Pioneers & Legends of the Ceylon Plantation Industry
Extract from ‘Some Pioneers of the Tea Industry’ by Sir Thomas Villiers
As will be shown now, the great pioneer of tea was James Taylor, planter from 1852 to 1892, as Superintendent of Loolecondera, in Hewaheta. In one respect, James Taylor stands out as an exception to the general rule, in that he was never a proprietor. James Taylor was born at Mosspark, Monboddo, Kincardineshire, Scotland in 1835. James was the eldest of a family of six and deeply attached to his mother whose death took place in 1844, when James was nine years old. James was educated at Auchenblae, which stands at the entrance to the beautiful glen of Drumtochty. His master describes him as ' a quiet steady-going lad with prominent eyes and eyebrows, and a heavy but thoughtful expression '. When his father married again, home life became unbearable to the young lad who was no favourite with his step-mother. As he grew older he disliked what he considered the drudgery of farm life, but his father gave no encouragement to his desire to leave home and push his way in the world.
At length Mr. Peter Moir, a native of Laurencekirk, and a cousin of his mother, hearing how James was situated at home, helped him to an introduction to Messrs. Hadden of London, who were then sending young men out to Ceylon as assistants on plantations. James Taylor's engagement ran as follows
' Messrs. G. & J. A. Hadden, London.
I hereby engage myself to Mr. George Pride of Kandy, Ceylon, for the space of three years to act in the capacity of Assistant Superintendent, and to make myself generally useful, at a salary of £100 per annum, to commence from the time of my arrival on the estate and to have deducted from my salary the amount of money advanced for my passage and outfit.
I am, Gentlemen, Your obedient servant,
The name of Hadden is well known and respected throughout the island, and if James Taylor was the Pioneer of Tea, then the Hadden family may well claim a large share in the success of the industry by their employment of James Taylor as a planting pupil.
The young man sailed from London on October 22nd, 1852, when he was but 17 years old. On arrival he was sent to Loolecondera under a Mr. Williams, who shortly afterwards re-opened old Sinnapitiya, and part of Weyangawatte for Capt. Henry C. Byrde. Writing to a friend in Scotland some years afterwards he wrote ' The first two years in Ceylon were the most uncomfortable in my life '. By 1857 he was manager of Loolecondera, which belonged to Mrs. Pride. Many well-known planters were at various times assistants under Taylor : in fact it became an estate where men who wished to learn something about tea went as assistants for a time. Some of the names of such men are familiar and include George Maitland, P. R. Shand, John Scott, J. H. Campbell, J. M. Purdon, G. F. Traill, H. F. Dunbar, A. L. Scott, F. E. Waring, A. C. Bonner, C. H. T. Wilkinson and J. G. Forsyth.
It was in 1874 that James Taylor took his first holiday from Ceylon, and he never left the country again till he died after 4' years' service on Loolecondera. Even that holiday was not spent in his old home, but he went to Darjeeling where he took notes of everything connected with tea as then cultivated and prepared. It should perhaps be noted here that Taylor was a pioneer in cinchona too, for in July, 1867 the first instalment of cinchona bark harvested on a Ceylon plantation reached London, when Mr. John Eliot Howard, the quinologist, gave a very favourable report on the shipment for he wrote There must be something in the soil or climate of Ceylon peculiarly adapted to the perfect growth of this plant '. Loolecondera had by that time become the property of Messrs. Harrison and Leake, the partners of the firm of Keir Dundas & Co., Kandy. The business of this firm was eventually taken over by Messrs. Whittall & Co. Mr. Leake was of course for many years the Secretary of the Ceylon Association in London.
So far back as 1865, by Mr. Harrison's orders, James Taylor began to get tea seed from the Peradeniya Gardens, and early in 1866 he was able to put out tea plants along the sides of the roads or paths through the coffee plantation. At the instance of Mr. Leake a special inspection and report on the Assam Tea Districts was made by Mr. Arthur Morrice, which led to an importation of Assam-hybrid tea seed for the benefit of Loolecondera.
The first tea clearing, felled in 1867, consisted of 20 acres. Its progress was reported on every year, and some years later the yield was stated to be 450 to 5oo lb. per acre, and the tea in good heart throughout.
