3: Chapter III
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In a climate like that of Newera Ellia, even twelve months make a
great change in the appearance of a new settlement; plants and
shrubs spring up with wonderful rapidity, and a garden of one
year's growth, without attendance, would be a wilderness.
A few years necessarily made a vast change in everything. All
kinds of experiments had been made, and those which succeeded
were persevered in. I discovered that excellent beer might be
made at this elevation (six thousand two hundred feet), and I
accordingly established a small brewery.
The solitary Leicester ram had propagated a numerous family, and
a flock of fat ewes, with their lambs, throve to perfection.
Many handsome young heifers looked very like the emigrant bull in
the face, and claimed their parentage. The fields were green;
the axe no longer sounded in the forests: a good house stood in
the centre of cultivation; a road of two miles in length cut
through the estate, and the whole place looked like an adopted
"home." All the trials and disappointments of the beginning were
passed away, and the real was a picture which I had ideally
contemplated years before. The task was finished.
In the interim, public improvements had not been neglected; an
extremely pretty church had been erected and a public
reading-room established; but, with the exception of one good
house which had been built, private enterprise had lain dormant.
As usual, from January to May, Newera Ellia was overcrowded with
months of visitors, and nearly empty during the other months of
All Ceylon people dread the wet season at Newera Ellia, which
continues from June to December.
I myself prefer it to what is termed the dry season, at which
time the country is burnt up by drought. There is never more
rain at Newera Ellia than vegetation requires, and not one-fourth
the quantity fills at this elevation, compared to that of the low
country. It may be more continuous, but it is of a lighter
character, and more akin to "Scotch mist." The clear days during
the wet season are far more lovely than the constant glare of the
summer months, and the rays of the sun are not so powerful.
There cannot be a more beautiful sight than the view of sunrise
from the summit of Pedrotallagalla, the highest mountain in
Ceylon, which, rising to the height of 8300 feet, looks down upon
Newera Ellia, some two thousand feet below upon one side, and
upon the interminable depths of countless ravines and valleys at
There is a feeling approaching the sublime when a solitary man
thus stands upon the highest point of earth, before the dawn of
day, and waits the first rising of the sun. Nothing above him
but the dusky arch of heaven. Nothing on his level but empty
space, - all beneath, deep beneath his feet. From childhood he
has looked to heaven as the dwelling of the Almighty, and he now
stands upon that lofty summit in the silence of utter solitude;
his hand, as he raises it above his head, the highest mark upon
the sea-girt land; his form above all mortals upon this land, the
nearest to his God. Words, till now unthought of, tingle in his
ears: "He went up into a mountain apart to pray." He feels the
spirit which prompted the choice of such a lonely spot, and he
stands instinctively uncovered, as the first ray of light spreads
like a thread of fire across the sky.
And now the distant hill-tops, far below, struggle through the
snowy sheet of mist, like islands in a fairy sea; and far, how
far his eye can scan, where the faint line upon the horizon
marks the ocean! Mountain and valley, hill and plain, with
boundless forest, stretch beneath his feet, far as his sight can
gaze, and the scene, so solemnly beautiful, gradually wakens to
his senses; the birds begin to chirp; the dew-drops fall heavily
from the trees, as the light breeze stirs from an apparent sleep;
a golden tint spreads over the sea of mist below; the rays dart
lightning-like upon the eastern sky; the mighty orb rises in all
the fullness of his majesty, recalling the words of Omnipotence:
"Let there be light!"
The sun is risen! the misty sea below mounts like a snowy wreath
around the hill-tops, and then, like a passing thought, it
vanishes. A glassy clearness of the atmosphere reveals the
magnificent view of Nature, fresh from her sleep; every dewy leaf
gilded by the morning sun, every rock glistening with moisture in
his bright rays, mountain and valley, wood and plain, alike
rejoicing in his beams.
And now, the sun being risen, we gaze from our lofty post upon
Newera Ellia, lying at our feet. We trace the river winding its
silvery course through the plain, and for many miles the
alternate plains and forests joining in succession.
