Chapter 15 - Development of Infrastructure

When Rev. W.E.Rowlands arrived in Ceylon, the development of the Railway in Ceylon was in its infancy.

In 1862, the Legislative Council sanctioned the acceptance of a contract with Mr Faviell to construct the railway from Colombo to Kandy at a cost of 873,039 Pounds Sterling. The first section of the Ceylon Railway was opened from Colombo to Ambepussa on 2nd October 1865. That same year the first railway engine was imported into Ceylon.

Colombo – Kandy Railway Line

Mary Rowlands gave birth to a son James Andreas, born on 1st November 1865. The child died soon after.

During Governor Sir Henry Ward’s rule from 1855 to 1860 he disposed of no less than 111,596 acres for coffee planting. During his successor’s (Governor Sir.C.McCarthy) rule and in the time of General O’Brien’s Lieutenant Governorship, great progress was made in selling and opening land :- from 1861 to 1865 inclusive, 156,893 acres were sold. But, as mentioned earlier, the Government fell far behind in its part mainly owing to the obstructiveness of the then Colonial Secretary who having no faith in planting property, consistently starved public works and hoarded revenue until he amassed nearly half a million sterling in a surplus balance fund, which only the Secretary of State could touch and Mr Cardwell accordingly swept a great part away for military expenditure and the rest to the railway debt. The consequence was that the main and district roads once more became nearly impassable, while new districts, Lemastota and Kandapola including Haputale and Madulsima languished for want of means of communication.

Sensation Rock on Colombo – Kandy Line

It fell to Sir Hercules Robinson to remedy this state of things, which he did most effectively. So far as energy and activity are concerned, he was a worthy successor to Sir Henry Ward.

Life carried on as usual and on 10th November 1866 Mary Rowlands gave birth to a son James Henry.

In 1867, the Association addressed the Colonial Secretary, urging the establishment of a hospital with necessary staff on the Indian side of the Paumben Channel for the use of coolies who were often attacked with epidemics “while crossing the Paumben Channel and are landed on the Indian Coast, without any prospect of obtaining Medical assistance and in some cases are left to die un-cared and un-provided for. On the mere score of humanity something should be done to relieve the sufferings of those attacked, but when it is considered to what extent the Colony is indebted to the Tamil coolly”, the Association hoped “His Excellency will see fit to accede to the request which can be carried out by the Government alone”.

Steam Train at Kandy Station (Picture)

This resulted in the Ceylon Government authorizing arrangements to be made with local authorities in India for the reception of temporary buildings for hospitals, etc at the ports on the Coast.

The construction of the railway to Kandy continued and on 26th April 1867, the first train from Colombo arrived in Kandy, The line was opened for general traffic in the following August. Governor Sir Hercules Robinson speedily agreed to the extension of planting the districts of Dimbula and Dickoya.

Lion’s Mouth on Colombo – Kandy Line

The planting community was given a further great impetus when Governor Robinson arranged for the railway extension to Gampola and Nawalapitiya.

By the end of 1867, the railway was working well and its immediate financial success assured. The Planting Community had borne a significant portion of the cost of the venture.

For eleven years all produce exported from Ceylon had been subject to a voluntary tax of two and as half per cent. In the case of coffee the tax was one shilling per cwt. Thus four hundred and fifty thousand Pounds Sterling-almost a quarter of the cost of construction, was paid by proprietors of agricultural lands throughout the island. The results of the working of the line to Ambepussa and later to Kandy made it c lear that the Railway itself was a sufficient guarantee for any liabilities connected with the cost of construction.

Colombo – Kandy Line Tunnels

In view of this, at the Annual general Meeting of the Planters Association in 1867, Mr Byrde- the Chairman- proposed that the Governor and the Legislative Council be memorialized to repeal the export Tax on Coffee. It transpired however that under the Railway Loan Ordinance, the Export Duties (in common with all other revenue of the Colony) had been pledged as security for the sums borrowed for the construction works and that until all loans had been liquidated, the Government was of the opinion that it would be an act of repudiation to remit the duties. The proposal did not meet with success, but the duties were repealed in 1868 at the insistence of His Excellency Sir Hercules Robinson. Sir Hercules Robinson’s rule was peculiarly one of activity in Public Works – roads, bridges, irrigation tanks, etc.

