Andrew Carnegie in Ceylon. 1879

Carnegie in Ceylon Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), self-made steel billionaire and philanthropist, visited Galle, Colombo and Kandy for 10 days in January 1879.

Andrew Carnegie is pictured here in Ceylon.
He was subject to heat stroke and had to protect himself from the sun.

Foreign travel, added to Carnegie's intellectual stock, helped to form his judgment on world questions and fortify the convictions already deep seated in his nature.

Carnegie's trip Round the World was a fulfillment of a long cherished ambition. With not a cloud upon the financial horizon, he and his friend John Vandervort, set out westward from New York on 12th October 1878, and returned after 256 days on 24th June 1879.

A book on the trip was his first attempt as an Author. Originally printed for private circulation was published in 1884. It was dedicated To my brother and trusty associates, who toiled at home that I might spend abroad, these notes are affectionately inscribed by the grateful Author

TUESDAY, January 14.       

While still gazing Singaporeward I am recalled to the stern duties of life. These two baby orang-outangs I told you of are going to a naturalist in Madras. What a present! and Vandy and I have promised to do what we can in the way of attendance upon them. The butcher comes to ask me when they are to be fed, and how, and what. This is a poser. I am not up in the management of orang-outangs, but Vandy has skill in almost everything of this kind; at least he is safer than I, there being a good deal of the incipient doctor about Vandy, and I search for him in this emergency. The fact is, while I have had varied experiences in the matter of delicate charges of many kinds, these have generally been of our own species--a youngster to be taken home to his parents, a dowager lady afraid of the cars--even a blushing damsel to be transported across the Atlantic to the arms of her fiancÚ has been intrusted to me before this, but this charge is decidedly out of my line. These fearfully human-looking, human-acting brutes furnish much amusement to the passengers; but at first every lady whom we took forward to watch them was compelled to run away laughing and exclaiming, ``Oh, they are so much like babies! It's just horrid to see these nasty, hairy things carry on so !'' Confirmation strong, I suppose, of our kinship, so do not let us neglect our poor relations even if the connection be somewhat remote. Bananas are their favorite delicacy, but this morning not even that fruit could tempt them. I gave one to the smaller of the two, but it would not take it. Then I tried the larger one. He took it in his paw, peeled it at one end and put it to his lips, then looking up at me with a sad, puzzled expression, dropped his prize, and resting his head on his paw laid slowly down on the straw, telling us all as plainly as could be that he was sea-sick. Such was indeed the case; but in a few hours the sea fell and he was as sprightly as ever. Monkeys move spasmodically, by jerks as it were; not so these dignified, stately creatures: they are as deliberate in all their actions as staid, sober people. One day a passenger had offered a banana to the little one, but as it put forth its paw, withdrew it. The wee thing stood this several times, and at last laid down on its face and cried like a child--a wicked cry; nor would it be comforted, the banana when offered being petulantly rejected. They are much too human.

We called at Penang, an island on the western shore of the Peninsula, also belonging to Great Britain, and had time to drive around the settlement. The place is not to be compared to Singapore in size, but vegetation is even more luxuriant. It was very hot, and we envied the governor his residence on a mountain peak eighteen hundred feet above the sea, where, it was reported, fires are actually required at some seasons night and morning. Penang exports large quantities of tin, and we took on a lot for New York. This valuable production seems about the only metal America has now to import, but some lucky explorer is no doubt destined to find it in immense quantities by and by. Having got everything else, it doesn't stand to reason that America should not be favored with this also. Nothing unusual occurred upon our run across the Bay of Bengal. Even Vandy enjoyed the sea voyage this time; something he had never before done in his life, nor ever done since.> It was smooth and quiet steaming all the way to Ceylon. I had been humming ``Greenland's Icy Mountains'' for several days previously, about all that I knew of Ceylon's isle being contained in one of the verses of that hymn, which I used to sing at missionary meetings, when a minister who had seen the heathen was stared at as a prodigy.

