Shield shape with an elephant center and four palm trees on each side

Portuguese, Dutch and British


The Portuguese

The Dutch

The British


Back to Sri Lanka


The Portuguese


The early modern period of Sri Lanka begins with the arrival of Portuguese soldier and explorer Lorenzo de Almeida, the son of Francisco de Almeida, in 1505. The Portuguese founded a fort at the port city of Colombo in 1517 and gradually extended their control over the coastal areas.. Intermittent warfare continued through the 16th century. Their arrival started troubled times for Kotte Kingdom. They were able to secure a trade agreement with the King of Kotte on their first visit itself. Kotte Kingdom’s downfall was made fast after the event in 1521 known as the “Wijayaba Kollaya” where the kings (Vijayabahu VII) three sons killed their father and divided Kotte into three kingdoms. The divided Kingdom of Sitawaka became more powerful with local popular support and Kotte Kingdom had to rely on Portuguese for help. By 1565 capital of Kotte was abandoned by the Kotte King Dharmapala  (1551-’97) due to frequent attacks from Sitawaka led by Mayadunne and his son Rajasinghe I and he was taken into Colombo under Portuguese protection. Most of the areas of Kotte Kingdom was annexed to the Kingdom of Sitawaka and after the downfall of Sitawaka in 1594 these areas were occupied by the Portuguese. In 1597 Dharmapala bequeathed his throne to the King of Portugal  (i.e. Philip II of Spain, 1556/’80-’98) and the Kotte era was officially ended. The Portuguese soon subdued the north too and so acquired most of the coastal belt of the country, leaving the central region to the Kingdom of Kandy. In 1619, due to the attacks of Portuguese, independent existence of the Tamil  Jaffna kingdom, came to an end. From the mid-1630s, the King of Kandy helped the Dutch to dispossess the Portuguese, and they were ousted in 1656 as a result of the Dutch-Portuguese War.


The Almeida arms

In the Livro da Nobreza e Perfeição das Armas of Antonio Godinho (1541)


The settlements of Portuguese Ceylon were administered by Captains, Captains Major and Governors of which there have been 36 between 1518 and 1658. Many of them came from wellknown noble Portuguese families like Albuquerque, Almeida, De Castro, Coutinho, Pereira, De Sousa and others. These all bore their own family arms, many of which can be found in the Livro da Nobreza e Perfeição das Armas of Antonio Godinho (at: Instituto dos Archivos Nacionais).

The settlements themselves were under the Portuguese crown and consequently the royal arms of Portugal and the symbols of the Portuguese Empire were also valid on Ceylon. A map of Diogo Homem of 1558 shows a pennon of the arms of Portugal being White, a cross of five blue escutcheons each charged with five besants and surrounded by a red bordure.


Portuguese Pennon displayed on Ceylon

As on a map of Diogo Homem, 1558


The Dutch


Relations between the Dutch Republic and the Kandyans were initiated on the 2 June 1602 when Dutch explorer Joris van Spilbergen arrived at Santhamuruthu on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka. Later that year the Dutch East India Company despatched Sebald de Weert to Kandy in an attempt to negotiate a treaty. The visit ended in disaster when the visitors offended their Kandyan hosts with their behaviour and in the ensuing fracas de Weert and several of his entourage were killed.

In 1638 king Rajasinghe II, (1635-’87) invited the Dutch East India Company and signed a treaty with to get rid of Portuguese who ruled most of the coastal areas. He was granted help in exchange for the trade of cinnamon. On 8 March 1640, an expedition of the VOC headed by Willem Jacobsz Koster landed north of Galle which was captured a few days later. The following Dutch–Portuguese War resulted in a Dutch victory, with Colombo falling into Dutch hands by 1656. The last Portuguese governor left Jaffnapatnam in 1658.

After the dissolution of the VOC in 1795 Great Britain occupied the coastal areas of the island with little difficulty in 1796.


