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

Description of the Subordinate Components

   Local Boards under control of the Central Government.

The "Weeskamer".
The documents entered in the following section are the remnants of the administration of an influential board, which existed during the Dutch administration of this Island and which is still a living institution in Java, the "Weeskamer".
Owing to the slowness of communication between Patria and the colonies in those days, the need for security of private possessions of the colonists soon began to be felt. The possession of Company's officials in the East, who died without leaving wife or children, were looked after by the "curator ad lites", who watched the interests of the deceased's relatives in Patria. In case however, a Dutch man or a Dutch woman left any children, the "weeskamer", which was an institution established by the V.O.C. to look after the possessions of minors, would intervene, and demand or cause to be complied an accurate list of the goods left by the deceased. Unless the deceased had definitely excluded this board [1] by an act drawn up in the secretariat [2], the "weesmeesters" would take charge of the children and the estate. Although the physical care of the orphans would almost invariably devolve on relations or friends, the "weesmeesters" were officially in charge and were responsible [3] to the Central Government for their action and their accounts, which were submitted twice a year to the Governor in Council.
This type of board was established in Colombo, Jaffna, Galle and Tuticorin. Like the members of some of the other boards in Colombo the members of the "weeskamer" were elected in Council from a list of names submitted by the existing board up to twice the number of members required. The Colombo "weeskamer" is mentioned as early as 1660 [4], but no set of instructions seems extant prior to that of 1780 July 4 [5]. The board originally consisted of four Company's officers and two "vrijburgers" (free-burghers), but in 1780 there were seven members, of whom the chairman was a council member, the others being four "vrijburgers" and two Company's servants.
It is of some importance to note that the documents relating to the "weesmeesters" were found hidden away among the earliest records of the supreme court of Colombo, from which place they were brought to the archives only in 1941 [6].
It is as well to mention that the "weesmeesters" had nothing to do with the orphanage or "weeshuis", which was under the care of the diaconate [7].
Apart from the Dutch "weeskamer", the government had established native "weeskamers" or "boedelkamers", which were entrusted with the care of the goods of the children of the islanders. These boards were established in Colombo, Jaffna, Galle, Matara, Negombo, Trincomalee, etc [8]. Although these boards have left no records, various references to their management are found in the council minutes. Apparently all communities were represented. In 1737 [9]
four Chetties were confirmed as members of the "boedelkamer" in Galle. On the 28th April 1750, a number of permanent members were appointed to the Sinhalese "weeskamer" or "boedelkamer", which was accommodated at Hulftsdorp. [10]They were: "the mudaliyar, the mohottiyar, one muhandiram of the Governor's Gate, a mohottiyar or muhandiram of the dessave, the mudaliyars of the Siyane, Hewagam, Salpiti and Alutkuru korales, with the Kuruwarala and as many other native chiefs as are suitable and could be released for that work, at the discretion of the dessave".
The "weeskamer" was allowed a seal, [11] which however does not appear to have ever been used.