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Sir John D'Oyly and the capture of Sri Wickremarajasinghe

by Andrew Scott 

Sir John D'Oyly, the second son of Archdeacon Mathias D'Oyly of Sussex came of a respected and talented family of ancient descent. He was educated at Westminster School and graduated from Cambridge in 1796, the very year in which Colombo fell into the hands of the British.

John D'Oyly arrived in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1801 and since then he held several important posts in the British administration. When he was the President of the Provincial Council at Matara he had the unique privilege to study Buddhism and oriental languages under the eminent scholar-Bhikkhu Karatota Nayake Thera whom he held in very high esteem. In 1805, as a reward for his proficiency in Sinhalese, he was appointed the Chief Translator of the government and in this capacity he was entrusted with all the negotiations with the Kandyan Court and its chiefs.

He maintained a monumental record of his official work in a systematically written diary which is popularly known as D'Oyly's diary. It was discovered in the Kandy Kachcheri and today it is carefully preserved in the Kandy Museum along with the whip he used. This diary was first issued as a special publication by the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch) in 1917 and it was reprinted in 1995 and anyone interested in reading it has easy access to it now.During the capture of the Kandyan territory in 1815 John D'Oyly was attached to the British army as a Commissioner of the Governor and he was specially entrusted with the negotiations with the Kandyan chiefs.

On 2nd March 1815 he was appointed Resident of the newly acquired Kandyan Province and he worked winning the confidence of both the Kandyans, whose language and culture he had mastered, as well as the British, who had placed much hope on him. He died of fever in Kandy on 24th March, 1824, nine years after the signing of the Kandyan Convention, at the age of 50 years, leaving no heir as he was never married. His remains were ceremonially buried with full honours in Kandy's Garrison Cemetery where an inscription reposes to his memory and a copy of the same inscription appears on a tablet in St. Peter's Church, Colombo.

According to available details he had been given a grand funeral well attended by the high Kandyan Chieftains as well as important British representatives. The Ceylon Gazette of 29th May 1824 paying a tribute to Sir John D'Oyly mentions: "Language must fail in conveying an adequate idea of his worth as a man and merit as a public servant. His talents and acquirements were of the first order."

His meticulously written diary provides interesting and informative details of the life and activities during the tail-end of the Kandyan regime and specially of the capture and exile of Sri Wickremarajasinghe, the last king of Kandy whose reign is legendary. In his diary entry dated 16th February, 1815 John D'Oyly writes: "It is said the king (Sri Wickremarajasinghe) is at Meda Maha Nuwara and I hope the people of the country will enable us to discover his retreat. I met on my way many inhabitants of Dumbara and more are flocking in from the neighbouring villages." This entry clearly shows that the British had found it almost impossible to discover the king's hiding place without the assistance of the local people.

In another interesting diary entry dated 17th February, 1815 he writes: "It is reported that the king is at Poddalgoda, about 3 miles beyond Meda Maha Nuwara, but I believe he does not remain long in one place... The troops were so close to the king's hiding place.

In compliance with His Excellency's (that is the Governor's) desire conveyed to me in a letter just received, I beg leave to acquaint you, that the king is now supposed to be at or near the neighbourhood of Meda Maha Nuwara, about 8 or 9 miles East of this place and it is apprehended with great probability that on the advance of our forces, he will retire to the village Mimura, situated at the eastern extremity of Dumbara, from whence the way would be open for his flight into the country full of forest, where it may be most difficult to discover his retreat."

In his diary entry for the next day D'Oyly says: "We have information that the king fled from Meda Maha Nuwara yesterday evening before dusk upon hearing of the arrival of our detachment at Teldeniya. It is yet unknown where he has again rested. Some inhabitants of two villages near Meda Maha Nuwara have made their appearance here and promised to co-operate ..... I fear the king has escaped beyond them."

In his diary entry of 18th February 1815 he says: "6.30 p.m. Five men have arrived with intelligence that the king is in a forest about six quarter leagues from here.