In the time of VOC rule the colony was administered by a governor appointed for an undefinite time by the Heeren XVII and the Batavia Government. Between 1640 and 1796 there have been 36 of them. The local Sinhala population was ruled from Colombo and Galle and the Tamils from Jaffnapatnam. The existing administration was maintained but was controlled by a servant of the Company called a dessave. On the coast there were several offices (comptoirs). Until 1663 Cochin was also under Ceylonese Dutch rule.  


In this time the emblems of the VOC were also valid in the Dutch part of the island. For Ceylon the cypher of the Company was augmented with a C. This can be seen on coins struck in Colombo:


1 stuiver coin 1786 showing the VOC cypher for Ceylon


In other cases the cypher was combined with local emblems: the arms of Colombo showing a dove (port.: colombo), and the arms of Galle a cock (lat.: gallus). Both dove and cock were probably of Portuguese origin.


The arms of Colombo are on a map of Colombo of 1659 (three years after the Dutch capture of the city):


Detail of a map of the Fort and City of Colombo.

Dated: Col : 10en : Maij : 1659 and signed Ariaan van der Meyde (governor 1653-’62).


The achievement on the map is:


Arms: Vert, a dove Argent perched on a tree proper.

Crest: The cypher VOC

Supporters: An elephant standing on a grassy ground with two bales of cinnamon at his feet.

Garland: Branches of laurel.


Above the achievement is an explanation of the name Colombo: Nota. Calamba is int Cingalees een Mangos Boom  sonder vrucht daer van de Naem Colombo sijn naem draeght (Note. Calamba is singhalese for Mango-tree without fruit from which the name Colombo bears its name).


As in Kandyan heradry and elephant was the emblem of the commander of the elephant-phalanx, the emblem on the map means “The VOC commander of Colombo”.


On the ancient city gate of Galle there is an achievement for Galle dated ANNO : MDCLXIX (= 29 years after the Dutch capture). It is:


Photo: Ineke Reekers

Arms: The cypher VOC

Crest: A cock

Supporters: Two lions rampant guardant.


The Heraldic Chart of 1716


In 1716 there appeared a heraldic chart showing the structure of the administration of the colony by the coats of arms of the Colony, the dessavonies and the comptoirs. [1]


Heraldic chart of Ceylon by governor Isaac August Rumph (1716-'23)

(Aanwinsten A.R.A. Den Haag, 1993.)


1. The arms of the Colony of Ceylon.


Arms: A landscape with an elephant affrontée, on his legs two escutcheons quarterly showing the arms of Colombo, Galle, Jaffna and Mannar on the dexter and the arms of Trincomalee, Matara, Batticaloa and Calpentyn on the sinister, below him and in front of him four bales of cinnamon; between six palmtrees all proper.

Crown: A princely crown


This time the arms mean: “The commander of the three provinces and five commandments of Dutch Ceylon”.


Karava Banner from 16th century Kotta.

The flag shows a prince riding an elephant, a sun, a crescent, two stars, a cakra or wheel of law standing on a lotus, a conch, a Latin cross and three fishes. These are the emblems of the Kotta Kingdom, the latin cross being the symbol of the Christian Faith.


These arms probably refer to the 16th century banners of Kotte and Sitawaka kingdoms charged with elephants. Later, the elephants on these banners may have been the model for the elephant-supporter of the arms of Colombo, as this city is situated in former Kotte kingdom. The elephant may also refer to elephants as an important merchandise.


2. The Commandments (provinces)




Arms of Colombo, 1716


a. The arms of the Capital Colombo are a slightly embellished version of the former arms, the tree and dove on the grassy ground  maintained, the supporter and garland replaced by a crimson cartouche and a crown of a count.



