Chapter 21 - Governor visits the Planting Districts

The first visit undertaken by a Governor to the District of Uva was that of Sir Hercules Robinson, in 1866. He was given a right royal welcome by the Coffee Planters of the district at Kalupahani coffee store. It was an event of great rejoicing to mark the expansion of communication from Colombo to the interior of the newly laid coffee tracks. They traveled several miles down the road from Kalupahani to meet and escort him to the venue. The most senior planter was Webster of Haldummulla, who was the first to use coffee spouting, Tom Woods of Spring Valley and Keilor Mitchell of Kelbourne. All others in the hey-day of coffee planting were there on this historic occasion. The road from Ratnapura to Haputale was nearing completion and this was another event that they had to celebrate.

The planters made use of this opportunity to celebrate yet another event of consequence. They took this opportunity to farewell the great Road Commissioner Major Thomas Skinner, G.M.C. He had completed the road from Pelmadulla to Balangoda at a cost of 9,163 Pounds Sterling against an estimated budget of 18,000 Pounds Sterling and on this splendid performance was permitted to continue the road to Haputala, down to Bandarawella and eventually to be carried through to Passara, Lunugala and then to Batticaloa. The road was of such importance to the coffee planters, that it thought but fitting that they should gather in strength to congratulate their friend and welcome the Governor.

In 1872, Governor Sir William Gregory paid a visit to the Kandy district and met with planters at the Mattakelle Bungalow of William Smith. Gathered together on that day were also, G.A.D.Elphinstone of Logie Estate, E.Smyth of Great Western, the two Heelis Brothers of Langdale and Carlabeck, I.Darley of Somerset, George Smith of Dessford, A.H.Thomas of Cymru, W.B.Henderson of Waltrim and H.M.Evatt, R.V.Dunlop of the Oriental Bank and A.M.Ferguson of the ‘Ceylon Observer’.

Governor Sir Gregory and Planters
At Old Mattakelle Bungalow in 1872

Governor William Gregory was conscious of the demands of other interests in the island and made the following remarks in a speech in March 1873 – “It has been said to him repeatedly in conversation that in furthering railway extension the general revenue would be used to promote a particular interest. He utterly denied the truth of this proposition.

It may be true that extension might increase the value of coffee property, but what, he would ask, was the basis of the whole prosperity of Ceylon but the great coffee interest? What, he would ask, gave him the surplus revenue by which he was able to make roads and bridges all over the island, causeways at Mannar and Jaffna; to make grants for education and to take measures to educate the masses; in short to promote general interests, industry and enterprise of the island from Jaffna to Galle but the results of the Capital and energy engaged in the cultivation of coffee. If followed, therefore, that in encouraging the great coffee enterprise he would be furthering the interests of the colony.

Charlotte Rowlands gave birth to a son Cecil Ernst Rowlands on 25th April 1877.

In 1886, the tea planters of Badulla, Madulsima, Hewa Eliya and Monaragala welcomed the Governor Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon in Badulla. This was the second visitation of a governor general to this remote area. This visit was of special significance and was undertaken for the sole purpose of separating the Province of Uva from the Central Province. The Government Agent as to reside in Kandy in Charge of the Central Province and his assistant to be stationed in Badulla in charge of the newly created Uva Province.

Government Agent and Kandyan Chiefs
The Governor undertook this tedious journey from Colombo, in stages. With a large retinue he traveled via Ratnapura and Halmadulla and broke journey at Dambatenne Estate that was owned by Reginald Beauchamp Downall, the Planting Member of the Legislative Council. Much of the journey was done on horseback, which gave the Governor the opportunity to see the countryside and its people. Sir Arthur was a man of great dignity and his hospitality to all and sundry was unbounded.

The pioneer planters, who performed the courteous act of greeting him, were composed of the old and the new, including Richard Rowlands, who would have made the journey from Nuwara Eliya to Badulla on horseback. Some of them had witnessed the storm when coffee was ruined and others still too young to overcome the results of the disaster. Nevertheless they were of one mind. They were well aware of the importance of extending communication to the newly opened areas in the province.

The case was well presented to the Governor. Their chief theme was, of course, the improvement of communication by rail and road. Tea was fast coming into bearing and the coffee harvested could not be transported to the markets, due to lack of transport.

