The Kandyan convention of 1815


Ehelepola, Molligoda and Kapuvatta with D’Oyly

by kamalika pieris

The Udarata kingdom was ceded to Britain on March 2, 1815. The ceremony took place at the Magul Maduwa in Kandy, (known as Audience Hall today) which was where the Sinhala king attended to state matters and received foreign ambassadors. British troops were drawn up, Ehelepola entered first and alone, followed by Molligoda and the principal chiefs. The treaty which ceded the Udarata to Britain was then read in English and Sinhala and explained to the Kandyan chiefs and their followers. The chiefs gave their assent. Then they all moved to the entrance of the Maduwa, from where it was explained to the assembled people. This audience would have been small. It is said that the public took no direct part in the event and showed little interest in the proceedings. The British flag was then hoisted, and British canon announced that Sri Wickrema Rajasinha had been replaced by the British King, George III. The chiefs, except Ehelepola, were re-appointed to their traditional positions by the British governor on the same day.

The first signatories to the Kandyan convention’ were British Governor Brownrigg and Ehelepola, who signed on the same line as the British governor, but without any official title below his name. Then came in sequence, the signatures of Molligoda, (First Adigar and disave of Sat Korale,) Pilimatalavve (Second Adigar and disawa of Sabaragamuwa) Pilimatalavve (disave of satara korale,) Monravila (disave of Uva,) Ratwatte (disave of Matale), Molligoda (disave of Tun korales,) Dullewe (disave of Walapane,), Millawa (disave of Wellassa and Bintenne), Galagama (disave of Tamankaduwa) and Galagoda (disave of Nuwarakalaviya). The witnesses were John D’Oyly, Chief translator to government and James Sutherland, Deputy Secretary to government. Dullewe’s signature has some resemblance to Tamil letters, the rest signed in Sinhala.

The Convention was not signed on March 2 but on March 10. Eight of the 11 signatories had signed on that day. Ehelepola, Galagoda and Pilimatalavve (disawa of Satara korale) had signed on March 18. Galagoda, it is said, did not sign the treaty till he was assured that the religion and customs would be protected. The signature of Ehelepola differs from his signature in letters written thereafter to his death in 1829. It has been suggested that he used his full, formal signature for the Convention. The signatures of Molligoda, Dullewe and Galagoda also differ from their signatures in a later petition of December 8, 1832

The document was drafted in English and Sinhala, and the two drafts were placed in parallel columns, side by side, on each page. (see photograph in Sri Lanka Archives, vol 1(1) 1983 p 76.) In the Sinhala version the Udarata was called ‘Sinhale’. The convention had been signed in duplicate but both copies went missing later on. The British used well authenticated printed copies for their work, so they did not need the original, but scholars did. The Governor’s original copy was found in 1979 in the Department of National Archives, Colombo inside a bound volume of the Minutes of the Executive Council. The copy given to the Kandyan chiefs has never been found.

The ‘Kandyan convention’ was drafted by D’Oyly in consultation with Governor Brownrigg and the Kandyan chiefs. It was in the form of an agreement between the British government on one side and the chiefs and headmen representing the Kandyan nation on the other. It said that the Kandyan king was deposed and the Kandyan Kingdom was now vested in the British king. The treaty contained 12 clauses.

Clause 4 stated that the chiefs and other officers such as Adigar, disawa, mohottala, korale, vidane, and headmen, though appointed by the British government would have their rights, privileges and powers retained. Also safety of their person and property, civil rights and immunities according to the customs of the Kandyan Kingdom, except that the death sentence could only be declared by the British Governor. Clause 8 said that the administration of justice was to be as before, except that final power lay with the British government. Clause 11 said that taxes and payments would be levied according to traditional custom, but now had to be made to the British government and would be collected by British agents.

Clause 5 which promised to protect and look after Buddhism, ‘religion of Boodhoo’, caused concern in London, since Britain was a Christian country. Brownrigg said that he had been obliged to consent to this because it was essential to quell apprehensions about the religion. Only then could Britain gain the support of the bhikkhus. Brownrigg had met the Malwatte and Asgiriya priests on March 10, 1815 and assured them that Buddhism would be looked after. About 90 bhikkhus had attended the meeting. Gamini Iriyagolle pointed out that London thereafter declared that Britain was bound by this clause. Dispatch No. 123 dated December 4, 1852 from Secretary of State in London to the Governor in Colombo, said that clause 8 was binding.

The Kandyans thought that the 1815 convention was a final document, immutable and sacrosanct. Its clauses could never be discarded or amended. The British thought otherwise. They saw the treaty as an ordinary one which could be amended later and proved this by removing some of the 1815 concessions in their 1818 proclamation. They had promised to protect traditional customs only as a temporary concession, to win over the Kandyans until they, the British, had established themselves in the Kandyan Kingdom. The Udarata had to be placated till then, specially since it was the chiefs who had helped the British to gain control. There is controversy over the legal status of this Convention even today. Gamini Iriyagolle says that according to international law, the 1815 Convention is a ‘conditional treaty of cessation’ not a wholesale takeover. He observed that in 1986, the Cabinet of Ministers decided that the 1815 treaty and the 1818 proclamation should remain in the Legislative Enactments of Sri Lanka.

The writings of Colvin R de Silva, G.P.H.S. de Silva, K.M. de Silva, Gamini Iriyagolle, P.E.Pieris and K.D.G. Wimalaratne were used for this essay.

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