Though I cannot altogether rely upon it as certain, it comes with such an appearance of credit, that according to their request, detachment will be sent with a view of attempting to intercept him and at once terminating the way."

In his diary entry dated 19th February 1815 a detailed account of the king's capture is given.

It states:"I have the sincerest joy in reporting to your Excellency (that is the Governor) that the object of your anxious wishes is accomplished and the king of Kandy is a captive in our hands. He was surrounded yesterday by the people of Udis Pattuwa in the precincts of Meda Maha Nuwara in conjunction with armed men sent by the Adigar at about 5 p.m. in a house at Doraliyadde by the inhabitants of the country in conjunction with armed Kandyans sent yesterday by the Adigar.

He was in the house of Udupitiye Arachchi at Gallewatte a mile beyond Meda Maha Nuwara with two of his queens ..... I went forward with palanquins to meet him at Rambukwella and have conducted him to this place with his queens. They will be sent to Kandy under a sufficient military guard."

Surprising enough, at the time of his capture king Sri Wickremarajasinghe is described as not having a suitable attire even to take him to Colombo according to the following diary entry.

"As the king is entirely without suitable or even decent apparel (which has been sent for but is not yet arrived) and the afternoon has been rainy he has not set off on his journey......

Much valuable property belonging to the king is said to have been plundered by the Kandyans who seized him and he complains of the insulting language and ill-treatment experienced from them, but otherwise shows no symptoms of hurt feelings or depression at this fate."

After his capture king Sri Wickremarajasinghe had been greatly agitated fearing for his life and about the disgrace and abuse that may be caused to his queens and other young ladies of the royal family. About this John D'Oyly wrote: "This morning the king again desired to see me and formally presented to me his mother and his 4 queens, and successively placing their hands in mine, committed them to my charge and protection.

These female relatives who have no participation in his crimes, are certainly deserving of our commiseration and particularly the aged mother who appears inconsolable, and I hear she has been almost constantly in tears since the captivity of her son.

They had been alarmed by idle reports amongst other things that violent measures would be adopted against the king and his relatives subjected to disgrace and ill-treatment.

I ventured to assure them of their personal protection under Your Excellency's government and that no outrage would be committed against the life or person of the king."

Sir John D'Oyly, the second son of Archdeacon Mathias D'Oyly of Sussex came of a respected and talented family of ancient descent. He was educated at Westminster School and graduated from Cambridge in 1796, the very year in which Colombo fell into the hands of the British.

John D'Oyly arrived in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1801 and since then he held several important posts in the British administration. When he was the President of the Provincial Council at Matara he had the unique privilege to study Buddhism and oriental languages under the eminent scholar-Bhikkhu Karatota Nayake Thera whom he held in very high esteem. In 1805, as a reward for his proficiency in Sinhalese, he was appointed the Chief Translator of the government and in this capacity he was entrusted with all the negotiations with the Kandyan Court and its chiefs.

He maintained a monumental record of his official work in a systematically written diary which is popularly known as D'Oyly's diary. It was discovered in the Kandy Kachcheri and today it is carefully preserved in the Kandy Museum along with the whip he used. This diary was first issued as a special publication by the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch) in 1917 and it was reprinted in 1995 and anyone interested in reading it has easy access to it now.During the capture of the Kandyan territory in 1815 John D'Oyly was attached to the British army as a Commissioner of the Governor and he was specially entrusted with the negotiations with the Kandyan chiefs.

On 2nd March 1815 he was appointed Resident of the newly acquired Kandyan Province and he worked winning the confidence of both the Kandyans, whose language and culture he had mastered, as well as the British, who had placed much hope on him. He died of fever in Kandy on 24th March, 1824, nine years after the signing of the Kandyan Convention, at the age of 50 years, leaving no heir as he was never married. His remains were ceremonially buried with full honours in Kandy's Garrison Cemetery where an inscription reposes to his memory and a copy of the same inscription appears on a tablet in St. Peter's Church, Colombo.

