Ceylon (the Taprobane of the Greeks and Romans, and the Serendib of the Arabian Nights), a British crown colony in the Indian Ocean, is an island to the south-east of India, from which it is separated by the Gulf of Manaar and Palk Strait, 32 to 120 miles broad. Extreme length from north to south, 266 miles; greatest width, 140 miles. Area, 23,330 sq. m., of which about one-sixth is under cultivation. In natural scenery Ceylon can vie with any part of the world; and as its magnificent hills rise from the sapphire ocean, clothed with the rich luxuriance of a tropical vegetation, it seems to the voyager like some enchanted island of Eastern story. Undulating plains cover about four parts of the island, and the fifth is occupied by the mountain-zone of the central south, which has an elevation of from 6000 to 8000 feet above the sea-level. Pedrotalla-galla attains the height of 8260 feet; Adam's Peak, 7420 feet; and the tableland of Nuwara-Eliya, 6210 feet. The mountain-system is mainly composed of metamorphic rocks, chiefly gneiss, frequently broken up by intrusive granite. With the exception of some local beds of dolomitic limestone, the gneiss is everywhere the surface rock, and the soil is composed of its disintegrated materials. Iron can be obtained in great quantities, and anthracite and rich veins of plumbago exist on the southern range of hills. Gold has recently been found. The gems of Ceylon have been celebrated from time immemorial, and include sapphires, rubies, the oriental topaz, garnets, amethysts, cinnamon stone, and cat's-eye. The pearl-fisheries of Ceylon, known at a very remote date, form a government monopoly, and are under the inspection of an officer, who reports when a sufficient number of pearl-yielding oysters have reached maturity. The fishings occur at irregular dates. The value of pearls obtained varies from £10,000 in some years to £60,000 in others; there was no fishing from 1892 till 1904.
The most important river in Ceylon is the Mahavila-ganga, which drains more than 4000 sq. m. Galle and Trincomalee are the only great natural harbours; but harbour improvements have concentrated the commerce of the island at Colombo, the capital of the island. At Trincomalee are the naval stores and dockyard. In climate, Ceylon has a great advantage over the mainland of India, and as an island enjoys a more equable temperature. The average for the year in Colombo is 80° in ordinary seasons. The beautiful tableland of Nuwara-Eliya is used as a sanatorium. Here the thermometer in the shade never rises above 70°, while the average is 62°; the nights are cool and refreshing. The general botanical features of Ceylon are in many respects similar to those of Southern India; but about 800 species of pants are peculiar to the island. Of animals the quadrumana are represented by the Loris gracilis and five species of monkeys. Sixteen species of bats exist in Ceylon, including the flying-fox. Of the larger carnivora, the bear and leopard; and of the smaller, the palm-cat and the glossy genette (the civet of Europeans) may be mentioned. The tiger is not met with in Ceylon. Deer, buffaloes, and the humped ox of India are plentiful, and the wild boar occurs. The elephant, which is for the most part tusk-less, is emphatically lord of the forests of Ceylon. Whales are captured off the coast. Three hundred and twenty species of birds are found. The crocodile is the largest reptile in the island; tortoises and lizards are also found. There are a few species of venomous snakes.
