1: Chapter I
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It was in the year 1845 that the spirit of wandering allured me
toward Ceylon: little did I imagine at that time that I should
eventually become a settler.
The descriptions of its sports, and the tales of hairbreadth
escapes from elephants, which I had read in various publications,
were sources of attraction against which I strove in vain; and I
at length determined upon the very wild idea of spending twelve
months in Ceylon jungles.
It is said that the delights of pleasures in anticipation exceed
the pleasures themselves: in this case doubtless some months of
great enjoyment passed in making plans of every description,
until I at length arrived in Colombo, Ceylon's seaport capital.
I never experienced greater disappointment in an expectation than
on my first view of Colombo. I had spent some time at Mauritius
and Bourbon previous to my arrival, and I soon perceived that the
far-famed Ceylon was nearly a century behind either of those
Instead of the bustling activity of the Port Louis harbor in
Mauritius, there were a few vessels rolling about in the
roadstead, and some forty or fifty fishing canoes hauled up on
the sandy beach. There was a peculiar dullness throughout the
town - a sort of something which seemed to say, "Coffee does not
pay." There was a want of spirit in everything. The
ill-conditioned guns upon the fort looked as though not intended
to defend it; the sentinels looked parboiled; the very natives
sauntered rather than walked; the very bullocks crawled along in
the midday sun, listlessly dragging the native carts. Everything
and everybody seemed enervated, except those frightfully active
people in all countries and climates, "the custom-house
officers:" these necessary plagues to society gave their usual
amount of annoyance.
What struck me the most forcibly in Colombo was the want of
shops. In Port Louis the wide and well-paved streets were lined
with excellent "magasins" of every description; here, on the
contrary, it was difficult to find anything in the shape of a
shop until I was introduced to a soi-disant store, where
everything was to be purchased from a needle to a crowbar, and
from satin to sail-cloth; the useful predominating over the
ornamental in all cases. It was all on a poor scale and after
several inquiries respecting the best hotel, I located myself at
that termed the Royal or Seager's Hotel. This was airy, white
and clean throughout; but there was a barn-like appearance, as
there is throughout most private dwellings in Colombo, which
banished all idea of comfort.
A good tiffin concluded, which produced a happier state of mind,
I ordered a carriage for a drive to the Cinnamon Gardens. The
general style of Ceylon carriages appeared in the shape of a
caricature of a hearse: this goes by the name of a palanquin
carriage. Those usually hired are drawn by a single horse, whose
natural vicious propensities are restrained by a low system of
In this vehicle, whose gaunt steed was led at a melancholy trot
by an equally small-fed horsekeeper, I traversed the environs of
Colombo. Through the winding fort gateway, across the flat Galle
Face (the race-course), freshened by the sea-breeze as the waves
break upon its western side; through the Colpettytopes of
cocoanut trees shading the road, and the houses of the better
class of European residents to the right and left; then turning
to the left - a few minutes of expectation - and behold the
What fairy-like pleasure-grounds have we fondly anticipated! what
perfumes of spices, and all that our childish imaginations had
pictured as the ornamental portions of a cinnamon garden!
A vast area of scrubby, low jungle, composed of cinnamon bushes,
is seen to the right and left, before and behind. Above, is a
cloudless sky and a broiling sun; below, is snow-white sand of
quartz, curious only in the possibility of its supporting
vegetation. Such is the soil in which the cinnamon delights;
such are the Cinnamon Gardens, in which I delight not. They are
an imposition, and they only serve as an addition to the
disappointments of a visitor to Colombo. In fact, the whole
place is a series of disappointments. You see a native woman
clad in snow-white petticoats, a beautiful tortoiseshell comb
fastened in her raven hair; you pass her - you look back -
wonderful! she has a beard! Deluded stranger, this is only
another disappointment; it is a Cingalese Appo - a man - no, not
a man - a something male in petticoats; a petty thief, a
treacherous, cowardly villain, who would perpetrate the greatest
rascality had he only the pluck to dare it. In fact, in this
petticoated wretch you see a type of the nation of Cingalese.
