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The last days of Ehelapola in Mauritius

 

(@Durand Appuhamy (Negombo)/The Island)
Ehelapola Maha Nileme was arrested on the 2nd of March 1818, and was moved forthwith under escort to Colombo. Geo Lusignan, the Secretary to the Kandyan Provinces, minuted on behalf of Governor Brownrigg that "he is removed for a time because the government considers his presence here (in Kandy) detrimental to the public good, but it is not at all meant to charge him as traitor" (Co 54/70). Unfortunately for Ehelapola, all his protestations of innocence of any part in the Kandyan rebellion of 1817/18 and petitions for an investigation took him nowhere. He remained a prisoner in Colombo till 1825.

Governor Barnes sought to get rid of this embarrassment by exiling him in Mauritius. Lusignan wrote on behalf to Barnes to the Governor of Mauritius that if Ehelapola was outside Ceylon, he could be given a greater degree of personal liberty without endangering the British hold on the Kandyan provinces. Accordingly it was decided to send him by the ship Alexander to Mauritius "with instructions to Major Bates to have him accommodated with a house wholly separated from the place where the other Kandyan chiefs are confined, and in so pleasant and comfortable a situation as a due regard to economy and an attention to his not clandestinely quitting the island shall allow" (CO 54/88. Major Bates was further instructed to liberally provide for his table and other wants (see Table).

Ehelapola arrived in Mauritius with several of his attendants, among them was Don Bastian, his interpreter. Maj. Bates found for him a house (see picture) in Pamplemouses at a monthly rent of 30 Spanish dollars (SP$). Ehelapola was said to have been 'highly pleased and satisfied with it'.

From the drawings and the description given of this house by Maj. Bates, this writer was able to identify this house as the largish rectangular one storey, near empty shell of a house, within the Botanical gardens in Pamplemouses. It still has the circular wooden staircase and the separate servants quarters.


The Mon Plasir where Ehelapola lived
This house carried the name of Mon Plasir, and had been the venue of important govern-ment functions and grand farewell parties to departing governors of Mauritius. From the drawings of that period of this house available at Port Louis museum, it was a house surrounded by trees, colourful flower beds and palmed avenues.

Today it is a near empty shell housing the Ministry of Agriculture for administering the Botanical Garden.

From the front verandah of the house, Ehelapola would have seen in the distance the panorama of the two mountains dominating Mauritius. One peak, known as Le Pouce, would have reminded him of Pidurutalagala, and the other majestically pointed peak, named Pieter Both, closely resembling our Sri Pada, would have evoked in him the thought that both of them were the abodes of deities. The house had ample supply of excellent water, and the Botanical gardens provided him many opportunities to meander there and to avail himself of its facilities for his exhilarating pastime of horse riding.

Both he and Don Bastian were accomplished jockeys and ventured out frequently on a gallop. On those occasions Don Bastian was the butt of many jokes as "his shining jet-black hair was combed back entirely off his forehead and fastened at the top of his head with a large comb, similar to that used by females. This gave him a singular appearance, and while he rode through the town with his uncovered head, great astonish-ment was excited in the spectators, particularly the Negroes who used to say that he was moitie homme moitie femme (half man half woman); his attire being that of a man and his long hair confined with a comb given his face a resemblance to that of a woman" wrote Mrs. Bartrum.

The other Kandyan prisoners (Pilima-talawe, Mattemagoda etc.) were incarcerated at Powder Mills which was about a couple of miles from Mon Plasir. So it was natural for Ehelapola to visit his compatriots at Powder Mills. Unlike Ehelapola, they were prisoners, though confined under a benevolent regime by the standards of the day. One can only speculate what transpired at those meetings. Maj. Bates did report that such meetings did take place.

The best description of Ehelapola's life in exile was given by Mrs. Alfred Bartrum in her book "Reflections of Seven Years' Residence at Mauritius" This book was written for her daughters Ellen and Mary in 1830. She frequently invited Ehelapola for parties at her place and also met him at parties given by others and attended the party given by Ehelapola.

