5th October 1997


Home Page Front Page OP/ED News Business

History of the Ceylon Police

Ceylon Police: Frederic North takes over

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 policing methods used by the British in the early days are to some extent revealed by the practices followed in Jaffna.

The manner in which police functions like escorting, guarding, patrolling and making inquiries were done is indicated here.

Sepoys were used for escort duties of all types including the escorting of bullocks and of coolies.

On the 9th December 1795 the house of Sooper was burgled and 700 Pagodas worth of goods were removed. Several suspects were taken into custody, among these being some well-known old offenders.

The Collector wanted these men guarded by the military to avoid escapes. He also wanted two Sepoys to accompany his officers when they went to make arrests and searches. On November 23, 1796 two men were taken into custody on a charge of breaking into Captain Mackenna’s house and committing robbery.

The Collector wanted them lodged in the Fort gaol. On January 13, 1797 the Collector sent to the Officer Commanding Jaffnapatnam five robbers under a guard of Malays, as they were notorious robbers and wanted them confined in the Fort until they were tried by the Court Martial "the only Tribunal which can sentence them to suffer a punishment adequate to their crimes."

In Jaffna robberies were frequent and were committed very regularly without any sort of fear, even in the White Town. Desperate measures were called for, and the soldiers who were doing the patrols were briefed to take whatever severe measures they could to end this.

A notice was published in these terms. "Whereas daring robberies have for sometime past been committed every night within the White Town of Jaffnapatnam and whereas many houses of the inhabitants have been broken into and plundered of their effects, this is to give notice that in order to check so great an evil and to secure the future repose of the Town, the inhabitants will hence forward agreeable to the English Laws under which they now live, be at liberty to repel in any manner by arms or otherwise the attacks of housebreakers and that every exertion will be also used by the British Police to secure either dead or alive the persons who may hereafter attempt such robberies."

In Colombo owing to the growing disorder De Meuron was compelled to take charge of the police of the public bazaar himself, as the Cutwall was very ineffective.

Inquiries were handled by the Collector’s Courts, based on the order of Colonel Stuart dated April 25, 1796. This order read.

"The Superintendent for collecting revenue and his deputies are to have subject to the control of Colonel Stuart, the direction of all matters appertaining to the Police and the Power to try and punish all persons committing theft and other misdemeanours, who may be confined in the Cutcheries and to settle and determine all disputes which may happen amongst the native inhabitants and to punish the guilty when necessary in doing which they are on no account to be prevented by any interferences on the part of officers in the command of stations, Guards and Posts who are to confine themselves to their military commands, attending always to the disciplining of the Troops and the protection of the station etc., entrusted to their care".

Thus Colonel Stuart insulated the civil authority from military interference quite early.

An inkling of how a murder inquiry was conducted under these directions, appears in the Collector’s report dated 3 January 1797. The Collector John Jervis addressed Robert Andrews thus: "Soopiah Pillay being now on my summons at Jaffna, I beg leave to acquaint you, Major Barbut and I have jointly inquired into the charges which were preferred against him and are on a due consideration of the subject of opinion that he is innocent of the murder committed sometime since in the Vanny. At the same time we cannot but remark that his great inactivity in regard to the apprehension of the person now in confinement for the act, who was always of suspicious character might very naturally have led any gentleman on receiving the first account of the business to have entertained unpleasant sentiments of suspicion against him.

"Standing, however, acquitted of guilt he is this day ordered back to the Vanny to resume his office of Aumildar, and the temporary imputation he brought on himself will, I trust urge him in future to a greater attention to his duty.’’

Lord Frederic North takes over

The Madras officials who held high positions in the new government attached importance to the increasing of revenue by taxing. For this purpose they altered the old system of administration, and replaced the Mudaliyars with aumildars. They imposed a new tax on coconut trees and began to collect this with great zeal. The people resented this and rose in rebellion. An aumildar was killed in the Vanny and serious fighting took place in other places. This uprising caused much disorder in the country and was quelled with much difficulty.

