eLanka | Taylors Tea Garden – by Ajit MuttuCumaraswamy

Image Source – Janatha Estates Development Board 

CHAPTER ONE (1)
James had finished his day’s work. He was fifteen going on sixteen. He wanted to go out to be away from the dormitory. He stayed in the dormitory because he was an apprentice teacher. He had started his apprenticeship at fourteen. In Scotland it was an early start to earning a living during the nineteenth century. You chose your work early. James chose to start his apprentice ship because he was not happy to work on his father’s farm. His father was not happy that James chose to be a teacher. He thought James was wasting his time trying to become a teacher. The pay was not good. The profession was not an important one. It paid just enough for James to survive in life. Never enough to save and improve his lot in life. James’s father wanted James to work in the farm. The farm provided a better opportunity in life. It was an independent way of making a living.

James felt a little lonely. The dormitory felt very quiet. James took a walk to his family house. He passed by the Luther river with it’s power mill. He felt a bit lonely even though he had people around him at the church owned dormitory. The Scottish village of Auchenblae was a pleasant one. It was full of nicely trimmed trees and gardens. Even in the 1850s, the local government was strong. The Presbytarian Church played a prominent role in this part of Scotland. He passed a girl and they stopped and talked. Janet was mentioned to him as a girl he should be courting. But he never got excited by her. His father had mentioned that Janet was a good match for him. She was from a known family that lived not far from James’s house. They belonged to the Presbytarian church. Her father and mother were well known to James’s family. She was a pleasant looking girl. Very traditional in her dressing. James was not attracted to her unfortunately. She did not display any undue excitement either. But they both knew that they were supposed to show interest in each other. But they were still young, only sixteen years of age.
They smiled at each other. They spoke a few words when they met, exchanged formal greetings and inquiries about what was happening in each other’s families.
“ When is your Dad going to London?” asked James.
“ He is going next week. I think he is not happy about it.” she replied.
“ My Dad said your Dad is going on some Church work.” James said.
“ Yes. It’s Church work. London’s a terrible place from what I hear.” she said
“ I never hear anything good about London. Even the Queens Palace seems grotty from what I hear.”
“ Are you going home now. Have you finished working for the day” she asked.
“ Yes. I’ve finished for the day. I wanted to take a walk. I thought of dropping into the house.” he replied.
They said goodbye to each other.
James kept walking towards his house. It was quite a nice house. It had a thatched roof. The farm that was next to it looked neat and well kept.
Ceylon-Tea-Museum-Kandy
James’s father was attending to a flower bed . James was a big headed, large chested , burly lad. His shadow fell across the flower bed. His father did not look up from his work.

