George I Baxter

  November 30 2010

We are indebted to Mike Thomson whose Great Uncle was George Baxter 
Mike has made a great effort with his family's history and he has very kindly
allowed us to share this history---Thank you Mike--Editor


GIB outside the Burra Bungalow, Deundi
GIB outside the Burra Bungalow, Deundi

While working on the long-overdue assembling and arranging of a large archive of family photographs, I tried a little on-line search to see if I could find any reference to my great-uncle George I. Baxter of Aberdeen who I knew had been a tea planter in India some time in the first half of the 20th century.  That was more or less all that I knew, but there had come down through the family a collection of photographs and postcards that he sent home, the significance of which had long been obscure and it occurred to me that I should try to find out more.  It seemed a long shot, but lo and behold, there was the Koi Hai website and a reference, in the late Ian A.B. McNie's footnotes in Chapter 13 of ‘Recollections Of a Tea Planter', to someone who though given as ‘G.J. Baxter' could, I was sure, have been no other than GIB himself.  Correspondence with James McNie not only confirmed this but revealed  that my great-uncle had been his father's predecessor as Superintendent of the James Warren group of companies based at Deundi in what was British India, now the Sylhet region of north-east Bangladesh, and that furthermore Ian McNie actually appears in some of his photos!  A Superintendent had responsibility for a group of gardens, each of which had its own Manager.  From what is remembered of George in our family, Ian McNie's story about the mushrooms and grapes does not sound at all untypical.  I am certain that George would have very much regretted the events that led to the dismissal of Fibre Laurie as is also recounted in the footnotes, but it seems hard to imagine that his complaint of coarse picking could have been without some foundation.

I was aged only 8 when GIB died and all of the older family members who were close to him are now gone.  I know that he returned home full of tales of his life in India but none of these have come down to me and details about him are now hazy.  We can however at least retrace some of his background. 

George Ironside Baxter (1885 - 1957) was fourth son of Alexander Baxter, founder of what was at one time the well known Aberdeen firm of Roger and Baxter, plasterers.  Ironside was his mother's maiden name.  On Alexander Baxter's early death in 1901 it appears that the company continued under his first son John then under his third son James (Jim) and his family.  Second son Alexander (Alex) Baxter became a missionary in China, serving during the early 1920s as Vice Principal and for a while Acting Principal of Lingnan Christian College - now Lingnan University in Canton.  There were also two daughters - Elizabeth (Betty) who married the Congregationalist missionary and theologian Sidney Cave, spending many years in Madras, and Margaret (Maggie), my maternal grandmother.

On completion of his education at Aberdeen Grammar School, George did not enter the family firm.  As far as is known there would not have been a position for him there and perhaps in any event wider horizons were beckoning.  Instead, he served an apprenticeship with the large Aberdeen engineering firm of John M. Henderson, manufacturers of machinery for many areas of industry and still in existence though now based in Arbroath.  He used to tell how of a morning he would pinch my grandmother's bicycle and pedal off to work for 6 o'clock, returning for breakfast at 8 then hurrying back to the factory for the rest of the day. 

We do not know how he came by his job in Sylhet, but as James McNie points out there were opportunities in such places for those of an engineering and shipbuilding background, marine engines being used to give motive power in tea factories before the arrival of diesel.  Perhaps  those with a good training in industrial machinery at a firm like Henderson's might also have been favourably placed to find employ in this line of business.  Whatever, Ian McNie's notes show that by 1909 the 23 or 24 year old GIB was working as engineer in the factory of the Deundi Tea Company, controlled by the tea merchants James Warren & Sons who operated not only the garden at Deundi but also those at neighbouring Lalchand and at Mertinga somewhat further away.  A look at GoogleEarth shows that the Deundi factory still exists though it has grown a great deal since George's time.  We can only surmise at how long it would have taken GIB to attain the position of Superintendent, but as a man of obvious intelligence and ability with no fear of hard work it seems unlikely that his progress would have been slow.

