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The New York Times, May 23, 1875:



The High Price of Living—Some of the Results of the Credit System
The Pay and Punishment of Servants—Scenery of the Island
How the Natives Build Their Houses—Value of the Cocoa-Nut Tree

    The Island of Ceylon [Sri Lanka] offers an extensive field to anyone engaged in entomological researches, for the different species of insect life to be met with there are very numerous. Before going "up country," a visitor who takes an interest in this science would find ample opportunity of studying it to perfection in the hotels, where specimens varying in size from a lizard to a midge, a minute insect which could balance itself on the point of a needle, are everywhere encountered.
    No part of the house is free from them, for no attempt is made to exterminate these pests of society. Old residents in the country pay but little attention to them, but a new comer takes some time to become reconciled to the presence of beetles and ants in his tea or coffee, lizards in his bath, cockroaches in his boots, and mosquitoes everywhere...

    The lizards are very numerous in the Colombo houses, and their presence is rather encouraged than otherwise, for their principal food consists of mosquitoes, which they show considerable skill in capturing. These little lizards are perfectly harmless, and frequently become very tame...


    But to return to the Colombo hotels. There is not much room for enterprise in this direction in the Ceylon capital, for the occupation is not a very lucrative one. Colombo boasts of two hotels, one kept under European management, the other belonging to a Cingalese [Sinhalese], who is as "cute" a fellow as ever breathed. In addition to his native vices, his association with Europeans has given him an opportunity to add to his original stock, and the result is that he has become one of the most crafty, smooth-tongued, money-grubbing rascals to be met with.
    His hotel is situated inside of the walls of the old Dutch fortifications which surround the town, and the other establishment is a mile off in the outskirts, near the main road leading from Colombo to Galle. It is erected within a dozen yards of the sea, and for a moment one is surprised that the house is not occasionally inundated...

    Of course the European house is the leading establishment, and has the most custom; but, at the same time, it gets the most of the bad debts, an important item in hotel-keeping in the East, where one of the greatest drawbacks with which the trading community has to deal is the credit system.
    The majority of the hotel guests are coffee planters, or people who are in other ways connected with the agricultural productions of the country. These planters are used to a rough kind of life at their up-country bungalows, and care but little about hotel comforts when they pay their periodical visits to Colombo to sell their crops, &c. The consequence is that the minimum of accommodation is furnished at the maximum of charge.

    The hotel in the town of Colombo would make a tolerably comfortable stable if thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, and the European house might possibly be renovated and used as a coachhouse on an extensive scale. The fact is that until the "good time" for which the Colombo hotel-keepers are waiting arrives—the time when the shipping interests are moved there from Point de Galle—they cannot afford to keep up their establishments in any great style. One of the main reasons for this is the practice of giving credit recklessly.
    Almost unlimited trust appears to be afforded to people who drop into the house casually—so long as they are Europeans—and this system is carried on to an extent which is highly detrimental to trade. Cash transactions are very rare, and it is not necessary in a journey through the island that a man should provide himself with more currency than sufficient to cover his railroad expenses or coach hire.


    A strange custom observed at the hotels is the signing of chits when an order is given at the bar for wines or liquors. These chits are small pieces of paper, signed either with the initials or full name of the party who gives the order... If the stranger chooses to sign a false name, or a name so illegibly written that it cannot be deciphered, still it is no business of the man behind the bar. All he has to do is retain the paper as proof that the liquor was supplied and not paid for.
    These IOUs are collected about once a month, and except in cases of fraud—which, unfortunately for the hotelkeepers, are not uncommon—there is no difficulty in finding the person who gave them. There are not over a thousand European inhabitants in Ceylon, and the whereabouts of each of them is easily ascertained.


