Allen - Duncan & Alison

Duncan was born at Karjan T.E. Assam in 1927.

He was educated at  Eastbourne College England.

In 1945 he was commissioned at the Indian Military Academy into the 1 st. Gurkha Regiment.

After partition Duncan returned to  Britain and joined Duncan Brothers Tea Company in 1948.

Hantapara, Meenglass, Birpara, Lakhipara,Gundrapara, Kerala,Orangajuli.

In 1958 Calcutta to become a V.A for the Company.  Retired in1970 .

Duncan was elected Mayor of Dornoch in 1991. 

2021 - now retired happily at 94 years of age.


TAKING  CHARGE - by Duncan Allen - tea planter.

It was the month of April 1954 when I was an assistant at Birpara Tea Estate in the Doorars, West Bengal, that I received a telegram which read: ‘proceed at once to Lakhipara and take charge stop letter follows’.  I loaded my mal into the back of a lorry, bade farewell to my manager and rattled off in my Morris Minor to Lakhipara which was a dozen miles away.  In those days managers were given six months UK leave every four years and senior assistants were appointed as acting managers during their absence.  It was an excellent way of training future managers.  I was surprised and excited to be given an acting so early since I was barely twenty seven years old.  I was soon to find out why.

On arriving at Lakhipara I was given the safe keys by the burra babu and met the assistant who told me the story of what happened to Kerr, the manager.  Apparently, Kerr had been assaulted several times in the garden and eventually, when injured, had been pushed into a deep drain and was then urinated on by some of his assailants.  Four labourers from Danguajar T.E. involved in a murder, had sought refuge in Lakhipara where they had relatives and formed the leadership of a newly established communist led trades union.  The early days of the unions in West Bengal were often accompanied by violence.  Four British managers were thrown live into blast furnaces at Jessops near Calcutta.

Kerr finally made it back to his bungalow where he was patched up by his wife and the doctor, and decided there and then to catch the plane for Calcutta from Telepara the next day.  He then resigned his job and flew to the UK and we never heard from him again.  He left his two dogs, which I took over.  I think that this was the only instance that a manager literally fled in the history of Duncans that I remember.  However, there was a manager of Moheema T.E. in the Golaghat district of Assam, who was restrained by his girlfriend and the servants from shooting Duncans’ visiting agent at the time.  I have an uneasy feeling that if he had shot him several managers would have applauded, but that is another story and no, I was not the visiting agent in question, before you ask.

One of the dogs I fell heir to was a dachshund, a German sausage dog, as they are sometimes rudely called.  He was a keen shihari and frightened of nothing.  One Sunday afternoon when I was sitting on the veranda, a labourer approached (a Santal if I remember correctly) with a lump of raw meat on a banana leaf.  He told me that this was for the dog, the dog with the short legs.  It was from a porcupine that they had killed that day and, as was their custom, all who took part in the hunt, should receive a share of the kill.  The dachshund had found the porcupine’s hole, went down it and barked loud and long.  They dug it out the next day and here was his share.

The dogs used to sleep on the ground floor veranda and one night a leopard crept in and picked him up, but the chowkidar awoke and threw his stick at the leopard which dropped and ran off.  We dressed the wound with sulphanamide, the best medicine at that time and eventually he recovered to die at the age of 21 in my flat in Calcutta.  He was a great dog.

The office chowkidar was a cripple with withered legs.  The lakri mistri had made him a skate board on which he sat and propelled himself with great dexterity.  He had a penetrating whistle with which he caught attention and sent others on errands.  He was a master at bundling coins into paper packets, so was fully employed when the hundi came.  He had other unusual skills and was also a great gossip or chukli.  He was our secret service.  Sadly he had a soft spot for girls and was always saving the bride price for a wife.  They invariably ran off and he was on his third when I knew him.


- 2 -

Shortly after taking over, a small deputation from the bustee line came to see me requesting that I gave them a basket and ropes so that they could clean out their well by lowering a man down.  They did this every year, so I agreed.  The men involved would be given a day’s wage.  In the late afternoon I was told that a man had been overcome by marsh gas and was dead at the bottom of the well.  I went out and had a look just before it became dark.  There he was, poor man.  Next morning a police daroga and four armed policemen came to the office to arrest me for murder.  Whilst I was digesting this information and reading the charge sheet, the second clerk made a dramatic entrance.  He was an unusual man with long hair falling to his shoulders, an aquiline nose and a distinguished, even commanding presence.  He was always impeccably dressed in a long white shirt with gold studs, a flowing white dhoti and highly polished black shoes with pointed toes.  He flung out an arm dramatically and said that while at school he had studied Sherlock Holmes, the great detective.  Holmes said that there could be no murder without a body. 

