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27th September 1998

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A right royal tour

'A hunting we shall go!'

- Part two

In the final part of the series Richard Boyle describes the pomp and ceremony that accompanied the Duke of Edinburgh on his visit to Ceylon and his hunting expeditions

After witnessing a special exposi- tion of the Tooth Relic at the Dalada Maligawa, Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, left Kandy on April 16,1870, to travel to Bogawantalawa for a spot of elk-hunting. Handling the reins of his own carriage, the Prince (together with his party) drove through Gampola and Nawalapitiya, and along the partly-constructed road from Ginigathena to Dikoya.

At Watawala, where the driveable portion ended, the Prince transferred to horseback, and proceeded to Manikwatte estate, where the night was spent. Before dawn the journey was recommenced through the beautiful Dikoya valley. As John Capper writes in The Duke of Edinburgh in Ceylon:

"When seen after the monsoon rains, (the valley) presents a magnificent coup d'oeil from any of the jutting points along the winding bridle-path which intersects it from one end to the other.

Seen before sunrise this is a charming picture, with pretty bungalows dotted about, peeping from groves of orange trees and plantains, and a long distance off their walls and chimneys glistened in the bright clear morning light."

The Prince halted for a few minutes to survey "as fine a tract of coffee as could be met with in Ceylon, perhaps in the world. Numberless estates, all in the finest order, green, and bright with the morning dew, the first rays of the sun darting upwards in a hundred tints from behind the elevated ranges far in the distance, the reflected sunlight playing on the opposite Peak ranges, it was indescribably beautiful."

The journey to the Bopatalawa patnas was long and difficult. Efforts had been made to improve the track, but in some places it was very steep and the rock smooth and slippery.

Handrails made of branches had been provided at one point, and most of the party dismounted and used them.

But not the Prince. Showing off his equestrian skills, he remained in the saddle during the ascent. In addition, swamps had to be crossed on causeways of hurdles and turf.

Eventually the party rode into the beautiful surroundings of the temporary camp of the Dikoya Hunt, where the Prince was greeted by members wearing green velvet hunting caps.

"It would be a matter of extreme difficulty to convey to those who have never visited these patnas a correct and complete idea of their beauty," Capper admits.

"There is scarcely anything to equal them in Ceylon... the undulations of these fine plains are of the most varied character, and picturesque in the extreme; whilst the dark masses of forest forming the background, with many shades of deep rich green revelling in the sunlight, and high above all, the white peak of lofty Kirigalpotta, made up a picture of surpassing loveliness."

Of the hunt, little need be said. It was, as can be imagined, a distasteful and bloody affair. Hunting was carried out with a pack of dogs. Regrettably, a handful of magnificent animals were hounded to death, including a buck with unusual antlers, where the lower point on one side was divided in two.

The Prince demonstrated his courage and 'sportsmanlike' qualities by stabbing the creature to death with a hunting knife as it was being held in the jaws of the biggest dog in the pack. It is difficult to feel much sympathy for those of the Royal party who had awoken earlier suffering from asphyxia, apparently induced by an overdose of soda water and corned beef.

On the evening of the day the Prince returned to Kandy from the hunting-grounds of Bopatalawa, His Royal Highness held a reception for "the ladies of native chiefs" at the Pavilion in Kandy. Such a reception had been held only twice during British rule.

The number of guests on this occasion did not exceed thirty, as distinguished Kandyan families had decreased during this period. "Among those present," Capper informs us, "were the daughter and grandchildren of ladies of the Court when Rajah Singha ruled Ceylon with cruel sway."

It was at this reception that the Prince was presented with an opportunity to renew his acquaintance with the delightful, 18-year-old Miss Idulmagodde of Avissawella, who was introduced to readers last week."

Attired in her richest gala dress, and bending beneath the weight of ponderous jewels, she surpassed all the other native-beauties, and was looked upon by all as the Queen of the assembly," Capper declares with feeling.

He clearly had an eye for oriental beauty and attire, and he provides a detailed description of the elegant Kandyan ladies present: "A few diamonds and pearls artistically garlanded among their rich raven locks, a jacket of snowy whiteness, an ample collar, and a skirt or cloth of surpassing richness, mostly of silk, worked or inlaid with gold tissue or thread, with a profusion of massive bracelets, rings, necklaces and pendants as low as the waist, make up an attire which is certainly magnificent."

