Chapter 2 1646 – The Dutch

The Spanish rule in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities had resulted in a massacre of thousands who were Protestants. The Dutch were determined to stop the spread of Roman Catholism around the world.

Dutch East India Company Logo

In May 1602, the first Dutch expedition arrived at Batticaloa, a harbour which the Portuguese never occupied, and established friendly relations with the King of Kandy against the Portuguese.

The Dutch who had made a careful study of the country’s potential for trade, in 1638, at the invitation of Rajasinghe II agreed to drive the Portuguese out of the Maritime Provinces. The Dutch were not aggressors and they were invited by the Ceylonese to liberate the country from the Portuguese aggression and forced conversions.

Replica of Dutch Galleon

They followed the Laws of the Nations by signing the Kandyan Treaty of 1638 with Rajasinghe II (1635-1687), the Kandyan King of the Hill Country and soon embarked on a war against their common enemy. As such the Dutch had a legal right to be on the island as a protector of the country.

They first occupied Batticaloa and in 1639 captured the harbour city of Trincomalee and the Fort that Rajasinghe II had offered the French as a balance of power against the Dutch. In 1640 the Dutch liberated Negombo and Galle with the help of the Sinhalese army and the Dutch Navy. In reality these forts were in marginal areas were the Kotte Kingdom had no influence. It was Tamils who lived around these forts, except in the case of the Galle Fort.

As such forts became the property of the Dutch East India Company, King Rajasinghe II wanted to demolish all of them. But the Dutch were not paid their dues against the war with the Portuguese and as a result the Dutch did not want to demolish them. The Treaty of 1638 had conditions where the Sinhalese King had to maintain and support the Dutch forces as they were waging war on behalf of the King against the Portuguese.

Canal around Dutch Fort Jaffna

The Treaty had two copies and the Dutch copy had a clause for the Dutch to own and operate the seaports. The Kandyan copy did not have this clause. The King was not abiding by the treaty as his copy was interpreted as the ports would come back to the King of Kandy and he was fulfilling his part of the obligation.

The Dutch took all the ports and forts and the rest of the lands and replaced the Portuguese. As such the Dutch never left Ceylon and started ruling the parts where they seized power as the agents of the King. The people in these areas were Tamils and they accepted their new ruler without much reservation. Only in Galle and Negombo the chance of a Portuguese attack remained a real threat.

King Rajasinghe II always wanted to rid Ceylon of both Portuguese and the Dutch by setting one against the other. At times when Dutch officers or Commanders offended him he ordered their assassination. At times he massacred a ship load of Dutch for minor misbehavior of their Captain. This kind of cruel, crafty and unpredictable behavior made the Dutch determined to keep the forts and vast amount of lands they captured.

Negombo Fort

The King and his courtiers were paranoid and did not offer the help they should have offered an ally. As such, most of the battles were waged by the Dutch and the Dutch suffered heavy losses, but when it came to sharing the loot from the captured forts like Galle, the Kandyan King and his forces were there for the occasion and the Dutch gave half the war assets to the Kandyan King.

The Dutch carried out their war and utterly destroyed the power of the Portuguese by capturing Colombo in 1656 and finally the Tamil Kingdom and Jaffna in 1658.

The war with Portugal was against their ruler the King of Spain. Once Portugal obtained its freedom from Spain, the Netherlands settled for peace with Portugal. They then divided the occupied areas of Ceylon amicably under a treaty signed in the Portuguese enclave of Goa in India.

Transport on a Dutch Canal at Negombo

They pursued a far more progressive policy than their predecessors in the administration of the country, but through the Dutch East India Company, adopted a selfish and oppressive approach to commerce and trade. Rajasinghe II and the Dutch were both playing a double game trying to outwit each other. They never implemented the Treaty of 1638. Dutch ruled all the Tamil provinces and brought Tanjore Tamil slaves from their Indian colonies to work Cinnamon gardens in the Western Province.

Like the Portuguese before them, they attempted to unify the entire country, but failed and they too were confined to the coastal areas. Unlike the Portuguese, they enjoyed a reputation of having contributed to the economic development of the country.

The Dutch colonists established a lucrative trade with Holland, India, Persia and the East Indies. They encouraged the cultivation of cinnamon, which became their staple export. Stringent laws were passed to safeguard the industry; the peeling of cinnamon, the selling or exporting of a single stick save by the appointed officers, or willful injury to a cinnamon plant were made a crime punishable by death.

Stripping Cinnamon

Under the Dutch agriculture was encouraged, but only for their own benefit. A system of forced labour was used to cultivate vast tracts of coconut along the sea coast and they were responsible for the unbroken groves of coconut plantations along the Western shore line.

They did much to improve the pearl-oyster fisheries in the Gulf of Mannar and were the first to augment internal communication through a network of canals, which helped them establish trade connections with the interior. The longest canal that they constructed connects the Negombo Lagoon from the Kelani River up to Puttalam, the 72km long canal was constructed to transport coconut products to the Colombo Harbour. They maintained strong garrisons to protect their trading interests and to guard against hostility from the Kandyans.