And indeed the ``spicy breezes blew soft o'er Ceylon's isle'' as we approached it in the moonlight. We found Galle quite a pretty, quaint little port, and remained there one night, taking the coach next morning for Colombo, the capital. The drive of sixty miles to the railway which extends to Colombo, seventeen miles beyond, is one of the best treats we have yet had. The road is equal to one of our best park avenues, as indeed are all the roads we saw in Ceylon; from end to end it skirts the rocky shores, passing through groves of cocoa and betel-nut trees, and dotted on each side by the huts of natives at work at some branch of the coconut business. Every part of the nut is utilized; ropes and mats are made from the covering of the shell, oil from the kernel, and the milk is drunk fresh at every meal. These trees do not thrive except near the coast, the salt air laden with moisture being essential for their growth, but they grow quite down to the edge of the sea. The natives have been attracted to this main road, and from Galle to Colombo it is almost one continuous village; there is no prettier sea-shore in the world, nor a more beautiful surf. Every few miles we come upon large numbers of fishermen drawing in their nets, which are excessively long and take in several acres of sea in their sweep. An artist who would come to Ceylon and devote himself to depicting ``the fishers of Ceylon's isle'' (how well that sounds! and a good title is half the battle) would make a reputation and a fortune. I am quite sure there is no more picturesque sight than the drawing of their nets, several hundred men being engaged in the labor, while the beach is alive with women and children in bright colors anxiously watching the result.

The dress of the Ceylonese women is really pretty: a skirt closely fitting the figure, and a tight jacket over the shoulders--all of fine, pure white cotton cloth or muslin and quite plain, with neither frill, tuck, flounce, nor anything of the kind. Necklaces and ear-rings are worn, but I am glad to say the nose in Ceylon seems to be preserved from the indignity of rings. The men's dress is rather scanty, their weakness being a large tortoiseshell comb, which every one wears; it reaches from ear to ear, and the hair is combed straight back and confined by it. Women are denied this crowning ornament, and must content themselves with a pin in the hair, the head of which, however, is highly ornamented. The Buddhist monks form a strange contrast in their dress, which consists of a yellow plaid, generally of silk, wrapped around the body and over the shoulders.

I asked our Ceylonese guide to-day whether he had ever heard of our most popular missionary hymn. ``Here is the verse,'' I said, ``about your beautiful isle'':

``What though the spicy breezes
Blow soft o'er Ceylon's isle,
Though every prospect pleases,
And only man is vile!
In vain with lavish kindness,
The gifts of God are strewn;
The heathen, in his blindness,
Bows down to wood and stone.''

``What do you think of that description?'' I asked. He said he thought ``the writer was a fool,'' and asked if any one in my country believed that there was a man, woman, or child in Ceylon who did not know better than to bow down to any power but God. ``Yes,'' I said, ``I once believed it myself, and millions believe it to-day, and good boys and girls with us save their pennies to send missionaries to tell these heathen who worship idols how very wrong and foolish it is to do so, and how very angry the true God is to have anything worshiped but himself.'' He said ours must be a very curious country, and he should like to visit it and see such queer people. I gave him my address and promised, if he would come to see me, to take him to a great missionary meeting where he would see the best and most religious people, all greatly concerned about the idolators of Ceylon.

The truth is there is scarcely in all the world a human being so low in the scale as not to know that the object he sees is only the symbol of the invisible power. What the cross is to the Christian the idol is to the other, and it is nothing more. The worship of both is to the Unknown beyond. I did my best to soothe the wounded spirit of our guide by explaining the necessities of poetic license. Still he would have it that Bishop Heber had wronged his beloved Ceylon and did not know what he was writing about.

