This article is the second part of a series on the botanical incubation of tea plantations in South Asia. While the first article illustrated the early imagination and blueprints created by botanists to establish a tea industry in South Asia, the second article concentrates on how those botanical “business plans” were realized in the mid-nineteenth century. Botanists launched the first migrations of tea plants and prepared ecological habitats for tea through research on climate, soil, and ecology. Botanical gardens in India and Ceylon provided indispensable botanical and technical support for early planters with seeds, plants, and knowledge, extending the outreach of the global tea production chain to South Asia. This saga is illustrated by the stories of “amateur capitalists” who devised and incubated the tea industry with the help of the botanical infrastructure in Calcutta, Saharanpur, Peradeniya, and Hakgalla. Those pioneers were a number of botanists and naturalists such as Joseph Banks, Robert Kyd, George Govan, John Forbes Royle, Hugh Falconer, Nathaniel Wallich, and their Ceylon counterparts H.T. Normansell and G.H.K. Thwaites. The story of tea manifested in the multi-species universalism of plants, animals, people, and knowledge, as well as the cosmopolitan connections among academic and commercial establishments beyond artificial borders and identities.
Keywords: The tea plant, India tea, Ceylon tea, botanist, botanical gardens, business incubation, plant capitalism, multi-species
In the late eighteenth century, tea prices in Britain decreased thanks to the Act of 1784 and the reduced tea tax in Britain, but were still high compared with tea sold in Europe and America. By 1822, the various tea products in London were sold at almost twice the price in New York. In 1827, tea prices in London were also twice the price in the Netherlands. One of the reasons was the widely criticized monopoly of the tea trade with China by the British East India Company. Perhaps, owing to their monopolistic control and their need to regulate the total amount of tea imports, the EIC did not regard the suggestions of commercial tea planting in India as imperative or appealing. The various plans by botanists to grow tea in South Asia, described in the previous article, were put aside without getting activated.
The tide began to turn in the 1830s. Within this background was the accumulating resentment towards the EIC’s monopoly of the Asian trade, especially the tea trade; and finally in 1833, the termination of the EIC’s commercial rights cleared the way for freer trade. For example, the magazine, The Oriental Herald and Journal of General Literature, denounced the EIC’s monopoly of the tea trade with China as “a nature to embarrass our colonial system.” The Annual Review and History of Literature listed several reasons why the monopoly trade by the EIC was not welcome:
(1) the interest of the public is diametrically opposite to that of the Company; (2) the Company is both unwilling and unable to carry the trade to a proper extent; (3) a free competition would increase every branch of national exertion; (4) foreigners profit by the present system, to the exclusion of domestic industry; (5) the exorbitant profits of the Company are a tax on the people of Great Britain; (6) the Directors and Proprietors are ill qualified to legislate for Hindostan; [This proposition appears to us wholly unproved, the Directory having shewn quite as much wisdom as the Board of Controul.] (7) the Directors are led to disregard the interests of trade, by their distinct interest as sovereigns; (8) the importation of nabobs has a corrupt effect on our manners. [Author’s note: the journal used “Controul,” an archaic spelling of “control.”]
Under the pressure of the outcry against the EIC’s monopoly, on the one hand, and the constant promotion of tea projects by botanists, on the other, the British India authorities began to seriously consider the likelihood of establishing commercial tea plantations and producing tea in their own dominions, in addition to importing from China. Benefiting from the tide of public emotions against monopoly, the botanists’ proposals began to have new life in South Asia. Initially, the Company came up with the idea of employing Chinese technicians to guide the experimental cultivation. In 1829, William Bentinck, Governor of Fort William in Calcutta visited the EIC territories in Malacca and Singapore and evaluated the work of the Chinese immigrants in the plantations. Bentinck observed that the Chinese adventurers here showed “their superior energy, their industry, their spirit of speculation and calculation of profit is quite equal to that of any European nation.” He felt confident about launching a tea-producing experiment in India with the help of Chinese entrepreneurship which “was perfectly practicable through Chinese agency,” and “most strongly and confidently recommend that the attempt should be made.” Bentinck planned to recruit from Penang and Singapore a number of Chinese personnel, and to obtain the “genuine plant” and cultivators “under the promise of liberal remuneration.”
