This project started in 2002 when I took my daughter Jacqueline, who was born in Australia to see Sri Lanka for the first time. We planned our touring holiday before we left Australia and made sure that we took in as much as possible in the two weeks we were on the Island. This included visits to the Pinnawella Elephant Sanctuary, a stay at the Kanadalama Hotel, an Elephant Safari at Habarana, a visit to the ruins at Polonaruwa and a climb of the Sigiriya Rock Fortress, later a viewing of the Kandy Perahara from the Queens Hotel in Kandy and also a Cultural Concert and a visit to the Labukelle Tea Factory on the way to our stay at the Hill Club in Nuwara Eliya.

The final stay in the mountains was at the Tea Factory Hotel in Kandapola, some 2,000 metres in the clouds.
On our return trip to Colombo we traveled via the Ella Gap to Yala and stayed at the Yala Safari Lodge that was destroyed by the Tsunami in 2006 and visited the Yala Sanctuary.

Hill Club, Nuwara Eliya

We next visited Galle and stayed at the Lighthouse Hotel and eventually got as far as Mt Lavinia and stayed a night at the Mt Lavinia Hotel and visited St Thomas’ College. We finished our tour at the Oberoi Hotel in Colombo for much earned rest of a few days.

A Dinner at my Aunt Christobel and Uncle Godwin Don Carolis’ home in Colombo then brought the biggest surprise that I was to get in my life. My cousin Christopher Don Carolis advised me that he had recently started communicating with a distant cousin named Richard Rowlands who was born in India and who now lived in Kent, England. We later, continued the conversation at the Colombo Rowing Club where he filled me in with the details of his latest discovery.

It turned out that Richard’s Grand-father and our Grand-father were half brothers and there was a generation of Rowlands’ in India, who were descendants of James Henry Rowlands who left Ceylon in 1886 for Ootacumund in South India, just after the birth of our Grand-father Arthur Percival Rowlands in 1885.

Colombo Rowing Club - Christopher Carolis (second from left), Jacqueline and Ed on right.

This was the first time that I had heard of our other relatives and I got in touch with Richard on returning to Australia. It turned out that he was researching the Rowlands Genealogy and was instrumental in getting me interested in finding more about the families that my Grand-father and father never spoke about.

When Richard sent me the Rowlands Family Tree that he had established, I realized that the Genealogy of the Rowlands Family that my Father had arrived at with Mr Altendorf in Colombo in 1958, that we presented to Sir Rodin Cutler who was the Australian High Commissioner in Ceylon at that time, to facilitate our migration to Australia during the period of the “White Australia Policy” was incomplete in some parts and incorrect in others.

I got to thinking that it was such a pity that we had not been given the opportunity to meet these relatives and get to know them, their personalities, their likes and dislikes and to get some understanding of the lives they may have led. I then decided to put together this family documentary from information that I gathered from talking to relatives and various publications on Internet websites, Public Libraries and various books.

Ed and Chris at the Colombo Cricket Club Grounds

When my son Christopher, who was also born in Australia and I took some of my Father’s ashes for burial in his Mother’s grave in Colombo in 2003, I took the opportunity to continue my research into the Rowlands family when I was in Sri Lanka and have continued to date, using the data from Richard Rowlands and others.

This is not a documentary about colonialism, but happens to fall into the time period after Europeans arrived in Ceylon. It’s a mixture of fact and fiction. I have placed our relatives in the period of the events that would have taken place during their lifetime to try and understand how the events of the day may have experienced and shaped their lives and the relationships they may have had with the people they may have mixed with on a day to day basis. To a large extent their lives and the antecedents of their spouses provide the cultural mix of our fore-bears and may help explain why the Rowlands’ of today are the people we are.

I am proud of my Sri Lankan heritage and that the Rowlands’ of Ceylon and India are descended from people of many races and cultures.

I do not pretend to be a writer and therefore the words in this documentary are not all mine but also those of the several authors that I have used to bring it all together in some chronological order to try and show the changes that took place in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) after the arrival of Europeans in the Sixteenth Century and the events of the Nineteenth Century, after the arrival of the first Rowlands’ in Ceylon.

I hope that my children and other relatives find this documentary useful for them to get some understanding of the times that our fore-fathers and mothers lived in.

The first part concludes at the death of Richard William Rowlands. The second part of this story is the Twentieth Century and will include the experiences of the next generations of the Rowlands’ of India and Ceylon and the migration of some of the families to Australia and England and other distant shores.

This is only the start of the story of the Rowlands’ of Ceylon, there are a more stories waiting to be told.

I apologise if I have made any historical errors and would appreciate the comments of anyone who wishes to advise me of any corrections.

Any other descendants of the extended Rowlands’ family are welcome to contact me on and I will endevour to incorporate the stories of their relatives in this document, if they so desire.


To put my document in a historical context, I reproduce a document written by Tim Lambert on a brief history of Sri Lanka that shows that the people of this island have had a very long history going back several millennia.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF SRI LANKA                              By Tim Lambert


About 500 BC when a people called the Sinhalese migrated there from India. According to legend the first settlers were led by a man named Vijaya.

