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Abandoned Masions

Abandoned Masions
Sri Lanka is littered with ancient mansions and walawwas, some like palaces, others modest as country mice, albeit in white tie.

These Sri Lankan manor houses were the homes, ancient or merely old, of the ruling class, a class not always popular in a democratic socialist republic. They pop up in city centres, down dusty town roads, in jungles, on plantations, amidst paddy, on mountain tops, and off country roads.

Many – if not most –are in a state of serious neglect; a few have been declared national monuments and attract basic survival care; fewer still - such as The Flame Tree Estate & Hotel - have been reimagined as shops, hotels, museums, their future blessed by round the clock maintenance.

Two such haunting buildings lie within a tuk tuk ride of the hotel, both abandoned; and one dating back to 1820, a remarkably early date given that the British only signed the Kandyan Convention in 1815, bringing to an end the last independent kingdom in the country and the one that ruled over Galagedera at the time.

Just two years before this particular mansion was constructed, the Great Rebellion of 1817–1818 broke out, initiated by frustrated Kandyan chiefs disillusioned by British colonial administration. The rebellion, now known as the Great Liberation War,  was led by the celebrated freedom fighter, Keppetipola Disawe but he was poorly supported by other leaders, not least the ex-priest and pretender to the throne of Kandy, Wilbawe, who proclaimed himself king.

The British Governor Brownrigg, came up from Colombo and established his field headquarters at Kandy to direct military operations against the rebels, supported by extra troops rushed in from British India.

His greater trained manpower eventually won the day, and the rebellion was crushed.

Keppetipola was taken to Kandy where he was tried for high treason and sentenced to death by beheading. Bizarrely, his skull was taken to Britain and placed in the Phrenological Society of Edinburgh. When Ceylon gained independence from the British in 1948, Keppetipola was declared a national hero, and in 1954 it was returned home, and entombed in the Keppetipola Memorial in Kandy next to the Temple of the Tooth.

Brownrigg himself is alleged to have later stolen the priceless gilded bronze ancient Statue of Tara, now being argued over with the British Museum, where it currently resides.

In the two years following the end of the Rebellion and the erecting of this Galagedera mansion, the surrounding countryside, even more remote then than it is today, would have been reeling from the devastating effects of Britain’s scorched earth policy in the area – the killing of cattle and livestock, the destruction of private property and stocks of salt; the burning of rice paddies and confiscated of properties.

Herbert White, a British agent, wrote of the situation a few years on from 1818: “If thousands died in the battle they were all fearless and clever fighters. If one considers the remaining population of 4/5 after the battle to be children, women, and the aged, the havoc caused is unlimited. In short, the people have lost their lives and all other valuable belongings. It is doubtful whether Uva has at least now recovered from the catastrophe.”

Little is known about either mansion in Galagedera today. They lie under the lightest of care from the Archaeological Department, but the caretakers have only the slightest of knowledge about the buildings under their mild notice; and the hunt to track down more details continues.

To arrange a visit, please contact the Hotel Office.

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