Great Rebellion of 1817–18

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Uwa-Wellassa Uprising of 1817–18
Part of the Kandyan Wars
Date1817 October – 1818 November
Result British victory
King of Kandy.svg Kingdom of Kandy rebels

 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

King of Kandy.svg Kingdom of Kandy loyalists
Commanders and leaders

Keppetipola Disawe

Wilbawe Mudiyanse Doresami] (as assigned King)

Pilimatalavuva Maha Adikaram III

Kivulegedara Mohottala

Madugalle Disave

Ehelepola Nilame

Kohukumbure RateRala

Butewe Rate Rala

Wariyapola Sri Sumangala

Ehelapola Maha Adikaram

Gode Gedara Adikaram

Thanne Adikarama

Madulle Nilame

Megaskumbure Nilame

Kandepolla Nilame

Dunuwila Nilame

Iriyagama Nilame

Dimbulana Disave

Galagoda Mohottala

Galagedara Mohottala

Meegahapitiya Rate Rala

Dambawinna Disave

Kurundukumbure Mohottala

Madugalle Basnayake Nilame

Millawe Disawa

Nanapurowa Raterala

Allamulle Rala

Baknigahawella Mudiyanse

Nakkala Mudiyanse

Ketakala Mohottala

Maha Betmerala

Kuda Betmerala

Palagolla Mohottala

Passerewatte Vidane

Yalagomme Mohotalla

Udamadure Mohottala

Kohukumbura Mohottala

Kohukumbura Gahawela Raterala

Maha Badullegammene Raterala

Bulupitiye Mohottala

Palle Malheyae Gametirale

Hapategamme Mohottala

Gen. Sir Robert Brownrigg, 1st Baronet GCB

Sir John D'Oyly, 1st Baronet, of Kandy

Molligoda Maha Adikaram

Ratwatte Adikaram

Eknaligoda Dissawa

Molligoda Podi Nilame

Kawigamuwa Nilame

Mahawala Thanna Nilame

Mullegama Disaawa

Doloswala Nilame

Ahaliyagoda Nilame

Katugaha Maha Nilame

Katugaha Podi Nilame

Dibulana Nilame

Godagedara Nilame

Binthanne Adikaram

Gonigoda Nilame

James Gray

Simon Sawers

P.E. Woodhouse

George Turnor

James Sutherland

Col. John Kelly

Lt. Col. Hardy

Lt. Col. Hook

Hadji Muhandiram

Major MacDonald

Major Wilson

Major O’Brien

Capt. O’Neil

Lt. Newman

Lt. J. Maclaine

Captain Ritchie

Captain Fraser



Native Lieut. Annan

Native Lieut. Cader-Boyet
Units involved

Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) 73rd (Perthshire) Regiment of Foot

Green Howards 19th Regiment of Foot

King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry 51st Regiment of Foot

Royal Berkshire Regiment 49th Regiment of Foot

Royal Ulster Rifles 86th Regiment of Foot

Madras Army 105th Regiment of Foot (Madras Light Infantry)

Ceylon Light Dragoons

Ceylon Rifle Regiment

Unknown - From 20,000 to 100,000 in an islandwide network. 15000 to 24000
Casualties and losses

8000 to 10000

(entire male population above 18 in Uva allegedly killed by British in retribution)
900 to 2000

Great Liberation War of 1817–18 (Sinhala: ඌව වෙල්ලස්ස මහා විමුක්ති හටන), also known as the 1818 Uva–Wellassa uprising (after the two places it had started), was the third Kandyan War between native Kandyan rebels and the British, in what is now Sri Lanka. It took place in what is now Uva, then a province of the Kingdom of Kandy, against the British colonial government under Governor Robert Brownrigg, which had been controlling the formerly independent Udarata (up-country in Sinhalese).[1]


Following the annexation of the Kandyan Kingdom by the British under the terms of the Kandyan Convention in 1815, the British started to antagonize the Kandyan Chiefs who signed the convention through their actions. This included the breach of promises made by the British chiefs in terms of retaining the traditional privileges enjoyed by them during the era of the Kandyan Kingdom. They were further angered by the appointment of a Moor loyal to the British, Haji Muhandirum as Travala Madige Muhandiram of Wellassa, undermining the authority of Millewa Dissawa and sparking the uprising.[2]


Keppetipola Disawe was initially sent by the British government to stop the uprising, but ended up joining the rebellion and ordering the regiment he was commanded to return to their garrison. Keppetipola Disawe joined the uprising as its leader and is today celebrated for his actions in Sri Lanka. He assisted many regional leaders in providing men and material from various regions. The other leaders who supported this independent movement were: 2nd in-charge of Gode Gedara Adikaram, Wilbawe, II Pilima Talauve Adikaram, Kohu Kumbure Rate Rala, Dimbulana Disave, Kivulegedara Mohottala, [Madugalle Disave]], Butewe Rate Rala, Galagoda family members, Galagedara Mohottala, Meegahapitiya Rate Rala, Dambawinna Disave, and Kurundukumbure Mohottala.

