History of Galle Fort

The Portuguese Period

The history of the fortified city of Galle starts with the arrival of the Portuguese in the island of Sri Lanka at the beginning of the 16th century.

In 1505 a group of Portuguese sailors led by Don Lorenzo de Almeida, son of Francesco de Almeida, arrived in the island. They built the first fortification in Galle on a cliff, jutting out into the sea. It was called the Swart Bastion or the Black Fort.

Reference is made to Galle by Joard Ribrow in his book on Sri Lanka as follows:-

“The fortress in Galle had been built on a land which is flanked by the sea on two sides and lined by rocks on the north. On the south the harbor was protected by a fence with spikes on top. The fortress comprised three bastions and in front a protective moat with a draw bridge to enter the Fort. Protection to the fortress was limited to the above elements.”

The Dutch Period

The fortress which was built by the Portuguese was captured by the Dutch on March 13th 1640 after a battle. Portuguese writer Parinavo Kerosh has given a detailed description of the Galle Fort and the battle which led to its conquest by the Dutch in his book The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon.

According to him, a Dutch contingent of about 2000 soldiers led by Admiral Wilhelm Jacobs Coster had landed at Unawatuna, a coastal village south of Galle, on 8th March 1640. They had proceeded on foot to Magalle where they got themselves entrenched. When the Portuguese military headquarters in Colombo received this news, they immediately dispatched to Galle a contingent of 323 soldiers, led by Captain Major Francesco de Mendona Manuel, by land, who were joined on the way by a further 1800. Their armoury was a loose collection of canons, guns of various types and even bows. By that time there were only about 110 Portuguese soldiers led by Captain Lorenzo Perera de Britto stationed in Galle Fort and they were in no way equipped to put up any effective resistence to the Dutch.

In the battle which ensued, the Dutch were able to overcome the Portuguese and capture Galle Fort. It is recorded as one of the fiercest battles which the Dutch fought in Sri Lanka.

The conquest of Galle was celebrated in Batavia on 20 th April 1640. The importance the Dutch gave to the capture of Galle is demonstrated by the fact that this event was annually celebrated by them during the one and a half centuries of Dutch rule in Sri Lanka.

The small fortification in Galle which was captured from the Portuguese by the Dutch was considerably expanded and improved by them according to their own distinct architectural style.

The following are the special architectural features of Fortified City of Galle after it was remodeled by the Dutch:-

  1. The fortification containing 14 bastions
  2. Buildings constructed for military, administrative and commercial purposes including the large warehouse building
  3. The unique underground drain complex
  4. The interconnected road network
  5. The interconnected surface drain network
  6. Special defence constructions
  7. Church buildings with distinct architectural style
  8. Beautifully designed official quarters and private houses

After the capture of Galle, initially the Dutch made it their administrative capital in the island. The following Governors operated from Galle:

Wilhelm Jacobs Coster from 1640 March
Jaan Thaisen Fayat from 1640 August
Joan Mansukar from 1646 May
Jacob Van Kitinstein from 1650 February
Adrian Van d'Medin from 1653 October to 1656 May

Subsequently, the following Dutch Commanders were stationed in Galle:

Jacob Hustart
Adrian Ruthas 1660
Nicholas Van d'Meulan 1686
Thomas Van Ray
Rutgers d'Heid 1692
Carlbolner Van Danci 1693
Gerard Von Toll 1704
Nicholas Welters 1705
Adrian Vander Daun 1708
Johan Vander Weldern 1709
Philip Van Ukulan 1710
Cornelis Thai Van Tessel
Johannes Harthenberg 1714
Janus Fauts 1714
Anthony Swarts 1719
Nicholas Geupal 1720
Hendrick Laurence 1720
Arnold Moll 1721
Johan Paul Scargen 1723
Van McRay 1732
Daniel Overbake 1736
Iming de Yong 1737
Jacob de Yong 1742
Johan Gerard Fayland 1747
Kaspersz Yong 1752
Abraham Smilant 1758
Ras Mackay
Arnodras de Lye 1766
Cornelis Drynesius Krainhoff 1787
Peter Slauskan 1788
Deedreck Thomas Fets 1792

The British Period

On 23 rd February 1796 the 70 th Regiment of the British Forces in Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon), led by Captain Locklan Macwary, took control of Galle without any fighting. The British Governor stationed in Madras was in charge of Ceylon until October 1798. Due to difficulties of administration, Sir Fredrick North was appointed Governor and Commander in Chief of the British territory of Sri Lanka by Royal proclamation dated 12 th October 1798. It also marked the beginning of the Ceylon Civil Service.

