Great Rebellion of 1817–18
|Uwa Wellassa Great Rebellion of 1817–18 ඌව වෙල්ලස්ස මහ කැරැල්ල|
|Part of the Kandyan Wars|
|Kandyan rebels||United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland|
|Commanders and leaders|
Wilbawe as assigned King
Pilima Talauve Adikaram
Ehelapola Maha Adikaram
Gode Gedara Adikaram
Kohu Kumbure Rate Rala
Butewe Rate Rala
Meegahapitiya Rate Rala
Madugalle Basnayake Nilame
Rev. Wariyapola Sumangala Thera
Kohukumbura Gahawela Rterala
Maha Badullegammene Raterala
Palle Malheyae GametiraleHapategamme Mohottala
Gen. Sir Robert Brownrigg, 1st Baronet GCB
Molligoda Maha Adikaram
Molligoda Podi Nilame
Mahawala Thanna Nilame
Katugaha Maha Nilame
Katugaha Podi Nilame
Col. John Kelly
Lt. Col. Hardy
Lt. Col. Hook
Lt. J. Maclaine
Native Lieut. AnnanNative Lieut. Cader-Boyet
|Unknown - From 20,000 to 100,000 in an islandwide network.||15000 to 24000|
|Casualties and losses|
|8000 to 10000||900 to 2000|
Part of a series on the
|History of Kandy|
|Kingdom of Kandy (1469–1815)|
|Colonial Kandy (1815–1948)|
|Sri Lanka portal|
The Uwa Wellassa Great Rebellion of 1817–1818 ඌව වෙල්ලස්ස මහ කැරැල්ල , also known as the 1818 Uva–Wellassa uprising (after the two places it had started), or simply the Uva rebellion, was the third Kandyan War with the British, in what is now Sri Lanka. It took place in what is now Uva, which was 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).
Following the annexation of the Kandyan Kingdom by the British under the terms of the Kandyan Convention in 1815, British started to antagonise the Kandyan Chiefs who signed the convention through their actions. This included the breach of promises made by the British chiefs in terms 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 Marikkar as Travala Madige Muhandiram of Wellassa undermining the authority of Millewa Dissawa sparked the rebellion.
This misinterpretation was the cause of the ethnic and divisive problems in the country created by the British. No leader was able to correct this mistake although we have adopted Various constitutions at different times.John De Oyly, designated as the Resident Representative, became the ruler of our kingdom. His second in command was James Gray and the next in line was Simon Sawers. The western area was under P.E. Woodhouse, as the Agent of the government in Colombo, overlooking the central area, who was also the acting Colonial Secretary.
Later George Turnor succeeded as the Agent of the government and functioned as Colonial Secretary as well. With these changes the Sinhalese were placed under an alien administration. They were used to a rule by a king who moved with them at various social cultural and religious ceremonies held on different occasions. Hence, they felt that they were neglected and unwanted in the course of day to day administration and governance.
John De Oyly was Legal Commissioner while the Revenue Commissioner was Simon Sawers, John Kelley was the Chief of the Armed Forces. This powerful trio, with James Sutherland as the Head, Administering the Kandyan Kingdom and subordinate agents assisting, the country was placed under Assistant Agents for the purpose of revenue collection in Uva, Sabaragamuwa Thun Korale and Hatarakorale.
The Sinhale consisted of 21 divisions, of which twelve were Disawas and nine "ratas". This composition continued till 1818 with John De Oyly in Kandy, Simon Sawers in Badulla and Henry White in Kandy to assist. Besides, there were Additional Agents of the government in some places. They had a few Sinhala clerks who could speak English. The Britishers who were not aware of the Sinhale social set up and aspirations of the masses and the role of the subordinate stake holders, such as Korales, Mohottalas, Vidanes, etc. in the process of governance, gradually distanced themselves from the administration, thereby creating disgust and distrust in British rule. The key players like the Adikarams and Dissawes too were unhappy, when they gradually lost their powers and source of income they derived from the entrance gates or 'Kadawat' to the Kandyan areas.
