The Dutch took over Sri Lanka after driving the Portuguese out between 1656 and 1658. They had initially been asked by the kingdom of Kandy to get rid of the Portuguese. The result: the Dutch replaced the Portugese with themselves. According to the “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”: “The Dutch became interested in wresting control of the western seaboard from the Portuguese, and allied themselves with the Kandyan king. After a long campaign, the combined Kandyan and Dutch forces finally defeated the Portuguese. The Dutch inflated the cost of their war efforts and presented the Kandyan king a bill that he could not repay. Through this strategy, they gained control over the Kotte and, eventually, Jaffna. The main mark that the Dutch left on Sri Lankan society is the codification of a legal system that included both indigenous and Dutch laws. [Source: Robert T. Francoeur, Victor C. de Munck, Ph.D., Patricia Weerakoon, Ph.D., “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”, 2002]

The Dutch called the island Ceilon and they, like the Portuguese, were unable to defeat the Sinhalese kingdom at Kandy. The Dutch were more concerned with the bottom line and making profits than the Portugese. They introduced the Roman-Dutch legal system and established plantations for coffee, cotton and tobacco in the central highlands, They were unable to win many converts to Protestantism.

Under the Dutch, the dominant Vellala took advantage of unique interpretations of Roman-Dutch law and used Palla slaves brought form southern India to provide labor for cash-crop agriculture that turned the Jaffna peninsula into one of the most lucrative sources of income for the colonial Dutch. The Dutch were ultimately forced out by events in Europe.

Europeans Come to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka was colonized by Europeans for more than 500 years. Portuguese arrived in the early 16th century, then came the Dutch, who stuck around for two centuries until they were displaced by the British at the end if 18th century. The Portuguese and Dutch mainly controlled coastal region. The British establish control over the entire island in 1815. The Russian writer Anton Chekhov visited Ceylon for three days on his visit in November 1890. Afterwards he wrote, "I have seen Ceylon, which is paradise and Sakhalin which is utter hell." Sakhalin is a cold and stormy island in the Russian Far East.

Sri Lanka has been known since ancient times. The Greeks and Roman referred to Sri Lanka as Taprobane, and regarded it as the eastern edge of the world. The ancient Chinese called it the Island of gems. King Solomon reportedly sent emissaries to the City of Gems for precious stones to entice the Queen of Sheba. The six century Greek trader wrote "a great island...resort ships."

Between the mid 13th century and the early 16th century there were five Sinhalese kingdoms in Sri Lanka. and attacks came from south India, China and Malaysia. At the time of the arrival of Europeans — the Portuguese — in 1505 there were two Sinhalese kingdoms — one at Kandy in the central highlands and another in Kotte along the southwest coast near Colombo — and a Tamil kingdom in Jaffna. Kotte was the principal seat of Sinhalese power, and it claimed a largely imaginary overlordship not only over Kandy but also over the entire island. None of the three kingdoms, however, had the strength to assert itself over the other two and reunify the island.

Netherlands in the Early 17th Century

The United Provinces of the Netherlands (the government in control of Holland in the early 17th century) was, in a sense, the world's first modern state. It was a republic dominated by middle class burghers rather than a dynastic monarchy. In the first half of the 17th century, the United Provinces grew in power and wealth. They possessed the largest merchant fleet in the world and over time opened up new trade began and acquired colonies. At one point the Dutch controlled half the world's shipping

After Spain absorbed Portugal in 1580 the Dutch seized Portuguese possessions and created a vast, though short-lived commercial empire in Brazil, the Antilles, Africa, India, Ceylon, Malacca, Indonesia and Taiwan and challenged Portuguese traders in China and Japan. Naval and land battle between colonial powers in Southeast Asia in the 17th century gave the English and the Dutch access to the lucrative spice trade route the Portuguese had established.

The Dutch had been traders a long time. The Bank of Amsterdam was founded in 1609, 85 years before the Bank of England. Some say the Dutch East India Company (see Below) was the first multinational corporation.

History of Trade in Sri Lanka

James L. A. Webb Jr. Wrote in History of World Trade Since 1450": “The Singhalese and Tamil communities of Sri Lanka had long participated in the wide currents of Indian Ocean maritime trade. Before 1450 the three principal regional trades were to the eastern and western coasts of India, to southwest Asia, and to Malacca. These regional trades were complex in that a number of ethnic groups participated and employed a wide variety of currencies. Indian and Sri Lankan merchants, principally financed by Indian banking firms, handled the trade to India. Arab Muslim merchants carried on the commerce between Sri Lanka and West Asia. Malaccan merchants traded with Sri Lanka, on the edge of their Southeast Asian and Chinese nexus of commerce. [Source: James L. A. Webb Jr. “History of World Trade Since 1450", Thomson Gale, 2006]

“The Sri Lankan goods traded into these regional networks were areca nuts (a stimulant chewed with betel leaves), elephants, precious gems, pearls, chanks (a sea-shell), and cinnamon. The principal imports were rice and cloth. These patterns continued in the midst of political change throughout the period 1506 to 1796, during which the Portuguese and then the Dutch attempted to impose their administrative control over certain export goods. During the nineteenth century the British substantially altered these regional trades through the extension of their commercial control over India, parts of southwest Asia, and Malaysia, and through the creation of extensive export-oriented plantations in the Sri Lankan highlands.