The religion of Ceylon is Buddhism; indeed it is now the most strictly Buddhist country in the world. One condition of the cession of the sovereignty to Great Britain was that this religion should be held inviolable with its rights and privileges, its monasteries and temples and all pertaining thereto. In the language of the greatest European authority, ``although government support is no longer given to it, its pure and simple doctrines live in the hearts of the people and are the noblest monument to its founder Gautama Buddha. The taking of the meanest life is strictly forbidden, and falsehood, intemperance, dishonesty, anger, pride, and covetousness are denounced. as incompatible with Buddhism, which enjoins the practice of chastity, gratitude, contentment, moderation, forgiveness of injuries, patience, and cheerfulness.'' The monks of Buddha are regularly ordained and sworn to celibacy, and they are required to meet each other every fourteen days for purposes of mutual confession. The lowest caste is eligible to the monkhood, as with the Christian religion.

Ceylon is somewhat smaller than Ireland, and the population is a little less than three millions, but it is rapidly increasing, as are its exports and imports. Of all the places we visited it seems to have suffered least from the wave of depression which has recently swept over the world. This is undoubtedly owing to the fact that the spicy isle enjoys somewhat of a monopoly in coffee and some of the spices, cinnamon especially. Java coffee is generally used, I think, in America, but in Ceylon it is deemed an inferior article; Mocha, in Arabia, furnishes the best, but much called Mocha is really grown here. In the coffee plantations men are paid eighteen cents per day; women, fourteen cents. A disease akin to that which attacked the vines in France some years ago has raged among the plants for two years past; it promises this year to be less destructive, although no effectual cure has yet been discovered. We met several coffee planters, generally young, pushing Englishmen who either own the estates, or are related to those who do. They lead a pleasant life in Ceylon, the climate being good most of the year, and those who are contented declare that a European can live there and enjoy as good health as at home. If the weather prove too warm in the summer there are the mountains to run to. Scientific cultivation of coffee began in Ceylon as late as 1824, and public attention was not directed to it until 1834--only fifty years ago--yet to-day there are more than twelve hundred coffee plantations, and the amount of coffee exported exceeds twenty millions of dollars per annum. Tea cultivation has been introduced recently, and the quality is said to be excellent. There cannot be any doubt of this, because it finds a ready market here. None has been exported. If it were not a remarkably good article the foreign would be preferred, as we all know a domestic article has a world of prejudice to overcome at first. I shall watch the Ceylon tea question with interest, and hope that at some not distant day the production of tea leaf may rival that of the coffee bean.

I have no intention to enter into any political question--certainly not into the merits of Free Trade vs. Protection; but I must own I was surprised to find that one-fifth of the total revenue of the island is derived from taxes upon the daily food of the people, two-thirds of this from a tax upon imported rice, and the other third from native grain.

Ceylon teaches many lessons. The liquor traffic, for instance, is managed throughout the entire island as a governmental monopoly. Distillation is restricted to a few specified distillers who can sell their product at wholesale in open market, but the right to retail is restricted to certain taverns, which are rented year by year to the highest bidders, subject to stringent conditions. Pure arrack only can be sold at fixed prices, and lesses are held to strict account for drunkenness and disturbances. The liquor monopoly yields £170,000, or about one-seventh of the whole revenue, which in 1873 was £1,241,558 ($6,200,000); about ten shillings per head, as against England's two pounds and more.

The main roads of Ceylon are equal to those of Central Park; so they should be, for their cost has exceeded £2,000 per mile. Ten thousand dollars !--we could almost build a railway in the West for this. However, it is not as much as it costs in Britain to get the right to begin to spend money on a railway; so we must congratulate the Ceylonese upon getting a splendid return for their investment. During our brief sojourn in the island (alas! all too short as I write these pages) we traveled over every mile of railway there. This sounds large to one who judges of a railway system by that of the United States--a hundred and twenty thousand miles; there were then only about a hundred miles in all Ceylon--two short lines. To-day there are doubtless a hundred and fifty miles in operation, as the line under construction between Colombo and Galle was expected to be opened in two years more. This brings Japan and Ceylon about even upon the railway question, though the population of Ceyion is only about one-twelfth that of Japan.


