history/The Dutch Period in Ceylon 1602–1796

Dravidian dynasty

Not long after the pacification, King Narendra Singha died and with his death the Singhalese Royal dynasty came to an end. His brother-in-law, a Tamil prince born in 1698 in Southern India, succeeded him on the throne, under the name of King Wijaya Rajasingha. The new King was a remarkable man. With his great eloquence and charm as a Buddhist preacher, he became the foremost scholar in the Kingdom. The VOC managed to win his favour by placing a vessel at his disposal to fetch more Buddhist priests from Siam. In 1751 the childless King suddenly died and was succeeded by his nephew who was only 16 years old. The young King who ascended to the throne as Kirthisri Rajasingha, married a South Indian princess. He appreciated that only a Buddhist could be King of the Sinhala nation and devoted himself enthusiastically to the religion of the people.

The war with Rajasingha

In the same year, the last successor of Baron van Imhoff, Governor Julius Valentijn Stein van Gollenesse, the man who constructed the Wolvendaal Church, left for Batavia. After him came Jan Schreuder. He strictly maintained a policy of peace with the Kandyan Court. However, the situation in the Dutch areas during this decade became increasingly difficult. In 1755 a cyclone destroyed many valuable plantations. The King’s Court wanted to have a larger share of the profits and demanded a share of the elephant trade as well as the opening of the Puttalam port. The new dynasty had brought with them the large experience of India of dealing with colonial powers and the Ministers were no longer prepared to allow their country to be a milk-cow for the VOC. The courtiers created one difficulty after the other for the Dutch. Every year a special embassy had to be sent to Kandy to secure the right to collect cinnamon from the King’s territories. It became increasingly difficult for Schreuder to obtain the required 10.000 bales of cinnamon for the annual return fleet to Holland. The only way to achieve this goal was obsequiousness to the King. This created the idea amongst the Sinhala population that the King was the real lord and that they served the VOC only with the King’s permission. In 1760, the strict Dutch regulations on the cinnamon cultivation created so much resentment that the exasperated inhabitants rose in general rebellion. The King openly chose the side of the rebels and his troops poured across the frontiers. The fort of Marata was stormed and the entire garrison ‘put to the sword’. The Dutch were hopelessly unprepared for war, which they had tried to avoid for a decade. However, reinforcements were rushed in from India and a full scale guerrilla war developed during which time the Sinhalese inflicted serious losses on the Dutch. They knew every inch of the forest and drove the Dutch army back into their forts. At the end the Dutch were willing to pay almost any price to secure peace.

The situation changed however with the arrival of a new Dutch Governor Baron Lubbert Jan van Eck. He was a gallant soldier and not inclined to accept a diplomatically negotiated peace. In 1763 he attacked the King’s territory with a large army but was driven back. In 1765 he tried again after having received strong reinforcements from Batavia. With two large armies he drove the Singhalese back to Kandy. Now it was the King who offered the most liberal concessions in order to safeguard the capital from desecration by hostile forces. The Dutch were however stubborn and wanted to teach the King a final lesson. The crossed into Kandy and stripped the King’s palace bare, but the King’s forces, hiding in the jungle, constantly harassed the Dutch who were unable to catch the King. Increasing losses forced Van Eck to return to Colombo. He took with him as souvenir of his Pyrrhic victory the silver karanduwa. This is the outer covering of the Tooth Relic, the holy tooth of Buddha. Shortly after his return Van Eck unexpectedly died of malaria. Both parties were tired of the war, the Dutch cinnamon trade was seriously affected while the King’s subjects were at the verge of starvation.


King Rajasingha of the Candian Kingdom

- feared opponent of the VOC


Soldier of De Meuron Regiment 1790

Kandian nobility