Harold Mann

 January 26 2014

 Harold Mann, was the Scientific Officer to the ITA ,1900 to 1907.

 His book which is copied below has good content with observations on Bruce,

Masters, and others and this early history. It should be especially of interest to
those who were with The Assam Company.

For  Private Circulation.


   the TEA      INDUSTRY




    HAROLD H. MANN,     







                   IN NORTH-EAST INDIA.

                             By Harold H. Mann, D.Sc.

During the period of my engagement as Scientific Officer to

the Indian Tea Association ( 1900-07 ) I had unrivalled opportunities

to collect materials concerning the establishment of the tea

industry in north-east India, both by having access to old reports

which were placed in my hands, more particularly by the courtesy

of the Superintendent of the Assam Company, by conversation with

people now no longer with us who remembered the early days of the

industry, and by examining the files of daily newspapers and

weekly and monthly periodicals which exist in Calcutta. This

being the case, I collected together a large number of copies

of some documents, and notes from others bearing on the subject,

for I felt that as the tea industry is practically the only successful

Indian industry in the establishment of which Government took

any large part, a study of it would probably be very useful in these

days when so much is being stated about industrial development.

For ten years these materials and notes have remained with me

unused. Their interest has, however, by no means diminished in

the interval,—and I trust that the record of the pioneer labours,

often against the strongest opposition and. most disheartening

circumstances, will be of some advantage and encouragement to

other pioneers m connection with the agricultural and industrial

development of India.

1 From its original introduction into use in Europe the supply

of tea had been a Chinese monopoly, and the trade in it to England

had been a monopoly of the East India Company. In the early

part of the nineteenth century, on the renewal of its charter, the

 (4 )

East India Company lost its trading monopoly, and as the trade in

tea was one of the most valuable parts of its activities, it became

anxious to obtain a rival source of supply entirely under its own

control. Moreover, especially in the thirties of the last century,

Japan broke off all trading connection with the West, and suspicions

were rife^ that China would do likewise, and so at once cut

off the source of supply of tea from England.

As a result of these political changes and suspicions, great

anxiety arose for the production of tea in India, if such production

were by any means possible. It was already known that the tea

plant would thrive under very widely varying conditions. I It had

been naturalised in Brazil, where it had grown magnificently, in

St. Helena, in Java, in Prince of Wales' Island,—but the tea made

in these places was very unsatisfactory. Of that made in Prince of

Wales' Island (Penang) it was stated that it had " acquired the

appalling property of a nauseating and slightly emetic drug." It

was, furthermore, very much doubted whether tea grown in India

would not be useless in the same way. " Everywhere," said a

Calcutta writer in 1834,^ " it thrives, as far as mere vegetation is

concerned, but nowhere except in China has any successful effort yet

been made to render it a profitable product of industry. We have

a suspicion that this arises from causes which will be found a bar

to the profitable cultivation of the plant in India. Admitting that

localities for it may exist in our territories, approximating in

climate to its native country, we should fear that,, as the value of

tea depends upon its aromatic flavour, differences of soil may

produce changes as fatal as those which occur in tobacco and in the

vine, and that the hyson and pekoe and twankay and souchong of

India, will be very little like their high flavoured namesakes of the

celestial empire


In spite, however, of a somewhat general feeling at least of

doubt as to the likelihood of the success of tea growing in India,

( 5 )

there were sufficient believers in its possibility that in January,

1834, the Government of Lord W. Bentinck appointed a committee

to consider the question of introducing a supply of plants from

China, to decide the most suitable and likely place for growing

them, and to make arrangements for bringing the seed, and making

the experiment.^

In some respects this committee acted with more energy than

most similar bodies. They issued a circular (March, 1834) asking

all opinions which were likely to be of any value as to where tea

was most likely to be successful, and they arranged at once that one

of their members (Mr. G. J. Gordon)" should go to China and bring

back plants and seed, and also cultivators from China who knew

how the plants should be grown and how the tea should be prepared.

Both these actions of the " Tea Committee " have had results

which have continued to this day. The circular was issued and

Gordon vrent to China. The first resulted in the definite decision

that the tea plant occurred in Assam : the second brought about

the introduction of the first lot of China tea seed,—the curse of the

India tea industry.

But the discovery of the tea plant of Assam was only a

secondary result of the issue of the circular of March, 1834. Before

this, replies were received from people in every corner of India who,

on the strength of false analogies of climate and soil, convinced the

.Tea Committee that the proper places in India for tea cultivation

were in order of suitability ( 1 ) " On the lower hills and valleys of

the HimalayaRange." (2) "On our Eastern Frontier."

( 3 ) "On the Neelgherries and other mountains in Central and

Southern India." What was meant by the Eastern Frontier I do

not know. It seems doubtful whether Assam was referred to. By

the Himalayas, however, Darjeeling was certainly not meant, but

rather Mussoorie, Dehra Dun and the neighbourhood. The

»This Tea Committee consisted in the first instance of Mr .Tames Pattle.

Mr. G. .7. Ooninn
and Dr. Lumqua, a Chinese doctor, who had long lived in Calcutta

* At a salary of Rs. 1 ,000 per month.

( 6 )

committee, led largely by Dr. Waliich, the then Superintendent of

the Calcutta Botanical Gardens, maintained the superiority of the

Himalayas in this region for several years,—I think, in fact, until

the committee was dissolved some years later.

But the circular had been received, among other people, by

Captain Jenkins, then in charge of the Assam Valley, and a man of

great enthusiasm for the development of that newly-conquered province,

and one who knew its possible products better than almost

anyone living. He lived at Gauhati, but he knew, as most of those

who had had experience of Upper Assam knew, that tea was already

existing in the country of the hill tribes ( Singphos ) at the northeast

of the valley, and, not only this, but was used for making tea

by the Burmese method.' This fact had been known at least since

1815. In that year it was spoken of by Colonel Latter, again in

1818 by Mr. Gardner, again in 1824 by Mr. Bruce who grew it in

his garden at Sadiya a year or two later (in 1826), Time and again

plants had been sent to Calcutta for identification,—by Mr. David

Scott, Commissioner of Assam, by Mr. Bruce, and by others. But

there seems to have been an extraordinary reluctance on the part

of the botanical authorities in Calcutta to acknowledge the existence

of tea in India. The matter could only be settled finally, of course,

if flowers and seed were sent,—but it was always apparently the

part of the botanists to doubt and deny, rather than to encourage the

idea that tea was present in the country.

On the receipt of the Tea Commitee's circular, however,

Jenkins passed it on to a young officer who was stationed at Sadiya,

named Lieutenant Charlton, who had also seen and drunk the

so-called tea which was growing in the country of the Singphos and

also near the Dibru river. He immediately sent to Calcutta ( on

8th November, 1834) not merely the tea but also samples of the

fruit and leaves of the so-called tea trees, and this enabled the

plants to be idejjtified with certainty as tea, identical with that of

China. Letpet Tea,

( 7 )

In informing the Government of this fact the Tea Committee

waxed enthusiastic and wrote as follows :—" It is with feelings of

the highest possible satisfaction that we are enabled to announce to

his Lordship in Council that the tea shrub is beyond all doubt indigenous

in Upper Assam, being found there through an extent of

country of one month's march within the Honourable Company's

territories, from Sadiya and Beesa to the Chinese frontier province

of Yunnan, where the shrub is cultivated for the sake of its leaf.

