This evil might easily be avoided by retaining the present bona fide price of the land per acre, qualified by an arrangement that one-half of the purchase money should be expended in the formation of roads from the land in question. This would be of immense assistance to the planters, especially in a populous planting neighborhood, where the purchases of land were large and numerous, in which case the aggregate sum would be sufficient to form a carriage road to the main highway, which might be kept in repair by a slight toll. An arrangement of this kind is not only fair to the planters, but would be ultimately equally beneficial to the government. Every fresh sale of land would ensure either a new road or the improvement of an old one; and the country would be opened up through the most remote districts. This very fact of good communication would expedite the sales of crown lands, which are now valueless from their isolated position.
Coffee-planting in Ceylon has passed through the various stages inseparable from every "mania."
In the early days of our possession, the Kandian district was little known, and sanguine imaginations painted the hidden prospect in their ideal colors, expecting that a trace once opened to the interior would be the road to fortune.
How these golden expectations have been disappointed the broken fortunes of many enterprising planters can explain.
The protective duty being withdrawn, a competition with foreign coffee at once reduced the splendid prices of olden times to a more moderate standard, and took forty per cent. out of the pockets of the planters. Coffee, which in those days brought from one hundred shillings to one hundred and forty shillings per hundred-weight, is now reduced to from sixty shillings to eighty shillings.
This sudden reduction created an equally sudden panic among the planters, many of whom were men of straw, who had rushed to Ceylon at the first cry of coffee "fortunes," and who had embarked on an extensive scale with borrowed capital. These were the first to smash. In those days the expenses of bringing land into cultivation were more than double the present rate, and, the cultivation of coffee not being so well understood, the produce per acre was comparatively small. This combination of untoward circumstances was sufficient cause for the alarm which ensued, and estates were thrust into the market and knocked down for whatever could be realized. Mercantile houses were dragged down into the general ruin, and a dark cloud settled over the Cinnamon isle.
As the after effects of a "hurricane" are a more healthy atmosphere and an increased vigor in all vegetation, so are the usual sequels to a panic in the commercial world. Things are brought down to their real value and level; men of straw are swept away, and affairs are commenced anew upon a sound and steady basis. Capital is invested with caution, and improvements are entered upon step by step, until success is assured.
The reduction in the price of coffee was accordingly met by a corresponding system of expenditure and by an improved state of cultivation; and at the present time the agricultural prospects of the colony are in a more healthy state than they have ever been since the commencement of coffee cultivation.