According to tradition Buddhism was introduced into Sri Lanka in 260 BC by a man named Mahinda. It soon became an integral part of Sinhalese culture.

However at first Sri Lanka was divided into different states. A man named Dutthagamanu (161-137 BC) united them into a single kingdom. As well as being a powerful ruler Dutthagamanu was a great builder and he erected palaces and temples.

The capital of the first Sri Lankan kingdom was at Anuradhapura.

The staple diet of the Sri Lankan people was rice but to grow rice needs to stand in water. However in Sri Lanka’s hot climate water soon evaporated. Some water was provided by rain in the rainy season (October to April) but it was not enough. To gain extra water the people dammed streams and rivers.
However in time it became the ruler’s responsibility to provide water for farming. King Mahensa (274-303) built large reservoirs and irrigation canals to take water from one area to another. The network of reservoirs and canals gradually became bigger and more complex.

In the 2nd 3rd and 4th centuries AD Sri Lanka became a rich kingdom. She traded with India, China, Persia and Ethiopia.

However from the 5th century onward Sri Lanka suffered from invasions from India. In the 10th century the Chola kingdom became powerful in southern India.

In 993 the Cholas captured northern Sri Lanka and they made Polonnaruwa the capital. In 1017 they captured the south. However the Sinhalese continued to resist and in 1030 the Cholas withdrew from Rohana, in the Southeast. In 1070 the Sinhalese ruler Vijayabahu recaptured the north.

However after his death in 1111 weak rulers succeeded him. Sri Lanka broke up into independent states.

Then in 1153 Parakrama Bahu the Great became king of the realm of Dakkinadesa. This great ruler reunited Sri Lanka and he repaired the irrigation system. He died in 1183.

In the 13th century Sri Lankan power declined. There were repeated invasions from India and political instability. The irrigation system began to breakdown and the people drifted to the Southwest. In 1255 the capital Polonnaruwa was abandoned.

In the 13th century the Tamils settled in the north of Sri Lanka and by 1505 Sri Lanka was divided into 3 areas. In the north lived Tamils. There was a Sinhalese kingdom in the Southwest based in Kotte and another in the center and east based in Kandy.


A new era in the history of Sri Lanka began in 1505 when the Portuguese arrived. The Portuguese sought cinnamon (a very valuable spice). In 1517 they sent an expedition to Colombo and asked permission to build a fort there. King Vijayabahu of Kotte reluctantly assented. However the Portuguese then ordered the king to sell them his cinnamon at a price fixed by them. When the king refused the Portuguese used force. In 1518 the king of Kotte was forced to agree to give cinnamon to the Portuguese each year as tribute.

Increasing Portuguese demands led to a war in 1520-21, which the Portuguese won. The king lost the support of his people and he was overthrown by his 3 sons.

The eldest son became King Bhuvanekbahu VI. He reigned until 1551. However he agreed to give his 2 brothers principalities of their won within Kotte to rule. The largest of these became the kingdom of Sitavaka. The smallest was based on Rayigama but when its ruler died in 1538 it was absorbed into Sitavaka.

In time the states of Kotte and Sitavaka began to quarrel. The rulers of Sitavaka resented the increasing Portuguese influence in Kotte. So Kotte and Sitavaka fought a number of wars. Each time Kotte was forced to look to the Portuguese for help. So inevitably Portuguese influence in Kotte increased.

In 1551 King Bhuvankbahu was assassinated and the Portuguese installed a puppet ruler in Kotte. Meanwhile Catholic missionaries were at work in Kotte. In 1557 the puppet ruler became a Catholic. Many of his subjects also converted.

Finally in 1597 the Portuguese annexed Kotte and Sitavaka. In 1619 they annexed Jaffna. Only Kandy was still independent.

The Portuguese made several attempts to conquer Kandy, in 1594, 1603 and 1629, without success.


In 1636 King Rajsinha of Kandy turned to the Dutch for help. (The power of Portugal was declining while Dutch power was increasing.) In 1637 he received Dutch envoys. In 1638 the Portuguese invaded again but they were crushed at the battle of Gannoruwa. Afterwards the Dutch agreed to capture the Portuguese held ports on the Sri Lankan coast in return for their expenses.

Between 1638 and 1640 the Dutch captured certain ports but they held onto them instead of giving them to Kandy, claiming their expenses had not been paid. The Dutch and Portuguese made peace in 1640 but war resumed in 1652. Once again the kingdom of Kandy formed an alliance with the Dutch. This time the Dutch attacked Colombo and they captured it in 1656. However they refused to hand it over to Kandy. Instead they pushed inland. In 1658 they captured Jaffna.

That was the end of Portuguese rule in Sri Lanka.

The Dutch extended their rule and in 1665 they captured Trincomalee on the east coast.

Kandy remained independent and continued to exist uneasily beside the Dutch colony until 1760 when war broke out between them. The Dutch won the war and they forced Kandy to accept a humiliating treaty. Kandy was forced to recognize Dutch sovereignty over all the Sri Lankan coast line, even those parts that formerly belonged to Kandy, to a depth of 4 Sinhalese miles.