“In 1506 the Portuguese arrived on the southwestern coast of the island. In 1533 they established their control over the export of cinnamon through a contractual agreement with the king of the lowland state of Kotte. Both Portuguese and Muslim smugglers, however, regularly violated the Portuguese cinnamon monopoly, and the Portuguese Crown vacillated between a policy of royal monopoly and one of open trade in the spice. The Portuguese did succeed in binding new groups into onerous obligations to collect the tree's bark, and in increasing the volume of cinnamon exports to European, West Asian, and Indian markets, particularly in the seventeenth century. Individual Portuguese may have made fortunes in the cinnamon trade; the profits to the Crown appear to have been very modest. The Portuguese also attempted to impose on Singhalese farmers a system of the compulsory sale of areca nuts at below market prices, but with little success. The overall thrust of the Portuguese policies was to capture by administrative control a share of the benefits of these export trades.

“The Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC) ousted the Portuguese from the Sri Lanka littoral in 1658. The VOC attempted to impose a monopoly on Sri Lankan external trade in 1670 in all commodities except for rice. This exception was made because the volume of rice imported to the island was large, and the VOC lacked the shipping capacity to carry on the trade. The Dutch were unable to enforce effectively their monopoly, and as in the Portuguese period, a great deal of officially prohibited trade took place. The Dutch also reversed their policies more than once and never settled upon a course of action that worked to their satisfaction. The Dutch efforts to dominate the Sri Lankan export trades — again, with the exception of cinnamon, as in the Portuguese period — were only partly effective.

United East India Company (Dutch East India Company, VOC)

Recognizing the great potential of East Indies trade, the Dutch government amalgamated competing merchant companies into the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC; United East India Company) in 1602 under a charter issued by the Dutch parliament, the Staten-Generaal. This government-run monopoly soon became the main competitor in the spice trade.

The VOC, some say, was one of the world’s first join stock company and some credit it with creating the world’s first logo. Its eastern wing, later called the Dutch East India Company , traded with the Far East and controlled much of the trade between Europe and Persia, India, Java, the Spice Islands and Japan. The Dutch West India Company, founded in 1621, traded with Africa and America. It made a fortune selling gold, emeralds, sugar, slaves and ivory from West Africa, Mexico, Chile and Peru.

A common historical perspective on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is to portray the VOC as a uniquely powerful military and economic juggernaut that steadily and deliberately constructed the empire that came to be known as the Netherlands East Indies. In the twentieth century, such a view was frequently shared by Dutch colonial officials and Indonesian nationalists, who spoke of “350 years of Dutch rule” in the archipelago. The truth, however, was more modest. The VOC was neither the “first (modern) multinational corporation,” as has sometimes been claimed, nor the instrument of a state policy of colonial expansion. It was founded in the Netherlands in 1602 as an effort to manage the competition and risk of the growing number of Dutch expeditions to the Indonesian archipelago (10 companies, 10 voyages, and 65 ships between 1595 and 1601), and to compete with the East India Company, formed by the English two years earlier, for control of the Asian trade. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The VOC’s initial charter established its sole right among Dutch enterprises to do business in Asia and gave it exceptional powers, such as those of keeping an army and using military force, making treaties with local rulers, building fortifications, and issuing coinage. In addition, it called for little government oversight and did not require the new company to pay dividends to investors at the end of each voyage (as had been the practice), allowing it to amass large sums of money over longer periods of time. The purpose of this state-supported enterprise was primarily to make a profit. At home the directors, known as the Heeren XVII (Seventeen Gentlemen), recognized that fighting wars, establishing colonies (rather than simple trading posts and fortifications), and becoming involved in local disputes diminished profits, and they generally warned against such activities. *

VOC representatives, appointed after 1610 as governors general, tended to see the warring and political involvement as necessary and pursued them anyway, often vigorously. Even the more ambitious of their efforts, however, were restrained by certain realities. Above all, the VOC was never big enough or strong enough to dominate the entire region it was involved in. Finally, of course, the VOC’s fortunes were subject to the vagaries of a trading system that stretched far beyond Asia, including the rise and fall in world demand for spices and, later, for other products on which it came to depend, such as coffee. In the course of nearly two centuries, the company failed to control the spice trade and establish the stable conditions necessary for mercantile growth.

Dutch Move Into Sri Lanka

The Dutch became involved in the politics of the Indian Ocean in the beginning of the seventeenth century. Headquartered at Batavia in modern Indonesia, the Dutch moved to wrest control of the highly profitable spice trade from the Portuguese. The Dutch began negotiations with King Rajasinha II of Kandy in 1638. A treaty assured the king assistance in his war against the Portuguese in exchange for a monopoly of the island's major trade goods, particularly cinnamon. Rajasinha also promised to pay the Dutch's war-related expenses. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

The Dutch, in perpetual search of trade, appeared in Ceylon for the first time in 1602. To evade the Portuguese they entered by the backdoor, near the present day Batticaloa on the east coast. They were to stay there, fighting hard to drive out the Portuguese, for the next 200 years. They gradually took control of the whole coastline of the Big Island, as they called it, growing the precious cinnamon for huge profits, and trapping the Empire of Kandy in the mountainous interior. By the close of the 18th century, when they had the island in a heavy colonial grip, they were smoothly and bloodlessly replaced by the British, who volunteered to protect their colony while Holland was occupied by Napoleon, but once in control decided that this arrangement was deserving of a more permanent status.

The beginning of this period was clearly the most interesting. The first expedition of three ships, the Sheep, the Ram and the Lamb, was led by Van Spilbergen, the well-known admiral of many expeditions intoVan Spilbergen meets the King of Kandy unknown seas and territories. After landing on the east coast of Ceylon Van Spilbergen undertook an arduous journey on foot through the jungle and the mountains to the court of the King of Kandy. It turned out to be well worth it because they returned with a treaty with the King, who was glad to welcome a third party who could be played against the Portuguese, who had been there since 1505.

