Galle The Jewellers City of Sri Lanka- History

Some Old and New Photographs of  Galle Fort- Please read the interesting history below

Since ancient times Galle has been a center of handcrafting which includes jewelry, wood carving, masks, tortoise shell and engraving of brass ornaments.

Large concentrations of jewelry craftsmen are settled in certain wards of the Galle Municipal Region such as Galwadugoda and Dangedera.

Galle as seen by Heydt- Written by Gallean in 1929

It is customary today for travellers visiting Ceylon to go to Colombo and Kandy. If there is still time then Nuwara Eliya must be seen. It is only from those who are touring the Island that Galle receives a flying visit. But Galle does not complain. It just raises its head, looks round, smiles and goes to sleep again. So if Pinto-Gale sleeps, let us be good Pinto-Gallians and dream, dream of the past, when Galle was ‘somebody’. Let us dream of two hundred years ago. Who will be our guide in that old Galle? happily we have one,  an extremely conscientious and observant traveller from Germany by the name of John Wolfgang Heydt.

Heydt, formerly geometrician, draftsman and architect at the Palatinate Court, entered the service of the Honourable Dutch East India Company  in Amsterdam in the year 1733 and reached Colombo on board the ‘Meermond’ on the 30th of August, 1734. On seeing various parts of the Island he remembered that the Ceylon prospects and views he had seen in books of travel seemed different from reality and determined to make accurate drawings of these places from nature and publish them on his return.  He was greatly aided in this by his acquaintance with Arent Jensen, a draftsman and painter, who had been sent by Herr von Domburg, the Governor to ‘Adams berg’ near Matara, and other places to make drawings of the curiosities of the Island. Being on the spot, Heydt had ample opportunity of testing the accuracy of Jansen’s drawings. These drawings he copied to the size and format of those which he later made in Batavia and embodied them in his work.

Please see photos above.

On the 7th of November 1736, he went as Corporal and Quartermaster with the Dutch Embassy of daniel Aggreen, the Disava of Colombo, to the Sinhalese King at Kandy. They returned to Colombo on the 6th of January, 1737. On the 30th of the same month, he left Colombo for Batavia, stopping ten days in Galle. He left Batavia in 1740 and reached Mittelburg in Denmark on the 6th of August, 1741. His book appeared in 1744 under the following title’s:

i) The Newest Geographical and Topographical Theatre of Africa and East-India or,

ii) Detailed and Veracious Presentation and Description and  Description of the most important Lands, Coasts, and Island in Africa and Asia, belonging to the Dutch East India Company in accurate Sea and Land Charts, as well as,

iii) The Towns, Harbours, Forts, Factories, Castles and Wharfs, Ware houses, Churches, Pavilions, dwelling-houses and other public buildings and Gardens, together with the geographical curiosities connected therewith.

In the preface he expresses confidence that later travellers will find  everything as he has described  it, and he is quite sure that no complaints will ever be heard as those of a Portuguese priest, who brought a map of Ceylon to the Island, but could not make the least use of it, because he found everything quite different from what was on his paper. He mentions also with genuine indignation a certain ‘anonymous’ person who filled a book of Travel to the Holy Land with illustrations of towns which he had borrowed from a description of the kingdom of Hungary, in which Tokay was given for Tiberias  and Peterwardein for Nazareth. On the other hand he is filled with feelings of veneration when he finds descriptions of travel really truthful.

His reason for publishing the illustrations and description of the places he had visited was,as he says in his very quaint German of two  centuries ago,  ‘to give you an eye and to serve  as an optical and scenographical stage on which you may have a most enjoyable glimpse of far distant lands, without getting wet, without danger and movement and may let one region after the other pass in front of you.’ A further reason was to make a contribution to the Science of Geography. Of course this is the good old Geography of yore. I doubt if a Geographer of today would look upon Heydt’s work as a contribution to his science at all. Anyhow Heydt was happy in the thought of having done  his little bit, for, as he himself puts it, a work has already acquired a sufficient worth, even if  there is only one single truth that has been furthered in it.

And now we will let Heydt describe his first view of Galle:

“This  Fort is undeniably the most prominent  in strength after Colombo, if it is not even stronger ; at least it could with little expense be still better fortified, even so as to take precedence of the latter. It lies just as if sown with rocks on a bit of land jutting into the sea. And in this our first view of the place , one can see on the left side two ships (a) as seen from the harbour. A little more in front is a boat (b) that is used for bringing all kinds of heavy things to the harbour, and from there to the Fort, and now and then with many other goods to places many hours distant, or to the posts nearby . In front are two native craft (c) called ‘Thony’ the bottom part of which is cut from one tree (as has already been said).  Besides which one can see bastions (d) on the sea side quite distinctly, although they seem to be small, likewise the flagstaff (e) which shows itself over the works very nicely.