We have no hesitation in declaring this discovery to be by far

the most important and valuable that has ever been made in matters

connected with the agricultural or commercial resources of this

empire. We are perfectly confident that the tea plant, which has

been brought to light, will be found capable, under proper management,

of being cultivated with complete success for commercial

purposes, and that consequently the object of our labours may be

before long fully' realised."

The effect of this announcement on the policy of the " Tea

Committee " and of Government was immediate. Mr. Gordon who

had been sent to China to fetch seeds and tea makers was recalled,

as his mission was now considered unnecessary, and a scientific expedition

was sent to Assam to bring back authentic and full information

as to the extent and character of the tea there found.

In accordance with this decision Gordon returned, but not

before he had obtained and sent off several lots of tea seed from

China. As it has often been suggested that he w^as fooled by the

Chinese and put off with inferior seed, it may be well to give a

contemporary account, evidently inspired by Gordon^ himself, of

what he did and what seed he got. " The first parcel of the seed

was despatched personally by Mr. Gordon, in very good condition,

and having been procured from the Bohea hills, is supposed to have

been collected from plants bearing only the good sorts of black tea.

This seed on its arrival in Calcutta was distributed partly for

' Letter from the Tea Committee to the Government of India, 24th December 1834,

' Calcutta Courier, September 14, 1835.

( 8 )

cultivation in Assam, partly on the Himalaya bills. The second

and third batches were both despatched from Canton during

Mr. Gordon's absence, and from the channels through which they

were procured are supposed to have been only thf-. seeds of inferior

kinds of tea. Both these parcels were sown in the Botanic Garden

here; the last of them arrived out of season and in such a state as

not to vegetate, but from the second batch about a lac of plants were

procured, of which about 20,000 were sent up to Assam, as many

more to the garden at Mussoorie, and a couple of thousands to

Madras." There was evidently more than a reasonable suspicion

that part at any rate of these first importations represented not the

seed of the best of the Chinese tea plants, but any rubbish which

(not even being inspected by the Tea Commissioner in China) could

be palmed off on the unsuspecting Indian authorities. This was

not the case always with later importations, but some of the first

were certainly as doubtful material as could have been obtained.

The recalling of Mr. Gordon from China was a step about the

advisability of which much controversy arose later. Wallich, the

Superintendent of the Calcutta Botanical Gardens, whose influence

was then paramount, held that if tea really occurred in Assam, then

there was no need to import seed. He wrote^ :—" The committee

have maturely weighed the subject of the new discovery in Upper

Assam in all its bearings. The genuine tea grows there, or an

indigenous plant which may be cultivated to any extent. There is

no ground for supposing that the various sorts of tea seeds imported

from China will produce anything but the shrub in its natural

state, retaining nothing of the variety whose name the seeds bear :

it is therefore useless and unnecessary to import from China at a

great expense and great risk what may be had, as it were on the

spot, to any extent almost in a state of perfect freshness and

strength for vegetating. Your continuance in China, so far as

regards supplies of seed, is therefore useless and unnecessary."

This policy, as we have since proved by experience, was correct


» To Mr.TJordon, as Secretary of the Tea Committee on 8rd February 1835.

( 9 )

the reason given for it was as fallacious as could be,—and was one

of the points which led to bitter controversies a little later between

Wallich and Griffith, his colleague on the scientific deputation to Assam.

In the meantime the local progress had been coiisiderable. Tea

plants, originally supposed to be only found growing wild in the

Singpho hills, had been discovered in the Manipur hills by

Major Grant, in the Tippera hills, and in a number of new localities

in the Assam Valley. Further Lieutenant Charlton, who had supplied the

samples which had finally determined that tea
occurred in Assam, had been

asked to experiment with the growth of the plant at Sadiya where he was stationed,

with Mr. Bruce, who had been in Assam for a number of years on his own

business and who had certainly grown the plant since 1826, as his assistant.

This latter arrangement was not to continue long. In the disturbed

state of the country, Charlton had to go out to subdue a rebellicm,

and in attacking a stockade he was wounded and had to leave the

province.' Bruce took charge of the experiments, and from this

time onward he becomes almost the principal figure in the local

development of tea culture for a good many years.

The scientific deputation to Assam to which I have referred

was appointed early in 1835 and consisted of Wallich, William

Griffith,—one of the most distinguished botanists who ever worked

in India,—and McClelland, a man of reputation, as a geologist.

They left Calcutta on 29th August, 1835, and went straight to

Sadiya, arriving in January, 1836. This deputation was not a very

happy party. It found the experiments in growing tea at Sadiya

in a very crude state. There had been tea nurseries at Sadiya but

they had been trodden down by cattle, and little could be seen. The

country was so disturbed that Wallich got frightened and wished

to return without seeing all the country. The others explored the

country fairly thoroughly, however, and the reports on what was

' Englishman, 1st September 1835.

( 10 )

found by Griffith" and McClelland" are among the most valuable

documents we have as to the condition of indigenous tea in Assam

in 1836.

The questions which they set themselves to answer were

( 1 ) Is tea indigenous to Assam 'i

( 2 ) Are the conditions such as to make it probable that a

tea industry will succeed ?

( 3 ) W hat are the conditions in Assam under which it is

most likely to grow successfully.

(4) Is there any necessity to import Chinese tea seed.

The first of these questions they left doubtful, and doubtful it

has remained. They found the tea plants scattered all over the

country to the south of the Brahmaputra in Upper Assam, while

there were none to the north of the river. They always occurred,

however, in the plains in groups, almost as if they had been planted,

and oiily in the Singpho hills did they become apparently more a

part of the ordinary vegetation of the country. These groups of

tea trees in the jungle, however, were exceedingly common. The

" Muttuck " country between the Dibru and Dehing rivers was full

of them, and other places like Gabro Purbut at the foot of the Naga

hills where tea had been found, were visited by Griffith and

McClelland. But the country had been in a state of war for

twentyrfive years on and off and completely desolated. The people

in the hill round the valley were known to know tea and to drink

it. Hence it was quite possible that these were remnants of former

tea gardens. In spite of this both Griffith and McClelland

considered it probably indigenous.

In discussing the second point, Griffith went at great length

into the similarity of Upper Assam to the tea tracts of China. He

concluded finally :


(1 ) that there is a similarity of configuration

between the valley of Assam and two of the best known tea

provinces of China; (2) that there is a similarity between

•" Transaction of Agri-Horticultural Society of India, Vol. V, 1837-38.

" Transaction of Agri-Horticultural Society of India, Vol. IV, 1837.

