Colombo, Ceylon

The entertainment of the fleet in Ceylon was measured to the occasion.  The fleet did not arrive by invitation, but in order to coal the ships while transiting the Indian Ocean.  The Governor, Sir Henry McCallum, and Admiral Sperry exchanged visits and it was arranged that 500 men and 75 officers were sent up to Kandy on excursions free of all charge each day.  There were dances at the leading hotels, an afternoon at the home of Lady McCAllum, and a dinner with the Chamber of Commerce and the Planters Association.


Ships Entering

The postcard of the E. L. DeMoss collection, a sailor onboard the USS Kansas, are some of the finest of any from the port visit to Colombo.  At right a photograph of the fleet with the breakwater light in the foreground and a harbor tug leaving the inner harbor.

"When you come home from the Orient by way of the Suez Canal one thing is absolutely certain: you have got to stop at Colombo.  No modern ship ever goes by without stopping.  You must have coal, and the only place to get it between Singapore and Aden is Colombo.  It's a matter of pure business in the first place, but it is also a matter of great pleasure.  Ceylon is one of the worlds's delights to travelers."  Franklin Matthews


The collection of E. L. DeMoss provides views of the harbor and the people waiting on the jetty that are not found elsewhere.  The photograph to the left is a great shot of sailors doing their at anchor routine of cleaning the ship.  Sailors can be seen polishing the gun mount barrels.

"No sooner had the ships been moored than those on board saw one of the famous sights of the place.  The "die, die" boys came out.  A catamaran made up of three logs and paddled by rude sticks would support half a dozen men and boys with strings about their loins and no other covering.  They came alongside and made a terrific chatter.  "Die, die, die, die!" they shouted, meaning that they wanted to dive for coins.  Over went the coins and down went the swimmers, to come up with the coins in their hands.  They stowed the coins in their mouths, for there was no other place to keep them.  When the coins ceased to fall they would break into the old tune, "Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay," and sing it with zest.  Franklin Matthews


Postcards to miss violet mathews

This is a very nice set of cards sent to Miss Violet Mathews.  The cards were acquired in Ceylon but did not get mailed until the ship was in Cairo, Egypt on the 8th of January 1909.


The ships were decorated with palms that had been brought aboard as substitutions to the traditional garlands.  The crews had races and festivities to pass the time.  

This is the New Years Menu from the USS Nebraska, boiled Ham, roast beef, roast turkey, and music by the ships band while at sea.


The photographs above come from the M. R. Battey collection.  These represent some of the finest photographs of the cruise with by a photographer who clearly understood his subject when photographed and captured some amazing shots of the people of Ceylon.  They are quite exceptional for the photographer's use of light and composition to capture the experience of Ceylon.


The Leaf of the Sacred Bo Tree

Possibly one of the most interesting items in my collection from Ceylon is this leaf from the sacred Bodhi Tree of Anuradhapura, Ceylon.  It was given to the Chaplain of the USS Minnesota by a friend and is protected in the original frame with cotton around the leaf for protection.

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is a sacred fig tree in Mahamewna Gardens, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.  It is said to be the southern branch from the historical Sri Maha Bodhi at Buddha Gaya in India under which Buddha attained enlightenment.  The original tree dates to 288 BC and is the oldest lving human-planted tree in the world.


from the photographs of brown & shaffer

"The town scenes were picturesque.  The men wear skirts, and you can only tell them from the women, whom you see rarely, by the fact that the women wear waists.  All are barefooted.  The Cingalese are feminine looking.  They wear tortoise shell combs in their hair, which is done up in a neat knot on the top. And the head wear!  The Mohammedans had tall red fezes and the Tamils had similar shapes of fancy embroidered cloths.  Some hats were flat turbans, some seemed made of brass.  Thousands of rickshaws were in the street, and carriages that had blackmaria-like slats in them, the slats working on a hinge and thrown out at the sides like a shutter."  Franklin Matthews 

the holiday ball at the galle face hotel, colombo, December 17, 1908

This is a great find from the ball that was held at the Galle Face Hotel in honor of the Fleet.  The program includes the songs from the band, menu, and a nice little tear out dance card for Officers to sign up with the ladies for a dance.  The Gale Face is still in business and is one of the finest hotels in Colombo.  The original hotel, built in 1864 has slowly expanded without losing any of the original charm.  I have had a chance to stay at the hotel and felt like a was going back in time for the décor and service.



From the collection of Frank Lesher these two cards.  The Grand Oriental Hotel - One of the finest hotels in Colombo, it was a central point for meeting and arranging plans for the day for Officers and men.  The second card is from the Temple of the Holy Tooth in Kandy.  The temple houses the relic of the tooth of Buddha that has, since ancient times, played an important role in local politics.


the grand oriental hotel

Where else would you stay!  Still alive and well, it was a barracks for the British Army and converted, in 1873 to a hostelry.  The Grand Hotel was officially opened in November 1875 and had 154 luxury and semi-luxury rooms.  The "GOH" was popular with fleet sailors from all over the world who passed through the city on there way east or west.  These two postals from American sailors of the fleet writing home.



kandy and the temple of the tooth

About 75 miles and 2,000 feet in elevation from Colombo is the City of Kandy, home to the Temple of the Tooth, where the sacred tooth of Buddha is kept.  An eye tooth, fully two-inches long, it is enshrined in the temple at Kandy.  Each year in August they take the tooth out and parde it around the streets of the city, traditionally with a 40-elephant procession with priests and ceremony.

When visiting Kandy in 1908, and today, the place to stay is the Queen's Hotel.  Situated close to the temple and parks in the city it was originally opened under the name Queen's Hotel in 1869 and was established as a traditional British Hotel with smoking rooms, billard tables and constructed to include a Royal Ball Room and The Pub Royal.  The drink, "The Lord Moutbatten" served in the lounge after the gent who frequently visited while Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia, based in Kandy!

The booklet at right is from the articles collected by Midshipman Loftquist and is inscribed, "Complements of Mrs. William Scott."

celebrating the holidays

Below are programs for the celebration of Christmas and the New Years on the USS Connecticut.  For the Fleet, Christmas was celebrated in Colombo and they were underway to Suez for New Years.  The itinerary on the back of the Christmas menu shows the schedule before the Messina earthquake caused Connecticut to depart for relief efforts.  At sea between Colombo and Suez the crew of the Connecticut celebrated the New Years with entertainment and sports.  This is the program of events including the "shoe race" and the "pie eating contest."  This program also shows the state of race relations in America at the turn of the New Year in 1909.


a merry christmas and a happy new year.

This is an unusual cabinet card that has a photograph of a collage of postcards from the visit to Yokohama, including one with the American flag, and a larger image of the USS Connecticut, (Muller).  I suspect this was made after leaving Japan, possibly in Manila and then made available to the crew of the Connecticut to mail home during the Holiday Season!   Across the bottom, written in gold lettering "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


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