Two significant rebellions in Sri Lankan freedom struggle from
After signing the Kandyan Convention on March 2, 1815, between the
British Governor, Sir Robert Brownrigg, and the Kandyan chiefs, the
sovereign rights of the last politically independent remnant of the
Sinhalese were irrevocably surrendered to the British Crown.
The British really never did conquer the kingdom but seized it
through craft and deceit exploiting advantage of the public opposition
to Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe's tyrannical rule and the divisions among the
Sinhala aristocracy. None of the English soldiers were killed or wounded
in the process. But they had suffered many casualties at an earlier
unsuccessful attempt in 1803 to capture the kingdom by armed force.
1818 Uva Rebellion
John D'Oyly was appointed the British resident in Kandy, Simon Sawers
as Judicial cum Revenue Officer. The Kandyan provinces were peaceful and
remained tranquil until 1817.
However, with the passage of time, the chiefs found the British to be
delusive and their behavior repulsive. The depressed and frustrated
chiefs were anxious to overthrow the foreign rulers and the rebellion
erupted in October 1817.
The Muslims of Wellassa, who supported the British wanted a Village
Headman of their own and Sylvester Douglas Wilson, the Assistant
Resident in Badulla appointed a Muslim named Haji Muhandiram alias
Marikkar to the post, despite objections raised by Millewa Disawa, who
held authority over Wellassa and Bintenne. The Muslims having their wish
fulfilled began to refuse the authority of the Dissawa, by withholding
payment of dues and taxes causing the Disawa much loss by income and
causing him to indignation.
Meanwhile Wilson who received information that a stranger, claimed to
be a member of the exiled royal family, had come with an entourage of
Buddhist priests to Wellassa to capture the Muslim Headman sent Haji
Muhandiram, to investigate on the matter, but he was captured and
killed. Wilson who went to inquire into the incident was also killed.
On the instruction of D'Oyly, Simon Sawers sent Keppetipola Disawa of
Uva to Wellassa to control the riot and rioters. Somehow the patriotism
of Keppetipola did not encourage him to attack the Sinhalese in action.
Keppetipola Disawa who brooded on the idea of supporting the
Sinhalese, returned the guns and ammunitions supplied to him by the
British to the armament depot in Badulla. In doing so he declared that
it was unbecoming of the Sinhala nation to use the enemy's weapons
against the enemy.
Thereafter he became the leader of the rebellion against the British.
Rebellion broke out with serious consequences and soon spread to
Bintenne, Ulapane, Walapone, Hewaheta, Kotmale, Dumbara and other
The heroism among the Sinhalese, their undaunted courage and
patriotism were well and visibly seen. Keppetipola Disawa was praised by
his men for his quality of being very active, valiant, enterprising.
When the position of the country turned from bad to worse, the governor
placed the entire kingdom of the Kandyan provinces under martial law.
A great battle raged between Keppetipola Disawa and Major Macdowall
for nine days causing heavy damages for both sides. The decreasing
strength of the British troops was supported by reinforcements from
India. "If not for this move, the Disawa would have wiped out the
British quite easily" Simon Sawers viewed.
At the end Keppetipola thinking that further attempts to fight would
only result in the death of the Sinhalese troops disbanded his
rebellious army, and went to Anuradhapura, hoping to launch another
struggle at a later favorable date.
Thereafter he went to Nuwara Kalaviya to live in peace. D'Oyly
immediately dispatched Capt. O'Neil to follow Keppetipola when the news
reached him that Keppetipola found the refuge in Nuwara Kalaviya to
arrest him and produce him before Col, Kelly to be tried for organizing
the rebellion to oust the British from the Kandyan territory.
Keppetipola Disawa became aware of that British troops were on trail
to arrest him impatiently awaited without fear the arrival of Capt.
O'Neil. On Neil's arrival Keppetipola introduced himself without the
least resistance to the surprise of captain.
Keppetipola and his lieutenant Madugalle were arrested and brought to
Kandy under escort, and was tried for high treason. He was found guilty
against the charges framed. On Nov. 26, 1818, he was taken to be
executed followed by two royal executioners, carrying their lethal
weapons over their shoulders. It is said that Keppetipola Disawa "walked
languidly, without any signs of regret or fear, as a brave man ready to
face death for good and valid reasons".