Keppitipola went up to Alupotha and joined the fighters having returned all arms and ammunition of the British. Rev. Wariyapola Sri Sumangala of Asgiriya fled to Hanguranketa with the tooth relic casket, resulting in a more vigorous phase of the Great Liberation War, as the Sinhalese believed that whoever possessed this tooth relic would be the rightful ruler of the country. By September 1817, two leaders, Madugalle Basnayake Nilame and Ehelepola Nilame, surrendered to the British, and Pilimatalawe led the rebellion. The British captured Ellepola, who was the Dissawa of Viyaluwa; also captured was a brother of Maha Adikaram Ehelepola, and both were beheaded in Bogambara on 27 October 1818.

The 'Great Liberation War'[edit]

The Uwa-Wellassa Uprising was launched by Keppetipola Disawe. With the exceptions of Molligoda and Ekneligoda, many chiefs joined the uprising. The fighters captured Matale and Kandy before Keppetipola fell ill and was captured and beheaded by the British. His skull was abnormal — as it was wider than usual — and was sent to Britain for testing. It was returned to Sri Lanka after independence and now rests in the Kandyan Museum. The uprising failed due to a number of reasons. It was not well-planned by the leaders. The areas controlled by some pro-British chiefs provided easy transport routes for British supplies. Wilbawe, who was said to have a claim to the Sinhalese throne, was found not to have any relation.[3][4][5][6][7]



The rebellion led to the British colonial government to adopt a scorched earth policy in order to suppress it. This included the killing of cattle and other livestock, the destruction of private property (including homes and stocks of salt) and the burning of rice paddies. In addition to the scorched earth policies, the colonial government also confiscated properties owned by insurgents.[8]


In the 'Journal of Uva', Herbert White, a British agent in Badulla after the Great Liberation war wrote:

It is a pity that there is no evidence left behind to show the exact situation in Uva in terms of population or agriculture development after the Great Liberation war. The new rulers are unable to come up to any conclusion on the exact situation of Uva before the Great Liberation war as there is no trace of evidence left behind to come to such conclusions. If thousands died in the battle they were all fearless and clever fighters. If one considers the remaining population of 4/5 after the battle to be children, women, and the aged, the havoc caused is unlimited. In short, the people have lost their lives and all other valuable belongings. It is doubtful whether Uva has at least now recovered from the catastrophe.[9]

Gazette Notification[edit]

During the Great Liberation war, a Gazette Notification was issued by Governor Robert Brownrigg to condemn all those who fight against British Rule in Sri Lanka. All those who participated in the uprising were condemned as “traitors” and their properties confiscated by the government under the notification with some executed and others exiled to Mauritius. Several governments after the independence of Sri Lanka in the past have indicated their intention to revoke this Gazette Notification, but, however, did not take action to do so. The Gazette Notification issued by Governor Brownrigg was brought to Sri Lanka on the instruction of President Maithripala Sirisena.[10] It was submitted to the Parliament and was formally revoked with the signature of the President in 2017. This allowed all those who participated in the uprising to be recognized as National Heroes, and their label as traitors officially erased. A National Declaration was awarded on their behalf to their descendants.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sri Lanka is to revoke British Governor's infamous Gazette Notification". Archived from the original on 2 January 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  2. ^ nilame -a-true - The Great Liberation War/172-99233 "Monarawila Keppetipola Maha nilame: A true Fighter" Check |url= value (help).
  3. ^ Keppetipola and the Uva The Great Liberation War Virtual Library Sri Lanka. Retrieved 2007-10-01.
  4. ^ "Uva Wellassa The Great Liberation War - 1817 -1818". Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  5. ^ "Wellassa riots in 1818". Archived from the original on 2017-11-07. Retrieved 2009-08-04.
  6. ^ "Torture tree of the British Army". Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  7. ^ "1818 Uva Wellassa The Great Liberation War".
  8. ^ "Sri Lanka is to revoke British Governor's infamous Gazette Notification". Archived from the original on 2 January 2016. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  9. ^ Karalliyadda, S. B. (2004). "The need for University of Uva". The Island. Retrieved 2013-11-06.
  10. ^ WEERASINGHE, Chamikara. "Revokes infamous Brownrigg Gazzette notification of 1818: President grants 'National Hero' status to Uva-Wellasse The Great Liberation war". Daily News.
  11. ^ "81 leaders in 1818 freedom struggle declared as national heroes".

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]