“ Hello father” said James.
“ Hello James. How are you getting on”
“ I’m doing fine father” replied James
“ Why do you want to become a teacher son” he asked young James.
“ I’m bored with farm work father. It’s very dirty work cleaning out the cow sheds and cleaning out the piggery.”
“ Awe. You don’t worry about that son. Its only at the start. Once you get to know everything in the farm, you can hire a farm hand to do the work. There is a future for you in farming. You can take it easy after getting to know all the work. Us farmers take it easy.”
“ I already know what the work is. I can see what you do. You are working all the time. Its not the way i want to be.”
“ So you want to be a teacher. Look at all the teachers. They barely make a living. They don’t get a real chance in life. They get their salary and it all goes on buying their food and cloths. That’s not a good way of life.”
“ Ive got to go now father. See you later.”
“ That’s another thing. I don’t like your staying in the Church building, like you had no home. They should let you stay with us and go for your apprentice work. Its not right.”
James felt annoyed. He was not angry but he was upset about being told that he had chosen the wrong career. He knew in his heart that following his father’s footsteps and being a farmer was not what he wanted to do.
“I’m going home to see how everyone is.” said James and walked away heading towards the house. His head shook involuntarily.
As James knocked on the door he could hear Bounce barking. The door opened and Bounce darted out and put his feet up as if inviting James to shake hands. James took both feet and then bent down to carry the dog. Bounce was delighted to see James. Bounce had shaggy hair which was combed down. James felt happy to be with Bounce. He smiled a gentle smile as he carried the dog into the house.
“How are you James?” asked James’s sister ……..
“I’m fine. How are things with you” James responded.
“ We are missing you. Papa is not happy that you are away” she said
“ Yes. i know. I met him on the way.” James said.
“Are you happy doing the work” asked ………..
“ I’m happy enough. It’s not always very nice. My tutor is not doing anything to help me to understand what I’m supposed to do. I might try to find another job” said James
“ You should look for something else If you are not happy” replied…….
“ I’m thinking of asking Uncle …………..if he can find something better for me to do.”
“ He has sent cousin Harry to Ceylon. Terrible thing.”
“ I don’t mind going to Ceylon. I hear it’s a nice place. I might like to go there.”
“ Don’t go James. It’s so far away. We wont see you for a very long time.”
“ Don’t worry. Its not easy to go there. So many are interested. Only some get to go”
“ By the way, I met Margaret. She was asking about you” said………
“ I might meet her on Sunday.” said James.
Ever since his mother died when he was a young boy of nine, James felt a sense bitter loss and loneliness. His mother was his comforter. She held him close and gave him a kiss on his hair, making him feel better. His father always upset him with his harsh words about the shoddiness of James’s work in the farm.
His mother would say: “ Don’t worry son. When you grow up, you can choose your work. Do something you want to do. Your father won’t be able to stop you.”

James was feeling very sad thinking about his mother. The only consolation was coming home and talking with his sister. She was almost a mother to the children. But James had heard that his father was meeting with another woman. The children heard that the new woman in their father’s life was living in another part of the county and that their father was visiting her. James felt resentful as he could not imagine any other woman replacing his mother in the family. He even wanted to ask his father about this woman and ask his father not to bring her to their home. But his thoughts could not be made into actions. His father was a strong man. His father would give him a severe scolding and make him feel very downhearted.
But he decided that he would leave the house forever if his father brought another woman to the family home. He would even run away from home, even run away to London. Nobody wanted to go to the smoky , smelly London. But he would take the risk and run away. He would miss his sisters and brothers. But he could not accept another woman in place of his beloved mother.
He even spoke of this to his sister.
“ You won’t see me coming to the house if father brings another lady to our house.”he said to his sister.
“Don’t be silly James. Father needs to have a some company. He is not happy living by himself.” she replied.
“ I don’t care what happens. I’m not going to live in this place if we have to have another mother. It’s just not proper.” he said.
“ Don’t worry James. She won’t be so bad as you think” she replied.

James continued his apprenticeship as a teacher. The rumour that his father his wanted to get married again turned out to be a true. James’s father got married and the new wife came to reside in the house. James was extremely upset even though he was not living in the family house. He was determined to get away and find a job even if it meant that he would have to leave Scotland. London seemed a possibility. Any thing to get away. James’s sister was not happy about James wanting to leave Scotland for London. She tried her best to persuade him to stay back.
Her efforts to persuade James to stay back came to nothing when an incident happened in the house, when James was visiting. James was in the habit of going to his old room which he shred with his brother and going through his old cloths and small toys and items of stationery and four or five books which he was very fond of, all of which in a cupboard. While he was fondly examining his old possessions , his stepmother walked in without warning.
“ There you are James. I wanted to ask you to empty that cupboard. You are not living in the house any more. Why are you keeping these things? These are of no use to you or anybody else.”
“ Sorry. I just wanted to keep them for the memories.” replied James.
“ These things are taking up space in the house. I really need the space to put away your daddy’s cloths. His old cloths are filling up the cupboard in our bedroom. Can you arrange to take them away?” she asked.
James was incensed. He did not see as a reasonable request. After all he was now out of the family house and working as an apprentice teacher. It was causing problem for the newly arrived wife who was looking for space for her belongings. She needed the space to keep he husband’s cloths. he was upset.
“ Im going to pack things and take them away.” he replied.
“ Thats a good boy.” she replied.