“Just  close to the same, on the right side, is a long building next to a little round tower, called the Smiths’ corner or the Black Bastion, perhaps because it looks very black from the work of the smiths and from the coal. Below it  lies a very low work, which can be made out better in the next view and which is fortified with some fine cannon and known as the Water Level because it lies almost level with the water. A little more to the right is the gate of the Fort (f) and just next to it is a roof resting on posts (g), making a shed in which the carpenters perform their work. Besides which there is another little roof (h), resting on six pillars, which juts out just where the wall cuts in, and this is the fisherman’s auction house, where the fish which are caught daily in the sea are sold in heaps, as well to those who deal in fish, as also to any citizen in particular, who cares to buy a quantity at once. A little further along you come to a house (i) next to which   some Suriya trees stand. This is a guard house and it has to guard a railing that stretches from the wall to the harbour, for this path runs quite narrow along the fort, as can be seen in the ground plan. Next to this guard house, which is always occupied by 18 to 20  men, and which must be passed by everybody going from the country to the fort or by anyone who wishes to travel from here to the country, lies the Sun bastion, and a little further on adjoining  it are the bastions Moon and Star. Now these three are the works that cover the land side and there is in front of them a big marsh , cut by a canal. These outworks have still got very good masonry and would give plenty of trouble to an enemy who might attack them from the land side, for the ground is so flat and marshy, that one could not do much against them . As may be noted in the view, on account of the flatness of the land, one can see the horizon of the sea from a small eminence. More of which hereafter”

Gentle reader, if you are a native of Galle by birth or, like many of us, a gallian from choice, you may hold up your head.  Galle was even superior to Colombo, or, if it was not, just a little more fortifying and just a little more expense, and it would have been. One cannot fail to see Heydt’s special sympathy for Galle. It might be one of us speaking. And how long did he stay in Galle?, that he already knew about that little extra expense? An almost uncanny intuition!

And now let us identify the various places mentioned in Heydt’s description. The Schwarz or Black Bastion is of course the present Police Station. We shall speak of this again when considering the third prospect. Where the  carpenters’ workshop stood is now a warehouse, opposite the jetty. Do not seek the fishermen’s auction house! just where the wall juts in, you will find a public latrine. Turn to the right, and behold the Suriya trees, the identical ones or their descendants.

But where is the guard house? The spot is now covered by the end of the coal shed, yet the exact position of the railing is discernable. The gate  post itself and the very stone in which the gate turned can be seen in the photo.

The lower stone is buried , for the level of the road has been greatly raised. The twenty men have long since gone to their rest, but the spirit of the past now stands sentry. You see him move;- no it is the calf grazing. You hear him;-no it is but the wind wailing, whispering, whistling among the telegraph wires. But you feel him; yes you feel him. The big marsh in front of the fort is now the esplanade and ons small arm of the canal has been filled in. And lastly Heydt draws attention to the narrowness and lowness of the neck of the land which joins the fort to the mainland. To get a view from the same point as our artist , I went on board the S.S Warora. The first officer, Mr Mann sailed me out  with my two little companions. We took a fine photo, saw the chart room, the chronometers  and the log book for the wireless time signals . We had to sail back in the teeth of the wind, but after tacking three or four times , Mr Mann ran us in grand style alongside the jetty. If these lines should catch his eyes, may then assure him that his kindness and courtsey were much appreciated. But the photo was not satisfactory. The sun has been facing the camera and the town was silhouetted against the sky. Another photo had  to be taken, and a ship in harbour the following week gave the occasion. It was a hot day, when we boarded the Clan-liner Lindsey, and many drops splashed on the hot decks from under the focusing cloth, but it has been so ordained that we should work in the sweat of our brow. The ship was a little too far out and away from the land. But however kind and obliging the officers on board are, you can hardly ask them  to change their anchorage for you to take a photograph. The photo was taken, but it was indeed a hot day, and after development, the film of the plate gently slithered down the glass and collected in a self  satisfied little heap at the foot of the plate. With advancing age, youthful energy becomes more sedate and less exuberant, still that photo had to be done. So we put in plates all over again. This time it was developed at night and did not melt.

To the left of the mosque one may notice the lighthouse. It occupies the same position as formerly the flag-staff. And look under the coconut trees, from the ‘ small eminence’ of the Lindsey, as our guide declares, you can see ‘the horizon of the sea’.


Please see photos above.

