July 26, 2023


Since Sri Wickremara Ranasinghe became King of Senkadagala (Kandy), many conflicts existed between the elite and society. When it became so aggressive to take revenge in April 1802, there was an incident in British-occupied Puttalam, where a Muslim group was battered, and their belongings were seized with the help of Pilimathala Chief Adikam using Ceylonese lots.

During the 18 th Century, the British Indian Trading Company owned many parts of India. Meantime, The United States of America had a battle with the British. Simultaneously, the Dutch were fighting for their independence against the British.

On January 05, 1782, Under Admiral Sir Edmond Fuse of the Navy sent a contingent and a walking platoon, to the up-county, with the help of Commander Lord Hector Senadipathy (Admiral), who held the position of the Governor of Madras. During this struggle, the Dutch had neglected entirely the Northern coastal area, which made the British quickly occupy Trincomalee. As things were happening smoothly, the British decided, with the blessings of Lord McCarthy Hugh Boyed, to send an Ambassadoup-country to meet up with the King and to come to an agreement with the King. But Hugh Boyed had had to leave Kandy as a disappointed man. Meanwhile, a French Admiral, Belly de Supfriend, recovered Trincomalee with a contingent of Naval Officers.

1787 Paris Agreement

In 1787 according to Paris Agreement, the British, French, and Dutch agreed to hand over Trincomalee to the three countries. In 1794, with special permission from the Dutch, a peoples’ government was established, resulting in the chase of King William, who returned to England. Meanwhile, the British cunningly sent a notice to the Management Committee of the Dutch (but not to King William), stating that they requested to hand over Colombo and other parts to the British rulership. The letter said the British would forcefully take over the areas even if the Dutch Committee did not accept it. After a while, the Dutch Committee decided to hand over Colombo Fort etc. In August 1795, two British higher-ups from the British Army, Peter Rayner and George Stuart, arrived in Ceylon and issued a notice to the authorities of the Dutch in this respect. As a result, the Dutch left within half an hour of the notice of the Colombo Fort. Accordingly, the British occupied the following areas on the dates mentioned on the
following dates: September 18, Batticaloa, September 27, Point Pedro, September 28, Jaffna,1 st of October, Mullaitivu, October 05, Mannar and November 13, Kalpitiya.

On February 16 1796, an agreement between the British and the Dutch allowed the Dutch to give leave to live in Ceylon for 18 months so that
Dutch officials would hand over debts and accept the Dutch currency. It would enable peacefully coming to a settlement and handing over to a

Dutch Indian company in Ceylon owned all lands to be acquired by the Indian company in Ceylon. Because of the war in Europe, the British firms knew that acquired lands had to be returned to the Dutch after the war. Therefore, they were aware of the welfare of the landowners.

By this time, as the Indian Trading company were doing well in Madras, they attempted to introduce the same technique in Ceylon. The Vidanes objected to this. Therefore, the British sacked all of them and appointed Tamil officers from Madras. Officials from Madras were rude to the public. Indian British Company introduced a ‘tax auction’ procedure. Accordingly, the collection of tax was auctioned was held. In 1796, from September 01 introduced, a new tax on a coconut tree known as the ‘Panama’, and the new tax should be paid in coins. The coconut estate owners were astonished that even those coconut trees which did not bear any coconuts had to pay this new tax. In 1800, April Governor North introduced
a new ornamental tax. It meant those who wore (both Men & women) who wore expensive Gold, Silver or Gem studded rings or pendants had to pay this new tax. Men had to pay $1/- and women had to pay ½ a dollar. In 1799 by mining pearls, the Ceylon government received 3800 sovereigns. Later they divided Mannar, Trincomalee – Batticaloa and Mullaitivu into one section and Mannar into another section and Jaffna into a different area and Chilaw and Colombo into another area. The British set up offices in each area under the Kacheri.

Succeeding from Governor North, a New Governor, Maitland, aimed to improve people’s cost of living, camaraderie, and governing style. His first aim was to ensure every farmer got a plot of land for cultivation. Secondly, he realised that a set of civil servants are required to run the governance efficiently, and he increased their salaries and made a three-tier programme for promotions. Thirdly, he attempted to get close to the people by enquiring about their welfare and requesting regular reports. After reading the reports, he ordered villagers and farmers about their economic situations. To curb corrupt practices in his governance, Governor Maitland ensured that his approval was obtained before every payment was made.

In 1802, all areas of Ceylon’s English Oriental Company, which owned lands, were taken over by British Governance. For purposes of governance, the areas that belonged to the British were divided into various regions. For each area, a cashier (British Civil Servant) was appointed. These appointees were those in charge of Korale as Athukorala, and civil servants who were in order of the villagers were called Vidane.

Meanwhile, for ease and peacefully for trading purposes, the British attempted to agree with the up-country regime, but in 1762, before the Dutch occupied the coastal area, an Englishman called Phybus arrived as a missionary tried to meet up with the King for an agreement as follows:

  • They sought permission in Chilaw or Batticaloa coastal area to have Janapadaya (people set feet and settled down) in Ceylon’s English Oriental Company’s territory.
  • To sell Cinnamon at the rate sold to the Dutch to the British.
  • To sell erca-nuts and peppercorns only to Britain only.
  • Produce from other areas to deal with the British only.
  • To companies on the Island, only British Law is applicable.
  • When necessary British soldiers be applied, and the expenses incurred in such operations, the King has to bear the costs.
  • As it was expensive to build a fort & maintain a platoon, the King should hand over some areas to the British


Courtesy: The writer translated into English from the text of the late Prasad Milinda Siriwardena, Ceylon Economic Analysis between BC 543 to 1832. Only relevant parts were taken into consideration.

By Dr Tilak S. Fernando

Spread the love