The Ceylon Blue Books | Sunday Observer

The Ceylon Blue Books

15 October, 2017

Government publications deposited in the National Archives are open for the public. Government publications are documents and information produced by the government organisations. Information on various fields in the British period were recorded in the government publications such as,

Government Gazettes - 1802-1900
The Ceylon Almanac - 1815 -1861
The Ceylon Civil Lists 1863 -1962
The Ceylon Blue Books -1821 – 1937
Sessional Papers - 1860 onwards
Administration Reports - 1867
Hansard - 1870 onwards
Ordinances (before 1949) and Parliamentary Acts (from 1949 up to date.

Contemporary statistical compendiums such as The Ceylon Calendar or The Ceylon Fergusons Directory.

The Ceylon Blue Book was published during the early nineteenth century of the British governing period of Ceylon. This is known as a government publication submitted in the 31st December of each year.It was published to display the progress of the colonial Government.It was an important record of total revenue and expenditure of the government of Sri Lanka for each year.

This book was commenced in 1821although, it was started to print since 1862. It is very difficult to read the handwritings in the Ceylon Blue Books from 1821-1861, because of the poor physical condition.In 1937 they stopped to printing of this publication. Because the cover is blue, it is called Blue Book.

This publication was issued under the orders of Government. The information was contributed by the Colonial Secretary’s Office, Department of Census and Statistics, Department of the Registrar-General, Director of Commercial Intelligence and Department of Commerce and Industries. Blue Books contain statistical information on various activities of the country and submitted to the British Government by the Governor of Ceylon through the Secretary of State for Colonies every year.

By the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, more revenue from the government was depended on plantation economy and affiliate commerce and distribution activities. Hence, this publicationcovers a number of different fields and also describe the basic facts of various statistical fields. Namely,

Taxes, duties, fees and other sources of revenue

Revenue and expenditure – comparative yearly statement of revenue and expenditure.

Public Debt

Public works

Accounts of the Ceylon

Government Railway

Government electrical


Municipalities and other local


Irrigation works


Political franchise

The Board of Ministers and

the State Council

Foreign Consuls

Places of worship

Population and statistics



Currency, Banking and

weights and measures

Import and Export


Production and Natural Resources

Labour, Wages and cost of


Prisons and Prisoners


Hospitals Returns

Lunatic Asylum

Charitable and Friendly



Savings Banks, Agricultural loan

Banks and Co-operative Societies


Steamship Services


Motor Vehicles


Port and Telegraph Statistics


It can be proved accuracy of the detail in various fields compare with this publication. It includes statistical information and general information on Ceylon.An important feature of this publication is the discussion of information on revenue and expenditure in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century under the heading of public institutions.Also useful is the list of the diagrams.This publication often reflects the flow of the statistical view of the progress of Ceylon under the British Government.


Another valuable Government publications areThe Ceylon Almanac available between 1815 and 1862 and The Ceylon Civil List from 1863 to 1962 at the Department of National Archives. These publications consist of a list of government officials. These publications include information on Members of the Legislative and Executive Boards, Calendars in the relevant years, Dates and important events,weight and measures, Hight (from sea level) in various provinces, Traditional Sinhale designation and meaning in English, Name of the Dutch Governors and their period were mentioned in some Ceylon publications, Officers of the Colonial Secretary’s Office and their names, Audit office, Colonial Treasury, a list of civil servants, date of their appointment for civil service and date of resignation from their posts, name of their clerks etc. Civil service of the government of Ceylon established in 1833.It was abolished on 1 May 1963. It was renamed after the declaration of the republic in 1972 as the Sri Lankan Administrative Service. At the present, it is the key of administrative service of the Government.The origins of the civil service goes to back to 1798, when the Secretary of State for the Colonies appointed several officers to help the British Governor of Ceylon in the administration of the coastal areas. An advisory Council was formed to assist the Governor in 1802. It also included civil servants.In 1815 the Kingdom of Kandy was taken over by the British. Sir John D’Oyly was appointed along with a Board of Commissioners as a civil servant.According to the Ceylon Colebrook - Cameron recommendations, Civil Service was established in 1833 tocontrol the functioning of the administration of the island under the directive of the Governor.

