Chronology of events from the Arrival of the first Colonial Powers until 1948

by: Dagmar Hellmann-Rajanayagam,

Unit for Strategic and Security Studies,

National University of Malaysia Bangi,

43600 Bangi/Selangor,


This factsheet may only be reproduced in its entirety and with due acknowledgment to the author of this compilation D. Hellmann-Rajanayagam.

Any changes, abridgments or other modifications may only be performed with the permission, in writing, of the author.

1505: The Portuguese arrive in Ceylon

1519: Cankili I comes to the throne of Jaffna

1543: Cankili I orders 600 Christians in Mannar to be killed on suspicion of collaborating with the Portuguese.

mid-16th century: The Vanniyar chieftains of Mullaitivu and Trincomalee allly with the Portuguese against Cankili and his attempts to subdue them. Cankili expels the Sinhalese from Jaffna because they support the Vanniyar.

1560: The Portuguese narrowly defeat Cankili in a battle to avenge the 'massacre of Mannar' and demand concession. They retain Mannar and put puppet king Edirmanasingham on the throne.

1564-65: Indian sources report a battle between the Nayak of Madurai and his Poligar army (on the order of the ruler of Vijayanagara) and the king of Kandy near Puttalam, in which the latter was defeated and killed.

1591: Cankili II (Cankilikumaran) declared governor of Jaffna by the Portuguese on condition that he has no contact with the Karaiyar generals.

1619/20: Cankili II allies with the Karaiyar general Mikkappillai (Migapulle) from Mannar; defeated after prolonged fighting with the Portuguese.

1620-24: Karaiyar generals continue the resistance against the Portuguese with the help of the Nayak of Tanjavur. After the final defeat the Karaiyar plunge themselves into their own swords.

1623: Cankilikumaran executed in Goa. The Portuguese destroy all big temples in Jaffna and Trincomalee.

1658: The Dutch take the Maritime Provinces including Jaffna from the Portuguese. They misunderstand the Kutimai and Atimai system and treat them as slaves, thus changing the economic and social structure of Jaffna.

1766: The Dutch force the King of Kandy to hand Batticaloa over to them in a treaty and cut off Kandy's access to the sea.

1795/96: The British take Ceylon from the Dutch.

1796: J. Burnand, a Swiss soldier in the service of the Dutch and later the English, and governor of Batticaloa, composes a 'memoir' in Batticaloa and the Vanni and his administration there in 1794.

1798: J. Burnand helps with the suppression of the revolt against the Indian amildars, administrators brought from Madras to Ceylon. He drafts another 'memoir' on the North and Northeast, in which he locates the origins of the Sinhalese in Siam and mentions that from time immemorial Sinhalese and Tamils had divided the rule of the island between the two of them.

1799 The English translation of Burnand's memoir of 1798 becomes known as the 'Cleghorn minute'.

1803: In the Treaty of Amiens the new possessions of the British and Dutch in Asia are confirmed. Holland retains Batavia, the British Ceylon. The British defeat the last Vanniya, Pantara Vanniyan, and execute him. A pension is paid to his widow, the Vannichi, until the late 19th century.

1813: The American Mission founds the Batticotta Seminary (later Jaffna College).

1815: The British defeat the last King of Kandy, Wikramasinha,and contract the Kandy Convention with the aristocrats.

1818: In a last-ditch revolt against the British a Tamil crown pretender arises and flees to Jaffna after being defeated. He is eventually found and executed.

1820: A Tamil press is established in Jaffna. A report on Trincomalee laments its sorry, poverty-stricken state and recommends 'colonization with intelligent settlers'.

1823: The American Mission establishes a girls' school in Jaffna, the first in Asia.

1827: The 'Return of the Population 1824' gives the population figures for Trincomalee as 19158, among them 317 Sinhalese. Batticaloa town had 9(!) inhabitants, the district 27483, in the Majority Mukkuvar, Moors and 'Bellale'. The Vanni, counted under Mannar, has 22536 inhabitants, among them 517 Sinhalese.