Only three months later however, a second expedition arrived in Ceylon, independent of the first one, under the command of the old sailor Sebald de Weert. He recieved as hearty a welcome from the King as his predecessor, and on his request drew up a plan to take the important trading port of Galle, on the west coast, from the Portuguese. It has never become clear what happened next exactly, but de Weert and 46 of his men were killed by Kandyan soldiers, either because of subtle but fatal transgressions against the complicated ceremonies to be observed at the court, or because they were outrageously drunk. The relations between the Dutch and Kandy were set back to zero.

Kandy Ask the Dutch for Help Against the Portuguese

Only in 1637 did the new King of Kandy, Raja Singha II, turn to the Dutch again for help against the Portuguese who were bent on conquest with a view to religious conversion and an end to the rule of independent Singalese Kings. A letter was despatched to the Dutch Governor of the Indian Coromandel coast, which was forwarded to Batavia. Batavia had become the headquarters of the United East-India Company, the VOC, the largest and most powerful multinational the world has ever seen, which had the capacity to wage war and enter into treaties with governments. [Source: lycos.nl/krane/ceylon/ceylonhistory.htm]

The Company ordered a fleet that was engaged in blocking Goa to send some ships to Ceylon. Their commander, Coster, helped the Singalese to capture the Portuguese fort at Batticaloa in exchange for two shiploads of cinnamon. In the meantime the enraged Portuguese had marched on Kandy and had sacked it, though on the way back their army was decimated by the guerilla warfare of the Kandyans. The Dutch and Singalese now decided that the Portuguese had definitely overstayed their welcome and made a treaty to expel them from the King's country. The Dutch started to wage war against the Portuguese forts and took Trincomalee in 1639, and Galle in 1640.

After the conquest of Galle Coster went to Kandy to talk business, but around this time the King was beginning to wonder whether what was happening was not simply one intruder being replaced with the next. Coster was rebuffed, and after expressing anger at this he was removed from the court, and murdered on his way back to Galle. As a contemperary historian noted: 'An impious. The death of Coster reward indeed for his services'.

Conflict Between the Dutch and Portuguese in Sri Lanka

The Portuguese fiercely resisted the Dutch and the Kandyans and were expelled only gradually from their strongholds. The Dutch captured the eastern ports of Trincomalee and Batticaloa in 1639 and restored them to the Sinhalese. But when the southwestern and western ports of Galle and Negombo fell in 1640, the Dutch refused to turn them over to the king of Kandy. The Dutch claimed that Rajasinha had not reimbursed them for their vastly inflated claims for military expenditures. This pretext allowed the Dutch to control the island's richest cinnamon lands. The Dutch ultimately presented the king of Kandy with such a large bill for help against the Portuguese that the king could never hope to repay it.

In 1642 Portugal ended her union with Spain and entered into a ten-year truce with Holland, which calmed things down considerably. However, European treaties, as firm as they might seem in Europe, deteriorated in status to the signatories in direct proportion to the distance they were from home, and the Dutch still managed to capture the forts of Negombo and Matara in 1644, the Portuguese holding out at Colombo.

After the truce ended a fleet of twenty ships under Gerard Hulft was sent from Holland to settle matters once and for all. Like all the struggles between the Dutch and the Portuguese in the tropics, the fight was long and viscious, and Hulft, a highly educated and intelligent man, who had just been appointed to the Council at Batavia, made a celebrated visit to Raja Singha at Kandy to seal their cooperation and remove any misunderstandings that had occurred between the two parties in the past. After a long siege and extensive fighting, in which Hulft himself was killed, Colombo was finally taken in 1656. [Source: lycos.nl/krane/ceylon/ceylonhistory.htm)

Fighting Between Portuguese and Dutch

Joao Ribeiro was 19 when he came to Ceylon in 1641 to served there in the Portuguese army until 1659. He rose to the rank of Captain and was in the thick of fighting during the next eighteen years both against the forces of Rajasinha II, the Kandyan king, and the Hollanders who dislodged the Portuguese, capturing Colombo in 1656 and Jaffna in 1658. [Source: “Ceylon of the Early Travellers” by H.A.J. Hulugalle, published by Arjuna Hulugalle Dictionaries]

When he arrived In Ceylon the Portuguese were in a bad way. They had lost Negombo and Galle to the Dutch. The viceroy found an empty exchequer in Goa but felt that something had to be done to retrieve the situation in Ceylon. He fitted out a fleet consisting of "sixteen galliots and fustas, with four hundred soldiers and some brave Captains", under the command of Dom Filippe Mascarenhas, a man of great wealth, which arrived in Colombo in eleven days.

Ribeiro was one of the four hundred soldiers carried by the ships. Within a few days of their arrival the new force went into action and recaptured Negombo. Ribeiro describes with vivid detail the various campaigns against the Dutch, notably the defence of Colombo in the death pangs of Portuguese rule in Ceylon. On May 12th, 1656, the Portuguese surrendered the city after a siege which lasted six months and twenty seven days and in which the garrison was reduced to famine. The defence of Colombo, in which Ribeiro participated, has been judged the most gallant feat of the Portuguese in Ceylon. Ribeiro pays tribute to the bravery of a number of the Portuguese captains, among them Gaspar Figueiro de Cerpe, whose mother belonged to a respectable Sinhalese family. He is the hero of "Brave Island," a novel published in Ceylon, by R. L. Spittel and Christine Wilson.

