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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 41


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The island of Ceylon, lying between 5° 53'—9° 51' N. lat., and 79° 41' 40"—80° 54' 50" E. long., is bounded by the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, and the Gulf of Mannar. Its greatest length from north to south, that is, from Point Palmyra to Dondera Head, is 267 miles; the extreme breadth, from Colombo on the west to Sangemankande on the east coast, is 140 miles; and its circumference, 760 miles. Divided into seven provinces, Ceylon has its area and population distributed as follows:—
Provinces. Area, English Sq. Miles Population.
Western 3,345 853,913
North-Western 3,028 304,453
Southern 1,927 439,730
Eastern 3,510 124,619
Northern 3,150 309,966
Central 5,770 544,874
North-Central 3,972 69,341
Totals 24,702 2,646,896

Of the total population enumerated there are:—Europeans, 6600, mainly British; European descendants, 15,500; Ceylon natives, 1,837,000; Tamils, 595,000; Moormen, 179,000; and other coloured races, including Malays, Afghans, Arabs, Persians, &c., 13,000.

The religious creeds are represented, approximately, as follows:—Buddhists, 1,670,000; Gentoos (worshippers of Siva, Vishnu, and other gods of the Hindu pantheon), 512,000; Mahomedans, 189,000; and Christians, comprising 204,000 Roman Catholics and 60,000 Protestants, 264,000.

The chief languages spoken in the island are Cingalese and Tamil. The former is founded on the Sanskrit, with a considerable infusion of Pali, and is peculiar, except in its Sanskrit roots, to Ceylon. Tamil, the leading branch of the Dravidian family, is common to about 16,000,000 people in Ceylon and Southern India. A Portuguese patois still retains its hold among the European descendants, while knowledge of English is rapidly advancing.

The island was first settled in 1505 by the Portuguese, who established colonies in the west and south, from which, however, they were ousted in 1658 by the Dutch. In 1795-6 the British Government took possession of the foreign settlements, annexing them to the Madras Presidency; but two years subsequently Ceylon was formed into a separate Crown colony. In 1815 war was declared against the native Government of the interior; the Kandyan king was taken prisoner, and the whole island fell under British rule. The Kandyans now, equally with the rest of the Ceylon population, are loyal, contented, and pacific; so that the small military force which the colony supports is ample for repressing all possible internal disturbances. At the same time, the police system is considered by no means perfect, the material to work on being far from good. Reforms in the regular police have, however, been carried out, the total number, under an inspector-general, with provincial superintendents, being at present 1500, and costing R630,000 per annum for the department altogether. About fifty of the constables, as well as all the superintending officers, are Europeans. The regular police are taught rifle-drill, and in furnishing guards for prisons, escorts for treasure, &c., they, to a great extent, perform duties that previously fell to the military—mainly to the late Ceylon Rifle Corps.

The present form of government was established by letters-patent of April, 1831, and supplementary orders of March, 1833. According to the terms of this constitution, the administration is in the hands of the Governor, aided by an Executive and a Legislative Council; the power of making laws being vested in the latter, concurrently with the legislative power of the Crown, which exercises that right by orders in Council. Five of the principal officers of the Government—viz., the officer commanding the troops, the Colonial Secretary, the Queen's Advocate, the Treasurer, and the Auditor-General—presided over by the Governor, constitute the Executive Council. The Governor, being personally responsible to the Home page 170 Government, can consult the Executive Councillors, but is not bound to follow their advice. The Legislative Council is composed of fifteen members, including those of the Executive, four other principal Government officers, and six unofficial members selected by the Governor with reference to the equitable representation of the various classes and interests.

All appointments to, or promotions in, the Civil Service, with salaries over R2000 per annum, rest in the Secretary of State; but, practically, all appointments, except to the higher offices, are in the hands of the Governor. For writerships in the Civil Service four gentlemen are named for each vacancy by the Secretary of State or the Governor, and the candidate who receives the greatest number of marks is appointed. With salaries more moderate in Ceylon than in India, there is a Civil Service numbering several hundreds for 2¾ millions of inhabitants, instead of about a dozen civilians with native assistants for a similar population in India.

Through the agency of a Government department of public instruction and a grant-in-aid system, availed of chiefly by the various missionary societies, 75,000 children, or 1 in 32 of the population, are receiving instruction in English and the vernaculars. Private schools, not connected with missionaries or religious bodies, are few and ill-supported. A knowledge of vernacular reading and writing, generally very imperfect, is communicated in some of the Buddhist temples and native schools. Education in missionary schools is strictly Christian, while in those of the Government it is customary, when no objection is offered, to read the Bible during the first hour. Attendance then is not compulsory, but pupils seldom or never absent themselves. Science is now practically taught in the principal educational establishments in Colombo, and, it is hoped, technical training in agriculture and useful trades will be added. The cost of the Government educational department (educating some 18,000 pupils) is R300,000 per annum (besides grants-in-aid, nearly R200,000), of which R28,000 is returned in fees, sale of books, &c. The total outlay on education, public and private, is about R700,000 (£70,000), against R7,000,000 (£700,000) supposed to be spent by the population on intoxicating drinks.

