Fort Macdowall was built by the British in the town of Matale in 1803 as an outpost during the Kandyan Wars. This fort also laid on the route to one of Britishers most important routes, Kandy to Trincomalee. The fort was named after General Macdowall, who led the expedition to the Kingdom of Kandy. This is one of the few forts built inland by the British and the largest of such inland forts.
In 1798, the king of the Kandyan kingdom Rajadhi Rajasinghe died. Then the chief Adhikaram Pilimathalawe appointed a young Malabar 18 years old named Kannasamy who had no right to the throne as a puppet king with view of disposing of him and taking the throne to himself whom he believed to have the right to the throne. The new king was consecrated as Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe but Pilimathalawe found that the new king was not so easy to manipulate. The new king threw the queen and all the relatives of Rajadhi Rajasinghe to prison, but some relatives and her brother Muththusamy, a contestant to the throne, fled to British held territory where he was kept safe in Jaffna while the other relatives were kept in Colombo.
Pilimathalawe then met Fedrick North, the British governor of Ceylon several times in 1799 to request an attack on Kandy to kill the king to place him in power. However, North couldn’t be convinced of an immediate attack on Kandy. After these discussions, Pilimathalawe created a situation between the British and the Kandyan kingdom, forcing the British to launch an attack on Kandy in 1803. On 31st January the Colombo division led by Major General Macdowall left Colombo and a second division led by Cornel Berbut left Trincomalee on 4th February. The combined forces entered the city of Kandy on 21st February 1803 and found that the king and the army had retreated to his Hanguranketha Palace leaving the city void of any valuables. The British promptly crowned Muththusamy who had travelled with Cornel Berbut to Kandy as the new king and signed a treaty with the British providing all the concessions they wished.
With guerrilla attacks from Kandyan forces continuing the next weeks, the British were forced to agree to hand over power to Pilimathalawe to run the Kandyan kingdom on the promise of capturing and handing over the fugitive Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe to the British. After this agreement, the British forces left Kandy back to their bases leaving only about 700 Malays, 300 British, and the Bengal and Madras artillery. On 15th April Captain Madge marched to the ceded Macdowall fort with 51 men.
In 1848 during the famous Matale Rebellion, the fort came under siege by the Sinhalese rebels led by Weera Puran Appu & Gongalegoda Banda who are renowned national heroes today. Only the gateway and a few ramparts remain, with the interior of the fort turned into a cemetery, the Fort MacDowall Cemetery.
- Pridham, C., 1849. A Historical, Political And Statistical Account Of Ceylon And Its Dependencies Volume I. 1st ed. London: T. and W. Boone.
- MacFarlane, C., 1848. Our Indian Empire: its history and present state, from the earliest settlement of the British in Hindostan, to the close of the year 1846 ; By Charles MacFarlane. 1st ed. London: George Routledge.
- Knox, R., 1818. Account of the captivity of Capt. Robert Knox, and other Englishmen, in the island of Ceylon; and of the Captain’s miraculous escape, and return to England, in September 1680. 1st ed. London: Printed for J. Hatchard.
Map of Fort Macdowall of Matale
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Traveling Directions to Fort Macdowall – Matale
|Route 01 from Kandy to Fort Macdowall – Matale
|Though : Akurana
Distance :25 km
Travel time : 40 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map