The British Garrison Cemetery is one of the iconic landmarks within the city limits of Kandy, and provides a beautiful insight into several chapters of British history in Sri Lanka. Located right next to the rear exit of Sri Dalada Maligawa, the cemetery provides a great pick for tourists who would prefer to enjoy some solitude and tranquillity while being within the city limits. It can be easily reached by a short walk of 300m past the sign which is fixed at the starting point of the pathway. Its land of the cemetery is a portion of the Udawatte Kele Sanctuary, and ergo has a quiet, greeny atmosphere, embedded with tragic solemnity.

The Garrison Cemetery

The historical records mention that the cemetery has been in 1817, just after the British conquest of Kandy in 1815. The cemetery had been an open ground for any British public stayed in Ceylon during that time, but most of the British nationals buried here, seem to be related to British army in some way. This connection, in fact, justifies the name given to the cemetery, ‘The Garrison Cemetery’, because the term ‘Garrison’ refers to a group of troops stationed in a fortress or town to defend it. So, it is logical enough to assume that the cemetery was given this name by people since many people from military background lie in their final sleep there.

In their final sleep

The cemetery accommodates many hundreds of corpses of both men and women. Yet, it is now very interesting that most of the buried people are youths and children. Presumably, they have died of cholera, diarrhoea and fever. Apart from them, there are other people of power and consequences;

Sir John D’Oyly (1774 – 1824) – a British Colonial administrator who is responsible for the drafting of the Kandyan convention of 1815.

Lady Elizabeth Gregory (1817 – 1873), the first wife of William Henry Gregory, Governor of Ceylon (1872 – 1877)

 John Spottiswood Robertson (1823 – 1856)- is recorded to be the last of seven British nationals who died due to wild elephant attacks in Ceylon.

Annie Frank, interred in 1951, is said to be the last to be buried at the British Garrison Cemetery. The place has been declared as an Archaeological Protected Monument in 2011 by the Sri Lankan government.

The Cemetery closes

As the cemetery is situated close to the city, the authorities had decided to close the cemetery down for burials in 1873. Nevertheless, the closing of the cemetery for new burials, there are provisions still to bury someone whose close relative is already interred there. Though, there haven’t been any burials for many past years.

Until it was restored in 1998 thanks to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s funding, the British Garrison Cemetery had been put away from the concern of the authorities and let it decay. Afterwards, the lawful responsibility in taking care of it has been taken by a group of British volunteers called ‘The Friends of the British Garrison Cemetery’. Since then, they have been appointing care takers basically, to clean and manage the cemetery. The present caretaker of the cemetery, talking with pride, recollects, how even The Prince Charles himself has made a visit to the cemetery during his visit to Sri Lanka in 2013. An autograph, signed by the prince at that occasion, is also showcased among the other photographs and framed documents related to the cemetery, at the cemetery’s chapel, which now has been turned into a mini – museum.

The present caretaker, whose name is Harsha takes a good care of the place and can be seen attending to the flower beds or cleaning the area during his work ours, which also are the opening hours of the cemetery i.e., 8.00a.m. – 6.00p.m. He also provides a good guide to the cemetery.

By Induwara Athapattu