1829: Unrest between Protestants and Catholics in Jaffna.

1833: Under the Colebrooke-Cameron Reforms Ceylon becomes administratively unified, English is the language of administration.

1834: Simon Casie Chetty writes the 'Ceylon Gazetteer'. He describes Batticaloa as a cool, healthy and fertile district. He is nominated as a member to the Executive Council.

1847: Arumuka Navalar (1822-1879) leaves Jaffna Central School because of the admission of a low-caste (Nalavar) boy by Peter Percival. The Ceylon Observer laments the unhealthy climate and economic neglect of the the Eastern province.

1848: A rebellion in Kandy against corn taxes and rajakariya is put down by the British. Arumuka Navalar accompanies Peter Percival to Madras to present their translation of the bible. He founds his own school in Vannarponnai.

1829-67: Van Dyke is Government Agent in Jaffna.

1859: Simon Casie Chetty publishes his 'Tamil Plutarch'.

1865: Muttu Coomaraswamy is nominated as member of the Legislative Council.

1866: In one of his famous sermons Arumuka Navalar reproaches his fellow Tamils with neglecting their religion and their language. The Report of the Education Commission emphasises the importance of English as medium of instruction over and against the 'vernaculars'.

1867-84: Twynam is Government Agent in Jaffna.

1871: Caste clashes between Vellalar, dhobies and barbers in Mavittappuram, because the dhobies refuse to wash the barbers' clothes. Vellalar are blamed for the conflagration. Arumuka Navalar founds the Caivap Pirapalanarc Capai.

1872: An English medium school founded by Arumuka Navalar founders due to financial difficulties.

1876: During a famine in Jaffna Arumuka Navalar helps with collecting and distributing food to starving Vellalar.

1879: Sir P. Ramanathan is nominated for the Legislative Council with the strong support of the Jaffna elite against Christopher Brito. Brito publishes the English translation of the Yalppana Vaipava Malai.

1890: Sir P. Ramanathan claims in a controversial article that the Tamil speaking Muslims are Tamils which is fiercely rejected.

1895: P. Arunachalam is nominated for the Legislative Council. One Muslim member is nominated to the Legislative Council.

1895-1905: Twynam is again Government Agent for Jaffna.

1907: In an article for a British publication P. Arunachalam defends the caste system as benevolent and necesssary.

1908/ 1910/ 1912: During 'Durbars of Tamil Chiefs in Jaffna and Batticaloa' the British governor is told that the inhabitants of the two districts are not interested in the 'Settlement of the Vanni', though the latter was of the opinion that the Tamils had the right of first refusal in this area. Tamils do not want to go into the Vanni because of the unhealthy climate, but they do not want to admit Sinhalese or Indians there either.

1909: The Jaffna Association rejects group representation.

1909/11: Under the Crewe-McCallum Reforms four non-officials and an 'educated Ceylonese' are to be elected to the Legislative Council by selected Ceylonese voters.

1910: A memorial of the Jaffna Association requests voting rights also for Tamils educated in the vernacular.

1912: Sir P. Ramanathan wins the elections for the 'educated Ceylonese' seat against the Sinhalese doctor Marcus Fernando. In a 'History of Jaffna' Muttutampippillai calls Elara a king of Jaffna and a Cola prince. The Education Commission debates the question of the advisability of instruction in the mother tongue in English language and Anglo-vernacular schools.

1916: The Trincomalee Gazetteer reports that Tamils are the numerically strongest group on the East coast.

1917: P. Arunachalam demands more political influence for the Ceylonese in a speech 'On Our Political Needs' at the establishment of the Ceylon National Association.

1918: The Jaffna Association introduces the 50-50 representation formula for the Legislative Council in a memo.

1919: The Ceylon National Congress is established with P. Arunachalam as one of its founder members.

1920: As member of a delegation on constitutional reform in London P. Arunachalam assures Count Milner that all Ceylonese desire 'territorial representation' and none 'group representation'. Founding of 'Jaffna Historical Society'.

