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SRI LANKA (CEYLON): [Untitled Manuscript Military Map focusing on the Interior of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), especially the Kingdom of Kandy].


Of great historical importance – a fine original manuscript that is one of the earliest known detailed and broadly accurate maps of the interior of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), focusing on the territories of the Kingdom of Kandy, drafted by an anonymous British military engineer, predicated upon pioneering reconnaissance undertaken in the period just before and during the Uva Rebellion (1817-8), following which Britain annexed Kandy and assumed control of the entire island; apparently the seminal source for John Davy’s groundbreaking printed map of the island; bound within a an example of Robert Fellowes’ ‘The History of Ceylon’.


Manuscript: pen and ink and watercolour, with pencil, on laid paper watermarked ‘G L Paine 1813’, mounted upon contemporary linen, folding and bound into the book cited below, Fellowes’ The History of Ceylon, between Part 1, pp. 1 and 2 (Excellent, clean and bright with lovely original colours), 31 x 47.5 cm (12 x 19 inches).


[Map bound into an example of a book:]


[Robert FELLOWES (1770 – 1847)].


The History of Ceylon, From the Earliest Period to the Year MDCCCXV… By Philalethes… To Which is Subjoined, Robert Knox’s Historical Relation of the Island, with An Account of his Captivity During A Period of Near Twenty Years.


London: For Joseph Mawman by J.F. Dove, 1817.


4° (28 x 22.5 cm / 11 x 9 inches): Collation Complete – [2 Parts:] xxii, 341; [1], viii, 383, plus 15 full page plates and 1 folding map of Ceylon (43 x 27 cm / 17 x 10.5 inches) contemporarily mounted upon linen [+ Aforementioned Mss. Map]; bound with original half calf with gilt tooling to spine (Good, text overall clean with only a couple light stains to a few pages and a few neat contemporary annotations in pen to latter pages of Part 1; some spotting to some plates, pronounced spotting to printed map of Ceylon; binding re-backed retaining most of original spine).


This highly important original manuscript is one of the earliest known surviving maps to give a broadly accurate and detailed rendering of the southern interior of Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka), with a special focus on the traditional heartland of the legendary Kingdom of Kandy.  The map was drafted by a British military cartographer, almost certainly just before or during the Uva Rebellion (1817-8), the final showdown between Kandy and Britain, upon which the latter utterly vanquished the former, absorbing its territory into British Ceylon.  The mapmaker is unknown, but circumstantial evidence suggests that it could quite plausibly have been Captain John Fraser, a military cartographer who worked closely under the supervision of Governor Sir Robert Brownrigg (in office, 1812-20), the ‘carto-literate’ supreme commander of the British forces during the rebellion.  Importantly, the map appears to be either the seminal source, or closely related to the seminal source, of John Davy’s 1821 map, which is the first printed map to give an accurate portrayal of the interior of Ceylon.  The present map deserves to be the focal point of future archival research in Columbo and London, which will hopefully yield more detail as to authorship and the precise circumstances of its creation.


The map embraces a latitudinal cross-section of Ceylon, embracing the island south of a line roughly running across from Puttalam to Batticaloa, save for the southernmost extremities of the island.  While large stretches of the east and west coasts are delineated, and several key coastal settlements are labeled (ex. Colombo, Negombo, etc.), the focus of the map is on the interior, namely the heartland of the Kingdom of Kandy, which is expressed in far greater detail than the coastal areas.


The hitherto mysterious Kandyan domains are here revealed in impressive detail and accuracy.  All of the traditional Kandyan noble fiefdoms, or districts, are named and outlined in their own attractive hues.  All major cities and towns are labeled, as are British military outposts (represented by the symbol of red diamond).  The city of Kandy, the ultimate British military target, is located near the centre of the map.  The region’s major rivers are delineated, while some topographical features, such as the holy mountain of Adam’s Peak, are depicted.  Critically, the region’s elaborate network of roads is carefully outlined.


