25th January 1998


Home Page Front Page OP/ED News Business

The fall of a King

By M.B.Dassanayake

Sri Wickrama Rajasinha who reigned from 1798-1815 A.D, as the last monarch of the Kandyan Kingdom was taken prisoner on the night of February 18, 1815, by an armed party of Ehelepola's adherents headed by Ekneligoda Dissawa and accompanied by Lieutenant-Colonel Hook.

The monarch had taken refuge near Medamahanuwara gap, after evading the Kandyan and the British troops. He was accompanied by two of his wives and a few loyal followers who attempted to defend him to the end. One or two men were killed on both sides and finally the wall of the house where he was concealed was broken down and he was exposed to view. Hated by his subjects as a tyrant, it was a new and painful experience for him to see an angry mob in the full glare of torchlight watching the proceedings with delight and rejoicing in the capture of the man who had watered the land with the blood and tears of the people.

He was bound with ropes and dragged to the nearest village by his own subjects. His subjects showed their contempt by upbraiding him, and by general insulting behaviour.

On the following morning, Mr.D'Oyly (afterwards Sir John) called on the fallen monarch and found him surrounded by his old mother and wives, with their families. They were in a pitiable state of mind having heard a rumour that they were to be treated as the King had been accustomed to treat the women of his foes, and that the King himself was to stand trial before the British Government. Mr D'Oyly was able to pacify them with assurances that not only would the King and his families be safe, but they would be treated with every respect due to their station.

The King was silent and sullen, but upon receiving this assurance, he was deeply stirred. Taking the hands of his mother and his wives in turn, he presented them to Mr. D'Oyly and commended them solemnly to his care.

Major Willerman, one of the Governor's staff, now appeared on the scene, and was introduced to the King. The monarch spoke bitterly of the treatment that had been meted out to him by his subjects, and, pointing to the bruises on his arms caused by the ropes, asked if that was considered fit for a King. The Major expressed sympathies on behalf of the Governor, Sir Robert Brownrigg and the King declared that he regretted that he had not thrown himself on the generous protection of the British. All his wounds and insults were received from his own people.

Considering the spirit of the Kandyans unsafe, and deeming it inadvisable to risk taking him through Kandy, he was removed under a strong escort, mostly for his own protection, to Colombo.

In Colombo

The royal prisoner was entrusted to the care of Major Hook, and was taken with his wives to a large house in the Fort, which had been prepared for him, and arranged for his comfort. (This house I understand, was closer to the former military barracks.)

Arriving in Colombo on March 6, the King and his wives were conveyed to their new residence where they were received with the greatest courtesy by Colonel Kerr, the Commandant.

The house which was spacious, had been fitted up handsomely for the occasion, and in the middle of the largest apartment was an ottoman, covered with scarlet cloth, upon which His Majesty, immediately on his entrance, sprang with great agility, and, seating himself in a most unkingly attitude, with his legs drawn under him, looked around the room, which he surveyed with great complacency. He was evidently both pleased and surprised at the apparent comfort of his new place of abode, contrasting, perhaps, the treatment he was now receiving from the British Government with that which our countrymen had received at his hands not many years ago. He instantly said, ''As I am no longer permitted to be a King, I am thankful for the kindness and attention which has been showered upon me.''

Sri Wickrama Rajasinha was a handsome man. He was tall, corpulent, and muscular in appearance, but he was absolutely devoid of humane feelings. He was witty, and was good humoured when it suited him, but the calm and quiet way in which he related some of his murderous anecdotes, was as surprising as it was revolting. Murder and torture were apparent sport to him, and he could not understand why the British looked with abhorrence on the practices of torture: the cutting of heads; flogging to death; impaling alive; tearing by elephants, or pounding heads in a mortar.

The throne and Sceptre

The King's throne and Sceptre were found on the day that he was taken prisoner. The following is the description given by a British official:

"The ancient throne of the Kandyan sovereigns, for the last century and half, resembles a large old fashioned armchair such as is frequently seen in England. It is about five feet high at the back, three in breadth, and two in depth; the frame is of wood, entirely covered with thin gold sheeting (studded with precious stones), the exquisite taste and workmanship of which does not constitute the least of its beauties, and may vie with the best modern specimens of the works of goldsmiths.

"The most prominent and striking features in this curious relic are two golden lions, or sphinxes, forming the arms of the Throne or chair, of a very uncouth appearance, but beautifully wrought - the heads of the animals being turned outwards in a peculiar graceful manner. The eyes are formed of entire amethysts, each rather larger than a musket ball. Inside the back, near the top, is a large golden sun from which the founder of the Kandyan monarchy is supposed to have derived his origin; beneath, about the centre of the chair, and in the midst of some sunflowers, is an immense amethyst, about the size of a large walnut; on either side is a female deity in a sitting posture, of admirable design and workmanship; the whole encompassed by a moulding formed of bunches of cut crystal set in gold; there is a space around the back (without the moulding) studded with large amethysts on each side, and six more at the top."


On January 24, 1816, the King of Kandy, with his family, embarked on board the H.M."Cornwallis'', under command of Captain O'Brien for Madras, and a very large number of people assembled to witness the departure.

Leaving the shore late in the afternoon, in the boats of the ''Cornwallis'', the King with his wives and mother-in-law left in the Captain's barge in the care of Mr. Granville. The attendants followed in another, with Captain Kerr and Mr. Sutherland, Secretary for Kandyan Affairs, accompanied by Captain O'Brien in a third. The strictest observance was paid to the etiquette of receiving the women of high rank aboard, and spacious accommodation was allotted to the royal family.

After the King had become a captive, all hostile feelings ceased, and his wishes were granted as far as possible. He was taken to the water's edge in the governor's carriage, and his wives were carried in palanquins. They were closely veiled. The King was handsomely dressed, with pantaloons fastened tightly round the ankles, and took his place in the boat.

The weather, however, was rough and they were severely tossed about before the ship's side in a chair. The King it is said, ''behaved like a man'', and showed dignity and firmness of mind. What his feelings were can never be known, but, no doubt, he realised that he escaped torture and death when he fell into British hands.

The baggages of the prisoners were placed on bandies, and carried by coolies, and between four and five O'clock the following morning the King and his family were carried in palanquins to Conditoor, where they were again lodged in a tent, and, with daily marches, finally arrived at Vellore.


The King and his family were supplied with everything that they desired, and amongst the long lists of requirements was a list of oils of various sorts, twice monthly, for the use of himself, his wives and his mother-in-law.

To the end of the official year 1817-1818, the Government of Fort St.George estimated that the expenses likely to be incurred on account of the captive King and his family would be 9,977 star pagodas, with a further hundred pagodas for arrears of salary due to the officer in charge of the King.

A daily list of the King's household expenses was published, which amounted to nearly Rs.30 per day, bedroom perfumery to Rs. 10 and 50 cents, whilst the servants employed for his service cost over one hundred and twenty-six star pagodas.

In addition, the Government supplied clothing, jewels and workmen for making ornaments for the ladies.

Notwithstanding their dependence upon the government, almost all the prisoners became heavily in debt, and in July, 1874, the Ceylon Government sanctioned Rs. 8,000/- to liquidate the debts incurred by the third queen of the King.

The King lived for seventeen years in confinement, and died of dropsy on the 30th January, 1832, aged fifty-two years.

One cannot but compare the character of the last King of Kandy with some of his predecessors and other pious Kings of the earlier period, and comparisons convince us that King Sri Wickrama Rajasinha was degenerate, pampered and spoiled, suspicious of his people, and probably felt that nothing but tyranny would keep him in safety.

Continue to Plus page 3 * Save the Lake

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