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What are ‘Thombos’?

The ‘Thombos’ are registers of land ownership maintained by the Dutch East India Company, or Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC), when they ruled parts of Sri Lanka from 1638 to 1796.

Approximately four hundred volumes of thombos, written in the Dutch language, record details of families and their property from the coastal districts of Negombo to Galle. Some thombos for the Northern Province are also deposited at the National Archives.

The thombos are records of land holdings grouped in the administrative unit of a village, also loosely referred to as a family group or thombo group. It is believed that they are an accurate record of each individual in such a group that owned land in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Family name, first name, family relationship, age, occupation, caste, and property were generally diligently recorded by the thombo-keeper. The extents of rice fields were given as measurements of the harvest, and those of estates and small gardens were recorded as the number of trees, such as coconut, jak, and arecanut.

In the index of the thombos that you can search here, you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find. However, bear in mind that the index includes only the first-mentioned person in a land holdings group, and not all members of that group.



Order translations or transcriptions

Following a practice that started under Dutch rule and continued into British rule in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, translated extracts from the volumes can be obtained from the archives for a nominal fee. Submit your application online.

Works related to Dutch thombos

Belt, Albert van den, Jan Kok, and Kees Mandemakers, “Digital Thombos: A New Source for 18th Century Sri Lankan Family History,” The History of the Family 16, no. 4 (2011), 481–89.

Bulten, Luc.

Dewasiri, Nirmal Ranjith, The Adaptable Peasant: Agrarian Society in Western Sri Lanka under Dutch Rule, 1740–1800 (Leiden: Brill, 2008).

Jurriaanse, Maria Wilhelmina, Catalogue of the Archives of the Dutch Central Government of Coastal Ceylon, 1640–1796 (Colombo: Ceylon Government Press, 1943).

Mottau, S.A.W. (trans), “Documents on Ceylon History (2): Documents Relating to the Tombo Registration of the Dutch Administration in Ceylon: Instructions Issued to the Tombo Commissioners,” Ceylon Historical Journal 3, no. 2 (1953), 173–89.

Mottau, S.A.W., Inventory of the Archives of the Dutch Government in the Divisions of Galle (Matara) and Jaffnapatnam 1640–1796 (The Hague: General State Archives, 1975).

Rupesinghe, Nadeera, “Defining Land Rights in Dutch Sri Lanka,” Portuguese Journal of Social Science 16, no. 2 (2017), 143–61.

Rupesinghe, Nadeera, Lawmaking in Dutch Sri Lanka: Navigating Pluralities in a Colonial Society (Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2023)

Dutch projects at the National Archives 

Thombo Index

Department of National Archives Sri Lanka

Department of
National Archives
Sri Lanka

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