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Author Topic: Nuwara Eliya  (Read 1547 times)
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« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2011, 06:31:53 pm »

Unknown 19th century water-colours of Nuwara Eliya - By Richard Boyle
R.K. de Silva’s Early Prints of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) 1800-1900 (1985) includes a number of artists of diverse origin who strove to capture on canvas the essence of the tropical island of Ceylon. A few of these artists were academy trained professionals, but most were competent or even gifted amateurs. Some were travellers - among them members of the European aristocracy – while others were stationed in Ceylon as military personnel or government officials.

Samuel Daniell, John Deschamps, Prince Alexei Soltykoff, Prince Friedrich Wilhelm Waldemar, William Lyttleton, Count Emanuel Andrasy, Baron Eugène de Ransonnet, Captain Charles O’Brien - to name just some of these artists - all published folio-sized travelogues containing reproductions of their pictures executed in Ceylon. These views of alien landscapes, specimens of exotic fauna and flora, as well as customs of a widely different culture, were subject matter in which the Occident, in an era of expanding horizons, exhibited a great interest.

There are, however, some absent 19th century artists in de Silva’s collection, including two women, the acclaimed botanical artist Marianne North, whose Ceylon paintings can be seen in a book and also in her gallery at Kew Gardens, London, and Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming. Another is Professor Ernst Haeckel, the eminent but sometimes fraudulent German botanist and naturalist (he also coined the word “ecology” and the term “First World War”) whose paintings reveal a bold use of colour and tone, and an inevitable fascination with the verdure of Ceylon.

Another German, the landscape painter Baron Hermann von Königsbrunn, executed a collection of sketches and pictures, mostly of flora. Von Königsbrunn was accompanied by Professor Schmarda of Vienna, who gave an account of his travels in the island in Voyage Round the World. Unfortunately, von Königsbrunn’s drawings, intended to illustrate Schmarda’s travels, were never published.

But I digress, for my purpose is to bring to the attention of readers the unpublished and therefore little-known 19th century amateur paintings of Ceylon.

Over the past year I conducted research on Nuwara Eliya for a forthcoming book and was put in touch by Royston Ellis with an English couple, Kate and Tim Spencer. They had just purchased on eBay a pair of water-colours on pocket-sized sketch book paper, both depicting, from different angles, “ADC Quarters, N. Ellia”, unsigned but dated 1891, for £35 each. Unfortunately the seller, from Honiton, England, was unable to give any useful background information (one water-colour was described as having been painted by “N. Ellia”!). Tim remarks: “I believe they must have come from a portfolio of unframed items as there is no photo-degradation whatsoever.”

The location of this modest yet characterful building and its annex, surrounded by trees, would most likely have been in a government compound, and as near as possible to the Governor. Therefore, it would probably have been situated behind Queen’s Cottage, now President’s House, which was purchased in 1873 by Governor Sir William Gregory, who described the property in his Autobiography (1892) as having “a great deal of wooded land at the back”.

A further water-colour (on Whatman watermarked paper) purchased by the Spencers on eBay for £126, titled “Wilson’s Plains beyond N. Ellia”, has an indecipherable signature and is dated 1873. The seller was an Australian who confused Wilson’s Plains with a similarly-named area in the vicinity of Brisbane. Wilson’s Plains are known today as Keppetipola Plains, which are near Nuwara Eliya, so when the Spencers visited the town they showed the painting to a knowledgeable hotel employee who immediately told them that the location where the painting was executed was the entrance to the Botanical Gardens, Hakgala – and so it proved to be, with the 2,036m high Namunukula mountain in the background.

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« on: December 31, 2010, 05:42:11 am »

This Christmas time, we look at the town that has the Christmas -like look and reflects the cool climate that can be associated with this season. While other parts of Sri Lanka have heavy rains making it cooler than normal, nothing beats the fresh and cool climes of Nuwara Eliya. The cool town of Nuwara Eliya is so-called because its name is derived from the meaning “city on the plain” or “city of light”. It nestles snugly in the central highlands of Sri Lanka with a picturesque landscape and temperate climate. It is located at an altitude of 1,868 m(6,128 ft) and is considered to be the most important location for tea production in Sri Lanka. The town is overlooked by Pidurutalagala, the tallest mountain in Sri Lanka.

The city was founded by non other than illustrious Samuel Baker,the legendary discoverer of Lake Albert and the explorer of the Nile in 1846. Such was the salubrious climate that in no time Nuwara Eliya became the prime sanctuary of the British civil servants and planters in Ceylon. Nuwara Eliya, called ‘Little England’ then, was also the ideal hill country retreat where the British colonialists could immerse in their pastimes. Although the town was founded in the 19th century by the British, today the whole district is visited by native travellers, specially during the month of April, the season of flowers, pony races, go cart races and the auto rally.

Anyone who visits the city can wallow in its nostalgia of bygone days by visiting these
landmark buildings. Many private homes still maintain their old English-style lawns and
gardens.Due to the high altitude, Nuwara Eliya has a much cooler climate than the lowlands of Sri Lanka, with a mean annual temperature of 16 degrees Celcius. But the temperature changes and sometimes it can be as low as 3 degrees Celcius. Now, in the winter months it is quite cold at night, and there can even be frost even though it rapidly warms up as the tropical sun rises higher during the day.

The town’s attractions include the golf course, trout streams, Victoria Park, and boating or fishing on Lake Gregory. Victoria Park is an attractive and well-used oasis. It is popular with birdwatchers at quieter times because of the good opportunities it gives to see various species. Galway’s Land Bird Sanctuary, close to Lake Gregory, is another wildlife site. The town is a base for visits to Horton Plains National Park. This is a key wildlife area of open grassy woodland. The famous lover leap place of World’s End is also accessible from here.One of the distinctive features of Nuwara Eliya’s countryside is the widespread growing of vegetables, fruit and flowers usually associated with temperate Europe. The slow-growing tea bushes of this highland region produce some of the world’s finest Orange Pekoe tea, and several tea factories around Nuwara Eliya offer guided tours and the opportunity to sample or purchase their products.

A place related to folklore is the Hindu temple called “Seetha Kovil” (Hanuman Kovil). It is found on the way to Badulla from Nuwara Eliya before reaching the Hakgala Botanical Garden.

The temple is located in the village called “Seetha Eliya”. The area is related to the Ramayana story in Hinduism. Folklore says that the mighty king Ravana kidnapped Princess Seeta and hid her in the place where the temple now is. There is also a church called the Holy Trinity Church on  hurch Road, which accommodates an old graveyard and most of the grave stones have British names engraved on them.

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