09th November 1997


Home Page Front Page OP/ED News Business

HIstory of the Ceylon Police

Where sensation held sway

The following is yet another excerpt in our continuing series of excerpts from the book The History of the Ceylon Police, by former Inspector General of Police A. C. Dep

The Execution of Robert Rock 1850

In February 1850 Robert Rock was hanged in Pettah for murder. About 5000 who wit nessed this showed their sympathy, being convinced that he was innocent. According to them he had been convicted purely on circumstantial evidence. Inspector Daviot who witnessed this stated that he proclaimed his innocence to the end. "I must say this, I have never witnessed any criminal die in the manner that prisoner Rock died; to the last moment he pleaded innocence of the crime and called heaven to witness that he was unjustly condemned to suffer.' And Inspector Claessen who was also present stated that there were nearly 5000 who witnessed this sad spectacle. Rock said in Portuguese "brethren pray for my soul and pray loud that I can hear."

Robert Rock his father Johannes Rock, Adolphus Firth and his father Luke Firth lived together in the Washer's Quarters next to the house of James Jackson. They were all shoemakers. A Malabar named Francisco used to sleep in the verandah of Rock's house.

At about 10 p.m. on the night of 19 August 1849 Jackson heard cries of "Aiyo' Aiyo" coming from the adjoining house. He went there and inquired and heard talk in Portuguese inside and at last the door was opened. Francisco was Iying on the floor in a bad way. Onion juice was squeezed into his face and burnt pepper was blown on to his face. But there was no response from him. A short while later he wanted to be taken to hospital. They told him that Francisco tried to enter the female section naked. When he asked them what was the bleeding in the lower regions they told him that his piles were out.

On the morning of the 20th constable Appu Singho called over. Francisco told him that the four of them assaulted him and that Robert stamped with his foot and squeezed out one of his testicles and made him swallow it. Appu Singho took him in a cart to the Police station. There he repeated the same story to Inspector Miskin. About the testicle he said "if you open my belly you will find it there. Dr. Henry Dickman said that the injured man was brought to him in the morning for examination and treatment. He had a wound in the scrotum 3 inches long, the left testicle was protruding and the right was missing. He agreed that it was possible for a person to swallow an ordinary sized testicle. His dying deposition was recorded by Mr. Colepeper in the morning of the 22nd. He died the same evening. Dr. Peter Daniel Anthonis who held the postmortem was of the opinion that death could have been caused in the manner described. He had no piles, no fistula. His statement tallied with the dying deposition. On this evidence the Jurors returned a verdict of homicide and the sentence of death was passed on Robert Rock.

The Jurors in the meantime had listened to the opinion of Dr. Elliott who held that death could not have been caused in the way described. He stated "I consider it quite impossible that one man could stamp or tread out another's testicles and that I am willing to put this opinion to the test of actual experiment by getting the strongest man with the heaviest boot to make the attempt upon a dead body.'' This upset the consciences of the Jurors who sent a signed petition to the Governor stating that if they had this opinion before them they would not have returned a unanimous verdict of guilt against the accused. The mother of the accused sent her own appeal.

The Chief Justice commented fully on this and asked the Governor not to vary the sentence. "I cannot advice Your Excellency to give any attention to the recommendation of the Jury which was founded on no good reason, if they doubt the credibility of the man's dying declaration there remains enough in the case to have compelled any conscientious jury to have convicted the Prisoner. But there is nothing to make any reasonable man doubt that the decease declared what he thought to be the truth he received the bruise on the groin which occasioned his death from a stamp and lying on his back as he must have been, it was quite natural that he should suppose he lost his testicle by a stamp also - and it is of no consequence whether he was correct in this supposition or not.'' He further added "Their first verdict was given on Oath, on evidence on Oath. They now, not upon oath, hearing a Medical opinion not upon Oath, say, if they had been in possession of the opinion before the verdict they would have found the prisoner not guilty.''

The Governor accordingly made no alteration in the punishment and Robert Rock was hanged on the appointed date.

The Grandpass Murder Case - December 1849

The facts of this case were not available. But the first accused in this case prior to his execution in March 1851 made a request to the counsel Richard F. Morgen. He wanted his daughter Sinnatchi, who gave damaging evidence against him, removed from the custody of the Assistant Superintendent De La Harpe. From 17 December 1849 she was in his house till 31 January 1851. She was very likely kept here to prevent people influencing her to vary her evidence.

Unruliness in Colombo

The Governor mentioned the case of Mr. Ritchie, a leading merchant spitting onto the face of a Sentry. There was also a case and counter case where one Mr. Lamby was charged before Mr. Colepeper for assaulting Private Gander who was on sentry duty in the Fort. Captain Watson's brother horse-whipped Dr. Elliott for refusing to give the name of the writer of an article in the Observer. He did not retaliate or seek satisfaction in Court. All these were indications of the existence of unruliness in the town. Besides there was the frequent occurrence of robberies which occasioned a comment from the Governor. "The frequent occurrence of robberies in the town of Colombo and the inefficiency of the Police in preventing and detecting them have for some time past been matters of complaint on the part of the public." When this was brought to the notice of Macartney he asked for additional strength.

Macartney complains against Dalziel - 1850

In March Macartney attended the Police Magistrates Court to produce a document. Dalziel did not allow him to sit in Court but ordered him out. He allowed one Silva to sit in Court and give evidence after him. Silva took advantage of the situation and went back on his statement. When Macartney pointed this out he was asked to sit down. He cited as witnesses Rev. S. C. Glennie, Rev. P. Boake and Rev. Thornton who happened to be in Courts that day.

To relieve the District Judge of Colombo (Dalziel) Macartney was required to make preliminary inquiries in cases detected by the Police. In 1851 it was found that he had not done so. His explanation was called. Macartney and Dalziel, a former Superintendent of Police Colombo did not seem to get on well.

The Central Province Police

In January 1850 Colepeper came back to the Police and took charge of the Central Province much to the dislike of Loku Banda who had to revert back to the rank of Assistant Superintendent of the Rural Police. And Jansen who acted as an Assistant Superintendent of Police also reverted back to his former rank. Earlier other changes had taken place. Sub-Inspector Mullegama Loku Banda was reported by the Judge and Jurors for giving unsatisfactory evidence in a burglary case. He was removed and Sergeant Don Hamy was promoted Sub-lnspector and replaced him. Wootler who was regularly reporting sick was removed and Peter Lambert Keegel filled his place as an Inspector.

Unseemly behaviour at a procession - 1850

In May there was a procession in Kandy, with elephants, music and dancing. Lieutenant Roach of the Ceylon Rifle Regiment inserted a stake under the tail of an Elephant. The mahouts prevented a stampede of elephants and the Police immediately took the offender into custody and handed him over to the Military.

Continue to Plus page 7 * Child labour: crushing them young

Return to the Plus contents page

Read Letters to the Editor

Go to the Plus Archive



Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to or to