National Archives of Sri Lanka

Postal address
PO Box 1414
Colombo 7
Sri Lanka
Visiting address
7, Reid Avenue
Colombo 7
+94 (0)112 69 44 19
+94 (0)112 69 44 19

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Opening hours

onday-Friday 9.00-16.30 hrs;
closed on public holidays.

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n general, records are open to the public after thirty years. Some records are exempt from this rule. A number of records are classified; access is restricted unless written permission is obtained.

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he objectives and functions of the National Archives are:

  • ensuring official custody and physical safety for the archives of all public offices and to make them available for reference and study;
  • serving as the country's legal depository;
  • taking care of the administration of the Presidential Archives and providing reference service;
  • taking care of record surveys in public institutions;
  • administering printing presses, printers and publishers, and newspaper ordinances.

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he holdings of the National Archives include the following:

  • public records, consisting of Dutch period records (1640-1796), British period records (1796-1947) and records since the independence (from 1948 onwards);
  • legal deposits, consisting of newspapers in Sri Lanka (from 1832 onward, in Sinhala since 1862, in Tamil since 1864, in English since 1832 and other languages since 1869) and publications printed in Sri Lanka (from 1885 onward);
  • donated, purchased and collected records, consisting of private manuscripts and books of individuals and institutions, historical manuscripts from temples and private individuals, the Horagolla Library of the Bandaranaike family and the Times collection of paper cuttings and photographs;
  • maps of the Portuguese, Dutch and British periods (1505-1947) and maps produced since independence (Surveyor General's maps);
  • microfilms and microfiches of Portuguese records (1505-1656), Dutch records (18th century), British records (19th century), temple manuscripts and newspapers;
  • governmental publications, consisting of Government Gazettes (from 1802 onwards), Blue Books (1821-1837), sessional papers (from 1862 onward), Administration Reports (from 1867 onwards) and Hansards (from 1870 onwards);
  • books on Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka history, archival science, record management and conservation;
  • audio-visual material, consisting of colour slides of temple paintings, cassettes and tapes of folk music and videos containing speeches of Executive Presidents and cultural subjects.
Inside view of the stackroom with VOC archives 

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In the research room various kinds of finding aids are available, such as inventories, summary lists, index cards and other guides, which refer to records as well as newspapers. Advice on research methods, availability of records and the use of finding aids can be obtained from the staff.

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s early as the fifth century AD, an officer was in charge of the King's Archives in Sri Lanka. The nineteenth-century account of Hay Macdowall reveals that an officer called "Maha Mohotti" maintained the archives of the Palace of Kandy during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Systematic record-keeping, however, was introduced by the Dutch who occupied the coastal districts of Sri Lanka between 1640 and 1796. Their archives were kept at Galle between 1640 and 1656 and after that period in Colombo. In 1901, under the British, the post of archivist was created, and the Department of Government Archives was established in 1947. After independence in 1948, the National Archives Law no. 48 was enacted in 1973 and the Department of National Archives was established. In 1981 the Presidential Archives and reference service was created to preserve the official and semi-official records of the Executive Presidents. The current repository is an impressive building that was constructed between 1970 and 1976. Subsequently, the archives were transferred to this building. Since 1986, the repository's capacities have been fully utilized.

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he National Archives comprise the following divisions:

  • general administration;
  • records and archives management;
  • technical/conservation and repair;
  • microfilming/reprography;
  • computer;
  • repositories;
  • public relations;
  • exhibitions;
  • registration of books and newspapers.


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There is a Branch Office in Kandy (Hemamali Mawatha, Kandy; telephone: 0823729). It keeps records pertaining to the Kandyan province and some record groups of public offices. A reader's ticket to consult these records has to be obtained from the Head Office in Colombo.

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he National Archives provide the following services:

  • administrative and historical information to public offices and other institutions;
  • research facilities for administrators and the public;
  • reprographic facilities, such as microfilming, digital scanning and reader-printer copies;
  • technical and scientific advice on conservation and restoration of records, books and other documentary material;
  • annual support of the conservation of the archives of 24 temples;
  • advice to public offices on records and archives management;
  • advice on establishing and maintaining of record rooms;
  • technical management of the J.R. Jayewardene Research Centre;
  • production of documents to courts and giving evidence on them;
  • advice on microfilming of records;
  • research on Sri Lanka history, archives and record management, lectures and publications on professional themes;
  • provision and organization of exhibitions;
  • assistance to the private sector on records and archives management;
  • issue of licences to export books and records pertaining to Sri Lanka;
  • registration of printers, presses, publications and newspapers.

