Ceylon from the British Empire. It was initiated around the turn of the 20th century lead mostly by the educated middle class and ultimately was successful when February 4, 1948 Ceylon was granted independence as the Dominion of Ceylon. Dominion status within the British Commonwealth was retained for the next 24 years until May 22, 1972 when it became a republic and was renamed the Republic of Sri Lanka. (The formal ceremony marking the start of self-rule, with the opening of the first parliament at Independence Square by Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester in the presence of Rt Hon D.S. Senanayake as first Prime Minister of Ceylon)
The British Raj was dominant in Asia after the Battle of Assaye; following the Battle of Waterloo the British Empire became the world superpower. Its appearance of omnipotence was only briefly dented by setbacks in India, Afghanistan and South Africa. It was virtually unchallenged until 1914.
The formation of the Batavian Republic in the Netherlands as an ally and of the French Directory, led to a British attack on Ceylon in 1795 as part of England's war against the French Republic. The Kandyan Kingdom collaborated with the British expeditionary forces against the Dutch, as it had with the Dutch against the Portuguese.
Once the Dutch had been evicted, their sovereignty ceded by the Treaty of Amiens and subsequent revolts in the low-country suppressed, the British began planning to capture the Kandyan Kingdom. The 1803 and 1804 invasions of the Kandyan provinces in the 1st Kandyan War were bloodily defeated. In 1815, the British fomented a revolt by the Kandyan aristocracy against the last Kandyan monarch and marched into uplands to depose him in the 2nd Kandyan War.
The struggle against the colonial power began in 1817 with the Uva Rebellion, when the same aristocracy rose against British rule in a rebellion in which their villagers participated. They were defeated by the occupiers. An attempt at rebellion sparked again briefly in 1830. The Kandyan peasantry were stripped of their lands by the Wastelands Ordinance, a modern enclosure movement and reduced to penury.
In 1848 the abortive Matale Rebellion, led by Hennedige Francisco Fernando (Puran Appu) and Gongalegoda Banda was the first transitional step towards abandoning the feudal form of revolt, being fundamentally a peasant revolt. The masses were without the leadership of their native King (deposed in 1815) or their chiefs (either crushed after the Uva Rebellion or collaborating with the colonial power). The leadership passed for the first time in the Kandyan provinces into the hands of ordinary people, non-aristocrats. The leaders were yeomen-artisans, resembling the Levellers in England's revolution and mechanics such as Paul Revere and Tom Paine who were at the heart of the American Revolution. However, in the words of Colvin R. de Silva, 'it had leaders but no leadership. The old feudalists were crushed and powerless. No new class capable of leading the struggle and heading it towards power had yet arisen.
In the 1830s, coffee was introduced into Sri Lanka, a crop which flourishes in high altitudes, and grown on the land taken from the peasants. The principal impetus to this development of capitalist production in Sri Lanka was the decline in coffee production in the West Indies, following the abolition of slavery there.
However, the dispossessed peasantry were not employed on the plantations: The Kandyan villagers refused to abandon their traditional subsistence holdings and become wage-workers in the nightmarish conditions that prevailed on these new estates, despite all the pressure exerted by the colonial state. The British therefore had to draw on its reserve army of labour in India, to man its lucrative new outpost to the south. An infamous system of contract labour was established, which transported hundreds of thousands of Tamil 'coolies' from southern India into Sri Lanka for the coffee estates. These Tamils labourers died in tens of thousands both on the journey itself as well as on the plantations.
The coffee economy collapsed in the 1870s, when coffee blight ravaged the plantations, but the economic system it had created survived intact into the era of its successor, tea which was introduced on a wide scale from 1880 onwards. Tea was more capital-intensive and needed a higher volume of initial investment to be processed, so that individual estate-owners were now supplanted by large English consolidated companies based either in London ('sterling firms') or Colombo ('rupee firms'). Monoculture was thus increasingly capped by monopoly within the plantation economy. The pattern thus created in the 19th century remained in existence down to 1972. The only significant modification to the colonial economy was the addition of a rubber sector in the mid-country areas.