The first attempt on Ceylon by English – part 2

Boyd’s embassy

As the proposed attack on Colombo was to take place in April, Boyd was anxious to treat betimes with the king and went to Kandy without even waiting for a communication from the king or for a disave to conduct him to the capital according to custom. It took him a whole month and much trouble and vexation to reach Gannoruwa. But the time was ill-chosen. Kirtisri had died just three days before Boyd set out. It was Kirtisri who had once dealt with the English. He was so hostile to the Dutch that he would gladly have joined hands with anyone that wished to attack them. The new king, Rajadhi Rajasinghe, on the contrary, had just ascended the throne unexpectedly and had as yet no time to look round him or decide on a policy.

The disave likewise were either candidates for the first adigarship or were secret friends of the Dutch. To add to all this, the English ad attacked and captured Trincomalee without any communication with the king, who was in consequence very suspicious of their intention and had forbidden his subject to hold any intercourse with them, for the Dutch had represented the English and their motives for this war in a very ugly light.

In the circumstances there was little hope of a successful negotiation; nor did the unseemly haste of Boyd augur well for his embassy. The king and courtiers pointedly asked Boyd about the motives of the English in this war.  Why were they so fond of war? Why did they wage war so readily on their recent friends? Finally they declared that the king would not enter into a treaty unless it was authorized by the king of England. Boyd returned to Trincomalee on 26th March 1782, and finding that the ship which was waiting to take him back to Madras had put to sea for want of provisions, he hired a vessel and set out, on the very next day he was captured by a French ship. Boyd threw his papers overboard for fear of betraying his identity and recent mission, but the Frenchman rescued them from the brine and sent them to the Dutch, and they are still extant in the Dutch Archives of Colombo.

The ship that captured Boyd was one of the fleet under the command of Baili’s Suffren who was flying full sail to help his Dutch allies against the English. Hearing that Trincomalee was taken by the English, Suffren made for that harbor, determined to capture it. On the day after Boyd’s capture, the two fleets encountered and fought a most sanguinary but indecisive battle. Suffren put into Batticoloa to refit and sent Boyd prisoner to Madagascar, while the English fleet returned to Trincomalee. The two fleets met again and fought a second battle on 6th July. The English admiral realized that the Frenchman was minded to attack Trincomalee and sent Captain Hay Macdowall with reinforcements to take charge of the fort and put it into a state of defense. But before this could be done, Suffren was upon Trincomalee.

The French capture Trincomalee

The French fleet arrived on 25th August, 1782, landed men, raised batteries and bombarded the fort which was obliged to surrender on 30th August, and fort Oostenberg the next day. The French admiral conducted operations with feverish haste as he knew that the English fleet would return. Indeed it did return days later to find to its surprise that the fort changed hands. The two squadrons closed again off Trincomalee on 3rd September. The fight raged loud and long till night put an end to another drawn battle. The two forts remained in the hands of the French till the peace of Paris in 1783, when they were restored to the English, who in turn restored them to the Dutch on the same day. Thus ended the first attempt of the British to gain a footing in Ceylon.

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I am Sanjeewa Padmal Punchihewa, a freelance software engineer, freelance National Tourist Guide Lecturer and part time blogger from Colombo, Sri Lanka. Please feel free to write me on the following email addresses for any further information on this topic. If you wish to visit this place, please write us, I am glad to help you.,
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