Colombo is the largest city of Sri Lanka. It is located on the west coast of the island and adjacent to Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, the capital of Sri Lanka. Due to its large harbour and its strategic position along the East-West sea trade routes, Colombo was known to ancient traders 2,000 years ago. It was made the capital of the island when Sri Lanka was ceded to the British Empire in 1815, and its status as capital was retained when the nation became independent in 1948. In 1978, when administrative functions were moved to Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, Colombo was designated as the commercial capital of Sri Lanka.
The Port of Colombo fell to the British in 1796, when they first arrived on the island. However it remained a Kandyan Kingdom military outpost until it was surrendered in 1815. The Port was made the capital of the new British crown colony called Ceylon. The British decided to build houses and civilian buildings rather than making it into a military centre, giving birth to the modern Port of Colombo
In 1912, the Port was converted into a sheltered harbour, and the Colombo Port Commission was established in 1913. Much of the city was planned during the British occupation of the Port of Colombo.
Lowry visited the port on the homeward leg of his Far Voyage arriving from Penang on the 30th August and leaving on 1st September 1927 en route to Suez. Lowry's only reference to Sri Lanka was in a letter to David Markson dated 10th Setember 1951; "...(Though I've been to Ceylon, Likewise Formosa. Likewise China & Japan. Also Dollarton). (Collected Letters Vol 2 Pg. 433).
Stan Hugill in his book recalls the sailortown area of Colombo:
Travelling farther East we come to Colombo. Here, around the Pettah or market area, were mainly beer houses and jewellers who specialised in selling rubies, emeralds and such like, or in the transforming them into necklaces, bracelets, and ear-rings for the benefit of seamen. "Eet weel make a nice-a gift for your sweetheart, sahib", they would softly croon into one's ear, then produce a bottle of beer to help one make up one's mind. Years ago in Hill Street there were many brothels occupied by Sinhalese girls which seamen liked to visit, but in the thirties, I think, they were closed by the police. Sailortown Pg. 325