Garison Cemetery of Kandy
I was told of the old Garison Cemetery of Kandy established in 1817, by a friend, himself a Canadian national, who spent more years in Sri Lanka than in his home country.
It was not a difficult place to find, conveniently situated along a short drive uphill, adjoining the National Museum of Kandy. Wanting to check it out one day, I made an early appearance at 8 am at the huge iron gates that were yet closed. The caretaker Mr. Charles Carmichael opened the gate for us at 8.30.
It was an oblong piece of land shadowed by hills and overlooking the Kandy Lake. On its boundaries, tall wild grass grew. Under the trees we walked on its flower splattered well trimmed grass, marking the resting places; telling the names and dates of those Europeans who died in Kandy and its vicinity.
However, according to J.P. Lewis writing before 1913, there was a far larger number of graves which tell no tale, except that the remains of some stranger rest beneath.
Lewis called it the ‘European graveyard of Kandy’, in his book on the ‘List of Inscriptions on Tombstones and Monuments in Ceylon’ published in 1913. (The book was printed by H.C. Cottle, Government Printer Ceylon to be purchased at the Government Record Office, Colombo at the price of Rs. 5).
Lewis writes: “A stranger visiting this spot would be charmed at the magnificent scenery which surrounds it. The silvery waters of the lake lap the shore just below, whilst the city itself, with its marrying and giving in marriage, its din and tumult, lies a few hundreds of yards to the west, Across the lake the wooded slopes of the Mahapatana, crowded with English bungalows rise some thousands of feet in the skies, whilst the Hantane mountains slope gently down to the Peradeniya plain, and the distant summits of Alagalla, Batalakanda, and Lapulakanda close in the view on the far off horizon. In this lonely spot lie many hundreds of kindly Scots, who cut off in the very prime and vigor of their manhood, sleep the sleep which knows no waking, under the rank weeds and wiry grasses which cover their neglected graves. Many a sad tale of hardship, agony and pain, could the tenants of these nameless graves tell, were they permitted to speak”.
“Few of them had any kind friend or neighbors near to comfort them in their last sad agony, to place even a glass of cool water to their parched and burning tongue, or to speak a word of comfort to their often troubled mind. Left to the care of native servants, many of these young men died friendless and neglected in some distant jungle bungalow from fever, cholera, diarrhoea, or dysentery”
Let me confess, I never imagined the place to be so sad and also interesting. Or maybe it was Charles Carmichael the caretaker who made the place come alive with his excellent narrations on those who rested there.
I began to see the depressing cemetery as an inspiring historic journal, as I pictured dedicated administrators and diplomats of the British Civil Service, brave solders who had fought with such fortitude in a foreign land; pioneer coffee and tea planters who had braved the wilds to open up lands, and their faithful wives and innocent children who had shared in their duties, dreams and ambitions.
At the entrance by the gate was the old chapel now converted into a mini-museum which exhibits some interesting photographs and other important documents relating to the restoration work of the cemetery.
The oldest date appears on the tomb stone of 26-year-old Captain James McGlashan (1791-1817) But this tombstone was brought to the cemetery in the late 1890’s from Lady Longdon’s drive where it is believed was an earlier burial ground of the British.
Reporting the circumstances of his death, the Gazette of November 29, 1817 wrote that, he had arrived in Kandy for a few days from Trincomalee. And although his road lay through some of the most unhealthy places in the Island, that confidence in youth and strength which despises danger led him unfortunately to reckless disregard of precautions. He walked from Trincomalee drenched with rain, wading, sitting and even sleeping in wet clothes; not surprisingly he was seized with violent fever and accepted his end with manly fortitude.
Capt. McGlashan distinguished himself at the battle of Spain and Portugal where he had served in the German legion. In Germany he was with the Allied armies.
The most important tombstone perhaps belongs to the Honorable, Sir John D’Oyly, The great diplomat who represented the British Government at the 1815 Convention where the kingdom of Kandy was annexed to the British Crown. After the capture of Kandy’s king he became the first resident of the Commissioner of the Board of Commissioners appointed to administer the affairs of the Kandyan provinces, and took up residence in the king’s palace, now the Archaeology Museum.
He was decorated as a Baronet of the United Kingdon for his distinguished services. The 49-year-old ‘Cambridge boy’ who had ‘almost become a native in his habits of life’ is even today remembered for his work on the ‘Sketch of the Constitution of the Kandyan Kingdom’ and his diary from 1810 – 1815. It is said that D’Oyly was a scholar in the Sinhala language to an extent seldom or never attained by a European.
The tombstone is unmistakable, comprising a fluted column of masonry with a marble tablet. Another famous name is that of Lieutenant-General John Fraser. Colonel of the 37th Regt. and for many years Deputy Quartermaster General to the troops serving in Ceylon, who died at 72 years. He is best known for the satin-wood bridge which spanned the Mahaveli Ganga at Peradeniya. in a single graceful arch with a span of 205 feet and prided to have used not a single bolt or nail in its building. It was in use from 1833 -1905.
He was also renowned as a road builder and cartographer, apart from being a strict disciplinarian. He took part in the Kandyan war of 1815 and because of the severity with which he suppressed the Uva rebellion of 1818, was known by the Kandyans as Cheetah Fraser.
The tombstone of the 33-year-old John Spottiswood Robertson (1823 -1856) records the seventh and the last death of a European in Ceylon, killed by wild elephants.
For those who love the hymn ‘Abide with me,’ it will be a surprise to find that the 19- year-old grandson of the author of that brilliant piece of work William Robert Lyte (1846 – 1865) rests in this burial ground.
A great lady known for her remarkable charm of manner was Lady Elizabeth Gregory – (1817 – 1873) wife of the Rt. Hon William Hendry Gregory, Governor of Ceylon (1872 – 77). Her tomb is found towards the end of the cemetery, but the raised granite tomb with iron railing including a small visiting gate is unmistakable.
Another interesting tomb is dedicated to Oteline Rudd – (1822 -1857) - whose husband was one of the first planters, whose lands were lost in the 1847-48 coffee crisis. Loosing thousands of acres, originally worth many thousands of pounds, for a few hundred paltry rupees. He was reduced from living in a princely state to not even owning the chair on which he sat. A poignant small memorial-stone for their five infant sons is named G and M Wait and dated 1873.
Today, around 195 graves have been identified. The Cemetery is managed by the Trustees of St. Pauls Church and is open daily from 8 am to 6 pm. No burials take place here now except in case of those having a relative already buried here.
By Kishanie S. Fernando
Updated April 16, 2007