On viewing this prospect , one notices at once two ships, which seem to be sailing into the harbour, being apparently led in by  the preceding ‘Thonies’. This side of the fort is not only covered with beautiful rocks rising out of the water , but there are also under the water so many hidden or blind rocks, that no small craft, however insignificant it might be, to which the entrance is unknown, should dare to approach it, otherwise, even if the sea is only a little in movement, such a craft would be smashed to bits; to say nothing of a big ship, which on account of its weight would, on approaching these rocks, be wrecked on the very first one.

To the left one may see the two half- Bastions , called Neptune (a) and Triton (b) ; and more to the right the rock, on which the flag-staff (c) stands , below which is a poor hut made of bamboos, where the Flag Man is accustomed to seek shelter against the heat of the sun and the heavy showers. This man must climb the Flag-staff several times a day and look all round the sea with a telescope to see if any foreign or native ships are coming. And when he sees some and notices from where they come, if the weather is fine and suitable for running in, he hoists the flag and reports to the Commander  of the fortress as well as to the pilot. The latter is bound by duty at once to take his place in a small native boat or ‘Thony’ , repair the ship running in first and bring her into harbour. Should now the second ship be so near to the first that she can safely follow in her wake, she runs in together with her . But if not , and if she is further back , so that she may not dare to come in by herself , as soon as the pilot has given the necessary orders on the first and left directions  as to the placing of the anchors, he must at once go with the above mentioned boat to the second ship and bring her safely into harbour ; and this lasts so long until all the ships arriving together are brought into safety.

“Here I must narrate how such a pilot or ‘Companie Meister’ as they are called there, on reliquishing his office, which is bearable enough, cannot settle down either in Holland or in any other part of India, as I was told; but he is obliged and bound in virtue of his duty, to end his life in this fort or in this place; and for that reason, as they assert, that such an excellent haarbour may not be discovered, or become known to foreign people. I should have been thought it would have been  enough to abstain from foreign service.

“On the right side one sees the Point Utrecht (d) and lying to the left of the same, the so called Elephant Rock (e) which got its name from its similarity  with this animal and because of its size. There is also visible a bit of the Aurora Corner (f) next to point Utrecht, together with coconut gardens (g) in and behind the fort, which are to be found in abundance in this district, and which form , as here, a beautiful ornament to the place itself. And because the soil all about there is good and rich , they are with their pleasant green crowns all the more agreeable to look at. To the right is a wild jungle , which in Ceylon is something not so common, as there is much useful timber in it, and at times parts are cut through them. Of which more will  be mentioned later on.

Plate LXV

Please see photos above.

” In this view one may see again some of the craft swarming about in the sea as also in the harbour, the so called ‘fisher thonies’ (a) which  are to be found daily at work in fish- weather, to be of some use to the country by fishing. Between these a Dutch boat (b) shows itself , by which all victuals, as well as water are brought to the ships lying at anchor in near-by harbours. Besides these there are still two ships (c) to be seen at the side, lying at anchor, which have already raised the yard-arms and are ready to sail or, as they say, are ready to run out. One seems to be coming in full sail from the open sea. As in our first view, something can be seen here of the Black Bastion (d) and below it the Water Level which not only commands the whole harbour , but would be able, if occasion offered, to send any incoming ships to the bottom, because it is not only provided with good artillery , but would, because of its lowness, make few misses. From the Black Bastion above, a staircase leads down . At all times in the night a corporal with several men lie at these stairs, cut off from those above.   The  Smithy Point, situated next  to it, is also well mounted with  considerable  ordnance. To the right of this is a very long building (e)built on the wall of the fort and through which the gate (f) leads; in front of this gate the bridgehead  or wooden jetty (g) is to be found, which leads a considerable distance into the harbour and at which the boats for unloading and loading lie. There is also a crane, but only with a pulley,   erected on it, to lift heavy bales in and out.

