UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

In their own image : Nuwara Eliya, a British town in the heart of Ceylon Wright, Judith Helen


The thesis is a study of Ceylon's only hill-station, Nuwara Eliya. Nuwara Eliya was established in 1829 as a military sanitarium and gradually assumed the role of a seasonal resort in the second half of the century. Located at 6,280 feet elevation in the temperate hill region, Nuwara Eliya came to have an important role in the social and recreational life of the British in Ceylon. The landscape resembled that of the English countryside, which inspired the British to shape the landscape in the image of their homeland. This thesis explores the sentimental attachment that British expatriates formed for Nuwara Eliya. Based on evidence from the nineteenth century writings of expatriates arid travellers who visited the hill-station, it suggests that the Romanticism prevalent during the period had a significant influence on the manner in which expatriates perceived and interpreted the landscape of Nuwara Eliya. Romanticism alone did not account for the emergence of Nuwara Eliya as an English village. It argues that romanticism, in conjunction with the following factors, contributed to the development of the English landscape of the Nuwara Eliya. The hill-station provided an accessible locale with a temperate climate and vegetation that offered an alternative to the heat of the lowlands. The British possessed a set of ethno-medical beliefs which held that such an environment was the one to which Europeans were best suited. In addition, the recreational preferences of the British and the specific recreational and social needs of the expatriate community contributed to the development of the recreational infrastructure of Nuwara Eliya. The development of the plantation economy was a further prerequisite for the growth of the hill-station. Perhaps the most important consideration, though, was the longing British expatriates experienced for their homeland which made them desire a viable substitute for England. The study was conducted through a survey of nineteenth century travel writings of individuals who visited or resided at Nuwara Eliya. A content analysis was performed on the travel literature to determine the attributes of Nuwara Eliya that were noted in the writings and which indicated the expatriate's and traveller's perceptions of the hill-station. Subsequent to the literature analysis, fieldwork was undertaken in Sri Lanka for a three month period in 1987. Archival research, conducted at the National Archives, Colombo, involved an examination of the diaries of the Assistant Government Agent of the Nuwara Eliya District, as well as nineteenth century English-language newspapers to assess the role of the hill-station in the social life of colonial. Ceylon. Fieldwork also entailed a period of time at Nuwara Eliya to compile photographic evidence and to permit observation of the landscape and the built environment.

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