Sydney & Lola Emmett

David Stormont Gibbs

The Darjeeling Quartet by Deepak Rikhye

The Darjeeling Quartet
By: Deepak Rikhye

The Alexandria Quartet, written by Lawrence Durrell, is placed at No.70 among the best 100 books in  the English language, for  the 20th century. It is a series of 4 novels which present different perspectives on particular events and characters in Alexandria. It concludes with the 4th book which depicts change over time. It shows personalities or entities, “yielding” to new concepts of reality. It has inspired me to title this narrative, The Darjeeling Quartet.

The quartet I have referred to is, David Stormont Gibbs, who passed away very recently in Ireland. He was the Rector of St. Paul’s School, Darjeeling. The 2nd personality in the quartet is Sydney James Emmett, who studied in St. Paul’s in the ‘20’s, when Rev. F.V. Dawkins was Rector. On completion of his formal education, Sydney   joined Williamson Magor’s tea gardens in Darjeeling. Sydney’s pinnacle in tea was at Glenburn where he worked for an incredible 30 years. We then come to Glenburn and  this quartet concludes with Darjeeling. We will view changes over this continuum similar to  Albert Einstein’s ‘Space-Time.’ Let us therefore begin with David Gibbs and his odyssey at  St. Paul’s.

 David’s education began at Grayhurst , Preparatory, School, from 1926. His father ran this school from 1927 to 1942. The school, in Buckinghamshire, flourishes to this day. After school, David received an Exhibition Scholarship, to Clare College, Cambridge and studied Engineering. After Cambridge he did his National Service and was posted at Tripoli. After a teaching assignment at Repton, he applied for a Leadership through the British Council and was offered the post of Rector at Darjeeling’s St. Paul’s School.

David and his wife Sally, with their three children, set sail on  a 3 week voyage to Bombay. They arrived St. Paul’s in May, 1964 to take over from Leslie Goddard, who had been Rector there for 30 years. These are engaging segments of careers within this fascinating quartet.

David’s first significant introduction in this school was, “Pioneers” involving camping, metalwork, rock-climbing, trekking into the Himalayan wilderness and learning the use of a compass.

 He drove music, speech and drama. We were taught how to harmonize articulate speech with the correct accent. Paulites thus highlighted the value of spoken English. Elocution was taught to every student and the best were selected for both Inter School and Inter-House Elocution  Competitions. David’s wife, Sally, an accomplished pianist, inspired the performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s  operettas: Trial by Jury and Ruddigore, which are  the most delightful extravaganzas; performing these demanding productions evoked a high standard of music and drama in the school.

David’s  knowledge introduced coal fired boilers to provide hot water for showers and timings for hot water began at 5 AM and 5 in the evening.

During the 1971 war with East Pakistan, there were thousands of refugees who reached Bengal’s  Islampur and David sent the senior boys to help in the camps. Their  work was subsequently acknowledged by the Indian government who  thanked David for this significant service.

With systems changing in these assignments, David, with regret, decided to leave St. Paul’s in 1972 and continued with education, in the UK, till 1988 when he finally retired. He was awarded an OBE, in 1973, for his services to education in India. David Gibbs  was an educator extraordinaire, whose name will live forever.

St. Paul’s has been linked over a wide gap of time with personalities of the tea fraternity. The quartet now moves in an amazing manner to depict the lives of the four Emmett brothers-Bill(CW), Sydney James, George Malcolm and Arthur Alfred.

Sydney worked on Williamson Magor’s Lingia, Pandam and Glenburn estates. He became Manager of Glenburn in 1939 and retired in 1968/69. Sydney worked at Glenburn for a record  30 years. This  was an extraordinary and unparalleled  accomplishment. My father, Hemi, took over Glenburn  from Sydney in 1969.

When Sydney’s brother, Bill, also in Williamson Magor, posted at Lingia retired, Sydney was promoted as Superintendent of Williamson Magor’s 4 gardens in Darjeeling, which of course included Glenburn. Their younger brother, Arthur, was also a Darjeeling planter, and after the war immigrated to  Mozambique.  George Malcolm, not a tea planter, was a famous cricketer and was in the English team  in 1948, when they played against Australia. He played cricket for his county for many years.