( 11 )

the climates of the two countries both in regard to

temperature and humidity; (3) that there is a precise

similarity between the stations of the tea plant in Upper

Assam and its stations in those parts of the provinces of

Kiangnan and Kiangsee that have been visited by Europeans; (4)

that there is a similarity both in the associated and the general

vegetation of both Assam and those parts of the Chinese tea

provinces situated in or about the same latitude." This conclusion

undoubtedly did a good deal to strengthen the confidence in IJie

possibility of Assam as a commercial tea-growing district, though

I doubt whether any of these statements are very accurate.

As regards the conditions under which tea would best grow in

Assam, McClelland {loc. cit.) had nothing to go on except the situation

of the indigenous tea which he found. Of this, he said :—" It

appears that the tea plant of Assam grows spontaneously under

slightly distinct circumstances as follows : (1) in the level plain ; (2)

on embankments or mounds lightly raised above the plain. Cuju,

Noadwar, and Tingrai are examples of the first, Nigroo and Gubrupurbut

are examples of the second. The first class of situations

are distinguished from the general plain by a porous structure and

the peculiar character of maintaining a dry surface under exposure

to, excessive moisture; the second by a structurt; less porous than

the first. In both the plants are situated at the verge of inundations

which prevail during the greater portion of the y'ear on the

adjoining lands. The important peculiarity of these sites is that

they are less secure from inundation by their elevation than by

their structure. Indeed the lower sites are scarcely raised more

than a yard above the adjoining flat plains, which are exposed to

inundation not merely during falls of rain, but also from the

overflowings of the great rivers." It is remarkable how clearly

McClelland saw the need for thoroughly efficient drainage if tea

'' The names of most of these sites will be at once recognised by those who know the Assam

tea industry.

( 12 )

is to flourish It would have been a good thing if everyone since

then had seen it equally clearly.

As to whether it was necessary to import Chinese tea seed,

there was, as we have already hinted, a violent difference of opinion

between Wallich and Griffith. The former held that there was no

need : the latter that Chinese seed is required I have quoted

Wallich, I will now quote Griffith. " The most thoroughly

philosophical course," said Griffith, " is to cultivate imprimis, on

the tracts alluded to, the best procurable plant taking at the same

time every precaution towards reclaiming the Assam plant The

first step must be therefore the importation of seeds with a small

proportion of the best plant from China : this is still more

necessary from the total annihilation of those previously

imported,—and the importation must continue to be, for some

years, for obvious reasons, an annual one."

Griffith's position was thoroughly logical. A wild plant is not

likely to give as good produce as one which has been cultivated for

many generations. But the result of its adoption has been disastrous.

As a result of it Gordon was sent back to China, for many

years China tea seed was brought over regularly, and every thing

was done to plant it instead of the " wild " indigenous tea of

Assam. Wallich was illogical, but he was right; Griffith was

logical, but the result of his recommendation was disastrous. It

shows how dangerous it is in such matters to reason by analogy.

The general result of the visit of the scientific deputation to

Assam was to commit the Government to go ahead in a definite

effort to introduce tea cultivation in Assam. Previously the work

had been very half-hearted. A nursery in the compound of the

bungalows of Charlton and Bruce at Sadiya or in a small plantation

at Chykwa,—the cutting down of the tret;s in a few of the

groups of tea plants in the jungle,—the importation of a few

Chinese tea makers, the whole under the general supervision of

Bruce,—this was all that had been done, and it had beeri done very

badly. As regards the nursery at Chykwa, Griffith reported out

( 13 )

of 20,000 plants put out, in August, 1835, not more than 500

remained alive and those " in the last stage of decline. The

ground was literally matted down with low tenacious weeds, and

it is a fact that on our arrival at the nursery not a tea plant could

be seen owing to the. uniform green colour of the surface." As

regards the tea colonies in the jungle, he said that Tingri, where

operations were commenced, looked unhealthy in 1836. " Great

parts exhibited considerable confusion : almost all the tea plants

had been cut down : the underwood was cleared away, and all the

forest trees either felled or in process of being so, the debris being

burnt on the spot among the still living bases of the tea plants !


From this time onward, however, the energy put into the

matter was very largely increased. Bruce, as Superintendent of

Tea Culture", put a large amount of energy into the work of clearing

the tea colonies in the jungle, allowing them to grow, and making

tea from them. The following note on his work published in 1839"

seems to give but a fair account of all that we owe to him.

" Mr. Bruce, a gentleman who by long residence in the province

had become habituated to the climate and well acquainted with

the country and inhabitants, was appointed Superintendent of Tea

Culture. His attention has previously been given to other pursuits,

and he does not seem to have possessed any knowledge of botany

or horticulture, or indeed any; special qualifications for the post,

but his intelligence and activity supplied every deficiency, and

enabled him to render very valuable service. He discovered that

the tea plant, instead of being confined to a few isolated spots, was

over a great extent of country" and though his researches

were at first vievved with great jealousy by the native chiefs, he not

only succeeded in removing their prejudices but persuaded them

to contribute their hearty assistance to his labours."

I do not pretend that Bruce ever discovered the way to grow

and make tea so as to be really profitable. As we shall see, nobody

" Asiatic Journal, Vol. 29 (1839), pp. 53-61.

.'^ He published a map of th«se in 1838, which shows how widely he must have travelled in

what then was almost pathless jungle.

(14 )

did this really until 1852,—but lie was an admirable pioneer,

found. out the habits of the tea.plant, got ovei joany of the initial

difficulties, made drinkable tea, and to him almost alone is due the

bringing of the cultivation and manufacture to such a point that

a commercial company was ready to take it up.

The first tea, good enough to send down to Calcutta, made in

Assam, was produced in 1886. Five boxes were made of tea

prepared from leaves ; gathered out of season, dressed

according to the process used for black  tea, and with a

very imperfect apparatus,  It was approved in Calcutta.

The then Viceroy (Lord Auckland) drank it and pronounced

it of good quality, and it was considered by those

interested that the question might be regarded as settled that tea

'Could be made in Upper Assam,' The following year still

better tea was made, and was pronounced to be a mercantile commodity.'

The difficulty of packing was beginning now to be felt,

and remained a serious problem for several years, until tea lead

was made on the spot,—a not very easy operation. In 1838 the

first tea was sent to England. I will speak of its reception in

Xondon a little further on.

The position of the cultivation and manufacture at the stage

we have now reached is well described in a small but very interesting

pamphlet published by Bruce in 1838. This" gives such an excellent

account of what tea culture and manufacture meant to Bruce

in those early days that I must quote a few passages.

" The tea plants of Assam have been found to grow, and to

thrive best, near small rivers and pools of water, and in those places

where after heavy falls of rain, large quantities of water have

accumulated, and in their struggle to get free, have cut out themselves

numerous small channels. On the top of this land you must

^•CalciMa Courier, 21st November 1836.

'" Calcutta Courier, 21st Ueeeiiiber 1836.