A railway has been built from Colombo, the shipping port, through the mountains to the coffee-growing districts, a distance of seventy miles, and this enabled us to visit Kandy, more than 1,600 feet above the sea, and the summer capital to which the government repairs in hot weather. It is a beautiful little town, and gave us the first breath of air with ``ozone'' in it that we had enjoyed since we were on the Sierras. Our hotel fronts upon the square, and is opposite the Buddhist Temple, celebrated as the receptacle of that precious relic, ``the sacred tooth of Buddha.'' A former king of Ceylon is reputed to have paid an immense sum for this memento of the departed. We were too near the temple for comfort. The tomtom has to be beaten five times each day, and as one of these is at sunrise, I had occasion to wish the priest and tooth both far enough away. I wonder the Europeans don't indict this tomtoming at unseasonable hours as a nuisance.

The Botanical Gardens here are rivalled in the tropics by those in Java only, and upon seeing the display of luxuriant vegetation, we fully understood how it had acquired its celebrity; but still all is green. The great variety of palms, the bread-fruit, banyan, jack-fruit, and others sustain this reputation. The chocolate tree was the most curious to us; it has recently been introduced in the island, and promises to add one more to the list of luxuries for which Ceylon is famous. A fine evidence of the intelligence of the Ceylon planters is seen in the fact that the association employs a chemist to investigate and report upon the different soils and what they are capable of producing; under his supervision various articles are always under trial. Recently Liberian coffee has been found to thrive in low latitudes unsuited for the Arabian variety, which requires a higher district, thus rendering available for this plant a large area, which has hitherto been necessarily devoted to less profitable uses. Nothing nowadays can be thoroughly developed without the chemist's aid, and the day is not far distant when our farming will be conducted under his instructions as completely as our steel manufacture is now.

Ceylon is noted for its pearl fisheries and its supply of rubies, sapphires, and cats'-eyes as much as for its spices; and from the hour the traveller lands until the steamer carries him off he is beset with dealers offering precious stones, worth hundreds of dollars in London or New York, for a few rupees; but those who purchase no doubt find their fate in the story of the innocent who bought his gold cheap. The government keeps the pearl fishery grounds under proper regulations, and allows divers one half of all they find, the other half going to the State Treasury. I was told the value of the pearls found last year amounted to $400,000, but the production seems to be falling off. In 1798 the fishery was rented for £142,000 ($710,000). Now the government has to work it and the net proceeds have never exceeded £87,000 in any year, and have fallen as low as £7,200.

The government employed a naturalist to study the habits of the pearl oyster. He labored for five years, but this time scientific investigation seems to have failed and we know but little more about the subject than before. Some genius will come, however, to solve all questions. Science may be rebuffed twenty times, but it never rests until the truth is known. This much is certain, that these precious oysters leave their usual beds for years together. There was no fishery once for twenty-seven years, from 1768 to 1796, and once before then it failed for about fourteen years. When they do visit pretty Ceylon, their main residence is upon the northwestern coast, sixteen to twenty miles from shore. It is believed that the oyster reaches maturity in its seventh year, when the pearl attains full size and lustre. If the oyster be not secured then, it soon dies and we lose our pearl. Consider the number of these jewels which fade away to their original elements in the depths of ocean: for one we get, a million decomposed.

Did the poet know how true his words were when he said:

``Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear.''

The government brings the oysters to the beach and sells them to the highest bidders in lots of one thousand. Can you conceive of a prettier game of chance than this! Imagine the natives at work opening the rough shells, expecting at every turn to find a pearl worth a fortune!

The pearl fishers descend six to eight fathoms forty or fifty times a day, and can remain under water from a minute to a minute and a half. So much for practice. In the course of a million or hundred million years, more or less, each successive generation pursuing this calling, under the law of inherited tendencies, these people might well return to the amphibious state and give us an illustration of evolution, backward.