1920/21: The Manning Reforms abolish group representation (2:1) and introduce territorial representation to the fierce protest of the Tamils and the minorities who lose their relative strength under an extended voting system (4% of the population).

1921: P. Arunachalam leaves the CNC because of a controversy over the Western(Colombo) Seat for the Tamils.

22nd Jan.: In a lecture in Jaffna entitled Tamilar Nakarikam (The Culture of the Tamils!) Marai Malai Atikal (1876-1951) names the Vellalar as the 'cultured agricultural class among the Tamils'.

15th Aug.: The Tamil Mahajana Sabhai is founded and takes up the call for 50-50: Balanced Representation.

In a booklet on the East Canagaratnam calls Batticaloa hot and unhealthy without significant economic growth. Diseases like Malaria, Smallpox, and Choler and periodic famines are rampant, after the irrigation installations have fallen into decrepitude. The population percentages for the district in 1920: were: 55% Tamils, 39% Muslims, 3.75 Sinhalese.

1922: S. Rasanayagam gives a paper on 'Ancient Jaffna' to the RAS(CB) which is heavily attacked by Sinhalese scholars.

1922/23: The Manning Reforms are retracted and modified group representation is reintroduced.

1923 (16th Sept.): P. Arunachalam founds the Ceylon Tamil League (Ilankai Tamil makkal cankam) to ssafeguard Tamil Culture in the Tamilakam (Arunachalam's speech in the 'Morning Leader' of that date). In a caste revolt in Sutumalai Vellalar attack Paramba who had hired drummers for a funeral.

During a historical conference Tamil New Year (13th/14th April) is declared Tamil National Day. A number of Tamil Literary and Cultural Associations are founded. During a second visit Marai Malai Atikal is warmly greeted in Jaffna. A CNC document calls the Eastsern province "...admittedly Tamil".

1924: First elections under the rules of the Manning Reforms. P. Arunachalam dies.

1926: S. Rasanayagam's 'Ancient Jaffna' is published.

1928: Nanappirakacar publisheshis replique to Rasanayagam: 'A Critical History of Jaffna'.

1928/29: The Donoughmore Commission comes to Ceylon. It gives the population figures for the Eastern Province as 192821, of which 101880 are Tamils, 8600 Sinhalese, 75475 Muslims and 1371 Indians.

1929: Catholics from Mannar complain to the Donoughmore Commission about caste repression and injustice and demand to be acknowledged as an 'ethnic' minority. Protestant Tamils denounce the move. In a preface to a new edition of his father's historical study on Jaffna Daniel John names Cankili I as sthe king who by driving the Sinhalese from Jaffna made 'Jaffna safe for the Tamils'. Fernao Queyroz' report on the conquest of Ceylon is published in English translation. The Education Report (signed, among others, by P. Ramanathan) demands instruction in the mother tongue and compulsory religious education. E.V. Ramacami Naicker (Periyar) visits Jaffna.

14th June/16th Aug. 1929: Start of the 'Equal-seating' controversy: After a directive by the administration that in grant-aided schools low-casste children have to be allowed to sit on benches instead on the floor or outside on the ground virulent protests erupt from the Vellalar. Low-caste children are assaulted and their houses burnt down. The low-caste parents are afraid to send their children to school.

1930: Death of Sir P. Ramanathan.

20th June: In a petition to the government Vellalar from Urelu, Vasavilan and Punalakkattavan demand to rescind the equal-seating directive.

1931: The Donoughmore constitution introduces universal suffrage and territorial representation against the spirited protests of the Tamils. The Jaffna Youth Congress demands a boycott of the constitution and the elections, since they do not confer dominion status on Ceylon. Caste clashes in Canganai where Pallar are attacked by Vellalar for hiring drummers for a funeral. Nehru visits Jaffna and is warmly greeted by the Jaffna Youth Congress.

