24th August, 2003 Volume 10, Issue 6
A visit to the Dutch Museum
By Shezna Shums
Amidst the hustle and bustle of the busy
Pettah Streets with their street hawkers, wholesale and retail outlets
and other shop vendors, tucked away in Prince Street lies serene and
mystic 'The Dutch Period Museum.'
The museum is said to be one of the oldest
buildings in Pettah. It dates back as far as the year 1692 when it was the
residence of Governor Thomas Van Rhee, said the museum's Curator L.S.Perera.
Governor Thomas Van Rhee (1692-1697) later
sold the house to the Dutch East India Company (V.O.C). Thereafter it was
used as a seminary/orphanage until the Dutch territory ceded to the British
Further explaining the history of the
building, Perera said that under the British, the building had been used as
a military hospital, armoury, police training centre and lastly as the
Pettah Post and Telegraph office. But in 1974 when part of the building
collapsed, the post office shifted out. And in October 1974 the restoration
committee was formed to transform this old Dutch building into the Dutch
The Dutch Period Museum was
opened on July 10, 1982 and comes under the Department of National
Museums. When first opened, all the Dutch artifacts, documents, antiques,
coins, furniture and cutlery were transfered from the National Museum to the
newly opened Dutch Period Museum.
The Museum depicts the various aspects of
Dutch occupation of ceylon. They mostly occupied the maritime provinces of
the country during their occupation of 140 years.
In the book Dutch Period Museum Prince
Street Pettah by Ashley de Vos, the historical aspect of the building is
described: "This building located in Prince Street, so named by the
Dutch as a compliment to the son of King Rajasinghe of Kandy, was then a
highly residential part of the Pettah. Prince Street was approximately five
meters from and ran parallel to Malieban Street, (Maliban Street) which was
the fashionable promenade of the Dutch Fraus in the good old days when
carriages were not wanted, and Pettah enjoyed all the privileges of the
Western gentility. Maliban,
literally means 'The Mall."'
When The Sunday Leader visited the museum
we were shown the well in the courtyard, which was said to exist even when
Governor Thomas Van Rhee was in residence. However there has been an
addition of a metal arch over the well pointed out Perera.
Amidst the old building is the well-kept
courtyard of the museum and this greenery further adds to the peaceful and
scenic environment within the museum as opposed to the hectic, dusty and
busy streets outside.
The building as well as the artifacts in
the building are very well preserved and there is an entire room with old
tombstones from the Dutch period. These tombstones were from the Wolvendhal
Church. "These tombstones were damaged and neglected, that is why they
were brought here for display" Perera explained. Also in this room is
an old Dutch bell as well as a huge ceramic pot.
In another room Dutch plates, glasses and
other cutlery are on display. One aspect special to the Dutch period can be
seen in the glassware; the bottles are made in very thick glass in
transparent and coloured glass.
There were also Dutch coins, swords,
knives and guns on display, which were being eagerly viewed by the many
foreigners visiting the museum.
Upstairs of the building is dedicated to
Dutch period furniture. Almirahs, beds, four-poster beds, cots, cupboards,
writing tables and chairs fill the rooms.
There is even an almirah that has a hidden drawer.
This floor has another room displaying
documents belonging to the Dutch period. There is a copy of the title page
of the first book printed in Ceylon in 1737. Then there was the copy of the
treaty of surrender on February 15, 1796 which was given to the British.
Various Dutch maps adorn the walls depicting all the forts the Dutch built
around the country in Trincomalee, Galle, Negombo and even Jaffna.
Pictures of the very first Dutch occupant
are also displayed. Joris Van Spilbergen was the first envoy to the Dutch
East India Company to visit Kandy court. He landed in Batticaloa on May 30,
Apart from Dutch furniture and artifacts
Sri Lanka has inherited many words from the Dutch language such as almirah,
kokis, contracte, lachchua.
Visiting this museum takes a person back
in time and walking around the building and in the corridors one experiences
the peaceful, quiet surroundings of a bygone era. It is an unusual
experience when you compare the inside with the busy streets in the heart of
the Pettah. This museum is an astonishing place to visit.
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