Volume 11, Chapter 13  -- Voyage round the World, by Commodore Roggewein, in 1721-1723: *section index*

Volume 11, Chapter 13, Section 9 -- Description of Ceylon.

The next best government belonging to the Dutch East India Company, after Batavia, is that of the island of Ceylon. The governor of this island is generally a member of the council of the Indies, and has a council appointed to assist him, framed after the model of that in Batavia, only that the members are not quite such great men. Though the governor of Ceylon be dependent upon the Council of the Indies at Batavia, he is at liberty to write directly to the directors of the Company in Holland, without asking permission from the governor-general, or being obliged to give any account of his conduct in so doing.

This singular privilege has had bad effects, having even tempted some governors of Ceylon to endeavour to withdraw themselves from their obedience to the Company, in order to become absolute sovereigns of the island. There have been many examples of this kind, but it may be sufficient to mention the two last, owing to the tyranny of two successive governors, Vuist and Versluys, which made a considerable noise in Europe.

When Mr Rumpf left the government of Ceylon, his immediate successor, Mr. Vuist, began to act the tyrant towards all who were not so fortunate as to be in his good graces, persecuting both Europeans and natives. Having from the beginning formed the project of rendering himself an independent sovereign, he pursued his plan steadily, by such methods as seemed best calculated to insure success. He thought it necessary in the first place to rid himself of the richest persons in the island, and of all having the reputation of wisdom, experience, and penetration.

In order to save appearances, and to play the villain with an air of justice, he thought it necessary to trump up a pretended plot, and caused informations to be preferred against such persons as he intended to ruin, charging them with having entered into a conspiracy to betray the principal fortresses of the island into the hands of some foreign power. This scheme secured him in two ways, as it seemed to manifest his great zeal for the interest of the Company, and enabled him to convict those he hated of high treason, and to deprive them at once of life and fortune.

To manage this the more easily, he contrived to change the members of his council, into which he brought creatures of his own, on whose acquiescence in his iniquities he could depend upon. The confiscations of the estates and effects of a number of innocent persons whom he had murdered by these false judicial proceedings, gave him the means of obliging many, and gained him numerous dependants.

Vuist was born in India of Dutch parents, and had a strong natural capacity which had been improved by assiduous application to his studies. His dark brow, and morose air, showed the cruelty of his disposition: Yet he loved and protected the Indians, either from a natural disposition, or because he deemed them fit instruments to forward his designs. In order to gain the natives in his interest, he preferred them to many vacant offices under his government, in direct opposition to repeated instructions from the Company to bestow the principal offices on Dutchmen or other Europeans.

After carrying on his designs with much dexterity, and having acquired by gifts a vast number of dependants ready to support his purposes, some of the faithful servants of the Company sent such clear and distinct information of his proceedings to Holland, as sufficiently evinced his real intentions, in spite of all his arts to conceal them. At length the Company sent out Mr. Versluys to supersede him in the government of Ceylon, with orders to send him prisoner to Batavia. As soon as he arrived there, abundance of informations were preferred against him, for a variety of crimes both of a private and public nature, into all of which the council of justice made strict inquisition, and were furnished with abundant proofs of his guilt.

In the end, he freely confessed that he had caused nineteen innocent persons to be put to death, having put them all to the torture, extorting from all of them confessions of crimes which they had never even dreamt of committing. He was accordingly sentenced to be broken alive on the wheel, his body to be quartered, and his quarters burnt to ashes and thrown into the sea.

Such was the deserved end of the traitor and tyrant Vuist; yet Versluys, who was sent expressly to amend what the other had done amiss, and to make the people forget the excesses of his predecessor by a mild and gentle administration, acted perhaps even worse than Vuist. Versluys was by no means of a cruel disposition, wherefore, strictly speaking, he shed no blood, yet acted as despotically and tyrannically as the other, though with more subtilty and under a fairer appearance.

His great point was not the absolute possession of the country, but to possess himself of all that it contained of value. For this purpose, immediately on getting possession of the government, he raised the price of rice, the bread of the country, to so extravagant a height that the people in a short time were unable to purchase it, and were soon reduced to beggary and a starving condition. Their humble representations of the great and general misery which reigned among all ranks of people throughout the island made no impression on his avaricious disposition; but all things went on from bad to worse, till an account of his nefarious conduct was transmitted to Holland.

When informed of the distressed situation of the inhabitants of Ceylon, the States-general sent out Mr. Doembourgh as governor, with orders to repair all past errors, and to treat the natives with all possible tenderness and indulgence. On his arrival, Versluys, after beggaring the whole nation, took it into his head that they would defend him against his masters, and absolutely refused to resign the government; and had even the insolency to fire upon the Company's ships as they lay at anchor in the road of Columbo.

Doembourgh, however, immediately landed, and his authority was readily recognised by all the Company's servants, and submitted to by the people. He caused Versluys to be immediately arrested and sent to Batavia, where a long criminal process was instituted against him, but which was not concluded when our author left India.

