Catalogue of the Archives of the Dutch Central Government of Coastal Ceylon, 1640-1796

Fonds Specifications


Biographical History

The development of the administration.
As soon as the Hollanders had established themselves in Galle it became necessary to set up a form of administration for the captured territory. Accordingly, the commander summoned his senior officers, naval and military, to form a council, which added civil to its military functions. The names of the officers who signed the first council minutes are those of sailors or soldiers. The Dutch government of Ceylon remained primarily of that military character and composition from 1640 till 1658, in which year the last of the Portuguese forces were expelled from the Island, and it was not till after this year that a regular civil administration could be set up. Military matters diminished in importance, and the government gradually became civil rather than military in character, consisting of merchants exercising the duties of civil servants, though also dealing with military matters as they arose.
The basis of this change which had already been dealt with in earlier council minutes was definitely laid down by superintendent Rijckloff van Goens. This highly intelligent man, though he was primarily a soldier, and just then deeply involved in the war against the Portuguese in India, saw the importance of a well organised European govenment, which would control but not materially alter the original native institutions still existing in the Island. He drew up a set of "consideraties" which were issued by him on the 21st June 1661 in Galle [1]. It is impossible to overestimate the value of this set of instructions, as drawn up by the tough warrior, for, with a few additions, they not only laid down the lines on which the Dutch government's civil administration was to be organised throughout its duration, but their influence extends beyond 1796, as the English administration also was to some extent based on that of its predecessor. The document has, in its amended form, been translated and published. [2]
The civil service thus set up was not an invention of the superintendent Rijckloff van Goens himself. In Batavia, the main seat of the V.O.C. government in the East, an adminis- tration had already been functioning for more than forty years, which served as a model for all the so-called "outstations", which were divided into the East and the West "comptoirs". A criticism of the system itself is not appropriate here. The Batavian administration, which did not differentiate between legislative and executive powers, and later on became corrupt, was nevertheless for a long time respected all over the East. By the "consideraties" offices were established which in their outward appearance were conformable with their "opposite numbers" in Batavia. The local circumstances, however, varied considerably from those in Java, and in his complete grasp of this fact and its reflection on his instructions, lies the value of this work by Rijckloff van Goens. The "consideraties", the framework of the Ceylon administration, may be called a descriptive instruction-book.
Except for Ceylon, none of the "comptoirs" had from the beginning such a practical manual to guide the officers in their functions. The very fundamental alterations in the government of this Island in the "mediteerende resolutie" [3] of 30th November 1681, did not involve any administrative changes, but were drawn up merely in connection with the defence and the relations with Kandy. The later instructions, for instance those by governor Simons and even those of the middle of the 18th century, often refer to the "consideraties". Although references are found to the fact that they were in disuse and no longer observed [4], the existence of two copies among the documents left over from the old secretariat, one of which is of a fairly early date, is ample proof of the fact that the document was only temporarily discarded. The absence of criticism shows how well the work had been performed. Governor Simons valued the document so much that he issued to each official a copy of the instructions relating to his particular office. Today, Rijckloff van Goens is chiefly known because of his rare exploits against the Portuguese, by which the coasts of India were brought under control of the V.O.C. [5] Some of his conquests remained in Dutch hands till as late as 1824 [6]. In the future, even if history is taught in a different way, Rijckloff van Goens will still have pride of place, because, apart from being a warrior, he was also an able administrator and a leader with imagination.
The "plakkaten" and instructions of a later date [7]show more in the way of alterations than of development of the original scheme. Every now and then efforts were made to collect the scattered orders from Patria. [8], Batavia and the Governor in Council. They are, however, more or less efforts at codification [9], and different from the account of the Island and the set of instructions which go to make up the "consideraties". Later, this sort of comprehensive description is only to be found in the memoirs, the compendia, and often in the correspondence, especially in that with Patria and Batavia.