"Some of these Oriental damsels were of classical beauty, and they walk with the true Grecian bend," Capper continues.

"As they sat in a semi-circle on one side of the brilliantly lighted audience-hall, their fine Oriental faces and elegant forms gave the idea of a group from the Nineveh marbles resuscitated, so calmly did they sit, so gracefully did they bear themselves."

The Prince returned by train to Colombo where, among other things, he laid the foundation-stone of the Municipal Hall. But undoubtedly the highlight of this part of the Royal visit was the entertainment given in honour of the Prince by Susew and Charles H. de Soyza - "the first of the kind given by any native of Ceylon," as Capper informs us.

Some 3,000 guests were invited to this event, which was held at the new de Soyza mansion, Alfred House, named after the Prince. The de Soyza family was one that had benefited from the colonial system.

"So energetic were they in all their proceedings, so scrupulously honourable in their dealings with the Government, that they soon established their reputation as successful renters and reliable men of business."

"The mansion of the de Soyzas is situated, in the midst of extensive grounds, on the high road from Colombo to Galle, and distant from the Fort about three miles," Capper describes that patch of Colpetty which is today just another overcrowded area of the metropolis.

"The building is composed of two floors; the ordinary sitting-rooms being on the basement, the reception and retiring rooms, with a suite of other elegantly-furnished apartments, being on the first floor. The furniture is of the most elegant designs, carved in ebony, satin and calamander."

"From the early hours of evening," Capper writes of that memorable day, "crowds of holiday-making natives began to congregate along the line of roadway; impromptu boutiques were at the same time inaugurated at convenient distances throughout, at which a variety of non- descript beverages and comestibles were offered, on the easiest cash terms, to a rather thirsty and somewhat conglomerated public.

As evening advanced, the dark masses which lined the way and surged along the Galle Road increased. Hundreds became thousands, until it was difficult to understand how carriages were to find their way."

"The varied amusements provided for the entertainment of the numerous guests in different parts of the grounds progressed simultaneously," Capper explains.

"Long ranges of covered way led in various directions to temporary buildings, in one of which a famous Hungarian wizard astonished a large crowd of spectators by feats of magic: in another, the native drama of "Eheyalapola" was being enacted.

In another building was a group of Hindoo nautch-girls, attired in gorgeous but apparently uncomfortable garments. In another structure, a band of boy dancers, clad in red dresses of grotesque fashion, amused many spectators; and immediately adjoining, a puppet theatre, a band of jugglers, and performers on the slack rope and trapeze."

After dancing to the music of the Rifle Band, the Royal party witnessed the varied entertainment and then proceeded to the supper-room. The tables had been arranged in the form of a cross. Capper remarks that, "The plate, goblets, and knife and fork provided for his Royal Highness were of massive gold, set with rubies, emeralds and pearls," and continues by revealing that the hosts kept the mansion open to the public for a week following the magnificent bash. "All were made welcome, and sent away with a lively sense of the open-minded hospitality of the De Soyzas."

It was once again time for the Prince to leave the civilized life behind and return to the wilds to indulge in some more hunting - for elephants in the Trincomalee district. The journey there was undertaken aboard the Galatea.

The Prince was to have landed on the Great Basses rock for the purpose of laying the foundation stone of the lighthouse about to be erected there, but "such a commotion was raised on the surface of the waters as sent them tumbling headlong over the Basses in curling foam, so that nothing but a curlew or seagull could have ventured near."

The Great Basses lighthouse had been designed in 1867 by Sir J.N. Douglass, and the pioneering scientist, Michael Faraday, had been consulted regarding the lantern. More than a thousand blocks of granite were cut in Scotland, numbered, and shipped to Galle.

From there they were transported to the Great Basses in two small steamers and slung ashore with the aid of a crane set up on the reef. After nearly three years of painstaking work, the lighthouse commenced operation on March 10, 1873.

The Prince set out on the elephant hunt the day after his arrival at Trincomalee. The first part of the journey, from the Fort to Mutur, was undertaken in an early version of the modern-day outboard-engined motor-boat.