In January 1834, Bentinck, who became the first Governor General of India in that year, proposed the formation of a tea committee for the experiment in tea cultivation and manufacture in India. Headed by George James Gordon initially, the committee consisted of “several members of the Bengal Civil Service” plus the superintendent of the Calcutta Botanical Garden, Nathaniel Wallich, with the aim of “effecting the introduction of the Tea-plant into the Company’s territories.” On the recommendation of Hugh Falconer of the Saharanpur Botanical Garden on February 22, 1834, Gordon embarked on a journey to China in June. Falconer in the next month started to prepare small nurseries in the “Gurwhal and Sirinone hills” in the north of Saharanpur. The first batch of seeds of Bohea tea was shipped by Gordon in November 1834 and arrived at Calcutta in January 1835. About eight thousand plants out of twenty thousand survived the trip from Canton to Calcutta. Some of the seeds were sent to Madras and planted in Mysore and the “Neilgherry hills.” Some were planted in the Calcutta Botanical Garden and grew to about six inches. Later, those young shoots were planted in pots and transported to the Muttuck region in Assam.
Assam Tea Tree: “The Most Important and Valuable Discovery”
The migration and transplanting of the tea plant from China to South Asia was driven by the enthusiasm of botanists and the EIC authorities. But the enthusiasm was also ignited by another important historical botanical discovery in the Assam mountains—the discovery of the primordial tea plants which spread throughout Assam, northern Burma, and Yunnan. As indicated in the previous article, while some British colonial naturalists claimed there might exist wild teas in Ceylon, British explorers in Assam actually made discoveries of local tea species in the region. During the Assam-Burma War in the 1820s, Robert Bruce, British military advisor to the Ahom kingdom of Assam, made a local discovery of a species resembling the tea plant. Bruce was also a part-time botanist. During his journey in the areas of the local Singpho tribes, Bruce noticed some tea-like plants “in a state of nature” among the hills at Rungpore. His brother C.A. Bruce, a gunboat commander of the EIC, carried on the botanical enquiry. C.A. Bruce communicated with tribal chiefs about the status of this tea plant, and went to their habitat to observe and collect samples and seeds, and then sent them to the Calcutta Botanical Garden.
According to Bruce, many local tea plants were found in the Muttuck country, “one vast Tea country” where the soil was well adapted for tea. Bruce further described the conditions of the discovered tea tracts:
Great numbers of the Tea tracts have been cut down in sheer ignorance by the natives and converted into paddy fields. I know of three tracts, where the paddy had been collected, and the Tea plants had sprung up again; when these are neglected they all rise up into thick wood jungle. Several of these places have been pointed out to me by some of the old inhabitants. Almost every inhabitant of the Muttuck country know [sic] now the Tea leaf, seeing how much we prize it, and getting little rewards from me when they bring in a branch from any new tract.
Bruce noticed how local people consumed the tea leaves but in a “different way” from the Chinese or international drinkers. He described the way local Singpho people prepared the tea leaves:
They pluck the young and tender leaves and dry them a little in the sun; some put them out into the dew and then again into the sun three successive days, others only after a little drying put them into hot pans, turn them about until quite hot, and then place them into the hollow of a bamboo, and drive the whole down with a stick, holding and turning the bamboo over the fire all the time until it is full, then tie the end up with leaves, and hang the bamboo up in some smoky place in the hut; thus prepared the Tea will keep good for years. A good way further east they dig holes in the earth, line the sides with large leaves, boil the Tea leaves, throw away the decoction, put the leaves into the hole, which they cover over with leaves and earth, and then allow the whole to ferment; after which it is taken out, filled into bamboos, and in this manner prepared taken [sic] to market.