" Daily Neton, Calcutta, 2nd March 1838. '

'" Entitled " An Account of the Manufacture of the Black Tea as now practised at Suddeytt

in Upper Assam, by the Chinamen sent thither for that purpose, with some observations on the

culture of the plant in China, and its growth in Assam by 0. A. lirucc, Superintendent of Tea


( 15 )

fancy a thick wood of all sorts and sizes of trees and amongst

these the tea tree, struggling for existence : the ground here and

there having a natural ditch cut by the rain water, which forms

so many small islands, , ... the land tfeing never wholly

inundated in the rain, though nearly so. This kind of land is

called Coorkah Mutty." I have never met with the tea plants

growing in the sun, but invariably under shade, in thick woods, or

what we call tree jungle and only there and in no other jungle

whatever .... The largest tea tree I ever met with was twentynine

cubits high,.^° and four spans round : very few I should say

attain that size."

He goes on to say that he had failed always -in planting tea

when put in the sun : on the other hand, his transplants did very

well in the shade. He was astonished at the hardiness of the tea

plants and quotes the following experience. In one case the

Assamese villagers " took the tea plant to be so much jungle, and

therefore nearly cut all of it down close to the -ground, and set fire

to the whole, and then planted paddy or rice on the spot. The crop

of paddy had just been cut and brought in when we saw the plants,

the shoots were coming up from the roots and old stumps thick

and numerous .... I afterwards converted this piece of ground

into a tea garden on account of the Government, and now it is one

of the finest I have." Bruce says he succeeded in getting tea plants

to grow from cuttings, provided they were in the shade. If so, he

must have worked very carefully for it is decidedly not- easy to do

so. In regard to plucking of tea leaf, Bruce does not seem to have

attempted to go beyond what was at that time falsely understood

to be the Chinese method,—that is to say to pluck the whole of the

young shoots as soon as they had four leaves on them, do the same

when a second lot of leaves grew, and take a third similar crop,

if it grew after such terrible treament.

The method of making black tea adopted by Bruce's Chinamen

is interesting to those who know the process as carried on at

" Nowadays still called Korhaui land.

™ Say 43 to 44 feet.

( 16 )

Present. "Withering of the leaf was always done by preference in

the sun and the leaves were taken down and clapped between the

hands several times during the process. The preparation for

rolling also included a short heating in iron, pans over a straw or

bamboo fire. The rolling was done, of course, by hand, very much

in the manner one sometimes still sees used at the very beginning

of the tea season. No definite fermentation process was included

and, after rolling, the tea was dried on sieves over charcoal. The

drying was done in several stages, and the intermediate times

during which the tea got cool gave the chance for some fermentation

to go on.

Such were the conditions of production and of manufacture

during the succeeding two or three years. New tea colonies were

found in the jungle and were opened and extended by local

Assamese labour almost entirely in the so-called Muttuck country,

and tea was made, in gradually increasing quantity by or under

the supervision of a number of Chinese who had been introduced

for the purpose. The whole development was assisted by the fact

that the British Government took over in the latter part of 1838

the direct administration of the territory of Poorunder Sing,

containing the greater part of what is now the Sibsagar district

of the Assam valley.

During 1837 nothing really more than samples of tea were

made. In 1838, however, enough was produced for a number of

boxes to be despatched to England, where their arrival was

awaited with great inleriest. On 6th May 1838, Captain Jenkins,^*

the Commissioner of the Assam valley, announced their despatch.

These reached England in the latter part of the year and were

brought to auction on 10th January 1839, There were only eight

chests and each chest was sold separately. The following contemporary

account of the sale will have considerable interest.

" The first importation of tea from the British territories in

Assam, consisting of eight chests, containing about 350 lbs., was

^ Letter to Lord Betitinck from Gauhati.

i 17 )

put up by the East India Company to public sale in the commercial

sale rooms, Mincing Lane, on the 10th January, 1839, and excited

much curiosity. The lots were eight, three of Assam souchong,

and five of Assam pekoe. On offering the first lot (souchong)

Mr. Thompson, the sale-broker, announced that each lot would be

sold, without the least reservation, to the highest bidder. The first

bid was 5shillings. per lb., a second bid was made of 10s. per lb. After

much competition it was knocked down for 21s. per lb., the purchaser

being Captain Pidding. The second lot of souchong was bought

for the same person for 20s. per lb. The third and last lot of

souchong sold for IQs. per lb., Captain Pidding being the buyer.

The first lot of Assam pekoe sold after much competition for 24.s.

per lb., every broker appearing to bid for it : it was bought for

Captain Pidding. The second, third, and fourth lots of Assam

pekoe fetched the respective prices of 25s., 27s. . and 28s.

per lb., and were also purchased for Captain Pidding. For the

last lot (pekoe) a most exciting competition took place,—there were

nearly sixty bids made for it. It was at last knocked down at the

extraordinary price of 34s. per lb., Captain Pidding was also the

purchaser of this lot and has therefore become the sole proprietor

of the first importation of Assam tea. This gentleman, we

understand, has been induced to give this enormous price for an

Article that may be produced at Is. per lb., by the public-spirited

motive of securing a fair trial to this valuable product of British


As suggested in the above extract the prices given were

purely for the sake of advertisement. The tea was not good but it

was a curiosity, and its arrival was followed in the latter part of

1839 by another lot, this time of ninety-five packages eighty-five of

which were sold on 17th March, 1840, by auction as before. A very

complete account of this consignment was given by the East India

Company to the Indian authorities with careful criticism by nearly

all the leading London tea brokers.

" Asiatic .Journal, 1839,

( 18 )

The tea was evidently much better than the last, and was

valued from 2s. llb. to 35. 3d. per lb. It still fetched, however,

a fancy price nearly all going between 8*. and 11s. per lb. except

what was called toychong, evidently a very coarse material, which

fetched between 45. and 55. per lb. With regard to them

Messrs. Twinings and Co. of London" well summarised the general

opinion by saying, " Upon the whole we think that the recent

specimens are very favourable to the hope and expectation that

Assam is capable of producing an article well suited to this market,

and although at present the indications are chieily in reference to

teas adapted by their strong and useful flavour to general purposes,

there seems no reason to doubt but that increased experience in the

culture and manufacture of tea in Assam may eventually approximate

a portion of its produce to the finer descriptions which China

has hitherto furnished."

Thus six years after the Tea Committee was originally formed

and experiments commenced, we have really for the first time a

reasonable quantity of Indian tea put on the market. So far the

Government had borne the whole cost of the experiment, : and had

every reason to congratulate itself on the progress made. It had

been proved that tea existed in Assam, that it would grow, that

the leaf could be manufactured and that the manufactured tea was

a marketable commodity comparable with that obtained from

China. It now remained to convert a Government experiment .;

into a real commercial venture,—to take it out of the hands of the

experimenters and place it in those of businessmen, who would

have to make it pay. Between the present stage and that final one

when money could be made from tea culture there was still a long

way. to go. Many disappointments had to be faced and many

losses made, and the preliminary steps only were soon found to

have been completed. Twelve years more, in fact, had to pass

before tea culture could be considered a commercial success. The

story of those twelve years will form the subject of a second article.