All considered, the style and the nature of the content of the map clearly indicates that it was made by a military cartographer, as it clearly expresses all the salient details necessary for the cartography of military movement.  Given its impressive level of detail and accuracy, the map would have been considered immensely valuable to British army officers as they led their men ever deeper into the famously perilous interior, in the hopes of conquering Kandy.


The map is not predicated upon a precise, trigonometrical survey, but seems to have been created from an itinerary survey, by which the cartographer formed a picture of the region’s general typography by ascertaining the true locations of key base-points, followed by tracing the courses and measuring the lengths of the roads in between.  While not as precise as trigonometric surveys, if done competently, as executed here, the technique yields a map of decent planimetric accuracy.


The map is drafted on paper watermarked ‘G L  Paine 1813’, and the ink, colouring and the style of draftsmanship employed is consistent with the period in question.  The map was contemporarily mounted upon linen and bound within a copy of Robert Fellowes’ The History of Ceylon (London, 1817).


The present map is an extraordinary survivor.  All original manuscript maps of Ceylon from the early British colonial period are extreme rarities.  Many of such maps drafted during this time were made for practical use in the field, and in such a tropical climate have an especially low survival rate.  Indeed, amazingly few manuscript maps are thought to be preserved, even in institutional holdings.  We are not aware of any other original military manuscripts pertaining to the Kandyan Wars as having appeared on the market in the last several decades.  The map is inarguably of considerable historical interest, as it is one of the first maps to reveal the nature of the heart of what is today Sri Lanka, shedding light on the military campaign that brought down the last independent Sinhalese state, ushering in complete British dominance over the island.  Hopefully, future research will reveal the full significance of the map.


The John Davy Connection

Crucially, the present manuscript map appears to have been the seminal source for John Davy’s A Map of Ceylon (1821), which features the most accurate rendering of the interior of the island which appeared on any published map to date.  Please see link:


A comparison of the present manuscript and Davy’s map shows an unmistakably close resemblance in their mutual content, especially with respect to the placement of roads, towns, forts as well as the delineation and naming of the district boundaries and the courses of rivers.  Davy obviously copied his depiction of the Kandyan interior from the present manuscript, or another map that was from the same antecedent.

John Davy (1790 – 1868) was a physician and amateur chemist who was the younger brother of the celebrated chemist Sir Humphrey Davy.  Although overshadowed by his sibling, he eventually became quite well known in his own right for his scientific discoveries.  He spent much of his career serving in various British colonies around the world.  From August 1816 to February 1820, Davy served on the medical staff of the British Army in Ceylon, often travelling in the company of Governor Brownrigg.

Upon Davy’s return to England, he wrote An Account of the Interior of Ceylon, and of Its Inhabitants: With Travels in that Island (London 1821), which is significantly the first detailed and credible published overview of the geography, social and natural history of the Kingdom of Kandy.  Davy’s A Map of Ceylon appeared within the book, and the author asserts the groundbreaking nature of the map, as well as revealing its sources as being original manuscript material given to him by Governor Brownrigg:

“It is with great pleasure that I avail myself of this opportunity to express my grateful acknowledgments to Governor General Sir Robert Brownrigg, and to Lady Brownrigg, for many favours conferred on me during my residence in Ceylon. I have to return thanks in particular for the kind manner in which the Governor encouraged and promoted my pursuits, afforded me every facility of obtaining information, and allowed me the use of many curious documents. To him I am indebted for the …materials from which, with a little alteration, the new map attached to this work has been formed, and which, without hesitation, may be pronounced the best that has ever yet appeared of Ceylon.” (Davy, Interior of Ceylon, p. vii).

Narrowing the Field towards Discovering the Mapmaker

The maker of the present map and the exact circumstance of its creation remains enigmatic, although it is possible to form some highly plausible explanations.  The style of the map, as well as the nature and considerable detail of its content indicates that it was made by a military surveyor in the period running up or during the Uva Rebellion (1817-8).  The map is far too detailed to have been executed during the Second Kandyan War (1815) and clearly reflects the advanced geographical reconnaissance conducted by the British Army as it was accomplished up to around 1817.  The map was quite plausibly made by Captain James Fraser, a surveyor attached to the Quartermaster General’s Department, who often worked in close contact with Governor Brownrigg.  It likewise could have also been executed by another mapmaker within Fraser’s immediate circle.