Nevertheless, Bruce’s claim about the local way of producing tea being different from the “Chinese methods” needs to be taken with some reservation. Bruce’s description of tea making by the Singpho people is somehow similar to the Bamboo Pu’er Tea (竹筒普洱茶) in the south of Yunnan. The first method is similar to the raw tea Pu’er (生茶, shēng chá) approach, and the second “good way further east” resembles the method to make ripe tea Pu’er (熟茶, shú chá). From Bruce’s description, it is not easy to determine whether the tea plants on those tracts were human cultivated or wild plants, especially the “neglected” tea plants, which seem as if they were first planted by people, then neglected, or they were indigenous wild plants overlooked by local communities. Also opaque is whether those tea tracts were cultivated lands, or natural fields growing the wild tea trees. It seems possible that the tea plants and the techniques of making tea might have traveled through time across the Yunnan-Burma-Assam region. If the cultivation had been existing for hundreds of years, if not longer, in Assam, it might be difficult to tell whether the “wild tea plants” were primeval plants growing naturally, or the offspring of the cultivated plants.
In 1839, C.A. Bruce presented a report describing the geographical location of the wild tea plants he discovered. In his report, it was said a “tea-tract” was found in the hills behind “Jaipore [Joypur, Eastern Assam]” and a tract on the foot of the hills. Bruce believed the area was about two to three miles or longer. He was informed by the local people that there were also tea plants in the Naga Hills and Teweack. To the east of the Dacca [Dikhow] River, Bruce claimed to have found local tea plants at Cheridoo [Charaideo] and Ghergong [Garhgaon]. He “walked towards the hills, and almost immediately came upon tea.” Bruce trekked further southwest to the Gabrew hill where he “found the small hills adjoining it, to the eastward, covered with tea-plants.” Bruce traveled through a local Norah tribe which he thought was a branch of the Shans. He found the tea plants growing at the Tipum hill where later he opened a tea plantation from the base to the hilltop. Bruce recalled that the local elders told him their ancestors escaped from Munkum [Makum] with the tea plants, and planted them on the Tipum [Tipam] hill. There is a local legend that the first Kacharry raja of Assam brought the tea plant from Munkum, the Brahmaputra River valley in the East Himalayan region.
The external botanical features of the local tea appeared rather appealing to Bruce. He wrote, “the flowers of the tea on these hills are of a pleasant delicate fragrance, unlike the smell of our other tea-plants; but the leaves and fruit appear the same.” Bruce suggested the Assam region could be a promising place for producing tea, given the place was “well populated, has abundance of grain, and labour is cheap.”
Map of Northern Assam in 1850 Showing Tribal and Tea Growing Areas
Northern Assam in 1850, illustrating “The Tea Country,” Sadiya, Singpho, Beesa, and other tea growing areas. Church Missionary Society, The Church Missionary Intelligencer, vol. 1, no. 12 (April 1850), Crowther Mission Studies Library.
The experiment in the commercial planting of tea by Bruce not only relied upon the discovered Assam plant, but also the tea plants imported from China with the help of Chinese tea planters. The tea plantations in South Asia illustrate the dynamics of plant migration with botanical varieties traveling through China, Darjeeling, Assam, and Ceylon. According to C.A. Bruce, his Muttuck plantation was growing about 1,600 tea plants imported from China. Those plants were plucked every March. Bruce transplanted the seeds from those plants to other gardens in Jaipore, which amounted roughly to over 3,000 shoots. In those experimental gardens, Thea Assamica was mix-planted together with the imported Chinese tea. At this time Bruce managed experimental plantations in the south of the Debree River and the Singpho regions east of Muttuck. Bruce echoed Joseph Banks and William Bentinck’s ideas about employing Chinese workers. In his 1839 report to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Bruce said two Chinese technicians arrived at his gardens. Those Chinese workers were experts in green tea production, and had twelve local men as their apprentices. Bruce lamented that those men were apparently not sufficient for large scale plantation management for the next three years, they were “but a drop of water in the ocean.” Bruce recommended acceleration of importing technicians and labor to meet the demand from every plantation.
