History of Nuwara Eliya
The modern history of Nuwara Eliya begins in 1818 when a British Surgeon, Dr John Davy (Brother of Humphery Davy, the inventor of the Miners’ Safety Lamp), rediscovered this area. It is said that Dr Davy expressed;
" I was walking in the middle of a forest. I saw beautiful white, shining diamond-watered waterfalls falling. I came to the top of a mountain. The people who came with me said that it is the highest land in this country."
Dr John Davy mentioned that this place - Nuwara Eliya - has so many 'Ashoka' trees, Elephants, Wild animals and Gemstones.
Today, known as 'Oliphant Estate', is the old 'Elephant Plane', where many Elephants lived. Even today, there are graves of 02 Elephant killers at the Golf Ground of Nuwara Eliya. One is written as 'Ibenishan Gordon Mendrow, Birth-1814.11.10 and Death-1841.01.24 - Died in the Elephant Plane'. The other one is written as 'Major William Thomas Rogerson, Death-1814.06.07. It is said that Major William Thomas Rogerson had killed more than 400 Elephants. The very much believed truth is; once in 07 years, this grave is attacked by thunder shocks. Even today, you can see the cracked grave closer to the Golf Grounds of Nuwara Eliya. People believe that it is the curse of God on the Elephant killer!
The story goes like this... A few British troops had chased an Elephant, and they had gotten lost in the forest. With food and other basic needs, they thought it would be much easier to spend the day and night in that forest. But that place's cool climate and fresh air kept them very fresh without any pain. They thought this was an excellent place to rest after fighting in the war, and once they returned home, they immediately informed the Governor, Sir Edward Barnes, about this place.
Sir Edward Barnes was the Governor from 1824-1831. He had constructed roads and shelters in Nuwara Eliya. He had built his holiday home in Nuwara Eliya, spending 8000 Pounds. He had named it "Barnes Hall". Today this place is known as the famous Grand Hotel of Nuwara Eliya, with more than 150 rooms. St. Andrews Hotel, Keena Hotel and Carlton Hotel are some other constructions. The District Secretary, Mr Loku Banda, has helped Sir Barnes to build these holiday homes.
Sir Edward Barnes made Nuwara Eliya a place to live for the people and is known as the "Father of Nuwara Eliya".
After Sir Barnes, Sir William Horton became the Governor from 1831-1837. He was the editor of the 'Colombo Journal' newspaper. He had written so many articles about Nuwara Eliya in his newspaper.
During this period, Mr Samuel had arrived from England in Nuwara Eliya. He had planned to build a house at Magasthota and a vast vegetable and animal farm. He went to England and returned in 1848 on the 'Pearl of Hard Week' ship through the sea path. He had brought plants, animals, other equipment and goods with him. His brothers John and Valentine have also come with him. He also got some expert people in the field of farming.
Mr Samuel and others needed help transporting the goods and animals to Nuwara Eliya. They had brought the goods in bullock carts from Colombo. At a difficult point near Ramboda Pass, the bullock carts had fallen down the steep slope the brothers' of Mr Samuel had died. Hence, from Ramboda, Mr Samuel hired labourers and brought the goods to Nuwara Eliya. Subsequently, Mr Samuel made an Agricultural village named 'Baker's Farm". The land cost him only 25 Shillings per acre. Even today, a 'stone letter' is left on the Baker's farm of Nuwara Eliya.
Mr Samuel Baker also had made a hospital ward at the Base Hospital of Nuwara Eliya in memory of his Late brothers. Even today, the 'Baker's Ward' is in the Base Hospital of Nuwara Eliya, situated at Hawa Eliya.
Mr Baker brewed his own beer and tried to grow grapes, oats, barley and wheat, which usually grows in low temperatures. However, his experiment was a failure. He closed down his farm in 1866 and went back to England. Sri Lanka’s broadest waterfall, Bakers Falls in the Horton Plains National Park, is named after Mr Samuel Baker.
Sir William Gregory became the Governor in 1872 (1872-1877). He had the vision of making Nuwara Eliya the capital of Sri Lanka. He had so many proposals to develop Nuwara Eliya. Governor William Gregory drained a swamp and converted it into a lake, today a prime attraction in the city, known as 'Gregory Lake'. He had given the message to the world about the beautiful town of Nuwara Eliya, famous for its luxurious and cool climate, fertile land suitable for cultivation with crops such as Coffee, Tea, and 'Cinkona' and ideal for animal farming and Gem mining.
As a result of Governor William Gregory's announcement, many foreign merchants began to visit Nuwara Eliya. since then, the city's population has increased.
Sir Robert London became the Governor from 1877-1884. According to Sir William Gregory's advice, he constructed a railway track from Peradeniya to Nawalapitya and from there to Hatton and Nanu Oya.
By 1910 only 2 Sri Lankans owned houses in Nuwara Eliya, Maha Mudali Sir Soloman Dias Bandaranaike (father of S.W.R.D.Bandaranayake - later Prime Minister of Sri Lanka) and F.C.Loos.
After the end of World War I in 1918, more Sri Lankans bought land and built houses here. Some of them were Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam and E.L.F. De Soyza. While Samuel Baker paid about Rs.25/- per acre, Sir Ponnambalam paid Rs.10,000/- for ½ an acre!
Some other points to note:
- British civil servants, high government officials and businessmen came here during April when the low country was hot and balmy. The plains introduced Trout fishing to the streams in Horton Plains and Nuwara Eliya.
- Governor West Ridgeway suggested that all roofs be painted red and till recently, many followed this practice.
- Many houses were built in the architectural style of the Tudor houses in England. The Nuwara Eliya Post Office is one of the oldest such houses. Some places had fireplaces.
'Thawalanthenna' (a small city along the Nuwara Eliya - Peradeniya main road) is a place thatwherevellers had used to rest with their bullock carts in the historical days.
- 'Kelegalle' and 'Kalukelle' (villages 1.5 km away from the Nuwara Eliya town) were used as resting places for bulls, which were used for transporting goods from Nuwara Eliya to other parts of the country.
Source: Nuwara Eliya Municipal Council website: http://nuwaraeliya.mc.gov.lk/