The Ceylon Traveller – British Garrison Cemetery, Kandy

Originally published on The Sunday Leader on 05/02/2012 (http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2012/02/05/british-garrison-cemetery-kandy/)

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I love visiting cemeteries. The allure lies in the serene atmosphere, the haunting silence, the beautiful monuments whether they have stood the test of time or not and most of all, the myriad of stories that can be gathered, if you stop to read the epitaphs.

And as far as unearthing stories goes, the British Garrison Cemetery in Kandy is one of the best I’ve found while travelling around the country. With recent newspaper reports of plans to relocate the cemetery, it is advisable to drop by there soon.

How to find it

Walking distance from the Dalada Maligawa (although it is a bit of a steep climb from the main road to get to the cemetery).

When you’re coming from the Dalada Maligawa towards the National Museum, there are signposts on the left side of the road marking the turning point to the cemetery. There will also be a signpost saying “Cemetery Road” on the short walk up the hill. The Kandy Courts complex is also nearby.

Opening times

Everyday from 8am to 5pm

History of the cemetery

The garrison cemetery was opened in 1822 as the final resting place for British nationals who passed away while in then colonized Ceylon. The cemetery was open until the 1870’s when it was closed due to lack of space.

The cemetery contains 195 graves of varying shapes and sizes, of men, women and children who died during the period it was functioning. The most common causes of death were tropical diseases such as malaria and cholera. There are several who had passed away due to heat stroke as well. It is evident how alien the tropical climate was for the colonists because the average age of those buried is under 30, apart from a few exceptions. However, here and there, you find those who succumbed to death due to freak accidents, some of which will be listed out later.

There are several other similar cemeteries around the country and those buried in them, both the famous and the not-so-famous, can be found in List of Inscriptions on Tombstones and Monuments in Ceylon, of Historical or Local Interest with an obituary of Persons Uncommemorated, by John Penry Lewis.

The cemetery which was neglected for years was restored and is now maintained entirely on donations by a group called The Friends of the British Garrison Cemetery in Kandy.

The cemetery caretaker Charles Carmichael who has been present both times I visited is the best guide you can have for a tour around the cemetery. He knows the stories behind the tombs by heart and will point out the more interesting stories.

However, the museum in the cemetery premises also contains information on those buried at the cemetery and their stories.

Some of the inhabitants at the cemetery

Sir John D’Oyly

The most famous would be Sir John D’Oyly, who is buried at grave No. 11. He was a British colonial administrator and was responsible for drafting the Kandyan Convention of 1815, which resulted in the British takeover of the Kandyan Kingdom. Fluent in Sinhala, he chose to live in Ceylon until his death in 1824.

Lady Elizabeth Gregory

She was the first wife of William Henry Gregory who was Governor of Ceylon from 1872 to 1877. This beautiful tomb made of granite (No. 123) is my favourite because even before you find out that she died after just one year of marriage, the sorrow enveloping the tomb can be felt. It is one of the bigger tombs in the cemetery, with a visiting gate as well.

Another inhabitant who is etched in my memory is Margaret, the infant daughter of one Sir John Cheape, who died at just 4 months.

There is another small but tragic tombstone built by a couple in memory of their five deceased infant sons.

Some of the tombs are nameless, with just the initials of the deceased. One in particular that caught my eye was the small and insignificant tomb that could be easily missed, with just the letters W.S. carved on it.

Freak accidents

John Spottiswood Robertson buried in tomb No. 66 was the last recorded death of a European killed by a wild elephant in Ceylon.

No. 110, William Watson Mackwood was killed because he was impaled by a stake on the ground when he alighted from his horse.

David Findlay buried in tomb No. 88 was killed when his house collapsed on him.

While the ancestors of those buried may find the cemetery to be extra special, it is still a truly fascinating place and well worth a visit, especially if the rumours of relocation are true.

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