How changed are some features of the landscape within the few
past years, and how wonderful the alteration made by man on the
face of Nature! Comparatively but a few years ago, Newera Ellia
was undiscovered - a secluded plain among the mountaintops,
tenanted by the elk and boar. The wind swept over it, and the
mists hung around the mountains, and the bright summer with its
spotless sky succeeded, but still it was unknown and unseen
except by the native bee-hunter in his rambles for wild honey.
How changed! The road encircles the plain, and carts are busy in
removing the produce of the land. Here, where wild forests
stood, are gardens teeming with English flowers; rosy-faced
children and ruddy countrymen are about the cottage doors;
equestrians of both sexes are galloping round the plain, and the
cry of the hounds is ringing on the mountain-side.
How changed! There is an old tree standing upon a hill, whose
gnarled trunk has been twisted by the winter's wind for many an
age, and so screwed is its old stem that the axe has spared it,
out of pity, when its companions were all swept away and the
forest felled. And many a tale that old tree could tell of
winter's blasts and broken boughs, and storms which howled above
its head, when all was wilderness around. The eagle has roosted
in its top, the monkeys have gamboled in its branches, and the
elephants have rubbed their tough flanks against its stem in
times gone by; but it now throws a shadow upon a Christian's
grave, and the churchyard lies beneath its shade. The
church-bell sounds where the elephant trumpeted of yore. The
sunbeam has penetrated where the forest threw its dreary shade,
and a ray of light has shone through the moral darkness of the
The completion of the church is the grand improvement in Newera
Although Newera Ellia was in the wild state described when first
discovered by Europeans, it is not to be supposed that its
existence was unknown to the Cingalese. The name itself proves
its former importance to the kings of Kandy, as Newera Ellia
signifies "Royal Plains." Kandy is termed by the Cingalese
"Newera," as it was the capital of Ceylon and the residence of
However wild the country may be, and in many portions unvisited
by Europeans, still every high mountain and every little plain in
this wilderness of forest is not only known to the natives of the
adjacent low country, but has its separate designation. There is
no feature of the country without its name, although the immense
tracts of mountain are totally uninhabited, and the nearest
villages are some ten or twelve miles distant, between two and
three thousand feet below.
There are native paths from village to village across the
mountains, which, although in appearance no more than deer-runs,
have existed for many centuries, and are used by the natives even
to this day. The great range of forest-covered Newera Ellia
mountains divides the two districts of Ouva and Kotmalie, and
these native paths have been formed to connect the two by an
arduous accent upon either side, and a comparatively level cut
across the shoulders of the mountains, through alternate plain
and forest, for some twenty-five miles. These paths would never
be known to Europeans were it not for the distant runs of the
hounds, in following which, after some hours of fatiguing
jungle-work, I have come upon a path. The notches on the
treestems have proved its artificial character, and by following
its course I have learnt the country.
There is not a path, stream, hill, or plain, within many miles of
Newera Ellia, that I do not know intimately, although, when the
character of the country is scanned by a stranger from some
mountain-top, the very act of traversing it appears impossible.
This knowledge has been gained by years of unceasing hunting, and
by perseveringly following up the hounds wherever they have gone.
From sunrise till nightfall I have often ploughed along through
alternate jungles and plains, listening eagerly for the cry of
the hounds, and at length discovering portions of the country
which I had never known to exist.
There is a great pleasure in thus working out the features of a
wild country, especially in an island like Ceylon, which, in
every portion, exhibits traces of former prosperity and immense
population. Even these uninhabited and chilly regions, up to an
elevation of seven thousand feet, are not blank pages in the book
of Nature, but the hand of man is so distinctly traced that the
keen observer can read with tolerable certainty the existence of
a nation long since passed away.
As I before mentioned, I pitched my settlement on the verge of
the highland, at the eastern extremity of the Newera Ellia plain,
where the high road commences a sudden descent toward Badulla,
thirty-three miles distant. This spot, forming, a shallow gap,
was the ancient native entrance to Newera Ellia from that side,
and the Cingalese designation for the locality is interpreted
"the Path of a Thousand Princes." This name assists in the proof
that Newera Ellia was formerly of some great importance. A far
more enticing name gives an interest to the first swampy portion
of the plain, some three hundred paces beyond, viz., "the Valley
Now, having plainly discovered that Newera Ellia was of some
great importance to the natives, let us consider in what that
value consisted. There are no buildings remaining, no ruins, as
in other parts of Ceylon, but a liquid mine of wealth poured from
these lofty regions. The importance of Newera Ellia lay first in
its supply of water, and, secondly, in its gems.
