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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 271.5 miles (approx. 445 km); its greatest width is 137.5 m. (approx. 225 km); and its area amounts to 25,481 sq. miles, 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.
    • Description and succession books of the Ceylon Rifles covering years 1809-1872 are held under reference W025/638-641 (these include officers services) Free digital download at March 2021.
    • 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).
Records for 1796-1802 perhaps may be located in Madras records. As an example, there is one marriage record for 1798 at Colombo on page 102, Marriages at Fort St. George, Madras by F. E. P., (very likely Fanny Emily Penny), published 1907, see Madras (City).
  • The Ceylon Civil List. The title of some editions includes the wording showing the names and designations of the civil, military and other servants of government .... Available at the British Library UIN: BLL01000649015 where the catalogue record states "... 1863 (1870-1876, 1878, 1879, 1881 [etc.]). Prepared in the Colonial Secretary's Office. Imperfect; wanting the issues for 1864-1869, 1877, 1880. Not published in 1938, when its place was taken by “Civil Establishments,” pt. 1." Also available at the Library of Oxford University, where the holding, over 2 catalogue entries, is 1899-1948, but missing 1901; 1952-1962. (Examples of information available.[4])
  • Ceylon Government Gazettes may be a source of information and are available at the National Archives in the series CO 58 1813-1946. Some editions are available online, refer below.
  • Ceylon Blue Book. Available at the National Archives, Kew in the series CO 59/30 to CO 59/159, 1821-1945 in the series Blue Books of Statistics. The Blue Books for some countries contain information about Civil Service staff and this information may possibly be available in the earlier editions of the Ceylon Blue Book, prior to the separate publication The Ceylon Civil List from 1863. Limited online availability, refer below.
  • 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 era Ceylon christenings, 1804 to 1840.[5]
  • See General Register Office, UK. Also includes information about records such as British Consular Returns, including online sources.
  • See Chaplains Returns for British Army and (some) RAF personnel and their families.

Online and other databases

Findmypast/Kabristan Archives

Findmypast contains the database "British In Ceylon Parish Records" located in Life Events (BMDs)/Parish Registers, consisting of records "collected and transcribed by the Kabristan Archives". Mainly these appear to be index records only. Currently (2023/04/15) within these records there are five sub databases: Colombo Burials; Colombo General Cemetery Anglican Burial Register 1909-1919; Colombo Kanatte Cemetery War Dead; Miscellaneous Births Marriages Burials; St Pauls Baptisms 1877-1901 (from the Kabristan website this is St Paul's Kandy). The details provided varies - The last category, St Paul's is quite detailed but some of the other categories provide dates only.

See the Kabristan Archives, External links, below. Search on the Kabristan Archives website for free, for baptismal, marriage and burial records, and pay to obtain full details. If you want more details for a record you have found on Findmypast, it is possible that you may be able to obtain more details, by either purchasing a Kabristan Archives publication, or with a payment for a specific record.

Alternatively, many publications are available at the British Library in London, Search the British Library main catalogue for "Kabristan Archives" or "Eileen Hewson", the author.

FamilySearch (LDS) Records

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

FamilySearch database Sri Lanka, Colombo District, Dutch Reformed church records, 1677-1990 catalogue entry. Click though to transcribed index records and film images. The indexes may also be located through the FamilySearch Records page Sri Lanka. Note, it appears not all images have been indexed. For hints searching these images see FamilySearch - India records.

The North Parramatta Family History Centre in Sydney, Australia previously had the detailed indexes to the Baptisms and Marriages at the Dutch Reformed Church at Wolfendaal, Colombo, up to 1897. These were not FamilySearch microfilms but were spiral bound photocopies made from the journals and indexes at Victor Melder's Sri Lankan Library[6] in Melbourne. Update October 2019. Parramatta FHC appears to have closed, see FamilySearch Centres for possible current location of this material.

FamilySearch digitized item "Tombstone information from Sri Lanka cemeteries" catalogue entry. 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.

Also see Historical books online below, for the book Lapidarium-Zeylanicum : being a collection of monumental inscriptions of the Dutch-Churches and churchyards of Ceylon by Leopold Ludovici, published 1877.

Search the FamilySearch catalogue, using Keywords such as Ceylon, Sri Lanka, and filtering by Availability online, and language. There are many databases available classified as English language, of records from the Registrar-General's Department where the notes indicate the language to be “Sinhalese, English, Tamil”. Of a sample of records viewed, no records in English were sighted.

Also see

  • Historical books online below. As an example Inscriptions.