Of the last day of the siege, writes Ribeiro: " By nine o’clock at night we had no more men to fight with them and had they come and followed us into the street, without doubt they would easily have killed the few we had. That night they brought a quantity of fascines and earth with which they made parapets towards the city, and by morning they had turned the artillery; when we saw this, a Council was held to decide what should be done under the circumstances. Some voted for sending the few women and children we had into a church and setting it and the whole city on fire, while the few men who remained should die sword in hand in the midst of the enemy, so that the very memory of the people of the city might not be left, and the enemy might not boast of his conquests. The prelates of the religious orders who were present at this meeting vetoed the suggestion, declaring that such would be the work of gentiles and utter barbarians, and one condemned by all laws human and divine: our duty to resign ourselves to the will of God and not to oppose His divine decrees: for though His Majesty had laid special importance on the defense of the Island, yet it was his Ministers who would be called upon to explain why no relief was sent for this length of time. When the war against the Dutch was over, Ribeiro was taken prisoner and sent to Batavia, from where he returned to Portugal in 1659.

Dutch Drive Out the Portuguese in Sri Lanka

The year 1657 was spent in the blockade of Goa, and it was only in 1658 that Tuticorin and Mannar fell into the hands of the Dutch. These captures were completed by the surrender of Jaffna on June 24, 1658, after a siege of three months, and by the consequent total expulsion of the Portuguese from the Island. The conquest of Jaffna was marked by unnecessary brutality on the part of the Dutch in the treatment of their prisoners.

Superior economic resources and greater naval power enabled the Dutch to dominate the Indian Ocean. They attacked Portuguese positions throughout South Asia and in the end allowed their adversaries to keep only their settlement at Goa. In 1661, the Portuguese and Dutch signed a treaty in which Portugal retains Brazil and the Dutch keep Ceylon

Conflict Between the Dutch and the Kandyans

The terms of the capitulation of Colombo in 1656 led immediately to a breach between Rajasinha and the Dutch. The king contended that Hulft had promised that Colombo should be delivered to him to be demolished. The Dutch on the other hand had no intention of giving him so important a place, the more so as their expenses in the campaign had not been paid, and alleged that Hulft had understood that the king wished the existing walls to be pulled down and for a smaller part of the city fortified, as was actually carried out later. Rajasinha by this time was for the moment master of Lanka, with the exception of the north and of the fortresses with some villages on the coast, and proceeded to starve out the Dutch, plundering and well-high depopulating the low country. Confusions occurred,. and at last in November, 1656, the Dutch, unable to tolerate longer the state of affairs, drove the king from the vicinity of Colombo. The low country had been so denuded of its inhabitants that the Company some years later resolved that the lands between Hanwella, Angaruwatota and the coast should be peopled and cultivated by Tanjore slaves and citizens of Colombo.

On the terms of the treaty Raja Singha had to compensate the Company for the costs of their military campaign and the subsequent garrisoning of the conquered forts, and the Company was required to share all war booty equally with Raja Singha. Raja Singha claimed that the Dutch governors had promised to hand over Colombo to him if it was conquered. It's not clear whether this was true. It certainly wasn't in the treaty, and, not surprisingly, it did not happen. Raja Singha had not sufficiently reimbursed the Dutch and, now the Portuguese were definitely gone, was not intending to. The Company had no enthusiasm to give up the Colombo Fort either, and had prepared a bill for Raja Singha that he would never be able to pay, even if he wanted to, and which kept getting bigger the longer the Dutch were occupying the forts. From now on the Dutch would keep on trying to get the Kandy Kingdom to officially accept this state of affairs, giving them full legal posession of the forts in exchange for remission of the King's debts, but the Kingdom would never agree. [Source: lycos.nl/krane/ceylon/ceylonhistory.htm)

Relations between the Kandyians and the Dutch deteriorated. Periods of peace alternated with hostilities. Attempts by the Kandyians to disrupt trade and starve the Dutch by plundering and depopulating the lowlands were answered by the Dutch closing the port of Kalpityia and thereby stopping the Kandyian trade with the outside world. Raja Singha regretted bitterly the death of his friend Hulft, and had to deal now with the new Governor, the empire builder Rijckloff van Goens, who tirelessly strove to expand the Company's power and territory and sought to persuade the Council at Batavia, even going over their heads to the Directors at Amsterdam, to allow him to go to war with Kandy. But the eternal struggle within the Company between merchants who were interested in trade and thought in terms of cost-benefit, and merchants who were interested in empire and thought in terms of military power was always won by the former. The Company above all had to be prudent.

Rykloff van Goens the Elder governed Sri Lanka except for brisk intervals from 1660 to 1675. Relations with the Court of Kandy continued strained, but in 1664 a rebellion broke out against Rajasinha, who fled to Hanguranketa and wrote for help to thern Dutch. Their assistance took the form of annexing fifteen districts in 1665, by which the Company's frontier became practically conterminous with that held by the Portuguese in the Four Korales and Sabaragamuwa, the Seven Korales being left to the Sinhala: Trincomalee and Batticaloa also were occupied at the same time, Kalpitiya in 1667, and Kottiyar in 1668. Desultory hostilities on the part of Rajasinha continued, and the Dutch, unable to get satisfaction from the king, closed the ports of Kottiyar, Batticaloa and Kalpitiya, thus stopping the Kandyan trade. In 1671 the king again was in trouble with his own subjects.

