Straying & Rummaging on the Dutch in Galle


All l I wanted to do yesterday was a quickie blog post with the photos I took recently in Galle. But, its no fun staying on the straight and narrow path. So I strayed.  Wonderful thing to do this straying —  intentional or otherwise — it gets you to interesting places — like the Portuguese who drifted into Galle after a storm in 1505.

It all started with this photo, the main entrance to the Galle Fort.

Main entrance to the historic Galle Fort. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Main entrance to the historic Galle Fort. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

It has history written all over it — partially blackened with mould and fungus; a 1.3 metre wide wall ; the grand coat of arms of George III and the Dutch VoC logo below it. I don’t think you can collect points for noting what doesn’t fit on this heritage building!

I remembered the history lessons, the stories of how the  Portuguese were seen as stone (bread) eating, blood (wine) drinking savages by the Ceylonese who took them on a winding route to meet the King. The Portugese did stay on in Ceylon and influenced us too. However, that’s a different story.

In 1588, Rajasinghe 1, King of Lanka lay siege to Colombo, and the Portuguese retreated to Galle and built a “fortalice” of palm trees and mud. Eventually the Portuguese innings ended when they were bowled out by the Dutch who captured Galle in 1640.

The cannons are no longer on the ramparts. Only the base stones remain. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The cannons are no longer on the ramparts. Only the base stones remain. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Phiippus Baldaeus, a Minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, who stayed in Galle for a year did an engraving that shows how the city looked in 1640.

Baldaeus view of Galle. Image in the public domain.

Baldaeus view of Galle. This Image in the public domain but there is a slight difference from the one in De Silva & Beumer’s book. The image in the book has the words “De STADT GALE.”

Baldeaus in his book  “Ceylon,” states that ” … the Fort is well built of stone on elevated ground with goodly houses, a stately church, pleasant gardens and deep and splendid wells.” He also mentions that the Fort is well provided with cannons for the security of the harbour.

To get back to the original photo which set me moving –The coat of arms of George III in high relief, was put up after the British took control.

The coat of arms of George III. Entrance to the Galle Fort. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The coat of arms of George III. Entrance to the Galle Fort. with the VoC logo below it. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The British were gentlemanly and retained the logo of the one time mighty Dutch East India Company (In Dutch: Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC, “United East India Company”) below the coat of arms.

The VoC logo in high relief  at  the .Entrance to the Galle Fort. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The VoC logo in high relief at the .Entrance to the Galle Fort. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Rummaging around In Wikipedia on the Galle Fort, I discovered that the “Dutch East India Company was a chartered company and was established in 1602, when the States-General of the Netherlands granted it a 21-year monopoly to carry out colonial activities in Asia”

“It is often considered to have been the first multinational corporation in the world and it was the first company to issue stock. It was also arguably the first megacorporation, possessing quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties, coin money, and establish colonies.”

VoC Crest, Galle, Sri Lanka January 12, 2012.. Photo©Chulie de Silva

VoC Crest, Galle, flanked by two lions, a cock on top and the year ANNO: MDCLXIX at the bottom.  Sri Lanka January 12, 2012.. Photo©Chulie de Silva

Statistically, the VOC eclipsed all of its rivals in the Asia trade. Between 1602 and 1796 the VOC sent almost a million Europeans to work in the Asia trade on 4,785 ships, and netted for their efforts more than 2.5 million tons of Asian trade goods.

So, what became of this company? As we kids used to say, “What happens to Mr. Heppenstall happens to all.” It was corruption that did them in. “The company went bankrupt in the late 18th century, and was formally dissolved in 1800. “Its possessions and the debt being taken over by the government of the Dutch Batavian Republic. The VOC’s territories became the Dutch East Indies and were expanded over the course of the 19th century to include the whole of the Indonesian archipelago, and in the 20th century would form the Republic of Indonesia.”

The powder house for storing gun powder, Galle Fort. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The powder house for storing gun powder, Galle Fort. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

François Valentijn, a Minister of the Dutch Reformed Church who worked for the VoC, wrote in his Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indiën (“Old and New East-India”), (a book about the history of the Dutch East India Company and the countries of the Far East), how ships needed a pilot to guide it safely in to the port.  He says that a gun was fired from the rock outside the bay every half-an hour to warn ships not to sail any further, without the guidance of a pilot.

Galle Ramparts. 12 Jan 2012. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Galle Ramparts. 12 Jan 2012. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

My rummaging got me also searching old files for a photo of the Dutch Reformed Church. On my recent visit the church was closed and a tourist bus was parked close by, blocking the view.

De Groote Kirk -- The Dutch Reformed Presbyterian Church, Galle. 6 January 2008. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

De Groote Kirk — The Dutch Reformed Presbyterian Church, Galle. 6 January 2008. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

“The state religion of the Dutch was formally established in October 1642,” says Rajpal K. De Silva and W.G.M. Beumer in Illustrations and Views of Dutch Ceylon 1602-1796.  “This present church, completed in 1755 is built on the site of a former Portuguese Capuchin convent. Unlike the churches in Colombo and Jaffna, the Galle church has no central tower. The two gables on the front and back walls make this the most distinctive church in the island.

