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Dutch domination
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An essay on the Dutch domination of Sri Lanka



The history of the Dutch in Ceylon began under the command of Admiral Joris van Spilbergen on 31 May 1602, when three Dutch ships from the port of Veere, which visited Ceylon, anchored off the port of Batticaloa after a 12-month voyage. On his visit to Kandy, the seat of King Vimaladharmasuriya I, Spilbergen and the King developed cordial relations. The King’s admiration for his newfound friend was so deep that he began to learn the Dutch language saying ‘Kandy is now Flanders’. They discussed future relations, focussing on possible Dutch military assistance to expel the Portuguese from the coastal areas as well as the trade in cinnamon and pepper. As a token of his friendship, the Dutch Admiral left two versatile and skilled musicians, Erasmus Matsberger and Hans Rempel, at the King’s service.


Second Fleet and the Massacre at the Batticaloa Beach

Shortly after the successful visit of Van Spilbergen, a second Dutch fleet under command of Sebalt de Weert arrived on the island. De Weert was a very skilful commander who discovered the Falkland Islands during the attempt by Dutch Admirals Cordes and Mahu to find an alternative route to the East Indies through Cape Magelheas in 1598. After an initial agreement with the King of Kandy, he returned in 1603 to Batticaloa with a fleet of six ships to take part in a joint effort to oust the Portuguese from the island. During his stay he captured four passing Portuguese ships but released the Portuguese crews who had surrendered to the Dutch on the promise of quarter. The King was very angered by this action and after further heated discussions, the King’s men unexpectedly killed De Weert and fifty of his compatriots. The Dutch Council of the Indies considered this assassination as a treacherous murder and held the King accountable.



First Victory at Batticaloa

After this unhappy event, the Dutch concentrated on organising their trade with the East Indian Spice Islands. It took more than three decades before the Dutch undertook action to expel the Portuguese who had arrived some 150 years earlier and were firmly established on the island. After many bloody wars with the Portuguese, King Raja Singha II became convinced that lasting peace with the Portuguese was not possible and he invited the Dutch to force them off the island. At that time the Dutch were still at war with Portugal, which was part of the Spanish Empire. The Dutch Council of the Indies in Batavia (Dutch East India) complied with this request and in 1637 sent four ships to the island under Captain Jan Thijszn Payaart who signed a treaty with the King. On 4 January 1638, a decisive sea engagement took place off the coast of Goa in present-day India between Portuguese and Dutch naval forces. The Portuguese fleet was decimated following this battle and the victorious Dutch Admiral Adam Westerwolt decided to attack the Portuguese fort at Batticaloa with a fleet of five ships and 800 men. In coalition with strong Sinhalese forces he conquered the fort on the May 18, 1638.


Five days later, following this victorious conquest, Westerwolt agreed a new Treaty with King Rajasingha in his Palace in Batticaloa. The Treaty was a landmark and set the tone for future relations between the Kandyan Kings and the Dutch. Under the Treaty the Dutch were to have a monopoly over all trades except elephants. The forts captured from the Portuguese would be garrisoned by the Dutch or demolished, as the King thought fit. The crucial clause ‘as the King thought fit’ was however only included in the Sinhala and not in the Dutch text of the Treaty. This later gave rise to much disagreement between the two parties. The same goes for the clause stating that the King would pay any expenses incurred by the Dutch in the war effort against the Portuguese.


Slowly but surely the Dutch land and naval forces continued to oust the Portuguese from parts of Ceylon. In February 1640, Philip Lucasz captured the Portuguese fort of Negombo, a short distance North of Colombo. Following his sudden death, the command was devolved to the capable Willem Jacobz Coster who earlier fought under Admiral Westerwolt at the east coast. Against overwhelming odds he attacked the strong fort at Galle. After storming the city on 13 March 1640, he became master of it within a few hours. For the next 18 years Galle would remain the centre of Dutch power in Ceylon.


