Ten days in Ceylon

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), self-made steel billionaire and philanthropist, visited Galle, Colombo and Kandy for 10 days in January 1879. Carnegie's trip round the world was a fulfillment of a long cherished ambition.

With not a cloud upon the financial horizon, he and his friend John Vandervort set out westward from New York on October 12, 1878 and returned after 256 days on June 24, 1879.

A book on the trip was his first attempt as an author. Originally printed for private circulation, it was published in 1884. It was dedicated “To my brother and trusty associates, who toiled at home that I might spend abroad, these notes are affectionately inscribed by the grateful author”. The following are extracts;

Tuesday, January 14

It was smooth and quiet steaming all the way to Ceylon. I had been humming “Greenland's Icy Mountains” for several days previously, about all that I knew of the Ceylon's isle being contained in one of the verses of that hymn, which I used to sing at missionary meetings, when a minister who had seen the heathen was stared at as a prodigy.

And indeed the “spicy breezes blew soft o'er Ceylon's isle” as we approached it in the moonlight. We found Galle quite a pretty, quaint little port, and remained there one night, taking the coach next morning for Colombo, the capital.

Colombo: In the city

The drive of sixty miles to the railway, which extends to Colombo, seventeen miles beyond, is one of the best treats we have yet had.

The road is equal to one of our best park avenues, as indeed are all the roads we saw in Ceylon; from end to end it skirts the rocky shores, passing through groves of cocoa and betel-nut trees, and dotted on each side by the huts of natives at work at some branch of the coconut business.

There is no prettier seashore in the world, nor a more beautiful surf. Every few miles we come upon large numbers of fishermen drawing in their nets, which are excessively long and take in several acres of sea in their sweep.

The dress of the Ceylonese women is really pretty: a skirt closely fitting the figure, and a tight jacket over the shoulders - all of fine, pure white cotton cloth or muslin and quite plain, with neither frill, tuck, flounce, nor anything of the kind. Necklaces and earrings are worn, but I am glad to say the nose in Ceylon seems to be preserved from the indignity of rings.

The men's dress is rather scanty, their weakness being a large tortoiseshell comb, which every one wears; it reaches from ear to ear, and the hair is combed straight back and confined by it.

Women are denied this crowning ornament, and must content themselves with a pin in the hair, the head of which, however, is highly ornamented.

The Buddhist monks form a strange contrast in their dress, which consists of a yellow plaid, generally of silk, wrapped around the body and over the shoulders.

The religion of Ceylon is Buddhism; indeed it is now the most strictly Buddhist country in the world.

One condition of the cession of the sovereignty to Great Britain was that this religion should be held inviolable with its rights and privileges, its monasteries and temples and all pertaining thereto.

Ceylon is somewhat smaller than Ireland, and the population is a little less than three millions, but it is rapidly increasing, as are its exports and imports. Of all the places we visited it seems to have suffered least from the wave of depression, which has recently swept over the world. This is undoubtedly owing to the fact that the spicy isle enjoys somewhat of a monopoly in coffee and some of the spices, cinnamon especially.

In the coffee plantations men are paid eighteen cents per day; women, fourteen cents. A disease akin to that which attacked the vines in France some years ago has raged among the plants for two years past; it promises this year to be less destructive, although no effectual cure has yet been discovered.

We met several coffee planters, generally young, pushing Englishmen who either own the estates, or are related to those who do.

They lead a pleasant life in Ceylon, the climate being good most of the year, and those who are contented declare that a European can live there and enjoy as good health as at home. If the weather proves too warm in the summer there are the mountains to run to.

Scientific cultivation of coffee began in Ceylon as late as 1824, and public attention was not directed to it until 1834--only fifty years ago--yet today there are more than twelve hundred coffee plantations, and the amount of coffee exported exceeds twenty millions of dollars per annum.

Tea cultivation has been introduced recently, and the quality is said to be excellent. There cannot be any doubt of this, because it finds a ready market here. None has been exported. I shall watch the Ceylon tea question with interest, and hope that at some not distant day the production of the tea leaf may rival that of the coffee bean.