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he following publications are for sale (titles in Sinhala not included):

  • Ceylon National Congress (4 volumes; 1977)
  • D.S. Senanayake - A Pictorial Biography (1984)
  • The Sri Lanka Archives (3 volumes; 1983-1986)
  • Wimalaratne, K.D.G., K.D. Paranavithana and S.S.K. Wickramayanake eds., Guide to the Sources of Asian History. Sri Lanka, vol. 1 (Colombo 1996)

The following professional publications are available on request (titles in Sinhala not included):

  • Audio-Visual Records Care and Handling
  • Conservation and Preservation of Paper Records
  • Current Records Management in Sri Lanka
  • Disposal of Public Records in Sri Lanka
  • Guide to Records Management
  • Public Access to Public Records
  • Writings on Records and Archives Management in Sri Lanka

Other titles concerning the National Archives and its holdings include:

  • Anthonisz, R.G., Catalogue of the Records of the Province of Galle under the Rule of the Netherlands East India Company, A.D. 1640 - A.D. 1796 (Colombo 1906)
  • Anthonisz, R.G., Report on the Dutch Records in the Government Archives at Colombo (Colombo 1907)
  • Anthonisz, R.G., "The Government Archives", JDBUC, 18, 4 (1929)
  • Blusse, L., "The National Archives of Sri Lanka", Itinerario, 6, 1 (1982)
  • Juriaanse, M.W., "Report on the Dutch archives, August 1938", Sessional Paper, 9 (Colombo 1938)
  • Juriaanse, M.W., Catalogue of the Archives of the Dutch Central Government of Coastal Ceylon 1640-1796 (Colombo 1943)
  • Kan, J. van, Compagniesbescheiden en aanverwante archivalia in Britsch-Indië en op Ceylon (Batavia 1931)
  • Kan, J. van, "Government Archives of Colombo", JDBUC, 21 (1932)
  • Meilink-Roelofsz, M.A.P., R. Raben and H. Spijkerman eds., De archieven van de Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie. The Archives of the Dutch East India Company (1602-1795) (The Hague 1992)
  • Molsbergen, Godee, "Report on the Dutch Records in the Government Archives at Colombo, 1929", Sessional Paper, 9 (1929)
  • Mottau, S.A.W., Inventory of the Archives of the Dutch Government in the Divisions of Galle (Matara) and Jaffnapatam 1640-1796 (The Hague 1975)
  • Mottau, S.A.W., "Archival Collections for Studies of the Dutch in Ceylon", Journal of the Dutch Burgher Union of Ceylon, 60 (1982)
  • Mottau, S.A.W., "Glossary of Terms used in Official Correspondence of the Governement of Sri Lanka, compiled from Records at the National Archives", The Sri Lanka Archives, 3 (1985-1986)
  • Opstall, M.E. van ed., Inventory of the Archives of the Dutch Government in the Divisions of Galle (Matara) and Jaffnapatnam 1640-1796 by S.A.W. Mottau. With a List of Reconstructed 17th century Tombos by J.S. Wigboldus and Addenda to the Catalogue of the Archives of the Dutch Central Government of Coastal Ceylon (The Hague 1975)
  • Paranavitana, K.D., "A Report from the Archives of Sri Lanka", Itinerario, 6, 1 (1982)
  • Paranavitana, K.D., "The Archives of the ' Waare Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk' (True Christian Reformed Church in Sri Lanka)", The Sri Lanka Archives, 1 (1983)
  • Reimers, E., The Dutch Parish Registers (School Thombos) of Ceylon, Ambalangoda, Patabendimulla, Welitara and Kosgoda (n.p. 1950)
  • Silva, G.P.S.H. de, "Sri Lanka Archival Sources for a Study of the History of the Country", in K.M. de Silva, S. Kiribamune and C.R. de Silva eds., Asian Panorama. Essays in Asian History, Past and Present (Delhi 1990)

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The VOC archives in Colombo

he Dutch first appeared on Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was referred to at that time) in 1602. The Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC, Dutch East India Company) only settled down in 1638 at Batticaloa, and made Galle its regional headquarters in 1640. When the VOC ousted the Portuguese from the Island in the late 1650's, the seat of the Dutch Governor was shifted to Colombo in 1656. Other important settlements included Trincomalee, Jaffna, Negombo, Matara, Mannar and Kalutara. Tuticorin and the other factories on India's Fishery Coast were also administered from Colombo, as were the Company's contacts with the Maldives. In the course of time, the VOC extended its control to all Ceylon's coastal districts. Here, some of the most productive cinnamon areas were located, which spice was the Island's prime commodity. In 1796 Ceylon was surrendered to the British.

