The capture and exile of the last king of Kandy
by Andrew Scott
@ Sunday Observer / 26 February 2006
It was 190 years ago on January 24, 1816 that the captive last king of Kandy, Sri Wickremarajasinghe, and his family were deported to India. Two early British writers who were also high ranking British army officers, Sir John D'Oyly and Henry Marshall stationed in Kandy give first hand information of this important event in the annals of the Kandyan kingdom.
Sir John D'Oyly maintained a monumental record of his official work in a systematically written diary, which is popularly known as 'D'Oyly diary'. It was discovered in the Kandy Kachcheri, and 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) and it was reprinted in 1995, and anyone interested in reading it has an easy access to it.
John D'Oyly's 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 February 16, 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 February 17, 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 Excellancy'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 Mimure, 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 February 18, 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, a detachment will be sent with a view of attempting to intercept him and at once terminating the war."
In his diary entry dated February 19, 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 Udupitiya 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 has not yet arrived) and the afternoon has been rainy he has not set off on his journey...... Much valuable property belonging to the king and the royal family 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 his 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 writes: "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 in his and particularly the aged mother who appears inconsolable, and I hear 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."
Henry Marshall, the Deputy Inspector General of Army Hospitals under the British rule referring to this incident in his book "Ceylon with An Historical Sketch of the Conquest of the Colony by the English" too gives a very interesting description of this historical event.
He says: "On January 24, 1816, the king with his family, embarked at Colombo on board the H. M. ship Cornwallis, for Madras. He was taken to the water side in the Governor's carriage, and his ladies were accommodated with palanquins.
They were closely veiled as they went into the boat; and during their embarkation, which took up some time, the king stood by and assisted, by giving orders to his own people, with much composure and presence of mind. He was very handsomely dressed, and his large trousers drawn close upon his ankles, reminded the spectators of the figure of Rajasinghe as given by Knox.
The king embarked with his wives and mother-in-law in the captain's barge, and the attendants in another. The wind was high and the boats encountered a good deal of sea in their passage to the ship. They were all taken into the ship by means of an accommodation chair. Some of the ladies were greatly alarmed, while others suffered much from sea-sickness.
The king showed no indication of fear." He further states: "He died at Vellore on the afternoon of 30th January, 1832, aged 52 years, having been 17 years a state prisoner. At the desire of the family the body was conveyed to the place of burning before sunset, under the escort of a military guard and accompanied by his male relatives and servants. He left one son, born in exile."
Courtesy- Sacred Sites