Visit to Ceylon and Return to Benares.

During the hot season and rains of 1858 I suffered greatly from boils and feverishness. After applying in vain the usual means of cure prescribed, I was advised to try a sea voyage. I accordingly arranged to go down the Bay of Bengal to Point de Galle in Ceylon, and to await there the arrival of my wife from England, so as to return with her to India.


The rebellion still flickered in Bahar. A part of the road to Calcutta was in the hand of Kower Singh, a rebel chief; and travellers like myself to the capital from the North-West were on that account happy to avail themselves of the river steamers. We had the clear sky and the gentle breeze of that delightful season in Northern India. From morning to night we sat under a thick awning, reading or talking, as we were inclined, refreshed by the breeze, and interested in the various objects presented to our view on the river and its banks. The fortnight of the voyage passed most pleasantly, and I arrived in Calcutta half cured of my ailments. I was happy to find myself in time for the outgoing steamer of the P. and O. Company, on which I took passage to Point de Galle. On landing I saw the last newspaper received from England with the list of passengers for successive steamers, and from it I learned that my wife was to come a month later than I had anticipated. This left me with five or six weeks in Ceylon to dispose of myself as I best could. I made up my mind to travel through the island. I accordingly left Galle by coach the next day for Colombo, the capital. After staying there a few days I set out for Kandy, the old capital; held on to Newera Ellia, the sanatorium of the island, lying under Pedro Talla Galla, its highest mountain; ascended the mountain, made my way back by another route to Kandy, and then proceeded to Galle, where I was happy to meet my wife and child, with whom I went on to Calcutta.

When I landed at Galle I was not aware that I knew a single individual in the island, but I was not an hour at the hotel to which I went before I found myself in company with a medical gentleman, a native of Perthshire, who knew my friends; and on my arrival at Colombo I was recognized on the street, by my resemblance to my father, by a person who had never seen me previously, but who knew him. It struck me it would be dangerous for me to attempt an incognito, which, happily, I had no temptation to do. During my travels in Ceylon I met several from the North of Scotland whom I had known intimately, and among them one who had been for years my schoolfellow. My countrymen were there, as elsewhere, prominent members of the community.


I was much interested in all I saw during my travels in Ceylon. I was prepared to see fine scenery and rich foliage, but the reality greatly exceeded my expectation. On the coast between Galle and Colombo there is a considerable extent of level land, covered by the cocoanut palm, which forms much of the wealth of the people. Every part of the tree is turned to account. The wood is used for rafters, and the leaves for thatching. The kernel is an article of food, but its principal value comes from the oil made from it after it has been dried. The nut contains a liquid, which is deemed by the natives very refreshing. The fibrous husk round the cocoanut, called coir, is manufactured into ropes, matting, brushes, and other useful articles. It is largely and profitably exported. The trees are tapped for a juice, which, boiled when fresh, gives what is called palm-sugar; but when kept, becomes intoxicating. The name of the tree in the native language is "Tar"; this intoxicating juice is called "Taree," and by a well-known custom of linguistic transposition it is called by English people "Toddy." We have at Benares palm-trees which furnish this toddy, and I am sorry to say it is by far too largely used. This cocoanut palm abounds on the coast, and is always bent towards the sea, as if to welcome its breezes, or to strengthen itself against them. Away from the coast it well-nigh disappears, and trees of a very different order are seen on every side, many of them rising to a great height and covered with beautiful foliage.

The scenery in the interior is very striking. When travelling on the top of the coach from Colombo to Kandy, I might have thought myself in my own Highlands, as mountain after mountain came into view, and our road in its descents and ascents skirted precipices, where safety demanded the most careful driving. Long, winding valleys, through which rivers flowed, with falls and cascades here and there, reminded me of our finest straths. I saw no large bodies of water like our lochs. There were two points of marked dissimilarity. The month was December; I required no great-coat, and the rays of the sun were stronger than was pleasant. Instead of the leafless trees, and the white covering of the snow of the Scottish winter, there were trees in their richest dress, and all around a verdure of the freshest green, telling me I was in a tropical land, and in a land where heat and moisture by their abundance gave extraordinary force to vegetation. As I travelled from Kandy to Newera Ellia, and back again to Kandy by a different route, my impression of the picturesqueness and productiveness of the country was confirmed. There was one thing I did not see -- the blooming heather of my own Highlands.

There is, I suppose, no country where all that is desirable can be obtained. It must be acknowledged Ceylon has its disadvantages. Its climate is that of perpetual summer, warmer indeed at some times than at others, but never approaching our heat in Northern India in May and June. It is only six degrees from the equator, and it owes its moderate temperature to its sea breezes and abundant rain. I missed the bracing coolness of Northern India in December and January. Perpetual summer is good for neither soul nor body. For bodily health and enjoyment the alternation of cold and heat is far better, as in the moral world prosperity and adversity are required for the maturing of character.

There is one evil -- I do not know whether I should call it a minor or a major evil -- to which both man and beast are exposed in Ceylon. We have all heard of snakes in the grass. In the fine grass of Ceylon leeches abound, and are ever ready to take their unwelcome contribution from all that come their way. They leap up on passers by, and try to exact from them their favourite food. I was often reminded by unpleasant nips that they had got hold of me. For months after leaving Ceylon I had on my limbs marks of their doings.