The daroga was taken aback and replied that there was a body, you could see it at the bottom of the well.  No, said Sherlock Holmes’ deputy, you must raise the body to the surface.  It was not a murder, but a tragic accident.  The daroga became quite deflated and stopped speaking about bringing breathing apparatus up from Calcutta.  It transpired that the murder charge had been lodged by the communist union.  The police retreated, mollified somewhat by presents of tea, firewood, mustard oil, rice and dal.  I was thankful to have a second clerk who looked just like a Rabindranath Tagore.

I bought 1½ miles of piping locally in order to provide a new water supply to the bustee line and sent a letter of explanation to Duncans.  Local purchases were strictly forbidden.  When I paid a brief visit to Lakhipara in November 2008, I asked the manager to run me down to the bustee line.  Was it nostalgia or a guilty conscience?

There were terrible floods that year.  Bridges were washed away, communications were disrupted and we ran out of fuel for the driers.  That is when John Chinaman came into his own.  Stripped down to his underpants and with a hosepipe spraying water on him to keep him cool, he converted our drier furnaces from oil fired to coal, including all the fire bars.  He worked all day and night and I gave him a bottle of Martell 4 Star brandy as a bonus.  Chinamen love brandy as much as Bengalis love whisky.  So we became coal fired.

Guess what?  The coal ran out and fuel oil supplies were resumed.  John reconverted coal furnaces back to oil in the same manner.  John had a very good command of swear words in Hindi, English and Chinese.

The Chinese had their own club in Mal and gambled all week at their New Year, playing fan tan.  John invariably lost all his money.  The head clerk asked me not to give him all his savings when he took his annual leave.  Poor John was expelled from India during the Chinese invasion.  Long afterwards the new manager, Bill Cheyne, received a letter from him asking that his almira should be taken to pieces very carefully and that the money hidden inside should be sent to him in Hong Kong.  Bill managed to do this and received a grateful letter of thanks in return.


- 3 -

One day on coming in from the garden on my bicycle, I heard a terrible commotion coming from the Lohar Khana.  The office chowkidas said that there was nothing to worry about, the blacksmith was fitted with handcuffs and leg-irons that he had fashioned himself for just such an eventuality.  He was then locked up in the isolation ward, which I noticed had bars on the windows!  However, I was told that if he was to be kept quiet, he would have to be given a supply of Players cigarettes and matches until he recovered.  He cost me 200 cigarettes until a plaintive voice asked for release because he was once again quite sane.  He was a good blacksmith and loyal to a fault.

Every year in the Binnaguri District, we celebrated Independence Day by holding a football match between British planters and an Indian team drawn from all the talent of every garden.  It was a great occasion attended by a large and sporting crowd.  On this occasion it was all square until near the final whistle when I was playing on the left wing and managed to centre the ball and our striker, a large assistant from Andrew Yules, bundled the ball, goalkeeper and himself into the back of the net, amidst the most tremendous protests from the crowd.  At that time it was permissable to charge the goalkeeper if he had his feet on the ground and was holding the ball with both hands.  The brave referee allowed the goal and had to be escorted from the field.  We all went to Binnaguri Club to celebrate.  We never won another match.

October came and the new manager took over from me.  Bill Cheyne was exactly the right man for the job.  He knew the garden well, having been assistant there before the war, but in addition he was brave, resourceful and had a generosity of spirit which was instantly recognised by labour.  He had a huge tussle with the communist union and a long strike, which he won.  After that he set the stage for Lakhipara to become the fine garden that it is today. 

I hope that he is remembered.  His name should be in gold letters on the notice board.

I only found out very recently through the internet that George Kerr never fully recovered from the beating he got at Lakhipara tea garden and died two years later.  His daughter was 7 years old in 1954 and was at school in Darjeeling.  She now lives in Canada.

I was now a manager, the carefree days were over.