According to her all the Englishmen paid him attention and respect. He was always entitled the Prince. Her description of him was that of a broken man. "His countenance is very mild in its expression but not intelligent, and his manner is gentle and unassuming; if one might judge from his physiognomy, I should pronounce him a person by no means likely to ferment political disturbances, or to take an active part in public affairs: he seemed devoid of energy, and looked like a very harmless, quiet personage".

Children

He was fond of children especially of little Mary and her sister Ellen. In exile he wore his usual Kandyan dress. In Mrs. Bartrum's words "he wore a flat kind of a hat, covered with white muslin, sometimes ornamented with gold; his hair which was as white as snow, was rolled up in a ball at the back of his neck, nearly on the nape of his neck, and was seen projecting beneath his hat; the rest of his dress consisted also of white muslin, and he had a necklace of lumps of gold, each the size and shape of a small hen's egg;.... he wore also a ring, the stone of which, apparently an emerald, was nearly the size of a half crown".

Ehelapola did not know English and he conducted his business of conversation through his interpreter Don Bastian. In recipro-cation he held a party for his erstwhile English hosts at Mon Plasir. Everything was in the English style under the supervision of Don Bastian, "who being well acquainted with the English customs had the arrangement of the whole; tea, coffee, cakes were handed about and card tables were prepared for those who wished to play (cards)". Maha Nileme himself took part in a game of whist.

At this party he got one of his attendants to sing the Parangi Hatana which lasted a long time and taxed the endurance of his guests and "completely tired out our patience" wrote Mrs. Bartrum. According to her, the guests restrained their smiles with great difficulty at the "horrible growl intended for a tune, and the ridicules contortions of the singer's face".

At the ninth birthday party of Ellen, Ehelapola "favoured us with a song that evening, but we could not discover more harmony in that than in the one we had heard from his servant...he and Don Bastaian were very abstemious with regard to wine, and generally refused it...but as he was requested to drink to the health of the little girl whose birthday it was, smilingly took a glass of liquor, and made a flowery speech...wishing all happiness and good fortune to the little damsel, then taking Mary on his knees, he said she must not be left out of the good wishes showered on her sister".

According to Barnes, Ehelapola died on the 4th of April 1829 "in consequence of an attack of dysentery after an illness of six days during which he was attended by the Medical Officer of Mauritius" (CO 54/105). He was aware of his approaching end and made a disposition of his property by will on the 2nd of April.

By his Will, he gave Dingiriya, his slave servant his freedom, all the goods and money which belonged to him and were at Mauritius. To Kedagamuwe Nileme and Dawgan-deniya Arachchy one hundred Spanish Dollars each and implored the British government to pardon them both and set them free. To Pilimatalawe he gave all his property and money which were in the custody of the Kandy Kachchery. To Don Bastian he gave 3555 Pagodas, his Sinhalese watch and carriage and the large ring set with diamonds. He also bestowed on Don Bastian all his landed property after the death of his sister. All the linen which were his wearing apparel were to be handed over to the Maligawa in Kandy.

He was cremated at St. Andre forest a quarter of a mile distance from the Powder Mills where the other Kandyan prisoners were imprisoned.

There is a square white monument in his honour. In the centre, there is a white granite block with the inscription which reads" sacred to the memory of Ehelapola Wijesoondra Wickramasinghe Chandrasekra Amerakoon Wahalanodianse, late First Adikar or Prime Minister to the King of Kandy, who died 4 April 1829, aged 57 years".
Ehelapola monument in St. Andre forest

From the many stubs of burnt out candles on the spot, it is apparent that even today someone lights a candle there in memory of a man whose life was only so full of promise, but devoid of any achievement, and futile to teh point that he lost his kith and kin, and died inexile an untried and unconvicted state prisoner, ennobled unto eternity in this monument in a foreign land. Who today will dare suggest that his ashes be brought back to this country and interred with the appropriate honours due to him? I do.

Information can be found in my book: The Rebels, Outlaws and Enemies to the British - published by M. D. Gunasena).


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