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Ceylon, to the South East of Madras Presidency

Ceylon, a large island and British colony in the Indian Ocean, separated on the N.W. from India by the Gulf of Manaar and Palk Strait. It lies between 5° 55' and 9° 51' N. and between 79° 41' and 81° 54' E. Its extreme length from north to south is 2 712 m.; its greatest width is 1371 m.; and its area amounts to 25,481 sq. m., or about five-sixths of that of Ireland. In its general outline the island resembles a pear, the apex of which points towards the north."[1] The island is now called Sri Lanka.


The Portuguese arrived in the early 16th century, followed by the Dutch in the 17th Century with the British, as usual, arriving late - 1796 - when the British East India Company established control. In 1802 Ceylon became a British Crown Colony. The island was unified in 1815 (previously there had been three kingdoms) and the island finally gained its independence in 1948.

Military actions

Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps

The Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps was a Volunteer Corps established  in 1861. Initially the movement consisted of the Ceylon Light Infantry Volunteers but by the 1900s also had Artillery, Medical, Engineers and Supply and Transport units. 

The CPRC sent a contingent to South Africa in 1902 along with a detachment of the Ceylon Mounted Infantry. In 1910 the force became known as the Ceylon Defence Force.

A Corps of 150 ‘fine young Englishmen’ left Ceylon in 1914, comprised not only of planters but also Government servants, Colombo businessmen and others. They served in Egypt and were then attached to the Wellington infantry Battalion of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the ANZAC division at Gallipoli. The high standard of the men led to virtually all of them receiving commissions and they went on to serve in other regiments  which meant this Corps then ceased to exist. [2]

A number of men who were members of the Ceylon Volunteer Force, who were in Britain at the outbreak of WW1 were granted commissions by the War Office in the late-Summer/Autumn of 1914. Many went into the Rifle Brigade. These men, almost all of whom were involved in the plantation section, were sometimes referred to as Ceylon's "Home Contingent", to distinguish them from the "Ceylon Contingent",[3] those in the paragraph above.


Except for the few short years when the East India Company was in control (1796-1802) records for Ceylon will not be found in the India Office Records at the British Library, but at The National Archives at Kew. For example, the description and succession books of the Ceylon Rifles covering years 1809-1872 are held under reference W025/638-641 (these include officers services) and reference WO23/158 includes the admission books for the Ceylon Rifles and Gun Lascars for the period May 1868-Sept 1876. Personal data may also be held amongst the National Archive's Administrative Records of Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

Some birth marriage and death information in respect of civil registration from 1867 may be obtained by writing to Registrar General's Office, New Secretariat, Maligawatta, Colombo 10, Sri Lanka.

FamilySearch Catalogue Search, using keyword Sri Lanka contains multiple records from digitised microfilms from the Registrar General's Office, arranged according to Registration Division, then District. The language for most of these is categorised as Sinhalese and Tamil, although the Notes indicate some records may be in English. However, of the sample records viewed, no English records were seen, although the complete files may be very large, so there could be records in English included.

In Holland, located in the same building as the National Archives at The Hague but a separate organization, is the 'Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie' (Central Bureau for Genealogy - CBG) , the Dutch information and documentation centre for genealogy, family history and related sciences. Researchers visiting this centre found some copies of records relating to British Ceylon christenings, 1804 to 1840.[4]

FamilySearch (LDS) Records

For general details about FamilySearch (LDS) records, including microfilms, see FamilySearch.

Sri Lanka, Colombo District Dutch Reformed Church Records 1677-1990 are available on the familysearch website. These are not searchable by name but as images that can be browsed [5]

The North Parramatta Family History Centre in Sydney, Australia has the detailed indexes to the Baptisms and Marriages at the Dutch Reformed Church at Wolfendaal, Colombo, up to 1897. These are not FamilySearch microfilms but are spiral bound photocopies made from the journals and indexes at Victor Melder's Sri Lankan Library in Melbourne.