During the period in question, two different corps of British surveyors were actively engaged in a reconnaissance of the southern interior of Ceylon – one being civilian and the other being military.

First, Gualterus Schneider, the Surveyor General of Ceylon, led a team of civilian surveyors to map aspects of the Kandyan Kingdom, primarily during the 1815 – 1817 interbellum period.  Their main purpose was to assess the region for British colonial expansion, through mapping property boundaries and drafting plans of buildings.  Some years later, Schneider formed a cartographic impression of the Kandyan interior, partly built on these interbellum sources, which he integrated into his A New and Correct Map of the Island of Ceylon (London, 1822).  However, Schneider’s depiction of the Kandyan interior of Ceylon bears little resemblance to the portrayal of the same region as showcased on the present manuscript map; the prior being of markedly inferior accuracy.  Thus, Schneider and his associates can be conclusively discounted as being the creators of the present map.

Rather, the present map shows the priorities of the cartography of military movement, with the clear delineation of the road system, passes, towns and forts, and was obviously made by an army surveyor.  During the period running through both the Second Kandyan War and the Uva Rebellion, British military mapmakers were intensively engaged in reconnaissance of the Kingdom of Kandy.  As many as 36 officers of Royal Engineers, plus their assistants, were employed in the region at various occasions throughout this period, an unusually large complement relative to the overall size the army.  During the early part of this period, the Royal Engineer Corps in Ceylon were led by Captain John Hobbs, while latterly they were commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Evatt.  Importantly, while the Royal Engineers in Ceylon were known to have executed some regional itinerary surveys of the Kandyan interior during this period, they were primarily engaged in conducting site-specific surveys, such as making plans of key mountain passes, fortifications and towns.  To the best of our knowledge, none of the members of the Royal Engineers Corps drafted a general map of the interior of Ceylon with the same scope and level of detail as depicted upon the present manuscript.

In addition to the military mapmakers formally attached to the Royal Engineers, the Ceylon army’s Quartermaster General’s Office employed a number of mapmakers.  One of these figures is of particular interest to our inquiry, Captain (later Lieutenant General) John Fraser (1790 – 1862), who served throughout the Uva Rebellion as the Aide-de-Camp to Governor Brownrigg, and subsequently as the Deputy Assistant Quarter Master General.  He was a competent reconnaissance mapmaker and, from 1816 to 1818, was known to have conducted extensive general surveys of the Kingdom of Kandy, with special attention to the roads systems on the locations of key settlements and fortifications.  Fraser forged a particularly close relationship with Brownrigg, undertaking mapping assignments for a governor was known to possess a remarkably keen interest in cartography.

It thus seems highly plausible, if not likely, that the present map was drafted by John Fraser, or someone in his immediate circle.  The nature of Fraser’s surveys accords to the present map, his work was highly valued by Brownrigg, and so it would be reasonable to assume that manuscript maps drafted by of for Fraser (perhaps including the present manuscript) would have been amongst the “many curious documents” and “materials” that the governor gave to John Davy.  Moreover, Fraser and Davy were directly acquainted, having travelled extensively together as part of the gubernatorial party.  Unfortunately, we have not been able to locate the current location any of Fraser’s manuscript maps from this period.  Until such a time as one can locate and inspect such manuscripts, this present map’s relationship to Fraser cannot be confirmed or disproven.

