The Udarata Kings and the Dutch


Kamalika Pieris

The Udarata kings who came after Rajasinha II tried to accommodate the Dutch. The Dutch-Udarata boundary became fixed under Wimaladharmasuriya II (1687-1707). Sri Vijaya Rajasinha (1739-47) gave the Dutch permission to peel cinnamon and take their elephants through to Jaffna. He also gave thirteen villages back to the Dutch.

The Dutch responded. When Wimaladharmasuriya II became king, his accession was proclaimed from the balcony of the Dutch Council House with ‘Long live the king’ and a display of fireworks. The Dutch gifted him curios from Nuremburg, tea from China and horses from Persia. A ram sent as a present to him was escorted for four miles from Jaffna by the disava, officials and soldiers, with a salute of three volleys of muskets. Wimaladharmasuriya’s ambassadors had a carriage for their use when in Colombo. Narendrasinha (1707-39) got wigs, camels and a carriage with horses. Udarata reciprocated by giving honours to one Dutch officer (Hulft) and two governors, (Pyl and Becker) for pleasing the king. Pyl got a golden ola which referred to him as ‘Governor Unnanse’ because he had been obedient and humble.

However, the Udarata kings were not prepared to recognize the Dutch as rulers. Like Rajasinha II, the kings who succeeded him, maintained that the Dutch occupied lands were theirs. Wimaladharmasuriya II referred to the Dutch governor as ‘Duggana rala’, which turned him into a member of the Kandyan court. He also sent a sannasa granting the port of Weligama, which was under the Dutch, to an interpreter working for the Dutch. He had wanted the sannasa delivered at a meeting of the Dutch Council. The Dutch asked the interpreter to accept it and return it later.

Udarata allowed the Dutch to hold territory, but did not allow them to increase their fortifications. In 1688, the Dutch had forts at Galle, Hanwella, Kalpitiya, Kalutara, Katuwana, Matara, Negombo, Trincomalee and Puliyanduwa (Batticaloa) and. a "castle", (actually a large fort) in Colombo. Most forts were on the coast. Each fort had a garrison of 50-60 European soldiers and several companies of Asian soldiers. Colombo had the biggest garrison. The Dutch also had a number of wood and earth structures manned by lascarins, mainly in the south. In 1716, there were three such structures at Akuressa, Hakmana, and ‘Marcade’. In 1736, Dutch tried to start a fort at Attanagalla. The disava of Satara and Sat korale marched in, drove out the Dutch troops and burned down the structure. Udarata also got the camp at Malwana removed. Udarata protested when the Dutch placed cannon at Trincomalee, facing landwards.

The Dutch captured the ports of Kalpitiya (1659), Trincomalee (1665) and Batticaloa. (1668.) leaving Udarata with only one port, Puttalam. To get to Puttalam, boats had to go through Kalpitiya and for this they needed a pass from the Dutch. Udarata lost its external trade and was cut off from the outside world. Udarata tried hard to break this blockade. They closed their kadavat in retaliation. King after king demanded back the ports. There were regular meetings and lengthy discussions between the Dutch and the disawas. Opening the ports was made a condition for any new treaty. In 1688, when the Dutch negotiated to get legal right to the lands they were holding, Udarata stipulated that the ports be opened, and Buddhism be practiced freely in Dutch territory. In 1734 an embassy consisting of four of the most powerful chiefs, Dodanwelle ralahamy, Dehigama Nanayakkara attapattu, Leuke mohottiya and Hambelagama muhandiram, argued strongly but failed to get the ports opened. Batavia said the ports must be kept closed, even if the King kept his kadavat closed. Udarata never got the ports back.

Udarata objected to the Dutch enjoying the resources of the island. They said the Dutch were monopolizing trade and that the payment made by the Dutch for produce from Udarata did not even cover the costs. Udarata repeatedly asked to be allowed to participate in the external trade. They wanted to resume the export of areca and elephants to India. Kirti Sri Rajasingha’s disawas said that they had been making this request for more than 70 years. The tone was threatening. He sent a formal demand for a share in the elephant trade. The Dutch replied that their superiors at Batavia (Jakarta) would not permit this.