Deundi factory in George Baxter's day
Deundi factory in George Baxter's day

George's periodic returns home must certainly have been red-letter days in the Baxter family.  He brought with him curios (a rather ferocious-looking leopard's head and full skin was still on the back of our front-room settee as late as the 1980s) and was by all appearances quite the life and soul of the party, participating enthusiastically in the car trips and picnics which became a family recreation when about 1925 my grandparents acquired a little Austin 7 - one of the first ‘baby' Austins - in which they were able to rove the countryside of Aberdeenshire and further afield.  But when it came to cars, George went one better.  While on a visit in (I am sure) 1926 he acquired a fine hand-built Swift which he said was the only vehicle he could find that was suitable for the cart-track roads in India, though it is also true that he knew a quality product when he saw one and in such matters was not one to stint himself!  From our two surviving photos the Swift Club has kindly identified it as a 10 hp 3-door tourer which first appeared in the firm's 1925 catalogue at the then substantial price of £235.  A run in the ‘Swiftie' was of course in great demand.  The comparative absence of photos against the many that we have of the Austin rather suggests that he may have run it in during his leave before taking it back to Deundi with him.  

GIB and Swift
GIB and Swift

It used to be said in our family that George retired when he was 50.  Ian McNie records this as earlier, in 1932, but it was in fact the following year when he left Deundi, aged 47 or 48.  On his departure his colleagues gave him a clock which still exists in the family.  Its inscription reads Presented to Mr G. I. Baxter by his friends in the Luskerpore Valley on the occasion of his retirement from India 1933'.  Fitted with a new movement in absence of parts for the original which broke, it still functions. 

GIB's presentation clock 1933
GIB's presentation clock 1933

I do not know the reason for this early end to his career, though the family legend was that he had developed digestive troubles, the blame being laid on the local curries!  Certainly he had been out there for nearly 25 years, and while it must have been an interesting and colourful life in many ways it must also have been a pretty tough one - not merely hard work but fraught with ever-present dangers from tropical diseases and other things.  Perhaps he had simply decided to opt for something quieter, having amassed the funds to do so.  At any rate, he returned to his family in Aberdeen and was certainly resident with them in 1935 as for a year or two from that time he had a local directory entry to himself at their house in Stanley Street. 

Eventually he made a move to his own lodgings, a guest house in a splendid and even then very up-market granite villa at number 99 Hamilton Place, Aberdeen, run by the Misses Marjorie and Jean Forbes.  Our GIB was, however, not for living in company with others - it was a question of ‘how much to be the sole resident'!  And so he lived out the rest of his years, very much the retired gentleman, keeping (it is said) his landladies busy though they did develop quite an affection for him.   I suppose that in present day society this may sound somewhat Blimpish, but I would be surprised if it was very uncommon in the 1930s.  One might also speculate on how the insular Aberdeen of the time must have felt to someone returning after nearly a quarter of a century in a position of authority amid the sights and sounds of Asia.   It was certainly recognised that he had worked for his money.   He had an excellent business brain and took a keen interest in the financial world, quite possibly as an investor.

GIB outside 99 Hamilton Place, Aberdeen about 1956
GIB outside 99 Hamilton Place, Aberdeen about 1956

Looking back, GIB was very much part of my childhood.  He was always very good to me and as a child I found him kindly and fun.  His landladies ‘Aunts' Marjorie and Jean became good friends of our family and I saw all three of them quite often.  On occasion ‘Uncle' George would present me with half-a-crown - half-a-crown!  An absolute fortune.   If the local cuisine in India  had indeed been the cause of his gastric undoing, that did not stop him from constantly pressing my grandmother to make him curries - guaranteed to elicit a correspondingly hot response.  He was also celebrated within the family for his unexpected appearances bearing some expensive delicacy for my grandmother to cook, with ensuing scramble to find such things as ‘pheasant' in the cook book.  I remember him arriving one day just before teatime with a large parcel of fresh trout - delicious and well outwith the usual run of things circa 1954!  But that was GIB.  The things he could have told me had I but known what to ask him ....  he died of cancer in August 1957 but at least we still have in his photographs some memento, however sketchy, of his life and career. 

In his early years at Deundi George regularly sent my grandmother picture postcards, most of which show scenes of the area.  Most of them bear the usual sort of messages - a simple ‘how do you like this', everyday chat or amusing comments.  On one, a view of the Loobah River in Sylhet, he writes ‘I have seen as much of this burn as you have'.  Others bear cryptic messages  in shorthand, while one, a very Edwardian hand-tinted photo of a vase of roses, bears the simple legend ‘Isn't it purty - love Geo.'!   Some again bear no postmark or inscription and may perhaps have been brought home or sent in batches.  Postmarks (Lalchand Post Office on one anna stamps) are virtually all from 1911 - just one or two are from 1912 but there are indications that there may have been others which have not survived.  No doubt the war years disrupted communication; when things pick up again it is with photographs, presumably his own and with many of them carrying inscriptions which I have quoted in the titling.  The earliest dated ones are from 1920. 

