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

Description of the Subordinate Components

   The Officers of the Central Government.

   The dessave.

The Tombos.
The word tombo meaning "register" was introduced to Ceylon by the Portuguese during their rule of the maritime provinces (Sinhalese thombuwa). The tombos were a system of registration which the Portuguese borrowed from the Sinhalese, and which the Dutch again took over from the Portuguese [1]. The Portuguese tombos mentioned in the Dutch records are those of Colombo [2], Jaffna (head tombos only) and Matara. The last together with the early Dutch tombos, were destroyed by the Kandyans during the Matara revolt in 1760.
The origin of the system and its purposes were explained by Brigadier-General P.F. de Meuron at the meeting of the Special Committee of Investigation on Ceylon affairs on the 15th March 1798 as follows [3]:"The Portugueze upon their arrival on Ceylon discovered a System of Revenue and Police materially differing from that of the neighbouring nations. The Sovering, as in other eastern countries was absolute Proprietor of the Soil - from him proceeded landed property of every denomination, and to him, under certain circumstances, it reverted. The land was divided into different portions, each of which was appropriated to the realization of one particular Object of Government, whether of religion, finance, Justice or defence. Personal service variously modified according to this appropriation thus constituted the tenure upon which land was occupied, and upon a failure of that service the King reassumed possession.
No individual was therefore taxed but in the object of his profession. The Soldier and Civilian in their respective Services. The Cultivator of the land in its produce. The Workman in his Merchandize, and the daily Labourer in certain portions of his Labour - such is the general outline of the ancient Government in Ceylon.
The Portugueze retained much of this final [4] System of taxation and upon their expulsion by the Dutch the tenures of personal labour and officia1 service were continued, in conformity with the prejudices and Customs of the Inhabitants".
We may add, that in the low country occupied by the Dutch, the system feudal in principle, developed its practical side of being both the registrar's records and the land registry. Governor Schreuder, in his memoir to his successor, points out the necessity of keeping up-to-date this source of information, "because a fully completed tombo is of much importance not only for the humblest man in the country but also in the interests of the inhabitants who are well off. For nothing is so proper and natural to any civilised nation than that its lands and subjects are registered in such a way that no child can be born or a greybeard, however old, can die, without this fact being known".
It is probably unnecessary to mention that the Dutch used this registration also as a source of income, just as their predecessors, and before them the Sinhalese kings had done.
The need for more precise registration was felt throughout the first hundred years of Dutch rule. The earliest efforts by them in the matter of tombo compilation appear to have arisen in 1663 from a discussion in the Galle council regarding the reorganisation of the system of land registration in that "commandement". It was decided to postpone the matter pending the receipt of instructions from Batavia and the arrival of the superintendent Rijckloff van Goens [5].This proposal was first put into effect on the 26th March 1675, by the issue of a "plakkaat" by both Rijckloff van Goens senior and junior, requiring all native chiefs of Galle to render certain returns with a view to the reorganisation of land registration in the Galle "commandement" to the Matara dessave [6].Similar action seems to have been taken in the Jaffna "commandement" [7]. References to later attempts at compiling a tombo of the Jaffna "commandement" on the order of the High Commissioner van Reede tot Drakesteyn, which do not seem to have fully materialised, are mentioned by governor Becker in 1716. He says that "more than 40 years have passed since the compilation of the old tombo in 1677" and that the Company therefore had "lost for nearly 40 years not only the rents that were evaded at the compilation of the old tombo in 1677, but also those on the fields, gardens, trees, and houses, cultivated, planted or built since that time" [8].
The only proofs of early efforts in the Colombo dessavony are found in the memoir of governor Pielat [9], who says that "though such a tombo was found with the dessave .... it was very imperfect" and in the remark by governor van Imhoff, that there are tombos of the Alutkuru and Hapitigam korales, but for the other korales only very poor lists [10].
It may be that the results of some early Dutch efforts at tombo compilation in the Colombo dessavony were lost together with the Portuguese tombos in 1702, when the secretary Gerrit van Toll is reported to have burnt several documents, of which, however, no list has been preserved [11] It was governor van Imhoff who gave the final impetus to the tombo compilation. In his "consideraties" [12] he urged an early establishment of a "landraad" in the Colombo dessavony, in which he also included proposals for the introduction of a regular system for compiling a tombo of the lands in Ceylon. Since this was a hundred years after the Portuguese had left, it could hardly be said that this new tombo was founded on Portuguese methods. At present the government archives have a large section "Dutch tombos", which were collected there from over the whole Island. As for those from Jaffna and Galle, they will be dealt with elsewhere. The tombos of the Matara dessavony have unfortunately been lost. They were apparently destroyed with the destruction of records by dessave van Schuler immediately prior to the occupation of this Island by the British [13].
The tombos were divided into two parallel series, the one called "hoofd" and the other "land", which were complementary to each other. The head [14] tombo is a compilation preliminary to the land tombo. It was only after the registration of the heads of the families that the appropriate persons should be summoned for the land registration. A third section, known as the "school" tombos, arose from a different source and will be dealt with elsewhere [15]The hoofd tombo sets down under each entry the full name of every landholder, his "wasagama" [16]and "patabendi nama" [17], and any alias by which he might have been known, together with his caste and occupation. Below were recorded the names of the individual members of his family - his wife, children, grandchildren, and his remoter kinsmen by blood or marriage. The land tombos are the registration of land, with the description of it and the condition under which it is held.