At the execution grounds Keppetipola Disawa as a brave patriot told
the executioner to behead him with just one blow but not by two. He who
also checked the sharpness of the sword of the executioner tied his long
hair into a knot over his head, and made his neck clear to receive the
His skull was placed at the Phrenological Society in Edinburgh where
skulls of great men are kept preserved in honor of the dead. The skull
was returned to the island in 1954, at the request of the Sri Lanka
government. It now lies in Kandy esplanade.
For 57 years after independence no government until the Mahinda
Rajapaksa Government came to power had made an attempt to revoke the
gazette notification that the British Colonial regime issued on January
1, 1818 after Keppetipola Disawe (Provincial Chief ) of Uva and Kandian
Chieftains turned against the English Rulers and joined the freedom
struggle keeping them officially on the traitors list.
1848 Matale Rebellion
Wansapurna Dewage David alias Gongale Goda Banda was the leader of
the 1848 Rebellion, pretender to the throne of Kandy. Born on 13 March
1809 he had been employed by the police and was engaged in transport
work on the Kandy road and came to reside at Gongalegoda, Udunuwara
where he became a popular figure among the Kandyans.
He married the daughter of Gongalegoda Menik Rala. Gongalegoda Banda
led a protest march on July 6, 1848 near the Kandy Kachchery regarding
unjustifiable taxes imposed by the British.
The rebellion was the first major uprising against the British since
the Uva Rebellion in 1818. Gongale Godabanda was supported by Puran Appu
and Dingi Rala who had the say of the Sinhala people at the movement for
the liberation of the island in 1848.
On 26 July 1848, the leaders and the supporters entered the historic
Dambulla Vihara and there Gongalegoda Banda was crowned by the head
priest of Dambulla, Ven. Giranegama Thera. On this historic day Dines,
his brother was declared the sub-king and Dingirala as the prince of
Sath Korale. Puran Appu was appointed as the prime minister or the sword
bearer to Gongalegoda Banda.
After the proclamation of the king, he with his army left for
Dambulla via Matale to capture Kandy from the British. In Matale they
raided the Mackdowel Fort in Matale on 28 July 1848 causing much loss to
the British amidst well fortified resistance. They attacked government
buildings specially the Matale Kachcheri and destroyed the tax records.
Simultaneously, Dingirirala instigated attacks in Kurunegala. Then
British Governor, Lord Torrington declared Martial Law on 29 July 1848
and 31 July in Kandy and Kurunegala respectively.
Unfortunately the rebellion was aborted after several Korale
Mahattayas betrayed the rebels for rewards from the British, this
resulted in the arrest of Puran Appu 29 July 1848 at Wariyapola.
Gongalegoda Banda and his elder brother Dines escaped and went into
hiding. The Governor issued a warrant on Gongalegoda Banda for his
arrest and a reward of 150 pounds to be given to anyone who gave
information of his whereabouts.
Gongalegoda Banda was arrested by the Malay soldiers on September 21
1848 at Elkaduwa and was brought to Kandy. The trial of Gongalegoda
Banda commenced on 27 November at the Supreme Court sessions in Kandy.
He was charged of high treason for claiming himself as the King of Kandy,
declaring as a descendant of the Kandy Kings, ongoing and waging war
against the British. He bravely declared that he was guilty of all the
The Supreme Court ordered to hang him on January 1, 1849. However, on
an appeal made by Gongalegoda Banda to the Governor, a proclamation was
issued on December 29, 1848 to amend the death sentence to flogging 100
times and be exiled.
On January 01, 1849 Gongalegoda Banda was flogged 100 times in Kandy
and sent in to exile in Malacca (now Malaysia). By deporting Gongalegoda
Banda, the Governor instilled a permanent fear among the inhabitants for
future rebellion against the British rule. Gongalegoda Banda who was
exiled to Malacca arrived there on 3 May 1849. He died on 1 December
1849 in Malacca.