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along the western shores of Hindoostan, to the coast of Ceylon. But, in the dark ages that succeeded the ruin of the Roman world, the productions and manufactures of the East, which consisted of the luxuries rather than the necessaries of life, sunk in the public estimation, and ultimately became so little esteemed, that the Oriental trade, which at one time threatened to exhaust the wealth of the empire, dwindled into obscurity and utter insignificance.
From being the chief emporium of commerce in the East, Taprobane again merged into the barbarism from which the influx of the polite subjects of Rome and Persia had in some degree raised her. At this period, the usual concomitants of national poverty and distress began to appear. Domestic tumults and intestine wars succeeded to the long interval of calm that had characterized what may be termed the golden age of Ceylon. Famine and the sword rapidly thinned the superabundant population, and reduced the island to the degenerate state in which it was found by the Portuguese of the sixteenth century.
From the interesting records that tell of the former greatness of Taprobane, we learn that the island first rose from its pristine obscurity in the first century of the Christian era. Before that period, a long list of kings serves but as landmarks to guide us through the "dim obscure" which overhangs the wilderness of incredible legends and absurd fictions that make up the history of their ignoble lives and inglorious reigns. On the discovery of the island by the Romans, in the reign of the first Claudius, the influence of trade, the possession of wealth, and the constant presence of the Roman and Persian merchants, combined to produce the beneficial effect of elevating its inhabitants in the scale of civilization. This state of commercial prosperity and intellectual advancement may be said to have, without any interval, continued for five hundred years. The causes that operated to overthrow this temporary political elevation have already been shown, and the dark interval of ten centuries which followed is hardly worthy of mention. Of the Portuguese and Dutch colonists, enough has been said. The state and prospects of the island at the present time only remain to be commented upon.
There are few places in British India so highly favoured by nature as Ceylon. At the same time it must be confessed that, of the immense territories subject to our rule in the East, there are none, the commercial and agricultural advantages of which have been less developed by the labours of man than those of that island. The principal cause of this exists in the difficult nature of the country, so opposed to the character of the level and open plains of Bengal and of the Carnatic. The want of population, which effectually checks the increase of cultivation, may perhaps be ranked as the second, and the rustic habits and few wants of the agricultural peasantry as the third, of the causes that have chiefly tended to create this infelicitous effect.
The geographical position of Ceylon is eminently favourable to commercial prosperity. It also enjoys the great advantage of having its most fertile provinces in the near vicinity of the sea-an advantage that can only be fully appreciated by the dwellers in the East, where the expenses of land-carriage often amount to treble the prime cost of the articles of merchandize. A great portion of the island consists of virgin soil, the rich quality of which is sufficiently attested by the luxuriant vegetation that everywhere meets the eye. The visiter from the arid plains of the neighbouring continent never fails to be forcibly struck with the pleasing contrast that the beautifully-verdant
appearance of the island affords to the stunted vegetation and withered aspect of an Indian landscape.
From its insulated position, and consequent exposure to the violence of the alternate monsoons, the temperature of Ceylon is extremely moderate when compared with the intense heat of India. The extensive forests that conceal the face of the country, by excluding the rays of the sun from the surface of the earth, greatly tend to moderate the intensity of the heat which, from the sixth to the tenth parallel of north latitude, might, à priori, be presumed to exist. On the western shores of the island, the annual temperature has been estimated at 80°, and the extreme range of the thermometer from 75° to 85°. The near proximity of the Kandian mountains, by attracting constant and copious showers of rain, and thus producing a perpetual redundancy of moisture, mainly contributes to create the extremely mild and equable climate that so eminently marks the favoured districts around Colombo and Galle.
The island may be said to consist of two distinct divisions of territory, the line of demarkation between which may be drawn from Colombo to Kandy, and from thence through Badulla to Hambentotte on the south-eastern coast, In the southern of the two districts that are thus formed are comprised the whole of the Kandian highlands, the rich provinces of Colombo and Galle, and the seaboard connecting those places, and extending towards Hambentotte. Towards the north, all is flat, barren, and unprofitable. To this general observation the district of Jaffna, however, forms a solitary and honourable exception. But the whole of the inland territory, stretching from the left bank of the Mahavilaganga to the peninsula of Jaffnapatam, may safely be included in this sweeping condemnation. Only the ruins of Anarajahpoora remain to tell of the former prosperity of this extensive tract of country, which is now as unpeopled and silent as that ancient capital.
