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The First Kandyan War

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The First Kandyan War
Leonaur Original
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Author(s): Arthur Johnston & William Knighton
Date Published: 2014/04
Page Count: 100
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-290-5
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-289-9

The battle for Ceylon

During the first decade of the 19th century the struggle for imperial domination still raged across the globe. Britain and France were at war as the tide that swept away the Bourbon monarchy in bloody revolution gained momentum under the genius of Napoleon Bonaparte and was felt from Europe to the East and West Indies. Britain in dominating the Indian sub-continent was in conflict with martial cultures who often had French backing. Here the future Duke of Wellington would make his name before his greater military glories in Iberia. The tear-drop shaped island of Ceylon a rich resource of spice, tea and other exotic trade goods—and a country which would add another eastern jewel to the imperial crown—had, of course, not escaped Britain’s notice. Predictably, the indigenous population, particularly in the form of the rulers of the kingdom of Kandy, took issue with the prospect of British rule and opposed British Army regular troops, supported by the natives of the Honourable East India Company’s army, with force. This book recounts a very little reported campaign to subjugate the Kandyians. It was a savagely a war fought over difficult terrain and one which did not decide who would rule Ceylon. This book will fascinate those interested in the history of warfare during the Napoleonic period and the story of the campaign is supported in this special Leonaur edition by an historical overview of the period to provide a first hand account context and understanding of the wider conflict.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

5.—At daylight the enemy covered the opposite bank, and opened a fire of musketry and gengals (Candian field-pieces) on our camp; but as it was situated in a hollow, most of the shot passed over our heads; two sepoys, however, were killed, and several sepoys and coolies wounded, and the tents much injured. The enemy attacked the hill above the camp, but were repulsed by Lieutenant Povelary with considerable loss. Our position was, notwithstanding, much exposed, both when in camp, and when prosecuting our march. On the right ran the river, nowhere fordable, and lined on its opposite bank by the enemy; on the left was a steep mountain, confining our march to the vicinity of the river. Our flankers on the left, it is true, occupied the summit of the mountain, and could, by a lateral movement, prevent our being galled from that side.
We began our march at nine a.m., our flankers on the right firing across the river on the enemy; but, as they were chiefly concealed behind rocks and trees, with little effect. The most distressing circumstance however was, that many of the bullocks, unaccustomed to the appearance of Europeans and to heavy firing, became wild and unmanageable, broke from their drivers, cast off their loads, and, rushing among the coolies, created much confusion and delay.
Having advanced about three miles in this state, we approached a large house standing nearly across the road, and about a hundred yards distant from the river. This house was filled with the enemy, who fired on the head of our column from holes pierced in the walls. Exactly opposite, on the other side of the river, I perceived a battery with one heavy gun (which I afterwards found to be a Dutch iron eight-pounder), and several gengals ready to open on us whenever we came within range. This made it necessary for me to pause: our loss had already been considerable; our troops, as well as coolies, were falling fast. To attempt to pass the battery with so lengthened a column as ours, disordered as it was by the confusion that had been occasioned by the bullocks, would have been highly imprudent, especially as our only field-piece upset at this time, by which the axletree of the carriage was broken; I therefore determined to storm the house, and, when in possession of it, to construct rafts for the purpose of passing the river and carrying the battery.
Our vanguard accordingly drove the enemy from the house, which we entered, and finding plenty of room for our whole corps, were enabled to dress the wounded and replace the axletree of our gun-carriage. We passed the remainder of the day in constructing a large raft of such materials as could be procured. Before Lieutenant Povelary, who flanked our left, could get possession of a high hill immediately above the house, the enemy were enabled to fire a volley through the roof, by which a bombardier of the Royal Artillery (Malcolm Campbell) was unfortunately killed. Though only a non-commissioned officer, his loss was severely felt by our small party, having rendered himself particularly useful by his exertions in getting the stores up the mountains during the march. The enemy’s fire was now wholly directed against the house. They had luckily but little round shot for the large gun, and the grape and fire of the gengals did no material injury.
The night presented a scene different from what we had yet witnessed. On the opposite bank and the adjoining hills were thousands of the enemy, every fourth or fifth man carrying a choulou or torch. At intervals, a shout of exultation was set up from the battery in our front, which was repeated by those around, and re-echoed by others on the neighbouring hills. The object of this was to terrify our native troops, and induce them to desert.
During the night, the enemy contrived to turn aside a stream, which passed close to the house, and had supplied us with water the day before; after which we could not procure any, even for the sick and wounded. I here endeavoured, but with little effect, to use the coehorn.
Owing to the wretched state of the fuzees nineteen shells out of twenty-three thrown into the enemy’s work fell dead, although these shells had been sent us for service from Trincomalé a few days only before we set out.
6.—Our spirits were greatly raised this morning by a report from that active and zealous officer, Lieutenant Povelary, who occupied the hill above the house, stating that he heard distinctly a heavy firing in the neighbourhood of Candy. This I concluded must be some of our detachments crossing the river at Wattapalogo or Kattagastoly. About seven a.m., after much labour and loss, we carried our raft to the river, which sunk as soon as a couple of soldiers got upon it, being composed of iron wood, the only material within our reach. We were thus under great embarrassment, when a sentry, on the top of the hill, called out that he saw a boat crossing the river about three quarters of a mile above the house. I instantly directed Lieutenant Vincent with the soldiers of the 19th to seize it at all risks. On reaching the spot where the boat had been seen, he found it had been conveyed to the opposite side.
This obstacle was no sooner known than two gallant fellows, whose names it would be unfair to omit (Simon Gleason and Daniel Quin) volunteered to swim over and bring it back; which they boldly accomplished under protection of the fire of the party. Lieutenant Vincent instantly leaped into the boat with as many men as it would carry (between fifteen and twenty), and having crossed the river, marched quickly down its bank to take the enemy in flank. Panic-struck, the Candians deserted the battery, and fled in confusion at his approach. Such was the promptitude and decision with which this service was executed, that the whole was accomplished with only the loss of two men wounded. The Candians, formidable in their fastnesses, are so feeble in close combat, that in a quarter of an hour nearly the whole of that mass which had a short time before covered the opposite banks, and threatened our annihilation, had disappeared in the woods.
I lost no time in prosecuting our march; about two hundred yards in rear of the battery stands the palace of Condasaly, the king’s favourite residence, a beautiful building, richly ornamented with the presents received by the kings of Candy from the Portuguese, Dutch, and English. This palace had been carefully preserved by General Macdowal in 1803. And the king had availed himself of this respect shown to it at that time to make it a principal depôt of arms and ammunition; which, as I was unable to remove, and it being my object to destroy, wherever found, I was under the necessity of setting the building on fire. We afterwards continued our march to the capital, expecting, from the firing heard in the morning, a speedy meeting with our countrymen forming the co-operating columns. Indeed, so confident was I of joining some of them, that I had the reports of my detachment made out ready to present to the officer commanding in the town.
Candasaly is only five miles from Candy, and the road good. When half way from hence to this capital, we passed a heavy Dutch gun which the enemy were bringing up to the battery on the river.
Our advanced guard had scarcely got within range of a temple which is situated on a hill above the town of Candy, when they sustained a volley of musketry; a few minutes afterwards I could plainly perceive the enemy flying through the streets in great confusion. It was now evident that none of the other divisions had arrived. After detaching Lieutenant Rogers with a party of sepoys to occupy the heights commanding the town, our troops once more took possession of the capital, which they found, as usual, entirely deserted by its inhabitants. The palace being in the most favourable situation for resisting any immediate attack, I took possession of it, and looked with great anxiety for the arrival of the other detachments.