Striking Railway Photographs from the 19th Century

The construction of a road and rail network was one of the dimensions of British imperial activity in Sri Lanka. Directed in part by the need for military control in an ear when potential rebellions were at the back of their mind, the goals of surplus appropriation as well as administrative action guided the locale and pace of these developments. Some energetic souls have deposited a treasure trove of photographic images in my email box and I reproduce them here with some from my own collection.

We can begin with what I term “the hard yards of railway construction” — as seen in the two images below and in “A steamengine rounding the bend at “Sensation Rock” in Kadugannawa.

38a+b=colombo-kandy-railway-line 38a=constructing r-way line LION' MOUTH From #IMG 394 & #IMG366 at the British Library Board

38c=sensation-rock-on-the-incline-between-colombo-and-kandy  Sensation Bend

From…..A classic image of a railway engine rounding the bend at this spot from the outstanding trove associated with the work of Plate & Co. can also be seen in Raheem & Colin-Thomè, Images of British Ceylon, 2000: 91.

39b=Fort Railway station Fort Railway station, 1860s — from Raheem & Colin-Thomè, Images of British Ceylon

 Satinwood Bridge at Peradeniya40=Satinwood Bridge-P'deniya Date Original 1894. Photographer/Artist: Jackson, William Henry, 1843-1942…….From

The path to the old capital of Sīhalē at Senkadagala or Kandy was hindered by the mighty Mahaweli Ganga so the task of bridging this barrier was a priority – as much for political reasons as commercial intent. The massive rebellion of 1817-18 remained in British minds, while millenarian hopes of restoring the old order of Sīhalaya under some emergent cakravarti still lingered in a few minds among the Sinhalese (Kitsiri Malalgoda, “Millennialism in Relation to Buddhism,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 12: 421-41). However, commercial goals of capitalist extraction were also a driving imperative in the considerable road and bridge building programme carried out by the British (see Skinner, Fifty Years in Ceylon, London, 1891 & Munasinghe, Colonial Economy, 2002). The graceful single-arch satinwood bridge spanning the Mahaweli at Peradeniya was constructed in 1832-33 by Lt. General John Fraser, who was a proficient road-builder and cartographer. It was in use from 1833-1905. Its elegance and engineering ingenuity made it a favourite focus for photographic portrayal. Details about these efforts, the bridge itself and the new bridge that replaced it in the course of 1904-086 can be found Raheem & Colin-Thomè, Images of British Ceylon, Singapore: Times Editions, 2000, pp. 120-21; while pages 88 & 89 present two other images of the original bridge from the illustrious photographers Skeen and Scowen.

Satinwood is the name for a hard and durable wood with a lustrous sheen like satin. It comes from two tropical trees of the family Rutaceae. East Indian or Sri Lankan satinwood is yellowish or dark-brown heartwood of Chloroxylon swietenia.

Ceylon Railways 19 th century Highway and Railway near Bandarawela, Ceylon 

Cn R'ways 2= A mountain station Ohiya, Ceylon in 1894.

Cn 3 Riding on the railroad  Riding on the railroad

Cn 15=Kadugannawa R'way stationKadugannawa R’way station

 Cn 19=C'bo R station 1860-80 Colombo railway station

Cn 26=Pothuhera R'way station Pothuhera Railway Station

Cn 22=r'wayBdge Bentota Bentota Railway Bridge

Cn 6=Railway line at Colpetty, Colombo , Ceylon Railway line at Colpetty


Cn 11= Undergoing constructions of a Tunnel, Colombo - Kandy Railway Line, c. 1860 Cn 13= Cn 13=undergoing construction Construction work underway in different difficult locationsCn 14=undergoing constrcution


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