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

Fonds Specifications

Context and Structure

The catalogue.
Some remarks on the catalogue and its composition will be appropriate at this stage. What else could one expect than that it should be drawn up in keeping with the generally recognised rules of archivistic science? In England, a country with vast and valuable archives, which have hardly ever suffered from devastating wars and revolutions, the catalogue of the records of the British Museum more or less furnishes an example for that country, and although the last few years have seen many alterations [1], a secret sympathy with chronological and alphabetical lists could not entirely be rooted out. On the continent of Europe, less money was available for the physical care of archives, and that is perhaps one of the reasons why attention there was focussed on systemetic cataloguing, with the result that many a scattered record could be restored to its original place. Here " le respect pour les fonds" is the fundamental rule. The development of that line of thought established a deep respect for the historical growth of archives. " Only the systematic classification of the archives based on their former arrangements, will furnish satisfactory results ... This is the only system which can be used consistently for archives of some magnitude. From early times every set of archives has been subjected to some sort of system. The secretaries who maintained their archives, consciously or unconsciously observed some rules for the storing and the systematising of the documents. Generally speaking, one may assume that their rules are better and more in accordance with the nature of the archives than those which we would probably feel inclined to adopt". [2]
The system outlined above was consistently followed for the Dutch colonial records left in Ceylon. As pointed out on page 21, the original lists were, of course, of great help. They had to be the guide for the new catalogue of the old administration which had completely lost its original order. No. 3199 was particularly useful in this respect.
The removal from the files when they were bound during the nineteenth century of the original " kardoes " (cartridge-paper) covers, on which were written the descriptive titles, has caused much unnecessary labour, for every file had to be identified anew. This took up a considerable amount of time.
At the beginning of the British period lists of the Dutch records had been drawn up, separating the council minutes from the general records. Mr. Anthonisz, making use of these, followed this arrangement. [3] When making his list of the Galle records, Galle history being the hobby of the first Ceylon archivist, he entered in this chronological list several files which belonged to the administration of the former Central Government. However unpleasant the task, this had to be altered because the moment had come to recognize definitely and to decide on the place of all the documents of the former administration, and to respect the chronological list of the Galle records [4]by leaving it untouched would have meant leaving the work half done. On the other hand by means of some old lists, found among the Galle records, it was possible to recognize several of the documents as belonging to the Galle archives and not to those of the Central Government where they had been placed.
Although the continental system recommends group numbering, in this catalogue every single file has been given a number with the descriptive titles. This was considered necessary because of the physical condition of the records. Only large quantities of loose papers which had lost all connection with their original files and are stored in boxes, have been allotted a group number.
The minutes of the Governor in Council form the "back- bone" of the catalogue. Once this section was rearranged the remainder fitted in smoothly. The correspondence can be looked upon as a special series of annexes to the council proceedings filed separately. The correspondence is entered according to the date of issue of the letter, except for the letters received from Patria and Batavia, which were found to be arranged according to the date of receipt. The explanation for this has to be sought in the distance in communication and of the irregularity of the sea routes in use at the time.
Two groups, "internal" and "external" affairs, have been created, in order to give the loose series some structural coherence. Within these headings subjects of a kindred nature are kept together as much as possible and an effort has been made to indicate divisions in the catalogue without interrupting the logical order. All these documents can more or less be regarded as emanating from the council minutes, and instead of having two separate lists it was possible to compile one single catalogue. It may be disappointing to find that the Galle records and what is left of the Jaffna and Matara records had to be left out for want of time. The archives of these provincial centres too should really find a place in this catalogue. The archives of the higher officials appeared to be very scanty. Stress is laid on the remains of the administration of the Governor in Council. If the Governor ever had special archives, no trace of them has been left, except for one file of correspondence of governor van Angelbeek which overlaps the British period [5]The documents of the local boards under the control of the Central Government can be recognized but not enough of them are left to comment on. Several documents of the Secret Committee could have been included under the series "external affairs" and "documents relating to Kandy ". On account of the nature of the documents and of what is known about the Secret Committee it was necessary to keep the documents separately. A similar procedure was followed in the cataloguing of the documents of the special commissioners, although it must be admitted that only very few of the documents in that section seem to have belonged directly to the archives of the com- missioners. Here it was possible to relax the principles of cataloguing to a certain degree in order to meet the needs of the historical research student because the real origin of the documents no longer can be recognized.
As the catalogue is purely one of the records of the former administration, it will give very little information on persons and families, except in the judicial section. The task of entering the names was undertaken by my assistant, Mr. S.A.W. Mottau, who did his utmost to open up this unused source for Ceylonese who are genealogically interested.
In certain respects, this catalogue differs from the usual type published in Europe. It had to be adapted to the conditions prevailing in this Island. The Ceylon student of history of to-day can hardly be expected to be familiar with the subjects mentioned in the table of contents. That is the reason why several sections have been fitted out with long notes, a method which afforded the opportunity for explaining something more about the institutions, the description of whose records follow thereafter. These notes are considered to have sufficient practical value to risk the reproach of having produced an unbalanced catalogue with an arbitrary system of introductions.
Another unusual feature is the method of indicating the state of a particular file or document by signs against the descriptive title. Their meaning is explained in the list of abbreviations. Compared with the European standard the state of the Ceylon records is bad. They suffer from corrosion, damp and bad handling. A comparatively small staff is engaged in repairing them. The modern process adopted here is slow. Although the signs will, in the future, we hope, become superfluous, for the present it is desirable that both the archivist and the research worker should know the condition of the record which the student handles.
Unless something has been indicated about the character of the record, the descriptive title is for one file or volume only. No mention has ever been made as to whether a record is bound up with another which had the same number under the old numbering.
The Dutch language, Dutch national and colonial history, and to a certain extent also the Dutch outlook, have to be studied before the history of Ceylon from 1640-1796 could be written. The elaborate Ceylon archives, written in the hand- writing of clerks, impersonal in their contents and appearance, make an excellent specimen of eighteenth century Dutch archives, which, except for the mother archives in The Hague and Batavia, have no equal.
The inventory numbers of documents mentioned in the appendix to the "Inventory of the archives of the Dutch government in the divisions of Galle (Matara) and Jaffnapatnam" by S.A.W. Mottau are re-arranged according to the instructions given by M.W. Jurriaanse.