This situation was developing within a short span of 32 months after signing the convention. The British may have had memories of bitter experiences they gained in their Kandyan Wars in 1801, 1802, 1803, etc. and how they could take revenge from these village martyrs. They wanted to enforce the system of administration practised in the maritime provinces. The pride they had due to their white skin coupled with the experiences of slave trade that was spreading in the world and having seen how the blacks and Red Indians were treated in the slave market, the British probably thought that the Sinhale people also could be treated like slaves. They seem to have taken a period of over hundred years to realize that we have a history of thousands of years of a civilized culture, long before the Englishmen were hunting in the wilds naked in Northern Europe. They started violating the conditions of the convention and with the blessings of the military appointed a Muslim as a Muhandiram to Wellassa.
The English too were a nation of traders like moors. The Englishmen started bartering textiles and ornamental items in exchange to our ivory and spices. Later they became interested in coffee, cocoa and tea and acquired vast stretches of lands under the Waste Lands Ordinance, Crown Land Ordinance, etc, thus becoming land owners and planters. The Sinhalese were reduced to the status of gypsies. In terms of clause 12 of the Convention, we had to facilitate the export of their merchandise while the English in return promised to supply the Sinhalese with clothes, salt and cash for our services.
Cause of Rebellion
The 1817 rebellion described as the Uva rebellion by historians is the culmination of the peoples anger and dissatisfaction over the British rule which promised to uphold and foster the Buddhist religion and observe the traditions and norms that hitherto prevailed in the Kandyan Kingdom up to the signing of the convention of 2nd March 1815. Mr. Wiliam Tolfry, the Chief Translator of the British Government; appraised the Commissioner in-charge of Kandyan affairs Mr. Sutherland of the volatile situation that prevailed in the country at the beginning of December 1816 and January 1817, and warned him of an impending revolt against the British administration.
Reports reached the authorities that one Duraisamy,a relative of the deposed king and claiming his rights to the throne is mustering the support of the people in Uva for a rebellion and that some Sinhalese leaders too joined him.
Duraisamy was the son of Kalu Nayakkar, a relation of the former king. He was a native of Sath Korale, a Buddhist priest for sometime and now appeared in public as Wilbawe. These facts were later confirmed by the evidence of Udugama Unnanse at the trial.
The appointment of a Malay Muhandiram Hadji by Major Wilson - Resident in Badulla was another action of the British which earned the displeasure of the Sinhalese to the British administration. The areas of Uva Wellassa, Nuwarakalaviya were neglected jungle areas which had a predominant population of Muslims who disrupted time and again the smooth supply of salt and dry fish to the people in the Kandyan Kingdom
Keppetipola Disawe was sent initially by the British government to stop the uprising but ended up joining the rebellion as its leader and is celebrated for his actions even today 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 (an alias of Duraisamy, a Nayakkar of Royal blood), 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 rebels having returned all arms and ammunition of the British. Rev. Wariyapola Sumangala of Asgiriya fled to Hanguranketa with the relics casket which resulted in a more vigorous phase of the rebellion. By September 1817 two rebel leaders Madugalle Basnayake Nilame and Ellepola Adikaram surrendered to the British and Pilimatalawe led the rebellion. The British captured Ellepola who was the Dissawa of Viyaluwa and a brother of Maha Adikaram Ehelepola and beheaded them in Bogambara on 27 October 1818.
The rebellion was launched by Keppetipola Disawe. Except for Molligoda and Ekneligoda, many Chiefs joined the rebels. The rebels 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 rebellion failed due to a number of reasons. It was not well planned by the leaders. The areas controlled by some Chiefs who helped the British provided easy transport routes for British supplies. Doraisami who was said to have a claim to the Sinhalese throne was found not to have any relation.
Rebellion Spreads Out
In 1817 October the rebellion broke out. Major Wilson who was in Badulla sent out a battalion under Hadji Muhandiram, commanded by Hadjis’ brother himself to quell the rebellion. The people of Uva were so provoked with this incident that they caught Hadji and produced him before Duraisamy who after trial sentenced him to be beheaded.
The British were not deterred by this action of the Sinhalese. Their arrogance and pride saw no limit when once again on 12.10.1817 Major Wilson himself marched to Uva with a Malay troop under his command with Lt. Newman. On this march Major Wilson was killed near the present Bibile town when an arrow aimed by the Sinhalese rebels pierced his chest. The British and Malay soldiers had to surmount difficult terrain which they were not used to in this type of gaurilla battles. This was a novel experience which retarded their forward march.
