Great Rebellion of 1817–18

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Great Rebellion of 1817–18
Part of the Kandyan Wars
LocationUva and Wellassa, British Ceylon
Result British victory
King of Kandy.svg Kandyan rebels  United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Commanders and leaders
Keppetipola Disawe
Robert Brownrigg
Unknown - From 20,000 to 100,000 in an islandwide network. Unknown
Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown
Part of a series on the
History of Kandy
Temple of the Tooth, Kandy
Kingdom of Kandy (1469–1815)
Colonial Kandy (1815–1948)
Kandy (1948–present)
See also
Flag of Sri Lanka.svg Sri Lanka portal

The Great Rebellion of 1817–18, also known as the 1818 Uva–Wellassa uprising (after the two places it had started), or simply the Uva rebellion, was the third Kandyan War with the British, in what is now Sri Lanka. It took place in what is now Uva, which was then a province of the Kingdom of Kandy, against the British colonial government under Governor Robert Brownrigg, which had been controlling the formerly independent Udarata (Up-Country in Sinhalese).[1]


Following the annexation of the Kandyan Kingdom by the British under the terms of the Kandyan Convention in 1815, British started to antagonize the Kandyan Chiefs who signed the convention through their actions. The included the breach of promises made by the British chiefs in terms retaining the traditional privileges enjoyed by them during the era of the Kandyan Kingdom. They were further angered by the appointment of a Moor loyal to the British, Haji Marikkar as Travala Madige Muhandiram of Wellassa under mining the authority of Millewa Dissawa sparked the rebellion[2].


Keppetipola Disawe was sent initially by the British government to stop the uprising but ended up joining the rebellion as its leader and is celebrated for his actions even today in Sri Lanka. He assisted many regional leaders in providing men and material from various regions. The other leaders who supported this independent movement were:2nd incharge of Gode Gedara Adikaram, Wilbawe (an alias of Duraisamy, a Nayakkar of Royal blood), II Pilima Talauve Adikaram, Kohu Kumbure Rate Rala, Dimbulana Disave, Kivulegedara Mohottala, Madugalle Disave, Butewe Rate Rala, Galagoda family members, Galagedara Mohottala, Meegahapitiya Rate Rala, Dambawinna Disave and , Kurundukumbure Mohottala.

Keppitipola went up to Alupotha and joined the rebels having returned all arms and ammunition of the British . Rev. Wariyapola Sumangala of Asgiriya fled to Hanguranketa with the relics casket which resulted in a more vigorous phase of the rebellion. By September 1817 two rebel leaders Madugalle Basnayake Nilame and Ellepola Adikaram surrendered to the British and Pilimatalawe led the rebellion. The British captured Ellepola who was the Dissawa of Viyaluwa and a brother of Maha Adikaram Ehelepola and beheaded them in Bogambara on 27 October 1818.


The rebellion was launched by Keppetipola Disawe. Except for Molligoda and Ekneligoda, many Chiefs joined the rebels. The rebels captured Matale and Kandy before Keppetipola fell ill and was captured and beheaded by the British. His skull was abnormal — as it was wider than usual — and was sent to Britain for testing. It was returned to Sri Lanka after independence, and now rests in the Kandyan Museum. The rebellion failed due to a number of reasons. It was not well planned by the leaders. The areas controlled by some Chiefs who helped the British provided easy transport routes for British supplies. Doraisami who was said to have a claim to the Sinhalese throne was found not to have any relation.[3][4][5][6][7]

Cause of rebellion[edit]

The 1817 rebellion described as the Uva rebellion by historians was the culmination of the peoples anger and dissatisfaction over the British rule which promised to uphold and foster the Buddhist religion and observe the traditions and norms that had prevailed in the Kandyan Kingdom prior to the signing of the Kandyan Convention on 2 March 1815. Mr. William Tolfrey, the Chief Translator of the British Resident of Kandy, appraised the Commissioner in-charge of Kandyan affairs, Mr. Sutherland, of the volatile situation that prevailed in the country at the beginning of December 1816 and January 1817, and warned him of an impending revolt against the British administration.