The scenes on the postcards are not of Deundi itself but at least some appear to have been  selected as broad illustrations of life there.  No.8 is marked ‘This is a realistic photo of some coolie children' while No.10 he describes as being of a ‘well dressed coolie withering leaf'.' 

It seems that, though based at Deundi, he had business from time to time in Darjeeling - No.11 is one of two postcards sent from there, while the photo at No.12 is marked ‘Gregory a mining engineer and self, Darjeeling 1920' (GIB is on the right).  On the reverse of No.13 he writes in characteristic vein ‘Lama in charge of Buddhist Shrine, Observatory Hill, Darjeeling 1920.  Prayers can be seen in the background.  The breeze wafts them to Buddha.  The Lama has a praying wheel in right hand.  The prayers are written on paper inside - the wheel revolves and the prayers go whizzing to Buddha.  Mechanical praying is quite the go and might well be adopted by our churches.'  There also survives an attempt at a photo of the tea gardens at Darjeeling, looking down from the city, though this too indistinct to reproduce. 

No. 2, earlier in this article, is marked ‘Deundi factory - new withering house extension on the ground ready for erection'.  No.14 he describes as ‘Deundi tea in background and main road -  Gordon in foreground at our trolley line and Pauling on his motor bike'.  ‘Gordon' we may perhaps take to be the G. Gordon who is mentioned in the footnotes to Chapter 2 of ‘The Recollections Of  Tea Planter' as having arrived in 1921.  James McNie writes: ‘No.14 is shot from the Deundi factory area looking north - the road that the motorbike is coming up leads to Lalchand, and behind the onlooker's right shoulder is the Deundi Engineer's bungalow, out of shot but visible on GoogleEarth.  The trolleys were still in use in my childhood and were pulled by water buffalo.  They brought the plucked tea leaf in from the outlying areas of the garden. Eventually they were replaced by tractor-hauled trailers, but were a prominent feature of Deundi in my own childhood. To have your own private train lines was quite something, as a boy.  The next image (No.15) shows where the narrow gauge line curves round the south end of the godowns in the factory complex.'

‘My Bungalow' in No.17 is the Deundi Burra Bungalow where the McNies were later to live, while ‘Mr Charleson' was William Tulloch Charleson, Ian McNie's manager on his arrival at Deundi in 1923 and also mentioned in Chapter 2 footnotes .  Next to it at No.18 , courtesy of James McNie, is a comparison shot showing how it appeared in 1952, somewhat extended since GIB's day.  I gather that the thatched roof has also been changed in more recent times.   James McNie identifies the tennis court at Nos. 27 and 30 as the old grass court at Deundi - his comparison shot at No.28 shows it still in use during the 1950s.

I assume that Nos. 31 and 32 are linked, Goalundo being a centre from which the river steamers sailed on the Ganges and its main distributary the Padma.  Buckie is well enough known as a port on the North East coast of Scotland, but it should perhaps be explained that there is an old Scottish expression ‘it's a blue do' which is the equivalent of ‘a jolly poor show'!  

We have yet to identify Gregory in No.12, Pauling, Ross and Marshall in Nos.14 and 16, the three slightly glum-looking ‘pla-a-nters' in No.26 or GIB's tennis partners.  The same goes for most of the members of the groups in Nos.33 to 39, though in Nos. 33 to 37, taken outside the Burra Bungalow, Ian McNie, eventual Superintendent of all three tea gardens and then about 28 years of age, can clearly be seen in the front row - third adult left in 33 and 34, centre in 35, left in 36 and centre once again in 37.  GIB is in the centre of each group.  The central figures in No.38 ‘Xmas in Mr Parrott's compound' may well be the Charlesons.  The identity of ‘Mr Parrott' remains so far as obscure as the other figures in the photo, though Ian McNie's footnotes to Chapter 2 mention someone of that name in connection with the Luskerpore garden during the 1914-1918 period.   

Whether ‘Luskerpore Ladies' (No.39) refers to the Luskerpore Valley area where Deundi is situated or to the long-established Luskerpore Club is not clear.  The Luskerpore Club, of which it is hard to imagine GIB not having been a member, was and is a little way away from Deundi.   James McNie writes: ‘In my day it was a drive through the jungle from Deundi. There were tennis courts, a polo ground, a golf course, and of course, a well-stocked bar.  Planters from the whole district would meet there on their day off, to play golf or tennis, play bridge, use the extensive club library, and have lunch and curry suppers, before weaving their way home again  .....  The Deundi Group of gardens came to many thousands of acres of tea and jungle - quite an area to be walking around! I should add that the jungle was full of leopards and tigers, certainly in the mid 1950s, when I was a child. You would see their eyes reflecting the car headlights, driving home from the Luskerpore Club at night.' 