    The coffee plantations are under the superintendence of Peria Doris and Siane Doris (managers and assistant managers), who receive an annual salary of from 1,500 to 4,000 rupees ($750 to $2,000). In all cases a bungalow, more or less indifferently furnished, is provided...
    Residents in Ceylon calculate that a rupee would go twice as far in England as it does in the East, and experience proves that this is a fair calculation... Most of the engagements are for three years service—quite long enough in such an unhealty climate. It is not an exaggeration to say that at the end of the period mentioned, in nine cases out of ten, the planter finds it impossible to return to Europe for a change, for the simple reason that he cannot afford the expense, and even if he could, he is unable to pay off the debts with which he has saddled himself.

    The proprietors of the coffee estates reside in England, perhaps paying a visit once in a year or two to the island, but many of them not coming to take the risk in the face of the reputation which the place has for fever, &c. Nearly all the Superintendents are Scotchmen...
    Wines and spirits are about double the price in Ceylon as compared with their price in England. Butter is about forty-five cents per pound, bacon even higher, and cheese may be placed in the same category. Wearing apparel is nearly three times the price asked in England. The credit system in vogue at the hotels extends also to the stores...


    The Island of Ceylon is a British colony in itself, and is in no way under the supervision or control of the Governor General of India. There is a Legislative Council, at the head of which is the Governor of the colony, who is appointed by the British Government. This Legislative Council is composed of civil and military authorities...
    In addition to these officials there are representatives of the Cingalese and Tamil races. These are educated natives, and are elected by vote from the body of the people. The Council [operates] on the same basis as the English House of Commons...


    Newspaper enterprise on the island is carried on to an extent which astonishes strangers. There are two English daily papers published in Colombo, one bi-weekly paper issued in the same language, and about half a dozen weekly papers in Tamil and Cingalese. The dailies are small and devoid of interesting news... Of course the two papers are antagonistic, and the editorials are generally devoted to personal abuse...


    One of the causes of living being expensive in the East is due to the fact that an almost unlimited number of servants have to be kept. Even a bachelor cannot get along without three or four native retainers, for a servant who attends to the cooking department does not understand anything about the ordinary housework...
    Rupees can be left about the house with impunity, but if small coins are not placed in security they disappear... The usual custom adopted throughout the island is to fine the servant for any suspected theft or misdemeanor; this is called "cutting"... the "cuts" sometimes amount to more than a months wages.

    These wages are not high. A kitchen coolie, whose business it is to cut wood and fetch and carry water, receives about eight rupees ($4) a month... and a cook or bazaar appii (whose duty it is to attend to the marketing) is paid from ten to twelve rupees ($5 to $6) per month. Out of this, the servants have to find their own food. They live entirely on rice, with a curry made of any odds and ends of meat or fish together with an abundant supply of fruit.
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    Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka: The Sinhalese arrived in Sri Lanka late in the 6th century B.C., probably from northern India. Buddhism was introduced beginning in about the mid-third century B.C., and a great civilization developed at the cities of Anuradhapura (kingdom from circa 200 B.C. to circa 1000 A.D.) and Polonnaruwa (from about 1070 to 1200). In the 14th century, a south Indian dynasty seized power in the north and established a Tamil kingdom.

    Occupied by the Portuguese in the 16th century and by the Dutch in the 17th century, the island was ceded to the British in 1796, became a crown colony in 1802, and was united under British rule by 1815. As Ceylon, it became independent in 1948; its name was changed to Sri Lanka in 1972.

    Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists erupted in violence in the mid-1980s. Tens of thousands have died in an ethnic war that continues to fester. After two decades of fighting, the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) formalized a cease-fire in February 2002 with Norway brokering peace negotiations. Violence between the LTTE and government forces intensified in 2006 and the government regained control of the Eastern Province in 2007.

