The story of the Coffee and Tea plantations and the Planters and their employees would be complete without including the work in Ceylon of Reverend William Edward Rowlands among the Tamil Coolies and other workers.
In 1858, while at Oxford University, William Rowlands took his degree in Classics at Mods and in Philosophy at Greats. At this time he came in contact with Rev C Evans, Incumbent of St Clements’ Church who saw him as a man of God and encouraged him to become a Missionary. He also conceived a fond regard for Mary Blackwell Evans, the daughter of his friend, which was fully returned. The decision, so gladly made, of undertaking missionary work, led to his unconditional offer to the Church Missionary Society for service abroad in any part of the world.
On 24 February 1861, William Rowlands, having passed the examination for deacon’s orders, was ordained at Lambeth Chapel, by Archbishop Longley of Canterbury, being licensed to his friend Rev Charles Evans of Worchester. During his curacy in his native city he became formally engaged to Miss Evans. The Church Missionary Society, after some hesitation on account of his youth and inexperience, now decided to locate William Rowlands in Ceylon, where he was to act as assistant in English work to the Rev: C.C.Fenn, Incumbent of Christ Church, Galle Face and in addition to take up Tamil work in the City of Colombo.
William Rowlands set sail for Ceylon in the P & O ‘Indus’ on 4th November 1861. Among the usual complement of passengers, composed of officials, soldiers, merchants and missionaries were a number of coffee planters returning to their estates, many of whom afterwards became the young missionary’s esteemed friends.
One of the returning Coffee Planters thought it would be good idea to give the Rev: William Rowlands some indication of the hill country to where he would be working and the difficulties in traversing the mountains and rivers he would encounter.
The Coffee Planter relates a story about the experiences of a friend who is a planter in the Knuckles Ranges in Ceylon.
The story he tells is of a pioneer coffee planter who on starting his career and wanted to go from Kandy to the Estate that he was to work on in the Knuckles Ranges.
“As there was no one to welcome him, he had to find his own way to the plantation, which he knew by name only. The Planter was having dinner at Spencers Hotel in Kandy where he was advised that the only way to get him to his future home was to hire a horse with a horse keeper as guide. He had to ride 20 miles and according to his reckoning he reasoned that if they started at noon he could easily reach his destination by 4 pm or allowing an hours grace by 5pm and enter the Estate in daylight. Sad delusion!
He got a horse from the Moors in Trincomalee Street, which was the best they had, but small, slow and weak. The horse keeper who was to be his guide could not speak two words of English, nor he any Tamil, so their conversation was very brief indeed.
They crossed the Lewella Ferry, to that point the road was good and the journey was plain sailing. However, on the other side (where the British army was massacred in 1803) there was no road marked and he was at the mercy of the guide, who zig zagged his way through the jungle, sometimes on a track, sometimes off one, until nearly dark. At length they came in sight of a hut and he was glad to see a European Planter there.
Lewella Ferry (Picture)
The Planter asked him where he was going, to which he replied to Maddakellie Estate in the Knuckles Ranges. When told he could not get there that night, he replied that he had to get there that night. The Planter asked him if he knew how far it was to the Estate, to which he replied, No, but it must be very close to it now as we have been traveling since one o’clock. The Planter then advised him that he was not halfway there and that there were three rivers to cross. He protested that he promised to be there tonight and that he must keep going. The Planter advised him that no Coolie had been over the route from the Knuckles for the past three days, which was an indication the rivers were impassable. The Planter advised him that as a stranger to the country, he had no idea as to the rapid rise of a river after rain and any attempt to cross the Madukelle River or any of the others on his little horse would result in being carried down the river. Moreover it would presently be dark and they would not be able to find the ford. This convinced him that he should share the floor and the meal that was offered. He enjoyed his first meal of rice and curry that was provided the owners. The hut was occupied by a native family and consisted of two rooms. This was at a place now the site of a considerable village called Panwilla. The old woman who inhabited the hut, supplied hoppers, rice and curry and coffee to the Knuckles Planters on their way to Kandy and returning, for which they generously gave her one rupee. Our friend made the best of the situation, rough fare it was at best. He borrowed a mat from the landlady and spreading it on the earthen floor, enjoyed “tired natures sweet restorer, balmy sleep”, better than he had done on a bed of down. Early next morning he awoke, the weather being so bad they could not venture out and settled to have a breakfast of fruit that was in abundance on the trees surrounding the hut.