I could not resist including a shot or two of GIB at home, dispensing goodies at a family picnic some time in the late 1920s (No.40, in which Alex Baxter is pictured at the back, wearing the flat cap), causing some amusement with my grandmother and grandfather on a car trip after his retirement (No.41) and in his latter days as I remember him (earlier, at No.5).

Among George's photos there also exists a series of about a dozen shots taken in a hospital or sanatorium, but with no clue as to which.  None bear any markings and there is no telling whether George himself had ended up there or had simply been visiting.  Further detective work will be required here, but that will be a matter for another day!

Finally, in the course of researches I came across the website of Capel Manor in London which is now a horticultural college.  From 1840 it was the residence of James Warren senior, after whose death it was leased out.  In 1911 it was taken over by his great nephews James and John Warren who sold it in 1921 because they were going to India - presumably to see to their interests at Deundi, Lalchand and Mertinga.  Four years later it was bought back by James and remained his residence until 1932.  One might imagine GIB and his colleagues receiving the news in 1921 - the big bosses are on their way!  James McNie tells me that his father knew the members of the Warren family who were at that time connected with the tea gardens and that Kenneth Warren used to stay with them.  A very small world indeed.

William Fraser's ‘The Recollections Of a Tea Planter' is a fascinating document providing many insights not only on the Indian tea trade in its tough, early and obviously exciting days, but on a whole aspect of the British Empire itself, with Ian A.B. McNie's footnotes providing links to much more recent times - and in my case, to my great-uncle.  I wonder how many others might also find references to relatives in its pages.  It is now easily available from at the link:

As stated earlier,GIB's photos have been in my family's possession in the past 80 to 100 years, now with little clue as to their real significance, but through the good offices of James McNie we are now able to fit at least some pieces of the jigsaw together. It was a very long time ago but perhaps, who knows, someone reading this and seeing the photos might be able to identify other figures in them or have further information. If s, I would be very glad to hear from them,  my e-mail is or if you wish you can contact

GoogleEarth co-ordinates:

Deundi Old Burra Bungalow   24 deg. 11'19 N     91 deg. 26.35 E

Deundi Tea Estate Factory     24 deg. 11'17 N     91 deg. 26.39 E

Lalchand Burra Bungalow      24 deg. 14'16 N     91 deg. 24'47 E

Lalchand Tea Estate              24 deg. 14'13 N    91 deg. 24'43 E

Mertinga Tea Estate Factory   24 deg. 24'18 N    91 deg. 49'02 E


haClick on each picture below to see it larger, then click again to return to the selections

6. Postcard - "Bringing tea to the factory"

7. Postcard - "Clearing Jungle"

8. Postcard - "Coolie children"

9. Postcard - "Coolie line"

10. Postcard - "Withering house"

11. Postcard - "Darjeeling"

12. "Gregory a mining engineer and self, Darjeeling 1920"

13. "Lama in charge, Buddhist shrine, Observatory Hill, Darjeeling 1920"

14. "January 1931"

15. "A bit of Deundi showing trolley line"

16. "Lalchand new leaf house (Ross, Marshall and Gordon)"

17. "My bungalow - Mr & Mrs Charleson in front"

18. Deundi Burra Bungalow 1952 (James McNie)

19. "Mr and Mrs Charleson"

20. "Mrs Charleson and pal" (GIB)

21. GIB at wheel

22. "Some of our workers with a coolie house in the background"

23. "Pruning January 1931"

24. "Buha women bringing firewood"

25. GIB in the back garden, Stanley Street, Aberdeen, probably early 1920s

26. "Three pla-a-nters"

27. "Deundi tennis - can you recognise the bloke on the right?"

28. Doubles at Deundi 1950s (James McNie)

29. Tennis

30. More tennis

31. "On the deck of the 'SS Bloo Doo' at Buckie on the Padma"

32. "Goalundo 1929"

33. "Xmas 1929" 1

34. "Xmas 1929" 2

35. "Xmas - all happy" (undated)

36. "Xmas - all perfectly sober" (undated)

37. "Xmas - mixed grill" (undated)

38. "Xmas in Mr Parrot's compound" (undated)

39. "Luskerpore ladies"

40. George - family picnic

41. Picnic party en route Inverness June 1934