Online newspapers

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".[7] "The Anglican church records are at the Diocesan library in Colombo. The records are from churches all over the Island."[8]

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[9]

The Galle Face Burial Ground was opened in 1803 and located on the south side of the Fort.[10] 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 [11]

FIBIS Resources

Also see

External links



Historical photographs and images online

Historical books online

  • "Books on Ceylon" [a Bibliography] by Biblio page 159, Volume VI, Ceylon Antiquary and Literary Register January 1921 Archive.org.
  • National Digital Library Sri Lanka including Ceylon Government Gazettes from 1889 (as at 2023/04), but only some publication may be available for any given year. The website contains a Search, then relevant editions may be downloaded as a pdf. In the past some other publications required prior registration, and then a pdf had to be requested, but it is unclear if this still applies, but the Gazettes appear to be available without prior registration.
  • Ceylon Calendar, published 1814-1830 was followed by Ceylon Almanac and Compendium of Useful Information, published 1833-1839 and 1844-1850. Continued as Ceylon Calendar and Compendium of Useful Information 1840-1843 and Ceylon Almanac and Annual Register 1851-1862.
Available on Archive.org Ceylon Almanac and Ceylon Calendar, (together) a broken range 1818 to 1868, and includes most editions following.
1818 includes page 217, MBD for 1817 HathiTrust Digital Library; 1827 Archive.org; 1829 includes page 264, MBD in 1828 HathiTrust; 1830 Google Books; 1834 and 1835 Hathi Trust; 1836 Google Books, 1836 HathiTrust; 1837 Google Books, 1837 HathiTrust; 1839 Scroll to digital page 48 for The Companion” which contains the Civil List etc. nla.gov.au; 1847 Poor quality print. Google Books; 1855 Google Books, 1855 HathiTrust; 1856 scribd.com, 1856 Scroll to listing and read online. historyofceylontea.com.
The British Library holds similar publications under various titles such as Ceylon Calendar and Ceylon Almanac from 1814 to 1862 (broken range), see UIN: BLL01002830047 . In the past there was a microfiche series from Brill (IDC Publishers), I-900/2 (132 microfiche) which perhaps may still be available at some libraries.
In the late 1930s, the full title of Thacker's Indian Directory wasThacker's Indian Directory including Burma and Ceylon, and included information about Ceylon.
1937-1938, Contents, 1937-1938, 2nd file; 1938-1939, Contents All Archive.org
Ceylon and the Hollanders, 1658-1796 by P E Peiris, Ceylon Civil Service 1918 Archive.org. Reprint, of 3rd edition [1930] Archive.org
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.[13]) William Knighton, biographical details, djo.org.uk
  • Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society: Archive.org Multiple volumes from Volume 1 1845. HathiTrust multiple volumes including restricted access, some of which, to c 1926, are probably available to those in North America.
Ceylon Antiquary and Literary Register multiple volumes from Volume III 1917 to Vol. X 1924. Archive.org. Includes a section "Notes and Queries". HathiTrust editions, restricted to some areas such as North America.
Sketches of the natural history of Ceylon : with narratives and anecdotes illustrative of the habits and instincts of the mammalia, birds, reptiles, fishes, insects, etc. including a monograph of the elephant ... by Sir J Emerson Tennent 1861. 2nd file, with images correctly rotated. Both Archive.org
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
A History of the Ceylon Police Vol.1. 1795-1870 by G.K. Pippet 1938 is available at the British Library UIN: BLL01004088800
  • The Colonial Office List for .... Includes a section on each country, and the Colonial Office List at the end of each volume. First published 1862. See Directories online - Colonial Office List for a broken range 1862-1920s.
  • Article: "The Ceylon Blue Books" by Dilini Liyanage 15 October 2017 sundayobserver.lk. Gives details of the contents which can be expected. Note there was a separate Ceylon Civil List from 1863, however it seems there was a Civil List as part of the Blue Book to 1917 inclusive. The separate publication has not been viewed but possibly may have been more extensive.
  • There are editions from 1863 of The Ceylon Civil List at the British Library UIN: BLL01000649015, but missing some editions.
Ceylon Blue Book, 1916 Pdf download Digital Library Department of Census and Statistics, Sri Lanka.
The Ceylon Blue Book for 1866, 1868-1869, 1871, 1877 then a broken range 1896-1926. Searchable, read online or download. To read particular pages online, it may be necessary to navigate via the thumbnail images. Jstor.org, South Asia Open Archives (SAOA) Collection.
Ceylon Blue Book for the years 1892 (catalogued 1982), 1900-1901-1902-1903-1904, 1906, 1912 Supplementary, 1913-1914-1915-1916, 1919. There are also some Ceylon Administration Reports. Granth Sanjeevani, The Asiatic Society, Mumbai. Access to the digital collection requires a paid Membership Plan, unless your Library has a subscription. Mirror files for all of these editions are available for free on Archive.org Ceylon Blue Book. Also Archive.org Ceylon Administration Reports broken range 1891-1919.
Ceylon Blue Book 1907, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1920, 1920, File 2, 1921, 1921 File 2, 1922, 1922 File 2, 1923, 1923 File 2, 1924, 1925, 1925 File 2, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938. Google Books.
Ceylon Blue Book 1927 GIPE Digitised Books. Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics - Pune, India.
In the past there was a microfiche series from Brill, Ceylon Statistical Blue Books 1862-1938, 883 microfiche Brill (IDC Publishers) H-2323/1, which perhaps may still be available at some libraries.
Colonial Reports - Annual for Ceylon. No. 396 Ceylon 1902 to No. 1507 Ceylon 1929 for most years. HathiTrust Digital Library.
Archive.org editions of Colonial Reports - Annual from 1908 onwards. Includes reports in respect of Ceylon.