In all tropical countries the first principle of cultivation is
the supply of water, without which the land would remain barren.
In a rice-growing country like Ceylon, the periodical rains are
insufficient, and the whole system of native agriculture depends
upon irrigation. Accordingly, the mountains being the reservoirs
from which the rivers spring, become of vital importance to the
The principal mountains in Ceylon are Pedrotallagalla, eight
thousand two hundred and eighty feet; Kirigallapotta, seven
thousand nine hundred; Totapella, eight thousand feet; and Adam's
Peak, seven thousand seven hundred; but although their altitude
is so considerable, they do not give the idea of grandeur which
such an altitude would convey. They do not rise abruptly from a
level base, but they are merely the loftiest of a thousand peaks
towering from the highlands of Ceylon.
The greater portion of the highland district may therefore be
compared to one vast mountain; hill piled upon hill, and peak
rising over peak; ravines of immense depth, forming innumerable
conduits for the mountain torrents. Then, at the elevation of
Newera Ellia the heavings of the land appear to have rested, and
gentle undulations, diversified by plains and forests, extend for
some thirty miles. From these comparatively level tracts and
swampy plains the rivers of Ceylon derive their source and the
three loftiest peaks take their base; Pedrotallagalla rising from
the Newera Ellia Plain, "Totapella" and Kirigallapotta from the
The whole of the highland district is thus composed of a
succession of ledges of great extent at various elevations,
commencing with the highest, the Horton Plains, seven thousand
feet above the sea.
Seven hundred feet below the Horton Plain, the Totapella Plains
and undulating forests continue at this elevation as far as
Newera Ellia for about twenty miles, thus forming the second
Six miles to the west of Newera Ellia, at a lower elevation of
about nine hundred feet, the district of Dimboola commences, and
extends at this elevation over a vast tract of forest-covered
country, stretching still farther to the west, and containing a
small proportion of plain.
At about the same elevation, nine miles on the north of Newera
Ellia, we descend to the Elephant Plains; a beautiful tract of
fine grass country, but of small extent. This tract and that of
Dimboola form the third ledge.
Nine miles to the east of Newera Ellia, at a lower elevation of
one thousand five hundred feet, stretches the Ouva country,
forming the fourth ledge.
The features of this country are totally distinct from any other
portion of Ceylon. A magnificent view extends as far as the
horizon, of undulating open grassland, diversified by the rich
crops of paddy which are grown in each of the innumerable small
valleys formed by the undulations of the ground. Not a tree is
to be seen except the low brushwood which is scantily
distributed upon its surface. We emerge suddenly from the
forest-covered mountains of Newera Ellia, and, from a lofty point
on the high road to Badulla, we look down upon the splendid
panorama stretched like a waving sea beneath our feet. The road
upon which we stand is scarped out of the mountain's side. The
forest has ceased, dying off gradually into isolated patches and
long ribbon-like strips on the sides of the mountain, upon which
rich grass is growing, in vivid contrast to the rank and coarse
herbage of Newera Ellia, distant only five miles from the point
upon which we stand.
Descending until we reach Wilson's Plain, nine miles from Newera
Ellia, we arrive in the district of Ouva, much like the Sussex
Downs as any place to which it can be compared.
This district comprises about six hundred square miles, and forms
the fourth and last ledge of the high lands of Ceylon. Passes
from the mountains which form the wall-like boundaries of this
table-land descend to the low country in various directions.
The whole of the Ouva district upon the one side, and of the
Kotmalee district on the other side, of tilt Newera Ellia range
of mountains, are, with the exception of the immediate
neighborhood of Kandy and Colombo, the most populous districts of
This is entirely owing, to the never-failing supply of water
obtained from the mountains; and upon this supply the wealth and
prosperity of the country depend.