The Dutch brought cultural and linguistic freedom for the people who were not with the Portuguese rulers. The backbone of Portuguese power lay with the fishermen that they had converted to their religion. The Dutch were the first to trial a republic in Europe long before France and their attitude was more democratic than any other European country. They tolerated the King of Kandy who carried out brutal assassinations against their Commanders whenever he felt offended or suspected disrespect.

Cinnamon Sorters

The Dutch tolerated one of the worst enemies they fought in battle – the Portuguese. Thus they were able to capture Ceylon without any resistance from the natives.

The Dutch started ruling and expanding their areas and the King of Kandy searched for another European power to do his dirty work and for this he approached France, but he had no success and he died in 1687. After their conquest, the Dutch also attempted to found a colony of Dutch citizens, dubbed “Burgher”. This was attempted first under Maetsuyker (Governor from 1646 to 1650), but at the end of his government and later under Van Goens (Governor from 1662 to 1663 and 1665 to 1675), there were only 68 married free-burghers on the island. Such a policy was clearly a failure as only a few Dutch families settled on the island. In the first 30 years of Dutch rule in Ceylon, the Burgher community never exceeded 500 in number and was mainly composed of sailors, clerks, tavern-keepers and discharged soldiers.

Peeling Cinnamon

The Dutch East India Company (VOC) to support this emigration facilitated in any case, the Burgher. Burghers alone had the privilege to keep shops, were given liberal grants of land with the right of free trade. Whenever possible they were preferred to natives for appointment to office. Only Burghers had the right to baking bread and shoemaking. Most of them were employees of the Company.

The marriage between a Burgher and a native or an Indo-Portuguese woman was permitted only if she professed the Christian religion. However, the daughters of this union had to be married to a Dutchman, as Van Goens said: “…. so that our race may degenerate as little as possible”. In the eighteenth century a growing European community comprised of a mixture of Portuguese, Dutch, Sinhalese and Tamil had developed in Ceylon.

Baling Cinnamon

They dressed European, were adherents to the Dutch Reformed Church and spoke Dutch or Portuguese. With passing of time, the Burgher community developed into two different communities – Dutch Burghers and Portuguese Burghers.

The Dutch Burghers were those who could demonstrate European ancestry (Dutch or Portuguese) through the male line, were white, Dutch Reformed and spoke Dutch.

The Portuguese Burghers (later called Mechanics) were those who had supposed European ancestry, had darker skin, were Catholic and spoke Creole Portuguese.

The European community produced all the priests (Predikants) of the Dutch Reformed Church.

During the Dutch period, the growth of the community was constant. A small, but steady influx of newcomers from Europe mixed with the families, which had settled on the island for generations. Thanks to this, the Burgher community was able to retain its open character and the heterogeneous cultural traditions.

In the last decade of Dutch rule in the island, the Burghers formed a detachment of citizen soldiers. They defended the ramparts of Colombo during the Anglo-Dutch war.

Dutch Reformed Church – Colpetty

The regular Dutch army at that time was made up of Malay/Javanese soldiers led by the Princely class of Malay/Javanese families who were exiled to the island by the Dutch in Java. A host of royal families from the Dutch East Indies spent their time in Ceylon as political exiles. The other place of exile was Cape Town in South Africa, where a Malay community emerged in later years.

I recommend a visit to this web site about Malays in the current Sri Lanka Army.

Below is an interesting presentation on the Muslim people of Sri Lanka.

The Dutch also had another European force named the Swiss deMeuron Regiment under their command that was stationed in Trincomalee. In 1781, the French Authorities helped raise a new regiment in the Swiss Canton, soliciting recruits in and around Neuchatel. The regiment was called the deMeuron Regiment, taking its name from the commander, Comte Charles de Meuron. In 1786 the deMeuron Regiment was sent to Ceylon from Cape Town and while in Ceylon the regiment answered to the Dutch Governor Van Anglebeek and to Colonel Pierre de Meuron, the brother of Comte Charles de Meuron who had returned to Switzerland.

At the time of the British conquest in 1796 there were about 900 families of Dutch Burghers residing in Ceylon, concentrated in Colombo, Galle, Matara and Jaffna.

After the British took over the colony from the Dutch, some Dutch Burghers chose to go to Batavia, while others chose to stay in Ceylon. 

Many of the maternal ancestors of the Rowlands Family, namely the "Arndt's and others remained in Ceylon and worked for the British. 

The Arndt Family Genealogy is listed at the end of this blog.

1 comment:

demeuronunger said...

Interesting reading! and reading about the De Meuron Regiment and its recruits. How do i get further information about the background of the recruits who were in Ceylon in 1786. The international Ceylon Data base has my ancestor enlisted as a soldier in the DeMeuron regiment. He was recruited in and around Neuchatel. I need to find out further news of his ancestry. A Major Anton Edema has compiled the information.