YEARS' WANDERINGS IN CEYLON
Samuel White Baker
- Dullness of the Town - Cinnamon Garden - A Cingalese Appo - Ceylon Sport -
Jungle Fever - Newera Ellia - Energy of Sir E. Barnes - Influence of the
Governor - Projected Improvements.
was in the year 1845 that the spirit of wandering allured me toward Ceylon:
little did I imagine at that time that I should eventually become a settler.
descriptions of its sports, and the tales of hairbreadth escapes from elephants,
which I had read in various publications, were sources of attraction against
which I strove in vain; and I at length determined upon the very wild idea of
spending twelve months in Ceylon jungles.
is said that the delights of pleasures in anticipation exceed the pleasures
themselves: in this case doubtless some months of great enjoyment passed in
making plans of every description, until I at length arrived in Colombo,
Ceylon's seaport capital.
never experienced greater disappointment in an expectation than on my first view
of Colombo. I had spent some time
at Mauritius and Bourbon previous to my arrival, and I soon perceived that the
far-famed Ceylon was nearly a century behind either of those small islands.
of the bustling activity of the Port Louis harbor in Mauritius, there were a few
vessels rolling about in the roadstead, and some forty or fifty fishing canoes
hauled up on the sandy beach. There
was a peculiar dullness throughout the town - a sort of something which seemed
to say, "Coffee does not pay." There
was a want of spirit in everything. The ill-conditioned guns upon the fort looked as though not
intended to defend it; the sentinels looked parboiled; the very natives
sauntered rather than walked; the very bullocks crawled along in the midday sun,
listlessly dragging the native carts. Everything
and everybody seemed enervated, except those frightfully active
in all countries and climates, "the custom-house officers:" these
necessary plagues to society gave their usual amount of annoyance.
struck me the most forcibly in Colombo was the want of shops. In Port Louis the wide and well-paved streets were lined with
excellent "magasins" of every description; here, on the contrary, it
was difficult to find anything in the shape of a shop until I was introduced to
a soi-disant store, where everything was to be purchased from a needle to a
crowbar, and from satin to sail-cloth; the useful predominating over the
ornamental in all cases. It was all
on a poor scale and after several inquiries respecting the best hotel, I located
myself at that termed the Royal or Seager's Hotel. This was airy, white and clean throughout; but there was a
barn-like appearance, as there is throughout most private dwellings in Colombo,
which banished all idea of comfort.
good tiffin concluded, which produced a happier state of mind, I ordered a
carriage for a drive to the Cinnamon Gardens.
The general style of Ceylon carriages appeared in the shape of a
caricature of a hearse: this goes by the name of a palanquin carriage.
Those usually hired are drawn by a single horse, whose natural vicious
propensities are restrained by a low system of diet.
this vehicle, whose gaunt steed was led at a melancholy trot by an equally
small-fed horsekeeper, I traversed the environs of Colombo. Through the winding fort gateway, across the flat Galle Face
(the race-course), freshened by the sea-breeze as the waves break upon its
western side; through the Colpettytopes of cocoanut trees shading the road, and
the houses of the better class of European residents to the right and left; then
turning to the left - a few minutes of expectation - and behold the Cinnamon
fairy-like pleasure-grounds have we fondly anticipated! what perfumes of spices,
and all that our childish imaginations had pictured as the ornamental portions
of a cinnamon garden!
vast area of scrubby, low jungle, composed of cinnamon bushes, is seen to the
right and left, before and behind. Above,
is a cloudless sky and a broiling sun; below, is snow-white sand of quartz,
curious only in the possibility of its supporting vegetation.
Such is the soil in which the cinnamon delights; such are the Cinnamon
Gardens, in which I delight not. They
are an imposition, and they only serve as an addition to the disappointments of
a visitor to Colombo. In fact, the
whole place is a series of disappointments.