The tombos of the Colombo dessavony described hereafter are the records of three successive registrations:
The series of 1742 - 1759 as such is no longer extant, because its files apparently served for purposes of the revision of 1760 - 1761.
In the new tombos a distinction can be made between the copy kept in the "landraad" and the more elaborate copy kept by the "tombohouder" [18]. Moreover, within these sections, the distinction between "hoofd" and "land" tombo is observed in both the 1742 and the 1766 compilation.
Two methods of procedure were tried out during the process of land registration and its revisions.
The first, advocated by governor van Imhoff, was that of summoning the inhabitants, by means of "plakkaten " printed by the V.O.C. press in Colombo ward by ward to the "landraad" to produce their title deeds for purposes of registration by commissioners there. Where the deeds could not be produced, claims on land had to be supported by proper witnesses, the decision of the "landraad" in such cases being final, subject of course to the confirmation of the Governor in Council [19].
The second method, adopted by governor Schreuder, was that of sending out commissioners with the necessary assistants and native officers on circuit through the country, korale by korale.
When the tombo revision was ordered by governor Falck in 1766, after fall consideration of the "pros" and "cons" of these two methods in Council, preference was given to that of governor van Imhoff, and the new registration was conducted accordingly [20]. Unlike the system adopted in Galle, in the registration of the Colombo dessavony, these "hoofd" and land registrations were recorded in two separate volumes divided according to korales, pattuwas and villages. After the year 1759 as a general rule, the tombo registrations were conducted by one or two special commissioners, who presided at the sessions on alternate weeks with the assistance of the "tombohouder" [21], under the supervision of the dessave, and under the auspices of the "landraad" of the respective provinces or "commandements" in which they were conducted.
The role of the assisting "tombohouder" was important even after the registration when he had to keep his copy of the tombo up to date. He was a member of the "landraad" and had to report to both the Governor and the dessave, but as it was feared that his position might become awkward, he was made responsible to the Governor only [22].
It is apparent that the "tombohouder" Benjamin Gerritsz played a prominent part in all the tombo registrations of the Colombo dessavony commencing from the year 1742.
The first registration, begun on the 5th June 1742, which was prolonged for a period of 17 years over the regimes of five successive governors, was carried out according to an instruction to the commissioned members of the "landraad", dated 1745 November 15 [23]. There was a series of delays and postponements from various causes, chiefly owing to the difficulty of securing the attendance of the inhabitants at the sessions of the commissioners, various pleas such as floods, harvesting, attendance on embassies, and illness being made an excuse for their absence. Small-pox and the difficulty of releasing proper commissioners to carry out the work were definite obstacles. The work was finally completed on the 16th August 1759. A report by the "tombohouder" four days later sets out in detail the different stages of progress of this work [24].
Immediately after this a revision had to be made for changes which had occurred during the seventeen years which had elapsed since the start of the registration had to be entered up. Governor Schreuder ordered the tombos to be brought up to date, and in this connection issued the memoir for the "tombohouder".
This revision was completed within seventeen months, except in the Siyane and Hapitigam korales where it was hampered by the troubles with the Kandyan kingdom. On the 17th November 1761 the "tombohouder" reported the completion of this work [25]. From the entries on the tombos it could be seen that the revision was carried out on the 1742 - 1759 tombos. As mentioned before the revision of 1760 - 1761 did not create a new series.
"De nieuwe tombo" i.e., the new tombo, which is a new edition of this registration, was not carried out till after the settlement of the difficulties with the Kandyans and the restoration of internal peace by the Kandyan treaty of the 14th February 1766. It was begun on the 5th September 1766 on the orders of governor Falck, and was completed on the 9th September 1771.
In terms of article 14 of the instructions issued by governor Falck to the "tombohouder" and the "landraad" on the 5th September 1766 [26], one clean copy of every completed tombo in this revision was made and handed over to the "tombohouder", whose duty it was to keep it up to date by entering all subsequent additions and amendments resulting from decisions of the "landraad". For this purpose copies of "landraad" decisions were regularly sent to the "tombohouder" [27]Hence this is the most up-to-date copy extant; it is also the copy which is generally used for purposes of issuing tombo extracts, for which it was also used in Dutch times.
The original tombo compiled by the commissioners, which in terms of article 14 of the Governor's instruction had to be signed by the commissioners and the "tombohouder", was then sealed and deposited in the "landraad", and was never unsealed except on the Governor's orders.
The copy kept in the "landraad" was marked "principaal", and the "tombohouder's" copy "kopia".
The "principaal", unlike the copy maintained by the "tombohouder", was not used for amendments, nor for the issue of tombo extracts, which was usually recorded in the margin. This discriminating factor has often helped to decide whether a volume was a "landraad" or a "tombohouder's" file.
A collection of loose documents has been entered after the lists of the tombos, some of which still retain their original arrangement according to korales, pattuwas and villages, while others are merely disconnected tombo pages.