At the tail end of this, Lord Frederic North arrived as Governor. "I arrived here in October, shortly after the extinction of a dangerous and general rebellion, after an old and inveterate system of oppression had been for 3 years superseded by another, more rational perhaps in its principles, but more violent in its operations and much more repugnant to the feelings of the people as it was destructive of their wages and subversive of their property."

Lord North started his administration aided by these Madras officials. He was given clear instructions by the Directors on the administration of Justice and Police. He was asked to make use of the institutions which existed during the Dutch period and also the personnel available. North followed these instructions closely and before long was able to report, "In the Office of Police and in many inferior administrations myself as well as the Heads of Departments have placed many Dutchmen whose local knowledge, as well as that of the language have rendered them highly necessary."

One such person he employed was Baron Frederic Mylius, as Fiscal of Colombo. He came from a noble family of Stuttgart and was married to a niece of the late Dutch Governor Van de Graaf. His knowledge and experience was very useful in all matters relating to the Police. North’s knowledge of police matters in the country was very limited and he therefore found Mylius’ service of very great value. In 1799 when a murder was reported from Negombo, North directed De Meuron, who was in charge of the troops, to ask his Commanding Officer to give the Mudaliyars all the assistance for "discovering and arresting the perpetrators and accomplices of a horrid outrage and murder committed in that place and that the persons so arrested may be brought immediately to Colombo in Irons."

Baron Mylius who was very conscious of the fact that he was the one man who could throw "more light concerning the Police than from the greatest part of the Gentlemen in this country" began to make available his specialised knowledge. He first wanted the inhabitants of the Town to send him an exact list of the members of their respective families and of all changes which may take place in them by the arrival of strangers, by deaths etc." This was a regulation passed by the late Governor Van de Graaf.

"I am of opinion that such a regulation will tend to restore a degree of order to the Police and also to the comfort and safety of the community at large by preventing the desertion and concealment of thieves or other evil intending persons.

‘’He next wanted a Wykemeester appointed to assist the Fiscal in Police work. North ruled this out stating that his very appointment was made for a purpose like this. Mylius continued the good work thus unaided by a Wykemeester. He held the view "that it is not the severity of a punishment which prevents irregular conduct but the certainty of the punishment." He wanted severe punishment meted out to the persons responsible for the Great Robbery at Wellawatte, 3 miles from Colombo.

Arrack and Arrack Farms

For the people, the manufacture and sale of arrack was very profitable. This stealthy practice at first caused North considerable anxiety.

His view was that the drinking of arrack and toddy was "fatal to the health and morals of the people." He wanted to stop this and wanted De Meuron to check this in Colombo. De Meuron reported on what took place in Colombo.

"The Fort of Colombo is not a mere military station, there are many Burghers and inhabitants who are in the habit of drinking arrack. These in Dutch times had permission to pass into Fort a case of spirits for their own use without paying anything but observing some trifling formalities."

He also pointed out to the difficulties there were in eliminating this. Steps were then taken to check this by asking the Town Major to exercise some control, by requiring the Renter to state the number of casks sent into the Fort and send a sample of each and taking steps to prevent the sale at Taverns to soldiers. The Town Major’s Lascarin N. Juan was sent to the Hanwella tavern to enforce this ban on the sale to soldiers.

But North’s views changed when he found this Arrack business a fruitful source of revenue. His tacit encouragement caused Arrack shops to spring up all over the country.

The Collector of Galle wanted these numbered for the convenience of the Police. "As a thing that would, I think, tend to the good of the Police I should propose that the arrack shops should all be numbered on the outside in some conspicuous part thereof - and this rule I should wish to introduce in all arrack farms."

A great quantity of arrrack was made in the neighbourhood of Colombo and the West coast. Very soon the arrack farms were extended to Dehiwela and a similar extension took place in Galle.

Arrack was considered a necessity for some pursuits. The Pearl Divers at the Pearl Fisheries found this a necessity. There were some who thought it a panacea for most of the ills of the time. "Our soldiers, too, by drinking plentifully of arrack and smoking tobacco counteract the bad effects of the atmosphere and the water."

Continue to Plus page 8- Tracing 50 years of life and lines: Wijesoma

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