C.A. Bruce’s efforts were appreciated by Nathaniel Wallich in his testimony to the Agricultural and Horticultural Society of India in 1836. Wallich credited Bruce with great works in the discovery and cultivation of the tea plant in Assam, hoping “that Mr. Bruce may not be forgotten whenever the Society have any seeds for distribution.” Wallich exemplified Bruce’s endeavor with full recognition:
Few men alive are so well acquainted with that province and its past resources as he is; and to him more praise and credit are due on account of the discovery of, and active inquiries into, the growth of the tea plant in Assam than to any other individual. It was he in fact, and his late brother, who first brought the plant to the notice of the late Mr. David Scott [who was the Agent to the North East Frontier and Commissioner of Assam from 1826 to 1831].
The Tea Committee did not learn about the discovery of Assam tea from Bruce first. The news came from Captain Francis Jenkins, agent to the East India Company commissioner on the Northeast Frontier. He and Lieutenant A. Charlton took the credit for the discovery of the Assam tea plant. Later, C.A. Bruce was also recognized for discovering the indigenous tea tracts, and for cultivating tea in Assam.
In March 1834, the Tea Committee sent out a circular, asking for details about the suitability of the climate and the soil for tea cultivation in India. Francis Jenkins replied to the Tea Committee on May 7, 1834, explaining the suitability of producing tea in Assam and the existence of local tea plants. Jenkins wrote that:
I am so fully impressed with the belief of the fitness of the mountainous region which divides Cachár from Assam for the growth of tea, that I beg to attempt to call the attention of the committee to that region in the most forcible manner I can, with a view to its examination by a competent individual. . . . From the end of the valley of Assam this ceases to be merely a west and east range; its direct continuation passes into China, into the tea countries of Sechuen and Yunnan: the northern bend, in the latitude of Sadiya, meets a branch of the snowy mountains, and the southern divides off into the two mountainous ranges, which border the Irrawady on either side, from its sources to the sea. Every part of this mountainous country, that I have visited, presents nearly a uniform geological structure, being almost entirely composed of clay-slate, and every where nearly of the same appearance, very much broken and disintegrated, so much so as to be seldom visible in mass, and being covered with a deep coat of soil and luxuriant vegetation even on the greatest heights.
Jenkins continued describing the local tea found in Assam:
Camellias are found in every part of this hill country, and within our jurisdiction in the Singpho district of Beesa, a coarse variety of the tea plant is, as I am informed, undoubtedly indigenous. A plant was given to me at Sadiya, which I have reason to suppose was a genuine tea tree, and I intended to have brought it to Calcutta for examination; but I received it in a sickly state, and from the prevalence of great heat I was unable to succeed in taking it to the presidency. I shall endeavour to procure another plant or two for the satisfaction of the committee. However, having no doubt myself of the fact of the tea shrub being found wild in the eastern parts of Assam, I would beg to recommend the expediency of some well-qualified person being at once sent up for the identification of the plant beyond any objection, for the examination of the soil in which it grows as reported, and an inspection of the tract of mountains between Cachar and Assam.
Jenkins’ recommendation reached a bit late. In June, the head of the Tea Committee, George Gordon, departed from India on a tea-finding mission to China before he could respond in time to Jenkins’ request regarding the professional identification of the tea plants in Assam. In the absence of Gordon, Wallich took the role of the secretary to the Tea Committee. The Tea Committee was excited about the Jenkins report, and soon formed a scientific mission to Assam to look into the discovered local tea plants in response to Jenkins’ report. This mission consisted of Nathaniel Wallich, geologist John McClelland, and botanist William Griffith. The mission embarked in August 1835 and reached Assam in November. There, C.A. Bruce joined the mission as a local guide. Bruce drew a map indicating the local tea areas found by him. The areas visited by the mission included Singpho, Naga and Muttuck between Dibru and Dehing rivers in Assam.
Map of Upper Assam in 1839 Showing the Tea Growing Areas
Tea Tracts in the Muttuck country and Singpho illustrated by C.A. Bruce
C.P. Cohen Stuart, A Basis for Tea Selection, in Bulletin du Jardin Botanique de Buitenzorg, Troisième Serie, Volume I, Livraison 4 (1919), plate 23.
