Michael Charnaud (Manager of Luckyland 1960 - 1964) (2023)

Luckyland was created initially by Fred Whittall a scion of the great British/Turkish mercantile family. The Whittalls had in the mid-19th Century already opened branches in Colombo and Calcutta and Fred Whittall as a young man was sent out as part of the family Agency business. However, he could not stand the heat of Colombo and eventually settled on one of the Whittall properties, Gampaha Estate, Udapussellawa. Always a man for an opportunity, whilst being manager there he purchased land adjoining at what is now Luckyland. Initially the idea was to grow Chincona to produce quinine and some trees are probably still to be seen in the jungle ravine above Luckyland Bungalow. This was done to create a nest egg pension for his eventual retirement in Turkey. At any rate, soon following the coffee smash everyone was turning to tea, and Luckyland was opened up in the late 1890's and early 1900's eventually totalling some 350 acres of tea.

The trouble was that Fred Whittall did not have sufficient funds to complete the task of creating a "Stand Alone" working unit as he could not afford the considerable sum for the building of a Tea Factory. To get funds for this he approached the manager of Rappahannock Estate nearby, a man called Gordon, who was renowned for being a very tight fisted and extremely mean individual. Eventually they came to an agreement that in exchange for 50% of the value of the shares, Gordon would build the first Tea factory. This was finally built at the turn of the 20th century and Luckyland Bungalow was started in 1908 after clearing and levelling a site with spectacular views and diverting a stream to one edge of the garden. Fred Whittall's grandiose aim was to have one of the biggest Estate bungalows in Ceylon, but as usual with him corners were cut, and instead of the walls being built of stone, they were all made on the cheap in sun dried bricks, to create an everlasting problem with white ants and eventually during the 1920's my father had to progressively replace the whole structure in igneous rock as you see it today.

My Father Fred Charnaud OBE was also brought up of English parents in Turkey who had fallen on hard times and had little education apart from lessons by the local English Vicar in Smyrna. The family had no idea as to what his future could be, when in 1907 Fred Whittall came on leave to Turkey to meet up with his family and he looked up his old friend Alfred Charnaud who told him about their worries. A deal was struck that young Fred Charnaud who was 17 years at the time would come out to Ceylon, learn tea planting under Fred Whittall who 10 years later wanted to retire, and Fred Charnaud would look after the new tea estate that he was still opening up called "Luckyland" for him. Accordingly in February 1908 on a bitingly cold day he sailed from Smyrna (now IZMIR) changed ships at Alexandria and arrived in Colombo on the day of his 18th Birthday 21st March 1908. Little did either of them know what Fred Whittall was like to work for and just what a brutal taskmaster he was!

The contrast of Colombo with its sweltering sticky heat, the glaring sun, humidity and thriving bustle was in complete contrast to sleepy Smyrna. After the debacle and the wiping out in the 1880's of 400,000 acres of coffee due to a fungal blight, there was a tremendous upsurge in replacing the blighted area with tea. The other crops such as coconut mainly grown for its oil, and the new emerging rubber plantations, had given the island now with 2 million inhabitants an unbelievable prosperity. Colombo with it position astride the main shipping routes to Australasia and the Far East, was primarily a refueling port and was reckoned to be the second busiest port in the world after London.

The climate was in complete contrast to the stark dry summers of the Mediterranean, which also had winters, and a floral spring that carpeted the hillsides with flowers. Instead, here were a profusion of palms, brilliant yellow cassias, scarlet flamboyants, and a whole host of other flowering trees. The walls and sidewalks were clothed in bougainvillea of every colour and ginger lilies of every description thrived in the hot, sticky clammy heat. Almost every day in the ensuing few months, there would be sharp thunderstorms, drenching the land with rain, followed in turn by brilliant sunshine, so that the hothouse environment completely dominated one’s life out there.