The Singhalese (Sinhalese, also spelt Cingalese), the most numerous of the natives of Ceylon, are supposed to be the descendants of those colonists from the valley of the Ganges who first settled in the island 543 B.C., and speak an Aryan language closely allied to the Pali or modernised Sanskrit. The Kandyans, or Highlanders, are a more sturdy race. The Malabars, or Tamils, have sprung from those early invaders of Ceylon who from time to time swept across from Southern Hindustan. The Moormen, of Arab descent, are enterprising traders. The 'burghers' of Ceylon are people of Portuguese and Dutch descent, who have become naturalised. There is besides a remarkable tribe of outcasts - the Veddahs - hardly removed from the wild animals of the forest. The Singhalese are devoted to Buddhism, which has, however, been adulterated with Brah-manism. The most celebrated Buddhistic relic in Ceylon is the so-called sacred tooth of Gautama or Buddha, really a piece of discoloured ivory, which is guarded with jealous care at Kandy. Another is the sacred Bo-tree of Anuradhapura. Brahmanism or Hinduism is the faith of the Tamils or Malabars, and the Moormen are Mohammedans. After the expulsion of the Dutch Christians, Protestant missions to the natives of Ceylon were commenced by the Baptists in 1813. The Wesleyan Methodists followed in 1814, the Americans in 1816, the Church of England in 1818. Schools, collegiate institutions, and female seminaries, under the direction of the missionaries, are in successful operation; and there is a government system of education. Amongst the antiquities of Ceylon are dagobas or relic-shrines, cave-temples and other temples, and viharas or monasteries; also the ruined tanks, singular monuments of the former greatness of the Singhalese. Thirty colossal reservoirs, and about 700 smaller tanks, still exist, though for the most part in ruins. The restoration of these magnificent works of irrigation is being carried on by the government.
Coffee was long the chief commercial product of the island; but in 1869 a fungus (Hemileia vastatrix) attacked the leaves of the coffee-trees, and though everything was tried to mitigate or overcome the pest, it steadily increased in virulence, and the coffee-planters were obliged to turn their attention to other products of the soil. Cinchona, cacao, cardamoms, and many other plants were tried with varying success, but it soon became plain that Ceylon was capable of becoming a great tea-producing country, and tea has become the chief factor in restoring the financial equilibrium. Cinnamon and cocoa-nut cultivation are chiefly in the hands of natives; tea, cinchona, cacao, and cardamom cultivation in the hands of Europeans. The export of coffee fell from 995,493 cwt. in 1873 to 10,315 cwt. in 1902. In 1878 3515 lb. of tea were exported; in 1900-4 over 150,000,000 lb. a year. The other exports are cinchona, cocoa, coco-nut oil, cinnamon, cardamoms, plumbago, tobacco, coir, copra, and cordage - mainly to India and Britain. The chief-imports from Britain are cotton goods, iron and' iron goods, coal, and machinery; but the chief import is rice from India. In the early years of the 20th century the exports to Britain averaged £3,500,000 a year, and the imports from Britain £2,100,000.
Ceylon, the largest of the British crown colonies, is administered by a governor aided by executive and legislative councils (the former consisting of five members, the latter of fifteen, partially elective), and municipal councils. Local boards and village tribunals give a measure of self-government to the people. The population of Ceylon, 2,763,984 at the census of 1881, rose by 1901 to 3,578,333, of whom 2,331,045 are Singhalese, 953,535 Tamil immigrants and settlers, 228,706 Moormen (Mohammedans of Arab descent), 9509 Europeans, 23,539 Eurasian descendants of Portuguese and Dutch, 3971 Yeddahs, and 11,963 Malays. The revenue in 1882 was 12,161,570 rupees, and in 1902 was 27,19S,056 rupees. The expenditure had risen from 12,494,664 rupees in 1882 to 26,341,878 in 1902. In the latter year the rupee had depreciated to 1s. 4d. Buddhism was introduced into Ceylon in 307 B.C. In 237 B.C. the Malabar mercenaries usurped supreme power, which they retained till 1071 a.d., when for 100 years a native dynasty ruled, the reign of Prakrama (from 1153 a.d. on) being the most glorious in the annals of Ceylon. The Malabars struggled with the native dynasties till 1517, when the Portuguese established themselves in the island, to be expelled by the Dutch in 1658; and it was not till the great French wars at the end of the 18th century that the Dutch ceded all their powers and possessions here to Britain, the island being formally annexed to the British crown in 1815.
See various works by John Ferguson (1898, etc.); Two Happy Years in Ceylon, by Miss Gordon Camming (1891); and the Official Handbook (1900) by Davidson.