According to the mission report by William Griffith, the deputation arrived at Sadiya, the frontier station of Upper Assam, in January 1836. Then, the mission left Sadiya and went to the Singpho region to observe the tea tracts. They reached Kufoo on January 15 and found the local tea plants the next day. In February, the mission reached Muttack [Muttuck]. They visited Chykwa to find an area for the experiment on the tea plants introduced from China. In March, the deputation reached Jorhauth and Gubroo Purbut and examined the local tea plants. On March 9, Wallich and Bruce parted ways with Griffith and McClelland. The former pair went to a meeting with the authorities of Assam and discussed the matter of tea. The latter pair proceeded to the Naga hills. The deputation explored the local tea plants in five places: Kufoo and Ningrew in Singpho, which were “considerably within the British boundary;” Nadowar and Tingrei in Muttuck, within the sphere of a local Rajah under British influence; and Gubroo Purbut in the territory of Rajah Poorundur Singh. Those areas were situated between 27°25′ and 26°45′ north latitude.
As the scientific deputation went deeper into the forests of Assam, the origin of the discovered tea plants was discussed. McClelland, during field research in Tingrai, raised the question of whether the tea plants in Assam might grow naturally or were migrated artificially from the outside the region. McClelland listed both possibilities. On account of local archaeological discoveries, he believed there were many antiquities in Assam proving the existence of a society of “refinement” which could introduce the tea products and the tea plants from neighboring countries. On the other hand, he observed that the geographical presence of the Assam tea plants was quite limited within certain boundaries. The tea plant was not found outside the alluvial basin and the tea seed might have been transmitted through the currents of the rivers. North to the Brahmaputra River, no tea plants were found by the British. In the meantime, McClelland noticed that the local stories might indicate the presence of both wild tea plants and human-cultivated tea by tribal communities in Assam. Chi-long-fu, a Kamtee headman of the local tribe, told McClelland that tea was widely used at meals in the place of water in the region to the east of Assam. Rich people could afford tea at daily meals while poorer residents only had tea at feasts. The tea was artificially cultivated in gardens and plantations in the tribes of “Suddya” (also spelled as Sadiya), according to Chi-long-fu, and was the same species as the internationally consumed tea products from China. The tribesman told McClelland that the cultivated tea was of the same quality as the wild one, and cultivation was done only for the purpose of sustaining a sufficient quantity rather than for improving the quality. The method in the local gardens was rather laissez-faire. The headman told McClelland that as local farmers did not interfere with the natural growth of the tree, sometimes the plants grew so big the tea collectors had to climb them to collect the tea leaves.
The head of the mission, Dr. Wallich, confirmed that tea trees indeed existed in Assam. He believed that although the Assam tea plants could produce “a very valuable supply of good and potable tea,” a much higher altitude would be needed to produce satisfactory quality. Wallich speculated on the possibility that the tea plant of Assam might have “originally travelled from the frontiers of China.” The Tea Committee was satisfied with the result of the scientific mission to Assam, and Wallich announced on the Christmas eve of 1834 that due to the indefatigable researches of Capt. Jenkins and Lieut. Charlton, [the Assam tea plant] to be by far the most important and valuable that has ever been made in matters connected with the agricultural or commercial resources of this empire. We [Tea Committee] are perfectly confident that the tea plant, which has been brought to light, will be found capable, under proper management, of being cultivated with complete success for commercial purposes, and that consequently the object of our labours may be before long fully realised.
The Birth of Ceylon Tea: Botanical Institutions as Business Incubator
Wallich’s search for suitable habitats for tea cultivation since the 1830s did not stop at Assam and the Himalayas. In December 1839, Wallich looked beyond the Bay of Bengal to the island of Ceylon. He sent a number of the Assam tea seeds to the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens at Kandy, Ceylon. In February 1840, he again sent 205 plants of the tea to Peradeniya. The Peradeniya Botanical Gardens was set up in December 1821, six years after the British established dominance over the whole island. According to the Hand-guide to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Pérádeniya, published by Henry Trimen in 1894, the garden boasted about 150 acres with an average altitude of 1,540 feet. The garden was less than four miles from the Colombo-Kandy Road and comprised a turning section of the Mahaweli river, situated on the land of the former royal grounds of the Kandy kingdom. The history of the garden’s predecessor dates back to 1810 when Joseph Banks put up a plan for constructing a botanical garden in Ceylon. A botanical garden of seven acres was built in a place called Slave Island in Colombo, headed in 1812 by W. Kerr, Resident Superintendent and Chief Gardener. The place was found easily impacted by floods and too small. Therefore in 1813 the British authorities moved the Colombo Garden to a former sugar plantation with 600 acres of land near Kalutara. Kerr passed away in 1814. He was succeeded by Alexander Moon, who was appointed by Banks as the superintendent of the garden. In 1821, Moon moved the botanical garden of Kalutara to Peradeniya. In 1840, H.T. Normansell became the superintendent of the Peradeniya Garden.
