We may take it for granted, therefore, that when the king came to Newera Ellia his visit had some object, and we presume that he came to look at the condition of his water-courses and to superintend the digging for precious stones; in the same manner that Ceylon governors of past years visited Arippo during the pearlfishing.
The "diggings" of the kings of Kandy must have been conducted on a most extensive scale. Not only has the Vale of Rubies been regularly turned up for many acres, but all the numerous plains in the vicinity are full of pits, some of very large size and of a depth varying from three to seventeen feet. The Newera Ellia Plain, the Moonstone Plain, the Kondapall?Plain, the Elk Plains, the Totapella Plains, the Horton Plains, the Bopatalava Plains, the Augara Plains (translated "the Diggings"), and many others extending over a surface of thirty miles, are all more or less studded by deep pits formed by the ancient searchers for gems, which in those days were a royal monopoly.
It is not to be supposed that the search for gems would have been thus persevered in unless it was found to be remunerative; but it is a curious fact that no Englishmen are ever to be seen at work at this employment. The natives would still continue the search, were they permitted, upon the "Vale of Rubies;" but I warned them off on purchasing the land; and I have several good specimens of gems which I have discovered by digging two feet beneath the surface.
The surface soil being of a light, peaty quality, the stones, from their greater gravity, lie beneath, mixed with a rounded quartz gravel, which in ages past must have been subjected to the action of running water. This quartz gravel, with its mixture of gems, rests upon a stiff white pipe-clay.
In this stratum of gravel an infinite number of small, and for the most part worthless, specimens of gems are found, consisting of sapphire, ruby, emerald, jacinth, tourmaline, chrysoberyl, zircon, cat's-eye, "moonstone," and "star-stone." Occasionally a stone of value rewards the patient digger; but, unless he thoroughly understands it, he is apt to pass over the gems of most value as pieces of ironstone.
The mineralogy of Ceylon has hitherto been little understood. It has often been suggested as the "Ophir" of the time of Solomon, and doubtless, from its production of gems, it might deserve the name.
It has hitherto been the opinion of most writers on Ceylon that the precious metals do not exist in the island; and Dr. Davy in his work makes an unqualified assertion to that effect. But from the discoveries recently made, I am of opinion that it exists in very large quantities in the mountainous districts of the island.
It is amusing to see the positive assertions of a clever man upset by a few uneducated sailors.