Anarajahpoora does not appear to have possessed any peculiar advantages for the site of a populous city. Its centric position between the ports of the western coast and that of Trincomalee would seem to have been its sole recommendation, as far as its own intrinsic merits were concerned. Its selection as the capital was doubtless owing to the supposed predilection of Boodhoo for this his favourite haunt. The country around is poor, and no large river or other natural advantage compensates for the inferiority of the soil. Nature has evidently lavished her treasures on the southern districts, to the total exclusion of the northern. It is, therefore, in the south of Ceylon, that the hopes of the agricultural and commercial speculators, who are now beginning to turn their attention to that long-neglected island, are chiefly concentrated. Of this land of promise, a brief description, embodying in an ab stract form those details concerning it that have already been touched upon in the former chapters may, perhaps, be necessary to refresh the memory of the reader.
The principal, and indeed the only rivers of any magnitude in the island, water this part of it. The "Great River," which flows near to, and encircles Kandy, is the least important of them, on account of the shoals and rapids that are interspersed throughout its course. After passing Kandy, in the neighbourhood of Matote, it rushes down a descent of more than one thousand feet, and pursues a devious and almost unknown course through the wastes of Bintenne and of the Vedah country, until it falls into the sea in the vicinity of Trincomalee.
Of the Kalu Ganga, or the "Black River," by means of which the re
sources of the rich province of Saffragan are partially developed, mention has already been made. Its stream is rapid, but deep; and there is no doubt but that its importance will gradually increase in proportion to the growing improvement of the fertile province that it traverses. At its mouth, this river is of considerable breadth, but, unfortunately, there exists a sandy bed, which materially impedes its free communication with the sea.
The Kelany Ganga rivals the " Black River." It is navigable for sixty or seventy miles from its mouth, which is in the suburbs of Colombo.* It penetrates a difficult and thickly wooded district, which is only partially under cultivation. Much of it has, however, of late years been surveyed and purchased, and a gradual change is being effected in the face of this part of the island.
There is but one other stream dignified by the appellation of " ganga" or river. A multitude of "oyae," or small rivers, together with some deep bays, that occur on the western coast, and form indents nearly parallel to the line of the sea-coast, make up the sum of the means of water-communication. All these streams have the great disadvantage, arising from the mountainous character of the country around their sources, of being extremely rapid. This, however, is of less importance in Ceylon than it would prove in countries less covered with forests. The natives usually form large rafts with the majestic trees that overhang the banks of these rivers, and after floating themselves and the produce of their farms down to the coast upon this simple construction, dispose of the timber composing their temporary vessels.
Roads, which have been truly said to be the best tests of the progress of civilization, are much wanting in every part of Ceylon. The expense which they involve, when they run through the wild and almost impervious tracts of country that constitute the greater part of that half-savage island, is quite incredible. In the populous districts of India, where the ground is level, and free from marshes and thick jungle, the construction of a road is sufficiently easy of execution; but when forests are to be felled, and the ground to be cleared of the roots of trees and other obstacles, the difficulties of the undertaking increase ad infinitum. It must also be borne in mind, that all the supplies, tools, and various articles necessary in road-making, are, in the majority of the cases which occur in Ceylon, brought, at a great expense, from a considerable distance.
Under these circumstances, the colonial Government is necessarily chary in granting the sums demanded for the execution of various projects of this nature. The road from Kandy to Trincomalee is a good instance of the reluc tance with which they furnish the supplies that, as in the case in question, are often urgently required. This road, although commenced about eight years ago, may still be considered in a state of infancy. The slow progress of the work is entirely owing to the want of funds, for it is admitted on all hands that a free communication between the places it is intended to unite, whether regarded in a military or political point of view, would be highly advantageous. A great deal of time, of money, and of life has been wasted upon this apparently Herculean undertaking, and the result has hitherto been -nothing.
A bridge of boats has been thrown over this river near Colombo. Its breadth at this point is about two hundred yards, and its velocity from two to three miles an hour. The boats are moored head and stern, and at certain hours of the day, two of those in the centre are withdrawn, for the purpose of allowing the country-craft to pass.
It is, however, due to the Ceylon Government to observe, that in consequence of the repeal of the law of "Rajah Canier," or compulsory labour, their means of carrying into execution their plans of improvement are considerably diminished. This iniquitous law was introduced by the Dutch, who have ever been severe task-masters in their colonial empire. It remained in force under the British Government until 1832, when a board of commissioners, who at that time made an official report upon the island, recommended and effected its abolition. How, under the beneficent rule of Britain, it was so long permitted to continue in operation, is an enigma that can only be solved by assuming the ignorance of the home authorities with regard to this crying evil. The nature of the Rajah Canier, reminding us as it does of the feudal times, when vassal and slave were nearly synonymous terms, requires a brief exposition.
By the Dutch law of "Rajah Canier," which is now so happily repealed, every peasant capable of performing labour was liable to be called upon to work, for an indefinite period, on the public buildings, highways, and on the fortifications. Every village, according to the number of its inhabitants, was bound to furnish, at the requisition of the Government agent, a certain proportion of labourers for the public service. The headmen of each district were held responsible for the due appearance of its quota, and the notorious partiality of these native chiefs had the effect of rendering still more intolerable the odious Rajah Canier.