" Ietter dated 12th February 1840,

( 19 )


In my last article I traced the history of the tea industry in northeast

India to the time when tea from the plantations in Assam was

really on the market. This point was reached by the end of 1838

or the beginning of 1839, though the public were hardly satisfied of

the soundness of the undertaking till a year or so later. At that

time it, must be remembered the whole of the so-called plantations in

the AssamValley, chiefly consisting of groups of indigenous tea

plants in the jungle which had been cleared of other growth and

weeds and had been cut down so as to form leaf-bearing bushes, were

in the hands of Government under a Superintendent of tea culture.

This Superintendent, Mr. C. A. Bruce, the real founder of tea

cultivation in Assam, had opened out such axesm in many places.

Many of his gardens were near Dibrugarh, more near the Tingri

and other smaller rivers in Upper Assam, others were at the foot of

the Naga hills as far to the south-east as the well-known garden of

Gabro Purbut.

All that had been proved, however, by 1839 was that tea would

grow, and that commercial tea could be made for which a market

existed in London. But the matter was getting beyond the stage at

which the Government wished to control it. Their idea was only to

prove its success and then hand it over to private enterprise. Early

111 1839, hence, both in Calcutta and London, a number of capitalists

apparently approached Government for the transfer of the existing

plantations to themselves and for the creation of a monopoly of tea

cultivation in the AssamValley in their favour.

The first move was made in Calcutta, where a company termed

the Bengal Tea Association was formed in February 1839, with the

approbation of the Government."^ Almost immediately after

another company of London merchants came forward for the same

purpose. The Times, in April 1839, wrote as follows :—" A joint

stock company is forming in city for the purpose of cultivating the

newly discovered tea plant- in Assam. Their intention is, in the

' Englishman, June 29th, 1839.

( 20 )

first instance, to open a treaty with the Supreme Government in

India for the purchase of the East India Company's plantations and

establishments in Assam, and afterwards to carry on the cultivation

of tea there, for the purpose of importing it into this country. The

project has been taken up M^ith so much avidity, principally by the

mercantile houses trading vv^ith India and the leading firms in the

tea tr«ide that all the shares were appropriated in a few days and

before any public notice of it had appeared. The capital to be

raised is £500,000 and it is stated that a communication has already

been opened with the Board of Trade and the East India Company,

preparatory to a negotiation for the purchase of the Assam


The two—that is to say the Calcutta and the London companies

—combined their forces almost immediately. It was obvious that at

the stage things had reached there was no room for two such

ventures and by the middle of 1839 they had agreed to join interests.

This was suggested, as was stated in a meeting of the Calcutta

branch,^ in order that " the junction of such interests as were now

combined would induce His Honour in Council to consider that no

better guarantee could be given to the Government of Bengal for the

early establishment of this important trade upon a bold and

energetic scale." At this meeting a resolution was passed " that

the Bengal Tea Association do form a junction with the London

company on condition that the local management be conducted by a

committee of directors to be elected exclusively in this country."

Thus was originated the peculiar constitution of the pioneer tea

company—the Assam Company—in its early days whereby it had

two controlling bodies—one in London and another in Calcutta,—an

arrangement which seems almost to have invited disaster.

Ir^ the meantime, the formation of the Assam Company in

London, though it received the approval of the heads of the East

India Company, did not do so without opposition. This was

apparently partly due to a fear that the Company would be given a

' On May 30th, 1839.

( 21 )

monopoly, and partly to a belief that it had been engineered for

reasons not given out to the world. At a meeting of the proprietors

of the East India Company (June 19th, 1839) the opposition was led

by Sir Charles Forbes, and he got an assurance that no exclusive

privilege in Assam would be granted to the Company. This did not

satisfy him, however, and he stated that " he feared, although they

were told of the immense advantage which must result from this

plan, although it was said that the people of this country, as well as

the people of India, Mahomedans and Hindoos, would profit to an

infinite extent by this scheme,—that it, notwithstanding, would all

turn out to be a humbug."'

It was recognised that apart from actual technical difficulties

in the cultivation and manufacture which were not, as we shall see

later, sufficiently considered at the time, the chief obstacles to the

success of a truly commercial enterprise were the lack of labour and

capitial. Captain Jenkins, the administrator of Assam, described

the country as a land flowing with milk and honey, with provisions

abundant and easily procured, and only lacking these two

necessaries. The capital was now provided by the Assam Company,

the lack of labour remained, and as we know, has remained almost

till to-day one of the chief obstacles to the development of the tea


' It was well, however, that the difficulties in the provision of

labour and in the technical management of tea gardens and the

manufacture of tea were not fully realised by the promoters of the

proposed company. As it was, there was much enthusiasm both in

London and Calcutta, and as a result of the union of the two sets of

interests, the Government agreed to hand over two-thirds of the

experimental tea gardens m Assam to the new company. This being

the ease, a " deed of settlement " was made among the subscribers

to the Company to remain in force until a charter, or an act of

Parliament, was passed constituting them a company as was the

usual custom in those days.

' Asiatic Journal. Meeting held June 19th, 1839

( 22 )

The organisation of the Company was peculiar. As already

stated it had a double board of directors whose powers were divided

as follows. The duties of the Calcutta local directors were "the

local management of affairs in India in the purchasing, improving,

and clearing lands in Assam and elsewhere in India and of buying,

renting, or building necessary warehouses, offices, and other

buildings in India and in obtaining, employing and removing

officers, managers, clerks, servants, labourers and generally in

superintending and conducting all the business and affairs of the

Company there, and fulfilling contracts for that purpose.

" Provided always," as the deed goes on to say, " that they shall in

ail respects conform to these presents and any rules and regulations

made by a general meeting .... and any directions for their

guidance given by the General Directory of the Company."^

The Company having been formed, two-thirds of the experimental

plantations in Assam were handed over to the Company on

March 1840, and Mr. Bruce joined them as Superintendent of the

Northern Division with headquarters at Jaipur. The other

division of the Company's plantations had its headquarters at

" Nazeerah "' which has remained to this day the headquarters of

the Company. A gentleman named Masters was appointed as

Superintendent of this division. The arrangement with Government

was that the lands were to be occupied for the first ten years

rent free, and at the end of this time the assessments were not to be

higher than for rice lands generally. The cultivation of the poppy

for opium was entirely prohibited.

Labour difficulties began from the first day. Bruce had used

local labour, aided by a few Chinese, But in the first report from

Masters it was stated that there was little local labour, but that the

Assamese were beginning to work, " and for the important art of

tea manufacture, they seem particularly adapted, and likely to

supply eventually all the labour that will be required."^ This was

' Report Assam Co, , for 1840 (London), dated May 7th„ 1841.

* Now generally written Nazira.

• Letter quoted in report dated May 7th, 1841 (London).

( 23 )

obviously, however, not enough and great efforts were ma,de to get

labourers from outside. It must never be forgotten that Assam had

been almost depopulated before it came under British protection by

civil war and by an invasion from Burma. Any large enterprise

had therefore in a very large measure to provide its own labour.