1933: G.G. Ponnambalam denounces the boycott. In articles in Ilakecari the Jaffna Youth Congress now agrees to end the boycott. Sesveral pamphlets denouncing democracy and voting rights for low castes and women demand a federation between India and Ceylon to safeguard group representation under the umbrella of the British Raj.

1934: Bye-elections in Jaffna after the boycott is rescinded. G.G. Ponnambalam founds the All Ceylon Tamil Conference. A Tamil author, Singhan, residing in Malaya, demands the abolition of universal suffrage and the respect of caste rules and distinctions. S. Rasanayagam publishes his history of Jaffna under the British (in Tamil).

1935: The Jaffna Association repeats its demand for 50-50 representation: 50% for the Sinhalese, 25% for the Tamils, 25% for the other minorities.

1936: In the elections G.G. Ponnambalam wins for the first time against A. Mahadeva. Governor Stsubbs recommends the abolition of territorial representation.

1937: a 'pan-Sinhalese' Board of Ministers is established under Senanayake which does not contain a single Tamil in order to punish the Tamils for the election Boycott in 1931. Ponnambalam demands 50-50 representation for the first time.

1938: Leonard Woolfe proposes a federation as the best solution for Ceylon in a memo to the Fabian Society. The Jaffna Youth Congress passes a resolution against the 50-50 formula. As souvenir in honour of Arumuka Navalar is published.

1939: In his famous 'nine-hour-speech' Ponnambalam defends the concept of 50-50 representation: 50% for the Sinhalese, 50% for ALL minorities. Ilakecari praises the formerly vilified P. Ramanathan for his yeoman service for the Tamils and denounces G.G. Ponnambalam as a 'Colombo Tamil'. Jaffna Youth Congress leader K. Balasingham calls for a federation with India to safeguard democratic principles.

1940: The elections due in that year are postponed because of the outbreak of WWII. In a amemo to the CNC Jayewardene demands a federation between India and Ceylon.

1941: In a preliminary draft constitution formulated bye Jayewardene and others for the CNC Tamil and Sinhala are named as sthe official languages in their respective areas. But in a memo to the CNC J.R. Jayewardene rejects any concessions to the minorities in the political systam and says the Donoughmore Constitution tried to buy the loyalty of the Sinhalese, the 'stronger group'.

1942: The idea of a federation with India is repeated in a memo to the CNC by G. Perera.

1943: The BoM is asked to draft a new constitution for an independent Ceylon after the end of the war. The Report of the Special Committee on Education recommends free education up to tertiary level in the mother tongues.

1944: G.G. Ponnambalam founds the All Ceylon Tamil Congress. In a series of telegrams to the British Government and the Labour Party he demands the protection and granting of equal rights to the Indian Tamils. A resollution by Jayewardene in the State Council states that Sinhala and Tamil will be official languages and media of instruction after independence.

15th Oct: The Communist Party of Ceylon proposes an All-Party Conference to discuss the right of self-determination and independence for the two nationalities of Ceylon, Sinhalese and Tamils.

19th Dec.: The All-Party Conference is held in Colombo with nearly all parties participating, except Tamil Congress, Kandyan Assembly and European Association.

1944/45: The Soulbury Commission visits Ceylon to get feedback on the draft constitution and is boycotted by the Sinhalese. The Commission accepts the BoM constitution draft with silight midifications as the 'Soulbury Constitution'.

1946: In an article in the Ceylon Daily News the Secretary General of the ACTC, S.C. Sivasubramaniam, denounces the Soulbury Constitution. Subseqsuently he pleads for cooperation between UNP and ACTC as the only chance for the Tamils in a letter to the editor of the Colombo Observer in March 1947. Dudley Senanayake demands Sinhala to be made the only national language and is fiercely attacked by the English language press.

1947: The UNP wins the elections. In Jaffna, the ACTC wins a majority of votes.

1948 (4th Feb.): Ceylon becomes independent under the UNP government. A. Mahadeva and G.G. Ponnambalam join Senanayake's Cabinet.

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