The ancient history of Ceylon is involved in much obscurity, but
nevertheless we have sufficient data in the existing traces of
its former population to form our opinions of the position and
power which Ceylon occupied in the Eastern Hemisphere when
England was in a state of barbarism. The wonderful remains of
ancient cities, tanks and water-courses throughout the island all
prove that the now desolate regions were tenanted by a multitude
- not of savages, but of a race long since passed away, full of
industry and intelligence.
Among the existing traces of former population few are more
interesting than those in the vicinity of Newera Ellia.
Judging from the present supply of water required for the
cultivation of a district containing a certain population, we can
arrive at a tolerably correct idea of the former population by
comparing the present supply of water with that formerly
Although the district of Ouva is at present well populated, and
every hollow is taken advantage of for the cultivation of paddy,
still the demand for water in proportion to the supply is
The system of irrigation has necessarily involved immense labor.
For many miles the water is conducted from the mountains through
dense forests, across ravines, round the steep sides of opposing
hills, now leaping into a lower valley into a reservoir, from
which it is again led through this arduous country until it at
length reaches the land which it is destined to render fertile.
There has been a degree of engineering skill displayed in forming
aqueducts through such formidable obstacles; the hills are lined
out in every direction with these proofs of industry, and their
winding course can be traced round the grassy sides of the steep
mountains, while the paddy-fields are seen miles away in the
valleys of Ouva stretched far beneath.
At least eight out of ten of these watercourses are dry, and the
masonry required in the sudden angles of ravines, has, in most
cases, fallen to decay. Even those water-courses still in
existence are of the second class; small streams have been
conducted from their original course, and these serve for the
supply of the present population.
>From the remains of deserted water-courses of the first class,
it is evident that more than fifty times the volume of water was
then required that is in use at present, and in the same ratio
must have been the amount of population. In those days rivers
were diverted from their natural channels; opposing hills were
cut through, and the waters thus were led into another valley to
join a stream flowing in, its natural bed, whose course,
eventually obstructed by a dam, poured its accumulated waters
into canals which branched to various localities. Not a river in
those times flowed in vain. The hill-sides were terraced out in
beautiful cultivation, which are now waving with wild vegetation
and rank lemon grass. The remaining traces of stone walls point
out the ancient boundaries far above the secluded valley now in
The nation has vanished, and with it the industry and
perseverance of the era.
We now arrive at the cause of the former importance of Newera
Ellia, or the "Royal Plains."
It has been shown that the very existence of the population
depended upon the supply of water, and that supply was obtained
from the neighborhood of Newera Ellia. Therefore, a king in
possession of Newera Ellia had the most complete command over his
subjects; he could either give or withhold the supply of water at
his pleasure, by allowing its free exit or by altering its
Thus, during rebellion, he could starve his people into
submission, or lay waste the land in time of foreign invasion. I
have seen in an impregnable position the traces of an ancient
fort, evidently erected to defend the pass to the main
water-course from the low country.
This gives us a faint clue to the probable cause of the
disappearance of the nation.
In time of war or intestine commotion, the water may have been
cut off from the low country, and the exterminating effects of
famine may have laid the whole land desolate. It is, therefore,
no longer a matter of astonishment that the present plain of
Newera Ellia should have received its appellation of the "Royal
Plain." In those days there was no very secure tenure to the
throne, and by force alone could a king retain it. The more
bloodthirsty and barbarous the tyrant, the more was he dreaded by
the awe-stricken and trembling population. The power of such a
weapon of annihilation as the command of the waters may be easily
conceived as it invested a king with almost divine authority in
the eyes of his subjects.
Now there is little doubt that the existence of precious gems at
Newera Ellia may have been accidentally discovered in digging the
numerous water-courses in the vicinity; there is, however, no
doubt that at some former period the east end of the plain,
called the "Vale of Rubies," constituted the royal "diggings."
That the king of Kandy did not reside at Newera Ellia there is
little wonder, as a monarch delighting in a temperature of 85
Fahrenheit would have regarded the climate of a mean temperature
of 60 Fahrenheit as we should that of Nova Zembla.