During the hundred-and-fifty years in which the Dutch ruled over the coastal provinces of this island, many of their institutions underwent changes. In fact, the duties of most of the officers were quite different in 1796 to what they were in 1661. A brief account of the chief officers will be appropriate here, for now that the documents have been arranged the events can more easily be followed [10]. The most extensive development of the Dutch administration took place just before the war with Kandy ( 1761-1766). The memoirs of the governors van Imhoff, Stein van Gollenesse, Loten and Schreuder give us the best insight into the civil administration at this period. [11] It is certainly no coincidence that it is at the time of the fullest development of the civil administration that the most elaborate memoirs were written. Although the strained relations with the courts of Kandy and of the Theuver [12] to some extent account for this fact, the main reason was that the large number of new regulations and amendments required to be adjusted; a memoir for a successor offered any high official an excellent opportunity for explaining the measures taken during his tenure of office and the state of affairs in general. Moreover, the memoirs when included among the papers sent to Patria and Batavia would serve several purposes.
The contact with the islanders need hardly be mentioned. We are only concerned with the Dutch administrative machinery which left us the archives. This does not mean that the archives do not deal with the history of Ceylon itself: on the contrary, they are full of it and make a splendid source of information for Sinhalese and Tamil historians who wish to write a fuller account of the somewhat barren period of Ceylon history from 1640 - 1796. It is desirable to refer here to the work of Mr. Pieter van Dam: "Beschryvinge van de Oost-Indische Compagnie". This man, who was a doctor of law ("Mr." being the abbre- viation for the Dutch title "Meester", which means "a law scholar"), was the "fiscaal" of the Amsterdam Chamber, which means that he was the right-hand man of the "Heeren XVII". It was at their request that, in 1693, by making use of the most confidential as well as the ordinary documents of the trading board, that he compiled an up-to-date account of the administration and history of the V.O.C. Two manuscript copies were made and were kept under lock and key by the "Lords and Masters" [13] till the end of the V.O.C. One copy of the manuscript, now preserved in the State Archives at The Hague, has survived and its extremely interesting contents were fully realised for the first time when Klerk de Reus used it as a subject proposed for a prize-competition in Germany in 1894. His book, "Geschichtlicher Ueberblick der administrativen rechtlichen und finanziellen Entwicklung der Niederlandisch- Ostindischen Compagnie" [14] is still the best authority for anyone studying the administration of the V.O.C. in general. When, however,the Dutch government decided to publish the manuscript in full, and Dr. F.W. Stapel brought out volume after volume of Pieter van Dam's manuscript with notes and a glossary, the work of Klerk de Reus for the research-worker was superseded and is now regarded merely as a useful monograph on the V.O.C.
Pieter van Dam in his second volume gives a full and accurate account of the history and the administration of the V.O.C. in Ceylon and on the Malabar coast up to the year 1701. This work, in its published form, with the valuable notes of the editor, is most useful to students of the history of Ceylon. In volume II2, p. 342, the establishment of the government in Colombo in the year 1678 is given as follows:
  • 1 Governor,
  • 1 "Commandeur" in. Colombo, who will have to officiate in the absence of the Governor, to preside over the court of justice and to supervise and be responsible for the "hoofdadministratie",
  • 1 "koopman"
  • 1 "onderkoopman" with collective responsibility over the warehouses and over commercial matters,
  • 1 "koopman" as book-keeper,
  • 1 "onderkoopman" as cashier,
  • 1 book-keeper as "dispensier",
  • 1 book-keeper over the licences,
  • 1 "onderkoopman" as secretary,
  • 1 book-keeper as first clerk,
  • 1 book-keeper as "winkelier",
  • 25 assistants, namely
    • 8 at the secretariat
    • 4 at the office of commerce
    • 8 at the paymaster's office
    • 1 with the "dispensier" for administration and accounting,
    • 4 or 5 to be kept in addition to this number to replace the sick and unfit,
  • 1 "koopman" and chief of the paymaster's office whose duty too it was to keep the journal,
  • 2 book-keepers as transmitters, and as a reserve in cases of death or departure,
  • 1 chief mate or mate as "equipagie-meester" (master attendant) with the pay of an "onderkoopman".
  • 1 "constabel-mayor" with the pay of a lieutenant,
  • 4 "constabels-maats ",
  • 1 "Boekhouder".
  • 100 soldiers and sailors, allocated to the various defence posts, whose duty it is to sleep there at night and to work there during the day.
  • 2 captains, namely
    • 1 within Colombo, who has authority in the town and the castle,
    • 1 who, as "dessave", is field commander outside the castle.
  • 1 lieutenant within the castle.
  • 1 lieutenant within the town.
  • 1 ensign within the castle.
  • 1 ensign within the town.