The first attempt to fill this need was by the import of Chinese

coolies. A large number of Chinese coolies were brought round

from Singapore, but " they were selected without discretion. Every

man with a tail was supposed to be qualified to cultivate, manipulate,

and prepare tea. They were sent up without adequate control. At

Pabna they quarrelled with the natives, or the natives with them :

some sixty were captured by the magistrate, and consigned to jail,

and the rest refused to proceed without their brethren. Their

agreements were therefore cancelled arid they returned to Calcutta

committing depredations in their progress. On their arrival in the

City of Palaces, they seemed to revenge themselves on society, for

the papers were daily filled with police reports of the outrages they

committed. They were at length caught and sent off to the Isle of

France, the planters of which will doubtless consider that it is an

ill wind, indeed, which blows no one any good."^ The London report

of the Assam Company put it more shortly when it said that the

Calcutta Board imported " several hundreds of Chinese." " These

men turned out to be of a very bad character ; they were turbulent,

obstinate, and rapacious. Indeed they committed excesses which on

occasions endangered the lives of the people among whom we had

sent them, and it was found almost impossible to govern them. So

injurious did they seem likely to prove that their contracts were

cancelled and the whole gang with the exception of the most expert

tea makers dismissed." Thus ended the first attempt to bring

Chinese labour to the Indian tea plantations.

But labour had to be obtained if development was to go on, an^

hence a large number of " Dhangar Coles " were recruited. But

misfortune dogged the footsteps of the pioneers. Cholera broke

' Friend of India, September 9th. 1841,

( 24 )

Out among six hundred and fifty-two' of them who were proceeding

to Assam/and the survivors disappeared in one night and no trace

of them was ever found. Labourers from Chittagong were also

useless. And among such coolies as were on the plantations in

Assam, the mortality was very high indeed. Deaths occurred with

appalling frequency also among the European and other planters.

In the first year the Company lost the services of Dr. Lumqua, a

Chinese doctor long established in Calcutta who had consented to

assist the Company in its early stages in Assam and of four

Europeans from its small staff. The Assam Company, indeed,

began very early to feel the difficulties of climate and of labour

supply which have been among the greatest which the industry has

had to fight.

The absolutely unoccupied cha'-acter of the country, at any rate

in the area worked from Nazira is illustrated by two letters from

Masters. In the first of these he says " I have now been in this

district eighteen months, and know comparatively little about it,

owing to the dense tree forest and coarse high grass jungle with

which the land is all overrun, so that when travelling one can see

nothing but what lies in his immediate route and I am continually

finding fresh patches of ground occupied by the sites of former

villages or gardens or temples or tanks of beautiful water or small

patches of tea plants and immense tracts of waste land." A second

letter illustrates another aspect of condition. " It was with great

difficulty that I could procure elephants when I first came here : I

could not purchase one ^at any rate. ... A herd of elephants,

however, having gone off from Jorehaut in that direction " (towards

Gabro) "they were followed and thirteen of them secured."

Nevertheless in spite of the labour and health difficulties , the

Company had a considierable area of tea in cultivation by the end of

1840, and at the annual meeting in Calcutta (August 12th, 1841)

there was stated to be 2,638 acres in actual production. The

production was, however, by no means intense, for the average

number of plants per acre was only 457 ! As has already been

( 25 )

indicated, most of the area consisted of groups of tea plants found

in the jungle, cleared and cut down for leaf yielding. The total

amount of tea made this year was 10,7l21bs. The cost had, however,

been enormous up to the end of 1840. £65,457 had been sent to

India from London. Naturally a good deal of this had, however,

been absorbed in capital expenditure. A steam boat had been built

and purchased in Calcutta of which we shall hear later. A saw

mil) had been sent to Assam, to be set up at Jaipur, and no less than

Rs. 1,23,275 is put down in the Calcutta Board's report for " Labour,

lost and unproductive."

At this stage the Company was still sanguine in spite of

difficulties, and they ventured to estimate production in future

years, as rising to 40,0001bs. in 1841 and to 320,0001bs. in 1845 !?

We shall see how this estimate was falsified in every particular.

The condition of the whole enterprise at this time, the way in

which the management was in the hands of their Chinese tea

makers, and the unsatisfactory character of the European assistants

sent to Assam are well shown in the following quotations from

letters from Mr. Masters. On February 12th, 1842, he writes to

the Directors :—" You will please to observe that these tea makers

(Chinese) are very great gentlemen; even those who receive but

Es, 3 per month consider themselves so, and object to do anything

e|se but make tea. When spoken to, they threaten to leave the

service if they are insulted by being asked to work. Gradually this

will wear away as we shall soon have them under our control, and if

they continue saucy, we may take a convenient opportunity of

making a strike for two or three months, and when they lose their

pay, they will probably become sensible that they are dependent on

the Assam Company for their livelihood." Mr Masters hardly

gives one the idea of a tactful manager!

With regard to the European assistants who had been sent he

wrote in another letter. " Hitherto I have been overwhelmed with

'Calcutta Board Report, Assam Co., published in Friend 6/ India, 9th September 1841. The

Shareholders' meeting was held on llth August 1841.


assistants many of whom have been unaccustomed to agricultural

employment, but the greatest inconvenience attending the assistant

establishment is the unhealthiness of the climate; it so often happens

that after much difficulty has been experienced, and the assistant is

becoming acquainted with his duty, and he and the natives are

becoming a little reconciled, the assistant falls sick, and is obliged

to leave his post : if another is sent, the same difficulties and

inconveniences are repeated It must be evident to the Directors

that a passionate European entirely ignorant of the language and

entirely ignorant of every part of his duty can but be worse than

useless." I can quite understand Mr. Masters' annoyance, but my

sympathy goes out to the young Englishman, landed in a very

unhealthy country, absolutely in the jungle, with nothing to relieve

the tedium of continually driving coolies to work at a job which

neither he nor they understand. When we remember that the

amount allowed for an assistant's house was but Rs. 300, that there

was no sanitation, and that the unacclimatised European was

planted down, and got fever, most probably, before he had been there

more than a few days, and was never afterwards really free from it, —

we could hardly expect anything but despair, irritability, illness

and often a speedy death.

In the second London report,' though things are still stated to

look promising, there begins to be a doubt. Nothing more is, said

about the labour question and so we may consider that this is

temporarily solved. The kind of gardens at this time is well

illustrated by figures given both by Masters and Bruce. I quote

some at any rate of the names of the gardens, as. they may interest

those in Assam at the present time. Gabro Purbut consists of 44

poorahs,^" of which 10 poorahs were large plants, 20 poorahs

rniddling plants, and 14 poorahs small plants and seedlings. Satseia

• Report dated 9fch May 1842.

'» The figure given for the area of a poorah varies. It is poraetimes spoken of as 3 acres. In'

ihe present report it is given as 1'21 acres which I think is the figure which should be taken in

these reports.

{ 27 )

had 213 paorahs. Cherideo had 23 poorahs. Rokanhabbi had

350 poorahs nearly all just planted. Deopani had 20 poorahs. All

these names will be recognised as being still included in the Assam

Company's property. Masters states that he planted his seedlings

five feet apart, and he considers that the cost of clearing ahd

planting a poorah of tea will be Rs. 100, while the annual cost of

upkeep would be Rs. 50 per poorah. Taking a poorah as 1-21 acres,

these will be equal to Rs. 83-3 as capital cost and Rs. 41-7 as annual

cost of upkeep, per acre.

