Delft Dutch Fort
In great detail, Ralph Henry Bassett explains the Delft Dutch Fort in his book “Romantic Ceylon: Its History, Legend and Story”. It was initially assumed had been built by the Portuguese throughout their occupation of Ceylon, and Ralph describes it as a “powerful, fortified fort”. We would highly suggest this book as some quality reading material on your travels through Sri Lanka to help you develop recognition of how life was during the Colonial period through the eyes of a European traveller.
Portuguese and Dutch Influence
During the era of European colonialism, both the Portuguese and the Dutch left their mark on Delft Island. Upon arrival, the Portuguese named the island "Ilha das Vacas," meaning "island of cows." However, the Dutch later gave it the name Delft Island, possibly inspired by the city of Delft in the Netherlands. The island's strategic location made it a crucial outpost for both colonial powers.
Geography and Landscape
Delft Island is the largest island in the Palk Strait, in the northern region of Sri Lanka. The island's landscape is mostly barren, with limited vegetation and minimal shade. However, one tree that thrives on the island is the Palmyra tree, commonly found here. These trees play a vital role in the island's ecosystem and have cultural significance for the local inhabitants.
Toddies and their Cultural Significance
One intriguing aspect of Delft Island's culture is the consumption of toddy, a sap extracted from the Palmyra trees. The toddy drawing season on the island lasts from January to September when people indulge in this unique beverage. It is not just a drink; toddy is a significant part of the islanders' diet. The effects of toddy consumption, however, are not always idyllic. As reported by historical accounts, the island's population became quarrelsome and prone to disputes during the toddy season.
Ruins of Forts on Delft Island
Various publications from the 19th and early 20th centuries mention the presence of ruins from two forts on Delft Island. In addition to the primary fort located on the east coast, there are reports of a smaller fort-like structure in the island's northwestern corner. Local inhabitants call this structure Vediyarasan Fort, believing the local king, Vediyarasan, built it. However, further research has revealed that it is, in fact, the remains of three ancient Buddhist Stupas.
Description of the Small Fort-Like Structure
A writer known as "Penn" described the ruins in an article published in the Colombo Journal 1832. The fort-like structure is situated on a gentle elevation about 200 yards from the rocky beach on the island's southwest side. It has a circumference of 60 yards and stands approximately 20 feet high. The outer surface, which still bears remnants of chunam, features intricate mouldings. The building has two flights of steps on the east and west sides, leading into its interior. The writer notes that the architecture of this fort differs from what is typically seen, as it includes flooring about 12 feet above the ground level.
Description of the Larger Fort
The enormous fort on Delft Island stands near the island's jetty and is also attributed to the Portuguese. "Penn" describes it as a building of "strange structure and device" erected for the island lords' protection and habitation. The fort's shape is challenging to categorize precisely; it does not fit the standard definitions of a fort, tower, peel-house, or droog. The fort consists of a rectangle, approximately 73 feet long, on its southern side and a square with 40 feet sides to the north.
Detailed Study and Reconstruction
In 1912, Joseph Pearson, an Englishman, conducted an extensive study of the enormous fort on Delft Island. His research enabled him to reconstruct an accurate replica of the fort. Pearson determined that the defence comprises double walls up to the level of the first floor, while the upper storey has single walls. He also identified discrepancies in the earlier account provided by "Penn" regarding the number of rooms on the upper level of the northern square.
Rooms and Entrances in the Fort
Within the fort are six rooms on the ground floor, arranged in pairs with external entrances. The square at the southwest corner of the fort is filled with earth up to the level of the first floor. On the upper storey, there are six additional rooms and two entrances. Staircase A provides access to room number 12, while staircase B allows entry to the other five rooms. A staircase labelled C leads from room 12 to the roof, passing through the thickness of the walls.