In 1833, several administrative reforms were carried out on the recommendation of a Commission which comprised Mr. H.H. Colebrook and Mr. H.C. Cameron. Under these reforms, the island of Ceylon was divided into 5 provinces. They chose Galle as the centre of administration of the Southern Province. The Southern Province contained the districts of Galle, Matara, Tangalle, Hambantota, Uva, Wellassa, Buttala and Ratnapura. By 1845, these districts were consolidated to form three districts, namely, Galle, Matara and Hambantota.

The divisional administration of the Galle District was divided into the following revenue divisions :

  1. Galle Municipality
  2. The Galle Four Gravets
  3. Gangabada Pattuwa
  4. Wellabada Pattuwa
  5. Talpe Pattuwa
  6. Walallawita Korale
  7. Hinidum Pattuwa

Galle Municipal Council

The Galle Municipal Council was established with effect from 1 st January, 1867, by a proclamation made by Governor Sir Hercules George Robert Robinson, published in the Ceylon Government Gazette No. 3571 dated 24 th November, 1866.

Initially, the Galle Municipality comprised 5 wards, namely, Fort, Kaluwella, Galupiyadda, Hirimbura and Kumbalwella. The first meeting of the Galle Municipal Council was held on 26 th April 1867 at the Galle Kachcheri building.

At present the Galle Municipal Council comprises 15 wards which are as follows :-

Ward No. 1
Galle Fort
Ward No. 2
China Garden
Ward No. 3
Galle Bazaar
Ward No. 4
Ward No. 5
Ward No. 6
Ward No. 7
Ward No. 8
Ward No. 9
Ward No. 10
Ward No. 11
Ward No. 12
Ward No. 13
Ward No. 14
Ward No. 15

The late Dr. Wijayananda Dahanayake was the first elected Mayor of Galle. He became Mayor in 1939. He later became Prime Minister of Ceylon (1959-60).

Prior to that, meetings of the Council were chaired by a senior official of the Government (usually the Government Agent).

The Galle Municipality covers an area of about 16.8 square kilometers (6.5 square miles) with a population of just about 100,000.

Galle Fort during the British period

Galle Fort became a hive of activity during the height of the British rule in Sri Lanka.

No major alterations were done by them to the Fortress itself, other than the construction of the entrance on the esplanade side.

Until independence in 1948, the office of the Government Agent who was the chief administrator of the district was located in the old Dutch hospital building.

The Law Court complex built during the British period still remains without major changes.

As the port of Galle was used by the British as the main harbor in the country until the building of the Colombo port, Galle Fort also became the centre for port related activities. The big commercial houses of Chas. P. Hayley, E. Coates and Clark Spence, who handled shipping, were head quartered inside the Fort. Many hotels and restaurants also came up in the Fort which catered mainly to the British expatriate community. Among them were:

The New Oriental Hotel - established in 1868 (presently Amangalla)
The Old Mansion Hotel - owned by Mr. Henry Bogas
The Sea View Hotel - owned by Mr. Angelo Ephraums
The New Mansion/Eglinton Restaurant - owned by Mr. C.B.Bogas
The Lore's Hotel - owned by Mr. Eugine Lore
The Pavilion Hotel - owned by Mrs. Braybrook

The Gymkhana Club house and tennis court and several other tennis courts were also located inside the Fort.

Another prominent landmark during the latter period of British rule was the Ephraums department store (presently the Bank of Ceylon). The Albion press was located in the basement of this building.


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Last Update: 12-06-2018.