It is worth noting that, beyond his mapping activities, Fraser was a formidable combat fighter, earning the nickname ‘Cheetah’ (or ‘Kotiya’ in Sinhalese) from the Kandyans.  Fraser spent the rest of his life in Ceylon, rising to become the most senior army officer on the island, as well as a major plantation owner.  From 1821 to 1833, he was heavily involved in further surveys of the interior of Ceylon, including those related to the massive road construction projects mandated by the colonial government.  Fraser eventually published a great eight-sheet wall map, Map of the Island of Ceylon incorporating that of the Kandyan Provinces already published … by Major General John Fraser, late Deputy Quarter Master General (London: John Arrowsmith, 1856), that was the first ultra-large scale, broadly accurate map of the island.  Given that this work appeared at a relatively late date for such a map of a long-held major British possession, it significantly “removed the stigma attached to Ceylon as being the most imperfectly surveyed and mapped British Colony” (Barrow, ‘Surveying in Ceylon during the Nineteenth Century’, p. 86).


The Map, Bound into an example of Robert Fellowes’ The History of Ceylon


That the present map survives is likely due only to the fact that it was bound within an example of the editio princeps of Robert Fellowes’ The History of Ceylon (London, 1817), and seems to have been placed within the book not too long after its publication.  The book, with the present manuscript map bound in, is presented here unaltered from how it has been preserved for many generations.


Fellowes’ The History of Ceylon is today considered to be a classic work of the early British colonial era in Ceylon.  It consists of two parts: the first was penned under the name ‘A. M. Philalethes’, a pseudonym for Robert Fellowes (1770 – 1847).  Fellowes was an Anglican minister and very wealthy philanthropist who primarily wrote on religious subjects.  His interest in the life of Buddha led him towards a fascinating with Ceylon, motivating him to write the present book.  Even though Fellowes never stepped foot on the island, he was a fine researcher and his history is highly readable, generally reliant upon authoritative sources.


The second part, is a complete reprint of Robert Knox’s An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon (originally published, London, 1681), one of the most important early histories of Sri Lanka, described as a “lively picture of the state of the country and manners of the people”.  Notably, the present book includes re-engraved versions of the attractive plates which appeared in the original edition.


Fellowes’ work incudes a folding map of the island, Ceylon according to the Latest Surveys (1816), while although a fine work, is predicated upon earlier sources than the present manuscript map, featuring a far less detailed depiction of the Kandyan interior.


Curiously, the latter part of Fellowes’ text features a few neat contemporary manuscript additions and corrections in pen.  While a handwriting comparison is somewhat challenging, it seems quite likely the draftsman of the manuscript map was the same individual who penned the manuscript annotations within the book.  Perhaps the mapmaker bound the manuscript within the book in order to preserve it, forming a truly special keepsake.


Historical Context: The Kandyan Wars & Cartography


The present manuscript map was drafted by a military surveyor during the final, decisive campaign that saw Britain utterly vanquish the Kingdom of Kandy, so becoming the first European power to assume control over the entirety of Ceylon.  This was a turning point in Sri Lankan history, ending a three-century long contest by Westerners to capture the heart of island.


The Kingdom of Kandy, established in 1469, was a mighty Sinhalese nation, based in the eponymous city, located deep in the interior of Ceylon.  Not long after its foundation, the kingdom rose to become a great power, controlling much of the heart of the island, and occasionally occupying coastal territories.  The Kandyans successfully resisted multiple attempts by the Portuguese (who maintained a presence in coastal Ceylon from 1505 to 1658), and later, the Dutch East India Company (who controlled much of coastal Ceylon from 1640 to 1796) to challenge their dominance of the interior.


The key to Kandy’s security was the unique geography of the southern interior of Ceylon, combined with the Kandyans’ brilliant exploitation of their natural environment in times of war.  Sivasundaram notes thatA mid-nineteenth century historian of Ceylon wrote that the mountains in the centre of the island formed a ‘species of natural circular fortification’ which allowed the Kandyans to defy European modes of warfare for three centuries” (Sivasundaram, pp. 931-2).  Indeed, the interior of southern Sri Lanka consists of an immense, high and rugged crown of mountains, permeated only by a small number of difficult passes.  Additionally, the terrain is covered with dense tropical jungle, interspersed with swamps.

