ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 35
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British invasion on Kandy

The first time the British declared war on Kandy after Sri Vickrema Rajasinghe became king was in 1803. It followed secret discussions between the king's first adigar (chief minister) Pilima Talawwe and Governor Frederick North. He offered to dethrone and kill the king if the British would assist him in his plans to reign in Kandy as a prince under the British. The Governor while agreeing to the plan did not want the king killed. A British ambassador was to be sent to Kandy on the pretext of signing a treaty but accompanied by a force strong enough to overawe the king.

General Macdowall was appointed ambassador and he took off accompanied by about 2000 armed men. Suspecting why such a huge force should accompany the ambassador, the king refused to let the troops enter Kandy and wanted Macdowall to come with a few men. The mission was a failure and Macdowall returned to Colombo and waited for a more favourable opportunity.

Historian L. E. Blaze described the events that followed: The opportunity soon came, for Pilima Talawwe had made up his mind to force a war by annoying the British, and in that way compelling them to fight against the Kandyans. If there was war, thought Pilima Talawwe, the king could be put to death and his own authority established. Then he could make his own terms with the British. To bring this about he stirred up the people at Negombo and Mannar to rebel against the British. He spoke against Governor North to the king, and against the king to North. Lastly, he seized the property of some Moormen who were returning from Kandy to Puttalam. The Moormen were British subjects and North demanded compensation for the wrongs they had suffered. It was refused. War was declared.

The British troops advanced to Kandy on January 31, 1803. They went in two divisions. General Macdowall marched from Colombo in one division and Colonel Barbut with another from Trincomalee. The total force was around 3000. When they arrived in Kandy, they found the place deserted – the king and Pilima Talawwe having fled to Hanguranketa. Macdowall declared Muttusami, the brother of the former king Rajadhi Rajasinghe's principal queen who was really the lawful heir to the throne.

Pilima Talawwe did not like this arrangement and plotted to betray the British. He convinced the British to send troops to Hanguranketa to capture the king. They were led through dangerous mountain passes where they were attacked by the Kandyans. By the time they reached Hanguranketa, the king had fled. The troops returned to Kandy. The garrison left in the hill capital was stricken by fever. Malay soldiers deserted and joined the king's troops. Muttusami was beheaded when the British surrendered him to the king and the British invasion ended in a failure.


The king's fate

January was a significant month in the life of the last king of Kandy, Sri Vickrema Rajasinghe.

Sri Vickrema Rajasinghe, the last King of Kandy

After the king was captured by the British forces in mid February 1815, he was kept in captivity until January 24, 1816 when he and his family were deported to India. They were taken first to Madras and then to Vellore. He lived there for 16 years and died on January 30, 1832.

Discussing the character of King Sri Vickrema Rajasinghe, historian Blaze says that it is not easy to form a definite opinion. "He was not as ardent a patriot as his immediate successors; nor did he show those mental and moral qualities which enabled former kings to hold their own against rebellion and invasion. To say he was cruel does not mean much, for cruel kings and nobles were not rare in those days; and it is questionable whether all the cruel deeds attributed to Sri Vickrema Rajasinghe were of his own devising or done by his authority. It might be more fair to regard him as a weak tool in the hands of designing chiefs than as the monster of cruelty, which it is an idle fashion with some writers to call him. And it should not be forgotten that he did a good deal to beautify his capital. The lake and the Octagon in Kandy have always been considered the work of the king."


Arabi Pasha arrives

Stamp issued to honour Arabi Pasha

Ahmed Arabi Pasha Al Misri, popularly referred to as Arabi Pasha (1839-1911), was an Egyptian nationalist leader who led an abortive uprising in 1882. He was tried for treason and was banished to Sri Lanka. He arrived here on January 10, 1883 and lived here for 19 years until 1901.

The people took a liking towards him and he was treated as a hero. He lived mostly in Kandy and contributed to a Muslim resurgence.

A stamp was issued in his honour on November 13, 1983.

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