This was hoisted over the side of Galatea, "followed by the small portable engine, with fire ready lighted, and steam well up. The miniature engine was slipped into the steamer, the twin screws were adjusted, the Royal party descended into her, guns were handed down, and away went the little fairy craft, at the rate of 8 miles per hour, across the wide expanse of water."

The Kill in the stream - JLK Van Dort, Del. 1870At Mutur, the Prince had an opportunity of seeing "Knox's Tree" - the widespreading tamarind beneath whose shade Robert Knox had rested and been captured in 1660. The hunting party proceeded southward on horseback to Kiliveddi. "Through elephant-jungle, thorny and thick, over long tracts of fallow fields, through pretty Moor villages, with their neat gardens and corn-ricks, across dried-up beds of streams, wound the impromptu road, and the party were not long before they found themselves in the land of elephants - their footmarks being plainly visible around."

The mosquito-ridden cadjan encampment, on the shores of the crocodile-infested Allai Tank, was inevitably not of the standard encountered elsewhere on the Royal visit. Worse, accommodation was to follow, however, because after a fruitless day's hunting, the Prince journeyed farther south in search of the elusive elephants to a secondary encampment at Kompanachchi.

Yet it was fortunate that he did vacate the main camp, for a fire largely destroyed it in his absence. Capper mentions that great effort was taken to rescue the champagne, claret and pate-de-foie-gras from the conflagration.

The shift to Kompanachchi proved to be fortunate for the Prince in another way, because he was able to kill two elephants over the next few days, and wound several others. At the conclusion of the hunt, the journey back to Trincomalee was undertaken by canoe down the Mahaweli Ganga.

Along the way, the Prince apparently "had no compunction in knocking over red-deer, buffaloes, or anything that came in his way." He was, according to Capper, "too good a sportsman to lose such a chance."

On May 6th, 1870, the Galatea sailed for Galle, where a few days later the Governor bade the Prince an official farewell. So ended the first British Royal visit to Ceylon - a visit characterised by its imperialism and trophyism, its pomp and ceremony, its excess and expense.

128 years later, even accounting for the change in circumstance, the visit of Prince Charles pales in comparison. His ancestor was preoccupied with hunting (a genetic trait of the House of Windsor) and enjoying the lavish entertainment and public adulation. His Royal Highness, however, was more concerned with matters of security, protocol and public relations.


A Capper clash

John Capper was a versatile writer, as is evident from the fact that in the same year that The Duke of Edinburgh in Ceylon was published, (1871) there also appeared his Handbook of Cattle Treatment in Health and Disease. In 1877 and 1878, his magnum opus Old Ceylon: Sketches of Ceylon Life in the Olden Times was published in Colombo and London respectively. This work contained many of the articles he had contributed to Dickens Household Words a quarter of a century before.

"The Cappers did Ceylon tea good service," declares D.M. Forrest in One Hundred Years of Ceylon Tea (1967). During the 1870s the promotion of tea was an ad hoc affair. "But," as Forrest writes, "there is no doubt that at the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880 and at Calcutta three years later, Ceylon tea was forcefully promoted. Exercising strict impartiality, the planters invited Mr. Ferguson of the Ceylon Observer and Mr. Capper of the Times of Ceylon to represent them at Melbourne and Calcutta respectively. While this was a compliment to the journalistic profession, it did not entirely bring out the higher natures of these two excellent men."

Forrest goes on to explain why Ferguson and Capper deviated from their normally high ethical standards. Ferguson had given "columns of space in his newspaper to his own valiant deeds at Melbourne, where Ceylon tea gained a higher proportion of medals than India. Capper could not resist a back-hander when Calcutta came along.

He published an article that claimed the double aim there would be to make Ceylon tea known to visitors in their thousands from all over the world and to attract the attention of capitalists, especially from Australia, who might be prepared to invest in Ceylon".

He went on to add that "it was a pity the Colombo Press did not devote more space to a sober assessment of yield and profits", instead of concentrating on the tea bushes of gigantic girth to be found on Abbotsford, the Ferguson Estate at Dimbula. "So back came Ferguson", Forrest relates, "with sarcastic queries about how you could hope to encourage capitalists by publicising losses and low yields, and in this atmosphere of sprightly ill-will, Calcutta was duly launched." It was a blemish in Capper's otherwise distinguished career.

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