The archives of the Dutch administration of Ceylon (record group 1) have been preserved in a fairly intact state. They stretch approximately 310 running metres and cover the period 1640-1796. The bulk of these archives is made up of the documents of the administrative bodies of the capital Colombo (c. 70%) and Galle (c. 30%). Only some smaller or larger fragments of the archives of the subordinate settlements have survived. The archives of the chief settlement in Colombo are described by M.W. Juriaanse in the Catalogue of the Archives of the Dutch Central Government of Coastal Ceylon 1640-1796 (Colombo 1943). Although not immediately apparent from the inventory, these archives present the picture of typical establishment archives based on the correspondence with superiors in the Dutch Republic or in Batavia, alongside with the resoluties (proceedings) with annexes and dagregisters (diaries) of the local administration, and archives from the various subordinate establishments.

There is a large series of resoluties with annexes of the Governor and Council, with the companion series of secret resoluties, and the resoluties from special departments. Besides these, there are various series of incoming and outgoing letters (ordinary, secret and from the internal and military departments), which are divided into the categories Patria (fatherland) and Cape of Good Hope, Batavia, various subordinate settlements, and other establishments in the octrooigebied (the area where the VOC was licensed to conduct trade). It is remarkable that dagregisters from Colombo are absent. These must have existed, considering the fact that parts of them are enclosed in the overgekomen brieven en papieren in the VOC archives in the Netherlands.

One chapter in the inventory, 'internal affairs', includes all sorts of series of documents concerning particular subjects, as well as protocollen van civiele akten (protocols of civil deeds) and legislation. Another chapter, 'external affairs', not only contains correspondence with other VOC establishments (it is not clear why these were not put together with the other correspondence), but also includes treaties and correspondence with local authorities and representatives of other European powers. Besides the archives of the Governor and Council, there are holdings from the hoofdadministrateur (head of trade) and from the dessave (district chief) of Colombo. The archives of the dessave contain a rich collection of tombos (a kind of cadastral registers). There are also extensive archives of the Raad van Justitie (Council of Justice) relating to both civil and criminal actions, and of lower-ranking legal bodies such as the landraad (court of first instance) and the civiele raad. Among the records of temporary governmental committees and persons are the archives of the Geheime Commissie (Secret Committee responsible for the conduct of the war with Kandy 1762-1766), consisting of resoluties and correspondence, and those of a few special committees which were sent from the Netherlands.

"Example of treasures..."

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In addition, there are considerable holdings from the subordinate offices at Galle, Matara, Jaffna and Wanni. These are particularly important because such subordinate offices had fewer direct relations with the central authorities in Batavia and the Dutch Republic, so that there is less about them to be found in the VOC archives in the Netherlands. An inventory of these holdings has been compiled by M.E. van Opstall ed.: Inventory of the Archives of the Dutch Government in the Divisions of Galle (Matara) and Jaffnapatnam 1640-1796 by S.A.W. Mottau. With a List of Reconstructed 17th century Tombos by J.S. Wigboldus and Addenda to the Catalogue of the Archives of the Dutch Central Government of Coastal Ceylon (The Hague 1975).

The Galle archives contain the usual series of resoluties, correspondence with the superiors in Colombo, Batavia and the Dutch Republic, registers of wills, protocollen van civiele akten of the secretaries, appointments registers, reports of diplomatic missions, registers containing instructions to local functionaries, dagregisters, auction books and land registers. In addition, there are the archives of separate offices and committees such as the negotieboekhouder (trade accountant, which actually contains little about book-keeping but a lot of administrative documents), the tombo committee (the main part of which is comprised of population lists), and the school board. There are also large archives from the Raad van Justitie in Galle and of the landraad of the Galle district. The remaining archives of the district of Matara, then subordinate to Galle, mainly date from the last period of the Company administration. They contain both the holdings of the dessave as well as that of the landraad. As far as their composition goes, they are similar to the archives of Galle. With the exception of a series of tombos, the Jaffna archives contain only a few fragments. The same is true for the archives of the district administration of Wanni, of which also just a few fragments remain.

Furthermore, the National Archives keep the archives of the Consistory of the Dutch Reformed Church or Wolvendaal Kerk (record group 24), which was founded in 1642. According to its administration, Ceylon was divided into three ecclesiastical districts called Consistories: Colombo, Jaffna and Galle. The council of each Consistory was formed by the predikanten with two or three elders and six Deacons. The members of the council were all chosen by vote, the election being subject to the approval of the Government. The Church sent annual reports to the Dutch Republic on its state and progress on the island. The archives cover the period 1735-1837, and are in Dutch, Sinhala and English. They consist of the minute books of the Church and a Dutch-Sinhala dictionary compiled by Anos Comenius in the eighteenth century. At present, the archives are only accessible with the help of a file list.

In the framework of the TANAP (Towards A New Age of Partnership) programme, the physical condition of the Dutch archives in Colombo has been assessed according to the UPAA (Universal Procedure for Archival Assessment). About three-fifths is severely damaged and hardly fit for consultation. Paper repair and microfilming have been started in 2002. Moreover, four meters miscellaneous documents, often fragments, have to be sorted out.

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