Major Arthur Johnston of the Third Ceylon Regiment, recalled “The usual technology of the compass could… provide no assistance…it being impossible to march in a direct line through a thick forest, intersected in many places by rivers and swamps”.  It was a herculean, if not an impossible, task for a European army to traverse the hundreds of miles of mountains, jungles and swamps.  Moreover, even if an expedition managed to enter the heart of Ceylon, its members soon found themselves vulnerable to deadly diseases.  The early commentator, Robert Percival, observed of the interior of the island that the “excessive thickness of the woods … causes heavy fogs and unwholesome damps to prevail … hence the night is constantly attended with excessive cold damps, which are succeeded by days equally noxious from their hot and sultry vapours”.  The result was often “hill or jungle fever” which would render a large European force completely immobile and powerless within only a few days (Sivasundaram, p. 932).

The Kandyans were always keenly aware of the natural advances of their homeland.  They knew that, more than virtually anywhere else, that geographical knowledge was power, and the key the survival of their kingdom.  Whenever foreigners visited their country, even those invited from friendly states, they were specifically forbidden from drawing maps, and were searched on their way out of the country for any materials that contained geographical information.  The Kandyans constantly guarded all of the mountain passes that bordered their realm, making a clean approach into their territory impossible.  Their solders were masters of frontier guerrilla warfare, and specifically knew how to use the terrain to trap and ambush much larger and better armed forces.  The Kandyans also operated an impressive network of spies and agents who foiled many a European invasion.  Notably, the Kandyans, on several recorded occasions, ensured that the Europeans were furnished with guides who were in fact “in the pay of the enemy”, guaranteeing that the invaders were soon hopelessly “tangled…in the forest”.


During the French Revolutionary War, the Dutch Republic became a client state of France, Britain’s mortal enemy.  In 1795-6, British forces deployed from India to successfully conquer the Dutch possessions in coastal Ceylon.  Unlike the Dutch, who after unsuccessfully attempting to vanquish Kandy, were content to occupy isolated trading posts and forts along the coast, the British aimed to make Ceylon an integral part of their empire.  The British sought to politically and economically control all of the island, such that the Kandyan Kingdom had to be either reduced to a protectorate or utterly vanquished.


Once the British had fully consolidated their control over coastal Ceylon, they turned their sights squarely upon Kandy.  They were encouraged by the arrival in Colombo of Pilimatalawe, a disaffected Kandyan cabinet minister, who promised to show the British army a commodious route through the mountains towards the city of Kandy.


During what became known as the First Kandyan War (1803-5), the British proved to be utterly naïve, ignoring the warnings of the elderly Dutch veterans who remained on the island.  Relying excessively on the guidance of Pilimatalawe (whose intelligence proved utterly useless), they sent several large military expeditions into the interior, with virtually no knowledge of the terrain.  Sivasundaram notes that “In 1803, when the British waged war with the Kandyans, the lack of accurate maps proved perilous…”


The British contempt for the natural environment and their underestimation of their opposition was severely punished.  The Kandyans tricked the invading armies into marching into lethal traps.  In one instance, a large British force was almost entirely picked off, leaving only four survivors.  While the British side rallied and counter-attacked, these operations proved fruitless.  Britain was compelled to forgo its ambition of conquering Kandy for another decade.


In the period following their defeat at the hands of the Kandyans, the British carefully monitored the political situation within the interior kingdom.  They benefited from the wealth of intelligence gained by John d’Oyly, a British civil servant, who ran an amazingly effective spy ring.

By 1813-4, it became clear that not all was well at the court of the Kandyan ruler, Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe.  The king had become increasingly paranoid and had fallen out with many of his key courtiers, executing several of them.  His rule was widely considered to be a reign of terror, and some key Kandyan stakeholders came to prefer the prospect British suzerainty over the country to the regime of their own monarchy.  A large group of Kandyan noblemen and generals secretly defected to the British side.