After paying his respects at Whittalls Agency Head Office in the Fort District of Colombo, he took the train upcountry through the steamy low country of palms and rubber trees, into the great open vistas of the tea country. The single track Victorian railway itself was a marvel of engineering, hacking, and carving its way through precipitous granite mountains, with a sheer determination of tunnels, terraces, bridges all blasted out by hand with gunpowder and later with dynamite. Eventually some 8 hours after leaving Colombo the main line train stopped at Nanuoya station, from where he changed once more onto a minor narrow gauge which took him to the hill station of Nuwara Eliya 6,500 ft above sea level and cool like a European country. After spending a night at the Grand Hotel, in the cool, he took the little train down towards Ragalla which was at the end of the line, where he was met by Fred Whittall on horseback at about They welcomed each other, and he walked on following Fred's horse for about 1/2 mile towards RagaIla Bungalow where they were due to have lunch. As they rounded a corner they were met by a pony and trap and two very smartly dressed young men in green velvet coats and cravats looking very raffish as they trotted swiftly by.

The smartness of the scene took Father completely by surprise. After a day and a half's travel from the hot city of Colombo to the outback of the hill country, the last thing he expected to see were such elegantly dressed men. He turned to Fred Whittall and said, "They seem very smartly dressed for the outback upcountry. Who are they?". Fred pulled up his horse and turned to him sternly, " They are your next door neighbours, the brothers Charlie and Hubert Patterson, on Allagolla. Let me make one thing quite plain, if I ever catch you having anything whatsoever to do with them, it will mean the sack instantly. They are the most wild and disreputable bums in the district, constantly drunk, constantly womanising, and constantly causing a commotion. The Superintendent of Police and Mayor have both banned them from ever setting foot in Nuwara Eliya anymore, and as I said a similar ban applies to you from having any dealings with them".

And so, they proceeded on to Ragalla for lunch, and over the years the Pattersons became very close friends as will become clearer later. After lunch they rode through the beautiful district of Udapussellawa through to Gampaha Estate where Fred was planting, with his new Estate of Luckyland adjoining. Udapussellawa is one of the finest tea growing areas of Ceylon and is situated on the North Eastern side of the main range at an elevation of about 4,000ft to 5,000 ft for the most part but rising up to 6,000 nearing Nuwara Elliya giving it a cool climate rarely exceeding 75 F. in the shade at mid-day and dropping to rarely less than 50F at night. It has stunningly breathtaking views over the wild low country jungle below the cascading hills which drop away sharply from the main tea areas. At dawn one looks far to the east, to see the grandest and most colourful sunrises with range upon range of low hills, their valleys filled with mist so that they emerge like islands in a sea of white foam. The worst time of the year were the cold rainy months of November to January when all the clouds of the Northeast Monsoon would accumulate like lumps of cotton wool and get denser and denser until it was so thick that one was hard pressed to see the edge of the little road one stood on. And then the rain would come, inches and inches at a time, in an absolute deluge to give an average rainfall of 125 - 150 inches for a year that was ideal for tea.

They arrived that late afternoon at Gampaha bungalow which was at about 5,000 ft high facing the beautiful view, with the mountain peak of the Buffaloes Hump sweeping up to the right about 700 ft higher. They walked down the stately drive lined with gigantic Eucalyptus and fir trees and were met by his very kind and gentle wife Althea who was to be a great comfort to the young "creeper" in the days and months to come. Next day father moved 2,000 ft down the hill to the Assistants bungalow which was adjacent to the factory and the other staffs’ bungalows in the valley at the bottom of the Estate.

Father used to describe his two years at Gampaha under Fred Whittall as the hardest and toughest days in his whole life. He used to recount that later, in 5 years of Army life under numerous Regimental Sergeant Majors and other officers, never did he ever meet such a hard and persistently ruthless individual. He was a short dark haired man, who had survived the harsh trauma of the coffee smash, by sheer combination of a dominant willpower, determination, and an incredible meanness and thrift. He was one of the old pioneers that gave Ceylon its great industry, and it is a tribute to unpleasant and hard people that at the end of their lives, they have left a legacy of a vast export industry giving employment to hundreds of thousands, that even today with all the politics that have been played with it, still survives. It must also be remembered that in those days tea took some 7-10 years to start coming into production, and meanwhile there was all the continuing expenditure with a revenue that was slow to materialise and even then the returns and yields were very modest of only about 3-400 lbs of made tea produced per acre, a tenth of the amount that can be achieved today with fertilizers and high yielding clones, one pencil a month to do his checkrolls and keep his books. God help anyone who would dare to exceed this allowance.

