Chapter 22 – Development of Colombo and the Visit of the Prince of Wales.

To the early Sinhalese, Colombo was simply a rocky headland, forming a very shallow harbour. According to a Sinhalese authority, ‘Kolamba’ meant a port of call for vessels and the original name has remained. The first authentic record of the town was made by a Mohammedan traveler, Iban Batuta, who visited the island in 1346. A log entry in his diary refers to a voyage undertaken by him to the city of Kolambu, considered one of the finest and largest cities of the island of Serendib. A Chinese writer referred to the port as Kao-lang-wu or Ko-loing-lo.

In the 1500’s, Colombo was a made into a trading post by the Portuguese who later fortified the city against attack from locals. Colombo remained a fortress-cum-naval harbour during the Portuguese period. In the 1600’s, when the Dutch ejected the Portuguese from the island, Colombo was once again restored as the Dutch Capital in Ceylon. A new fort was built to strengthen the Capital and protect what the Dutch regarded as the gem of their Eastern possessions. When the British took over from the Dutch on 16 February 1796, Colombo at that time was described as ‘a place of considerable consequence and strength from its natural position, as well as from its works … The Fort, which is extensive, contained many dwelling houses, including the Governor’s Palace, which is a most superb building… Colombo is also a place of great traffic by sea, the roadstead being extremely safe and commodious, particularly during the North-East monsoon.

The shaping of Colombo began with the demolition of the defense fortifications in 1869 by Governor Sir Hercules Robinson. The winding up of the local rifle regiment which followed, led to the formation of the first police force in Colombo.

Chatham Street Fort in 1860
The rapid development of the coffee industry and later, the completion of the Colombo-Kandy railway made urgent the need for a safe harbour in Colombo, but the issue was complicated by the claims of Galle, itself a fine natural harbor, in the south-west of the island. But Galle was further from the coffee plantations, and due to the dangerous obstructions found in its shallow waters, the cost of opening it up as a large commercial port would have been prohibitive.

The main obstacle to the development of shipping for an import-export economy was the prevalence of heavy surf and a stiff breeze during the South-east monsoon months in Colombo. The problem was solved by the construction of a breakwater. Favourable reports on this suggestion led Governor Hercules Robinson, to approve the construction of the breakwater under the supervision of Sir William Gregory, to designs by Sir John Goode. The works were executed under the direction of John Kyle and was begun in 1875.

Andrew Carnegie, the American Billionaire, during a visit to Ceylon in 1879 said “We saw the new breakwater which the Government is constructing here at great expense. When finished it is proposed that the Indian Steamers shall call here instead of Galle, the harbour of which is dangerous. This may be a decided improvement upon the whole, but the tourist who does not see pretty Galle and enjoy the long day’s drive through the island to Colombo will miss much. The railway will soon be completed from Colombo to Galle and the days of coaching will cease forever. Future travelers will miss one of the rarest treats in Ceylon”.

Breakwater commencement Ceremony 1875

The foundation stone for the south-west arm of the breakwater was laid by H.R.H. Prince Albert Victor and George, the Prince of Wales as Midshipman on board H.M.S. “Bacchants” during a visit to Ceylon on 25th January 1882.

The Ferguson’s Directory of 1880/81 shows Richard William Rowlands as being in Kandy.
The other ‘Rowlands’ residents of Ceylon being:-
C.B.Rowlands – Chemist & Druggist - Kandy
John Rowlands – Farrier – Colombo
Rev.W.E.Rowlands – Church Missionary, Tamil Cooly Mission.

This huge wall, 4,212 feet long, took ten years and an outlay of 705,000 Pounds to complete. It changed an open roadstead into a harbour, sheltered on the most exposed south-west side of the island, but there were still problems in certain months, from storms from the north-west and north-east winds.

