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

Description of the Subordinate Components


The Colombo "Landraad".
On the 21st of June 1661, when the governor Rijckloff van Goens framed his instructions for the Colombo dessave, he also gave orders that in petty cases a "landraad" - land court - should function, which was to consist of: the dessave, a lieutenant dessave, the captain of the Pasdun Korale, the mudaliyar of Colombo, the adigar of Matara, another mudaliyar, the chief of Negombo and the mudaliyar of Negombo. There is no evidence, however, that this court, which seems to have been intended to cover a wide area, ever functioned. In 1707, when governor Simons framed his instructions for the Colombo dessave, no mention of a "landraad" is made [1], nor is there any mention made in the general description of the condition of the Colombo dessavony submitted by the same Governor to the government at Batavia.
It would appear that, at the time, the dessave decided petty cases himself without reference to a court, matters of a higher value up to 80 rix-dollars being submitted to the Colombo "civiele raad", and cases above that value to the court of justice at Colombo.
There is evidence, however, from the memoir left by governor van Imhoff for his successor in 1740 [2] that a "landraad" did function at Matara, which therefore was the oldest institution of its kind in Ceylon.
When governor van Imhoff left this Island for Batavia, he formulated his recommendations regarding the island of Ceylon, in which he suggested the establishment of a "landraad" (land court) in the dessavony, as it was impossible for the dessave alone to do everything satisfactorily [3]This recommendation was regarded as the basis for the establishment of the new institution. The establishment of the Colombo and Galle "landraad" dates back to 1741 only. A complete set of instructions for all the "landraden" in the Island is found recorded in the council minutes of 25th June 1789 [4].
"Landraden" existed in Colombo, Jaffna, Galle, Matara, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, and Puttalam-Kalpitiya. Where no dessave or "commandant" had been appointed, the chief of the place presided. It is true that the "landraad" was a well known institution at Batavia, but the local conditions in the different places varied. This court, like so many other institutions of the V.O.C., was not restricted to judicial business only.
The "landraad" for the Colombo dessavony was situated in Hulftsdorp, at some distance from the capital, in the headquarters of this dessavony; even its surroundings were of a rural character. The dessave, the European civil and military head of the Colombo dessavony, being the chairman of the "landraad", resided here, well within the country, and was in contact with the native chiefs, several of whom were members of the court. The geographical jurisdiction of the "landraad" corresponded with that of the dessave over the Colombo dessavony, i.e. outside the "Kaaiman's Poort" and the fort. Apart from being a court, it may be presumed that its members individually assisted the dessave in their advisory capacity.
Here the native chiefs foregathered regularly with the European members of the court. Whenever difficulties arose and the people appealed to the dessave, he had the power to adjudicate. If the parties were not satisfied with his verdict they had the right of appeal to the "landraad". Although originally, authorised to settle cases concerning land matters only, a council order was issued on the 18th of October 1770to the effect that all cases of Ceylonese outside the gravets, except criminal cases, should be submitted in the first instance to this court, with the usual right of appeal to the "raad van justitie" (court of justice) in Colombo.
The dessave, the "fiscaal" (public prosecutor), who was the vice-chairman, and a variable number of other European Company servants, among whom were the tombo-keeper and the surveyor, formed, together with the maha mudaliyar, the atapattu mudaliyar, and generally two other less important mudaliyars the members of this court.
The meetings, in case there was any business to be transacted, took place on Saturday mornings. The commissioned members did the preliminary work and entered the business on the roll. It is interesting to note that according to the order of Council no decision could be made in land cases if the Ceylonese members were absent from court.
Regarding the documents left over, it has been stated already that no old lists of judicial papers have survived. Under the subject "internal affairs" one can find some documents on the purely agricultural and social conditions of the country, which deal with the Colombo dessavony and which probably originally belonged to the "landraad". The tombos form another closely related subject.