He spent his time running from one hill at 5,000 ft, down 2,000ft to the valley and up the other side three or four times a day, weighing tea pluckers and seeing to all the estate works, the strain of which he swore had a lasting effect on weakening and giving him an enlarged heart. There was no mercy for anyone from the lashing and vulgarity from Fred Whitall's tongue. One late afternoon in the factory he was tasting teas by the open window, when the Sinhalese Baas (Building Contractor) approached him about some matter. He took a drink of tea, rolled it round his mouth and spat in his face. "That is to teach you damn rascal, that the workmanship on the labour quarters you built was appalling." Shortly after he repeated the performance on one of the Tamil minor clerks. Father used to be absolutely terrified of Fred Whittall and his tempers, and most especially when he was in a particularly foul mood. He would try to avoid him in this state, and so each 5 morning he would creep around by the kitchen of the Big Bungalow and try and find Althea to see what his mood was like. Sometimes she would wave him away and warn him off, but on other occasions she would nod her head that things were safe. On one occasion he came to the kitchen and she was nowhere to be seen so he crept gingerly round to the front of the house. There on the front lawn he was confronted by Fred Whittall having a go at the Head Kangany, the Tamil who was not only in charge of all the labour but was also the chief who had recruited them from his villages in South India. Fred was still dressed in his pyjamas and had got the Kangany's head wedged between his legs and was pummelling his sides for all he was worth. "You Goddam Rascal" he kept shouting and a series of vulgar Tamil oaths, and then suddenly his pyjama trousers ripped and Father was faced with his big hairy arse sticking out as he crept away, never ever discovering what sort of error or crime the poor man had committed! On other occasions Fred could be quite charming. He was a very good shot and so often on a Sunday they would walk down to the Welimada plain which then was wild and was mostly patana or wild grassland, with their guns to shoot partridge or wild pigeon. After a day’s hard slog there was the long climb back of 2,500 ft. If they had a good day and he was happy, Father would be allowed to hold onto one of the horse's stirrups to help him up hill. Never once did he lend him a horse, or even take him on his, which as they were both small men the horse could easily have borne.

Meanwhile the new Luckyland Estate was being developed as a private personal sideline. The aspect of the Estate was beautiful on the southern slopes of the Buffaloes Hump overlooking the whole Welimada plain below and in the far distant a view to the Horton Plains (7,00011) and its peak of Totapala 8,000ft. Straight ahead on the horizon was the long Haputale range flat on top at about 6,00011 leading in the East lonely like the last sentinel, the highest Uva Peak of Namunakula(6,500ft). The upper reaches of Luckyland had all been jungle which had been cleared and planted first whilst the lower areas were still being planted and Father would help in the supervision of the new clearings. The tea was only just coming into full production and the building of the new giant Luckyland bungalow with its 120 ft corridor was just commencing when he arrived, and the small factory had recently been built and completed.

Shortly after Father arrived in 1908 the world was paid a close visit by Halleys Comet which was a spectacular sight from Gampaha with its tail spreading almost from horizon to horizon. In the clear dark upcountry atmosphere, the view was breath taking, but the coolies all without exception took it as a bad omen and were extremely frightened. About 6 months after he had come out, during the misty northeast monsoon they both went one afternoon into the gum plantation under the Buffaloes Hump, above the factory with a couple of dogs to shoot hares which were plentiful amongst the trees and the high patanas. Suddenly there was a roar and the most terrifying thing of Ceylon was on them. Somehow, they had upset a swarm of the giant wild Bambara bees, each of which is three times the size of an ordinary honeybee, and notoriously bad tempered in the cold misty Northeast monsoon season. They all flew on to Fred's head and would have killed him had not Father luckily with his cigarette lighter handy, was quickly able to get a fire going with the resinous aromatic gum twigs. Soon he had ample smoke to quieten them down and give them both a place of refuge and in so doing saved Fred's life. But most years when I planted there was always talk of some labourer or villager being fatally attacked. I used to be very wary myself and when one heard the sudden roar of a swarm would take cover and protect pull my hat down hard to cover all my hair above all, lest one get entangled and create a scent which attracts the rest in their thousands with the most painful consequences!