The climate of Ceylon, which, for the tropics, is generally healthy, varies in different parts, being hot and arid on the plains of the north and east, warm and humid on the south-west coast, and cool and wet in the mountain regions. Middle altitudes of mountain ranges and the immediate vicinity of rivers are deemed unhealthy, but fever seldom occurs above 3000 feet altitude, and is rare within the influence of sea breezes. In Ceylon towns the rate of mortality ranges from 1.65 per cent, for Jaffna to 4.06 for Kurunegala, that for Colombo being 1.76 per cent. The military death-rate in Ceylon is down to 25 in 1000; and this might be still further reduced by sanitary measures. The perfection of climate is supposed to be found at and around Bandarawela, on the plateau of the Uva principality, at an elevation of 3900 feet, with an average annual rainfall of 86.21 inches in 120 days. The hot months at Colombo are February, March, and April, when all who can do so remove to the hilly regions—Nuwara Eliya especially. The heat in Ceylon, however, seldom reaches 90° in the shade; 93° in April being the maximum in Colombo, where the mean of the year slightly exceeds 80°, sea breezes tempering the heat for a large portion of the year.

Though exposed to the south-west monsoons, blowing from April to September, and the north-east, from November to February, Ceylon is seldom visited by violent storms; and is, moreover, most fortunate in being outside the region of the cyclones peculiar at certain seasons to the Bay of Bengal, as well as being unaffected by the hurricanes of the Mauritius seas, and the volcanic disturbances of the Eastern Archipelago.

Ceylon, while presenting many points of resemblance in its flora and fauna to the neighbouring peninsula of India, differs in some respects, and assimilates rather to the Malayan. Archipelago. Cinnamon, for which the island has always been famous, and rice, are believed to be indigenous, while the more profitable products, coffee and cocoanuts, are introductions. Most South American plants readily adapt themselves to the climate, as is proved by the recent success of cinchona and cocoa. Tea also grows luxuriantly. Ceylon is noted for ferns, balsams, and orchids. Calamander, the most beautiful of the cabinet woods, is becoming very scarce, but ebony, satinwood, and others, with serviceable timber, are plentiful in the forests Palms and bamboos are especially beautiful and luxuriant; few objects in nature being more magnificent than a talipot palm in flower, and few more elegant than the slender areca palm, or the tall, bending green bamboo, of the mountain forests of Dimbula. The cocoanut palm, luxuriates along the western and south-western coasts, just as the palmyra, with its five hundred different uses to the natives, abounds in the Jaffna Peninsula. Though free from tigers and lions, the island abounds with animals, the elephants of Ceylon being especially famous. Reptiles, also, and birds are very numerous, but songsters are deficient. River fish, chiefly carp, are few in number and of inferior quality; but, probably, no sea-coast in the world is richer in fishes and shells. Myriads of insects, including butterflies, moths, beetles, bees, wasps, mosquitoes, white, black, and red ants, scorpions, centipedes, multitudes of curious spiders, &c., are found in Ceylon, and the periodical swarms of butterflies are peculiarly interesting. In the beauty and number of its precious stones Ceylon stands unrivalled, i pearl-fishery of immense value exists on the north-western coast.

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The public revenue of Ceylon, which has doubled in 15 years, trebled in 25 years, and nearly quintupled in 40 years, averages R15,000,000 per annum, although the cinnamon monopoly, fish tax, &c., have been abandoned, and the customs duties equalised and moderated. The civil, judicial, ecclesiastical, and medical expenditure, with that on public instruction, police, prison establishments and sendees, amounts to R6,600,000; that on pensions amounts to R450,000; on military, R1,200,000; on roads and buildings, R3,500,000; and on railway services (against large incomes), R1,700,000. The foregoing, together with minor items, such as conveyance of mails, immigration, &c., just about equals the revenue.

The value of imports is estimated at 60,000,000 rupees, and of the exports, 55,000,000. This gives 115,000,000 as the total value of Ceylon commerce—nominally, £11,500,000 sterling, or, excluding specie, £10,000,000.

The staple imports are mainly rice, cotton goods, coal, cattle, and salt fish. The staple exports comprise—coffee, tea, cocoa, cinnamon, cinchona bark, coir, cocoanut oil, plumbago, ebony, and other kinds of timber.

The principal towns of Ceylon are—Colombo, with 106,000 inhabitants; Galle, 52,000; Kandy, 19,000; Jaffna, 38,000; and Trincomalee, which has a population of about 10,000. The last-named, though no longer the chief seat of civil government in the eastern province, continues to be of surpassing importance as the chief naval port in the east.

A line of railway, 74½ miles long, between Colombo and Kandy, was opened in August, 1867, to aid in the establishment of which a public debt, to the amount of £900,000, was raised in 1861-7, its entire cost being £1,740,000.

An extension of the line to Nawalapitiya from Peradeniya (17 miles) was opened in December, 1874; and another from Kandy to Matale (17½ miles) was announced to be opened in October, 1880. Besides the foregoing, a seaside line has been constructed from Colombo to Kalutara (27½ miles); and in August, 1880, the first sod was turned of an extension from Nawalapitiya for 42 miles to Upper Dimbula, whence it is to be carried 25 miles further to Haputale. Altogether, about 180 miles of railway, all on the 5½-feet gauge, have been opened or are under construction, and other lines are contemplated.