Tribute to a road builder
Anyone travelling to
along the Colombo-Kandy Road has to negotiate
many bends - some of them hairpin bends - as they go up the Kadugannawa
incline. At the last and sharpest of these bends, the road forks; and one
goes through a tunnel, wide and high enough for a bus or lorry to pass. The
other road makes a wider bend and goes a few feet over the rock.
This is the highest point in the climb - the Kadugannawa Pass, which was
the lookout point in the former Sinhala kingdom.
This tunnel has been a landmark for over 175 years. Until about 25 years
ago, all motor traffic to and from Kandy went through this tunnel. When it
was found that the new long vehicles could not negotiate the sharp hairpin
bend, another road was constructed with a wider bend and no overhead encumbrances.
When the climb is over, and the travellers approach Kadugannawa town, they
will see to their right, a tall white column on the side of the cliff. One
gets a better view of the column when travelling in the opposite direction
from Kadugannawa town.
This is the Dawson Tower, erected to commemorate Captain Dawson, who built
the Colombo-Kandy Road.
Governor Edward Barnes wanted a new road built to Kandy as the old road
was long and circuitous. The old road was along the Kelani Valley, via Ruwanwella
to the Ma Oya valley, then up the incline to Gampola and on to Kandy.
After the Kandyan rebellion of 1818, the Governor wanted to have tighter
control of the Kandyan territory (the old Sinhala Kingdom) and for this,
a shorter and more direct road to Kandy to move troops and government officers
quickly, was essential.
Governor Barnes appointed Captain William Francis Dawson of the Royal Engineers
to execute this task. Captain Dawson studied the terrain, marked out the
route and planned the building of the road, phase by phase.
Work commenced in 1820 and was carried out under his immediate supervision.
The stress and strain of working in a hot and humid climate and exposure
to the frequent changes of weather and to diseases as he worked through jungle
land, brought about his premature death on March 29, 1829, when the road
to Kandy was still not complete. Folklore says Captain Dawson was bitten
by a snake and had to be taken to Colombo where he died.
Captain Dawson was a popular and much admired and respected man. His friends
and admirers decided to erect this column or tower to commemorate his service
in this gigantic task, and they chose this spot on the top of the Kadugannawa
Pass, as the best place for a memorial to him.
No better spot could have been chosen. The road upto the point is testimony
to his engineering skills. He worked without bulldozers, backhoes and other
machinery and the technical know-how that today's road builders have.
When you next pass through Kadugannawa, ask your parents to turn to the
Gampola Road. A few yards from the turn is a narrow road on the right which
will lead you to the Dawson Column.
Sunday Observer,- 11 September 2005
Created : November 1, 2009
November 1, 2009