We may take it for granted, therefore, that when the king came to
Newera Ellia his visit had some object, and we presume that he
came to look at the condition of his water-courses and to
superintend the digging for precious stones; in the same manner
that Ceylon governors of past years visited Arippo during the
The "diggings" of the kings of Kandy must have been conducted on
a most extensive scale. Not only has the Vale of Rubies been
regularly turned up for many acres, but all the numerous plains
in the vicinity are full of pits, some of very large size and of
a depth varying from three to seventeen feet. The Newera Ellia
Plain, the Moonstone Plain, the Kondapallé Plain, the Elk Plains,
the Totapella Plains, the Horton Plains, the Bopatalava Plains,
the Augara Plains (translated "the Diggings"), and many others
extending over a surface of thirty miles, are all more or less
studded by deep pits formed by the ancient searchers for gems,
which in those days were a royal monopoly.
It is not to be supposed that the search for gems would have been
thus persevered in unless it was found to be remunerative; but it
is a curious fact that no Englishmen are ever to be seen at work
at this employment. The natives would still continue the search,
were they permitted, upon the "Vale of Rubies;" but I warned
them off on purchasing the land; and I have several good
specimens of gems which I have discovered by digging two feet
beneath the surface.
The surface soil being of a light, peaty quality, the stones,
from their greater gravity, lie beneath, mixed with a rounded
quartz gravel, which in ages past must have been subjected to the
action of running water. This quartz gravel, with its mixture of
gems, rests upon a stiff white pipe-clay.
In this stratum of gravel an infinite number of small, and for
the most part worthless, specimens of gems are found, consisting
of sapphire, ruby, emerald, jacinth, tourmaline, chrysoberyl,
zircon, cat's-eye, "moonstone," and "star-stone." Occasionally a
stone of value rewards the patient digger; but, unless he
thoroughly understands it, he is apt to pass over the gems of
most value as pieces of ironstone.
The mineralogy of Ceylon has hitherto been little understood. It
has often been suggested as the "Ophir" of the time of Solomon,
and doubtless, from its production of gems, it might deserve the
It has hitherto been the opinion of most writers on Ceylon that
the precious metals do not exist in the island; and Dr. Davy in
his work makes an unqualified assertion to that effect. But from
the discoveries recently made, I am of opinion that it exists in
very large quantities in the mountainous districts of the island.
It is amusing to see the positive assertions of a clever man
upset by a few uneducated sailors.
A few men of the latter class, who had been at the gold diggings
both in California and Australia, happened to engage in a ship
bound for Colombo. Upon arrival they obtained leave from the
captain for a stroll on shore, and they took the road toward
Kandy, and when about half-way it struck them, from the
appearance of the rocks in the uneven bed of a river, called the
Maha Oya, "that gold must exist in its sands." They had no
geological reason for this opinion; but the river happened to be
very like those in California in which they had been accustomed
to find gold. They accordingly set to work with a tin pan to
wash the sand, and to the astonishment of every one in Ceylon,
and to the utter confusion of Dr. Davy's opinions, they actually
The quantity was small, but the men were very sanguine of
success, and were making their preparations for working on a more
extensive scale, when they were all prostrated by jungle fever -
a guardian-spirit of the gold at Amberpussé, which will ever
effectually protect it from Europeans.
They all returned to Colombo, and, when convalescent, they
proceeded to Newera Ellia, naturally concluding that the gold
which existed in dust in the rivers below must be washed down
from the richer stores of the mountains.
Their first discovery of gold at Newera Ellia was on the 14th
June, 1854, on the second day of their search in that locality.
The first gold was found in the "Vale of Rubies."
I had advised them to make their first search in that spot for
this reason: that, as the precious stones had there settled in
the largest numbers, from their superior gravity, it was natural
to conclude that, if gold should exist, it would, from its
gravity, be somewhere below the precious stones or in their
>From the facility with which it has been discovered, it is
impossible to form an opinion as to the quantity or the extent to
which it will eventually be developed. It is equally impossible
to predict the future discoveries which may be made of other
minerals. It is well known that quicksilver was found at Cotta,
six miles from Colombo, in the year 1797. It was in small
quantities, and was neglected by the government, and no extended
search was prosecuted. The present search for gold may bring to
light mineral resources of Ceylon which have hitherto lain
The minerals proved to exist up to the present time are gold,
quicksilver, plumbago and iron. The two latter are of the finest
quality and in immense abundance. The rocks of Ceylon are
primitive, consisting of granite, gneiss and quartz. Of these
the two latter predominate. Dolomite also exists in large
quantities up to an elevation of five thousand feet, but not
beyond this height.