The Ceylon Government Gazettes

In the British colonial era, the Ceylon Government Gazettes was given a great place to retravel of information on British colonial period. The first Gazette was issued on 15th March 1802. In the early stages, this publication was printed once a week with number and the date.Firstly, this publication was priced at two Riks Dollar.This was started to notice on official activities and other news in the British period.This is a legitimate record about the state policy. Just like today, policies, regulations and the notices of the Government are published through the Government Gazettes.The first ones included in the gazette were divided into several sections. Such as, Government Notification, arrival and departure of ships, a list of the passengers, reports on Westminster parliament in England, abstract of important features from newspapers of England, information on arts, science and commerce in Ceylon.

Very few newspapers have been published during this time. Namely, Lanka Lokaya (1860), Colombo Journal (1832), Colombo Observer (1834), Ceylon Times and Examiner among them. Hence, Even the works of the newspaper were carried out by the Ceylon Government Gazette.For examples advertisements, the time table for trains and also the above mentioned detail were included. This publication is a very important reference media for researchers, because it has the authority of the government.

Administration Reports

This Government publication was published since1867 up to now. Duties performed within year were submitted as a report by the Government Agents, Head of the Departments or public institutions. These reports are called Administration Reports.

It includes their performance, achieving goals, progress of the institution, important decisions taken, statement of revenue and expenditure and structure of the institute, starting the new extensions etc.This gives a brief administrative history of public offices,Whereas it provides information about a particular Department along with its branches, and other administrative changes.

Sessional Papers

This publication was published since 1860 onwards. Sessional papers were approved by the Legislative Council. After getting approval from the Legislative Council or Parliament, it can be published.During the period between 1860 and 1931 Sessional Peppers were forwarded to the Legislative Council, From 1931 to 1947 to the State Council of Ceylon, between 1947 and 1972 to the House of Representatives,from 1972 to 1978 to the National State Assembly and After 1978 to the Parliament respectively. Reports on Commissions appointed in relation some matters are published in the Sessional Papers. Maps, plans, diagrams, statistics and pictures related government institutions are available in the Sessional Papers.

Ceylon Hansard

This publication was started to print systematically in 1870. Hansard related to the Legislative Council, the State Council of Ceylon, the House of Representatives, Senate, the National State Assembly and the parliament are available.The first legislature established in Ceylon according to the recommendations of the Colebrook-Cameron commission in 1833. This Legislative Council was dissolved and state Council of Ceylon was establishedby the Donoughmore Constitution in 1931. A new bicameral parliament was established by. Soulbury Commission in 1947.

Senate and the House of Representatives were introduced. The Senate was abolished in 1971.The House of representatives was replaced with the National state Assembly. This name was changed as the Parliament of Sri Lanka when the constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka was enacted in 1977.

All these Government publications mentioned here give various aspects of information on various fields in Ceylon.Publishing government publications can get the result in fruitful new trends collaborations.These Government publications are obviously an essential feature of the National Archives.

These are easy to refer the details relevant to their subjects or topic ofresearch through particular list of collection. Research Scholars depend heavily upon these Government publications. If the government publications are properly arranged and ready availability is there it can be easily available to scholars and professionals.

When a researcher comes to an National Archives institution, he would like to know about the information what he wants, so that he may be able to find out the availability of relevant material pertaining to his subject of research.

The Government publications are the best reference media so far available for tracing out any kind of information.

It is more helpful in tracing out the information more quickly as compared to other reference sources. These government publications help in writing organizational history. Administration, Reports Sessional papers and the Ceylon blue Books content are quite comprehensive in comparison with the primary sources. 

The writer is Assistant Director
Visiting Lecturer, Department of Library Science and information,
University of Kelaniya