About this time the French entered into negotiations with Rajasinha and occupied Trincomalee. They were expelled in 1672 by the Dutch, and their ambassador, who had offended the king, was kept a prisoner in the interior until his death. Peace continued until 1675, when a general insurrection took place, and at the same time an invasion by the Kandyans in force. In this year the Governor was succeeded by his son Rykloff van Goens the Younger (1675-1679), and in 1677 the Batavian authorities ordered the restoration to Rajasinha of the districts occupied twelve years previously. The king, however, made no effort to take them over, and intermittent hostilities continued until the government was assumed by Laurens Pyl (1679-1692), who made a good impression on the Court. But Rajasinha was still angry over the closing of the ports, and in 1684 surprised and secured a considerable amount of territory as well as the invaluable salt pans at Hambantota, all however included in the districts ordered to be returned to him. The efforts of the Company to obtain a permanent peace were still fruitless when the old king died on November 25, 1687.

Dutch Rule in Sri Lanka

The king of Kandy soon realized that he had replaced one foe with another and proceeded to incite rebellion in the lowlands where the Dutch held sway. He even attempted to ally the British in Madras in his struggle to oust the Dutch. These efforts ended with a serious rebellion against his rule in 1664. The Dutch profited from this period of instability and extended the territory under their control. They took over the remaining harbors and completely cordoned off Kandy, thereby making the highland kingdom landlocked and preventing it from allying itself with another foreign power. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988]

This strategy, combined with a concerted Dutch display of force, subdued the Kandyan kings. Henceforth, Kandy was unable to offer significant resistance except in its internal frontier regions. The Dutch and the Kingdom of Kandy eventually settled down to an uneasy modus vivendi, partly because the Dutch became less aggressive. Despite underlying hostility between Kandy and the Dutch, open warfare between them occurred only once — in 1762 — when the Dutch, exasperated by Kandy's provocation of riots in the lowlands, launched a punitive expedition. The expedition met with disaster, but a better-planned second expedition in 1765 forced the Kandyans to sign a treaty that gave the Dutch sovereignty over the lowlands. The Dutch, however, maintained their pretension that they administered the territories under their control as agents of the Kandyan ruler.

The Dutch, like the Portuguese before them, tried to entice their fellow countrymen to settle in Sri Lanka, but attempts to lure members of the upper class, especially women, were not very successful. Lower-ranking military recruits, however, responded to the incentive of free land, and their marriages to local women added another group to the island's already small but established population of Eurasians — the Portuguese Burghers. The Dutch Burghers formed a separate and privileged ethnic group on the island in the twentieth century.

During the Dutch period, social differences between lowland and highland Sinhalese hardened, forming two culturally and politically distinct groups. Western customs and laws increasingly influenced the lowland Sinhalese, who generally enjoyed a higher standard of living and greater literacy. Despite their relative economic and political decline, the highland Sinhalese were nonetheless proud to have retained their political independence from the Europeans and thus considered themselves superior to the lowland Sinhalese. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988]

Dutch Administration in Sri Lanka

The Dutch contributed significantly to the evolution of the judicial, and, to a lesser extent, administrative systems on the island. They codified indigenous law and customs that did not conflict directly with Dutch-Roman jurisprudence. The outstanding example was Dutch codification of the Tamil legal code of Jaffna- -the Thesavalamai. To a small degree, the Dutch altered the traditional land grant and tenure system, but they usually followed the Portuguese pattern of minimal interference with indigenous social and cultural institutions. The provincial governors of the territories of Jaffnapatam, Colombo, and Trincomalee were Dutch. These rulers also supervised various local officials, most of whom were the traditional mudaliyar (headmen). [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988]

The Government of Lanka was entrusted to the Governor and Director ef the Island, always a member of the Council of India, and to the Political Council, consisting of the Hoofel Administrateur (Controller of Revenue), the Disawa of Colombo, the chief military officer, the Fiscal (Public Prosecutor), and five others, the heads of the principal departments at headquarters. These were the Secretariat under the Political Secretary, the Negotie Kantoor (Trade Office), the Zoldij Kantoor (Pay Office), and the Warehouses. The Visitateur or head of the Visitie Kantoor (Audit Office) had no seat on the Council. [Source: lycos.nl/krane/ceylon/ceylonhistory.htm)

The Dutch territories were divided between Colombo, Jaffna and Galle. The jurisdiction of Colombo extended from Kalpitiya on the north to the Bentota River on the south, and was under the Disawa, with Opperhoofds at Kalpitiya, Negombo and Kalutara. The Captain of the ilahabadda or Cinnamon Department was subordinate to the Disawa, who in later times held the office in addition to his own. Jaffna and Galle being at a distance from the seat of government were administered by Commandeurs, assisted by a Council. At Jaffna there was also a Disawa, and Opperhoofds at Mannar, Trincomalee and Batticaloa. At Galle the Disawa of Matara was the senior member of the local Council; the Galle Korale was governed by a Superintendent, who also was Captain of the Mahabadda. All these officers were Dutchmen.

The Dutch retained the old system of government inherited from the native kings by the Portuguese. The Mudaliyar assisted by Muhandirams and Arachchis commanded the Lascorins or native militia; the Korala was in charge of the remainder of the people. Governor Falck, however, modified this arrangement in view of the disputes between the two sets of headmen by amalgamating the offices of Mudaliyar and Korala. Most lands were held by service tenure, and the headmen were paid by grants of land enjoyed only while they held office. The number of offices and the extent of the land assigned to each was cut down by Van Gollenesse. The Moors and Chetties, being considered foreigners, were subject to Uliyam or forced labour, which however could be commuted for a cash payment. The Malays, imported by the Dutch from the Archipelago, were bound to military service.