You see a native woman clad in snow-white petticoats, a beautiful
tortoiseshell comb fastened in her raven hair;
you pass her - you look back - wonderful! she has a beard! Deluded
stranger, this is only another disappointment; it is a Cingalese Appo - a man -
no, not a man - a something male in petticoats; a petty thief, a treacherous,
cowardly villain, who would perpetrate the greatest rascality had he only the
pluck to dare it. In fact, in this
petticoated wretch you see a type of the nation of Cingalese.
the morning following my arrival in Ceylon, I was delighted to see several
persons seated at the "table-d'hôte" when I entered the room, as I
was most anxious to gain some positive information respecting the game of the
island, the best localities, etc., etc. I was soon engaged in conversation, and one of my first
questions naturally turned upon sport.
exclaimed two gentlemen simultaneously - "sport!" there is no sport to
be had in Ceylon!" -- "at least the race-week is the only sport that I
know of," said the taller gentleman.
sport!" said I, half energetically and half despairingly.
every book on Ceylon mentions the amount of game as immense; and as to elephants
I was interrupted by the same gentleman. "All
gross exaggerations," said he -"gross exaggerations; in fact,
inventions to give interest to a book. I have an estate in the interior, and I have never seen a
wild elephant. There may be a few
in the jungles of Ceylon, but very few, and you never see them."
began to discover the stamp of my companion from his expression, "You never
see them." Of course I
concluded that he had never looked for them; and I began to recover front the
first shock which his exclamation, "There is no sport in Ceylon !" had
subsequently discovered that my new and non-sporting acquaintances were
coffee-planters of a class then known as the Galle Face planters, who passed
their time in cantering about the Colombo race-course and idling in the town,
while their estates lay a hundred miles distant, uncared for, and naturally
ruining their proprietors.
same afternoon, to my delight and surprise, I met an old Gloucestershire friend
in an officer of the Fifteenth Regiment, then stationed in Ceylon.
From him I soon learnt that the character of Ceylon for game had never
been exaggerated; and from that moment my preparations for the jungle commenced.
rented a good airy house in Colombo as headquarters, and the verandas were soon
strewed with jungle-baskets, boxes, tent, gun-cases, and all the paraphernalia
of a shooting-trip.
unforeseen and apparently trivial incidents may upset all our plans for the
future and turn our whole course of life! At the expiration of twelve months my
shooting trips and adventures were succeeded by so severe an attack of jungle
fever that from a naturally robust frame I dwindled to a mere nothing, and very
little of my former self remained. The
first symptom of convalescence was accompanied by a peremptory order from my
medical attendant to start for the highlands, to the mountainous region of
Newera Ellia, the sanitarium of the island.
poor, miserable wretch I was upon my arrival at this elevated station, suffering
not only from the fever itself, but from the feeling of an exquisite debility
that creates an utter hopelessness of the renewal of strength.
was only a fortnight at Newera Ellia. The
rest-house or inn was the perfection of everything that was dirty and
uncomfortable. The toughest
possible specimen of a beef-steak, black bread and potatoes were the choicest
and only viands obtainable for an invalid.
There was literally nothing else; it was a land of starvation.
But the climate! what can I say to describe the wonderful effects of such
a pure and unpolluted air?
that at the expiration of a fortnight, in spite of the tough beef, and the black
bread and potatoes, I was as well and as strong as I ever bad been; and in proof
of this I started instanter for another shooting excursion in the interior.
was impossible to have visited Newera Ellia, and to have benefited in such a
wonderful manner by the climate, without contemplating with astonishment its
poverty-stricken and neglected state.
that time it was the most miserable place conceivable.
There was a total absence of all ideas of comfort or arrangement.
The houses were for the most part built of such unsubstantial materials
as stick and mud plastered over with mortar – pretty enough in exterior, but
rotten in ten or twelve years. The
only really good residence was a fine stone building erected by Sir Edward
Barnes when governor of Ceylon. To
him alone indeed are we indebted for the existence of a sanitarium.
It was he who opened the road, not only to Newera Ellia, but for
thirty-six miles farther on the same line to Badulla.
