Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me………. No, it is not my birthday, that was months ago but I just got a message from WordPress telling me I registered this site four years ago today and I really cannot imagine where the time has gone, it has absolutely flown. I am completely astounded that I have not managed to inadvertently delete the whole site by now, it is always a possibility where I am concerned.
Back to the business in hand which is my series of posts about my first trip to Sri Lanka in early 2014 which lasted three months.
In the last instalment I had broken off halfway through the day of the 17th January in an attempt to keep the entries vaguely tidy. If you want to read the first part of the day go to the bottom of this page and click the “Previous post” button. Better still you can read from the start of the trip here.
I left you at the oddly named Kayman / Caiman Gate, which is no longer even a gate any more at about 1440 hrs. and another short walk brought me to Prince Street which, even by Asian standards, is chaos.
It is so lunatic that I tried my luck with the video camera a couple of times which you can see here and here. I hadn’t intended to do the second one and I didn’t really need a video camera, a tape recorder would have done as nothing was moving anywhere but the volume of the vehicle horns was deafening.
As usual it was more by accident that design that I discovered the Dutch Museum. As always in this series of post I shall use my contemporaneous notes and original title, written for another site. to describe the place to you. Should I need to add any explanation from 2021 I shall put it in double parentheses (()).
The building is the star here.
In the centre of the bustling, noisy and marginally manic Pettah (market) area of Colombo stands the rather fine building you see in the image which houses the Dutch Period Museum.
It is a building with quite an interesting history and dates to the very late 17th century when it was constructed by the Dutch Governor of the area, a chap called Governor Van Rhee who was the incumbent from 1692 – 1697 and it is understandably in the Dutch style. The Dutch ruled the coastal parts of Sri Lanka for a time, generally under the auspices of the VOC (Dutch East Indies Company) and some Dutch streetnames still exist here like Leynbaan Street.
Apart from serving as a private residence for the Governor, the Dutch House, as it is known, has fulfilled many roles. It has variously been a college for clerics and schoolmasters, an orphanage, hospital, military barracks, police training facility and post office, so it has seen much in it’s 300 plus years of existence.
As for the Museum itself well, frankly, it is not much to write home about. There are some old pieces of furniture, a few weapons, a room full of old Dutch headstones brought from elsewhere and that is about it really.
The enclosed garden is delightful however and strangely you cannot even hear the hubbub from the street outside, it is a very tranquil place. The ground floor would be wheelchair accessible but the upstairs which houses the bulk of the exhibits would not.
The Museum was opened in 1977 with financial assistance from the Netherlands and is the only Museum commemorating Dutch colonialism in all their former territories which I find a little odd given the extent of their colonial influence.
I may not have even been consciously thinking about it but my body clock had obviously determined it was beer o’clock and I found myself gravitating towards the wonderful Flying Angel Seaman’s Mission which I told you about in a previous post but just before I got to it, in an adjacent building, there was something else I had to see. Original title and notes as always.
Quite plain but interesting.
You really have to seek out St. Peter’s Church in the Fort area of Colombo as it is quite difficult to find. It is, understandably in Church Street sandwiched between the Grand Oriental Hotel and the Flying Angel Club / Mission to Seamen and serves as the seafarers church.
It has the Police Headquarters behind it and the heavily guarded secure zone round the port to the front. It does not even look much like a Church which is not surprising as it was initially a part of the Dutch Governor’s residence.
When the British took over the island they turned it into the garrison Anglican Church. Obviously the garrison is long gone but the Church remains as a place of worship. Although it was first used for such worship in 1804 it was not officially consecrated until 1821 although it’s sacred nature may extend much further back than that as it is thought that the Dutch built here on the previous foundation of a Portuguese chapel.
Should the traveller wish to worship, Holy Communion is celebrated at 1030 on Sunday and 1230 on Wednesday although I am told attendances are very small. This is because for the 30 years of the Civil War the building was virtually sealed off due to the position it occupies which I mentioned earlier and the congregation drifted off to other churches to avoid the time consuming checks required to enter.
The sign outside says it is open daily for private prayer / visiting from 0700 – 1700 daily although I saw it locked up a couple of times during these hours.
When you enter, it is initially not particularly grand nor well-appointed although it is pleasant and airy enough with a high ceiling and a cooling breeze blowing through it.
For me the items of major interest were the many, many memorials on the walls. Readers of my other posts will know that I have an interest in military history, graves and memorials and St. Peter’s has many fascinating if poignant reminders of the cost through war, or far more frequently disease, of maintaining the Empire. Take a moment to have a look.
The one that particularly fascinated me was the brass plaque that commemorates three young gunners killed by lightning in 1928 and also two other gunners who died “suddenly” within two days of each other in Colombo in 1972. I have no idea what they might have been doing as the British left “Ceylon” in 1947. Training mission perhaps? Also, have a look for poor young Mr. Wallett who was killed by an elephant! Perhaps the most tragic, purely in terms of numbers, is the memorial to the 73rd Perthshire Regt. who lost 60 men in a five year tour. It must have been an awful posting in the 19th century.
There are tablets commemorating the dead of many of the regiments garrisoned here and I shall be contacting the relevant Regimental Museums of the successor Regiments when I return to UK.
There is no admission fee nor indeed anyone to take such but obviously donations are welcome, the box is just by the door. Although it is difficult to seek out, it is definitely worth it and I recommend the traveller does just that”.
After that it was literally a 20 foot walk from the Church door to the door of the Mission where I knew there would be a very cold beer awaiting me. There was indeed a beer there and then several more to follow which may account for things becoming a little unclear at this point.
All I know is that I ended up in some bar somewhere in central Colombo watching the musicians you see. It is unusual for me not to recognise a bar in Colombo as there are not that many of them and I have drunk in just about every one but this image defeats me.
The next thing I can say with any certainty is that by a very respectable 2226 hrs. I was chugging merrily along the Galle Road in a tuk-tuk which you can see here. Thankfully it was an uneventful journey. There is another clip to come in a future post of a much hairier ride on the same route in the middle of a monsoonal downpour so watch out for that.
My trusty charioteer must have got me home safely because I awoke in my own bed the next morning, again remarkably unscathed, and if you want to see what I did with the day then you’ll just have to stay tuned and spread the word.