    In May 2009, the government announced that its military had finally defeated the remnants of the LTTE and that its leader, Velupillai PRABHAKARAN, had been killed.
    CIA World Factbook: Sri Lanka

Area of Sri Lanka: 65,610 sq km
slightly larger than West Virginia

Population of Sri Lanka: 21,513,990
July 2010 estimate

Languages of Sri Lanka:
Sinhala 74% official and national language
Tamil 18% national language - other 8%
English is commonly used in government and is spoken competently by about 10% of the population

Sri Lanka Capital: Colombo

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    A native can live for about an anna (three cents) per day. All he has to pay for is his rice, which will be supplied to him by contract by his rice 'tamby (merchant) at about two rupees ($1) per month. The meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables can be filched out of his master's kitchen...

    One of the chief lines in Ceylon is the railway from Colombo to Kandy. A very good idea of the interior of the island is gained by taking a trip to the "up-country" capital. Kandy is at a much higher elevation than Colombo, and at one part of the line, known as the "Sensations Rock," the traveler looks out of the window of the railroad car down a precipice a thousand feet high. The railroad is simply a sort of notch cut in the side of the mountain, and five or six miles up this incline the cars run within three or four feet of the edge of the precipice, a sheer wall of rock being on the other side.
    The valley beneath is well cultivated, and numerous fields of paddy (rice) are scattered about the round mud huts of the natives. Just before reaching Kandy the line becomes nearly level. Even travelers with the strongest of nerves feel a relief when they reach the summit of the incline...


    The temperature around Colombo and near the sea-coast is much too high to admit of the cultivation of the coffee shrub, which requires a cooler and more variable climate, such as is met around Kandy and in the mountains. On the occasion of the visit of our party the coffee shrubs wre covered with their snow-white blossoms, which contrasted picturesquely with the dark green foliage...

    When the berry is ready for gathering, it is of a bright red color, not unlike a cherry, but growing close to the branch of the bush, instead of being pendent at the end of a long stalk. As soon as they are gathered, the berries are removed to the pulping house, where they undergo an operation which removes the outside pulp or fleshy substance from the two coffee beans found inside of each berry. This is all that can be done on the estate, for the outer skin of the berries is not removed until it is sent to Colombo, where it undergoes another operation for this purpose at the curing mills. The roasting is not undertaken until the article reaches Europe.

    Once arrived in the coffee-growing regions of the island, the cocoa nut tree is no longer met with; but, notwithstanding this, the natives secure a supply of the products of this useful tree from their neighbors on the coast whenever they have the opportunity. They make their houses out of the fibre of these trees mixed with clay and sand. The nuts provide them with material for concocting a very savory curry. The brances are used for furniture, the wood for building purposes, the outside skin of the nut for fuel, while the nut itself furnishes them with oil and arrack, upon the latter of which they can, and do, get drunk to their heart's content. The fibre is also used in the construction of ropes and carpets, and for the purpose of stuffing beds. Upon the whole, there is no tree the products of which can be turned to such manifold purposes as the cocoa-nut palm of Ceylon.

The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1875 was equivalent to $19.56 in 2008.

additional New York Times Sri Lanka articles at
Ceylon Coffee Culture 1878, by TWK - Tea Growing in Ceylon 1888, by David Ker

The New York Times, April 22, 1888, p.10:




    KANDY, Ceylon, Feb. 6—In our flight up here from the coast we have, indeed, lost the sea, but we have found the hills instead, and so far the exchange is unquestionably in our favor. Any one who has seen for himself what surpassing grandeur looks forth through all the blackness and bareness of stormy Montenegro, with its drifting snows and black frowning precipices, can faintly imagine hundredfold glories of a tropical Montenegro within 8 of the line, with all the splendor of equatorial vegetation outpoured over every ridge and hollow in a rank and riotous abundance compared with which the brightest coloring of European gardens is as nothing.

