Sketches of Natural History of Ceylon eBook

J. Emerson Tennent
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 590 pages of information about Sketches of Natural History of Ceylon.

Cermatia 473

The Calling Crab (Gelusimus) 477

Eyes and Teeth of the Leech 480

Land Leeches preparing to attack 481

Medicinal Leech of Ceylon 483



With the exception of the Mammalia and Birds, the fauna of Ceylon has, up to the present, failed to receive that systematic attention to which its richness and variety most amply entitle it.  The Singhalese themselves, habitually indolent, and singularly unobservant of nature and her operations, are at the same time restrained from the study of natural history by the tenet of their religion which forbids the taking of life under any circumstances.  From the nature of their avocations, the majority of the European residents, engaged in planting and commerce, are discouraged by want of leisure from cultivating the taste; and it is to be regretted that, with few exceptions, the civil servants of the government, whose position and duties would have afforded them influence and extended opportunities for successful investigation, have never seen the importance of encouraging such studies.

The first effective impulse to the cultivation of natural science in Ceylon, was communicated by Dr. Davy when connected with the medical staff[1] of the army from 1816 to 1820, and his example stimulated some of the assistant-surgeons of Her Majesty’s forces to make collections in illustration of the productions of the colony.  Of these the late Dr. Kinnis was one of the most energetic and successful.  He was seconded by Dr. Templeton of the Royal Artillery, who engaged assiduously in the investigation of various orders, and commenced an interchange of specimens with Mr. Blyth[2], the distinguished naturalist and curator of the Calcutta Museum.  The birds and rarer vertebrata of the island were thus compared with their peninsular congeners, and a tolerable knowledge of those belonging to the island, so far as regards the higher classes of animals, has been the result.  The example so set was perseveringly followed by Mr. E.L.  Layard and the late Dr. Kelaart, and infinite credit is due to Mr. Blyth for the zealous and untiring energy with which he has devoted his attention and leisure to the identification of the specimens forwarded from Ceylon, and to their description in the Calcutta Journal.  To him, and to the gentlemen I have named, we are mainly indebted for whatever accurate knowledge we now possess of the zoology of the colony.

[Footnote 1:  Dr. DAVY, brother to the illustrious Sir Humphry Davy, published, in 1821, his Account of the Interior of Ceylon and its Inhabitants, which contains the earliest notice of the Natural History of the island, and especially of its ophidian reptiles.]

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