At Colombo the chief court was (1) the Raad van Justitie, consisting of members chosen from the Political Council and presided over by the Hoofd Administrateur. It had exclusive criminal jurisdiction and original juris diction in civil cases between Europeans and natives in Colombo: it was also a court of appeal. (2) The Landraad dealt with litigation touching land among the natives: it was composed of the Disawa as President, a few members of the Political Service and native chiefs (3) The Civiel Raad or Court of Small Causes took cognizance of civil cases under 120 rixdollars in value, and had jurisdiction over Europeans and natives. A similar Raad van Justitie under the Commandeur existed at Jaffna and Galle as well as Landraads, which also were instituted at the smaller stations. Appeals lay from the Raads van Justitie of Jaffna and Galle and from all minor courts in civil and criminal matters to the Raad van Justitie at Colombo, and in certain eases to the Raad van Justitie at Batavia.

Religion and Education Under the Dutch in Sri Lanka

The Dutch tried with little success to supplant Roman Catholicism with Protestantism. They rewarded native conversion to the Dutch Reformed Church with promises of upward mobility, but Catholicism was too deeply rooted. (In the 1980s, the majority of Sri Lankan Christians remained Roman Catholics.) The Dutch were far more tolerant of the indigenous religions than the Portuguese; they prohibited open Buddhist and Hindu religious observance in urban areas, but did not interfere with these practices in rural areas. The Dutch banned Roman Catholic practices, however. They regarded Portuguese power and Catholicism as mutually interdependent and strove to safeguard against the reemergence of the former by persecuting the latter. They harassed Catholics and constructed Protestant chapels on confiscated church property. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988]

The Dutch Reformed Church followed the civil divisions and a Kerkraad or Consistory was established at Colombo, Jaffna and Galle. The staff consisted of European ministers, Native Proponents or preachers usually qualified in the Colombo Seminary, European Krankbezoekers who visited the hospitals and taught orphans, and native Catechists and Schoolmasters. They were much exercised over the suppression of Buddhism andPopery.' Edu cation almost entirely lay in their hands. The schools in the countryside mainly taught the Catechism and prayer, as well as reading and writing in the vernacular; each school had from two to four teachers and every ten a Catechist. They were supervised by the Scholarchal Commission, which in Colombo consisted of the Disawa, the clergy of the place, and three or four members of the' Political service, all nominated by the Governor. Similar bodies existed at Jaffna and Galle. These boards not only visited the schools yearly, but took cognizance of native maniages, issued marriage licences, and examined and appointed the schoolmasters and Tombo-holders or registrars. In 1788 the number of schools between Kalpitiya and Bentota was fifty-five. [Source: lycos.nl/krane/ceylon/ceylonhistory.htm)

There were also elementary Dutch schools for Europeans, about seventeen in all. They were classified as Orphan, Parish, and Private: those of the first two categories were supported by the Government. Secondary education was confined to the Colombo Seminary, apparently not entirely under the control of the Scholarchal Commission ; it is first noticed in 1708. The higher course of instruction was given in Dutch. At a later date, Latin, Greek and Hebrew were added to the curriculum. The institution was mainly intended for the education of the clergy, schoolmasters and catchists. It was responsible for the translation of the whole of the New Testament and a great part of the Old into the vernacular. In 1747 a native school called the New Seminary was started in Colombo, but seems to have had no long existence. The Jaffna Seminary, begun in 1690, was discontinued in 1723.

Burghers of Ceylon

After their conquest, the Dutch also attempted to found some colonies of Dutch citizens dubbed "Burgher". This was attempted particularly first under Maetsuyker (governor from 1646 to 1650), but at the end of his government and later under Van Goens (governor from 1662-1663 and 1665-1675), there were only 68 married free-Burghers on the island. Such policy was clearly a failure as only a few Dutch families settled on the island. In the first 30 years of Dutch rule in Ceylon, the Burgher community never exceeded 500 in number and it was mainly composed by sailors, clerks, tavern-keepers and discharged soldiers. [Source: Marco Ramerini, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com ]

The Dutch East India Company (VOC) to support this emigration facilitated in any case the Burgher: Burghers alone had the privilege to keep shops, were given liberal grants of land with the right of free trade. Whenever possible they were preferred to natives for appointment to office. Only Burghers had the right of baking bread, butchering and shoemaking. Most of them were civil servants of the Company.

In the 18th century a growing European community (a mixture of Portuguese, Dutch, Sinhalese and Tamil) had developed in Ceylon. They dressed European, were adherents to the Dutch Reformed Church and spoke Dutch or Portuguese. The marriage between a Burgher and a native woman (often an Indo-Portuguese woman) was permitted only if she professed the Christian religion. However, the daughters of this union had to be married to a Dutchman. Like Van Goens said: "… so that our race may degenerate as little as possible".

With the passing of time, the Burgher community developed into two different communities: Dutch Burghers and Portuguese Burghers. The Dutch Burghers were those who could demonstrate European ancestry (Dutch or Portuguese) through the male line, were white, Dutch reformed and Dutch speaking. The Portuguese Burghers (called later Mechanics) were those who had a supposed (but not sure) European ancestry, had dark skin, were Catholics and spoke Creole Portuguese.

Although there aren’t demographic studies available on the Burgher community in Ceylon, during the Dutch period it is clear that the growth of the community was constant. A small, but steady, influx of newcomers from Europe mixed with the families, which had settled on the island for generations. Thanks to this, the Burgher community was able to retain its open character and the heterogeneous cultural traditions. The European community produced all the priests (Predikants) of the Dutch Reformed Church. In the last decades of Dutch rule in the island, the Burgher formed a detachment of citizen soldiers. They defended the ramparts of Colombo during the fourth Anglo-Dutch war.