During the afternoon three or four of the “Knuckles Bricks” en-route to their respective estates reached the house. They had been to Kandy for money to pay their monthly wages, though well mounted and although their homes were six or seven mile distant, could not that day face the rivers that lay between. One reason that the Planters traveled in a group was an incident where a Planter who was carrying his labourer’s wages, on his way back from Kandy, was waylaid in an ambush by Sinhalese Villages and shot. The robbery was un-successful as, though mortally wounded the Planter was able to ride to the nearest town before he fell. There are legendary stories of the drinking prowess of the “Bricks” and their life on the remote Estates on the Knuckles Ranges.
The next day he convinced his horse keeper to start on the next leg of the journey, even though he was a bit apprehensive about trying to cross the rivers. The first river was broad and crossed without much difficulty. The second was much the same, but when he entered the third river at what appeared to be a ford, he found himself in deep water. He jumped off the horse and let it swim to the other side and swam to some rocks and crossed over jumping from rock to rock. The fourth river was large, broad, rocky, deep and rapid and he was thrown off the back of the horse and had to hang on to the bridle and swam to shore dragging the horse after him. That night, exhausted by the effort to cross the rivers, he arrived at the bungalow of C.M.Oonoonogala, just at night fell. After a meal he fell into a deep sleep on a bed with a mattress. The next day he arrived at his Estate, much to the relief of his Kangani and his workers. His 20 mile journey that he originally thought would take 4 to 5 hours, had taken four long days, through jungles, mountain ravines and rivers. This was pioneering life in Ceylon”.
He then opened a book and recited from a poem by William Skeen, an elegy on the Bricks, quote:
“More generous hospitable men
They were hard to find, they were good to Ken;
Men whose traditions down will be
Handed to late prosperity.
Yet of a stamp that never more
May time to Lanka’s Isle restore.
An efflorescence of wild mirth,
Bursting restraint, gave sudden birth
To strangest vagaries and vents,
When from their forest life and tents
Or rude thatched huts and ruder fare,
To town they rushed, and freely there,
Like sailors fresh from a year long cruise
All cock-a-hoop for aught to amuse;
Or Californian diggers wild
To squander gold, dust, nuggets, piled,
Gave to their spirits high the rein
And heedless thus, while in the vein,
Over flowing with convivial glee,
And rash in there are jollity,
Grave Mrs Grundy, sober, prim,
Outraged and shocked and rendered grim!”
Rev. William Rowlands was impressed with the tenacity of the Pioneering Coffee Planters and thanked him for his narration.
Sailing Ships in Galle Harbour
As the Suez Canal was then in the course of construction, the passengers disembarked in Alexandria and crossed to the Port of Suez by rail. From Suez they continued their journey in the S.S.Colombo and five weeks after leaving England on 6th December 1861 set foot on Ceylon soil in the picturesque Port of Point de Galle. As the ship neared the Port of Galle William Rowlands was amazed at the fringe of coconut palm trees that bordered the sea shore.
The old-world Port of Galle, known for centuries to Phoenicians and Arab traders had reached the most flourishing period of its existence. Colombo was still an open roadstead and subject to the vagaries of the monsoons and on account of this P & O and other important shipping companies preferred the harbour of Galle to the uncertainty of anchorage of Colombo. Steamers and Sailing ships arrived regularly with passengers and mail and the picturesque streets of the town were thronged with passengers, only too eager to stretch their legs on dry land after the monotonous ship life of the Indian Ocean and to gaze at the wonders of the Orient.
Dutch Reformed Church Galle
The crowds of sightseers found their interest divided between the architectural character of the buildings, exhibiting as they did solid evidence of the Dutch occupation of the previous century and the oriental panorama of busy streets. The extensive fort with its ancient gateway bearing the date 1679 was almost intact and provided a picturesque setting to the busy eastern life which it enclosed.
Portuguese gallants and priests had introduced the mediaeval life and religion of Europe and then given place to stolid Dutch merchants and soldiers, bringing with them the trading instincts and Protestantism of Northern Europe. To the latter race were due its substantial buildings and many of the surnames of its inhabitants. At the time that William Rowlands landed an English Wesleyan Church stood within the fort and also a Dutch Church, the latter providing an antiquarian interest with its mural monuments of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries of Dutch officials of days gone by.
William Rowlands was met by Rev: J.Scott a Wesleyan missionary and later met Rev: J.Bamford, missionary of S.P.G. and visited his residence “Buona Vista”. He preached at the Dutch Church on Sunday morning, spent the afternoon with the Scott’s and met with a Mr Dunlop of Colombo who is describes as ‘a true Christian’ and an intellectual man.
After lunch he walked around the Fort marveling at the unique design of the Dutch buildings and houses and especially the Dutch Reformed Church. He went with them to a service at the Wesleyan Church that evening.