At his own expense he built a substantial mansion at a cost, as it is
said, of eight thousand pounds, and with provident care for the health of the
European troops, he erected barracks and officers' quarters for the invalids.
his government Newera Ellia was rapidly becoming a place of importance, but
unfortunately at the expiration of his term the place became neglected.
His successor took no interest in the plans of his predecessor; and from
that period, each successive governor being influenced by an increasing spirit
of parsimony, Newera Ellia has remained "in statu quo," not even
having been visited by the present governor.
a small colony like Ceylon it is astonishing how the movements and opinions of
the governor influence the public mind. In
the present instance, however, the movements of the governor (Sir G. Anderson)
cannot carry much weight, as he does not move at all, with the exception of an
occasional drive from Colombo to Kandy. His
knowledge of the colony and of its wants or resources must therefore, from his
personal experience, be limited to the Kandy road.
This apathy, when exhibited by her Majesty's representative, is highly
contagious among the public of all classes and colors, and cannot have other
than a bad moral tendency.
my first visit to Newera Ellia, in 1847, Lord Torrington was the governor of
Ceylon, a man of active mind, with an ardent desire to test its real
capabilities and to work great improvements in the colony.
Unfortunately, his term as governor was shorter than was expected.
The elements of discord were at that time at work among all classes in
Ceylon, and Lord Torrington was recalled.
the causes of neglect described, Newera Ellia was in the deserted and wretched
state in which I saw it; but so infatuated was I in the belief that its
importance must be appreciated when the knowledge of its climate was more widely
extended that I looked forward to its becoming at some future time a rival to
the Neilgherries station in India. My
ideas were based upon the natural features of the place, combined with its
apparently produced nothing except potatoes.
The soil was supposed to be as good as it appeared to be. The quality of the water and the supply were unquestionable;
the climate could not be surpassed for salubrity.
There was a carriage road from Colombo, one hundred and fifteen miles,
and from Kandy, forty-seven miles; the last thirteen being the Rambodde Pass,
arriving at an elevation of six thousand six hundred feet, from which point a
descent of two miles terminated the road to Newera Ellia.
station then consisted of about twenty private residences, the barracks and
officers' quarters, the resthouse and the bazaar; the latter containing about
two hundred native inhabitants.
upon all sides but the east by high mountains, the plain of Newera Ellia lay
like a level valley of about two miles in length by half a mile in width,
bordered by undulating grassy knolls at the foot of the mountains.
Upon these spots of elevated ground most of the dwellings were situated,
commanding a view of the plain, with the river winding through its centre. The
mountains were clothed from the base to the summit with dense forests,
containing excellent timber for building purposes.
Good building-stone was procurable everywhere; limestone at a distance of
whole of the adjacent country was a repetition Of the Newera Ellia plain with
slight variations, comprising a vast extent of alternate swampy plains and dense
should this place lie idle? Why
should this great tract of country in such a lovely climate be untenanted and
uncultivated? How often I have
stood upon the hills and asked myself this question when gazing over the wide
extent of undulating forest and plain! How often I have thought of the thousands
of starving wretches at home, who here might earn a comfortable livelihood! and
I have scanned the vast tract of country, and in my imagination I have cleared
the dark forests and substituted waving crops of corn, and peopled a hundred
ideal cottages with a thriving peasantry.
should not the highlands Of Ceylon, with an Italian climate, be rescued from
their state of barrenness? Why should not the plains be drained, the forests
felled, and cultivation take the place of the rank pasturage, and supplies be
produced to make Ceylon independent of other countries? Why should not schools
be established, a comfortable hotel be erected, a church be built?
fact, why should Newera Ellia, with its wonderful climate, so easily attainable,
be neglected in a country like Ceylon, proverbial for its unhealthiness?
These were my ideas when I first visited Newera Ellia, before I had much experience in either people or things connected with the island. My twelve months' tour in Ceylon being completed, I returned to England delighted with what I had seen of Ceylon in general, but, above all, with my short visit to Newera Ellia, malgre its barrenness and want of comfort, caused rather by the neglect of man than by the lack of resources in the locality.