In his remarks, the Governor said “The rise and progress of coffee planting in Ceylon is undoubtedly the most remarkable phenomenon that the island has ever seen since the days when, according to Singhalese tradition, the Yakkas were compelled to make way for the human race”.
The ceremonies associated with the event were held at the Court House in Badulla, on 2nd February at 4.30 p.m. The local gathering represented all sections of the Sinhalese community and the Kandyan Chiefs in their colourful regalia added greatly to the sobriety of the occasion. The surrounding hills were all thronged with estate labourers and villagers, who had all assembled to witness the event. The Buddhist priests in their flowing golden robes were found in large numbers. The Ratamahatmayas, Basanayake Nilames and all people of consequence were there to witness this great event. The Badulla Town Hall was decorated for the event and each community was entrusted with a specific task in keeping with their natural talents.

Prior to the reading of the Proclamation, each Ratamahatmaya was called upon to report verbally to the Governor on the conditions prevailing in his district. Dambawinna of Udakinda opened his account followed by Rambukpota R.M. being educated at St Thomas’ College, Colombo, spoke in English. Katugaha R.M. of Wellawaya informed the Governor of his problems in combating malaria, Mediwaka R.M. of Bintenne followed.

Governor Sir Hamilton and Kandyan Chiefs

After all the introductions, Mr Clement Smith read out the Proclamation in English to a silent audience. The most significant part of the ceremony was its presentation to the general public. The three most important Chiefs, Taldena, Rambukpota and Dambawinna were then called upon to mount the podium on bended knees, to receive the Sinhala version of the Proclamation to be read out to the people assembled outside. Mounting their horses, they proceeded to their allotted places amidst the trumpeting of elephants, the beating of drums and the firing of the Royal Salute.

The jubilations continued into the night and at the Grand Dinner held that night, the Governor, who no doubt had made a mental note of all the requests, made public his intentions, when he concluded his speech, by toasting “Success and Prosperity to Uva”.

The Governor was somewhat guarded in his comments on the subject of the railway extension, but in his reply to the Toast of the Queen, he clearly indicated that the railway would be extended.

The next morning, a mounted cavalcade set out in the direction of Spring Valley. The Governor and his party rode up through the rich valley along side the Baduluoya and Baddegamela rivers. On Rockhill, the Governor saw young tea, fine cocoa and flourishing cinchona on the hillside, fenced off by a line of Sapanwood trees, while on the other side of the rod he looked down through an avenue of rubber trees into a rich sheltered hollow, where was a fine sight of cacao, among the coffee and tea, the trees just coming into bearing and the dark red pods showing out from the light green foliage. Higher up, the Governor came to Glen Alpin tea-clearing, running below the road for 40 acres. Cutting and embankment construction

Here the size of the stems of tea plants as much of the cover of foliage no doubt impressed the Governor as much as the close-jointed coffee in Haputale did. At Glen Alpin glimpses were also obtained of the splendid cinchona groves and in Oetumbe and Weyvelhena and further on, the potatoes of the famous Kottagodde and Maryland estates, still kept in cultivation, betoken the richness of the soil and goodness of climate.

The railway was eventually extended to Badulla; the section from Nanu Oya to Haputale was opened in September 1893, to Bandarawella in 1894 and to Badulla in 1924. During this time coffee plantations were being converted to tea.

Hatton Station under Construction

The expansion of the railway also gave the Burghers of the country the opportunity of accepting minor posts within the administration of the railway, but qualified for more prestigious appointments later.

The coming of the railway as the chief means of transport, did not affect the locals adversely, as anticipated the British Commercial Class had it all. Native producers in the Sabaragamuwa District continued to rely on the additional means of transport. The Kalu-Ganga remained the main artery for the transport of goods and carts continued to provide a feeder service to the railway.

The information below only goes to show that the railway had obviously followed the planter. Railway stations became centres for transport of tea. The most important of them was Hatton, which served a wide planting area.

Horseshoe Bend on Kandy – Badulla Line

Year Acres under Tea Railway to
1873 1,083 Gampola
1874 1,750 Nawalapitiya
1884 70,000 Hatton
1893 273,000 Haputale
1894 305,000 Bandarawella
1895 380,000 Nuwara Eliya (Branch Line)
1924 400,000 Badulla

Opening Ceremony of Kurunegala Railway Line

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