Of all the Asiatic islands, Ceylon is perhaps the fairest and most fertile. It lies to the S.E. of the peninsula of India on this side of the Ganges, between the latitudes of 5° 30' and 9° N. and between the longitudes of 79° 45' and 82° 12' E. so that it extends 70 marine leagues from N. to S. and 49 leagues from E. to W. It is so fertile and delicious, that many have believed it to have been the seat of the terrestrial paradise; and the natives certainly believe this, for they pretend to show the tomb of Adam, and the print of his foot on the mountain named the Peak of Adam,[1] one of the highest mountains in the world. On another mountain there is a salt lake, which the inhabitants affirm was filled by the tears shed by Eve, while she wept incessantly an hundred years for the death of Abel.

The principal places in Ceylon are Jafnapatam, Trinkamaly, Baracola, Punta de Galla, Columbo, Negombo, Sitavaca, and Candy. The Dutch East India Company are possessed of all the coasts of the island, and ten or twelve leagues within the land, and most of the before-mentioned towns, except the two last. While the Portuguese had possession, they built abundance of forts for their security, so that the Dutch found it a difficult matter to dislodge them; but having contracted a secret treaty with the king of Candy, the Portuguese were attacked on all sides, by sea and land, and were driven by degrees out of all their possessions.

Since then, the Dutch have taken much pains to cultivate a good understanding with that native sovereign, from whom they have obtained almost everything they demanded. They send every year an ambassador to him with various presents; in return for which his Candian majesty sends to the company a casket of jewels, of such value that the ship which carries it home is reckoned to be worth half the fleet.

Punta de Galle and Columbo are the two principal places in the island, the latter being the residence of the governor, and the other, properly speaking, is only the port of that city. Though extremely hot, the air of Ceylon is reckoned healthy, and the country abounds with excellent fruits of many kinds. The sea and the rivers afford plenty of various kinds of fish. There are also on the land great abundance of fowls, both wild and tame, and many wild animals, particularly elephants that are larger than any other country in Asia, also tygers, bears, civet cats, monkeys, and others.

Cinnamon is the production for which this island is peculiarly famous, as that which is procured here is estimated far superior to any other. The Dutch East India Company have the entire monopoly not only of this, but of all the other spices, with which they supply all parts of the world. Cinnamon is the inner bark of a tree resembling the orange, the flowers of which very much resemble those of the laurel both in size and figure.

There are three sorts of cinnamon. The finest is taken from young trees; a coarser sort from the old ones; and the third is the wild cinnamon, or cassia, which grows not only in Ceylon, but in Malabar and China, and of late years in Brazil. The company also derives great profit from an essential oil drawn from cinnamon, which sells at a high price; and it also makes considerable gain by the precious stones found in this island, being rubies, white and blue sapphires, topazes, and others.

Off the coast of this island, at Manaar and Tutecorin, there is a fine pearl fishery, which brings in a large revenue, being let twice a year in farm to certain black merchants. The oysters are at the bottom of the sea, and the fishery is only carried on in fine weather, when the sea is perfectly calm. The diver has one end of a rope fastened round his body below the arm-pits, the other end being tied to the boat, having a large stone tied to his feet, that he may descend the quicker, and a bag tied round his waist to receive the oysters.

As soon as he gets to the bottom of the sea, he takes up as many oysters as are within his reach, putting them as fast as possible into the bag; and in order to ascend, pulls strongly at a cord different from that which is round his body, as a signal for those in the boat to haul him up as fast as they can, while he endeavours to shake loose the stone at his feet. When the boats are filled with oysters, the black merchants carry them to different places on the coast, selling them at so much the hundred; which trade is hazardous for the purchasers, who sometimes find pearls of great value, and sometimes none at all, or those only of small value.

The inhabitants of Ceylon are called Cingolesians, or Cingalese, who are mostly very tall, of a very dark complexion, with very large ears, owing to the numerous large and heavy ornaments they wear in them. They are men of great courage, and live in a hardy manner, and are therefore excellent soldiers. They are, for the most part, Mahomedans,[2] though there are many idolaters among them who worship cows and calves.

The inhabitants of the interior do not greatly respect the Dutch, whom they term their coast-keepers, in derision; but the Dutch care little about this, endeavouring to keep in good correspondence with the king of Candy, whose dominions are separated from theirs by a large rapid river, and by impenetrable forests. The Ceylonese are remarkable for their great skill in taming elephants, which they employ as beasts of burden in time of peace, and render serviceable against their enemies in war.

[Footnote 1: This gross absurdity is not worth contesting; but the fact is, that the real natives, the idolaters of the interior, refer both the tomb and the footmark to their false god, or lawgiver, Bodh. --E.]
[Footnote 2: The author has probably confounded the original natives of Ceylon, who are idolaters, with the Malays, who are Mahomedans, and of whom a considerable number are settled on the coast country. --E.]


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