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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
“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!
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.
Dutch influence on architecture is very visible even today.
“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.
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.