Hidden treasures in Galle | Sunday Observer

Hidden treasures in Galle

17 October, 2021

When we hear of Galle, we are naturally reminded of the historic Galle Fort. The Galle Fort, under the control of Western nations for a long time, still has a number of buildings constructed during the colonial period that are reminiscent of that past. Among them, the house called Rajagedara, built about three centuries ago, is a unique building.

Built during the Dutch period, the building was then used as the official residence of the Dutch Commander in Galle, and later during the British colonial period, it was used as the official residence of the British Commander in Galle. It was also used to accommodate the visit of representatives of the King or Queen of Britain at that time.

Construction of Galle Fort

Although the Portuguese developed Galle Fort in 1588, it was the Dutch who developed the Galle Fort as a planned city to meet the needs of the urban community. The present day Galle Fort was built by the Dutch as many parts of it were damaged by the Dutch battles to defeat Galle in 1640 AD.

Since the Dutch captured the Galle Fort on March 13, 1640, four Governors including William Jacobsz Coster (1640), Jan Thijssen Payart (1640-1646), John Maetsuycker (1646-1650) and Jacob Fan Kittensteyn (1650-1653) made Galle their administrative centre, and their official residences were located at the place where the site of the new Galle Fort Gate can be seen now. Those buildings were also used by the Portuguese rulers.

Official residence of the Dutch Governor

The left-hand garret at the entrance to the new fort at Galle Fort was at that time the main watchtower, and the former Dutch Governor’s official residence was located adjacent to it, as it needed to provide security for the residence. Today, the area is visible on the left after entering the new fort, and is now used as a public playground.

Although there were several buildings on the premises of the Governor’s official residence, it is clear that the Dutch maintained the lands on which the old buildings were located as open spaces without rebuilding them when they were destroyed. Accordingly, after the demolition of the Governor’s official residence, it appears that no buildings were constructed in the area and it was maintained as an open zone.

After the Dutch conquered Colombo in 1653, they made it their administrative centre and appointed a Commander for Galle.

It is possible that his official residence was built elsewhere in the Galle area as they abandoned the old Governor’s official residence in Galle Fort.

The new official residence is located at a crossroads where the two main streets of Galle Fort, Church Street and what is now Queen’s Street, meet. It was close to the most important places in Galle Fort, such as the Port Jetty, the Merchant Store and the Protestant Church.

Above the main entrance to the house is a picture of a red rooster. The year is mentioned as 1683. This was when the construction of this house started or the Commander first used it.

However, according to its current architectural features, some believe that it is not an old house. This view seems to be incorrect, as not only many Dutch buildings, but even buildings in Sinhala architecture, were later remodeled by the English according to their architecture.

The first Dutch Commander to arrive in Galle was Bandgodscan and the last Commander in Galle was Dietrich Thomas. The building, in use at the time, was acquired by the British in 1796 when they consolidated their power in the Galle Fort.

British era

During the British rule, the Commanding Officer in charge of the Galle area used this house as their residence and was also the official residence of the King’s Special Envoys when they visited Ceylon and when the British Governors of Ceylon visited Galle.

History also states that Wesleyan Methodist missionaries, including James Lynch, landed in Galle on June 29, 1814 and stayed here. The British Commander in Galle at that time was Viscount Molesworth.

Major Pon Hughes

After the house fell into the hands of the British, security was provided by Major Pon Hugle, Commanding Officer of the British Army.

He was in good health but was said to be addicted to alcohol. Pon Hughes also provided security for the British Governors who used the house as their official residence and for the British special envoys who stayed here. Sources said that he had a love affair with a young woman while on duty and committed suicide by hanging himself from a beam in the same house as a result of the break of the affair.

Selling the house

William Henry Gregory, the twelfth British Governor to Ceylon, announced in the Government Gazette on 29 June, 1872 that the house was for sale at a public auction.

The dilapidated condition of the building at that time, the lack of proper ventilation in it, the fact that it was bordered by two crowded public streets and the high cost of maintaining the building led to its sale.

Ancient documents state that there was even a dispute between Governor Gregory and the then Colonial Secretary Lord Kimberly over the sale of the official residence by a unilateral decision without the prior approval of the British Colonial Secretary.

Accordingly, Clark Spence, a well-known trading company at the time and a subsidiary of Walker Sons, bought the building for 1,500 Sterling Pounds.

The building later became the sole property of Walkers, following the closure of Clark Spence. The building has been named as a fortified monument located within the Galle Fort. Although the rights are currently owned by a private company, it can be seen that it has been closed without being used.

Located just in front of the main entrance to the Galle Maritime Museum, the building has been in disrepair for a long time, making it look even darker and more mysterious.