During what became known as the Second Kandyan War (1815), Governor Robert Brownrigg moved in for the kill.  He ensured that his force was provided with reliable Kandyan guides, and his force included two dozen members of the Royal Engineers, plus several other mapmakers (including John Fraser) to map the main transport corridors as they were traversed.  John Davy remarked that until this reconnaissance “the Kandyan provinces have been almost a terra incognita.  It is only since we have had possession of the country that it has been in our power to investigate its geography.” (Davy, Interior of Ceylon, p. 6).

After meeting only scant resistance, the British seized the capital city of Kandy, instantly deposing Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe.  It was widely recognized that the success of the campaign was primarily made possible by the improved level of British geographical knowledge of the country.  As Captain De Bussche, the Deputy Adjutant General of the Army recalled, “the different divisions of the army” relied heavily upon the “excellent charts, and the most distinct information respecting the strengths of the passes leading into the interior.” (Sivasundaram, p. 933).

On March 2, 1815, Governor Brownrigg and the cooperating Kandyan nobles singed the Convection of Kandy.  Kandy became a British protectorate, with the country maintaining control of its internal political, religious and economic affairs.  However, its territory would be open to British military operations, with British agents permanently stationed in Sabaragamuwa, the Three Korales, and Uva.  While many of the Kandyan nobles were initially relieved to be rid of the violent and unpredictable Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe, it was not long before the bloom was off the rose.

Over the next two years, the British took advantage of the peacetime conditions and their open access to the Kandyan interior to conduct detailed itinerary (road based) surveys.  Indeed, much of this work would have been incorporated into the present manuscript map.  While time, resources and the unbelievably rugged nature of the landscape prevented precise trigonometrical surveys, this mapping proved to be broadly accurate and of immense practical value.

The Kandyans were fiercely proud and independent by nature, and they soon found the British presence to be far more intrusive and offensive than they had originally anticipated.  A large percentage of the ruling class plotted to remove the British, believing that the position of the occupiers was fragile.

During the Uva Rebellion (also known as the Third Kandyan War), which lasted from October 1817 to November 1818, the Kandyan nobles openly rebelled, seeking to drive the British out of the highlands.  The movement began in the Duchy of Uva, so giving the conflict its name.  The uprising quickly spread, and the British were compelled to fight a fierce guerilla war throughout the interior.  However, by this time the British possessed many new advantages.  First, their knowledge of the interior had been greatly advanced by the well-executed itinerary surveys, such as those undertaken by John Fraser.  Second, the resistance did not enjoy the complete support of the Kandyan people, and the British found many valuable allies amongst the local populous.  By late 1818, the British were able to crush the insurrection.

In the wake of the Uva Rebellion, the British were in no compromising mood.  They abolished the Kingdom of Kandy and confiscated most of the noblemen’s estates, along with their special, ancient privileges.  In the coming years, the British sought to integrate the Kandyan lands with the rest of their colony.  They embarked on an ambitious drive to build royal roads into the interior, so opening up the land to be divided into British-owned plantations.  This resulted in some excellent cartography, much of which was incorporated into John Fraser’s great 1856 wall map.  While some isolated Kandyan unrest would occur from time to time, it was easily suppressed.  British rule over the entire island would last until Ceylon attained its independence in 1948 (the country was renamed Sri Lanka in 1972).

References: Cf. Ian J. Barrow, Surveying and Mapping in Colonial Sri Lanka: 1800-1900 (Oxford, 2008); Ian J. Barrow, ‘Surveying in Ceylon during the Nineteenth Century’, Imago Mundi, vol. 55 (2003), pp. 81-96, R.L. Brohier & J.H.O. Paulusz, Land, Maps & Surveys: A Review of the evidence of Land Surveys as practiced in Ceylon from Earliest Known Periods and the Story of the Ceylon Survey Dept. from 1800 to 1950 / Descriptive Catalogue of Historical Maps in the Surveyor General’s Office, Colombo (2 vols., Colombo: Ceylon Government Press, Colombo, 1950-1); Sujit Sivasundaram, ‘Tales of the Land: British Geography and Kandyan Resistance in Sri Lanka, c. 1803–1850’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 41, no. 5 (Sep., 2007), pp. 925–965.


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