Colombo Harbour from Mutwal
The Government therefore decided to construct two additional arms – a 1,000 foot north-east breakwater from the Mutwal shore and a 2,200 foot north-west breakwater and another 700 foot between the centre and the north-east arms. These two new additional arms, with a lighthouse and connected works of land reclamation, coaling depots and other conveniences, cost in the region of 527,000 Pounds. Work commenced in April 1895 and the entire project was completed in 1903, making Colombo one of the most commodious and convenient artificial harbours in the world, with safe anchorage for mover 50 ships.

The development of the port aided the movement of cargo into and out of Ceylon during this period as South India lacked facilities for safe shipping. Colombo thus became by the turn of the century the central mail and commercial steamer port of the East. All the large steamers of the P&O Company and other famous shipping companies from Europe, the Far East and Australia began calling at Colombo on a regular basis, offering cheap freight to the world’s markets which was of value to the merchants and planters alike.

During the visit of the Prince of Wales to Ceylon in 1882, Sir Charles Henry de Soysa gave a banquet for the Royal Party and Government Dignitaries and also invited his friends to attend the event at his mansion “Alfred House”. Sir Charles and Lady de Soysa had ordered special crockery and cutlery from England to mark the occasion. Richard and Charlotte were among the invited guests.

The Ferguson’s Directory of 1883/84 shows Richard William Rowlands as being in Nuwara Eliya.
The other ‘Rowlands’ residents of Ceylon being:-
C.B.Rowlands – Apothecaries Hall – Kandy
John Rowlands – Farrier – Colombo
Rev.W.E.Rowlands – Church Missionary – Tamil Cooly Mission

On 1 March 1883 the “last block” of the Southern Arm of the Colombo Breakwater was laid by Mrs Kyle. In May, Messrs Whittall & Co imported the first “Jinricksha” that they hoped would take over from the rickshaw. On 30 July, the first public sale of Ceylon Teas in Colombo took place at the office of Messrs Somerville & Co,

1884 saw the celebration of the Jubilee of the “Ceylon Observer” newspaper that was started on 4th February 1834 and during the same month a successful elephant kraal was held at Avissawella in honour of Governor Sir William Gregory; thirteen elephants were kraaled. A financial crisis was averted with the suspension of the Oriental Bank Corporation and the Governor guaranteeing the notes of the Oriental Bank Corporation and proposing a new Bank and Company on 5 May 1884. The railway to Hatton was opened on 4 June. An important event took place on 28 June in Kandy when the Governor held a Levee at which there was an investiture of native headmen and the rank of Dissawe, which he had revived, was conferred on three Kandyan Chiefs.

A new dioptic flashing light was exhibited from the Colombo clock-tower on 1 January 1885.

A very happy event then took place for the Rowlands family. Richard’s eldest daughter Alice Hope Rowlands got married to John Dudley Ferdinands on 28th January 1885, at Holy Trinity Church, Nuwara Eliya.

The reception was at the Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya.

Painting of The Grand Hotel Nuwara Eliya in 1892
During the year, the railway from Talawkele to Nanuoya was opened and in October new railway services were inaugurated with express trains between Colombo and Polgahawela with “Refreshment Cars” between Colombo and Nawalpitiya.

The Ferguson’s Directory of 1885-86 shows Richard William Rowlands as being in Nuwara Eliya.
The other ‘Rowlands’ residents of Ceylon being:-

Rev. W.E Rowlands – Church Missionary
C.B.Rowlands – Apothecary – Kandy
J.Rowlands – Farrier – Colombo
B (Bastian).Rowlands – Planter (Lawrence Estate, Norwood).

In March 1885, Charlotte’s mother, aged 73 died and was buried in the Holy Trinity Church graveyard on 29th March 1885. (This is confirmed by Eileen Hewson in her book “Graveyards of Ceylon – Nuwara Eliya – Vol II- European Burial Records 1843 – 1964, on page 37).

Charlotte gave birth to a son, Arthur Percival Leopold Rowlands on 3 October 1885.

Baptismal record of Arthur Percival Rowlands (Picture)

Arthur Percival Leopold (named after the King of Belgium) Rowlands was baptized at Holy Trinity Church, Nuwara Eliya on 30th January 1886 by Reverend H Horsley.

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