Reports reached the authorities that Duraisamy, the son of Kalu Nayakkar, a relative of the deposed king, was claiming rights to the throne. Duraisamy was mustering the support of the people in Uva for a rebellion, and some Sinhalese leaders had joined him.

In addition to being the son of Kalu Nyakkar, Duraisamy was a native of Sath Korale, a Buddhist priest, and appeared in public as Wilbawe. These facts were later confirmed by the evidence of Udugama Unnanse at the trial.

The appointment of a Malay Muhandiram Hadji by Major Wilson, the Resident in Badulla, was another action of the British administration which prompted the displeasure of the Sinhalese. This was the main reason for the independence struggle of 1818. The areas of Uva Wellassa and Nuwarakalaviya were neglected jungle areas which had a predominant population of Muslims. The inhabitants of these areas disrupted time and again the smooth supply of salt and dry fish to the people in the Kandyan Kingdom.

Rebellion spreads out[edit]

In October 1817 the rebellion broke out. Major Wilson who was in Badulla sent out a battalion under Hadji Muhandiram, and commanded by Hadji's brother, to quell the rebellion. The people of Uva were so provoked with this incident that they caught Hadji and produced him before Duraisamy who after trial sentenced him to be beheaded.

The British were not deterred by this action of the Sinhalese. On 12 October 1817 Major Wilson marched to Uva with a Malay troop under his command with Lt. Newman. On this march Major Wilson was killed near the present town of Bibile when an arrow aimed by the Sinhalese rebels pierced his chest. The British and Malay soldiers had to surmount difficult terrain which slowed their forward march.

In the meantime Lt. Col. Hardy gathered intelligence that the rebels were on the march to Dolosbage in the Gampola area. On 18 October 1817 he proceeded towards that area with troops commanded by Major O’Brien. On arrival they found that the area was calm and quiet free of any incident. The people of Hatarakorale and Tunkorale too refused to join the rebels. The British government attributed this attitude of the natives to the influence that Molligoda exerted in the area and the personal grudge he had with Keppetipola Disawe. But in Galaboda Korale, the homeland of Keppetipola’s father, the Britishers faced problems with the rebels. It was observed that Keppetipola had not been seen in the area for nearly eight months after the rebellion broke out.

To show gratitude to those who did not participate in the rebellion, the British government by gazette notification No. 19 of 1818 reduced the grain tax from 1/10 to 1/14. By section 22 of the same order all lands belonging to those in the Korale were exempted from land tax. Clause 53 authorized a centralized civil and judicial system of administration with a headquarters in Kandy. A team of three British civil servants began operating at this administrative headquarters.

Spread and fall of the rebels[edit]

The rebellion spread to the other areas of the Kandyan Kingdom. In April 1818 Rev. Wariyapola Sri Sumangala of Asgiri Maha Viharaya removed a sacred tooth relic to Hanguranketa, an area of difficult terrain. Subsequent to the removal of Tooth Relic from Kandy rebellion broke out in Matale, Dumbara, Denuwara, Walapane, Hewaheta and other areas. This forced the British to bring in troops from Batticaloa and Kandy. Most of these soldiers were killed by the Sinhalese.

By now a gazette notification No. 6 of 1817 was issued, awarding a reward of two thousand Rix dollars to the head of each rebel leader, including Wilbawe, Kiulegedara Mohottala, and Butawe Rate Rala. Kiulegedara Mohottala was arrested and beheaded at Bogambara on 18 December 1818. Kiulegedara Mohottala was the Dissava (or Disawa) of Walapana and a royal poet in the Court of Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe. Ehelepola, the Dissava of Viyaluwa Ellepola and a brother of Maha Adikaram, was also arrested and beheaded at Bogambara on 27 October 1818. The following leaders had surrendered: Mattamagoda Disawa of Tunkorale), Kobbekaduwa Disawa of Udapalatha, Dambawinna Disawa, Dimbulana Disawa, Godagedara Disawa, Kataragarna Maha Bethme and Basnayaka Nilame, Bootawe Rate Rala. Towards the end of September with the onset of monsoon rains Madugalle Basnayaka Nilame and Ellepola Adikaram too surrendered.