After the Sri Lankans’ betrayal of the Dutch, the Dutch invaded parts of Sri Lanka and retained an area as compensation for the cost of war and gradually extended their land. As a result of the Kew Letters, the Dutch relinquished the territory to the British.




Dutch conquest

In the 17th century, the Dutch were firmly established in Java at the time when the Portuguese were firmly established in Ceylon. The Portuguese had brought Western culture into Ceylon. The Kandy kings were educated by Portuguese teachers, and their royal court had Portuguese ministers as advisers. But King Rajasinghe was not happy with the Portuguese, who originally came to trade with the Ceylonese and conquered them. The trade commodities the Portuguese sold, such as spices, were bought at minimum prices, giving them a huge profit in European markets.


The Ceylonese were unhappy about losing their freedom and lands to the Portuguese, who forced them into the Portuguese way of life. They wanted religious freedom and political freedom from Portugal, so Holland, a powerful enemy of Portugal, came to their aid. Even Denmark offered to help the king of Kandy as there was a Dutch-Portuguese War raging on.


Dutch ships came and landed in Batticaloa and talked with the king of Kandy about allied action against the Portuguese. Rajasinghe immediately seized this opportunity to remove the Portuguese from Sri Lanka.


Dutch ships and their captains came several times, expanded their friendship with the King of Kandy and jointly plotted plans to liberate the forts around the coasts of Ceylon. The treaty signed between the Ceylonese and Dutch (Kandyan Treaty of 1638) paved the way for new horizons in their relationships. After the treaty the King betrayed the Dutch by offering the fort at Trincomalee to the French. As a consequence, the Dutch captured Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Negombo and Galle.


The Dutch started ruling and expanding their areas. Now the King of Kandy searched for another powerful party to help in the war. For this, they approached France. Finally, England replaced Holland by diplomatically taking over Dutch colonies during the Napoleonic wars. The Dutch settled several Malay soldiers and policemen in Ceylon as a way of ruling the native population. The Dutch were republicans who brought the ideals of republicanism to Ceylon and thus enabled the larger communities to dominate.


The Dutch made the most of this tumultuous situation in the country, and went about expanding their territory unchecked. They took over the neighbouring ports, and completely cut off Kandy, thus locking their territory, and preventing other foreign powers from invading it. In 1765, Kandy finally signed a treaty with the Dutch to give them control over the lowland regions. 




List of Dutch Governors of Ceylon

Willem Jacobsz COSTER 1640

Jan THIJSSEN 1640 – 1646

Joan MAETSUYCKER 1646 – 1650

Jacob van KITTENSTEYN 1650 – 1653

Adriaan van der MEIJDEN 1653 – 1662

Rijcklof van GOENS 1662 – 1663

Jacob HUSTAERT 1663 – 1664

Rijcklof van GOENS 1665 – 1675

Rijcklof van GOENS junior 1675 – 1679

Laurens PIJL 1679 – 1692

Thomas van REE 1692 – 1697

Gerrit de HEERE 1697 – 1702

Cornelis Jan SIMONSZ 1703 – 1707

Hendrik BEKKER 1707 – 1716

Isaac Augustijn RUMPH 1716 – 1723

Johannes HERTENBERG 1723 – 1725

Johan Paul SCHAGEN 1725 – 1726

Pieter VUYST 1726 – 1729

Stephanus VERSLUYS 1729 – 1732

Diederik van DOMBURCH 1733 – 1736

Gustaaf Willem Baron van IMHOFF 1736 – 1740

Willelm Maurits BRUININCK 1740 – 1742

Daniel OVERBEEK 1742 – 1743

Julius Valentijn Steijn van GOLLONESSE 1743 – 1751

Gerard Joan VREELANDT 1751 – 1752 

Joan Gideon LOTEN 1752 – 1757

Jan SCHREUDER 1757 – 1761

Lubbert Jan Baron van ECK 1761 – 1765

Iman FALCK 1765 – 1785

Willelm Jacob van de GRAAFF 1785 – 1794

Johan Gerard van ANGELBEEK 1794 – 1796





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