Thursday, July 23, 2009
Troops also began to rob, plunder and pillage the towns and villages as if they were enemy territory...!!!
The British and the Suppression of the Rebellion (1817-1818)
Dr. K.D.G. Wimalaratne,
It was hardly two years after the Kandyan convention was signed in 1815, a ‘war of independence’ wrongly or deliberately called by the British as a “Rebellion” broke out in the Kandyan provinces in September – October, 1817.
All British writers termed the uprising as an”Insurrection” or a “Rebellion”, However, the events proved that it was a movement not to preserve, but to recover their independence from foreign yoke. Accordingly, it was a war of independence.
Dr. Henry Marshall, who was the British Army physician, wrote that, when the insurrection broke out in October 1817, “here is every reason for feeling that no organized conspiracy against the English existed among any class of inhabitants of the Kandyan country, but uniformity of feeling supplied the plan of organization, they all wished to be quit of us.’ (Henry Marshall, Account of Ceylon, 1846) pg. 133 Simon Sawers, Revenue Commissioner of the Kandyan provinces, says in a note that “Outbreak of the Rebellion in the Province of Vellasse was purely accidential, people of other Provinces were as much taken by surprise, as were the Authorities.” Any well digested principle of independence or any intention to emanicipate themselves from the Jhraldom of Rajakariya, was his observation:
However, through the dispatches of Governor Brownrigg, an undercurrent of uneasiness could be seen.
“Perfect tranquility in all provinces, but a spirit of coldness towards the British Garrison exits in Uva and Vellasse, where the people still continue to live in the jungle.” (Despatch No. 116, 20.07.1815, SLNA 5/8)
Brownrigg knew that British rule was unpopular and was constantly on his guard against possible revolt. This is clear from the fact that in 1816, the Government arrested some of the priests and nobles who had formed a plot to destroy the garrison and expel the British from Kandy. (Governor to Sec: of State, 5.11.1816)
Although the Kandyan Convention guaranteed the protection of Buddhist places of worship, there was no scheme to supervise the upkeep of temples, as a result armies broke into Asgiriya Vihara and stole caskets, relics and other articles of worship. Troops also began to rob, plunder and pillage the towns and villages as if they were enemy territory. With the approval of the governor the treasures of the Kandyan king were plundered and an army prize committee was set up for the distribution of his treasures. On 15th Sept. 1816, Madugalle Uda Gabada Nilame was convicted of treason and intrigue. He was imprisoned in Jaffna. Madugalle Uda Gabada Nilame’s request to bid farewell to his wife and children was rejected by the Governor who directed D’oyly to burn the Nilame’s residence publicly and confiscate his property.
By Feb: March 1818 the whole country was against the British, except the lower saffragam,the three and four korales, Udunuwaera and Yatinuwera. On 21st February 1818 Martial Law was declared throughout the Kandyan provinces. This shows that the Governor was quite sure that the war for independence will soon spread to other areas as well. The success of the rebels was seen when the Governor called additional troops from India, although the Colonial Office in April 1818 advised to vacate the Kandyan provinces and withdraw the British troops to the littoral. However, Governor Brownrigg’s repeated appeals to the Governor of Madras was answered belatedly by sending 2000 fighting men, 4000 pioneers and coolies from India. The 2nd battalion of the 73rd foot was here who fought the battle of Waterloo in 1815.
The war of independence originated in Uva and Wellassa and on 27th November 1817, Governor Brownrigg already decided and informed the Colonial office that ‘he considers the rebellion can be suppressed early by burning and laying waste the property of the Head-men, their leaders’ Brownrigg thought that the rebellion was an act of gross ingratitude in view of the benefits conferred on the country. (Despatch 259, 30/1/1818)
Suppression of the war of Independence
It is very unfortunate that no Sinhalese record of the events in respect of the suppression of the war of independence exists, and the historian has to glean his facts from cautiously worded dispatches of the British Governor and officials, and also from secondary, published works either contemporary or otherwise.
The ways which Governor Brownrigg used to suppress the rebellion, painted him as a ‘vicious insane autocrat and arrogrant’, the same way in which he propagated to the Kandyan chiefs that Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe was a “barbarous and a despotic king” before the invasion of the Kandyan kingdom in February 1815.
Governor Brownrigg wrote to Lord Bathurst, Secretary of State a dispatch No: 248, 7.11.1817, in the following manner.
“Major MacDonald now thought that an example of severity be shown. The houses all round (Oosanwella, Wellasse,) were therefore burnt and all property found, cattle, grain etc. was either carried off or destroyed
Writing further in a dispatch No. 258, of 28.12.1817, he informed the Colonial Office that, Major MacDonald has collected provisions enough from the property of the rebels to supply the garrison in Uva for ten months.”
After encircling the fruitful plain of Wellessa, which consisted of many peaceful villages, everyone of them was burnt to the ground and the cattle, grain and other property abandoned or destroyed.
When Sylvester Douglas Wilson, A.G.A. Badulla was killed by the rebels, Major MacDonald declared that “this act of severity, I trust will not be disapproved of , considering the horrid act of barbarity committed on Wilson’s party by the people of those villages.’
‘The terrible sight of devastation appeared to dismay the natives- they ceased to shout or skirmish and only ventured upon the skirts of the plain to gaze in silence’. MacDonald also emphasized that there was no resource left but to burn and lay waste the property of the Headmen, their leaders. He further elaborated by commenting that, revolts needed to be dealt with by such rigorous measures and stated that they were the only means left to reduce the refractory to submission.
Major, MacDonald was a crafty army officer, and to console his feelings, he suggested that at some future date compensation could be paid for the losses inflicted. His seemingly frank exposition of his plans were so worded as to conceal from the authorities in England their ruthlessness in practice.
Andawela Mohottala was considered responsible for the death of Dr. John Kennedy, Asst. Surgeon, 1st Ceylon regiment, when he was clubbed and killed by the rebels. With out any inquiry, Mohottala’s house near Tibbotugoada, with all his property was destroyed, the buldings in the neighbourhood burnt and the fruit trees round them cut down. Eighty bullock loads of paddy were looted from Gamagala Raterales barn near Ahapola. Houses of six headmen burnt at Madulla, and 20 women and children were killed. A man carrying arms was executed under a Bo-tree. Buffalos grazing the fields were slaughtered.
Major MacDonald activities brought in a reign of terror in the most brutal and ferocious manner in Uva and Wellassa.
On the orders of Brownrigg, Major MacDonald’s killed all men above 18 years of age, houses were destroyed and burnt, fruit bearing tress felled and grain destroyed or confiscated. Irrigation tanks and canals of Uva and Wellassa were breached. Cattle belonging to the people, which were in excess of the requirements of the British army was destroyed. Governor Brownrigg took pride in the ruthless rapidity with which his armies depopulated the region.
To be continued.
Dr. Wimalaratne was the Former Director General Archives