The Dutch tried to placate the kings, by bringing items from abroad and taking the king’s relatives to India. But the kings remained hostile. In 1733 and 1745, the king refused permission for the Dutch to peel cinnamon or transport elephants through the Udarata. Those who came to collect cardamom and trade in cloth were driven away.... In 1751, the Dutch were harassed at Tambalagama, Kottiyar and Batticaloa. The Dutch officers at these stations were prohibited from collecting timber in the king’s lands.

The Dutch became alarmed when Kirti Sri Rajasinha started to negotiate with the English in 1762.They invaded Udarata. They could not hold Udarata, but they were able to get Udarata to the negotiating table in 1766. At the treaty discussions, Udarata was represented by the disawas of Matale, Udapalata, Moragammana and Dumbara. Historians report that these disawas had the interest of the country at heart. They remained loyal to their king and resisted all Dutch attempts at intimidation and bribery. Governor Schreuder confessed that only Dumbara could be bribed. Historians say that the discussions showed the diplomatic skill of the Udarata team. They used every stratagem and argument possible to circumvent Dutch arguments. They refused to part with sath korale, satara korale, Sabaragamuwa, and Nuwara vanni. When the Dutch put forward a pretender saying he was the son of Narendrasinha they calmly stated that there was no such prince.

By the 1766 treaty the Dutch at last got legal right to the lands they had been occupying for so long, but their power did not increase. The Sinhalese in Dutch lands continued to consider the Sinhala king as their king. Udarata loudly objected to the clause that gave a coastal mile around the island to the Dutch. Kirti Sri Rajasinha sent four disavas, Palipana of Matale, Pilimatalawe of Sabaragamuwa, Dodanvala of Udapalata and Yativatte of Vellassa to Jakarta (Batavia) in 1767 to complain about the treaty. They achieved nothing and fifty five out of the retinue of eighty died, including Pilimatalawe.

Kirti Sri Rajasinghe (1747-82) and Rajadhirajasinha (1782-98) ignored the treaty and looked round for allies who would help them to oust the Dutch. Kirti Sri knew that the English and the Dutch were competing for trade in the Indian Ocean. He sent an envoy to Madras in 1762 to obtain English assistance to get rid of the Dutch. In 1777, he contacted the French at Pondicherry. He was prepared to cede Batticaloa and Trincomalee to the French.

The Englishman, Hugh Boyd, first contacted by Kirti Sri, came and met Rajadhi in 1782. The Dutch also rushed to Kandy. Rajadhi, wooed by both English and Dutch, was in a position to dictate to the Dutch. Rajadhi said that if the Dutch wished to remain in the island, they must return the coastal mile granted in the treaty of 1766. The Dutch agreed and Boyd was sent away. Boyd said there were two factions in court, those for retaining the Dutch and those against. The pro-Dutch faction was stronger.

The Dutch authorities in Netherlands were alarmed. The English were defeating the Dutch in Europe and had seized Trincomalee from the Dutch in 1782. They overruled Batavia and asked the Dutch to invade Udarata. That invasion did not take place. However, the Dutch sent an army into Sabaragamuwa in 1791, with the help of Pilimatalawe. The Sinhala forces led by Lewke defeated them. Englishman Robert Andrews received a warm welcome from Rajadhi when he arrived in 1795 and a treaty of alliance between England and Sri Lanka was signed. In the meantime, the Netherlands had got into political difficulties and its ruler, the Stadtholder, fled to London. In 1796, the Dutch possessions in Sri Lanka were given to England and Dutch rule in Sri Lanka came to an end.

(The writings of T.B.H. Abeyasinghe, S. Arasaratnam, L.S. Dewaraja, D.A. Kotelawele, P.E. Pieris, M. Roberts, A. Schrikker and S. Tammita-Delgoda were used for this essay.)

animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...