    As yet we are hardly 2,000 feet above the sea, but in a few days time we expect to move up 4,000 more, and to enjoy in all its fullness the finest climate in the world, viz., the atmosphere of tropical mountains during the cool season. In the meantime our present surroundings are picturesque enough to be worth a much longer stay than we shall have time to make among them.
    Kandy is indeed a perfect realization of that strange country up in the air about which we used to read in Jack and the Beanstalk. In a kind of cup hidden away among the wooded hilltops glitters a tiny lake—just as if some mountain giant had poured out a glass of water for himself and then forgotten all about it—and on the margin of this lake the dainty white houses of a pretty little toy town nestle amid a green mass of clustering leaves, while all around it the great ridges of the Kandyan mountains, crested with palms and mangoes to the very summit, roll up wave beyond wave against the warm dreamy blue of the tropical sky.

    So still and bright and peaceful is the whole scene, in the freshness of early morning, that we may well find it hard to believe that these quiet little brown-faced fellows who glide noiselessly past us really belong to one of the most savage races upon earth, or that this charming valley has witnessed deeds of hell surpassing the worst horrors of Turkey's vengeance upon Bulgaria. Yet such is actually the case. There are very probably a few old men still alive in the labyrinth of leaf-thatched hovels behind our hotel who can remember the evil days when scores of victims were slung into this beautiful lake with their hands tied, and when these slient palm groves echoed with the shrieks of children tortured and butchered before the very eyes of their mothers, who perished in their turn by the same torments before the blood of their murdered infants was dry.

    But these grim memories, and countless others more grim and ghastly still, have left little outward trace upon the quiet beauty of the lovliest valley in Western Ceylon. Man's ravage is as transient as himself, and the forgiveness of eternal nature covers his intrenchments with wild flowers and his battlefields with fresh grass, almost before the thunders of war have ceased to rend the air. Poppies bloom rich and red above the countless slain of Inkerman. Sheep feed peacefully among the grave mounds of Balaklava. Stately palms cast their protecting shadow upon the calm, sweet face of the marble angel that watches over the thrice-accursed well of Cawnpore [Kanpur].
    So it is with Kandy likewise. An English library now stands on the spot where two innocent women were hurled into the lake with heavy chains attached to their feet, while the human hyena who called himself King of Kandy laughed with hellish glee at the vail agonies of their death struggle. Ladies sit over their books or their work in easy chairs along the veranda of a comfortable hotel where once 170 British wounded were burned alive as an acceptable sacrifice to the idols of Kandy. A mail train now rattles every day through the steep rocky gorge from which, in days that not a few living men can remember, the mountain robbers were wont to pour downward from this historical vulture's nest, bent on one of their exterminating raids over the wide, rich plain below.
    As the traveler glides away toward Matale along a recently-opened railroad, a large tree close to the track is pointed out to him as marking the scene of the hideous massacre of Wattepolowa, (described in one of my letters from England last fall,) when there were slaughtered like sheep more than 500 English prisoners who had rashly trusted themselves to the good faith of a gang of cut-throats to whom faith and mercy were alike unknown.

    But it would seem that the Kandyans of the present generation have not wholly forgotten the tricks of their fathers, if I may judge by the following announcement, which greeted my astonished eyes in the vestibule of the hotel on our arrival here last Monday, and later on in every part of the building:

Notice:.— As robberies in the bedrooms are of frequent occurrance, visitors are particularly requested not to leave money or valuables of any kind lying about, but to hand them to the manager for safe keeping.

    This is almost equal to the famous "Notice" said to have been posted up in a hotel opposite the gambling saloon at Baden-Baden:

Gentlemen wishing to commit suicide at this establishment are requested to do so in their own rooms, and with a due regard to the safety of the furniture.

    But even the chance of being rifled by these amateur Custom House officers is well worth risking for the sake of that glorious and life-giving freshness that replaces among these breezy mountain peaks the hot, rank, lifeless closeness of the great jungle swamp below. Worse by far than the heat is the all-pervading damp, which makes your very clothes cling to you till you feel like a pound of butter rolled up in a newspaper.
    Even on the very beach itself, where the fresh sea breeze does its best to relieve the prevailing deadness and lassitude, the atmospheric oppression is bad enough, but further inland it becomes absolutely overwhelming. You see its baneful effect in everything around you...