In May 1840, Normansell dispatched several tea plants received from Wallich to Nuwara Eliya, a recently established hill station and the hub of coffee plantations at that time. In April 1842, a new consignment of the Assam tea plants arrived at Peradeniya, which was further sent to in Nuwara Eliya and given to J.A. Mooyart, the Acting Agent of the Central Province, Ceylon. In October 1842, Mooyart gave about thirty of the plants to Sir Anthony Oliphant, Chief Justice of Ceylon. Those tea plants were cultivated by a clergyman, E.F. Gepp, who claimed those plants were the imported tea plants from China and formerly cultivated in the Calcutta Botanical Garden. Gepp considered himself probably as the first tea planter in Ceylon. He wrote that the director of the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens worried that the climate in Kandy might be too hot for tea cultivation, therefore in 1843 tea plants were forwarded to him to plant at an altitude of about 6,300 feet above sea level. When Gepp left Ceylon in 1845, the tea plants were growing well. Gepp, confident that the ecology of Ceylon was suitable for tea cultivation, said: “At any rate, the experiment was successful as proving not only that the soil of Ceylon was congenial to this plant but also that it would flourish at an elevation 50 per cent higher than the extreme limit of the growth of the coffee plant.”
Although botanists played a significant role in the experiment with tea in Ceylon, they were not the only conduit for plant migration. About the same time when Wallich sent the tea seeds and plants from Calcutta to Peradeniya, a few merchants also began introducing and experimenting with tea on their own initiative. Among those were Gabriel B. Worms and Maurice B. Worms from the Rothschild family, who were praised by John Ferguson, the Editor of the Ceylon Observer, as the “pioneers of the planting enterprise in Ceylon.” Gabriel and Maurice Worms were the second and third sons of Benedict Worms of Frankfort-on-Maine and his wife Janette, the eldest sister of Baron de Rothschild. Maurice Worms received his education in Frankfort-on-Maine and sought a “very successful” career at the London Stock Exchange in about 1827. However, “being extremely fond of travelling,” Maurice gave up life in London and made a long tour to the Americas in 1838. In 1841, Maurice started a journey to India, China, Singapore, Manila, and Ceylon, then purchased a plantation in Pussellawa and became a coffee planter. His nephew, George de Worms, claimed that Maurice was the first person to introduce Chinese tea plants to Ceylon in September 1841, and experimented with cultivation in his coffee plantations. The products were sent to England and were examined with excellent results. The tea planting did not last long, however. The Worms’ estates stopped growing tea plants due to the absence of Chinese labor and the lack of knowledge of the local farmers about the manufacture of tea, according to George de Worms. John Ferguson offered another explanation: that there were Chinese laborers employed by the Worms estates, but the Worms brothers gave up tea cultivation because of the high cost—about £5 per lb. Nonetheless, the Worms’ estates kept the tea plants and let them grow freely as the evidence of their pioneering experiment.
The Worms brothers’ many efforts were devoted to managing a successful coffee industry with about 8,000 acres of cultivated and uncultivated land by 1865, the year when the land was all sold to the Ceylon Company. The sale was valued at no less than £157,000. Under the arrangement of their financial adviser, George Smytan Duff from the Oriental Bank, the Ceylon Company was created to make this sale. Maurice and Gabriel Worms returned to Europe after closing this deal.