According to available details he had been given a grand funeral well attended by the high Kandyan Chieftains as well as important British representatives. The Ceylon Gazette of 29th May 1824 paying a tribute to Sir John D'Oyly mentions: "Language must fail in conveying an adequate idea of his worth as a man and merit as a public servant. His talents and acquirements were of the first order."

His meticulously written diary provides interesting and informative details of the life and activities during the tail-end of the Kandyan regime and specially of the capture and exile of Sri Wickremarajasinghe, the last king of Kandy whose reign is legendary. In his diary entry dated 16th February, 1815 John D'Oyly writes: "It is said the king (Sri Wickremarajasinghe) is at Meda Maha Nuwara and I hope the people of the country will enable us to discover his retreat. I met on my way many inhabitants of Dumbara and more are flocking in from the neighbouring villages." This entry clearly shows that the British had found it almost impossible to discover the king's hiding place without the assistance of the local people.

In another interesting diary entry dated 17th February, 1815 he writes: "It is reported that the king is at Poddalgoda, about 3 miles beyond Meda Maha Nuwara, but I believe he does not remain long in one place... The troops were so close to the king's hiding place.

In compliance with His Excellency's (that is the Governor's) desire conveyed to me in a letter just received, I beg leave to acquaint you, that the king is now supposed to be at or near the neighbourhood of Meda Maha Nuwara, about 8 or 9 miles East of this place and it is apprehended with great probability that on the advance of our forces, he will retire to the village Mimura, situated at the eastern extremity of Dumbara, from whence the way would be open for his flight into the country full of forest, where it may be most difficult to discover his retreat."

In his diary entry for the next day D'Oyly says: "We have information that the king fled from Meda Maha Nuwara yesterday evening before dusk upon hearing of the arrival of our detachment at Teldeniya. It is yet unknown where he has again rested. Some inhabitants of two villages near Meda Maha Nuwara have made their appearance here and promised to co-operate ..... I fear the king has escaped beyond them."

In his diary entry of 18th February 1815 he says: "6.30 p.m. Five men have arrived with intelligence that the king is in a forest about six quarter leagues from here.

Though I cannot altogether rely upon it as certain, it comes with such an appearance of credit, that according to their request, detachment will be sent with a view of attempting to intercept him and at once terminating the way."

In his diary entry dated 19th February 1815 a detailed account of the king's capture is given.

It states:"I have the sincerest joy in reporting to your Excellency (that is the Governor) that the object of your anxious wishes is accomplished and the king of Kandy is a captive in our hands. He was surrounded yesterday by the people of Udis Pattuwa in the precincts of Meda Maha Nuwara in conjunction with armed men sent by the Adigar at about 5 p.m. in a house at Doraliyadde by the inhabitants of the country in conjunction with armed Kandyans sent yesterday by the Adigar.

He was in the house of Udupitiye Arachchi at Gallewatte a mile beyond Meda Maha Nuwara with two of his queens ..... I went forward with palanquins to meet him at Rambukwella and have conducted him to this place with his queens. They will be sent to Kandy under a sufficient military guard."

Surprising enough, at the time of his capture king Sri Wickremarajasinghe is described as not having a suitable attire even to take him to Colombo according to the following diary entry.

"As the king is entirely without suitable or even decent apparel (which has been sent for but is not yet arrived) and the afternoon has been rainy he has not set off on his journey......

Much valuable property belonging to the king is said to have been plundered by the Kandyans who seized him and he complains of the insulting language and ill-treatment experienced from them, but otherwise shows no symptoms of hurt feelings or depression at this fate."

After his capture king Sri Wickremarajasinghe had been greatly agitated fearing for his life and about the disgrace and abuse that may be caused to his queens and other young ladies of the royal family. About this John D'Oyly wrote: "This morning the king again desired to see me and formally presented to me his mother and his 4 queens, and successively placing their hands in mine, committed them to my charge and protection.

These female relatives who have no participation in his crimes, are certainly deserving of our commiseration and particularly the aged mother who appears inconsolable, and I hear she has been almost constantly in tears since the captivity of her son.

