Quaint Tit-Bits about Colombo & Environs in Dutch Times

Courtesy of Asoka Kuruppu

Do you know the best residential area in Colombo during the Dutch times?  Yes it was ‘Grandpass’ :  (from Grande Passo) Some old Dutch houses and even a Dispensary are still there?

Other interesting names that still survive from those days:

Main Street: (Roa Direto).   The Dutch remembered one of their governors – Hulft who died during the siege of Colombo, with Hulftsdorp and recalled some of their native place names like Leydenand Delft.   The Dutch named Maliban Street to identify the fashionable promenade in Pettah – Maliban meaning the Mmall.   Kayman’s Gate refers to ‘kayman’ – crocodiles that were found in the area where the rivulet entered the sea.   Wolvendaal meant the dale of wolves.   Bloemendahl is a vale of flowers.   Korteboam means short trees.   Beira (mythology), the mother to all the gods and goddesses in the Celtic mythology of Scotland.   There was a time when Kollupitiya was known as Baradeniya. It was a beautiful rustic village with coconut gardens and cinnamon trees that grew wild and narrow cart-tracks which connected the few villas and homes here with the rest of the country.  For the purpose of postal services `Colombo 03’ consists of Kollupitiya.

COLOMBO FORT

How Baradeniya became Kollupitiya – The year was 1664 and the king was Rajasinghe Iiwhose cruel acts embittered his subjects. Three Kandyan chiefs sought to slay the king and place his 12-year-old son on the throne. One of the conspirators was Udanuwara Ambanwela Appuhamy. When the plot failed, the king had two of the rebel leaders beheaded. However, instead of executing Abanwela Appuhamy, the most feared of the rebels, he handed him over to the Dutch to undergo what he thought would be a more brutal torture. Instead, the Dutch set him free.   Ambanwela Appuhamy took the Dutch name of Van Ry-cloff and built up a good relationship with the Dutch who gave him a large plot of land by the sea where he grew a coconut plantation which soon expanded over the ancestral farms of the natives who dared not complain. They could only retaliate by calling the plantation Kolla-ke-pitiyameaning ‘Plundered land’. Today, there is still an area in Kollupitiya that is called Polwatte.   The footprints of Galle Face (Colombo 03) begins with Galle face south of Colombo Fort (Colombo 01).  Originally a vast swamp, thePortuguese and Dutch used this piece of land as a strategic defense. It was the Britishwho developed the Green into a leisure ground.

The 19th century paintings of John Deschamps, show the Galle-Face esplanade with a high road running through the centre of it.  Added later was a promenade by the sea and a driveway bordering the lake where the Dutch Military cemetery was.  Deschamps describes it as forming not only the principal exercising ground of the garrison, but also the general promenade of the inhabitants of Colombo and its vicinity. On foot, on horseback, or in carriages, people flocked to this salubrious setting to inhale the delicious breeze which is almost always to be found by the sea side of this part of the Island. The Galle Face esplanade or Green was established by Governor Ward in 1859. An inscription reads “in the interest of the ladies and children of Colombo”.   Cricket, football and polo were played on the Green. In 1829, horse racing was established under the auspices of Sir Edward Barnes.  Everyone enjoyed a day at the races: the vendors poured in from early noon, servants on leave spent their day there, as well as schoolboys who didn’t make it to school, palanquin carriages with shutters down and curtain drawn conveying Mohammedan ladies and of course the European community. A circular race stand was built by subscription. Initially it was a building of brick, coated with a plaster of chunam. Its conical roof was covered with an excellent thatch of kehjan (woven coconut leaves). From here a view of the whole course could be obtained. The race-balls were held here, the upper room being cool and airy for dancing; card-tables were placed in the verandahs, whilst the lower portion formed a good supper-room. Subsequently the roof was tiled. By the 1870s it had become a more substantial building and was known as the Colombo Club. This building still stands, even though maybe not in its original modest form, and is now the Crystal Ballroom of the Taj Samudra Hotel Colombo.   At one end of the green was the Galle Face Boarding House, forerunner of the present Galle Face Hotel, which was constructed in 1887.   Today the green has lost much in its extent; but after a long period of neglect has recently been restored back to the chief leisure ground of modern Colombo for people of all walks of life.   A temple, a church, a school, Kollupitiya Walukarama Buddhist Templeis said to be the oldest temple in Colombo. It was founded in the 1800s by Ven. Panditha Valane Sri Siddhahatta Maha Nayake Thera, who was also the founder member of the Maha Sangha Saba of theSiyam Nikaya of the Kotte Chapter. The land for the construction of the temple was donated by a famous indigenous medicine physician of Kollupitiya, Arnolis Silva.   St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk founded in 1842 as a Church of Scotland by Scots living in Ceylon, has today become the International Church in Colombo welcoming into its fellowship people of all nations and denominations of the Christian faith.   Jinaraja Kanista Vidyalayadown Dharmakirthi Ramya Road dates back to 1898. Then named “Jinaraja Buddhist English School” this was the oldest Buddhist English mixed school in Colombo. This school was established for boys and girls of Colombo managed by the Buddhist Theosophical Society, Colombo, under the guidance of Col. Henry Steele Olcott.   A eweler, a textile dealer, a baker, a grocer, an optician and a private hospital in Galle Face Court 1 was the first multi storey block of flats in Sri Lanka and the domed addition which followed as Galle Face Court 2 were both buildings that were initiated by the Macan Markar family as residential, business and real estate ventures. The dome housed an observatory. The road here was renamed Sir Macan Markar Mawatha on account of the contribution of the Macan Markar family towards industry, business, trading and politics.

WOLVENDHAAL Wolfendhaal Church in mor e recent times – www.tripadvisor.com

ADDENDUM FROM Sriyan Janaka: There is also the story that the Dutch named Keyzer Street, Colombo after Rajasinghe II in honour of the monarch during the period of relative peace between the two administrations (Dutch in the Maritime Provinces and the Kandyan Kingdom in the interior) after both powers joined to evict the Portuguese from the island since the Sinhala King did not have a Navy at the time.

Keyzer (Kaiser in German) means King in Dutch. It was not the Dutch Government which controlled Sri Lanka’s Maritime Provinces but the Dutch East Indian Company (VOC) unlike in the case of Portuguese colonialists.

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1 Comment

Filed under governance, heritage, historical interpretation, life stories, sri lankan society, world affairs

One response to “Quaint Tit-Bits about Colombo & Environs in Dutch Times

  1. shyamika

    fascinating!

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