FamilySearch digitized record "Tombstone information from Sri Lanka cemeteries" catalogue record. Contains inscriptions from the following cemeteries in Sri Lanka: St. Mark's Church in Badulla, St. Andrews Church in Haputale, Christ Church in Bandarawela, Ragalla Church in Halgranoya, Holy Trinity Church in Pussellawa, Christ Church in Matale and St. James Church in Nallur, Jaffna.

FamilySearch catalogue record for Lapidarium-Zeylanicum : being a collection of monumental inscriptions of the Dutch-Churches and churchyards of Ceylon by Leopold Ludovici, published 1877. Available as two digitised microfilms, one of which 1496387 is available to view on your home computer. Click on the camera icon and navigate to item 2, images 126-228.

Churches and cemeteries

A researcher advised a trip to Sri Lanka in 2010 "uncovered masses of records in churches in Kandy, Colombo, Galle and Matara that need to be photographed ASAP... The Methodist Church seems to have centralised all records prior to 1982 in Colombo".[6] "The Anglican church records are at the Diocesan library in Colombo. The records are from churches all over the Island."[7]

Several kinds of registers of the Dutch Reformed Church at Galle and Matara are to be found in the main office of the Christian Reformed Church of Sri Lanka, in Colombo. The volumes include baptismal (1677-1807), marriage (1744-1847) and burial registers (1770-1840s), all for Galle, and a baptismal register for Matara 1776-1800. No inventory is available and some of the material is heavily damaged. In the future, the collection may be transferred to the Wolvendaal Church[8]

The Galle Face Burial Ground was opened in 1803 and located on the south side of the Fort.[9] Trying to locate this cemetery which appears to have also been the Garrison cemetery, a researcher was told that a Roman Catholic church had been built on the site and all the tombstones moved to the Kanatte cemetery. She also visited the Garrison cemetery in Kandy which has been restored [10]

FIBIS Resources

Also see

External links



Historical photographs and images online

Historical books online

There are chapters on Ceylon from page 139 A Voyage To India by Rev James Cordiner 1820 Google Books The author was in Ceylon 1799-1804.
Slavery and the slave trade in British India: with notices of the existence of these evils in the islands of Ceylon, Malacca, and Penang, drawn from official documents Published 1841 Google Books
Forest Life in Ceylon by W Knighton, formerly Secretary to the Ceylon Branch, Royal Asiatic Society 1854 Volume I, Volume II. This work has been described as a novel, (but somewhat against this view see further comments.[12]) William Knighton, biographical details, djo.org.uk
A Handbook to the Ports on the Coast of India between Calcutta and Bombay, including the Island of Ceylon by Herbert Samuel Brown, Lieutenant, R.N.R. Port and Customs Officer, Mangalore. 1897. British Library Digital Collection.
The Cruise of Her Majesty's ship "Bacchante", 1879-1882, Volume II- The East Compiled from the Private Journals etc of Prince Albert Victor and Prince George of Wales 1886 Archive.org. Includes China, Singapore, Ceylon.
  • Ceylon in xxxx with a number of online editions from 1883 to 1903, the latter title is Ceylon in 1903 describing the progress of the island since 1803, its present agricultural and commercial enterprises, and its unequalled attractions to visitors, with upwards of one hundred illustrations, by John Ferguson.
1883 Archive.org, 1883 British Library Digital Collection. 1884 Archive.org,1884 British Library. Jubilee Year 1887 Archive.org, Jubilee Year 1887 British Library. 1893 Archive.org, 1893 British Library. 1903 Archive.org. British Library images may be better, and they can be rotated if required.
The Book of Ceylon; being a guide to its railway system and an account of its varied attractions for the visitor and tourist by Henry W Cave 1908 Archive.org
The Ceylon Government Railway : a descriptive and illustrated guide, mainly extracted from the author's larger work "The Book of Ceylon" By Henry W Cave 1910 Archive.org

Personal accounts

Article: "Jacob Haafner. Travels through the Island of Ceylon In 1783" by Paul Van Der Velde and Jaap De Moor.
Eight Years' Wanderings in Ceylon by Samuel White Baker 1855 Google Books
Poems in Captivity by John Still 1919 Archive.org. Includes poems about Ceylon.
  • A visit to Ceylon: Page 169 India of the Rajahs by Major S E G Ponder 1940 Archive.org, Public Library of India Collection.
  • Also see accounts in the following section.