The grand road which Sir Charles McCarthy (contrary to the wish and vote of the Colonial Secretary) had constructed from Pelmadulla to Haputale Pass was opened by Sir Hercules Robinson, in an improved form to Badulla and Passara and then carried on to the new Madulsima district right across the low-country to the eastern coast at Baticaloa for the benefit of a large native community.

Road Construction using Elephants

During the term of office of Sir Hercules Robinson, from 1866 to 1872 inclusive, 227,006 acres of land were alienated. After the Colombo to Kandy railway was opened in 1867 the Governor arranged for the extension of planting, the districts of Dimbula and Dickoya were entered upon and the new enterprise which received a great impetus when the Governor arranged for railway extension to Gampola and Nawalapitiya. Sir Hercules Robinson’s rule was particularly one of activity in public works – roads, bridges, irrigation tanks, etc.

Colombo General Post Office (Picture)

The Grand Road which Sir Charles McCarthy, contrary to the wishes of his Colonial Secretary, had constructed from Pelmadulla to Haputale Pass was opened in an improved form to Badulla and Passara and then he carried it by the new Madulsima district right across the low country to the eastern coast at Batticaloa, for the special benefit of a large native community. In the same way he constructed a cart road Galle through a large native district to Deniyaya, servicing Morawak estates, while large amounts of money was spent on irrigation works in the Southern Province. He witnessed the beneficial results of his policy on all sides in the low country, as well as in the rise of the new planting districts of Dimbula, Dickoya, Madulsima, Morawak, Korale, etc.

Mary gave birth to their one and only daughter Alice Hope on 6th April 1868.

Government Offices

In 1869, for the first time, in the completed form, in the Ceylon Directory, reliable statistics of the great planting enterprise, with the result that the 27 districts of 1856 had increased to 34 and an additional 494 plantations had been opened in the thirteen years, bringing the number to 894, requiring 742 managers and assistants (chiefly European), while the total extent of coffee properties was 380,883 acres of which 176,467 were under cultivation, the season’s export of plantation coffee being 835,686 cwts.

With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and steam ships replacing sailing ships there was a dramatic increase in the amount of coffee exported through the Port of Colombo.

Sir Hercules Robinson authorized the demolition of the defense fortifications of the Colombo Fort, resulting in Colombo becoming more accessible to all commercial centres, which were housed together within the Fort.

Demolition of Colombo Fort Walls

There was burst of growth in the building industry, to accommodate the needs of the fast growing economy. The influx of foreign banks into Colombo also required accommodation, provided in large part by the wealthy Singhalese.

The sky line of the City of Colombo was beginning to change fast and the new buildings offered a complete contrast to the old warehouses that lined the streets in the days of the old city.

The Manager of the old Oriental Bank, Mr George Smyttan Duff was the first European to venture into the building trade; the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank and the Chartered Bank had their beginnings in a building constructed by him.

Bristol Hotel - Colombo

The Mercantile Bank, the Bank of Madras and the National Bank of India were handsomely located in the Fort. Construction of the Grand Oriental Hotel in the Fort, the first hotel in the true sense of the word, was undertaken by a company specially formed for this purpose and with the Government’s blessing. The Wharf & Warehouse Company,

The Bristol Hotel, the General Post Office and shipping arcade, the Peninsular & Oriental Company, all found suitable locations. Just outside the Fort, from Turret Road eastwards the land was covered with Cinnamon until, in a bid a beautify the city, the Government laid out a Park and Flower Gardens and sold the surrounding land for the construction of residential houses. This area was laid out with tree lined gravel paths, often named after former British Governors.

One of the most impressive buildings to be constructed outside the Fort area was the Colombo Museum, built by Sir William Gregory in 1873. The contractor, a Muslim, when asked what he would like for a reward for good work, requested that the Museum be closed on Fridays and we understand that this continues even today.

Colombo Museum

Cathedrals and churches, mosques and temples, schools and colleges, belonging to the different religious groups were erected in different parts of the city. The British administration ensured that provision was made for recreational facilities for the fast growing urban population; Victoria Park, Campbell Gardens, Havelock Race Course, golf courses , cricket, soccer and hockey grounds, the Galle Face Promenade – to mention a few – still continue to captivate the local populace.

Grand Oriental Hotel – Colombo

While these facilities were initially provided for the exclusive use of colonial settlers, they were destined to become the foundation for local sportsman and women after the colonists left the country.

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