The Fall of Sri Wickrema Rajasinha and The Kandyan Convention

by Aryadasa Ratnasinghe

"Let by the invitation of the chiefs and welcomed by the acclamations of the people, the forces of His Britannic Majesty, have entered the Kandyan territory and penetrated to the capital. Divine Providence has blessed their efforts with uniform success and complete victory. The ruler of the interior provinces has fallen into their hands and the government remains at the disposal of His Majesty's Representative".

Official Bulletin No. 1

On March 2, 1815, a conference was held in the Audience hall of the Palace of Kandy, between the Governor Sir Robert Brownrigg and the Principal chiefs of the Kandyan provinces and other subordinate headmen from different provinces, amidst a great concourse of people.

A public instrument of treaty embodying the Official Declaration of the Settlement of the Kandyan Provinces, known as the Kandyan Convention, was produced and publicly read in both English by Jas Sutherland, the Deputy Secretary to the Governor, and in Sinhala by the Mudliyar Abraham de Saram, and was unanimously assented to.

The British flag (Union Jack) was then, for the first time hosted and the establishment of the British dominion in the interior was announced by a royal salute from the cannon of the city. Attention was drawn of the British garrison, and all troops were under arms on the occasion of this historical and important event. This important document was listened to with profound and respectful attention by the chiefs with marked expression of cordial assent.

The Portuguese ruled the maritime settlements of Sri Lanka for 153 years (1505-1658), the Dutch for 138 years (1658-1796) and the British for 19 years (1796-1815).

Thereafter, with the annexation of the Kandyan kingdom by the Convention, the British became the sole rulers of the island, and administered the country for 133 years, until Independence in 1948.

Since 1739, for 76 years, the Kandyan kingdom was ruled by the Nayakkar kings from Malabar in South India, the last in the line was Sri Wickrema Rajasinha, who in his childhood days was known as Prince Kannasamy, the son of Venkata Perumal, who was the Chief Priest of the Rameshwaram Hindu Temple in the Gulf of Mannar. The antagonism of the Kandyan chiefs towards the Nayakkar kings paved way for their unpopularity. On the other hand, the king and the chiefs struggled for supremacy.

The main reason for the fall of the Kandyan kingdom was the disunity between the king and his chiefs. While the king tried to curb the growing power of the chiefs, the chiefs, in their turn, attempted to work out their plans for the destruction of the king.

The people harassed by the chiefs, put the blame on the king and wished that the British would come to their rescue. The king harassed by the complaints of the people, treated the chiefs with severity which began to increase their hatred towards him. Thus the chiefs, accused by the people and punished by the king, turned to the British.

John D'Oyly, the British agent of revenue, seizing the opportunity, fanned the flames of discontent between the king and the chiefs in order to reduce the Sinhala kingdom and to accept the terms of the British.

The Maha Adikaram Pilimatalawwe Wijeyesundera Rajakaruna Seneviratne Abayakoon Panditha Mudiyanse, who was elevated to the Prestigious position of Maha Adikaram in 1790, by king Rajadhi Rajasinha, when he was under the zenith of power, approached the British to work out his plan to secure the throne.

But, the crown was still beyond his grasp. He, therefore, wishing to secure it for his son, arranged that he should marry the natural grand-daughter of the late king Kirti Sri Rajashinha (1747-1780).

This was more than what the king could stand. He, accordingly, summoned the Maha Adikaram to appear before the 'maha naduwa' (the great case), accused him of being the author of all the cruel and unpopular activities of his reign, and deposed him from his office and imprisoned him. However, he was later set free and allowed to go home.

In kandy, there had never been an ex-Adikaram, for good reason, either died in harness during imprisonment, or was executed when deposed. But, in reality, the king was apprehensive to offend the most gracious family of the Maha Adikaram, and so spared his life.

The fallen chief Pilimatalawwe, in his rage for retributive justice, now planned to assassinate the king. He bribed the Malay Muhandiram and told him to enter the king's bedroom and stab him on a given day.

The plan did not materialise as he was caught while inside the bedroom. After enquiry, those involved in the incident were arrested, along with Pilimatalawwe, his son and son-in-law, and all were condemned to death. Pilimatalawwe and his accomplice Ratwatte Wijeyewardena Seneviratne Pandita Abayakoon Mudiyanse were beheaded, but the son was spared at the intercession of some chiefs who were in the good books of the king.

Having been placed on the throne by the king's professed benefactor Pilimatalawwe, when the prince was 18 years old, the king could not condemn him to death so easily as others. But, the turn of events compelled him to do so for high treason.

Pilimatalawwe was, in reality, an inveterate and an intriguing enemy, a faithless minister, a hostile neighbour and a powerful and an ambitious person, who was always ready to encourage traitors to achieve his own ends. Under these circumstances, the throne was surrounded by the most embarrassing perplexities and complexities, which would have, doubtless, required a person of great talent and patience to surmount.

Terrified by the past and apprehensive of the future, and intent of his own security, regardless of consequences, the king showed himself a perfect tyrant, destitute of religious feelings and without moral principles, either human or divine. The episodes of his womanizing, drinking and debauchery disclosed his way of life caused mostly by mental distractions.

After the transfer of power with the surrender of the Dutch in Colombo, Frederick North (Earl of Guildford), arrived in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1798, as the first British colonial governor of the maritime settlements, displacing Brigadier-General Pierre Frederic de Mauron, who was a military governor.