The 3 brothers in Darjeeling, played cricket and represented Darjeeling in tournaments. P.H.Williamson, Chairman, Williamson Magor, supported these tournaments which explained his respect for the 3 Emmett brothers placed in Darjeeling. When Sydney retired from Glenburn, the Company asked him and his wife, Lola, to stay on at Glenburn, for a few months, and to return to England only  when they were ready. This once again, was a rare accolade which evoked the high esteem the Company had for  the Emmett’s.

What made Sydney tick as a manager at Glenburn? The compass was invented over 2000 years ago by the Chinese when they discovered the magnetic use of lodestone. This was perfected in the 19th century by Sturgeon to present the compass we use today;  so it was not unusual for a manager, like Sydney, to use this instrument for Glenburn’s benefit during the 40’s and 50’s. He would check the direction of wind, rainfall and mist on the compass. Various directions of these patterns would manifest the green leaf with exclusive qualities. He actually produced Glenburn tea with a flavor reminiscent of cardamom and another flavor with a tinge of oranges; remember oranges emit an aroma as they begin to ripen, and this is also spread with pollen carried by bees and the wind; both these plants thrive in Glenburn’s “Glen” and beyond ; these  aromas  wafted down to certain sections; so when his compass recorded a certain  direction, of a climatic drift, coming from orange orchards and belts of cardamom,  the leaf was separately manufactured. This is one example of how an eminent planter like Sydney worked in harmony with nature.The tea plant works in conjunction with the natural elements: the sun, rain, wind and the moonlight. If the Koel bird was  heard before March, Sydney would  excitedly proclaim, “The First Flush has arrived!”  Planters from Sydney’s genre respected the role of nature and his  garden ensured profits. The scenario today has changed. Darjeeling’s tea is enduring challenges which were unheard of in the past. The Russians promoted the Elephant Brand of Assam and Darjeeling’s tea and that country’s support was integral to marketing involving Darjeeling’s tea in the ‘60’s. Russia’s thrust on Darjeeling tea declined but  with India’s rapport with Russia’s leader, the tea industry through the Indian government, can revive this chapter of trade. India’s PM is a busy man; a concerted  representation will result in success.

   I wonder if we have deflected from the traditional values of nature. I also asked myself whether planters today  keep a compass, along with  the ubiquitous measuring tape, magnifying glass  and notebook?

At the turn of this decade, Williamson Magor sold their 4 estates in Darjeeling, including Glenburn. The present owners are businessmen with considerable  experience in tea, so there will be a smooth transition. 

Durrell wrote of entities yielding to change. Some tea gardens, to earn revenue, have converted the manager’s bungalow into a guest house for tourists. A manager’s bungalow is an allegory of tradition. By removing this allegory one has removed that symbol of tradition. What is the solution? Maintain the bungalow as a manager’s; the manager must continue in his official residence. Let guests use the other bedrooms. Allow them to feel the vibes of a tea planter.  

Lola was an accomplished pianist and occasionally  played the piano; a piano  was impeccably maintained in their bungalow. Her responsibilities  as the Superintendant’s wife kept her engaged with  caring for the many  delightful plants and shrubs around the bungalow premises. There were tropical plants and varieties of palms, reflecting a residence in Egypt, from a narrative by W. Somerset Maugham. The seasonal flowers, at the bungalow’s garden, were a delight. Carnations, sweet peas, phlox, calendulas were among the gorgeous blooms which grew under Lola’s watchful vigil. Her efforts and enthusiasm gifted her with many prizes at Darjeeling’s Annual Flower Show. Glenburn’s floral exhibits bestowed it with the Flower  Show’s Championship on   several occasions.    The Company sent visitors to imbibe Glenburn’s beauty from the bungalow to the idyllic Camp which separated Glenburn and Sikkim, with a river, hence the name “Burn” after “Glen.” Lola would synchronize these activities for Sydney and the Company.

  A portrait of Sydney James Emmett and Lola  can be placed in the living room. Imagination has no limits when it comes to bringing back the past. Otherwise these recent  changes are only, to use Mark Tully’s word, “A revolution.”

Durrell articulates that, “Man is an extension of the spirit of a place.” It is therefore  unequivocal that  Sydney too is  an extension of Glenburn’s spirit. When Durrell referred to the “Cotton Kings,” of Egypt’s once famous cotton, so was Sydney James Emmett a “Tea King,” in Darjeeling’s  Glenburn,  once upon a time.