Dutch and Trade

After taking political control of the island, the Dutch proceeded to monopolize trade. This monopoly was at first limited to cinnamon and elephants but later extended to other goods. Control was vested in the Dutch East India Company, a joint-stock corporation, which had been established for the purpose of carrying out trade with the islands of Indonesia but was later called upon to exercise sovereign responsibilities in many parts of Asia. Yemen and Al-Makha had a monopoly in the coffee trade until the 18th century when some coffee plants were smuggled out and used to establish a plantation in Ceylon. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988]

Ceylon accounts needed to be balanced by all trade and economic activity, like pearl fisheries, and trade in areca nuts and elephants. In all the years the Dutch possessed Ceylon these activities could never quite make up for the costs of upkeeping the forts and the garrisons, so in the books Ceylon nearly always operated with a loss, and the Governors were continuously strapped for cash. [Source: lycos.nl/krane/ceylon/ceylonhistory.htm)

For long years the cinnamon was grown and peeled, brought to the ports, laden into the big ships and carried to Europe to be sold at high prices. From 1720 the Company started to plant coffee too. A long series of Governors ruled Ceylon, competent, incompetent, dull, exciting, weak, strong. Some were benevolent, like van Imhoff and Falck. Others were warlike, like van Eck, who in 1765 finally led an army to Kandy and sacked the King's Palace, sending him into refuge in his mountain hideout. One went mad, like the cruel and quite unique Peter Vuyst, who imagined a conspiracy to commit mutiny among his soldiers, and executed a number of them, before he was deposed and executed himself.

A precarious peace was upheld with the King of Kandy by diplomacy and pretense. The Dutch pretended to the King they were protecting him from his enemies, and made yearly journies to his court offering him presents, but were de facto ruling the country, keeping the King prisoner in the interior, cutting him off from the sea. The King pretended the Dutch were his loyal subjects, calling them his 'coast protectors', but sent out spies to the coast who tried to foment rebellions among the Chalias, sometimes with success, and tried to hinder the transport of cinnamon and the elephants that the Dutch shipped and sold to the Maharajas of India. That the Kingdom of Kandy managed to stay independent for so long can be explained by the inaccessibility of the forest-covered mountains of the interior, as well as the climate there, which was extremely unwholesome to Europeans. Invading armies were usually decimated by disease by the time they got to Kandy, and killed off one by one by guerilla warfare on their way back to the coast.

Dutch Cinnamon Monopoly in Sri Lanka

The monopoly on the cinnamon and the limit on its production was enforced with a heavy hand, to make sure the price did not go down. It was not allowed to grow cinnamon privately anywhere on the island. Ships of other nations that were caught at sea carrying cinnamon were confiscated. Everything depended on the monopoly on the cinnamon trade, and it guided all Dutch policy in Ceylon. Already by 1670 the Company controlled most of the coastline of the island, making it impossible for their European competitors to break into the trade. After the expulsion of the Portuguese it was the British who had become the new adversaries, whose attempts to surreptitiously contact the King and start trading with Kandy via the east coast had failed once the Company had established itself there too. The French too tried to wrestle the Dutch out of their monopoly. In 1672, when Holland was at war with France, the French occupied Trincomalee for a while and sent a mission to Kandy which met with a very unfortunate end. Everyone was flogged and imprisoned for violating imperial etiquette. That nonetheless some trade was carried out by outsiders was always suspected by the Company, especially after some small broken bits of cinnamon were found in a dillapidated warehouse in Batticaloa. [Source: lycos.nl/krane/ceylon/ceylonhistory.htm)

Cinnamon from Ceylon was of very high quality. It grew wild all along the west coast, from Chilaw down to Matara, with the highest quality to be found near Negombo, and deteriorating slowly from north to south. Another kind of cinnamon was found in Malabar, the present day Kerala in South India. This was really a low quality substitute but still it could damage the Company's monopoly, so it was necessary to control Malabar as well. By 1663 the Portuguese had been expelled from there too by van Goens, and the Company was firmly established at Cananore, Cranganore, Quilon and Cochin. It entered into treaties with all the Rajas of the region, and depending on the Raja's power, prohibiting him to peel cinnamon, or else prohibiting him to sell it, or binding him to exclusively sell it to the Company at various prices. The Company would buy the cinnamon and then destroy it. The English factories reported that the Dutch in Cochin had even uprooted the cinnamon trees.

Cinnamon in Ceylon was traditionally peeled by a low caste, the Chalias, who were obliged to peel a certain amount for the landowner whose landChalias collecting and peeling cinnamon they held in tenancy. When the Portuguese conquered these lands they continued the practice, and so did the Dutch. As a consequence they practically got their cinnamon for free. The Chalias only had to be given food while they were working and not tending their fields. Naturally the Chalias did not much like this tradition and at regular times 'spies' from Kandy stirred up feelings against the Dutch to make them stop peeling the cinnamon. The capacity of the King of Kandy to disrupt the peeling of cinnamon in the Company's lands determined the Dutch policy towards him. When it was felt his power was small he was treated badly and his lands infringed upon. When it was felt he could do damage he was pacified and pampered.