In the meantime Lt. Col. Hardy gathered intelligence that the rebels were on the march to Dolosbage in Gampola area. Hence on 18.10.1817 he proceeded towards that area with troops commanded by Major O’Brien. On arrival they found that the area was calm and quiet free of any incidents. The people of Hatarakorale and Tunkorale too refused to join the rebels. The British government attributed this attitude of the natives to the influence that Molligoda exerted in the area and the personal grudge he had with Keppetipola. But in Galaboda Korale which was the native place of Keppetipola’s father the Britishers faced problems with the rebels. It was observed that Keppetipola had not been seen in the area for nearly eight months after the rebellion broke out.
To show the gratitude of the British to those who did not participate in the rebellion, the British government by gazette notification No. 19 of 1818 reduced the grain tax from 1/10 to 1/14. By section 22 of the same order all lands belonging to those in the Korale were exempted from land tax. In terms of Clause 53 a centralized civil and judicial system of administration was set up with Headquarters in Kandy from where three British civil servants started functioning.
that time the Kandyan chiefs and holders of other subordinate positions under the British had not got together and discussed their plans and strategies to overthrow the British regime. When Wilson heard about the disturbances in Wellassa, he sent the newly appointed Muhandiram to investigate into the situation and report to him the ground realities. The disgruntled people caught Hadji and killed him. When Wilson received this information he himself set off from Badulla to inquire into the incident at Wellassa. While returning to Badulla, Wilson was shot and his team of soldiers were caught and detained by the rebels. The place where this incident occurred is today known as Wilson Plains.
In the meantime three soldiers who were on their way to Badulla carrying a message from Fort Macdowell in Matale were also caught by the rebels and killed. Even their corpses could not be found by the English troops. When De Oyly received information about these incidents he ordered Symon Sawers to go with Ehelepola to Wellassa and settle the issues with the rebels. But the historians are of the view that instead of Ehelepola if Molligoda, who was the first Adigar at the time, was sent the situation would have been brought under control.
Ehelepola went to Matale and met his kinsman Ratwatte and discussed with him and proceeded to Nalanda to meet Governor Brownrigg and Lady Brownrigg returning from Anuradhapura. There he requested Brownrigg to remove Millawa who was aged from Uva and appoint Keppetipola as Disawa of Uva. As stated earlier, since the Chiefs did not discuss their plans and strategies, Keppetipola by now had joined the rebels, to lead them.
In addition to Uva Wellassa, the rebels by now were active in Bintenna, Walapane, Kotmale, Hewaheta and Dumbara. The British deployed Malay and Sipoy troops but they could not cross Kelani ganga as it was flooded. By January 1818 (01.01.1818) the government issued a gazette notification naming Keppetipola, Kiulegedara, Butawe, Kohukumbure and twelve others as traitors and confiscated their lands and properties.
By March 1818, Madugalle Uda Gabada Nilame, Ehelepola Maha Nilame, Pilimatalawa, Kobbekaduwa Disawa and Rate Mahattaya, joined the rebels to lead the struggle. Troops were brought from Bengal and Madras to reinforce the British troops. They burnt villages, looted properties, killed more than 10,000 natives, while thousand of their fighters too lost their lives in the battle. Unfortunately, there were three main reasons that led to the failure of the independence struggle.
Spread and fall of the rebels
The rebellion spread to the other areas of the Kandyan Kingdom. In the month of April 1818 Rev. Wariyapola Sri Sumangala of Asgiri Maha Viharaya removed the sacred tooth relic to Hanguranketa an area of difficult terrain. Subsequent to the removal of Tooth Relic from Kandy the rebellin broke out in Matale, Dumbara, Denuwara, Walapane, Hewaheta etc. by the people joining the rebels. To face the new developments in the war front troops had to be brought from Batticaloa and Kandy.
Most of the soldiers in the British troops were killed by the Sinhalese. By now a gazette notification No. 6 of 1817 was issued awarding a reward of two thousand Rix dollars to the head of each rebel - Wilbawe, Kiulegedara Mohottala, Butawe Rate Rala and other rebel leaders. Kiulegedara Mohottala was arrested and beheaded at Bogambara on 18.12.1818. Kiulegedara Mohottala was the Disawa of Walapana and a royal poet in the Court of Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe. The Disawa of Viyaluwa Ellepola, Ehelepola, a brother of Maha Adikaram was also arrested and beheaded at Bogambara on 27.10.1818. By now the following leaders also surrendered. They were Mattamagoda Disawa of Tunkorale, Kobbekaduwa Disawa of Udapalatha, Dambawinna Disawa, Dimbulana Disawa, Godagedara Disawa, Kataragarna Maha Bethme and Basnayaka Nilame, Bootawe Rate Rala. Towards the end of September with the onset of monsoon rains Madugalle Basnayaka Nilame and Ellepola Adikaram too surrendered
The British massacred the male population of Uva above the age of 18 years.