Infinitely degrading as slavery, even in its mildest forms, is to human nature, its actual miseries have, perhaps, in some respects been exaggerated. The slave-holder has an interest in the preservation and well-being of his property, which, in the absence of better motives, affords some protection to the bondsmen against the dictates of avarice and cruelty. But, in this particular, the victim of the law of Rajah Canier was more unfortunate and more worthy of commiseration than the meanest slave. He was mocked with the title of freeman, and as such, his life or death was a matter of total indifference to the agents of the Dutch Government. Dragged from their homes to toil in a service for which they received no sort of remuneration, the wretched Cingalese in many instances failed, from actual inanition, and died at the feet of their Christian task-masters.
The effects of this abominable system were indeed mollified when the milder sway of the British was substituted for the tyrannical rule of the Dutch; but the practice, in a modified form, still existed until within the last few years. Although the enormities which were perpetrated under, and disgraced, the Dutch regime, were in a great measure abated by their successors in the colonial government, the operation of this baneful law was still in the highest degree injurious. It rendered the labours of the peasant of no avail, for, by forcing him to quit his farm at a critical moment, his hopes were often nipped in the bud, and a promising crop irremediably destroyed. It created an enduring irritation and a want of confidence amongst the governed towards their governors. In a word, its abolition is the greatest boon that has been conferred on the islanders since their subjection to a foreign yoke.
As in the generality of cases, a certain degree of good arose even from the evil system here detailed. By its aid, the Dutch were enabled to construct many useful public works, and to effect great improvements in the face of the country. Had it not been in force during the period of his government, Sir Edward Barnes would in all probability have failed in the execution of many
of the projects that he designed and accomplished. The hands of the present Government are comparatively paralyzed by the want of the funds by which only, the labour of the natives can now be obtained. In thus alluding to the partial advantages that did undoubtedly arise from the existence of the arbitrary "Rajah Canier," it is by no means intended to imply that they were any adequate compensation for the sufferings and distress which it caused, but merely to show the limited resources of the existing colonial administration, as compared with those of former times.
Having thus described the means of land and water communication in the southern districts of the island, their produce and agricultural capabilities remain to be considered. Cinnamon, the high export duties on which form the most important item in the colonial revenue, grows only in this part of Ceylon, The principal gardens are confined to the district of Colombo. This fragrant plant appears to love a poor sandy soil; that in these gardens consisting almost entirely of white siliceous sand. The equable temperature of Colombo, and the low sheltered position of the country immediately around it, have, with some appearance of probability, been also assigned as the causes of the flourishing condition of the cinnamon plantations in its neighbourhood. Under the Dutch, these and all other plantations in the island were monopolized by the government. In accordance with the more enlightened spirit of the present day, the trade is now thrown open to the public, but the high duties levied on this article of luxury deter speculators from purchasing the gardens.
The seaboard connecting Galle and Colombo is a flat belt of land, compressed between the foot of the Kandian mountains and the ocean. The coconut tree, which may be ranked among the staple productions of the island, arrives at its greatest perfection in this part of the coast. No part of India is more productive of this invaluable species of palm than Ceylon, which exports great quantities of coco-nuts and arrack to the Malabar and Coromandel coasts. It is observable that this tree never flourishes so well as in the near vicinity of the sea-shore, the sandy soil and peculiar atmosphere of which may, in a great degree, produce this effect.
Most of the rice grown in the island is cultivated here, the level surface of the country enabling the natives to lay it under water without being under the necessity of resorting to the tedious operation of forming a succession of steps, as practised by the Kandians. The supply of rice has, however, at no period been sufficient to meet the demands of the population, who are for the most part furnished from the ports of Cochin and Quilon, on the Malabar coast, with what may justly be termed the staff of life in the Eastern world.
Galle may be designated the commercial port of the seaboard, as Colombo is of the interior, districts. Some highly valuable lands are situated in its vicinity, and its superior harbour, geographical position, and intelligent inhabitants, will eventually render this sea-port a rival to the present capital. Projecting into the Indian Ocean, midway between Calcutta and Bombay, it will undoubtedly become the principal steam depôt in the Eastern seas, when they shall be ploughed by the omnipotent agency of that infant Hercules.
In a work not professing to treat on commercial subjects, the pages that have already been devoted to the coffee plantations may by some be considered superfluous, or, at all events, misplaced. Let it, therefore, suffice to observe that, with a few exceptions, which occur in the neighbourhood of Galle, all the coffee estates are situated within the Kandian highlands. That beautiful and rich tract of country, if its resources be duly developed by the intro