; finds everything radically wrong; the great arteries
of the country (the roads) in disorder; a large outlay required
to repair them. Thus his first necessary act begins by an outlay
at a time when all outlay is considered equivalent to crime.
This gains him a frown from the Colonial Office. Conscious of
right, however, he steers his own course; he travels over the
whole country, views its features personally, judges of its
requirements and resources, gathers advice from capable persons,
forms his own opinion, and acts accordingly.
We will allow two years of indefatigable research to have passed
over our model governor; by that time, and not before, he may
have become thoroughly conversant with the colony in all its
bearings. He has comprehended the vast natural capabilities, he
has formed his plans methodically for the improvement of the
country; not by any rash and speculative outlay, but, step by
step, he hopes to secure the advancement of his schemes.
This is a work of time; he has much to do. The country is in an
uncivilized state; he sees the vestiges of past grandeur around
him, and his views embrace a wide field for the renewal of former
prosperity. Tanks must be repaired, canals reopened, emigration
of Chinese and Malabars encouraged, forests and jungles cleared,
barren land brought into fertility. The work of years is before
him, but the expiration of his term draws near. Time is
precious, but nevertheless he must refer his schemes to the
Colonial Office. What do they know of Ceylon? To them his plans
seem visionary; at all events they will require an outlay. A
correspondence ensues - that hateful correspondence! This ensures
delay. Time flies; the expiration of his term draws near. Even
his sanguine temperament has ceased to hope; his plans are not
even commenced, to work out which would require years; he never
could see them realized, and his successor might neglect them and
lay the onus of the failure upon him, the originator, or claim
the merit of their success.
So much for a five years' term of governorship, the absurdity of
which is superlative. It is so entirely contrary to the system
of management in private affairs that it is difficult to imagine
the cause that could have given rise to such a regulation. In
matters great or small, the capability of the manager is the
first consideration; and if this be proved, the value of the man
is enhanced accordingly; no employer would lose him.
But in colonial governments the system is directly opposite, for
no sooner does the governor become competent than he is withdrawn
and transferred to another sphere. Thus every colony is like a
farm held on a short lease, which effectually debars it from
improvement, as the same feeling which actuates the individual in
neglecting the future, because he will not personally enjoy the
fruits of his labor, must in some degree fetter the enterprise of
a five years' governor. He is little better than the Lord Mayor,
who flutters proudly for a year, and then drops his borrowed
feathers in his moulting season.
Why should not governors serve an apprenticeship for five years
as colonial secretaries to the colonies they are destined for, if
five years is still to be the limited term of their office? This
would ensure a knowledge of the colony at a secretary's salary,
and render them fit for both the office and salary of governor
when called upon; whereas, by the present system, they at once
receive a governor's salary before they understand their duties.
In casually regarding the present picture of Ceylon, it is hard
to say which point has been most neglected; but a short
residence in the island will afford a fair sample of government
inactivity in the want of education among the people.
Upon this subject more might be said than lies in my province to
dwell upon; nevertheless, after fifty years' possession of the
Kandian districts, this want is so glaring that I cannot withhold
a few remarks upon the subject, as I consider the ignorant state
of the native population a complete check to the advancement of
In commencing this subject, I must assume that the conquerors of
territory are responsible for the moral welfare of the
inhabitants; therefore our responsibility increases with our
conquests. A mighty onus thus rests upon Great Britain, which
few consider when they glory in the boast, "that the sun never
sets upon her dominions."
This thought leads us to a comparison of power between ourselves
and other countries, and we trace the small spot upon the world's
map which marks our little island, and in every sphere we gaze
with wonder at our vast possessions. This is a picture of the
present. What will the future be in these days of advancement?
It were vain to hazard a conjecture; but we can look back upon
the past, and build upon this foundation our future hopes.
When the pomps and luxuries of Eastern cities spread throughout
Ceylon, and millions of inhabitants fed on her fertility, when
the hands of her artists chiseled the figures of her gods from
the rude rock, when her vessels, laden with ivory and spices,
traded with the West, what were we? A forest-covered country,
peopled by a fierce race of savages clad in skins, bowing before
druidical idolatry, paddling along our shores in frames of
wickerwork and hide.
The ancient deities of Ceylon are in the same spots, unchanged;
the stones of the Druids stand unmoved; but what has become of
the nations? Those of the East have faded away and their strength
has perished. Their ships are crumbled; the rude canoe glides
over their waves; the spices grow wild in their jungles; and,
unshorn and unclad, the inhabitants wander on the face of the
Is it "chance" that has worked this change? Where is the
forest-covered country and its savage race, its skin-clad
warriors and their frail coracles?
There, where the forest stood, from north to south and from east
to west, spreads a wide field of rich fertility. There, on those
rivers where the basket-boats once sailed, rise the taut spars of
England's navy. Where the rude hamlet rested on its banks in
rural solitude, the never-weary din of commerce rolls through the
city of the world. The locomotive rushes like a thunder-clap
upon the rail; the steamer ploughs against the adverse wind, and,
rapid as the lightning, the telegraph cripples time. The once
savage land is the nucleus of the arts and civilization. The
nation that from time to time was oppressed, invaded, conquered,
but never subjected, still pressed against the weight of
adversity, and, as age after age rolled on, and mightier woes and
civil strife gathered upon her, still the germ of her destiny, as
it expanded, threw off her load, until she at length became a
nation envied and feared.
It was then that the powers of the world were armed against her,
and all Europe joined to tear the laurels from her crown, and
fleets and armies thronged from all points against the devoted
land, and her old enemy, the Gaul, hovered like his own eagle
over the expected prey.
The thunder of the cannon shook the world, and blood tinged the
waves around the land, and war and tumult shrieked like a tempest
over the fair face of Nature; the din of battle smothered all