At about the same time as Maurice Worms introduced tea plants from China, other notable merchants also brought in tea species from India, apart from the sample batches sent by Wallich from the Calcutta Botanical Garden. One of those entrepreneurs was Mr. Llewellyn from Calcutta. Another editorial, likely written by A.M. Ferguson or John Ferguson, described a visit in 1885 to the tea plantation at Llewellyn’s Penylan estate: “I saw some of the original tea trees, either indigenous or first-class hybrid, grown by Mr. Lewellyn nearly 40 years ago. A slip taken from one of those trees about seven years ago is now itself a fine tall tree which has yielded and is yielding abundance of seeds.
Ferguson seemed not quite happy with the status of the tea plants:
But in days not so long gone by, so little appreciated was the enterprize which Mr. Lewellyn came so near to establish, that a good many of the fine old tea trees were cut down and converted into rafters for buildings! It is curious to note how frequently an enterprize or a discovery—for instance, the finding of gold in Australia—is left in the tentative and doubtful stage, until the set time in the order of Providence has come. The success of tea in Ceylon was fully assured just as the fatal crisis in the history of coffee had culminated. Those who think that this was mere accident cannot be congratulated on their mental idiosyncracy. Talking of indigenous tea, surely the splendid bushes on Windsor Forest must have been indigenous or very closely allied to “the real Simon Pure.” . . . Tea has found its very home in Dolosbage [a hill village between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya], with the generally good soil and perfect climate of the district. [Author’s note: this, and other documents of the time, used the archaic spelling, enterprize].
Although many professional merchants of the early nineteenth century conducted tea production experiments, sometimes as a part-time hobby, their major occupation was coffee. Tea cultivation and plant exchanges before the 1860s were mostly continued by botanists in Ceylon. In the 1860s, botanists called for more spotlight on the tea industry. One of the advocates was George Henry Kendrick Thwaites. Thwaites was born in Bristol in 1811 and became superintendent of the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens in 1849. D.M. Forrest, a historian specializing in Sri Lankan history, praised Thwaites for his pivotal role in the promotion of cinchona and tea, and the fight against coffee leaf rust in Ceylon. Forrest’s depiction of Thwaites was of a modest man who would get angry when people called him Dr. instead of Mr. Thwaites.
In 1865, Thwaites began to promote tea cultivation in Ceylon. Given that tea could thrive in Assam, in the Himalayas and on the “Neilgherries,” Thwaites speculated tea should survive at the higher hills above 4,000 ft in Ceylon where coffee plants did not thrive or make a profit. Thwaites took the initiative to increase the experimental tea plants in the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens and in the Hakgalla Botanical Garden. He also mentioned that several planters had built small nurseries for tea in their plantations at his suggestion, and that he had given them a lot of cultivational support. Thwaites wrote:
A considerable quantity of Tea seed has been distributed during the past year. The climate of Ceylon seems admirably adapted for the successful cultivation of Tea. The plant grows well from the elevation of Peradenia (1600 feet) to that of Hakgalla (5000 feet) and it would no doubt thrive in situations somewhat higher than the latter; and, as there are extensive tracts of forest land in the island, too high for Coffee but quite suitable for Tea, it may reasonably be anticipated that the cultivation of the latter will at some future time assume large proportions. In view of such a contingency, and in order to secure the production of a larger quantity of seed than is at present procurable in the island, an addition is being made to the number of Tea plants now growing in this garden; a certain number have been planted out at Hakgalle; and several Planters are, at my suggestion, forming small nurseries of Tea upon their estates. When sowing Tea seeds, it is of importance to know that, to ensure success, they should be perfectly fresh; for they will not germinate if they have been allowed to become dry. [Author’s note: Peradenia is now commonly spelled as Peradeniya. Hakgalla was also spelled as Hakgalle, both of which were used in the same news report].
Thwaites supplied tea seeds to the first commercial tea plantations in the years 1864 and 1865. According to Thwaites’ account:
During the year 1864, some gentlemen interested in the cultivation of tea in India visited Ceylon, and expressed a favourable opinion as to the capability of the island to produce tea of very excellent quality, with the likelihood of its cultivation being very remunerative. Seeds of the tea-plant were obtained, and plants were raised in the Botanic Garden, as well as at Hakgalle, for the purpose of distribution.