Garrison Cemetery in Kandy | Sunday Observer

Garrison Cemetery in Kandy

5 September, 2021

Although there are many public cemeteries throughout the country, the Garrison Cemetery in the historic city of Kandy is considered to be significant.

This is because almost all the people buried in this cemetery, which was established more than two centuries ago, are British. Some of them were British nationals who held various positions in the country during the colonial period and others settled in the country for various reasons.

The cemetery also houses several prominent people of the colonial era.

John D’Oyly, a former British officer in Sri Lanka, is one of them. In this background, this article is about some important facts about the Garrison Cemetery in Kandy where several other significant personalities were buried.

Location of the cemetery

Garrison cemetery can be reached by following the road to the right of the Kandy National Museum, located behind the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy.

It is located in the lower part of the Udawatte Jungle and according to some legends, this cemetery was built on a high ground behind the Temple of the Tooth Relic by the British to earn special respect from the Sinhalese.

However, it is a mere legend and many believe that the Udawatte Forest was a quiet place and that this cemetery may have been established there, given its surrounding.

After the conquest of the Kandyan Kingdom by the British in 1815, a burial ground was required for the burial of their nobles, and this site was selected in 1822.

It was later used as the burial ground of St. Paul’s Church, which was built on the premises where the Sathara Maha Devalayas of the Temple of the Tooth Relic were located.

Garrison cemetery is best known as the British Military Cemetery because most of the people buried there were in some way affiliated with the British Army.

It may also have been the reason for naming the land Garrison this is because the word garrison means the place where soldiers are detained.

Burials in the Garrison Cemetery, which began in 1822, continued for nearly half a century until 1870, but with the opening of the Mahayyawa Public Cemetery in 1865, its importance seems to have gradually diminished.

Only Christian Britons are buried here, many of whom can be identified as those who died young. Epidemics such as malaria and cholera, as well as wildlife attacks, have been linked to the deaths, and several bodies of young children have also been buried here.

Tomb of John D’Oyly

One of the most notable people buried in the Garrison Cemetery is Sir John D’Oyly, a British administrative official who died in 1824.

He came to Ceylon as a clerk in 1801 and has been a British agent in the Galle and Matara suburbs since 1803. He studied Sinhala language and literature, Buddhism and Sinhala customs with the bhikkhus living in the South during that period and used that knowledge in 1815 for the British mission to conquer Ceylon.

He later became the Chief of Staff of the Kandyan Kingdom. His remains were later buried in the Garrison Cemetery and a tombstone was erected, which can still be seen.

Another significant person buried in this cemetery is Lady Elizabeth Gregory, the wife of Sir William Henry Gregory, who served as the British Governor to Ceylon from 1872 to 1877. She fell seriously ill after a visit to Anuradhapura with Governor Gregory and died on 26 June, 1873 at the “Pavilion House” in Kandy, now the Presidential Palace. She was later buried in the Garrison Cemetery.

James Edwin McGlashan, who had attracted the attention of Emperor Napoleon of France, was also buried in Garrison cemetery after his death from malaria in 1817 and is considered a warrior who fought in the Battle of Waterloo.

In addition, General John Fraser, who pioneered the construction of the Colombo- Kandy main road, is a distinguished figure buried in the Garrison cemetery. He is also credited with leading the capture of Weera Monarawila Keppetipola, who led the 1818 uprising.

The tomb of Edmund Sampson Vones, one of their own administrative officers, who was branded a traitor by the British, is also located in the Garrison Cemetery in Kandy. He was working as an Assistant Government Agent in the Matale Government Agent’s Office and was declared a traitor for fleeing the insurgency during the 1848 uprising in the Matale area.

For the same reason, he was removed from the post of Assistant Government Agent, and no British official attended his funeral, who died at the age of 60.

John Sportwood Robertson, considered to be the last European to die in Sri Lanka after being attacked by a wild elephant, and William Charles McCrady, who was the first to translate the Salalihini Sandesha into English while serving as a civil servant in many provinces, is also buried in this cemetery.

James Henry Prasha, a British woman who lived in the Kandy Lake Round, was identified as the last person to be buried in the Garrison Cemetery. Earlier her body was buried elsewhere. However, her relatives have since obtained a court order to bury her body in this ancient burial ground.


Nearly 400 British nationals are reported to have been buried in the Garrison cemetery, but a recent survey found only about 103 tombs. By 1914, there were 163 tombs. The land, which belonged to St. Paul’s Church, was left in ruins for nearly 15 years due to neglect of maintenance due to a problem in the payment, and it was restored in 1997.

It coincided with the visit of Prince Charles to Sri Lanka in 1998. When the maintenance of the Garrison cemetery ceased, the cemetery had been completely covered with jungle and the tombs built there had been covered with soil. During the restoration work in 1997, about 20 workers had to be hired daily to lift the tombs, which were covered in soil. Renovation work on the Garrison cemetery took nearly a year and was subsequently taken over by the British High Commission.

Prince Charles, who was on a visit to Sri Lanka in 1998, had informed that he was to visit the cemetery, but was denied permission by the Sri Lankan security forces following the bomb attack on the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy.

Prince Charles then visited Garrison Cemetery during his visit to Sri Lanka during the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. At present not much of locals visit this place as they do not know about it, but some tourists come to the cemetery to pay their respects to their relatives who are buried there.

They can be seen lighting candles in front of the tombs, placing flowers and praying to remember their relatives. Recently it was declared a protected archaeological site.