history/Dutch Reformed Church (1642–2010)

Decline and Recovery

In 1793, France declared war against England and The Netherlands and sent an army into Holland. Prince Willem V of Orange, the Dutch Stadtholder, fled to England and sought the assistance of the British, with the final result that the Maritime Provinces passed into British hands, to be made a Crown Colony of Great Britain.

When it became clear that Dutch rule was not to be restored, most of the Dutch Predikants left the island and both the Church and the school system faced collapse. Many of the Reformed Church reverted back to their earlier religions or joined the Anglican Church. Fortunately, many others remained loyal and the Reformed Church continued extent its work in various ways.

During the 19th and most of the 20th century Church membership was mainly confined to the ‘Burgher’ community. Dutch Burghers (this term meaning ‘citizen’) are not necessarily of Dutch origin because the VOC recruited many persons from neighbouring countries of Holland, particularly those who were of Protestant or Calvinist adherence. Under British rule the Burghers became writers and practitioners in the Courts and around 1850 the Establishment of Clerks was composed almost exclusively of Burghers and persons who could trace their ancestry to Holland. The Dutch language disappeared from the island around 1840 and the Burghers took English as their mother tongue.

Towards the end of the 19th century Church membership started to broaden. This resulted in the development of separate Singhala and Tamil congregations. On June 3rd, 1892 the Consistory at Wolvendaal decided to revive the work in Singhala. In 1913 Rev. Allan Vander Gert was appointed in charge of the Singhala mission. In 1914, a free Vernacular school was opened at Dehiwala, and another in Bambalapitya in 1916. Mission work amongst the Singhala speaking people really took an upward turn from then on.

Writing in the Magazine ‘Our Friend’ in April, 1926, the Editor Rev. J.C. Abels says: ‘The missionary spirit in our Church seems to be growing…we are pleased to learn that there is a movement to start Tamil services in the Wolvendaal Church.

Through the efforts of Rev. Duncan Evan Joseph (1884 – 1958) the work under the Tamil speaking population got a new impetus. The first service in Tamil in the Wolvendaal Church was held on 8th January, 1927 and has continued
since then to this day.