For relaxation there was the local Dickson's Corner Club, but apart from the Annual Tennis Meets it was difficult to get to with the lack of transport. However, after a year he purchased a second hand Royal Enfield Motorcycle. On his first trip on the 30 miles tortuous road to Nuwara Eliya, he came round a corner near the club and almost had an accident with a gentleman driving a pony and trap. He slewed around into the ditch harmlessly! "Who the hell are you?", the man enquired. "Fred Charnaud from Gampaha Estate”. “Well haven't you heard of keeping left?" he spluttered. "No never. What for?" "Well as there is now an increasing amount of road traffic with some cars on the road, it has been made a rule that if everyone keeps to the left, there is less likelihood of an accident being caused." "Thanks, I will remember that for the future." Father said it was the first time he had ever been aware of keeping to the left. He had been brought up in the era of horses, and it was easy to avoid one when one was trotting slowly and both in Turkey and his life in Ceylon up until then, there was no cause to be involved with traffic in any way. In any case, on horseback you had a better and longer distance view that facilitated an avoidance of collisions.

Whilst he was on Gampaha they had a visit from a young French Nobleman who was later to become Comte de Luppe who 3years later started to develop and open up Downside Estate with which Father was also intimately involved. Suffice to say that he was on a tour of India and the Far East and had called in to Ceylon and had been given an introduction to Fred Whittall to take him out shooting. He and father got friendly as they stalked Partridge and snipe in the Welimada plains and valleys, and he got the idea of starting up his own tea estate which later was to become "Downside". Soon it was almost two years father had been at Gampaha, and he was now in a position to move on. He bade his goodbyes to some rumbustious friends from the nearby estates who would often join him for a drink in the evening at his bungalow at the bottom of Gampaha. One was a wild chap who always carried a revolver in a holster, and when he had too much to drink would draw his gun and shoot at the hornets that would congregate on the ceiling ventilator. Father had obtained an assistant’s appointment on a small Estate called Tamaravelly in Dolosbage, near Adams Peak, and one of the wettest areas of Ceylon. The year that he was there they had a total of 330" of rain, mostly during the Southwest Monsoon period. After a year spent on Tamaravelly he obtained his first managerial position at Mottingham Estate, Maskeliya now a division of Brunswick Group under the shadow of Adam's Peak.

In 1914 he joined up an sailed to England to be enlisted first as a private in "The Artists Rifles" a Colonial Regiment and served 6 months in the trenches in France, a most terrifying experience, until because of his fluency in French, Greek and a smattering of Italian and Turkish he was singled out to be commissioned as an Officer, sent to Cambridge, joined the Intelligence Corps and was attached to the Derbyshire Yeomanry in the Salonika Campaign in Northern Greece. Here he distinguished himself gaining the Order of the British Empire (OBE Military) signed by King George V and two "Mention in Despatches" both signed by Winston Churchill as Minister of War. Whilst away he met and married Madeline Chasseaud in 1920 and together when demobilised returned as agreed to take over Luckyland later that year. The Estate consisted of 500 acres of which 350 were in tea. It was a small billet and the wages were slim, with low yields of about 400 lbs made tea per acre. To increase the yield and the wealth of the place could obviously only come from a greater crop of tea. He immersed himself in reading every agricultural and scientific book that he could lay his hands on, and through a rigorous self-taught education in agriculture slowly increased the yield in days before artificial fertilisers were widely available. But what really transformed Luckyland was the development of an efficient estate road system. In 1920 there was not a single road on the estate as all supervision was by foot or on horseback. Each dry weather all the labour were put to work cutting by hand through the steep hillsides, blasting out boulders with dynamite so that eventually the whole estate was covered in such a network of roads, that distant fields could be easily reached by car and by lorry. This enabled the new artificial fertilisers to be transported spread etc., and the green leaf to be quickly taken to the Factory which was situated on one corner at the top of the property.

