Ceylon was heavily down the road to independence in 1935. Some may attribute this to recognition of natives peoples right to self determination, but I expect the money for Britain dried up. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.
These type of British Empire issues are just great. Stamps from all over showing exotic views and ancient sites with the Monarch, in this case George V, looking on benevolently. These were done into Elisabeth II’s Reign but the early ones are best. They are just a bit more realistic as to why the British were there. So in addition to the view of Colombo harbor and the Temple of the Tooth, we have Tamils picking tea and tapping a rubber tree on the plantation. Gone in the later similar George VI Ceylon issue. By then Great Britain was signaling it’s exit. In a post independence issue of 1954, the tea pickers and rubber trees were back. Independent Ceylon’s British trained, socialist leaders had high hopes that the plantations could again be profitable for the state, or at least for it’s socialist leaders. The British knew better.
Todays stamp is issue A47, a 2 cent issue by the self governing Crown Colony of Ceylon in 1935. It was part of an eleven stamp issue in various denominations. According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth 55 cents used.
Great Britain acquired Dutch trading posts in the then Buddhist kingdom of Kandy during the Napoleonic wars to prevent them falling into French hands. France had conquered the Netherlands at the time. There was then a series of wars that completed the conquest of Kandy. The British were interested in coffee plantations that could then export their product. To their credit, the locals refused to work the plantations and so Britain imported large numbers of Tamil contract labourers from nearby India. This forever changed the ethnic makeup of the island as the Indians practiced a different religion and spoke a different language. Coffee product wound down after a disease outbreak and was replaced by tea and rubber for export. There was rice cultivation for food but not enough and rice had to be imported. The British presence was not all bad as there was much work on education of locals and infrastructure building. At the height of the colony in the 1920s, seven percent of the gross national product returned to Britain in terms of remittances and payments to investors.
The 1930s worldwide depression hit hard on commodity prices and demand. Investors, as usual were first to pay the price. Great Britain had just been bled dry in World War I and had not failed to notice that areas of the Empire ethnically British had been willing to sacrifice far more for the cause than colonies of other ethnicities. That of course is natural but perhaps not what the British expected, who had often viewed the Empire with rose colored glasses. When combined with the drop off in return on the investment in Ceylon, it was time to fade out.
Unlike Spain and Portugal, who simply walked away from their empires when their governments changed in the 1970s, Britain tried to prepare Ceylon to go it alone. Administrators were sent for education at Oxford to prepare them to administer the place. The universities trained them with a socialist philosophy that wanted to replace British planters with state management but keep the plantation system in place. To have worked that would have required high prices and output and they of course would not have learned how to achieve that at Oxford. Even today though, the two rival parties in Sri Lanka are family run enterprises with decendants of those trained by the British. Of course they claim to be anti colonial, but still have bizarre amounts of contact with London. Great Britain of course no longer gets that 7 percent of the GNP, where it goes now is anyone’s guess.
Well my drink is empty and I will pour another to toast the former Kingdom of Kandy. Left alone, they still might be what President Trump might describe as a shit hole, but at least they would have stayed their own shit hole. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.