Notes on Jaffna

Chronological, Historical, Biographical  –  JOHN H. MARTYN

This book by John H. Martyn chronologically lists the events connected with Jaffna from 1505 onwards. It also lists details of some of the prominent families of Jaffna at that time and is a good reference source for Genealogists.

However the entire appendix is dedicated to an in depth analysis of the ‘Poothathampi’ episode involving Don Manuel D’Andrado and the Tamil Mudaliyar Poothathamby. The book lists and analyses all the references made to this episode in historical documents. This is the most detailed analysis of this story ever. It dissects the many incarnations of this story piece by piece , analyses and lays to rest all arguments made by the various writers.


Dryden has observed that “truth is required as the foundation of history to inform us.” This is the first and most im­portant property – the necessity of which cannot be gainsaid – to keep our understanding from the impositions of falsehood. Never­theless, close students of history not uncommonly find the nar­rative of realities disfigured by their being mixed up with fables and figments. Very often facts are misrepresented, documents are garbled, and important questions and particular portions of history so treated by partisan writers as to become coloured with their passions and prejudices. This is particularly the case with regard to that portion of local history in which the two personages, whose story forms the subject of this review, played a part in the revolution that followed the Dutch occupation of the Jaffna Peninsula.

Andrado and Puthathamby are representatives of two rival sections of the Singhalese and Tamil Communities. The members of each section are to be found all over the island, dwelling side by side, in town and country. They hold important and responsible offices in every Department of the Public Service under Govern­ment. In the learned professions, and in the educational, mercan­tile and industrial lines, they take equal rank. As capitalists and large landed proprietors too, they are, in general, pretty well matched.

But the great disparity is in their numbers. The ‘Puthathamby’ section is by far the larger one. Here lies the true secret of the advantage that this section possesses over the other. Every intelligent man is aware that in most departments of life, where sectional interests come into question, numerical superiority is a potent factor in helping a party to have its own way and carry its point. In public meetings, the majority gets the day in all questions that come up for discussion. The same principle ob­tains in the case of parliamentary, municipal and other elections; and the candid reader knows how often racial prejudices, caste feelings and personal dislikes have operated against the election of the fittest and most eligible candidate. In like manner, in a community, the section, which is numerically weak, is always at a disadvantage; and when the sense of rivalry between it and the stronger section becomes accentuated, the position of the former becomes one of embarrassment. An unfounded story or a silly canard respecting the weaker section finds a large circle in the stronger one, to accept it without proof, add to it without scruple, spread it without hesitation, and comment on it without charity. When to the advantage which numerical strength confers on the larger section is added the power that it derives from its influence with high functionaries, local magnates and the dis­pensers of power and patronage, the facility and the success with which it can bring discredit on the weaker, by magnifying its faults and making light of its virtues, can better be imagined than described.

The story in question affords a striking instance of the artful tactics, which designing individuals of the Puthathamby section, confiding in the numerical strength of their party for the promo­tion of their interests, have invariably employed in order to be­little the Andrado section and raise themselves and their clan in public estimation. The careful, unbiased student of history will surely be shocked to find how the stern facts of the story have been suppressed and ingenious interpolations so cleverly foisted in, as to make a real culprit an unsuspecting and harmless victim. I will not take upon myself the invidious task of narrating the story, the incidents of which occurred more than two centuries and a half ago. I shall just quote the story as told by differ­ent writers at different times and leave the reader to discern the truth and form his own judgment, adding only such remarks as are justified by the circumstances of the case.

Years on, pieces of the story remains in present day Jaffna. A recent travel guide ‘The essential guide for Jaffna’ by Philippe Fabry (Viator Publications, Colombo, 2003) contains the following interesting piece of information about the remains of Poothathamby’s mansion. In the storyline Poothathamby entertains Mudaliyar Andrado at this residence. The rest, as they is history.

Page 21: ” This arch bears the name of King Sangili, or Sankili (1519) and some authors believe it marks the entrance to the palace from which only this ornamental arch, still remains. Locals call it also Poothathamby Vealaivu (arch) and Dr Kunarasa says that it was the headquarters of Poothathamby mudeliyar, a Tamil mudeliyar (administrator), from the Dutch period.”

