Archives created in Asia and South Africa

5. Archives in Sri Lanka

he archives of the Dutch administration of Ceylon have been preserved in a fairly intact state. The bulk of these archives is made up of the documents of the administrative bodies of the capital Colombo. Only some smaller or larger fragments of the archives of the subordinate establishments have survived. The archives of the chief settlement in Colombo were described in an inventory compiled in 1943(11). Although not immediately apparent from the inventory, once again the archives in Colombo present the picture of typical establishment archives based on the correspondence with superiors in the Dutch Republic or in Batavia, with alongside them the resoluties with annexes and dagregisters of the local administration, and archives from the various subordinate establishments.

17th century filing cabinet in the Dutch Period Museum in Colombo (click to enlarge)

There is a large series of resoluties with annexes of the Governor and Council, with the companion series of secret resoluties, and the resoluties from special departments. Besides these, there are various series of incoming and outgoing letters (ordinary, secret and from the internal and military departments), which are divided up into the categories patria (fatherland) and Cape of Good Hope, Batavia, various subordinate establishments, and other establishments in the octrooigebied. What is remarkable is the absence of a series of dagregisters from Colombo. These must have existed, seeing that parts of them are enclosed in the overgekomen brieven en papieren in the VOC archives in the Netherlands. One chapter in the inventory, 'internal affairs', besides including all sorts of series of documents referring to particular subjects, also contains protocollen van civiele akten and legislation. Another chapter, 'external affairs', not only contains correspondence with other VOC establishments (it is not clear why these were not put together with the other correspondence), but also includes treaties and correspondence with local authorities and representatives of other European powers. As well as the archives of the Governor and Council, there are also holdings from the hoofdadministrateur (head of trade) and from the dessave (district chief) of Colombo. The archives of the dessave contains a rich collection of tombos (sort of cadastral registers). There are also extensive archives of the Raad van Justitie relating to both civil and criminal actions, and of lower-ranking legal bodies such as the landraad (court of first instance) and the civiele raad. Among the records of temporary governmental committees and persons are the archives of the Geheime Commissie (Secret Committee responsible for the conduct of the war with Kandy 1762-1766), consisting of resoluties and correspondence, and those of a few special committees which were sent from the Netherlands.

Moreover, besides the state archives there are yet other documents of Dutch origin. The Wolvendaal Church in Colombo possesses the archives of the Dutch parish there(12).

Besides the archives of the chief establishment in Colombo, in the National Archives of Sri Lanka there are considerable holdings from the subordinate offices at Galle, Matara, Jaffna and Wanni. These holdings are particularly important because such subordinate offices had fewer direct relations with the central authorities in Batavia and the Dutch Republic, so that there is less about them to be found in the VOC archives. There is a recent inventory of these holdings(13).

The Galle archives contain the usual series of resoluties, correspondence with the superiors in Colombo, Batavia and the Dutch Republic, registers of wills, protocollen van civiele akten of the secretaries, appointments registers, reports of diplomatic missions, registers containing instructions to local functionaries, dagregisters, auction books and land registers. Besides these, there are the archives of separate offices and committees such as those of the negotieboekhouder (trade accountant: which actually contains little about book-keeping but a lot of administrative documents), of the tombo committee (the main part of which is comprised of population lists), and of the school board. There are also large archives from the Raad van Justitie in Galle and of the landraad of the Galle district.

The archives of the district of Madurai, then subordinate to Galle now in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which have been preserved, mainly date from the last period of the Company administration. These archives contain both the holdings of the dessave as well as that of the landraad. As far as their composition goes they are similar to the archives of Galle.

With the exception of a series of tombos, the Jaffna archives contain only a few fragments. The same is true for the archives of the district administration of Wanni, only a few fragments of which still remain.

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