They had been alarmed by idle reports amongst other things that violent measures would be adopted against the king and his relatives subjected to disgrace and ill-treatment.

I ventured to assure them of their personal protection under Your Excellency's government and that no outrage would be committed against the life or person of the king."

Sir John D'Oyly of Kandy

by Derrick Schokman - DN Tue May 11 2004

During my schooldays we lived just below the Garrison Cemetery, Malabar Street, Kandy. I was able to wander around at will in this once neglected cemetery. A granite obelisk dominated all the other tombs. The inscription on the pediment indicated that it was the tomb of Sir John D'Oyly, born June 11, 1774, died May 25, 1824, aged 49 years.

It was only several years later that I learned that D'Oyly was an illustrious British Civil Servant who had played a prominent role in the annexation of the Kandyan Kingdom and as resident and first commissioner.

Study

D'Oyly arrived in Ceylon in 1802. He was sent to Matara in 1804 as the Agent of Revenue. There he began a comprehensive study of the Sinhala language under the famous scholar-monk and poet Venerable Sri Dhammarama of Karatota.

He quickly marshalled the language and familiarised himself with the local culture that had shaped it. He was consequently appointed Chief Translator by Governor Sir Thomas Maitland in 1805, a post he held until 1816 when he was appointed resident of the Kandyan regions.

As chief translator and later in Colombo when engaged in espionage, he built up an extensive network of correspondents who provided him with the information he required to effect a bloodless capture of Kandy, without a shot being fired or a soldier being lost. That feat earned him a Baronetcy.

Convention

D'Oyly was next faced with the task of drafting an agreement (the Kandyan convention) in Sinhala and English to be ratified by the British Governor Sir Robert Brownrigg and the Kandyan chieftains. It set out the terms on which the kingdom would be administered viz a Great Court or Board comprising representatives of the British Government, the Adigars and Principal Chiefs (Disaves).

D'Oyly met Maha Adikaram Ehelapola and Adigars Molligoda and Kapuwatte in the Audience Hall on March 19, 1816 to decide on those who should be appointed to the Board from the Kandyans.

Once the agreement was ratified D'Oyly entered into his new role as Chief of the Chieftans with great enthusiasm. He conducted himself more like a Sinhalese Chieftan than the bureaucrat of a foreign ruling power.

He joined in ritual processions and carried the sacred insignia, and even distributed panduru (offerings) as was the custom of the king previously to the four temples.

Orientalism

D'Oyley's deference to "orientalism" taken together with his integrity and compassion earned the respect of the local people.

But it distanced him from his own community and Governor Brownrigg in particular. His failure to anticipate and prevent the outbreak of the Kandyan War in 1818 was attributed to his "orientalism" and suspicions of divided loyalties. From the very commencement of the War the Governor and others in the British community began to look on him with distrust.

Disillusioned

After the war D'Oyly found himself in an increasingly difficult position to rule the Kandyan Kingdom. He was disillusioned by imperial practices to control and exploit the people after the termination of the war. He had seen Kandyan Chiefs with whom he had worked closely and whom he personally trusted executed or exiled for life, among them, Keppetipola Dissave and Adikaram Ehelapola.

The royal regalia of King Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe, which he had regained and handed over to the British Government with the express wish of the Chieftans that these items should not be exposed for sale or to common persons because they were considered sacred sovereign objects, had been completely disregarded and sold by public auction in London.

All these concerns we must conjecture weighed heavily on his mind at this low point in his career.

We do not really know because this "inscrutable Englishman" in Prof. E. F. C. Ludowyke's opinion left no diaries, letters or any other evidence of how he was feeling. So we must imagine that he bravely "soldiered" or ever his government's most obedient servant, until he succumbed to malaria in 1824.

Whatever his personal feelings might have been, it would appear that he acted true to the motto in his court of arms: Omne solum forti patra (To a brave man, the only thing that matters is his native land). Even if he attempted to walk in the shoes of a Sinhalese chieftan.