Robert Knox (1641-1720) was an English seafarer and author. When he landed, without permission, at the east coast of Sri Lanka in 1659, he was arrested by soldiers of the Kandyan king Sinhala Rajasinha II, who was in charge of this part of the island near the mouth of the Mahaweli River. Robert Knox was brought to Kandy, where he became a prisoner of the king. Nevertheless, some liberties were permitted to him. He was allowed to move freely within Kandy and to found his own business. He could visit locals and even meet the king regularly. Knox started to go native, stripping to a Sinhalese loincloth. After almost 20 years in captivity Knox finally managed to escape to the Dutch controlled north of the island. On the way to the Jaffna peninsula he crossed the ancient city of Anuradhapura, which had already been in ruins for centuries and had never been visited by a Westerner before.
On his voyage home, Robert Knox wrote a book about his time in Sri Lanka. He had to recollect it, because he had no writing materials during the long period of his captivity. His “Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon” is both a genuine adventure novel and a historical record of unprecedented value, since Robert Knox gave an authentic portrayal of everyday life in the Kingdom of Kandy in the 17th century, until then not a common subject of historiography and sparsely mentioned in Sri Lanka’s Pali chronicles. This very first record on Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in English language is in four parts. The first three deal with the island’s nature, agriculture, handicraft, government, court life, religion, and social customs. Part four is the story of his personal captivity in Kandy and his dramatic escape in 1679. The record of Robert Knox was soon translated into foreign languages. To some extent it influenced the writings of Daniel Defoe, author of “Robinson Crusoe” and “Captain Singleton”.
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