Also, he managed to purchase for the Estate from a Tamil, 150 acres of tea at Naplabokka on the other side of Allagolla. A very tricky property as it was at a lower elevation, mostly very steep on a gravelly soil and in very poor condition. However, that too succumbed to good treatment and when Father finally retired in 1950 Luckyland was producing some 750,0001bs of tea and with top prices was reckoned to be one of the most profitable Estates in Ceylon at that time. His wife (my Mother Madeline) was a doctor’s daughter and very well read and keen to immerse herself in medical attention to the labour. But she could only do this by learning and being fluent in Tamil. An amusing incident once in her early stages, was requesting the houseboy to bring a bath into the bedroom... .as there was no running water at that time, and the metal bath would be carried and filled with hot water from the Dover wood stove in the kitchen at the back of the huge bungalow. She was waiting in the morning room to be aroused by the sound of the horse, fully stirruped and saddled up being led clattering down the long corridor into her bedroom.

When she inquired as to what was going on the servant replied: "Lady asked for the horse to be brought to the bedroom" Soon she realised that instead of the Tamil word" Kuthilie" for a bath, she had mistakenly said " Cutherie" for a horse. In the servants view all Western women were crazy anyway with extraordinary habits, and if Lady asked for a horse in the bedroom...well so be it fully saddled!

One of the problems that arose with the increased crop was the expansion of the Factory. To start with the factory had been built on a ledge just under the Cliff of the Buffaloes hump. It was slim building which was steadily added to during the late 1920's. However there came a point when even that could not cope with the additional yield and so in 1937 father had built a small ancillary factory nearby to be used in rush periods of rapid growth. In 1957 during the Northeast Monsoon storm the when Luckyland had 65" of rain in one week…the whole bank under the Buffaloes Hump became liquid and covered the whole rolling room in 6 foot of mud that took some three months to clean out and refurbish all the machinery. Having the little factory as a separate entity saved the day and production continued. Ten years later in 1967 my successor Tony Boyd-Moss finally pulled down the long old factory and used the factory into the present large building situated in a far more secure spot.

As mentioned in the 1920 's Fred Charnaud, on taking up his post, was faced with a small place with a small yield that he expanded. But like Fred Whittall before he too had ambitions for his own Estate. His Visiting Agent and Director Hugh Gordon was the quiet thoughtful son of Old man Gordon who had originally had 50% of the shares. When he died in about 1915 his share was divided equally amongst 7 surviving children most of whom were "neerdo-wells" drunkards, womanisers, and wastrels! Hugh was the only man of sound commonsense and bought each of the others out so that he was in charge of the "Gordon" interest owning almost all their shares. It was a classic case as the American saying goes "Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in 3 generations" Fred Charnaud had the greatest respect and liking for Hugh Gordon who planted first at Fordyce and later at Lynford, Bogawantalawa. Fred with the dynamic ambitious piston driving energy, and Hugh the quiet thoughtful man who gave him his head, offering sound advice both made a formidable combination. Fred Charnaud wanted to open up a new estate and Hugh Gordon backed the enterprise with the income from Luckyland that was doing well. So, in 1923 the first land was purchased in the new Estate below towards Welimada which in honour of Hugh Gordon was named Hugoland and the company was called the "Chardon Tea Company". Hugh was able to finance his side of the company, but Father in contrast had none, but was able to borrow at 8% his share from Fred Whittall which was in those days an exceptionally high rate of interest. Also, to help with the finances he took on a succession of creepers for 6 months at a time who paid to learn the tea-planting profession as an apprenticeship. Father would always boast how well each in turn had subsequently done in their careers and would reel off the big estates and jobs each had achieved with pride. Once when walking in the villages I noticed many of the Singhalese had bright blue eyes and inquired how this was so. "Oh, that is the result of Nat Barkers goings on with the village girls!" I had never heard about him as his name was never mentioned. "Oh, he would never work and spent all his time womanising and so had to leave" "So what became of him?" "Well eventually he went out to South Africa to grow tobacco but met a millionaires on the Union Castle liner going out and married her" "So he did best of all" I remarked. He nodded in sarcastic grudging agreement!

