‘Between Colombo and the Cape’ – a unique collection of letters

Herman Tieken, fellow at LIAS in Leiden, has edited, translated and annotated the letters sent by family and friends to convict Nicolaas Ondaatje in exile at the Cape of Good Hope.

Ten years in exile

On 14 February 1728, the convict Nicolaas Ondaatje arrived from Colombo at the Cape of Good Hope, which for the next ten years was to be his place of exile. In spite of his Dutch-sounding name, Ondaatje was a Christian Tamil, a native of Colombo. There are no court records to indicate what he was accused of. He died in exile in August 1737, only a few months before the end of his term.

Unique collection of letters

During all those years Nicolaas maintained contact with his home country through letters. His own letters have been lost, but those written by family and friends in Colombo and Galle have been preserved, and have now been edited and translated by Herman Tieken. Most of the letters are in Tamil, although there is also one in Sinhala and several in Dutch. Nicolaas Ondaatje had a command of all these languages. From a South Asian perspective this is a unique collection, as there are no earlier examples of a private correspondence in any of the subcontinent’s languages. The letters show how multilingual Ceylon was at that time and give an intimate picture of an early eighteenth-century elite community in Ceylon employed by the Dutch East India Company.

Series on Dutch Sources in South Asia

Dr Herman Tieken

Dr Herman Tieken

The work is the sixth in the series on Dutch Sources on South Asia 1600-1825. The main objective of this series is to make these often extremely rich and rare sources accessible to a wider English-speaking public.


Between Colombo and the Cape:  Letters in Tamil, Dutch and Sinhala, sent to Nicolaas Ondaatje from Ceylon, Exile at the Cape of Good Hope (1728-1737)

Author:  Herman Tieken
Publisher: Manohar, Delhi

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Website Dr H.J.H. Tieken

Laatst Gewijzigd: 16-04-2015