They also confiscated the properties of the people involved in the uprising, they killed all cattle and other animals, burnt homes, property and even the salt in their possession during the repression. Paddy fields in the area of Wellassa were all destroyed. The irrigation systems of the duchies of Uva and Wellassa, hitherto the rice-bowl of Sri Lanka were systematically destroyed.
The situation prevailing in Uva and Wellassa was so precarious that the English set fire to villages, houses, livestock and whatever they could burn. By now Pilamatalawe gave leadership to rebels having put forward another pretender to the throne as King Weerabahu - a Nayakkar. At this time the Disawa of Wellassa, Millawa who was an ailing elderly leader was removed by the British and Keppetipola was appointed as Disawa of Wellassa. The British sent Keppetipola who remained in Kandy until 17.10.1818 to Uva to bring the situation under control. At about the same time a British Officer Col. Bartok took into custody Weerabahu the Pretender. When Keppetipola arrived in Wellassa Sinhalese were engaged in a fierce battle with the British soldiers Keppetipola sent back all his arms and ammunitions to the British Agent and joined the Sinhalese rebels to lead the battle. With this change of events the other Sinhalese leaders such as Pilamatalawe Disawa of Sathkorale, Madugalla, Uda Gabada Nilame, Ellepola who was leading Viyaluwa, Ehelepola a brother of Maha Adikaram Ihagama, Godagedara Adikaram, Badalkumbure Rala etc also joined the rebels.
The British had to bring troops from India to quell the rebellion. Finally the British were able to arrest most of the leaders. Properties of 18 rebel leaders were confiscated Pilimatalawe who was ailing at the time of arrest was exiled to Mauritius Islands. Keppetipola and Madugalla were beheaded in Bogambara after trial on 18.11.1818 thus ending another chapter of our history.
End of the Rebellion
There was no prior planning and consensus among the leaders. One of the Chiefs did not join due to a personal grudge he had with Ehelepola. The chiefs' areas, Tunkorale and Hatarakorale people, kept away from struggle. When Madugalle had a difference of opinion with Keppetipola, he too started a lone battle. By now Martial Law was declared and the English forces were strengthened. Governor Brownrigg who planned a retreat to the maritime provinces, who had already sent his wife to Colombo, changed his plans. Simultaneously, the rebel leaders fell one after the other. Ellepola Nilame was beheaded after a military trial. Madugalle, Pilimatalawe, Keppetipola were captured. Some rebel leaders were exiled to Mauritius. The Tooth Relic which was removed from Kandy during the rebellion was recovered from a forest in the possession of Madugalle and two other priests by Col. Kelley and brought back to Kandy. It was deposited in the relic chamber of the Maligawa and the keys of the relic casket and the chamber were retained by the Agent in Kandy.
The Rebellion was contained and the hero of the Rebellion Keppetipola Maha Disawa was beheaded on November 26, 1818. There is a memorial hall built and a Bodhi planted in memory of the National Hero by the Keppetipola Memorial Society of Senkadagala which commemorates this event annually.
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 rebellion. The new rulers are unable to come up to any conclusion on the exact situation of Uva before the rebellion 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.
During the rebellion a Gazette Notification was issued by Governor Robert Brownrigg to condemn all those who rebelled 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, however could not take action in this regard. The Gazette Notification issued by Governor Brownrigg was brought to Sri Lanka on the instruction of President Maithripala Sirisena. It was submitted to the Parliament and was revoked with the signature of the President in 2017. This allowed all those who participated in the uprising to be recognised as National Heroes, and their label as traitors erased. A National Declaration was awarded on their behalf to their descendants.
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- 81 leaders in 1818 freedom struggle declares as national heroes
- The 1818 rebellion and the execution of Keppetipola Dissawe
- Keppetipola and the Uva Rebellion
- Our darkest day.
- From John D’Oyly to Robert O’Blake
- Ceylon under the British By G.C. Mendis
- THE BRITISH IN SRI LANKA
- The Madulla massacre by the British (9th of Dec. 1817)
- The execution of keppetipola Dissawe
- Kandy: the roots of the rebellion.