He packed his cloths and books into a bundle and used an old shirt as the wrapper for the bundle. He walked out of the house carrying his bundle without saying goodbye to anybody. He was determined to avoid going to the house as much as possible.
Whenever he was free, he took to walking around the neighbouring areas. He wondered around and noticed that some of the girls in the neighbourhood were quite nice. He would be pleased to get to know them. But he was a farmer’s son. He could not behave like he was a well known person and talk to the girls. Some walked with their sisters and cousins and class mates.
One girl in particular made him feel extremely uncomfortable as he was rearing to talk to her but she was from a rich family with a large house and a large farm and workshop. CamIlla was one girl he could not look at without feeling helpless. He wanted to rush up to her and hold her by the hand and stare at her beautiful face. She was petite. James was a well built boy, of above average height. He was always attracted to petite girls. Camilla was petite but her golden blonde hair made her irresistible. He sometimes made elaborate preparations before he set off for an afternoon walk in the direction of her house. he combed his hair to perfection. he made sure that his cloths were neat and attractive, washed and ironed perfectly. But when he actually saw her , he was in sixes and sevens. his shyness overcame all his preparations. As he passed her on the other side of the road, he pretended that he did not see her. Camilla was little annoyed with the boy that always walked on the other side of the road when he saw her. And refused to even look at her. she wanted to greet him with a smile as he was not bad looking and quite tall and strong looking with a pleasant face.
All this shyness made James want to run away. His father had gone on about his farm work. It was never satisfactory. James was not interested in the work at the farm. Hid father was not keen on James getting an education.In the end James managed to get the apprenticeship to become a teacher. he had even wanted to run away and become a soldier. The idea of getting away from his father and newly arrived mother came back to James. All his problems will go away if he could run away and become a soldier.
James was getting bored and feeling frustrated in the school. His mentor was not taking any interest in his progress. he did nothing to help James with learning about the skills of teaching.
It was a pleasant afternoon. James was taking a walk past the Luther power mill when he saw his relative Henry Stiven. Henry was a cousin of his mother.
“ Hello James. How are you getting on?” asked Henry
“ I’m not very happy at the school. But I don’t have a choice Uncle Henry” he said.
“ Sorry to hear that lad. I know you were very upset when your mother passed away. But I heard you joined the school to learn to teach. Are you not happy?”
“ No Uncle Henry. I’m not happy at all. I had to move my things from the house. My mentor at the school never talks to me .”
“ Sorry to hear that. It must be hurting you to be asked to take your things from the house. After all you were born in that house.” said Henry.
“ Yes. I’ve been thinking I should join the Army” said James.
“ James. Don’t do that. The Army gets involved in fighting and your life is at risk. If you can get a commission as an officer, it won’t be too bad. “ said Henry.
“ Can i go to India to work Uncle Henry” asked James.
“ Ah. That’s a thought. I can help you with going to Ceylon not India. In fact I’m hoping to get a job as planter in Ceylon. Your Uncle Peter Moir is helping me. He is working for a coffee agency in Ceylon. Things are working out alright. It won’t be long before I’m off to Ceylon. I will put your name forward to the company. The company is getting more land in Ceylon. The company owners , the Haddens, are also our relatives, your mother’s cousins. I’ll ask them if they would like to give you a job in Ceylon” said Henry.
“Thank you Uncle Henry. Thank you so much.” said James smiling. He was happy.
“ I’m sure they are going to say ‘yes’. How old are you now?” asked Uncle henry.
“ I’m seventeen” said James.
“ That’s fine. Good age to start a planting life.” said Henry smiling.
*
CHAPTER 2
Before long Henry called over at the school and told James that he was being offered a job with a coffee estate in Ceylon. He would be a planter. He would be in charge of a large coffee estate or he could be asked to work on a new coffee plantation, clearing trees and clearing the ground to make it ready for the plants brought from the nursery. Henry dropped in at James house to inform James’s father about James getting a job as a planter. James’s father was pleased that his son was going to be a planter in Ceylon.
James was at a loss thinking about Janet. Should he be telling her about his getting a job in Ceylon? This was a vexed question. He decided that he would not do anything unless he bumped into her. Camilla was another matter. He really felt brave enough to talk to her. He could try to meet her. He walked along the road that she used to walk but he did not meet her.