The pearl oyster is a large, round bivalve, sometimes twelve inches in diameter. If Thackeray felt, as he said when he first tried a Rockaway, as if he were swallowing a baby, what would have been his impressions if he had tickled his throat with one of these monsters? Sometimes a dozen, or even twenty pearls, are said to have been found in a single oyster. I remember hearing in China that a fresh water mollusc is made to grow pearls by the introduction of foreign bodies within the shell. These produce irritation which the shell fish seeks to allay by depositing around them a layer of pearly matter, and thus pearls are formed. It is a fact that the celebrated Linnaeus was paid $2,500 by the Swedish Government for a plan he discovered for doing a similar thing with the oyster. He bored through the shell and deposited sand particles between it and the mantle of fine tissues. It was not a success; but some day the race will produce pearls from cultivated oyster beds as we now get our eggs from chickens; that is, provided the coming man is not to regard jewelry of all kinds as barbaric-- ``barbaric pearls and gold'' are Milton's very words, and great poets are prophets. The tendency is certainly in that direction. The more ignorant the natives, the more ornamental jewelry is worn, even if it be immense, heavy glass bracelets from Birmingham. Already one says, how simple, how grandly simple she was, with her hair plain, her ears unpierced, her head and neck without a single ornament, save only a rosebud in the hair. Jewels are to women what wine is to man--not recommended till after forty, and a poor help at any age.

COLOMBO, Tuesday, January 21.       

Ceylon was originally settled in 1517 by the Portuguese, who obtained the right to erect a small factory at Colombo for purposes of trade. This soon grew into a fort, and naturally the whole west coast became theirs. The Dutch drove them out a hundred and fifty years later, to be in turn expelled by the English after they had occupied the island for just about the same period. As with all their colonies, the Dutch left their impress upon Ceylon. New industries were introduced, great public works constructed, and, better than all, the education of the people was well cared for. The trade with Holland became a source of much profit. England has been master since 1796, nearly ninety years now, and certainly the work she has to show for the less than a century is marvelous indeed.

The people are not yet done rejoicing at the restoration of their ancient village institutions, which took place in 1871. Europeans had rudely swept these away and substituted courts after their own fashion. After many years' trial, they were seen to be unsuited for the country, and the ancient village tribunals were reestablished, as I have said, a few years ago. It will not do to conclude, as many do, that India, Ceylon, and other of the Eastern lands, are left almost bare of just laws and fair administration, for nothing could be farther from the truth. The village elders, chosen by the people of Ceylon, for instance, administer laws which are the outgrowth of centuries, and as such are far better adapted to the real conditions which exist than any other system of laws, no matter how perfect, which have been found suitable in other lands under conditions wholly unlike. Here in this charming island, as indeed throughout all India, villages, or groups of villages, are authorized to frame rules having the force of laws, and which natives construe and administer.

I am amused at the ignorance of the average Englishman or American upon Eastern affairs. He is always amazed when I tell him that so far as representative institutions are concerned, there is not a village in India which is not farther advanced in this department of politics than any rural constituency in Britain. The American county, village, district and township system is of course more perfect than any other with which I am acquainted, but the English is really about the most backward. The experiment in Ceylon of restoring the native system has been an unequivocal success, even beyond the expectations of its warmest advocates, and in addition to the advantages flowing from the native courts, it is found that the village committees are beginning to repair and restore the ancient tanks and other irrigation works, which, under the curse of centralized and foreign authority, had been allowed to fall into disuse.

The new blood of home rule in local affairs has aroused local patriotism and established numerous bodies throughout the country, each a center from which good influences radiate, organizations into which good impulses flow, to crystallize into works of public utility, while at the same time an esprit de corps is created which must tell more and more. Wait till this plan is tried in England and Scotland, and, above all, in unhappy Ireland! I shall never despair of Ireland until at least a generation has had such local institutions as we find in Ceylon's Isle. If that people cannot develop under self-government, they deserve to fall away and give place to a better race; but they will not fail.

Caste exists in Ceylon, although it is not so strictly preserved as in India. Still, every calling is a caste, down to the scavenger. The several castes do not intermarry, nor is it practicable for one who has reaped great wealth and has natural tastes and abilities above his caste, to do in this small island what is readily done in India, viz., emigrate and set up in superior style in some other part of the crowded empire. The wealthiest native in Ceyion to-day is a fisherman, and yet he cannot gain admittance to the society of poorer natives about him of higher caste. If he were in India, and socially ambitious, he would change his residence. I was told by several Europeans that the bonds of caste in India are slowly weakening, and that when a wealthy stranger comes to a district it is held wise not to inquire too curiously concerning his birth.