However in 1796 Dutch rule gave way to British. In that year the British annexed Colombo and Jaffna and Dutch rule was extinguished.

The British were keen to conquer Kandy. They gained their opportunity in 1815. Kandy was ruled by Sri Wickrama Rajasiha (1798-1815). He was a cruel king and was deeply unpopular with his subjects. Some of his nobles conspired with the British to get rid of him. The British army invaded Kandy and met little resistance. The king fled abroad.

However in 1817-18 there was a rebellion in parts of Kandy against British rule but it was crushed.
At first the British trod cautiously. Trial by jury was introduced in 1811 and the British built a network of roads. Then in 1833 they introduced wide-ranging reforms. English was made the official language and the administration was reformed. Slavery was abolished in 1844.

In the early 19th century the British created large plantations for growing coffee. Import duties on coffee in Britain were reduced and coffee drinking became more common. Exports of Sri Lankan or Ceylonese coffee boomed and large numbers of laborers from India were brought to work on the plantations. However from the 1870s the coffee crop was devastated by the slow spread of a fungus called hemileia vastratrix. In the late 19th century tea replaced coffee as the main Ceylonese crop. Rubber and coconuts were also important crops.

Also in the late 19th century both Hinduism and Buddhism revived in Ceylon.

In the early 20th century Sri Lankan nationalism grew. The Ceylon National Congress was formed in 1919.

In 1910 the Ceylonese were allowed to elect one member of the legislative council and in 1924 the British made further concessions. However the Ceylonese were not satisfied. In 1931 Ceylon was granted a new constitution. From then on the legislature was elected by universal suffrage. However the Ceylonese demanded complete independence. Yet another constitution was introduced in 1946 but in 1947 the British announced that India was to become independent. The Ceylonese now demanded their independence and in June 1947 the British agreed to make Sri Lanka a dominion. Sri Lanka became independent on 4 February 1948.


The first prime minister was Dr Stephen Senanayake. When he died in 1952 his son Dudley Senanyake followed him. Dudley resigned in 1953 and was replaced by Sir John Kotewala. All three were members of the United National Party.

However in 1956 their party fell from power. The next government was led by S W R D Bandaranaike. He promoted Sinhalese culture and extended state control of the economy. However he was assassinated in 1959. In 1960 he was replaced by his widow Sirimavo Bandaranaike. She was prime minister until 1965. She continued the policy of nationalization. She also brought most schools under state control. In 1965 she was replaced by Dudley Senanayake who was prime minister again until 1970.

From the 1950s tension between Tamils and Sinhalese grew. In 1956 Sinhalese was made the only official language (instead of both Sinhalese and Tamil). Mrs Bandaranaike also deported many Indian Tamil laborers.

In 1971 a rebellion of young people was led by an anti-Tamil organisation called the Janatha Vimukthi Permuna. The rebellion was quickly crushed.

In 1972 Sri Lanka was given a new constitution. This one stated that Buddhism had 'foremost place' among Sri Lankan religions. This was very unpopular with followers of other religions. Furthermore in 1972 the number of Tamil places at university was reduced.

Furthermore in 1972 the name of the country was officially changed from Ceylon to Sri Lanka.
In 1976 the Tamil United Liberation Front was formed. They demanded a separate Tamil state. Then in 1977 Sri Lanka was rocked by ethnic riots in which 128 people died. Yet another constitution was introduced in 1978. This one made a president the head of state. However the new constitution failed to satisfy the Tamils.

In 1983 civil war broke out between Tamils and Sinhalese. On 23 July 1983 Tamil separatists ambushed and killed 13 Sinhalese soldiers. The result was rioting in which hundreds of people died. Afterwards the Tamils fought a guerrilla war against the government.

India was drawn into the crisis in 1987 when they agreed to send a peacekeeping force to the north and east of Sri Lanka. However, fighting soon broke out between the Indian forces and the Tamil 'Tigers' or guerrillas. The Indian Peace Keeping force withdrew in 1990 and fighting between Tamils and Sinhalese began again.

Meanwhile in the late 1980s Maoist Janatha Vimukion Peramuna led a violent campaign in the south. It was crushed in 1989-1990.

In 1993 President Premadasa was assassinated.

From the mid 1990s efforts were made to end the fighting. A cease fire was made in February 2002 and talks were held. However the cease fire broke down and fighting resumed. The war ended in 2009 with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers by the Sri Lankan government.

Despite the bloodshed some progress was made in Sri Lanka. By 1986 Sri Lanka was self sufficient in rice. Life expectancy increased from 50 in 1948 to 69 in 1983.

From 1977 the Sri Lankan government adopted a market economy. Sri Lanka still produces tea, rubber and coconuts and a textile industry is growing. Tourism has now become a major industry. Today the economy of Sri Lanka is growing rapidly. Sri Lanka is growing more prosperous.

Today the population of Sri Lanka is 22 million.

1 comment:

Prasanna Chandraratne said...

Wow, what a big journey that I went through in such a short period of time. Glad to know someone who still remembers and admires the heritage and patriotism. No doubt that this would be the biggest gift which could transferred in to many generations ahead !! Good on you Rolly !! Prasanna ( Bob )