The day arrived and James left Auchenblae for London. He went to see his family to say goodbye. His sister was very distressed. James was surprised because he felt he was only going away for a while. The dog hung close to James as if it knew something more. It barked and jumped up and down as if it was saying goodbye for a long time. James’s sisters shed tears. Even his brothers seemed upset. Only his father and mother seemed happy to say goodbye. His father beamed as he expected James to return a rich man. James could even be sending money home. That would be a proud moment for him.
*
James was not happy to be in London. It was smoky and the streets were dirty. He felt uncomfortable. Everything was different from his Scottish village and town. He was able to visit Westminster Abbey and Hyde Park. He had heard of these places but did not aspire to come to London to see these places. But he could not go the famous Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 as it was difficult to travel there and the admission was expensive. His mother’s cousin Henry was busy making arrangements for their passage. James heard that Ceylon coffee was being exhibited at Crystal Palace. He also heard about the fire that caused much damage.
The ship they were sailing in was called Sydney. It was meant to be one of the better ships. But it was quite small compared to other ships in the vicinity. The journey was tedious at times but very exciting when it anchored close to the African lands. The sight of strange people and tropical secenes was interesting and made him look forward to his arrival in Ceylon.
*

It was a beautiful morning when the ship sailed into Colombo harbour . The land could be seen from the boat. James and Uncle Henry stood near the helm of the ship looking towards the island’s shore. Behind the harbour, there were green hills. The harbour was large. There were several ships anchored close to the shore. They were charmed by the blue skies and the green shoreline. It was tropical haven. James felt excited.
“ Look to the right James. That white building is called the Fort. Thats where the Governor lives” said Uncle Henry.
“ I can see it. Nice building. The place looks so green and sunny. The hills are lovely” said James.
“ We won’t be able to meet the Governor. But we can meet the company people. They are not far from the Governor’s house.”
“ Are we travelling today?”
“ I’m not sure.”
“ It will be good to meet the company people. I would like to see my contract.”
“ I nearly forgot. It’s a good thing you reminded me about this. “
“ I was thinking about what would be a good salary.”
“ I’m not sure what salaries are being paid.” said Henry.
“ I was thinking I will ask for what I was getting in Scotland when I was doing my apprenticeship.” said James.
“ Mind you , they will be providing your housing and even food will be delivered.” said
Henry.
“ Let me try and see if I can get the same salary” said James.
Later in the afternoon, they met up with the company officials. James asked them about his salary. They did not want to Pay £100 per annum from the start. But James argued that he was getting this amount already. Eventually, The contract was signed for £100 per annum.
Colombo town was an interesting place. There were shops selling clothing and jewellery. James thought of his mother. He felt sad that she never travelled like he did. He wished she was with him.
“ James you know you will be working in a coffee plantation”
“Yes Uncle Henry”
“ But you could also be learning about tea planting. The owners of the estate are thinking of planting tea.”
“ That’s fine. Tea is an expensive drink, Isn’t it ?”
“ Yes. it is. Tea was first brought to England, Scotland and even Ireland by a Portugese princess who married King Charles the Second. Her name was Catherine of Braganza. The King of Portugal’s daughter. The Portugese were trading with China from Macau even in 1550s when tea was only found in China”
“ Sounds like they know all about tea”
“ Its not easy to grow tea even today. Its a difficult crop to grow. Nobody has been successful so far in Ceylon. Tea bushes in Ceylon come from Assam, near India’s border with China.”
“ Are they any different from tea grown in China?
“ They are little bit different. That’s what i heard. The tea bush in Assam is related to the Chinese tea bushes but a slightly different variety”
“ Sounds interesting. I can have a go at growing it”
“ You will. There is a big demand for tea. And the price is high. So only people with money can buy it”

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