Robert Knox (8 February 1641 – 19 June 1720) was an English sea captain in the service of the British East India Company. He was the son of another sea captain, also named Robert Knox.
The two Knoxes sailed for Persia in January 1658 in a ship named Anne. They suffered the loss of the ship’s mast in a storm on 19 November 1659, forcing them to anchor the ship at Koddiyar Bay in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. Adjacent land south of this bay was known as Kottiar according the great chronicle Mahawamsa and Chulawamsa and this was a Sinhalese dominated area at the time and was under the control of Kandyan King. Today this area is called Kinnia, Muttur and Sampoor.
The Konxes found the locals friendly and started repairs to the ship with the support of the locals. The ship was docked for months and the word reached the Kandyan King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747 – 1782) of the foreign ship docked for months at the Koddiyar bay.
The King became suspicious and sent a Disawa to inquire. The Englishmen were arrogant and did not treat the Disawa with due respect to a officer of the crown. The Disawe arrested a few Englishmen and by some indirect means made the ship’s captain Robert Knox (Snr.) to come ashore.
Captain Knox came ashore and was waiting for the Disawa in the shade of a large tamarind tree when he was arrested. His son Robert Knox (Jnr.) and 16 others were also arrested and taken to Kandy.
They senior Knox died of Maleria in 1661 but Robert Knox (Jnr.) remained a prisoner of the king till 1680 but was allowed to freely moved within the Kingdom. He escaped in 1680 to Dutch fort at Arippu and left to England soon after.
During the voyage Knox wrote the manuscript of An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon, an account of his experiences on Ceylon, which was published in 1681. The book was accompanied by engravings showing the inhabitants, their customs and agricultural techniques.
It attracted widespread interest at the time and made Knox internationally famous, influencing Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe as well as sparking a friendship with Robert Hooke of the Royal Society. It is one of the earliest and most detailed European accounts of life on Ceylon and is today seen as an invaluable record of the island in the 17th century.
Englishmen who governed Ceylon from the 1790s who were proud of Robert Knox and they started looking for the tamarind tree under which Knox (Jnr.) was arrested.
In 1893 the tree was found, identified and a tombstone was set up to commemorate Knox’s arrest under that tree. The tombstone states
“THIS IS THE WHITE MANS TREE
UNDER WHICH ROBERT KNOX
CAPTAIN OF THE SHIP “ANN”
THIS STONE WAS PLACED HERE IN 1893″
When the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance was passed in 1937 the tree was declared a protected tree, along with two others.
Unfortunately this tree was destroyed by the floods of 1957 and the cyclone in 1964 but a sapling of the original tree survives today at the same place with the tombstone.
Map of Robert Knox’s Tamarind Tree at Muttur
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Travel Directions to Robert Knox’s Tamarind Tree at Muttur
Route from Colombo to Robert Knox’s Tamarind Tree at Muttur
Route from Trincomalee to Robert Knox’s Tamarind Tree at Muttur
|Through : Negombo – Kurunegala – M|
Distance : 277 km
Travel time : 6-7 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
|Through : Kinniya|
Distance : 28 km
Travel time : 40 minutes
Driving directions : see on google