This country owes much to Dr. G. H. K. Thwaites as Director of our Botanical Gardens for supplying Mr. Morrice with full instructions as to the enquiry which he was to make in Assam, and he evidently realised that the China jat seed which he had provided on former occasions was not the article required. Mr. Morrice came back with 200 lb. of seed from Assam which was distributed to those who wished to take up tea planting. He was sent by the Government to Assam, at the request of the Planters' Association.
In 1892 the Planters' Association presented James Taylor with a tea and coffee service, on the tray of which was the following inscription ' To James Taylor, Loolecondera, in grateful appreciation of his successful efforts which laid the foundation of the Tea and Cinchona Industries in Ceylon, 1891.
So the Planters' Association of that day evidently regarded James Taylor as the pioneer of successful tea planting in Ceylon.
In acknowledging the receipt of the presentation, James Taylor first of all gives credit to Messrs. Harrison & Leake for his original successes, as they were his employers and proprietors of Loolecondera, and then he writes:
" With regard to the manufacture of tea, I learned that mainly from others and from reading, but it took a lot of experimenting before I was very successful., About the time that we began planting China tea from seed got from Peradeniya Garden, a Mr. Noble, an Indian tea planter from Cachar, passed through to see a neighbouring coffee estate, and I got him to show me the way to pluck and wither and roll tea with a little leaf growing on some old tea bushes in my bungalow garden. It was all rolled by hand then. He told me about fermenting and panning and the rest of the process. After that I frequently made experimental lots as I got leaf to pluck. ' Afterwards a Mr. Jenkins, an old Assam tea planter, called on me and I made a batch of tea under his directions. A sample of this and samples of seven lots that I had made before were then sent up to Calcutta to be reported on. Mr. Jenkins' sample was valued a little higher than mine. With two exceptions, the samples sent were reported on as being better than most of the Indian teas that were being sold in Calcutta. From this I saw that I had been making tea rightly enough, but as I could not get it to taste like the China teas sold in the shops, I had been always varying my process and spoiling batches of tea. Nevertheless, I benefited largely by Mr. Jenkins' advice, and that sample of his being better than mine settled me as to the process to be developed.
Up to this time all my makings of tea had been made with arrangements in the bungalow verandah, but I got a tea house finished soon after and regular tea-making then became a necessary part of working the estate. Afterwards Mr. Jenkins put up a temporary tea house on Condegalla which I was surprised to find was a copy in all its working parts of the one which I had built according to a plan of my own, and different from the style of Indian tea houses. But Mr. Jenkins did not make as good tea as I was making. On visiting his tea house I found his tea very different from what I was making and from the lot which he had made with me. His fermenting, which I saw, was by ramming the roll as hard and tight as possible into a box, a plan that I had tried at the beginning of my experiments but had long ago given up as a failure. A Mr. Baker, a tea planter from Assam, called on me after my original field of hybrid tea was well grown up, and showed me that I had not pruned it sufficiently, and I pruned it all over again. Afterwards when Mr. Cameron came and took to visiting tea estates I was pleased to find that the way he was pruning, so far as I saw it on Mariawatte, seemed to entirely agree with what I had done. But Mr. Cameron started finer plucking than I had been doing, and began to top the sales list's, which I think we began to get about that time. When I found that, I also took to weekly plucking and topped the sale lists for a time. That finer plucking largely increased the selling prices of the tea, and still more largely the profit per acre. So I was greatly indebted to Mr. Cameron though I only met him two or three times casually about Kandy and Gampola."
It is from these small beginnings that the Industry has been built up, and I trust that I have established the name of Mr. James Taylor as the Pioneer of the Tea Industry in Ceylon.
Scotsman James Taylor started Sri Lanka’s first tea estate, 19 acre Loolecondera Estate, marking the birth of the tea industry in Ceylon.
The first Shipment of Ceylon Tea, a consignment of 23lb (10kg) arrived in London for trade
The first public Colombo Tea Auction was held at the premises of Somerville & Co. under the auspice of Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.
(In keeping with the objectives of this website, all COMMENTS must be restricted to the history of this planter or person i.e. names, dates & anecdotes. Critical evaluations or comments of any sort therefore are not acceptable and will be moderated.)