Van Oppen - Martin & Priscilla

Year of Birth 1934

Period in Assam:  1957/61

Company: Jokai (Assam) Tea Co. ((Alex Laurie, London, Balmer Lawrie, Calcutta)


1957/9 Garden Assistant, Dikom TE,

1959 (pt) Acting Scientific Officer based at Panitola

1960/61 Factory Assistant Panitola TE.

In that I had a strong agricultural background along with a diploma in the subject, I was fortunate enough to be appointed the Company’s Acting Scientific Officer in my 2nd year in tea.  This mainly involved dealing with various disease and blight problems that occurred from time to time on the various Jokai estates, analysing fertiliser supplies for purity and taking care of the company’s forward-thinking clonal reproduction enterprise while Nicky McNeal was on Home leave. On a visit to Malaysia some years later where Charles Crompton was setting up a tea and palm oil plantation, I was amused to find that one of Nicky McNeal’s notable clones, I think it was a strain known as S26, appeared somehow to have arrived there.


I remained a member of Panitola Club throughout my days in Assam but was also a supporter of the Dibrugarh Club. I played rugby regularly and was in Assam’s team that won the All-India in 1959,  beating Ceylon in Calcutta in the finals. Our captain was Peter Vauqulin.

I retain many happy memories of my days in Assam and recall the names of a number of good friends who have since died. These include: Nick Barham (our tea-taster and Best Man at my wedding), Nick Nicholson, Peter Bottomley, Barry Samkin, Charles Crompton, Peter & John Vauqulin, not forgetting my Manager at Dikom, Maurice Chambers - I couldn’t have wished for a better man to guide me through that first year in Assam. I am still in touch with his daughter, Sarah Amy who now lives in Guernsey with her husband, Bob.

I am also still in touch with Jack Vauqulin, John & Anne Thyne - Anne’s father, Hugh Horsley, was our popular up-country padre.  I have also recently caught up with Peter & Merle Bartlett and Malcom & Marie-Christine Geary - I sold Malcolm my golf clubs when I left Assam and he still has them!

Like so many other planters, after leaving India, it was back to the drawing board of life. For me, initially I flew to Southern Rhodesia, joining up with a brother before proceeding to an hotel in the Drakensberg Mountains of Natal, South Africa where, for a few months, I acted as their public relations officer, also taking charge of the stables and taking guests trekking by horse-back.  I then opened my own Equitation Centre in  Pretoria which, after some years, I sold as a going concern, returning to England in 1969 where (after much study!) I qualified as a Chartered Surveyor in Rural Practice ending up doing professional consultancy work in Eastern Europe, East Africa and the West Indies. I was rising eighty when I flew out to Anguilla to advise on a contentious valuation case - my last assignment before hanging up my boots! In parallel, back in England I ran a modest farming and equine enterprise in the Welland Valley. My elder son, James, now runs this including a thriving polo club.

After retiring I wrote a book ,’ Embers of Empire’ - a private edition, being a story of anecdotes, my family and my somewhat chequered career. If anybody would like a copy please email me and I shall be delighted to send them one (no charge!). At eighty-five, I now dream gently on of those happy far-off days and the many friends I made throughout the course of a long working life.

Photo : Martin & Priscilla van Oppen - on holiday in Natal 2019

Martin van Oppen - Planters Club, Darjeeling (local leave 1960)A farewell to Nick Nicholson (front centre), Group Engineer Charles Pickford, Martin van Oppen (right)

Martin van Oppen - Planters Club, Darjeeling (local leave 1960)

A farewell to Nick Nicholson (front centre), Group Engineer Charles Pickford, Martin van Oppen (right)