In the other division, in the control of Mr. Bruce, the sites of

several of the gardens will be recognised as being now in the Tingri

Tea Company's estates, and also in the company's working near

Jaipur. Kahung had 31 poorahs of tea, 11 poorahs newly sown.

Tingri (including Ballyjan and Tipling) had 34^ poorahs. Hoogrijan

had 31 poorahs, with an area of newly planted tea. The famous

4;ea seed garden, " Bazaloni " appears in this group in 1841. Near

Jaipur we find other gardens whose names still exist. In this

section we hear first of the definite planting of China seed. An

interesting estimate by Mr. Bruce is that it required one man coolie

on Rs. 4 per month to keep one poorah of tea in cultivation.

The presage of coming disaster seems to pervade the atmosphere

during 1842 and 1843 both in the reports of the Assam Company and

in the remarfe on the subject in the Calcutta newspapers. There

were evidences of mismanagement everywhere. The steamer built

for the Company as their means of transit to Assam proved a failure.

" The Assam Tea Company," says the Friend of India, after

having sent their new steamer on one trip up the Berhampooter,

have, on her return, offered her for sale. The cause is not made

known,—probably her inability to steam the current of the

Berhampooter." The amount of tea made in 1842 was far less than

might have been anticipated, and only amounted to 30,000 lbs., while

the net cost of the undertaking had been £160,000. Mr. Masters

" 19th May 1843.

( 28 )

from Assam, evidently feels, from his letters, that there is something

unsatisfactory in the methods of tea growing and plucking adopted.

By the latter part of 1843 it was certain that something was

amiss. The Calcutta directors sent a commissioner to Assam to see

what was wrong." Both Mr. Bruce and Mr. Masters were

summarily dismissed, and the report presented for the year 1843 is

doleful indeed. " Since we last met," says the report," " your

directors have seen much to diminish the confidence which they

expressed at the last meeting in the ultimate success of the Company?;

that confidence was necessarily founded on statements and calculations

prepared in the Province where our operations are carried on.

These data have since been altered by the parties who supplied them

in many material respects, and the produce of the year has fallen

short of the estimate in respect to quantity by one-third; at the

same time, the current expenses of the Company appeared not to be

diminished." They went even further than this, and wrote :—" We

have positively forbidden the local board in Calcutta to pass any

more bills upon us, and have enjoined them to reduce their expenditure

to the level of the means at their immediate command. We

can, therefore, safely pledge ourselves that no further call shall be

made upon the shareholders until your directors have shown

sufficient grounds for recommending you to prosecute the enterprise

in which we have embarked with renewed vigour."

The position was truly perilous for the shareholders. But, to

all appearances, a change for the better occurred. The Company

had so far not been under limited liability. But a special Act of

Parliament was passed in 1845-* which settled their position. It

was only to last till April 30th, 1854, declared a capital of fifty

lakhs of rupees in shares of five hundred rupees. The cultivation

of opium, sugar and coffee was prohibited.

»- Ml'. .T. M. Maekie. He reached Assam in October 1843.

" Presented (London) 23rd April 1844.

I' Act XIX of 1845.

( 29 )

In the meantime expenses at least had been reduced, and this

was something. The relationship between expenses and yield was

as follows :

( 30 )

that this was by any means the case. Certainly after the first

extravagance and mismanagement, the prospects appeared a little

more hopeful. But though a dividend had been paid, no real

profits had been made. The estimates of yield hac'i been

considerably falsified, and the same or a greater area showed sigiis

of giving less yield than in previous years. There seems to have

still been hopeless mismanagement, but, even more than this, it

became incireasingly evident that nobody knew how to grow tea so

as to maintain the yield of the bushes, let alone increase the amount

of tea which could be made for them. The concern had now in fiact

reached the stage when the method of planting and plucking teft

which had been learnt from the Chinese who had taught the

pioneers, had definitely broken down, and it was evident thdt

unless new methods could be found which would yield more tea and

maintain the yield of the bushes better, the industry must close.

The London Directors were the first to see this. Concentration

on a smaller area till success was obtained in this matter was their

policy, and in 1846 they, hence, closed down altogether the so-called

northern and eastern divisions of the company (the Tingri groiip

and the Jaipur group of gardens). But the position was first

really faced in the report for 1847, published in 1848. In this the

Directors definitely confessed failure, threw the blame on the

Calcutta Board, and they go so far as to confess that they afe

doubtful whether it is worth while to continue, as even with a policy

of great economy and very great care over expenditure, it was only

just possible to keep the concern from showing a loss. There seemed

no confidence as to its future capacity for profit It is curious to

find this only two years after Government had, with a great flourish

of trumpets, declared the industry established.

The position is well shown by the following extracts from the

Report of the Assam Company for 1847. " The General Directory

think it proper to mention to you that they find among the

proprietors, and even among their own body, a difference of opinion

( 31 )

prevails upon the vital question whether it is desirable or not to

continue the operations of the Company. On the one hand it is

contended that under the present system of management there is at

all events no loss, and that the last year was the first in which the

expenses in the province were kept within the estimate or nearly

so, and the anticipated outturns of produce was not only realised

but exceeded, while at the same time there is every reason to expect

an annual increase in produce from seedlings, and the vacant spaces

in our present cutivation being filled up .... and therefore it would

be unwise to throw away all that has been spent on the enterprise

at a moment when there appears so little chance of further loss and

much reason to hope that some part of the money spent may be

redeemed. On the other hand, it appears to be thought by many

that there are too small hopes of success and too limited an amount

of profit to be anticipated to render it advisable to continue our


The London directors actually in the sequel asked the Calcutta

Board to make them an offer for the whole company, and stated that

they " would feel inclined to recommend to their shareholders the

acceptance of any proposition that would give them a moderate

sum per share, rather than depend on the distant prospect of a

larger benefit." No offer was, however, made, and both the London

and Calcutta authorities determined to risk another year (1848)

of work.

We. have now reached the lowest point in the fortunes of tea

cultivation in Assam. The great hopes and prospects of a successful

tea industry seemed to have almost disappeared. The recovery

from that position was primarily due in the first instance to two

men,—one in Calcutta and one in Assam,—whose confidence in the

undertaking, whose business capacity, and whose integrity of

character drew the Assam Company from the brink of despair and

made a future tea industry in Assam immediately possible. These

were Mr. Henry Burkinyoung in Calcutta and Mr. Stephen Mornay

who took charge in Assam in 1847. In five years these men made a

( 32 )

bankrupt concern into one which it was recognised could at least

pay its way. There then followed the improved technical skill and

methods introduced and carried out by Mr. George Williamson on

the gardens in Assam, which made it into a very profitable industry.