Plumbago is disseminated throughout the whole of both soil and
rocks in Ceylon, and may be seen covering the surface in the
drains by the road side, after a recent shower.
It is principally found at Ratnapoora and at Belligam, in large,
detached kidney-shaped masses, from four to twenty feet below the
surface. The cost of digging and the transport are the only
expenses attending it, as the supply is inexhaustible. Its
component parts are nineteen of carbon and one of iron.
It exists in such quantities, in the gneiss rocks that upon their
decomposition it is seen in bright specks like silver throughout.
This gneiss rock, when in a peculiar stage of decomposition, has
the appearance and consistency of yellow brick, speckled with
plumbago. It exists in this state in immense masses, and forms a
valuable buildingstone, as it can be cut with ease to any shape
required, and, though soft when dug, it hardens by exposure to
the air. It has also the valuable property of withstanding the
greatest heat; and for furnace building it is superior to the
best Stourbridge fire-bricks.
The finest quality of iron is found upon the mountains in various
forms, from the small iron-stone gravel to large masses of many
tons in weight protruding from the earth's surface.
So fine is that considered at Newera Ellia and the vicinity that
the native blacksmiths have been accustomed from time immemorial
to make periodical visits for the purpose of smelting the ore.
The average specimens of this produce about eighty per cent. of
pure metal, even by the coarse native process of smelting. The
operations are as follows:
Having procured the desired amount of ore, it is rendered as
small as possible by pounding with a hammer.
A platform is then built of clay, about six feet in length by
three feet in height and width.
A small well is formed in the centre of the platform, about
eighteen inches in depth and diameter, egg-shaped.
A few inches from the bottom of this well is an air-passage,
connected with a pipe and bellows.
The well is then filled with alternate layers of charcoal and
pulverized iron ore; the fire is lighted, and the process of
The bellows are formed of two inflated skins, like a double
"bagpipe." Each foot of the "bellows-blower" is strapped to one
skin, the pipes of the bellows being fixed in the air-hole of the
blast. He then works the skins alternately by moving his feet up
and down, being assisted in this treadmill kind of labor by the
elasticity of two bamboos, of eight or ten feet in length, the
butts of which, being firmly fixed in the ground, enable him to
retain his balance by grasping one with either hand. From the
yielding top of each bamboo, a string descends attached to either
big toe; thus the downward pressure of each foot upon the bellows
strains upon the bamboo top as a fish bears upon a fishing-rod,
and the spring of the bamboo assists him in lifting up his leg.
Without this assistance, it would be impossible to continue the
exertion for the time required.
While the "bellows-blower" is thus getting up a blaze, another
man attends upon the well, which he continues to feed alternately
with fresh ore and a corresponding amount of charcoal, every now
and then throwing in a handful of fine sand as a flux.
The return for a whole day's puffing and blowing will be about
twenty pounds weight of badly-smelted iron. This is subsequently
remelted, and is eventually worked up into hatchets, hoes,
betel-crackers, etc., etc. being of a superior quality to the
best Swedish iron.
If the native blacksmith were to value his time at only sixpence
per diem from the day on which he first started for the mountains
till the day that he returned from his iron-smelting expedition,
he would find that his iron would have cost him rather a high
price per hundredweight; and if he were to make the same
calculation of the value of time, he would discover that by the
time he had completed one axe he could have purchased ready made,
for one-third the money, an English tool of superior manufacture.
This, however, is not their style of calculation. Time has no
value, according to their crude ideas; therefore, if they want an
article, and can produce it without the actual outlay of cash, no
matter how much time is expended, they will prefer that method of
Unfortunately, the expense of transit is so heavy from Newera
Ellia to Colombo, that this valuable metal, like the fine timber
of the forests, must remain useless.
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