Most of the cinnamon was first brought to Batavia, as central marketplace, and only then transported to Europe, which was rather a waste but was never changed. Roughly a fifth was traded around the subcontinent: the west coast of India, the Coromandel coast and Bengal. A curious aspect of the cinnamon trade, to a modern mind, is that its huge profit was not allowed to be charged to the accounts of Ceylon, but only to the accounts of the Company as a whole. This was done to remove any temptation to the local administration to tamper with the accounts for personal profit. The Ceylon Government could only charge a small allowance for peeling and packing, and, since the cinnamon lands were only held till the King reimbursed them for their expenses made in garrisoning the forts, it was deducted from the King's debt to the Company. A debt which of course kept increasing all the time he didn't pay.

Revolts Against the Dutch

The grievances of the people in general were many. Fines were imposed for failure of their children to attend school; the cultivation of chenas or low jungle periodically cleared and sown was wrongfully monopolized by the headmen, besides being hindered in the interests of cinnamon; the Company's share in gardens planted C with consent,' which share was sold at the appraised value to the planter, was raised from one-third to one-half; and, last of all, exception was taken to the Watubadda, a tax on certain gardens. The cinnamon peelers complained of unjust treatment by their headmen and of heavy taxation. The abolition of the Watubadda as well as of the extra burdens which had been imposed on the peelers, together with permission to clear chenas on direct application to and permit from the Disawa came too late, and the `revolt spread, fostered by the Court. At last the Kandyans joined in openly, annexing the Siyane, Hapitigam, and Alutkilru Korales, and formal war was declared in 1736.

In 1739 the Singalese dynasty that had ruled Kandy came to an end, and was replaced by a dynasty from Madura in India called the Nayakers, who had married into the Kandyan royal family. Consequently relations between the Kandy Court and the Company worsened. The new Kings, who all took the name of Raja Singha, were more inclined to pursue anti-Dutch policies than their predecessors. The suffocating economic and geographical embrace of the VOC obstructed the Kandy Kingdom's development and kept its people in poverty. The VOC, being a private company, had little interest in raising the standard of living of the people in its territories, other than where it brought them benefit in one form or the other. [Source: lycos.nl/krane/ceylon/ceylonhistory.htm)

In 1760 this led to the first serious revolt against the Dutch, under the watch of Governor Jan Schreuder, or as he put it: 'The pitcher which had gone so often to water became leaky by degrees and broke to pieces in my hand at a wrathful push of the Court'. The fort at Matara was besieged and had to be given up by its garrison, which escaped by boat. The Hanwella Fort garrison was massacred. The rebellion spread to other districts and was openly supported by the King, who at the same time started talking to the British East-India Company in Madras, which sent a mission to Kandy that however led to nothing. Schreuder was replaced by van Eck, who sacked Kandy in 1765, and took the silver karanduwa which covered the Sacred Tooth of Buddha with him to Colombo. The Tooth itself had been kept safe by the Kandyans. Soon after that van Eck died, probably of malaria, which had killed many of the Dutch troops during their stay in Kandy, and was replaced by Falck, who sent the karanduwa back to the King and pursued a policy of reconciliation. Falck stayed in office for almost twenty years.

In 1793 the Napoleonic wars broke out in Europe. In 1795 the French occupied The Netherlands, and the Dutch Stadtholder, William V, sought refuge in England. The two nations had become close allies against Napoleon. The British had been having designs on Ceylon for a long time though, especially on the perfect all-season harbour of Trincomalee, and they appeared at Ceylon with a fleet and a letter signed by William V, empowering them to take temporary posession of the island to prevent it from falling into the hands of the French. By February 1796 all of the Dutch posessions in Ceylon had become British.

The Kandy Court actively supported the British in their occupation of the Forts. It had for some time been in touch with the British East-India Company who had already sent three missions from Madras for negotiations with Kandy prior to the British invasion. History repeated itself for the Kandyans, who had once been happy to see the Portuguese expelled from their country by the Dutch, and then discovered that a weak foreign power had been replaced by a strong one. As in their turn the Dutch were replaced by the British, the Kandy Court would soon learn that this transition was of the same nature, and would not only lead to the end of diplomacy and the beginning of war, but ultimately to its own end.

Dutch Leave Sri Lanka

The Dutch were ultimately forced out of Sri Lanka by events in Europe. In 1799, the Dutch India Company was liquidated and the Dutch government took control of its possessions. A similar move occurred with the British in India around the same time. The Dutch India Company had been on the decline since the mid 18th century and was deeply hurt by the ending their monopoly on the spice trade with the Treaty of Paris in 1780. At that time the British were moving into China and had established themselves in India and the major trading goods had switches from spices to things like Chinese silk, Japanese copper, tea, opium and sugar.

In the early 1780s, the last in a series of wars with the British cost the Netherlands, including the VOC and its far-flung interests, dearly. Nearly half the company’s ships were lost, and much of their valuable cargoes; enormous debts accumulated, which, despite state loans, could not be repaid. While the company certainly was burdened with other fiscal and administrative problems, among them a high level of corruption among its employees, the British war seems to have been the critical factor in its fiscal collapse.

The Netherlands was occupied by French troops in 1795, and a French protectorate established. The new government abolished the VOC by allowing its charter to lapse. In 1796 the VOC was placed under the direction of a national committee until the end of 1799, when the charter lapsed and it was liquidated, its debts and possessions absorbed by the Dutch government. VOC territories became the property of the Dutch government. [Source: Library of Congress]

The British took over Sri Lanka in 1798 after Napoleon overran the Netherlands, forcing the Dutch to pull out of some of their overseas possessions. The British renamed island Ceylon. They brought down the kingdom based in Kandy in 1815, and after that maintained a colony in Sri Lanka until 1948.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (srilanka.travel), Government of Sri Lanka (www.gov.lk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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