Final phase[edit]

The situation prevailing in Uva and Wellassa was so precarious that the English set fire to villages, houses, livestock, and whatever they could burn. Pilamatalawe had gaven leadership to rebels by putting forward another pretender to the throne as King Weerabahu - a member of the Nayakkar caste. At this time the Disawa of Wellassa, Millawa, an ailing elderly leader, was removed by the British and Keppetipola was appointed as Disawa of Wellassa. The British sent Keppetipola who remained in Kandy until 17 October 1818 to Uva to bring the situation under control. At about the same time a British Officer Col. Bartok took into custody Weerabahu the Pretender. When Keppetipola arrived in Wellassa the Sinhalese were engaged in a fierce battle with the British soldiers. Keppetipola sent back all his arms and ammunitions to the British Agent and joined the Sinhalese rebels to lead the battle. With this change of events, other Sinhalese leaders including Pilamatalawe Disawa of Sathkorale, Madugalla, Uda Gabada Nilame, Ellepola (the leader of Viyaluwa), Ehelepola (a brother of Maha Adikaram Ihagama), Godagedara Adikaram, Badalkumbure Rala also joined the rebels.

The British had to bring troops from India to quell the rebellion. Finally the British were able to arrest most of the leaders. Properties of 18 rebel leaders were confiscated. Pilimatalawe, who was ailing at the time of arrest, was exiled to the islands of Mauritius. Keppetipola and Madugalla were beheaded in Bogambara after trial on 18 November 1818.




The British massacred the male population of Uva above the age of 18 years.[9]

They also confiscated the properties of the people involved in the uprising, they killed all cattle and other animals, burnt homes, property and even the salt in their possession during the repression. Paddy fields in the area of Wellassa were all destroyed. The irrigation systems of the duchies of Uva and Wellassa, hitherto the rice-bowl of Sri Lanka were systematically destroyed.[10]


In the 'Journal of Uva,' Herbert White, a British Government Agent in Badulla after the rebellion minuted:

"It is a pity that there is no evidence left behind to show the exact situation in Uva in terms of population or agriculture development after the rebellion. The new rulers are unable to come up to any conclusion on the exact situation of Uva before the rebellion as there is no trace of evidence left behind to come to such conclusions. If thousands died in the battle they were all fearless and clever fighters. If one considers the remaining population of 4/5 after the battle to be children, women and the aged, the havoc caused is unlimited. In short the people have lost their lives and all other valuable belongings. It is doubtful whether Uva has at least now recovered from the catastrophe."[11]

Gazette Notification[edit]

During the rebellion a Gazette Notification was issued by Governor Robert Brownrigg to condemn all those who rebelled against British Rule in Sri Lanka. All those who participated in the uprising were condemned as “traitors” and their properties confiscated by the government under the notification with some executed and others exiled to Mauritius. Several governments after the independence of Sri Lanka in the past have indicated their intention to revoke this Gazette Notification, however could not take action in this regard. The Gazette Notification issued by Governor Brownrigg was brought to Sri Lanka on the instruction of President Maithripala Sirisena.[12] It was submitted to the Parliament and was revoked with the signature of the President in 2017. This allowed all those who participated in the uprising to be recognized as National Heroes, and their label as traitors erased. A National Declaration was awarded on their behalf to their descendants.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sri Lanka is to revoke British Governor's infamous Gazette Notification". Archived from the original on 2 January 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  2. ^ Monarawila Keppetipola Mahanilame : A true rebellion
  3. ^ Keppetipola and the Uva Rebellion Virtual Library Sri Lanka. Retrieved 2007-10-01.
  4. ^ "Uva Wellassa rebellion - 1817 -1818". Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  5. ^ Wellassa riots in 1818
  6. ^ "Torture tree of the British Army". Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  7. ^ 1818 Uva Wellassa rebellion
  8. ^ "featur03". Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  9. ^ "Sri Lanka is to revoke British Governor's infamous Gazette Notification". Archived from the original on 2 January 2016. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  10. ^ "Sri Lanka is to revoke British Governor's infamous Gazette Notification". Archived from the original on 2 January 2016. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  11. ^ Karalliyadda, S. B. (2004). "The need for University of Uva". The Island. Retrieved 2013-11-06.
  12. ^
  13. ^ 81 leaders in 1818 freedom struggle declares as national heroes

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]