On the morning following my arrival in Ceylon, I was delighted to
see several persons seated at the "table-d'hôte" when I entered
the room, as I was most anxious to gain some positive information
respecting the game of the island, the best localities, etc.,
etc. I was soon engaged in conversation, and one of my first
questions naturally turned upon sport.
"Sport!" exclaimed two gentlemen simultaneously - "sport!" there
is no sport to be had in Ceylon!" -- "at least the race-week is
the only sport that I know of," said the taller gentleman.
"No sport!" said I, half energetically and half despairingly.
"Absurd! every book on Ceylon mentions the amount of game as
immense; and as to elephants -"
Here I was interrupted by the same gentleman. "All gross
exaggerations," said he -"gross exaggerations; in fact,
inventions to give interest to a book. I have an estate in the
interior, and I have never seen a wild elephant. There may be a
few in the jungles of Ceylon, but very few, and you never see
I began to discover the stamp of my companion from his
expression, "You never see them." Of course I concluded that he
had never looked for them; and I began to recover front the first
shock which his exclamation, "There is no sport in Ceylon !" had
I subsequently discovered that my new and non-sporting
acquaintances were coffee-planters of a class then known as the
Galle Face planters, who passed their time in cantering about the
Colombo race-course and idling in the town, while their estates
lay a hundred miles distant, uncared for, and naturally ruining
That same afternoon, to my delight and surprise, I met an old
Gloucestershire friend in an officer of the Fifteenth Regiment,
then stationed in Ceylon. From him I soon learnt that the
character of Ceylon for game had never been exaggerated; and from
that moment my preparations for the jungle commenced.
I rented a good airy house in Colombo as headquarters, and the
verandas were soon strewed with jungle-baskets, boxes, tent,
gun-cases, and all the paraphernalia of a shooting-trip.
What unforeseen and apparently trivial incidents may upset all
our plans for the future and turn our whole course of life! At
the expiration of twelve months my shooting trips and adventures
were succeeded by so severe an attack of jungle fever that from a
naturally robust frame I dwindled to a mere nothing, and very
little of my former self remained. The first symptom of
convalescence was accompanied by a peremptory order from my
medical attendant to start for the highlands, to the mountainous
region of Newera Ellia, the sanita rium of the island.
A poor, miserable wretch I was upon my arrival at this elevated
station, suffering not only from the fever itself, but from the
feeling of an exquisite debility that creates an utter
hopelessness of the renewal of strength.
I was only a fortnight at Newera Ellia. The rest-house or inn
was the perfection of everything that was dirty and
uncomfortable. The toughest possible specimen of a beef-steak,
black bread and potatoes were the choicest and only viands
obtainable for an invalid. There was literally nothing else; it
was a land of starvation. But the climate! what can I say to
describe the wonderful effects of such a pure and unpolluted air?
Simply, that at the expiration of a fortnight, in spite of the
tough beef, and the black bread and potatoes, I was as well and
as strong as I ever bad been; and in proof of this I started
instanter for another shooting excursion in the interior.
It was impossible to have visited Newera Ellia, and to have
benefited in such a wonderful manner by the climate, without
contemplating with astonishment its poverty-stricken and
At that time it was the most miserable place conceivable. There
was a total absence of all ideas of comfort or arrangement. The
houses were for the most part built of such unsubstantial
materials as stick and mud plastered over with mortar - pretty
enough in exterior, but rotten in ten or twelve years. The only
really good residence was a fine stone building erected by Sir
Edward Barnes when governor of Ceylon. To him alone indeed are
we indebted for the existence of a sanitarium. It was he who
opened the road, not only to Newera Ellia, but for thirty-six
miles farther on the same line to Badulla. At his own expense he
built a substantial mansion at a cost, as it is said, of eight
thousand pounds, and with provident care for the health of the
European troops, he erected barracks and officers' quarters for
Under his government Newera Ellia was rapidly becoming a place of
importance, but unfortunately at the expiration of his term the
place became neglected. His successor took no interest in the
plans of his predecessor; and from that period, each successive
governor being influenced by an increasing spirit of parsimony,
Newera Ellia has remained "in statu quo," not even having been
visited by the present governor.
