Dyan Seneviratne (2005)

“Do you know the difference between a Rubber Tree and a Tea Bush, young man?”, thundered Eardley Hermon to a quivering nineteen-year-old ‘fresh-face’ just out of St. Thomas’ College Mt Lavinia on 1st July 1969, on the steps leading to the Manager’s Bungalow of Poronuwa Group, Kahawatte. That was my first unforgettable encounter with this unique personality – THE ‘Planter of Planters’ – Eardley Arthur Hermon.

Eardley Hermon in spite of a stern exterior was indeed a lovable man – I should know – he was after all my ‘Guru’ and mentor in planting when yours truly did his stint of ‘creeping’ under the great man and thereafter served as Junior SD. Poronuwa then was a formidable Tea cum Rubber property of 2074 acres, owned by a ‘Sterling Company’, Pelmadulla Tea & Rubber Company Ltd., managed by James Finlays. Indeed Poronuwa Group then under Eardley Hermon was one of the most profitable estates in Ceylon.

I have come across many keen Estate Superintendents but never such an absolutely devoted planter – straight as an arrow and never fighting shy of calling a spade, a spade. Not many liked his straightforward approach – tough luck but that was E A H!

Eardley Hermon used to start his day in the wee hours of each morning – hardly being driven. He preferred to ‘to do his rounds’ on foot – cross country, through the tea and rubber fields. Many a time I have personally trudged with him starting at 6 am, ending up at 3 pm, not across the proverbial hills & dales but through carpets of tea, thru ‘leader’ drains, along with field boundaries and climbing over huge boulders strewn across the rubber fields. And he never believed in sitting anywhere whilst on his field rounds!

A ‘Hands-On’ Planter he believed in getting his Assistants too to do likewise. And so I HAD to pluck the required poundage with the pluckers. Eardley insisted that my row had to be flanked by the best two pluckers of Lower Division – Thangammah and Nesomony!

The ‘Dorai’ himself would weigh the leaf to check whether I had a few pounds passed on by the two champion pluckers! It was the same when it came to pruning, new clearing work, draining or forking – discarding my ‘planter shirt’ and physically doing what had to be done in the fields wearing my sweaty banian and shorts only! Before long yours truly was a toughened ‘labourer’ of Poronuwa Group – thanks to Eardley H.

Mr E A Hermon loved his workforce. And he personally knew each one of them. He would never fail to check on their humble abodes; water services and sanitation was a ‘must’ along with ‘compost pits’ next to all ‘lines’. Eardley would blow a fuse if ramps and drains of lines were ‘blocked’ or cement chipped. The planters then did not have the luxury of civil engineers, courtesy of the Plantation Human Development Trust checking on building constructions, like now! Eardley Hermon was not only a master agriculturist but equally adept in engineering, plumbing, masonry work – you name it!

If ever there was an all-round planter – it was E A Hermon!

Eardley Hermon reigned Poronuwa Group for some 27 years. Generations of planters ‘made it’ under his tutelage. His cost management was legendary whilst always maintaining an absolutely ‘clean’ weed-free estate. He would come down on you like a ‘ton-of-bricks’ if ever your fields would have even one flowering weed sticking out above the plucking surface. Fields were ever ready to receive fertilizer as a result. Planters of such dedication are indeed a dying breed now…..

Thoughts of those glorious days of planting came flooding into my mind when I stood at the gates of Kanatte to receive the casket of my beloved ‘guru’. Next to me was a Cricketer of yesteryear – Berty Wijesinghe, who spoke of Eardley’s Cricketing talents as a top-class wicket-keeper. “Eardley was the best ‘keeper I have come across – at any age” confirmed Berty Wijesinghe [and that says a lot!] who also represented S. Thomas’ College, Mt Lavinia along with Eardley Hermon in the 1930s.

As the casket was being lowered that December ’05 morn I could only reflect on the life of Eardley Hermon, born 31 October 1920 to the well-known Hermon planting family. A dapper, Thomian sportsman – a brilliant wicketkeeper/batsman and boxer. Joined ‘planting’ during WW11 when Ceylon was under the British. A dedicated ’Finlay-Planter’ to the very end, until the State took over the estates in 1975. The past 30 odd years of his life made him get closer to God. Eardley was a ‘regular’ at the Anglican churches of Nugegoda and Mirihana. He loved his family and was indeed proud of each one of them.

My heartfelt sympathies go out to Pauline & Jeremy, Lakshmie, Godfrey, Jenny and Angie. In fact whilst Eardley was gravely ill in hospital he simply wanted to make it for Jenny & Romano’s wedding scheduled for mid-December 2005. It was not to be. Eardley Arthur Hermon breathed his last on 2 December 2005.

May his soul rest in peace.

Dyan Seneviratne, December 2005


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