Robert Knox wrote an excellent account of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka.) He was an English trader and sailor. He was captured and taken prisoner by the troops of the then Ceylonese King Râjasimha II in 1659. He wrote the book An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon together With somewhat Concerning Severall Remarkable passages of my life that hath hapned [sic] since my Deliverance out of Captivity in 1681. I bought an M. D. Gunasena version of the book on the recommendation of my English teacher Mr. Mahendra Illangasinghe.
Knox describes how he was captured, how he spent 19 years in captivity in the Kandyan kingdom and how he escaped in 1679.
This book is considered as one of the most important contemporary accounts of the Ceylonese life in 17th century. This could be the next most important book referred by historians after Mahawamsa. Mahawamsa being written by the Sri Lankan Buddhist monks, could be biased for Sri Lanka whereas Knox was an outsider and had no strings attached to the country hence his observations could be more honest and true. But the hatred he had towards the country for the reason of being a captive might have marred the balanced view of the book though.
He finally escaped with one companion in 1679 and reached Arippu, a Dutch settlement on the north-west coast of the island, from where he was able eventually to return to England in 1680.
The book was written during the voyage back to England. It came to the attention of Knox’s employers, the directors of the British East India Company, who recommended its publication.
The book describes the fauna and flora of the island, its culture, the royal family, lives of citizens, Buddhism, agriculture, economy, etc. In addition to the verbal explanations, the pictures drawn by an unidentified artist, though not perfect, explain the society during the Kandyan era.
While most of Sri Lankans gracefully quote from Knox’s book that the Ceylonese had been very honest, just and religious people what is mostly written in the book shows otherwise. According to Knox the islanders had been (and maybe even now) great liars, opportunists, adulterers, robbers, whores, prostitutes, children killers and practitioners of incest. Knox has some sympathy only on the low-landers of the island, not the conceited highlanders. One can understand it with the today’s context. Colombo people are said to be more ruthless while the rural people still have virtues with them.
Since Knox being was an uneducated youth, there are a lot of spelling and grammar mistakes in the book.
You can read the whole book online at this link. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/14346/14346-h/14346-h.htm