The partnership with Hugh Gordon continued to his death in 1948 from the most severe crippling rheumatoid arthritis when he could only move on crutches. He was succeeded in partnership watching over the Gordon interests by his Australian born wife Dorothy, a most dynamic character, from Buderim, Queensland, who had a brain like a razor and was as sharp as any man. When young she was great tennis player and on winning would leap in one bound over the net, then hug her opponent and do cartwheels on the court! She lived at Lynford, Bogawantalawa where she ruled the district like a dowager duchess but was very kind and understanding with the junior creepers, most especially the young Ceylonese whom she specially befriended. Periodically would make almost a state visit like a duchess when she came to Uva and stayed at Hugoland or Wilson's bungalow and visit and pay careful attention to the progress of her interests at Luckyland and Hugoland. She eventually had her wish and was buried next to Hugh in Maskeliya. In 1920 Fred and Madeline had their first son and he too was named Hugh! Like us all as children Luckyland enriched our whole attitude to life with the huge views, the flowers the trees, the hummingbirds, chameleons, geckos, wonderful butterflies, Atlas & Moon moths, snakes, and all the tropical profusion of colour and life. In 1925 my sister Helen was born and finally in 1931 I arrived.

One of my earliest recollections when I was 4 in 1935 was the whole of the rear of the bungalow being dug up and earthenware pipes laid, and shortly after we had a flush toilet system and proper baths. No more did the vasacuti come through a little door to take away the sawdust toilet bucket! And then there was the wonderful aroma of being taken to the factory and the enveloping scent of the tea being made. The Tamil labourers were all charming and kind and without exception growing up there was like being in a paradise that has been an inspiration for all our lives. We three children could never afterwards fit into some boring humdrum office city environment. To cap it all after an eventful Second World War finally I returned to Ceylon to tea plant in 1953 and in 1960 was able to become manager of Luckyland and Hugoland Estates. It was a homecoming in more ways than one, as now I was married with two children whilst we were on Hugoland, and our youngest Paul was born whilst at Luckyland. For my assistant on Luckyland I had the excellent Reggie Perera who was the son of Peter Perera who had been the Estate Conductor under my Father from the 1930's. He was ambitious, very friendly with my Mother who would pass onto him books that he avidly read. I also had a Nanny when small a charming young girl called Cristobel who whilst there married Peter and who in turn had their son Reggie who became my assistant. Reggie's wife Margie in 1960 was always coming to our house because she in turn had a baby, Bernadette, who was exactly the same age born in 1960 as our son Paul. A curious thing happened in 2005 when we were on a visit to Kandy and I noticed a house opposite the Citadel Hotel that had a bank of Vanda Joachim Orchids growing in profusion. I knocked on the door to enquire whether I could purchase some.

I was met by an attractive 30 year old woman who asked me how I knew the name and when I told her I used to be at Luckyland from a child ...she invited me in to see her old great Aunt from Waldemar. It turned out that Miss Gomez as she was then was a great friend of Cristobel...had persuaded her to marry Peter, and their young granddaughter that was born at Luckyland is now a Consultant Anaesthetist at Kingston Hospital and is married to Prof. Landon of St Bartolemews Hospital, London All have subsequently met here in England and the orchids are still growing well all a reminder of those days at Luckyland.

My Father Fred finally left for retirement at Hugoland in 1950 and was followed briefly by Tim Wilson, Freddie Keun and then in 1952 by John Holland and his wife Nancy. John was an ex- tank corps commander from the Desert Rats in North Africa. He was a very kind and sympathetic soul and a good planter. Curiously, he was also a great respecter of Tamil & Singhalese curses, mantras and superstitions and other supernatural beliefs. "There are more things in heaven and earth than were ever dreamt of in thy philosophy"! He had three 2 friends, Charles Bagot and Budge Burkett and each would vie to do the toughest thing ,either singly or all together in the low country trekking over miles of virgin jungle, travelling rough and on one occasion with an inflatable they went from Kandy down the Mahaveli Ganga to eventually come out at Trincomalee long before there was any irrigation development or roads of any description. After I sadly came back to England in 1964, I handed it over to Tony Boyd Moss who in turn was followed by Harold Ratwatte. My days at Luckyland, both as a child and as Manager with my young wife and family, have always been an inspiration, and where I learnt to be appreciative of colour and the multitudinous forms and shapes of plants. Now I live in England and am fortunate to have created in Surrey a paradise of a garden modelled on the beautiful and colourful one that I grew up with at Luckyland.

May the Estate and all who work there in future years prosper, and these notes are a small tribute to an exceptional place that gave so much happiness to us all.


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