Fort Ostenburg at Trincomalee – ඔස්ටන්බර්ග් බලකොටුව

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 A view of Fort Frederick

A view of Fort Frederick

Legend has it that King Rajasinghe II who ruled this country for 52 years (1635-1687) built a fort in Trincomalee.

There was the general belief that Fort Frederick was originally built by King Rajasinghe. King Rajasinghe wanted to build a fort in Trincomalee with a view to driving away the menacing Portuguese. But by that time the Portuguese had already built a small fort at the hillock where the present Fort Frederick now stands.

King Rajasinghe wanted to get rid of the Portuguese at any cost and later was compelled to seek the assistance of the Dutch to expel the Portuguese.

The Portuguese built a fort in Trincomalee in 1623 while King Senarath was ruling the country from Kandy. The Dutch made a treaty with the King as far back as 1612 and were allowed to build a fort at Koddiyar (Mutur), but the Portuguese who were in command of Trincomalee destroyed the partly built fort.

A Diagram of Fort Ostenburg in Trincomalee from "Illustrations and views of Dutch Ceylon, 1602-1796" by Rajpal Kumar De Silva, Willemina G. M. Beumer

A Diagram of Fort Ostenburg in Trincomalee from “Illustrations and views of Dutch Ceylon, 1602-1796” by Rajpal Kumar De Silva, Willemina G. M. Beumer

It was thereafter that in 1623, the Portuguese built a fort in Trincomalee which was earlier known as Fort Trinkenemalle. A Dutch officer in a letter to Governor General Anthonio Van Diemon dated 31st December, 1638 has mentioned that Trincomalee is a fort build rather strongly of hard stones from an old pagoda round the hillock. On each side there is a sandy and rocky bay and it is like a peninsula.

King Rajasinghe was most anxious to drive out the foreigners and while he hated the Portuguese he did not have any love for the Dutch too. King Rajasinghe’s predecessors had sought the assistance of the Dutch to expel the Portuguese, but King Rajasinghe wanted to do it without the assistance of another European nation and he wanted to build a fort in Trincomalee to attack the Portuguese holed up in Fort Trincomalee.

The Portuguese were finally expelled from the country in 1658.

An Archaeological Department officer, a few years back visited Fort Ostenburg located within the Naval Dockyard and identified it as the Fort originally built by King Rajasinghe. It appears that while King Rajasinghe was building a fort on the Ostenburg hill the Dutch had approached him and offered their service to the King to expel the Portuguese.

At that period every European nation was trying to build up a commercial monopoly in this country. King Rajasinghe gave up the construction of the fort and it was left uncompleted.

The architecture of Fort Ostenburg appears to be more Asian in comparison to the architecture of the Kandyan era. It appears that King Rajasinghe never used this fort though later the Dutch made use of it to save their souls from the invading British. Fort Ostenburg built on the peak of Ostenburg ridge is now hidden among a heavy undergrowth and is unknown. Except for some of the elders who had served under the navy now among the present generation have heard of this fort.

The Dutch managed to expel the Portuguese assisted by the Sinhala army, but the Dutch proved to be no better than the Portuguese. For the Sinhalese it was falling out of the frying pan to the fire.

The Dutch who felt secure having expelled the Portuguese demolished the Trincomalee Fort. It should be noted that Fort Frederick which was then known as Fort Trincomalee by the Portuguese was much smaller in size before the Dutch expanded it to the present size and named it Pagoda Hill. It was the British who named it after Frederick Augustus Duke of York and Albany, second son of King George III.

The Trincomalee Fort which was captured by the Dutch in 1640 from the Portuguese was dismantled on 20th April that year as they felt well secured. But in 1658 when rumours of French and British expansion in the East reached here the Dutch who were controlling the coastal areas re-fortified both the Trincomalee Fort and the Koddiyar Fort.In 1671, the French arrived in Trincomalee. Apart from improvements to Fort Trincomalee (present Fort Frederick) and provision for five bastions the Dutch also restored Fort Ostenburg (then known as Osnaburg) to commend the inner anchorage.

The British who were then at war with Holland and France were making plans to capture Trincomalee with the object of expanding the British East India Company’s territory and command of the Eastern World.On January 5, 1782 British troops landed at Back Bay and captured Fort Trincomalee by surprise.

Most men of the dutch garrison bolted to Fort Ostenburg. Three days later Admiral Edward Hughes called the Dutch to surrender and he sent the summons through his Chief Engineer Major Gells who carried out an excellent reconnaissance and later suggested that another summons to surrender might be sent so that he could have another ‘look see’.

The British then attacked Fort Ostenburg, but managed to capture a hill 300 yards from the fort. The next day the British entered through the lower fort loosing one officer and 20 men while two officers and 40 men were wounded.

The British captured the fort with nine officers and 350 men – 60 Chinese and Malays under captivity. They also captured 62 guns from the two forts.

Fort Ostenburg has not been of much importance as Fort Frederick from where the Europeans commanded the entire East. Fort Ostenburg had been mostly used as a residence for the commanding officers of the garrison prior to take over by the British who completely ignored it after the country was ceded to Great Britain in 1802. It is said that the Dutch had underground quarters for the officers who commanded Trincomalee.

The British finally captured Trincomalee on August 26, 1795 and in 1800 there were 50 guns in Fort Ostenburg. It appears that both the Dutch and British had made good use of the fort which was originally built by King Rajasinghe, but not mentioned that fact in any of the annuls. A Sinhala verse described the event thus.

Male, male thembiliya venna pol male
Rale, rale muhuden damana diya rale
Bale, bale Rasing Deviyange bale
Gale Kotuva bendai Tirikuna Male

The location where Fort Ostenburg stands was later used by the British Admiralty as a wireless station during the Second World War.

by K.D. Jayasekara
Sunday Observer

Also See

Map of  Fort Ostenburg at Trincomalee

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Traveling Directions to Fort Ostenburg at Trincomalee

Route from Colombo to Trincomalee

Route from Kandy to Trincomalee

Though : Ambepussa – Kurunegala – Dambulla
distance : 266 km
Travel time : 6-7 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Though : Katugasthota – Matale – Dambulla
distance : 185 km
Travel time : 3.5-4 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

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