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.
From http://lankapura.com/2009/05/undergoing-constructions-of-colombo-kandy-railway-line-1860/ #IMG 394 & #IMG366 at the British Library Board
From http://lankapura.com/2009/05/undergoing-constructions-of-colombo-kandy-railway-line-1860/#IMG306…..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.
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.