References to the story are met with in the following works:

Notes on Jaffna 1 – Don Philippus Baldaeus

Beschryving van het Machtige Eyland, Ceylon. Don Philippus Baldaeus, Amsterdam 1672, fol: ch: XLIV (Page 159.) This is a work by a well-known historian The Rev. Dr. Philip Baldaeus was the Dutch Chaplain during the early Dutch rule in Jaffna. The Reformed religion was first introduced by him into Jaffna, (1658-August) He was present at

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Notes on Jaffna 2 – History of the Kingdom of Jaffna

The Yalpana Vaipava Malai; or The History of the Kingdom of Jaffna Translated from the Tamil by C. Brito. (P. 52.)   This is a work in Tamil prose by a Mr. Mailvaganam. All the information, which the author gives his readers in his preface, is that the work was undertaken at the request of ‘the

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Notes on Jaffna 3 – The Ceylon Almanac

No 3. The Ceylon Almanac and Compendium of Useful Information for the year MDCCCXLIX (P. 94) No. 3 – This is an official publication of the Government of Ceylon, annually compiled by the officers of the Secretariat and printed. The present work was compiled, when the Right Hon. Viscount Torrington was Governor of Ceylon, and

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Notes on Jaffna 4 – The Vinea Taprobanea

The Vinea Taprobanea by Philip Canjamanadan. (p. 94.) Of this work Mr. Brito writes:- This is a very accurate and interesting compilation, giving an ac­count of Christianity in Ceylon from the beginning of the 16th to the end of the 18th century. It was made by the late Philip Canjamana­dan, Shroff Muthaliar of the Colombo

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Notes on Jaffna 5 – “Puthaththampi Nadakam” by Davidu

“Puthaththampi Nadakam” by Davidu. No. 5. Writes Mr. Brito:- Nadakam is drama. The distinction into comedies and tragedies does not obtain in Tamil. Generally speaking, in all dramatical compositions, there are a birth, marriage and death. But there is no drama without a scene of the endurance of fomented evil or a scene of female

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Notes on Jaffna 6 – Yalpana Chariththiram

Yalpana Chariththiram or the history of Jaffna” by S. John (Page 58) 1882. No. 6. The second edition of this work by Mr. S. John, a native pastor of the American Mission of Jaffna, was published in 1882. To avoid tedious repetitions, which a translation will in­flict upon the reader, I may say that this

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Notes on Jaffna 7 – —”A Hand Book to the Jaffna Peninsula”

No. 7—”A Hand Book to the Jaffna Peninsula” by S. Katiresu Proctor, District Court, Jaffna (P. 10) 1905. No. 7. This work was compiled by Mr. S. Katiresu, a popu­lar Proctor of the District Court of Jaffna, as a Souvenir of the open­ing of the Railway to the North, and published in 1905. The Northern

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Notes on Jaffna 7A – Poothatamby’s Treason

THE TRUE STORY OF POOTHATAMBY’S TREASON The Nadagam or Drama of which Poothatamby is made the hero was composed about the year 1830 by Pareemalam, a Tamil poet of Chundicully, several of whose decendants are living there as well as at Ponaryn. If those – and there are many – who have read the drama

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Notes on Jaffna 8 – Jaffna History

No 8. JAFFNA HISTORY; A. Mootootambypillai. (1912) This is a work written in Tamil prose by Mr. A. Mootootamby Pillai of Navalar-kotam, popularly known as “Ward and Davy.” The first edition of the work appeared in 1912, and the second in 1915. In both editions, the version of the story given is the same. Mr.

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Notes on Jaffna 9 – Yalpana Vaipava Kuvmathy

No 9. Yalpana Vaipava Kuvmathy – 1918 This is a recent publication. The Author is Mr. K. Velupillai, the Manager of the Jaffna “Native Opinion.” The work bears evidence of considerable and painstaking research and it contains much useful and interesting information. It is written in Tamil and though in some passages engaging, its style

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  1. Of the two commandements, Jaffnapatam and Galle, the former always took precedence, so that, whenever a sudden vacancy occurred in the Governorship of the Island, it was the Commandeur of Jaffnapatam usually, as the highest in rank after the Governor, who was called upon to temporarily administer the Government. This rule was in a few instances departed from for special reasons, as in the cases of Commandeur Arnold Mol in 1723, of Jan Paul Schagen in 1725, and Jan Maccara in 1736, who as Commandeurs of Galle had to take up the reins of Government on the sudden death of the Governor. And there was the case of Commandeur Gerrard Joan Vrelandt of Galle, who, from that post permanently succeeded Stein van Gollenese as Governor of the island. But these were exceptional cases, because It was the practice for the Commandeur of Galle to go on promotion to Jaffna, but never the contrary Report on the Dutch Records By. R. G. Anthonisz, Government Archivist
  2. See list of Dutch Governors.
  3. Simon Casie Chitty in his Gazeteer (p. 52) says:- Though the Singhalese are professors of the tenets of Buddha (which recognise no distinction of caste) yet caste is observed among them with the nicest punctiliousness.
  4. De pedra pomes: Coral Stone?
  5. Opposite Lisbon.

Details from the Appendix of the book Notes on Jaffna, American Ceylon Mission Press, Tellippalai, Ceylon 1923.