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. New edition 1890 with title Eight Years in Ceylon Archive.org.
  • Fifty Years in Ceylon: an Autobiography by the late Major Thomas Skinner, Commissioner of Public Works Ceylon. Edited by his daughter Annie Skinner 1891 Archive.org. Born 1804, he arrived in Ceylon in 1818, aged 14, where his father was stationed. Soon he was appointed as an officer in the Ceylon Regiment. He retired from Ceylon in 1867.
  • A Visit to Ceylon by Ernst Haeckel, translated by Clara Bell. 1883. Archive.org. Originally published as Indische Reisebriefe [Letters of Indian Travel] by Ernst Haeckel 1883 Archive.org. The author was professor of Zoology at the University of Jena, Thuringia, Germany. He arrived in Ceylon in November 1881, travelling via Bombay.
India and Ceylon by Ernst Haeckel, translated by Mrs S E Boggs. 1883 Archive.org. “A coherent, if not strictly literal translation” of Indische Reisebriefe 1883 Archive.org.
Ernst Haeckel Wikipedia. German zoologist
The Snaffle Papers by "Snaffle" (Robert Dunkin) 1898 Archive.org. Two chapters on Ceylon.
"Hunting in the Indies" (including Ceylon) page 189 The image of war : a sporting autobiography by “Snaffle” 1914 Archive.org.
Some chapters may appear in more than one book.
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, the Planting and Other 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
  • 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 fieldby Frank Braham 1911. Review, page 242 Nature December 21, 1911 Archive.org
  • Select page 4, Column 4 for the article "On a Rubber Estate" The Glasgow Herald Nov 29, 1913. Google Newspapers. A trainee planter was known as a Creeper.
  • A Creeper in Ceylon by C V Warren Part 1 and Part 2 pages 413-420 and pages 431-436 The Wide World Magazine. Volume 62 1928-1929 November-April. Archive.org. The author worked on tea estates.
  • 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.


  1. "Ceylon" page 778 The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume V, 11th edition 1910. Archive.org.
  2. Great War Forum thread Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps (retrieved 19 January 2019).
  3. Dominion-of-the-North War Diary: 8th Rifle Brigade; Post-May 1918; Does it Exist? Great War Forum 10 March , 2013. Retrieved 19 January 2019.
  4. "The Ceylon Civil List" defonseka.com. "Ceylon Civil List with Record of Service for Reginald Tyler" by Kathleen Townsend astro.wisc.edu
  5. Andresen, Larry & Coreen British Ceylon christening records in The Hague Rootsweb Srilanka Mailing List, 01 January 2007 and 02 January 2007, now archived
  6. Victor Melder Sri Lanka Library in Melbourne
  7. ceylonsearch (Larry and Coreen) Early British Ceylon military records Rootsweb Srilanka Message Board 20 Oct 2010 8:56AM Retrieved 15 September 2014
  8. Andresen, Larry and Coreen Anglican Church Records repository May 13, 2014 GenForum: Sri Lanka Genealogy Forum. Retrieved 28 September 2014
  9. "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.
  10. Page 27 List of inscriptions on tombstones and monuments in Ceylon by J. Penry Lewis 1913 Archive.org.
  11. Williams, Anne Winter Galle Face burial ground/Garrison cemetery Rootsweb Srilanka Message Board 13 February 2004. Retrieved 15 September 2014
  12. "New Light on the Identity of Philalethes" by Breden WM Gooneratne and Yasmin Gooneratne, 1971
  13. Page 144 Paradise Discourse, Imperialism, and Globalization: Exploiting Eden by Sharae Deckard 2009 Google Books
  14. Ceylon Roll of Honour World War 1 1914-18 Part 1 A-K contains 1218 records; Part 2 L-Z contains 1133 records. Kabristan Archives