Timeline for Colonial Ceylon

Jeronimo de Azevado’s invaded Kandy (Jones, 2003).




The Dutch East India Company ally with Raja Sinha (Jones, 2003).


During a truce with the Portuguese, the Dutch East India Company ally with Raja Sinha fall out (Jones, 2003).


Gaspar Figueira de Serpe (‘the Axe’) led a successful mutiny against the Portuguese Captain-General of Ceylon (Jones, 2003).


690 Dutch and Javanese with 700 Sinhalese lascarins secretly crossed to the north side of the River Alutgama to attack 300 Portuguese camped near the estuary (16 Dec) (Jones, 2003). The Portuguese were warned and staged a fighting withdrawal up the coast to to their fortress at Kalutara. A poor showing and heavy losses discouraged the Dutch who withdrew to the south bank. The Portuguese remained in Kalutara. Taking advantage of the situation Raja Sinha subsequently sent his forces into the low lands and drove the Portuguese back to Colombo.

1655: Campaigns of ‘the Axe’

Facing a dire situation the Portuguese Captain-General of Ceylon replaced the incompetent Captain-Major of the Four and Seven Korales with the proven Gaspar Figueira de Serpe (‘the Axe’) (Jan) (Jones, 2003). With the Portuguese of the Colombo garrison and the few loyal Sinhalese lascarins, Figueira defeated the Kandyans at Malwana and again at Kananapella, then destroyed Moorish vessels in the western ports of Kalpitiya and Puttalam. After further reinforcements arrived from Mannar (30 Jan), Figueira led his men into the interior and, having surprised them in their encampment at Arambepola, defeated the Kandyans yet again (Feb). The Kandyans fled to the hills above Balane pass, and the Portuguese camped at Arandara.

Enraged by the Figueira’s successes against his subordinates, Raja Sinha asks the Dutch to besiege the Portuguese at Kalutara, the key to Colombo (19 Mar) then advanced into the lowlands with 40,000 men (21 Mar) (Jones, 2003). The Kandyan army made leisurely progress via the Kandy-Puttalam road. This road passed through the Galagedara pass and across the Kospatu Oya river at Kotiapola, and two advanced guards were sent forward to secure the route; 8,000 men under the dissava of Uva and 6,000 under the dissava of Matale. Uva emcamped at Kotikapola and Matale a mile further on at Pilessakanda.

When the Dutch besieged Kalutara from three sides (3 Apr) the Portuguese Captain-General of Ceylon ordered Figueira back to the coast to defend the Capital (Jones, 2003). Figueira, however, had other ideas. He had quickly heard of the advancing Kandyan horde, and although he declined to tell his men so as not to discourage them, he believed it better to face this threat than to succor Colombo. To deceive the enemy he made it be know that he was heading for the coast, but instead remained at Arandura.

On the night of 10 Apr Figueira ordered that the camp fires be kept burning and that the camp followers make merry, then with 300 Portuguese soldados and 1,700 lascarins (he also had caffirs, but I don’t know which group they are counted in), he left headed east to Mottapuliya (11 Apr). The Portuguese breakfasted at 3 am, and by day break (6 am) were marching north (12 Apr). Around 7 am they encountered a Kandyan scouting party, and drove them off. Learning from prisoners that Raja Sinha was camped at Kotikapola, Figueira divided his force in two: Joaõ Coelho de Castro, dissiva of the Seven Korales, took 150 Portuguese and 700 lascarin to attack the dissiva of Matale at Pilessakanda. The remainder of the force headed for the dissiva of Uva’s emcampment at Kotikapola. Both forces would have had to advance single file through the thick jungle; it would seem the lascarins typically headed Portuguese columns.

Joaõ Coelho surprised and killed the dissiva of Matale and drove off his men (Jones, 2003). Figueira didn’t have it quite so easy. Warned of the approaching Portuguese by fugitives from the earlier skirmish at Mottapuliya, the dissiva of Uva sent out 1,100 men to harass Figueira as he advanced (12 noon). Figueira ignored this threat to his flanks and pushed on. After another 2 miles (at 1 pm) the lascarins at the head of Figueira’s column clashed with Kandyans blocking the way. Figueira and 20 Portuguese reformados rushed to the front and a fierce fighting ensued. When the remainder of the Portuguese managed to make their way to the front of column (still being attacked from the flanks), a volley drove off the Kandyans. Figueira pursued vigorously killing any fugitives encountered; within half an hour he had captured the dissiva of Uvas camp. At this point fugitives from the camp of the dissiva of Matale arrived, only to be driven into the jungle by Figueira.

Deciding that Raja Sinha would not come because his subordiinates had been defeated, Figueira settled down to camp for the night (Jones, 2003). The King, however, wasn’t aware what had happened and by 4 pm Figueira was getting reports of a large force of Kandyans approaching from the east. Manoel Gil led 30 Portuguese and 650 lascarins off to disperse what was believed to be survivors from earlier fights. Figueira, however, hearing continuous firing from the jungle into which Gil had disappeared, sent Joaõ Coelho to investigate with another 180 Portuguese and 300 lascarin. It turns out that 500 of Gil’s lascarins – those from the recently reconquered Seven Korales – had immediately deserted to join the Kings forces, leaving Gil’s 180 remaining men to face the 10,000 of the dissiva of Tumpane. Coelho’s arrival saved Gil’s tiny force, and after a hard struggle the Portuguese put the Kandyans to flight. Raja Sinha attempted to stem the rout on the eastern side of Kospatu Oya, but eventually fled himself. Only the King’s Dutch bodyguard stood their ground and covered the flight of the Kandyans. Coelho did not pursue and rejoined Figueira by nightfall (6 pm). Depending on the source your read the Kandyans lost between 300 and 16,000 killed and captured. The Portuguese had four soldados wounded, four lascarins killed and 20 wounded. The last and most successful of the Portuguese victories against the native Sinhalese.

Ironically, the Dutch, deciding that Raja Sinha would not advance into the lowlands as promised, broke their siege of Kalutara on the same day (12 Apr) (Jones, 2003).

Later that year, after Director-General van Hulft brought large reinforcements from Batavia, Kalutara was again besieged and this time captured (2-15 Oct) (Jones, 2003). Figueira, not realising that Kalutara had already fallen, was marching to its relief when he encountered a much larger Dutch force on a spit of sand between the sea and the river at Panadura and was defeated (16 Oct).


Colombo falls to the Dutch after an epic siege (12 May) (Jones, 2003). Subsequently, hostilities break out again between the Dutch and Raja Sinha.


The death of Raja Sinha brings peace between the Dutch and Sinhalese.


Dutch Portuguese Colonial History – Marco Ramerini

Lots of good stuff.

Jones, R. (2003). The Leopard’s Eating Place: The Battle of Kotikapola, 12 April 1655. Arquebusier: The Journal of the Pike and Shot Society, Vol. XXVI/III, 26-36.

Wickremesekera, C. (2004). Kandy At War: Indigenous Military Resistance to European Expansion in Sri Lanka 1594-1818. New Delhi: Manohar.

Great book full of detail. There doesn’t seem to be a UK distributor so I got this from the US. You can also order direct from India.

Wickremesekera, C. (2004, Aug). Military organisation in pre-modern Sri Lanka: the army of the Kandyan kings. South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 27(2), 133-151. Routledge, part of the Taylor & Francis Group.

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