Planters and the Planting Industries

"The Rival of "Para" Rubber in the East" page 219 The India Rubber World April 1, 1903 Archive.org
"Rubber Planting in Ceylon and the Malay States" page 225 The India Rubber World April 1, 1904 Archive.org
  • My Tour in Eastern Rubber Lands by Herbert Wright 1908 Archive.org Ceylon, Malaya, Java, Sumatra
  • Rubber-Planter's Notebook by Frank Braham 1911. Pdf download KrishiKosh, Institutional Repository of Indian National Agricultural Research System. Full title: The Rubber Planter's Notebook : a handy book of reference on Para rubber planting with hints on the maintenance of health in the tropics and other general information of utility to the rubber planter : specially designed for use in the field. Review, page 242 Nature December 21, 1911 Archive.org
  • Online publications of the Planters' Association of Ceylon, in addition to Ferguson’s Ceylon Directories from 1871 to 1999 (broken range) are available on History of Ceylon Tea, accessible from the Home Page, category Publications & Articles.
From the same website, under Publications and Articles /Other Publications are many miscellaneous titles, mainly relating to tea and rubber, including
The Pioneers 1825 - 1900 : The Early British Tea and Coffee Planters and Their Way of Life by John Weatherstone. 1986. historyofceylontea.com. Also available as a pdf download, Repositori Digital, digital repository of the National Library of Malaysia.
  • The Tropical Agriculturist And Magazine Of The Ceylon Agricultural Society. Title varied over time: The Tropical Agriculturist : Journal Of The Ceylon Agricultural Society; The Tropical Agriculturist : The Agricultural Journal Of Ceylon. Volume 15 has additional title: A Monthly Record Of Information For Planters of Tea, Coffee, Cacao, Cinchona, Sugar, Rubber, Tobacco, Palms, Spices, Rice, And Other Products Suited For Cultivation In Tropics.
Pdf downloads KrishiKosh: Institutional Repository of Indian National Agricultural Research System Page A and Page B. Editions from 1881 to 1960 (broken range). Digital Library of India also has some edtions including Vol 50 1918 as pdf downloads. Archive.org editions, mainly some, but not all, mirror files from DLI


  1. LoveToKnow 1911
  2. Great War Forum thread Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps (retrieved 15 May 2014)
  3. Dominion-of-the-North War Diary: 8th Rifle Brigade; Post-May 1918; Does it Exist? Great War Forum 10 March , 2013. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  4. Andresen, Larry & Coreen British Ceylon christening records in The Hague Rootsweb Srilanka Mailing List, 01 January 2007 and 02 January 2007 Retrieved 15 September 2014
  5. *Colombo District Dutch Reformed Church Records 1677-1990 Familysearch
  6. ceylonsearch (Larry and Coreen) Early British Ceylon military records Rootsweb Srilanka Message Board 20 Oct 2010 8:56AM Retrieved 15 September 2014
  7. Andresen, Larry and Coreen Anglican Church Records repository May 13, 2014 GenForum: Sri Lanka Genealogy Forum. Retrieved 28 September 2014
  8. "Gold-Leaf Flattery, Calcuttan Dust, and a Brand New Flagpole: Five Little-Known VOC Collections in Asia on India and Ceylon" by Lennart Bes Itinerario Volume 36 Issue 01 April 2012, pp 91 - 106. Scroll to page 95, to the section "Galle Books, Christian Reformed Church (Colombo)" The address is given on page 106. academia.edu. Note: May be slow to open. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  9. Page 27 List of inscriptions on tombstones and monuments in Ceylon by J. Penry Lewis 1913 Archive.org.
  10. Williams, Anne Winter Galle Face burial ground/Garrison cemetery Rootsweb Srilanka Message Board 13 February 2004. Retrieved 15 September 2014
  11. "New Light on the Identity of Philalethes" by Breden WM Gooneratne and Yasmin Gooneratne, 1971
  12. Page 144 Paradise Discourse, Imperialism, and Globalization: Exploiting Eden by Sharae Deckard 2009 Google Books