The church is still in use, and on an earlier visit in 2008, I had taken this photo inside the church. Unfortunately, I can’t lay my hands on my notes! Maybe a reader can enlighten me!

Display inside the Dutch Reformed Church, Galle. 6 January 2008. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Display inside the Dutch Reformed Church, Galle. 6 January 2008. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

De Silva and Beumer also says that “Inside the Church there are plaques commemorating the deaths of Commandeurs  Abraham Samland in 1766 and Casparus de Jong in 1758. The Church was a gift from de Jong in gratitude for the birth of a long awaited daughter in 1752.” Poor de Jong, he lived only for 6 years to enjoy his daughter.

The Fort is a very much alive place today with tourists bus loads of school children roaming along the ramparts. Just past the lighthouse built by the British, steps lead down to the shore and is a popular bathing spot now.

Schoolboys swim in a sheltered cove in the Galle Fort. 26 August 2013.

Schoolboys swim in a sheltered cove in the Galle Fort. 26 August 2013.

Dutch influence on architecture is very visible even today.

Dutch influenced houses in the Galle Fort facing the ramparts. 12 January 2012. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Dutch influenced houses in the Galle Fort facing the ramparts. 12 January 2012. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Few houses still retain their massive doors which were in four sections, with iron fittings, and surmounted by carved and monogrammed fanlights. The Dutch also built an ingenious system of sewage drainage which utilised the ebb and flow of the tide to flush the sewers,” says de Silva and Beumer.

View of the port of Galle in Ceylon in 1754. Image from the "Travelogues of René Augustin Constantin Renneville. Published in Amsterdam. This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

View of the port of Galle in Ceylon in 1754. Image from the “Travelogues of René Augustin Constantin Renneville. Published in Amsterdam.
This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

Final words on the times when the Dutch were in Galle from Valentijn: It has a beautiful view off-shore and like a sea port is generally full of life and swarming with people thriving on the flourishing trade from many quarters. Of, course the fatherland fleet departing from Ceylon is loaded here and leaves for Holland on 25 December annually.

Thanks to historians like Baldaeus and Valentijn, etc of the past and to Dr. R.K. de Silva and W.G.M. Beumer for giving us a rich picture of the Dutch in Ceylon.

References: Rajpal K. De Silva and W.G.M. Beumer., Illustrations and Views of Dutch Ceylon 1602-1796.  London, Serendib Publications, 1988. Distributed in Sri Lanka by Lake House Publications.

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6 thoughts on “Straying & Rummaging on the Dutch in Galle

  1. Thanks Chulie

    I think it was Fr S G Perera (Jesuit and Historian) who wrote that the ” Portugese came to Ceylon with the bible in one had and a sword in the other”. Some years ago I wrote an article to the “Courier Mail” , a Murdoch owned rag, which was titled “the bible and the sword” and to my utter surprise it was published in full. In it I mentioned that I too would have been an adherent of Siddhartha if not for the forced conversion of my ancestors to Catholicism-needless to say it didn’t go down too well in certain quarters !

    Happy clicking – and writing.

    Ranjit Aiya

    PS: I especially liked your cricketing analogy of the “Puthugreesikaraya” being bowled out by the Dutch.

  2. Your “Rummaging” helped me find my own memories. Your picture of the wall and the sea put me close. There are buildings at the left of the frame and I remember them.

    In April of 1968 I was traveling south on a bus from Colombo to a place with a catchy name: Trichy. But, I had eaten something I shouldn’t have, taken ill, and thereby come to a point on the road where I thought I could go no further. Thinking I might pass out publicly in a pool of my own fluids and be embarrassed to the end of my time, I got off the bus at the Galle Central stop. I then shuffled about looking for a place to stay. Somehow I wound up at a building inside the fort. One of those buildings in your picture. Students who lived there, took pity, and led me to a room. It had a bed, a sheet and a single naked bulb hanging from a very long `chord descending from a high ceiling and stopping in the sultry air just over the bed and the nose of a lonely traveler seeking repose. When I finally hit that old, somewhat sad, but wonderful bed I left the bulb on. I had a nineteen year old’s imagination and I thought the bulb would somehow ward off rats…or…at least…help me see them just before an all out attack.

    So, with the bulb burning painfully bright, the worst headache I had ever had, bodily fluids flowing copiously and of their own free resolve from all major points of anatomical evacuation, and thoughts of an imminent attack by voracious man-eating rats, I fell asleep. I do not remember how long I slept. Only, that it was very long and very deep.

    When I came out of that sleep and could get off the bed, I walked out of the room and up onto the wall overlooking the sea and the waves. There was some grass there and I sat on it thinking about all the wonderful places in all the great world I had yet to see.

    Within a day or so of that reverie, the sights of Trichy would be put on temporary hold, A little farther south from Galle, in Hikkaduwa, I would meet a man named Bennie and his wife Manel and stay with them happily in their house by the sea.

  3. Rich memories of the nascent tourism period. Glad that you landed on Hikkauwa Chronicles” and of course of the meeting with Bennie & Manel. More photos of that Ramparts stretch will follow. Thanks so much for sharing and adding to the history.

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