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A forgotten corner of England in Kandy

by M. B. Dassanayake - DN Tue Mar 23 2004

In the heart of Kandy commanding one of the finest views of the lake lies a portion of land, hardly half an acre in extent which in the Colonial days was consecrated ground. This is the old Garrison cemetery situated on an eminence at the rear side of the Kandy Museum.

Time and neglect have rendered the place inaccessible. In the past a few years back it was overgrown with weeds, rank vegetation and bramble. Snakes infested this little piece of land in which lie buried early European pioneers who hazarded their lives in search of material gain and adventure. Some of them were drawn to the country by the profitable opportunities it offered for coffee cultivation when this industry was in boom. Others were soldiers, civil servants and scholars who left their imprest indelibly on the literary and historical landscape of the country.

Many a sad tale of hardship, agony, pain could the tenants of these nameless graves tell were they permitted to speak.

"Few of them had any kind friend or neighbour near to comfort them in their last sad agony, to place even a glass of water to their parched and burning tongue, or to speak a word of comfort to their often troubled mind. Left to the care of native servants, many of these young men died friendless and neglected in some distant jungle bungalow from fever, from cholera, diarrhoea or dysentery.

"The brandy bottle finished many of them, for Anthony Trollope just remarks; there is no other solace at hand to cheer the loneliness of the wild jungle life, and there are but few minds so constituted as to take kindly to the history of England and other equally recondite subjects of improving literature.

Many were brought into the Kandy hotels in a dying condition, but their fate was not much improved by the change. Possibly a fellow planter might be at hand and look into see the dying man, but what could he do for him in his ignorance and helplessness in everything connected with the sick bed?." (Autobiography of a Peria Durai).

In 1824 for instance there were 168 of these burials, in 1825 there were 50, in 1826 - 29 and in 1827 - 23. There are about a dozen tombs of the 'table' tomb pattern, from which the name plates have disappeared, which probably date from the twenties and thirties. The register goes back to 1822,in which year doubtless the cemetery was opened.

The hurly - burly of a living city disturbs not those who, 'From the world's bitter wind - seek shelter in a shadow of the tomb'.

In the past this was a neglected piece of land and the roadway eroded with deep ravines made it impossible for anyone to visit the cemetery except on foot. At the entrance is a little dwelling built of stone almost in the pattern of a mausoleum.

It would appear that St. Paul's Church in Kandy was responsible up to some years ago for looking after this cemetery and later handed the cemetery to government, in which the land vested. The government did nothing towards tending it, cleaning the shrubs and keeping the tombstones which are of more than passing historical interest, in a proper state of repair.

Here are a few of the illustrious men and women whose remains have been interred her and over whose graves are tombstones with inscriptions giving their antecedents and associations.

John D'Oyly, the Uncouth Recluse

The most illustrious name commemorated is undoubtedly that of - John D'Oyly - the Cambridge Blue who had changed into a Sinhalese hermit, lived on a plantation and invited no Europeans.

In memory of the Hon. Sir John D'Oyly, Baronet, Resident of the Kandyan Provinces, and one of the members of His Majesty's Council of the Island, whose meritorious services to the government from the year 1802 and his talents during Kandyan War stand recorded in the Archives of the government and in the office of the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Born June 11, 1774 - Died at Kandy - May 25th, 1824 - aged 49 years. Sir John D'Oyly died of remittent fever contracted while he was on an official tour in the Seven Korales. The funeral took place at 6.00 a.m. on the 26th.

It was headed by the Korales and Arachchies who were followed by the Band of the Ceylon Regiment and the procession ended with the Adigar of the Kandyan provinces, the Kandyan Chiefs, Mudaliyars, Clerks etc.

He came to Ceylon in September, 1801, having been appointed to a Writership through the interest of Earl of Liverpool, some time Secretary of State for the Colonies.