1800-1859 | Burning towns and cities | Collective punishments | Punitive operations | Sri Lanka

1,100 houses torched – unknown number burned alive at Ruwanwella

[ 13 September 1803 ]

On 14 September 1803, Captain W. Pollock of the 51st Regiment of Foot, commanding a punitive military column targeting rebel held areas of Ceylon, reported to Major General Macdowal that the previous day, having found “the enemy had retreated into the interior of their territory, I ordered the Palace and the Village of Rowanwelle (sic) to be burned.”1 A report in the Ceylon Gazette, noted that the village had been ‘the most populous and commercial in the Kingdom of Candy (Kandy)’ and that a total of 1,100 houses had been torched, while A letter from an officer in the Bombay Courier also suggested that Rowanwelle had, prior to its destruction, been a thriving commercial community, describing it as a ‘town,’ which ‘contained several broad regular streets, and with the suburbs, likewise destroyed, comprised about 1,200 houses, besides factories, granaries &C.’2 As for the palace, it had ‘only been finished six months previous to the war; it was a strong and beautiful building, constructed of fine stone, and was raised on columns, with an extensive flight of steps leading to the entrance.’ He added that ‘numerous people who had secreted themselves in it perished in the flames.’3


  1. The Ceylon Gazette, 14 September 1803, cited in The Caledonian Mercury, 9 April 1804, p. 3. Rowanwelle appears to be on approximately the same site as the modern town of Ruwanwella.
  2. The Ceylon Gazette cited in Saint James’s Chronicle, 7 April 1804, p. 3 and letter in the Bombay Courier cited in the Gloucester Journal, 16 April 1804, p. 4.
  3. Letter in the Bombay Courier cited in the Gloucester Journal, 16 April 1804, p. 4

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