Seal of the Council of Justice, 1666


Present arms of Colombo



Arms Jaffnapatnam


b. The arms of  Jaffnapatnam are a palm-tree. The shield is surrounded by a blue cartouche crested with a helmet. The palm-tree was chosen because the palmyra palm is very common on the peninsula. Also the palm-tree has long been celebrated in legend as a special creation by the Brahma to “assuage hunger and cure disease, to feed the people and enrich the race”. It has also been venerated as the “Kalpa Tree”or Tree of Life and dedicated to Ganesha.

Before Europeans gained a footing in North Ceylon the peninsula was known as Yalpanam. The sea port of te ancient kingdom was called Pattanam. These two names were amalgamated into Yalpanam-pattanam meaning “the seaport of Jaffna”. This was abridged to Jaffna-patam.


In the time of British Rule the Jaffnapatnam palm-tree was for a short time on coins:


Five cents coin from a series  of coins  (¼, ½, 1, and 5 cents) minted 1870-’92.





c. The arms of Galle are a cock on a rock, proper.

The name Galle of Gale may refer to the sinhalese word Gala for cattle-pen or caravanserai. The word also means “rock” in sinhalese. The cock and the rock may be interpreted as a Portuguese and/or Dutch rebus of the sinhalese word Gale, due to its resemblance to the latin word Gallus for cock. On the former arms of the city the cock was only used as a crest.

The arms of Galle, 1716


The arms of Galle and Trincomalee, supported by an elephant, 1751


Detail of a map of the island of Ceylon, presented to the Council Extraordinary of the Netherlands Indies and the Governor of Ceylon, Joan Vreeland, drawn by B. van Lier 24.09.1751. [2]

The composition means: The commander of Galle and Trincomalee (i.e. the southern and eastern part of Ceylon).


3. The Comptoirs (Offices)


There were eight coats of arms of the Comptoirs, each on a simple shield without any ornaments.[3]



The arms represent three cobs of Indian Corn, called in Sinhalese Iringu and in Tamil Muttu-sholum. It is an important crop of the region.



Calpentyn is the Dutch version of Kalpitiya which was a trading post and had a five-bastioned fort. The two ships in its arms represent its two ports. No vessel was permitted to pass Calpentyn until it was searched 



The ship in the arms of Chilauw represents its port.



In Cotiaar the Danes built a fort in 1622 which the Dutch took over. The palm-tree in its arms  is commonly known as “wild date” (Phoenix Seylanica) or Indi in sinhalese.



The arms of Mannar shows three plants of the Indian Madder (Oldendia (Hedyotis) unbellata) called Saya in Sinhalese and Chaya in Tamil.



The arms of Mature shows the bridge over the Nilwala Ganga and a Martello fort.



The arms of Nigombo  shows a clay pitcher of a type used to store water. Owing to the water of the district being brackish the empty pitchers were sunk in the sand overnight to be found in the morning full of pure and sweet water.



On the arms of Trincomalee is a lascorin or Asian soldier in full uniform armed with sword and pike. The Dutch originally imported Javanese and Malay lascorins for military service in Ceylon. Possibly these imported mercenaries were used in large numbers to man the forts at the foot of Pagoda Hill (Swamy Rock) and Oostenburg.


The British


The Dutch as the ruling traders were dislodged by the British by 1796 who sent from Madras Robert Andrews to negotiate the first proper British foothold in Ceylon and one that had the blessing of the local princes. The Sinhalese Court wanted more than the British were willing to give. The British took Ceylon by force. Two years later there was a British governor and commander in chief. Ceylon became part of the Madras Presidency of the East India Company and was governed by the Governor of Madras. In 1798 he was replaced by a Governor of British Ceylon appointed by the British monarch. In 1803 king Sri Vikrama Rajasinha (1798-1815) faced a British invasion, but was able to retaliate successfully. By then, the entire coastal area was under the British East India Company, as a result of the Treaty of Amiens. On 14 February 1815, Kandy was occupied by the British, in the second Kandyan War, finally ending Sri Lanka's independence. Sri Vikrama Rajasinha, the last native monarch of Sri Lanka was exiled to India. The Kandyan Convention formally ceded the entire country to the British Empire. Attempts of Sri Lankan noblemen to undermine the British power in 1818 during the Uva Rebellion were thwarted by Governor Robert Brownrigg.


