1800-1859 | Burning villages | Livestock targeted | Punitive operations | Sri Lanka

British troops burn homes and destroy rice stores in Ceylonese villages

Lieutenant General Sir Robert Brownrigg –
Painting by Sir T. Lawrence – via Wikimedia

[ 7 June 1818 ]

On 7 June 1818, a short newspaper article in the Windsor and Eton Gazette carried an opinion piece on the latest reports from the British colony of Ceylon. It denounced the brutality of the British authorities, including their use of extreme methods of collective punishment against areas believed sympathetic to the rebels in the interior of the country. ‘Conciliation,’ it explained, ‘does not appear to be among the means adopted in Ceylon for bringing the natives to subjection… Their villages are burnt… their cattle are slaughtered, their stores of rice are destroyed, as if it were a British object to starve and render desperate these miserable dependents on our power.’1

On 18 February, the island’s governor, Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Brownrigg, had issued a proclamation giving his senior commanders in the field a license to inflict whatever ‘punishments,’ including summary executions, that they considered necessary. Specifically, it authorised British officers and presumably sometimes ordinary soldiers to ‘punish all persons’ they deemed to be ‘acting, aiding or in any way assisting in the rebellion… according to martial law, either by death or otherwise, as to them shall seem right and expedient.’2


  1. “Foreign Intelligence,” The Windsor and Eton Express, 7 June 1818 p. 2.
  2. ‘Cited in ‘Ceylon Intelligence – Proclamation,’ The Globe, 22 August 1818, p.2.

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