Galle to Colombo Road in the 1860’s
Next morning at 5.00 a.m. he took the coach to Colombo, the Capital. The drive of sixty miles was exciting as the road skirted the rocky shores passing through groves of cocoa and betel-nut trees and dotted on each side by the huts of natives at work at some branch of the coconut business. The natives had been attracted to this main road, and from to Colombo was almost one continuous village; there was no prettier seashore in the world, nor more beautiful surf.
Galle-Colombo Road and Fishing Boats
Every few miles they came upon fishermen drawing their nets, which were excessively long and took in several acres of sea in their sweep. There was no more picturesque sight than the drawing of nets, several hundred men being engaged in labour, while the beach was alive with women and children in bright colours, anxiously awaiting the result.
On the way, he learned that a pigeon post operated between Galle and Colombo and was inaugurated on 24th September 1850 by the “Colombo Observer”. The “Colombo Observer” was owned by Dr Christopher Elliott who arrived in Ceylon in 1834 as one of the three “Colonial Assistant Surgeons”. The medical arrangements of the island were at that time and for many years afterwards, in the hands of the Military Doctors, and this was an experiment to supplement the staff. Dr Elliott was first stationed at Badulla, but severed his connection with Government in 1835, taking up his profession in Colombo, becoming a frequent contributor to the “Observer”, which he subsequently purchased for one hundred and twenty Pounds Sterling. From 1836 Dr Elliott’ career was widely identified with the social and material progress of the Colony. He acquired immense influence with the natives at a time when European medical aid, was, as rule scorned by them. He was trusted and loved by the European and native community of Colombo.
Christ Church, Galle Face
He had Breakfast at Bentota and there met Rev: R.J.Parsons. The coach reached Colombo about 3.30 p.m. where he was warmly welcomed by Rev: and Mrs Fenn at the Parsonage, Galle Face.
Colombo was described as follows at the end of Dutch rule - “Colombo the Capital of the Dutch in Ceylon is a place of considerable consequence and strength from its natural position, as well as from its works, which were numerous and in good condition. The Dutch fortifications of the city were still largely intact, much as they were left when the Dutch surrendered the city in 1796, with a deep moat surrounding the whole.
The Fort, which is extensive, contains many dwelling houses, including the Governor’s Palace, which is a most superb building. The Pettah had also several good houses, churches, etc in it. The higher ground at Mutwal, to the north of the city was the residential quarter and in the place, altogether, were many respectable inhabitants. Colombo is also a place of great traffic by sea, the road-stead being extremely safe and commodious, particularly during the North-East monsoon”.
Colombo had long begun to extend along Union Place, Colpetty and in other directions. The gate of the Fort on both sides were closed nightly at gunfire and were not opened until 5.00a.m. next morning, to allow for the departure of the daily coaches to Kandy and Galle – a twelve hour run. The Cinnamon Gardens were as the name implies fragrant gardens of Cinnamon, with a few bungalows.
In 1851 The Right Reverend James Chapman, the first Bishop of Colombo established a school named St Thomas’ College that was modeled according to an English public school. It was Bishop Chapman’s foremost vision was to build a College and Cathedral for the new Diocese of Colombo of the Church of Ceylon.
St Thomas’ College Campus Mt Lavinia (Picture)
Thus on the 3rd of February 1851 the College of St Thomas the Apostle, Colombo was opened with the objective of training a Christian Clergy and to make children good citizens under the discipline and supervision of Christianity. Christian values were the cornerstone on which the school was founded. Students of all races and religions studied in harmony. The school grew from strength to strength at the place of its origin, Mutuwal, for over half a century, carefully nurtured by Wardens such as Reverend’s Wood, Miller, Read and Buck. Warden Stone in 1918 found the dusty environs of Mutuwal were not best suited for his pupils and so shifted the College to the picturesque campus at Mount Lavinia.
The Chapel of the Transfiguration (Picture)
The College is under the Church of Ceylon and run by a Board of Governors that is chaired by the Anglican Bishop of Colombo who is known as the ‘Visitor of the College’. The administration of the College itself is headed by a Warden assisted by a Sub-Warden.
There is also a Chaplaincy connected with the College and the College Chapel of the Transfiguration. The entrance to the College is marked by the awe-inspiring Chapel of the Transfiguration, which towers over the rest of the campus.
The chapel is a vital element in the education of students and is the centre of the spiritual life of the College, where many generations of Thomians have been bred and most importantly experienced God over the years.
The College choir ably trained by the Precentor, the most famous being Reverend Boyer Yin, still continues to maintain the highest standards in Anglican music. The annual Service of Nine Lessons and Carols is even today a much eagerly awaited event to worship and honour Christ, the Son of God. The carol service styled according to that of Kings College, Cambridge. The Guild of All Souls also takes a vital place in the Chapel. The Servers Guild as it is better known assists the College Chaplain at Chapel Services.