    But you seem to have got into a new world when once you have climbed the great mountain wall of Kandy and passed through the lifeguard of wooded hills encircling the famous natural fortress which defied all invaders for more than three centuries, after every other part of Ceylon had fallen under the power of European conquerors. Even during the heat of the day there is nearly always a fresh breeze along the higher slopes; but in the morning and evening the atmosphere is cool and bracing enough to make you imagine yourself on the uplands of Norway or the mountains of Switzerland rather than in the heart of one of the hottest regions of tropical Asia.

    If you want to enjoy yourself thoroughly in Kandy, get up at 5:30, have a cold bath and a cup of tea, and start out for a mountain walk before the sun is high. Away, away, up curve after curve of the steep winding road, now grazing the edge of a fathomless precipice and now plunging into the rich purple gloom of a shady palm grove, while around and above you all the wonders of tropical vegetation outspread themselves in the fullness of their unutterable splendor! Mile after mile the grand mountain scenery unrolls before you in the cloudless glory of the sunrise its magnificent panorama of ridge and valley, rock and stream, shadowy woods and glittering waterfalls, and as you mount higher and higher, the keen, bracing mountain air seems to rush through your veins in a stream of living fire, sending an elastic vigor pulsing through every nerve and muscle which makes the mere sense of existence an enjoyment.

    But all this while I am forgetting to describe the most picturesque experience that we have yet had in Ceylon, viz., our railway journey up here from the coast last Monday morning. Early as it is when we rattle up to the central station in a light gharri (native hack carriage) it is already quite hot enough, and threatening to become ere long what I once heard an English tourist call "more hotterer." We are glad to find ourselves snugly seated in an airy "saloon car," with its well-cushioned sofas round three sides of it and a mirror and lavatory on the fourth, from the open windows of which, overshadowed by sloping screens projecting several feet beyond the roof, we look down upon a very strange and motley scene, which would considerably astonish one whose ideas of a railway station had been formed in Europe or America.
    Dark-skinned hackmen in crimson turbans, brown-faced conductors with red Turkish caps and sashes, bare-limbed peddlers selling betel nuts [areca nuts] and chupatties [Chapatis] (thin wheat cakes) instead of newspapers and novels, ticket clerks arrayed in striped skirts and white cotton caps, and railway notices posted up in letters which look like the fragments of countless pairs of broken scissors.

    And now comes a kind of curious procession, in which are curiously represented the four different religions of Ceylon. Two Roman Catholic nuns come gliding noiselessly past in their long black shrouds, with the rigid white band imprisoning faces in which—pale and thin though they are—fasts and vigils have not totally extinguished the traces of beauty which must once have been far beyond that of ordinary women. Following them appears a Buddhist priest, with his whole head shaven as smooth as a billiard ball, and his gaunt body completely enveloped in a loose yellow robe, all except the right arm, which is left bare to the very shoulder. Next on the list comes a turbaned Mohammedan trader eyeing the "unbelieving dog" with a look of undisguised aversion. Then this singular procession is closed by a stout Protestant clergyman with a big umbrella, looking very hot and uncomfortable in his black broadcloth coat and evidently not in the best of tempers at finding that the train is likely to be crowded.

    Crowded indeed it is, as we soon discover to our cost. A Peninsular and Oriental steamer has just arrived, bringing with her from Melbourne a throng of enthusiastic Australian holiday makers, who have all come ashore in a body, bent upon doing a match against time to Kandy and back "to see all they can," which, considering that they have only two days for the whole expedition, is likely to be little enough. Five of them come bursting into our car one after another, filling up all the vacant places, and they have barely time to seat themselves when the whistle sounds and we are off.