The Achievement


In the time of British Rule the achievement of the British East India Company and of the King of Great Britain replaced the achievement of the VOC. Accordingly the (unknown) achievement on the city-gate of Galle was replaced by the achievement of King George IV who was the sovereign of the colony.


Foto Ineke Reekers

Achievement of King George III (1801-1820) in Galle

Below the achievement the date Ao 1668. On the arch is the VOC cypher within a cartouche.


Symbol, Badge and Arms


At the same time
the elephant was maintained as a symbol of Ceylon. He, however, was not depicted affrontée like in the arms of the Dutch colony, but passant like on the sinhalese Karava banners.


Elephant of Ceylon standing on a ground

On a 1/48 rix dollar of Ceylon Government, 1802.

Elephant of Ceylon within a garland of oak.

On a silver rix dollar of King George IV (1820-’30)


After 1815 the inscription CEYLON GOVERNMENT on coinage was replaced by the royal portrait. Initially the elephant was just standing on a grassy ground but after the annexation of Kandy, when all of Ceylon was united, the elephant was surrounded by a garland of oak on coinage of George IV (1820-‘30).


The badge adopted in 1875 for display on the blue ensign, is an elephant standing before a pagoda in the natural colours, on a green ground with a dark-blue sky above. All within a bordure Gules edged Or and charged with 16 besants and four-pointed stars also Or.

The Governor used this device upon the Union Flag.


Stained glass window with the (unofficial-) arms of Ceylon, 19th century.

Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum


A coat of arms was granted to Ceylon by Royal Warrant of 17.12.1906.

It is:

Arms: Argent, on a mount vert between a grove of eight cocoanut trees and mountains in perspective an elephant affrontée all proper. [4]


Æ See illustration in the head of this essay.


The Sovereign and his Representative


In the time of British Rule the arms of the sovereign of Ceylon were the arms of the King of Great Britain which showed a quarterly of England, Scotland and Ireland,  in the beginning augmented with a quarter for Hannover. 


Royal arms of the first British Sovereign of Ceylon

(George III 1801-1820)

Royal arms of the last British Sovereign of Ceylon

(Elisabeth II 1952-‘72)


From 1798 until 1948 the sovereign was represented by a Governor, from 1948 until 1972 by a Governor General.

Governor and Governor General did not display their personal arms in office, if they had one, but flew a flag symbolizing their office. The flag of the Governor consisted of the Union Jack charged with the badge of Ceylon surrounded by a garland:


Flag of the Governor of Ceylon 1875-1948


The Governor General of Ceylon had a flag consisting of the Royal crest and the word “CEYLON” on a blue field:

Flag of the Governor General of Ceylon 1948-’72.


In 1972 this was replaced by the Presidential flag of Sri Lanka.



Back to Main Page



© Hubert de Vries 2012-08-07; 2012-08-15



[1] Brohier, R.L.: Links between Sri Lanka and the Netherlands. A book of Dutch Ceylon. The Netherlands Alumni Association of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka, 1979. 5: - Armorial Bearings, pp. 28-36.

[2] http://beeldbank.nationaalarchief.nl/afbeeldingen/indeling/detail/start/1/trefwoord/Serie_Collectie/Topstukken Nationaal Archief/trefwoord/Materiaal_Zoekveld/Kaart?lang=n

[3]  The pictures of the arms of the comptoirs given here are modern reconstructions.

[4] Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles: The Book of Public Arms. A Complete Encyclopaedia of all Royal, Territorial, Municipial, Corporate Official and Impersonal Arms. London T.C. & E.C. Jack 67 Long Acre W.C. and Edinburgh, 1915.P. 164