The Maha Adikaram Pilimatalawe, the most powerful chief of the Royal Court, who secretly aspired to wear the crown, by deposing the king, had an interview with the Governor North at Sitawaka (now Avissawella) and requested the British to take possession of the Kandyan kingdom and uphold him in the throne, after deposing the king, in return for liberal trade concessions.

Governor North, sensing what was boiling in the political pot, and not particularly interested in internal warfare, indignantly refused to accept the offer for territorial aggrandizement, broke off dealings with the Maha Adikaram, but in the courses of subsequent interviews with the Governor's Secretary, he understood that the British were ready to undertake and protect the kingdom and uphold him in power, provided that the king's life and dynasty were preserved inviolate and that the British given the effective control of trade and military administration of the provinces.

When the king became aware what was going on between the Maha Adikaram and the British Governor North and the plan to dethrone the king, he began to chafe under restraint and tried to break away from the intriguing chief.

In the meantime it was resolved that Gen. Hay Macdowall should proceed on an embassy to meet the king, ostensibly to congratulate him on his accession to the throne, but in reality, to obtain his consent to the terms suggested in making the Kandyan kingdom a British protectorate. But it turned out to be a flop.

On March 11, 1812, Lieut-Gen. Sir Robert Brownrigg assumed duties as the Governor, and his regime was noted specially for the annexation of the Kandyan kingdom to the British Crown and making the whole country a crown colony.

The confusion and disorder in the city of Kandy seemed to Brownrigg and D'Oyly a suitable opportunity to carry out their policy of territorial expansion. Accordingly, the Governor Brownrigg received Ehelepola Wijayasundera Wickremasinghe Chandrasekera Amarakoon Wasala Mudiyanse (who succeeded Pilimatalawe) alias Ehelepola Maha Adikaram at the Governor's residence in Mount Lavinia.

On this ex-parte representation of Ehelepola who rebelled against the king, the Governor promised him his favour and protection. The idea of sending an expedition to Kandy now seemed feasible.

The Maha Adikaram worked out the plan of operation and the Governor hastened to prepare and equip the forces in readiness to warfare. War was declared against the king of Kandy on January 10, 1815.

On February 14, 1815, a British division entered Kandy and took possession of the city and Ehelepola as sent to capture the king who had by then fled the city for safety. His hiding place was soon discovered at a place closer to Meda Mahanuwara in Kandy.

The party consisted of John D'Oyly, Capt. Hardy, Major Lionel C. Hooke, Ehelepola Nilame, Pilimatalawe Dissawa, Don Andryas Wijesinha Jayawardena Tamby Mudaly, Mudaliyar Dias Abeysingha, Ekneligoda Nilame, the Mohottalas Kawdumune, Kurandumune, Torawature, Delwala, Mahawalatenna and others.

Four days later, the unfortunate king was bound, plundered of his valuable as well as those of his consorts, and as dragged away with the greatest indignity by the supporters of Ehelepola, and was brought to Colombo for deportation to Vellore in South India, where his consorts and other kith and kin of the Malabar dynasty were interned in the beautiful mansion of Tippu Sahib, the Sultan of Mysore, acquired by the Indian government.

The Official Declaration of the Settlement of the Kandyan provinces expressly declared the principles of which the future government of the island under the British Crown would be based.

It consisted 12 clauses, viz: 1. Sri Wickrema Rajasinha, the Malabari king to forfeit all claims to the throne of Kandy. 2. The king is declared fallen and deposed and the hereditary claim of his dynasty, abolished and extinguished. 3. All his male relatives are banished from the island. 4.

The dominion is vested in the sovereign of the British Empire, to be exercised through colonial governors, except in the case of the Adikarams, Disavas, Mohottalas, Korales, Vidanes and other subordinate officers reserving the rights, privileges and powers within their respective ranks. 5. The religion of the Buddha is declared inviolable and its rights to be maintained and protected. 6. All forms of physical torture and mutilations are abolished. 7.

The governor alone can sentence a person to death and all capital publishments to take place in the presence of accredited agents of the government. 8. All civil and criminal justice over Kandyan to be administered according to the established norms and customs of the country, the government reserving to itself the rights of interposition when and where necessary. 9. Over non-Kandyans the position to remain according to British law. 10.

The proclamation annexing the Three and Four Korales and Sabaragamuwa is repealed. 11. The dues and revenues to be collected for the King of England as well as for the maintenance of internal establishments in the island. 12. The Governor alone would facilitate trade and commerce."

The Kandyan Convention was forthwith proclaimed with an eye to the public outside Kandy. The British government had to justify to the world that they had no intention for territorial aggrandizement in seizing a neighbouring kingdom.

For this justification, it was necessary to show to the public that the British had only acted on the pressing needs of the public, who wished a change in the government to overcome the oppressive behaviour of the tyrant king.

Accordingly, the king's enormities were recounted with emphasis and the unanimous invitation of the British by the people and the chiefs was expressed in no exaggerated language, reminding one of the letters in which Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), the French General, Consul and Emperor, announced to King George III (1738-1820) of Great Britain and Ireland, his assumption of the throne of France after the Battle of Waterloo.

The news of annexation of Kandy to the maritime provinces of the island reached England on the same day as the news of the Battle of Waterloo and as a consequence passed unnoticed.

The British, as a matter of policy, did not carry out proselytising campaigns to convert Buddhists to Christianity, as their Portuguese and Dutch predecessors had done.

The laying of the railway, the opening of coffee and tea plantations, road development schemes, establishment of hospitals and maternity homes throughout the island, were some of the major works undertaken by the British who ruled Sri Lanka.


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