The state of things into which affairs had drifted in 1847 was

well described in a Calcutta paper, a year or two later, when the

worst was over, as follows^^ :

" The mismanagement of Joint Stock Companies in India has

been so general, and its effects so disastrous to all concerned with,

or interested in them, that we regret we cannot afford space at

present to detail the measures by which the rapid downward

progress of this Company has been so timely arrested, and its rescue

from destruction on the very brink of ruin so promptly effected.

We presume that all the old hands, when they perceived the inevitable

fate awaiting their reckless mismanagement, with the instinct

of rats, left the concern, for we find none of their names in the

present board or in the management.

" If we are rightly informed, when the present authorities of

the company took charge of its affairs, they found that upwards of

21 lakhs of rupees had been expended Upon buildings and

cultivation, which it was found, on sending a new superintendent

to Assam ought not, under judicious and careful management, to

have cost one-tenth of that sum ; buildings which ought not at that

stage of their operations to have been erected, had been so slightly

constructed that they were already tumbling down, and but little

was to be found of the extensive clearing and planting which had

been reported from Assam, and paid for, and even those in existence

were in such a neglected state, that another rainy season would

have obliterated every trace of them. The credit and resources of

the company were exhausted : they were £7,000 in debt in London,

Rs. 40,000 in Calcutta, while the indispensable outlay required in

Assam to save the miserable wrecks there, almost drove the then

" Friend of India, 9th M.^y 1850.

( 33 )

Ideal directors to despair, and the more so, because the London

Board urged upon them the closing or even total abandonment of

the concern. They, however, possessed discernment enough to

perceive the capabilities of the enterprise under better management

and with a spirit, firmness, and confidence that does them

infinite credit, raised funds on their own individual credit and

responsibility to make one more effort to retrieve the affairs of the


That this was not too dark a picture can be seen from the official

documents of the company. Mr. Burkinyoung, the Chairman

of the Calcutta Board of Directors, wrote in 1848 : " You

as well as ourselves, have of course long been aware that whilst the

paid up capital of the company had been entirely sunk by the close

of the year 1844 or nearly so, its expenditure had not been devoted

to the true interests of the undertakings and the extended properties

which such a sum should have opened out so far from having been

raised, a most limited and insufficient area of tea cultivation was

in possession of the company, the chief portion of the capital

having been devoted to extraneous and useless purposes, and, in

eiTect, so far hopelessly squandered." It does seem remarkable, in

fact, to find that the area really under cultivation in 1848 was only

400 to 500 pooraks {sa,y 300 to 600 acres).

With business management, however, the concern showed a

profit of £3,000 in 1848, and the report for that year^^ shows new

hope, and new confidence. Out of the debt of £7,000, £2,000 were

paid. And the prospects was sufficiently promising to propose a

new call of £1 per share (£10,000) to extend the real cultivated area.

On the technical side the production of tea, as will be

recognised by all who know tea in Assam in these later days, the

authorities were still only feeling their way. The maximum yield

per acre on the company in 1848 was 275lbs. of tea. The

largest yield in the year was obtained in April and the season

 Dated London, May 4th, 1849.

( 34 )

finished in September,

follows :

March . .







The actual yield month by month was as

18,269 lbs.







To us nowadays this would appear, even with China plant, to

show that the bushes were being overplucked in the early part of

the season, and were never allowed to grow properly before the

leaf was taken. This state of affairs continued, however, for some

years longer.

Progress was very gradual. The Calcutta directors wished

to go ahead : the London Board, having had their fingers burnt so

many times, held them back. In 1849 the northern and eastern

divisions (Tingri, Jaipur, etc.) were re-opened : on this the London

Board expressed " their fear as well as displeasure." But the area

was slowly extended, and what was more, in spite of the

expenditure on this, small profits were made. The crop in 1849

was 216,0001bs. The debt was reduced rn this year to £2,500, and

in the next season, with a net profit of £5,025, the whole

disappeared. At last the first genuine dividend out of profits was

paid in 1852 (for the 1851 season).^'' It only amounted to

2^ percent., but it proclaimed to the world that the company,

having made consistent though small profits from 1848 onward, was

no longer the bankrupt concern it had been supposed to be, and had,

at least, possibilities of success.

This was followed by a dividend of 3 per cent, in the following

season^^ and then the two men who had brought the Company from

>» Report dated May 31st, 1850.

^' Report dated May 7th, 1832.

Report dated May 6th, 1853.

( 35 )

despair to a moderate amount of success—Stephen Mornay in Assam

and Henry Burkinyoung in Calcutta—retired. One cannot

exaggerate the debt which the tea industry owes to them. Their

successors improved their results,^—but they it was who made a tea

industry appear possible in north-east India.

The new manager in Assam was Mr. George Williamson,

perhaps the greatest figure in the development of the Assam tea

industry, and afterwards the founder of the Calcutta firm of

Williamson Magor & Co. ; the managing director in Calcutta was

Mr, W. Roberts, afterwards well known for his connection with

the Jorehaut and other very successful tea companies. Williamson's

report in 1853, after taking charge, was very interesting. He had

been there under Mornay and had studied tea planting as nobody

had done up to that time. He found a yield over the whole of the

gardens of 196lbs. of tea per acre'^'^ only. The local cost of tea was

between five and six annas a pound. He recognised the evil of

China plant which had been used in putting out many extensions.

Speaking of one garden (Kachari Pookri) he says " it also possesses

an advantage .... in having no China plant, the inferior yielding

of which in respect to quantity, is now a well established fact."

He notes the great lack of labour, and the unhealthiness of the

places, and speaks of serious attacks of cholera " which continued

with unremitted virulence for three months."

But so far as I can judge, Williamson's success was primarily

due to his recognising that if tea leaf is to be plucked, the tea

bushes must first be allowed to grow. The season thus tends to

become later. Little tea is obtained in March and April, and when

the Directors get alarmed, he re-assures them that all is right.

" Injudicious and ignorant plucking may seriously injure the plant

and even cause its death by rendering it more liable to be attacked

by white ants and worms." The result of his policy was a singular

increase of yield per acre. Apart from bad business methods, the

'"' The figures are given per pooftth. I have converted these into yields per acre.

( 36 )

Bon-recognition of that on which Williamson now insisted was, I

feel, the biggest cause of the early failures. The lack of technical

skill and knowledge had made large success impossible until 1852.

But now with business management, and a man, who had

studied the tea bush and its yielding, in charge, things went ahead.

The area, crop profit and dividend for the years following are

shown below :


( 37 )

The pioneers of the tea industry are nevertheless men of whom

we may well be proud. Jenkins who got the experiments

established; Bruce who showed that tea making in Assam was

possible; Mornay and Burkinyoung who proved that tea would

at least pay ; and Williamson who showed how to cultivate tea in

a really profitable manner,—all these names deserve remembrance

and recognition. Building on their foundations progress was

rapid. The next ten years showed an almost inconceivable development,

and such profits as led to speculation and almost to ruin in

1866 and the years following. That is, however, another story.

The foundations of one of the greatest of Indian agricultural

industries had been well laid by 1856, and tea cultivation and

manufacture had been placed on the track which had led, through

many vicissitudes, to the position which it holds to-day.