Of all the castes, the tiller of the soil stands at the head in Ceylon; even the skilled worker in iron is away below him. The rural laborer with us must be taught to hold his head up. He is AI in Ceylon.

The position held by Ceylon in ancient days as the great granary of Southern Asia explains the precedence accorded to agricultural pursuits. Under native rule the whole island was brought under irrigation by means of artificial lakes, constructed by dams across ravines, many of them of great extent--one, still existing, is twenty miles in circumference--but the system has been allowed to fall into decay. I am glad to know that government has resolved to undertake the work of repair. Proper sluices are to be supplied to all the village tanks, and the embankments are to be raised and strengthened through the labor of the village communities. We may yet live to see the fertility of the country restored to that of its pristine days.

We saw the new breakwater which government is constructing here at great expense. When finished it is proposed that the Indian steamers shall call here instead of at Galle, the harbor of which is dangerous. This may be a decided improvement upon the whole, but the tourist who does not see pretty Galle and enjoy the long day's drive through the island to Colombo will miss much.

Iron ore exists in Ceylon in vast deposits and is remarkably pure, rivaling the best Swedish grades. It has been worked from remote times, and native articles of iron are preferred even to-day to any that can be imported. If cost of transportation is to keep growing less and less, it is not beyond the range of possibility that some day Britain may import some of this unrivaled stone for special uses. There are also quicksilver mines, and lead, tin, and manganese are found to some extent.

GALLE, Wednesday, January 22.       

We reached here last night upon our return, stopping one night at Colombo. Future travelers will soon miss one of the rarest treats in Ceylon. The railway will soon be completed from Colombo to Galle, and the days of coaching cease forever. We congratulate ourselves that our visit was before this passed away, as we know of no drive equal to that we have now enjoyed twice, and the last time even more than the first.

During our trip down yesterday I counted within forty miles eleven schools filled with young Cingalese. English is generally taught in them, and although attendance is not compulsory, great inducements are held out to parents to send their children. The advantages of knowing the English language are so decided that I am told parents generally are most anxious to have their children taught. The school-houses are simple affairs, consisting only of white plastered walls about five feet high, with spaces for entrance. On this wall rest the slight wooden standards which support the roof of palm-leaves, so that all is open to our view as we drive past. The attention paid to this vital subject, evidences of which are seen everywhere, is what most delights us. In 1874 there were 1,468 public schools on the island, attended by 66,385 scholars.

We were equally delighted to see numerous medical dispensaries, where the afflicted natives can obtain advice and medicine free of charge. On several huts we saw large placards denoting the presence of contagious disease within. It is a great work that is going forward here under English rule. By such means England proves her ability to govern, and best confirms her sway against domestic revolt or foreign intrigues. The blessings of good government, the education of the people, and careful attention to their health and comfort--these will be found the most effective weapons with which to combat mutiny within, or Russian or any other aggression from abroad. From all we saw in Ceylon we are prepared to put it forth as the best example of English government in the world, England herself not excepted.

SATURDAY, January 25.       

At ten to-night we sailed for Madras and Calcutta by the English mail steamer Hindostan, and were lighted out of the intricate harbor by flaming torches displayed by lines of natives stationed at the buoys.

``Flashes of flambeaux looked
Like Demons guarding the river of death.''

The last sight of Ceylon's isle revealed the fine spires of the Catholic Cathedral, which tower above the pretty harbor of Galle.

A 40% edited down version of the text was published by USIS in the 1976 Bicentennial celebration book Images of Sri Lanka Through American Eyes by H. A. I. Goonetileke. A nice selected anthology of compiled and edited text of Travelers in Ceylon. It is however always interesting to read the full original text

See also other 19th Century Impressions of Ceylon (Sri Lanka)