When travelling between Kandy and Newera Ellia, I was the guest of coffee-planters, all of them, so far as I remember, my own countrymen; and saw coffee in all its stages, from the berry on the coffee-bush on to the manufactured article ready for the market. The plant is indigenous in the island, but it was turned to little account till taken up by Europeans. The pioneers in its culture, as so often happens in such cases, are said to have lost heavily; but at the time of my visit plantations were paying well, and a large tract of land was under cultivation. I believe it afterwards ceased to be profitable, and now tea cultivation is taking its place.

At one time cinnamon was the most valuable export of the island, but by 1858 it had so decreased in value by its being produced abundantly in lands still farther east, that comparatively little attention was given to it. I was taken to the public garden in Colombo, and saw the work-people with their sharp knives peeling off the fragrant bark from the cinnamon-tree, and preparing it for the market.

Colombo, the capital, is a large, stirring, rising town. Galle is a much smaller place, and owes its importance to its being a place of call for steamers on account of its sheltered bay. It is noted for its pedlars, men who, with combs in their long hair, and clad in jacket and petticoat, might be taken for women. Their wares of jewellery and precious stones have not a high character for genuineness. Kandy, the old capital in the interior, is a small place, lying very low, and is surrounded by hills. It has a beautiful little artificial lake, and is famous for its temple, with a tooth of Buddha as its great treasure.

During the few weeks I was in Ceylon I was most hospitably entertained wherever I went by missionaries, chaplains, coffee-planters, and others. I shall always retain a grateful recollection of the kindness I experienced. From these friends I heard much about the spiritual state of Ceylon. It is well known the Dutch were the first Europeans who obtained a footing in the island. They determined to stamp out heathenism and establish Christianity, not by violent persecution, but by reserving offices of every description for those who embraced the Christian faith, by treating them in every possible way as a privileged class, and by showing official disfavour to the unbaptized. An agency composed of chaplains, catechists, and schoolmasters was appointed to bring the community within the Christian fold. The work went on with great apparent success. Tens of thousands avowed themselves Christians. It looked as if heathenism was to disappear under Dutch rule. If the Dutch had retained possession of the island, and had persevered in their policy, in all likelihood by this time Ceylon would have been a professedly Christian country, with a strong underlying element of heathen notion and practice.


No sooner was the policy of neutrality adopted with the installation of English rule, than this large Christian community melted away, and flowed into the old channel of Buddhism, which had been for ages the religion of the Cingalese. The thousands of Christians were reduced to hundreds and tens. The London Missionary Society early entered the field, but withdrew. In the parts of Ceylon where I travelled I met with Methodist, Baptist, and Church of England missionaries, and in other districts there were American missionaries. The descendants of those who once were professed Christians retain some Christian notions, and adhere to some Christian practices. Baptism is still in favour with them, but it is never administered by Protestant missionaries except to those deemed fitting recipients. If Buddhists were consistent, caste in a mild form and to a limited extent might be tolerated, but could not be approved. They are not, however, consistent, and caste is much more regarded by them than Gautam would have sanctioned, though it has not among them the rigidity it has among the Hindus. I was told regarding one boarding institution for young men, all ate together; but on returning to their homes they performed certain ceremonies which removed the defilement they had contracted. As to the general character of the native Christians, I inferred it was much the same as in India, with similar excellences and similar defects.

I went into some of the Buddhist temples. On the walls were sculptured the terrible sufferings of the wicked in the different hells into which, according to Buddhism, they are cast. The worshippers appeared to me remarkably stolid and listless, as if engaged in a work which could not be too mechanically performed. There was nothing of the animation of the Hindus when they are worshipping their gods.

I went into a large Roman Catholic church, and saw all the usual furniture of Roman Catholic worship. On the wall, the worship of demons by the faithful and their attendance at demon feasts was strongly denounced, and threatened with severe punishment; from which it would appear this was no uncommon offence.

I was struck with the massy churches built by the Dutch in Galle and Colombo. They testify to the zeal of the first colonists, as if they were taking possession of the land for Christ, and were determined to maintain His worship, though far distant from the land of their fathers. Dutch descendants and Scotch colonists now form the most of the worshippers in these places. The Dutch language still survives, and in 1858 some of the Dutch people understood no other. For them a service is held in their own language. I preached in both of these churches at the request of the chaplains. In one of them the Lord's Supper was administered, and the communicants were addressed first in English and then in Dutch.

Towards the end of December I left Galle with my wife and child for Calcutta, taking away with me pleasing recollections of the scenes I had witnessed, the information I had received, and the kindness I had experienced during my six weeks' travels in the island.

After a brief stay in Calcutta we made our way to Benares -- the first part of the journey by the recently constructed railway, and the rest, the greater part of it, by a four-wheeled conveyance, drawn by a horse, called a Dawk Garry, arrangement for a fresh horse every sixth or seventh mile being made by the Dawk Garry Company. Instead of spending three weeks on the way, as we had done in 1839 when proceeding to Benares on a steamer, and twelve days in 1853 in a conveyance drawn by coolies, we now completed our journey in five days. We were glad to rejoin our brethren, and to resume our work in Benares.

chapter xvii the outbreak at
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