    But we are off only to halt again a few minutes later at Maradana Junction, where the coast line to Mount Lavinia and Kalutara (described in my first letter from Ceylon) forks off from the Kandy Railway.
    Here we have a fearful proof of what this baneful climate can do in a spectacle of a poor wretch hobblilng painfully across the station platform, dragging after him a foot almost as thick as a gate post, the result of that horrible "elephantiœsis," which is one of the worst scourges of Southern Asia. In truth, such warnings as these, and others even more grim, meet one at every turn in the heart of this bright region, showing that beneath all its gorgeous coloring and rich tropical beauty, death lies awaiting hungrily for his prey.

    On either side of us, far as the eye can reach, extends the rank, unwholesome green of the low, wet rice fields, mapped out into chess-board squares by the narrow, slippery footpaths that run between them. Then the scene changes and we plunge amid dense masses of dark, matted thicket, forming an impenetrable wall against the fresh breeze that strives in vain to fling a breath of health and life into the hot, stifling closeness that broods over them forever.
    And now the thickets in their turn are replaced by the foul, sluggish waters of a boundless swamp, out of which starts up, spectrally, every here and there the huge, broad back of a wallowing buffalo or black head of a native fowler.

    Grim work it must have been for the earliest European invaders of Ceylon, weighed down as they were by their clumsy guns and heavy accoutrements, to drag themselves through these deadly morasses, gnawed by hunger and giddy from want of sleep, while man after man sank down and died beneath the blighting breath of the fever...

    But little by little the distant hills begin to stand out plainer and plainer, the ground becomes rugged and broken, and wooded ridges rise around us, through the clustering leaves of which vast boulders of purple rock start out ever and anon. We are leaving the cities of the plain behind us at last, and by the time we reach the foot of the Rambukauna incline (where the ascent to Kandy begins in earnest, with an extra locomotive to help,) we can indulge in a comfortable sense of having got over the worst part of the journey.
    Just at this point breakfast is announced, and we scurry along the platform to the "refreshment car" in front of the train. But, although the tea is "pure Cingalese" and the curried chicken almost faultless, we make but a poor meal, for the surpassing grandeur of the encircling scenery keeps us jumping up every half minute or so to look at some fresh wonder, in a way not at all conductive to wholesome digestion.

    Upward, ever upward—now gliding through a cutting so narrow that we instinctively hold our breath in momentary expectation of a crash against the dark-red rocks on either side—now plunging head-long into the black depths of a tunnel, only to burst forth again the next moment into the glory of tropical sunshine and the many-colored blaze of tropical flowers; now brushing aside in our passage a mass of overarching palm leaves, and now hanging in midair upon the brink of a fathomless precipice.
    And still, as we mount higher and higher, the wonderful panorama below us outspreads itself in ever-widening range—shaggy woods and trim plantations, sparkling streams and sunny valleys, frowning rocks crested with feathery palm trees, and bare patches red clay gaping like raw wounds in the green hillside—till it seems as if we could see all over the world at once.

    "Do you see that white streak over yonder among the bushes?" says our opposite neighbor, an English telegraph official. "That's the old highroad from Colombo, by which we used to go up and down before the railway was completed. Now, keep a look out, for we're just coming to a place called Sensation Rock, which ought to startle you if anything can."

    Scarcely has he spoken when we are rushing past the famous spot itself, and our fellow-passengers lean out of the windows with muttered exclamations of amazement, as well they may. Seldom, indeed, in any part of the earth have I seen a more perfect realization of my childish imaginings about "the edge of the world." The whole mountain side appears to have been cut sheer away with one slash of a mighty sword, and as we bend over the side of the car we look down nearly a thousand feet into a wide, green valley, where the native houses seem as small as pebbles, and the towering palms that overshadow them look no bigger than ears of corn.

    Just one moment do we hang poised on the brink of that awful gulf, and then it is gone as if it had never been, and we are steaming onward to Kadugannawa, the highest point of the railway, 2,000 feet above the sea. Thence we rattle downward again into the wooded hollow in which lies cradled the capital of the Cingalese Montenegro, and at 11:15 A. M. (having taken 3 hours 45 minutes to accomplish the 72 miles from the seaboard,) we find ourselves fairly in Kandy at last.

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