In a small colony like Ceylon it is astonishing how the movements
and opinions of the governor influence the public mind. In the
present instance, however, the movements of the governor (Sir G.
Anderson) cannot carry much weight, as he does not move at all,
with the exception of an occasional drive from Colombo to Kandy.
His knowledge of the colony and of its wants or resources must
therefore, from his personal experience, be limited to the Kandy
road. This apathy, when exhibited by her Majesty's
representative, is highly contagious among the public of all
classes and colors, and cannot have other than a bad moral
Upon my first visit to Newera Ellia, in 1847, Lord Torrington was
the governor of Ceylon, a man of active mind, with an ardent
desire to test its real capabilities and to work great
improvements in the colony. Unfortunately, his term as governor
was shorter than was expected. The elements of discord were at
that time at work among all classes in Ceylon, and Lord
Torrington was recalled.
>From the causes of neglect described, Newera Ellia was in the
deserted and wretched state in which I saw it; but so infatuated
was I in the belief that its importance must be appreciated when
the knowledge of its climate was more widely extended that I
looked forward to its becoming at some future time a rival to the
Neilgherries station in India. My ideas were based upon the
natural features of the place, combined with its requirements.
It apparently produced nothing except potatoes. The soil was
supposed to be as good as it appeared to be. The quality of the
water and the supply were unquestionable; the climate could not
be surpassed for salubrity. There was a carriage road from
Colombo, one hundred and fifteen miles, and from Kandy,
forty-seven miles; the last thirteen being the Rambodde Pass,
arriving at an elevation of six thousand six hundred feet, from
which point a descent of two miles terminated the road to Newera
The station then consisted of about twenty private residences,
the barracks and officers' quarters, the resthouse and the
bazaar; the latter containing about two hundred native
Bounded upon all sides but the east by high mountains, the plain
of Newera Ellia lay like a level valley of about two miles in
length by half a mile in width, bordered by undulating grassy
knolls at the foot of the mountains. Upon these spots of
elevated ground most of the dwellings were situated, commanding a
view of the plain, with the river winding through its centre. The
mountains were clothed from the base to the summit with dense
forests, containing excellent timber for building purposes. Good
building-stone was procurable everywhere; limestone at a distance
of five miles.
The whole of the adjacent country was a repetition Of the Newera
Ellia plain with slight variations, comprising a vast extent of
alternate swampy plains and dense forests.
Why should this place lie idle? Why should this great tract of
country in such a lovely climate be untenanted and uncultivated?
How often I have stood upon the hills and asked myself this
question when gazing over the wide extent of undulating forest
and plain! How often I have thought of the thousands of starving
wretches at home, who here might earn a comfortable livelihood!
and I have scanned the vast tract of country, and in my
imagination I have cleared the dark forests and substituted
waving crops of corn, and peopled a hundred ideal cottages with a
Why should not the highlands Of Ceylon, with an Italian climate,
be rescued from their state of barrenness? Why should not the
plains be drained, the forests felled, and cultivation take the
place of the rank pasturage, and supplies be produced to make
Ceylon independent of other countries? Why should not schools be
established, a comfortable hotel be erected, a church be built?
In fact, why should Newera Ellia, with its wonderful climate, so
easily attainable, be neglected in a country like Ceylon,
proverbial for its unhealthiness?
These were my ideas when I first visited Newera Ellia, before I
had much experience in either people or things connected with the
island. My twelve months' tour in Ceylon being completed, I
returned to England delighted with what I had seen of Ceylon in
general, but, above all, with my short visit to Newera Ellia,
malgre its barrenness and want of comfort, caused rather by the
neglect of man than by the lack of resources in the locality.
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