Kandy: The hill capital

A railway has been built from Colombo, the shipping port, through the mountains to the coffee-growing districts, a distance of seventy miles, and this enabled us to visit Kandy, more than 1,600 feet above the sea, and the summer capital to which the government repairs in hot weather. It is a beautiful little town, and gave us the first breath of air with ‘ozone’ in it that we had enjoyed since we were on the Sierras.

The Botanical Gardens here are rivalled in the tropics by those in Java only, and upon seeing the display of luxuriant vegetation, we fully understood how it had acquired its celebrity; but still all is green. The great variety of palms, the breadfruit, banyan, jackfruit, and others sustain this reputation.

The chocolate tree was the most curious to us; it has recently been introduced in the island, and promises to add one more to the list of luxuries for which Ceylon is famous.

A fine evidence of the intelligence of the Ceylon planters is seen in the fact that the association employs a chemist to investigate and report upon the different soils and what they are capable of producing; under his supervision various articles are always under trial.

Ceylon is noted for its pearl fisheries and its supply of rubies, sapphires, and cats' eyes as much as for its spices; and from the hour the traveller lands until the steamer carries him off, he is beset with dealers offering precious stones, worth hundreds of dollars in London or New York, for a few rupees; but those who purchase no doubt find their fate in the story of the innocent who bought his gold cheap.

Succession of events

Colombo, Tuesday, January 21

Ceylon was originally settled in 1517 by the Portuguese, who obtained the right to erect a small factory at Colombo for purposes of trade. This soon grew into a fort, and naturally the whole west coast became theirs.

The Dutch drove them out a hundred and fifty years later, to be in turn expelled by the English after they had occupied the island for just about the same period. As with all their colonies, the Dutch left their impress upon Ceylon. New industries were introduced, great public works constructed, and, better than all, the education of the people was well cared for.

England has been master since 1796, nearly ninety years now, and certainly the work she has to show for the less than a century is marvelous indeed.

The people are not yet done rejoicing at the restoration of their ancient village institutions, which took place in 1871. Europeans had rudely swept these away and substituted courts after their own fashion. After many years' trial, they were seen to be unsuited for the country, and the ancient village tribunals were reestablished a few years ago. It will not do to conclude, as many do, that India, Ceylon, and other of the Eastern lands, are left almost bare of just laws and fair administration, for nothing could be farther from the truth. The village elders, chosen by the people of Ceylon, for instance, administer laws which are the outgrowth of centuries, and as such are far better adapted to the real conditions which exist than any other system of laws, no matter how perfect, which have been found suitable in other lands under conditions wholly unlike.

We saw the new breakwater which the government is constructing at great expense. When finished it is proposed that the Indian steamers shall call here instead of at Galle, the harbor of which is dangerous. This may be a decided improvement upon the whole, but the tourist who does not see pretty Galle and enjoy the long day's drive through the island to Colombo will miss much.

Galle, Wednesday, January 22
We reached here last night upon our return, stopping one night at Colombo.

Future travelers will soon miss one of the rarest treats in Ceylon. The railway will soon be completed from Colombo to Galle, and the days of coaching cease forever. We congratulate ourselves that our visit was before this passed away, as we know of no drive equal to that we have now enjoyed twice, and the last time even more than the first.

During our trip down yesterday I counted within forty miles eleven schools filled with young Cingalese. English is generally taught in them, and although attendance is not compulsory, great inducements are held out to parents to send their children. The advantages of knowing the English language are so decided that I am told parents generally are most anxious to have their children taught.

The school-houses are simple affairs, consisting only of white plastered walls about five feet high, with spaces for entrance. On this wall rest the slight wooden standards, which support the roof of palm-leaves, so that all is open to our view as we drive past.
In 1874 there were 1,468 public schools on the island, attended by 66,385 scholars.

Saturday, January 25

At ten tonight we sailed for Madras and Calcutta by the English mail steamer Hindostan, and were lighted out of the intricate harbor by flaming torches displayed by lines of natives stationed at the buoys.

“Flashes of flambeaux looked

Like Demons guarding the river of death.”

The last sight of Ceylon's isle revealed the fine spires of the Catholic Cathedral, which tower above the pretty harbor of Galle.


Back to Top  Back to Plus  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.