“In the year 1737 we brought on board ship an elephant which the Dutch ambassador, Herr Daniel Aggreen, with whom I was in Kandy, had received from the King there as a present; the ship was to take us to batavia and was called  ‘Hauysdemark-wetta’. Now because this animal does not like to venture into the danger of the water, the whole jetty, ie the above mentioned wooden bridge , had to be covered a foot thick with sand and both sides had to be clothed with green branches through which one could not see; and this he might not remark it, although he was so tame that anybody could go close to him without danger. At the end of this bridge a very broad  and strong boat was tied up such as at other times is used to bring  two or three anchors in at a time into the harbour; it was surrounded with great railings and was also clothed with green and so arranged that the elephant could step in at the same level. Now as he was inside, various big teams were pushed in behind him, so that he might not be able to move about much; and so he was brought to the ship, on which all preparations to hoist him on board had been made, in the following manner. First two big bands made of sail-cloth of many folds, one and a half feet broad were fixed together. One of these was pulled through under the elephant’s body, behind his front lehs, and the other in front of his hind legs, and fixed together on his back with a hook; an thus suspended by means of  strong ropes,   which ran three times double in pulleys, he was hauled over by the whole ship’s crew. But as they were going  to bring him into the ship, he caught hold of the railing with his trunk and tore off  a goodbit of it, although it was very firmly fixed. On such ships these railings are made of elegantly turned pales. The big opening in the ship by which the cargo is lowered into, and raised out of, the hold, had been considerably increased in length. But because , on account of his size, he could over-step it with his legs by half, ropes had to be tied to his four feet, and these pulled cross wire together by many people. It cost therefore much time  and a lot of trouble to bring him into the hold, where the bottom of the ship was very thickly covered with sand and where strong beams were fixed to which he was attached. But the trouble he had and fear – for the ship was in continual movement- had made him so angry, that no one dared to go near him. Six Sinhalese, of whom one had control over the others , were appointed to look after him. They also could at that time  only speak to him from a distance, for he blew fiercely and made very angry eyes. Now after he had been standing for sometime, he caught hold of a barrel lying close by his trunk. This barrel contained gin and had been taken along with others as a store for the crew on the voyage. He stood it upright and took a piece of wood with his trunk ( for the fire-wood is always stacked between the barrels, that these may lie tighter, and in order that the wood may not occupy more space) and struck with it two or three times on the top of the upright standing barrel, so that it soon stove in. Then he stuck his trunk in and drew it full. But then he put it in his mouth and blew the gin down his throat. This he did so often till he was dead  drunk. After that he filled his trunk still many times and blew the gin over his back and between his legs along his stomach until he had made himself wet all over, for this is the way they drink and wash themselves. All that they eat they bring also with the trunk into their mouth and it does them as good service as our hands do us, (as will be mentioned more in detail later on, where I have represented some according to nature.)

“We made mention above of the warehouse through which the gate leads and here I must call to mind  that at the upper or right side of the same , within it, is the church, and close by a little tower, in which a bell hangs  with which not only  the sign for divine service is given, but also the hours are  struck  according to  the hour-glass.

Please see photos above.

” Just below this little tower is the shed (h), already described in our first view, in which the carpenters work, together with the fish auction house (i) and a little further along, the guard house at the railing (k) but still more to the right, the half Bastion  Sun (l) and the whole Bastion Moon (m) where one can see the cavalier (n) which stands on it, better than in the other views. Somewhat more to the right is the half Bastion Star, of which more later”


The Black Bastion, to which heydt frequently refers and the Water-Level as he calls it, can be seen to good advantage from the jetty.

Two small field-cannon of British times, but still of many years standing, have been looking out from the Black Bastion over the harbour day and night, sentinels, which were never relieved. They had passed from the time when they were active members of the force and might have spoken with a commanding voice from their commanding position to the time  when they are but relics of the past. The one on the right carries its years fairly well , but the other had been showing signs of rheumatism in its left wheel for some time, when a few months ago it gave way under the stress and collapsed. It presents now a pitiful sight, down on one knee and evidently in distress. For the honour of the British Army whose faithful servant it was, it should either be removed and receive decent burial or be set up again. ‘with a ittle expense’ as Heydt hath it, this could be done; but it is just that little extra expense, which in Galle, as in Heydt’s time, is not forthcoming.

A view from the foot of Black astion shows how well the whole harbour was commanded by the guns that formerly stood at Water Level. Of the staircase leading from the upper Bastion to Water Level nothing is to be seen. A long sloping tunnel now joins the two. Perhaps in his time this slope was divided up into wide steps, but this is only a conjecture. A few feet from the lower end of the tunnel is the slit through  which the old portcullis used to slide. Although our guide does not expressly mention it, he probably alludes to it when he states that the soldiers on guard were cut off from those above.

The Smithy Point is  evidently the small bit extending between Black Bastion and the Ware house. This warehouse must be much in the same condition in which it was then, except for the completely new roof it received a few years back.

Until  a year or so ago the gates could still be closed. Now the road builders have laid so much metal, that to close the gates would necessitate digging up the road.

The end of the warehouse, then used as a church, is today the Club-house. The corbel stones still indicate how massive the old roof was. The facade of the Club-house has still a churchy look about it. And the belfry still stands just in front of it, alas now silent. A year or two ago the bell fell down. The support and the wheel for ringing  it still lie where they fell. One wonders why they are left lying in the middle of the fort. the fort still contains live people. The fathers of the Municipality are probably going to move in the matter; in fact may even now be moving; who knows but what they have  already been moving for years. But the movement is of the slow motion kind, like the dial on our wireless set. Representing an old institution, they dont think in weeks or months.

To Be Continued

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