W. Nassau (William Nassau) Lees.

Tea cultivation, cotton and other agricultural experiments in India : a review online

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University of California Berkeley


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IN the early part of last year, while looking
through the old Nos. of the Journal of the Horticul-
tural Society of Bengal, for some information regard-
ing the experiments undertaken by the Government
of India for the introduction of exotic Cotton, I was
struck by the many interesting and instructive papers
this valuable series contained on a sister experiment
the introduction into India of the Tea Plant. Not-
withstanding that Government has been now engaged
in this cultivation for upwards of a quarter of a cen-
tury, we have no history of its operations no record of
its experience ; and, consequently, very great ignor-
ance, especially in the Hill districts, prevails on the
subject, and many Planters and young Companies are
wasting a great deal of money that, if better laid out,
might be employed with very much more profit to them-
selves and the country. I conceived the notion, there-
fore, of collecting and condensing this scattered infor-


mation, separating it into two parts a brief outline
or review of the experiment up to date ; and a sketch
of the systems of cultivation that have been adopted
with the best results, intending my Review for circu-
lation, only, among Planters and such others in India
as take an interest in Agricultural experiments. I
had no idea of writing a book. Indeed, like most
officials in India, my public duties occupy so much of
my time as to preclude the possibility of my bestow-
ing such care and attention on any leisure occupation,
as is necessary to ensure its being well done. Every
line almost of these pages has been written between
dinner and bedtime. What was written at night,
was sent unrevised to the press in the morning, a
private press, in which there is but one compositor of
English, a Bengali. I do not make these remarks
with a view to disarm criticism. No attempt has
been made in these pages at fine writing ; and the
honest writer never fears fair criticism.

At the same time, a book so written, and so printed,
cannot but exhibit many defects, and I am con-
scious that this Review is disfigured by more than
a full complement. To appear in public in slippers
is always disagreeable, and though the more edu-
cated and polite the company, the more certain
it is to be indulgent and considerate, the necessity
for explanation will still remain, and iience this

Apart from these considerations, 1 have no
objection to any views or opinions embodied in
the following remarks being criticised in a proper
spirit. Indeed, if I can succeed in inviting discussion,
by more experienced and wiser heads, on those topics,
which, at the present moment, are all-important for
the future progress of India, and intimately bound
up with the welfare of England, and with which I have
ventured to deal in the third Chapter of this Review,
I shall have attained my sole object in transferring
this humble effort, from the hands of the Planters of
the wild yet beautiful Tea Districts of India, to those
of a more discerning and deep-thinking public.*

15th March 1863.

* At page 32 will be found a note stating that the shares of the Assam
Company, in consequence of some irregularities in the Calcutta Board
of Management, had declined 25 p. c. Immediately afterwards, they rose
still higher than previously, and are now quoted at Rs. 490 to Rs. 500.
At page 239, 1 have stated that while Tea Seed in the N. W. Provinces was
distributed gratis, the Planters in the Punjab had to pay for it. The
Lieutenant-Governor has since cancelled his orders on this subject, and
I doubt not that the anticipations expressed in the text will be fully
realized. My endeavour in writing this Review, has been to state nothing
that I did not believe to be strictly true. If I have erred, it has certainly
not been for want of honesty of purpose.


China Assam.

There is no feature in the development of the
resources of this great peninsula, of which the
Government of India have a right to feel more
justly proud, than the successful cultivation of the
TEA PLANT. From whatever point, external or
internal we view the results obtained, they are
pregnant with promise. We cannot shut our eyes
to the fact, that France is gradually but steadily
creeping towards the frontiers of the great tea
garden of the world from the South West. Russia,
it is equally well known, has complete command
of her opposite frontier, and has long since ob-
tained an influence in the interior, the limits of
which it is not easy to define. The Empire itself

is torn by internal dissentions. England watches
the sea-board. No one can foresee into what com-
plications, the situation, may at any moment hurry
us, but any one can foretell that they, most
inevitably, must eventuate in a crisis, that will
shake the Celestial Empire to its foundations, and
possibly devastate every acre of those vast tea lands
in which England is so deeply interested. Even
now, if I am correctly informed, the civil war that
has been raging for the last five years, has shrunk
up thousands of acres of fine tea crops, or so
seriously damaged the trees as to leave them
capable of producing none but very inferior tea.
What has occurred with cotton, may occur with
tea ; and in such circumstances, it certainly must
be very gratifying to Her Majesty's Ministers to
know, that while India is secure and well governed,
England's demand for tea, be it ever so great, can
be readily supplied.

But if viewed from an external point, the present
condition and future prospects of tea cultivation in
India, are promising ; how much more so are they
in their bearing on the internal prosperity and
material progress of the country itself. I accept
it as a sound maxim, that no country can be
colonized by the people of another country, in
which that people cannot till the soil Now the
European cannot labour in the plains of India, and
therefore I look on the idea of colonization, gene-

rally, as Utopian. Yet, if any thing can be done
in this direction, the cultivation of tea is most
certain to accomplish it ; and if its progress be
not checked, though we may not look forward to
the establishment of large European Colonies in
India, we most certainly can calculate on establish-
ing European settlements, and pleasant sanataria,
on our hill slopes, containing the homesteads of
many busy people scattered broadcast throughout
the country, and extending their happy influence
far into the plains below. We can further without
any great stretch of imagination, behold in prospectu,
hundreds of thousands of acres of virgin soil, now
lying waste and uncultivated, lost to the country,
and wholly profitless to Government covered with
rich and highly productive crops, affording employ-
ment to hundreds of thousands of (oft) starving
people, paid, for the most part, by foreign gold,
and returning Government a double revenue; that,
derived directly from the sale proceeds of the land ;
and that derived indirectly, but by far the most
valuable of the two from the increased prosperity
of its subjects. We can see again miles of malari-
ous and deadly jungle disappear, and our fine
healthy young hill colonies connected by broad
high ways with the termini of the great arterial
lines of railroads, and thus with the ports of
Calcutta, Bombay, Karachi, and Madras. Finally,
we can see at no distant date, India supplying the

major portion of a present trade of twelve millions
sterling a trade, which, looking at the increasing
demand from Australia, America, and the Continent
of Europe, bids fair soon to double itself, and,
per contra, tea cheapened to that point, at which
it can be consumed as a staple, by the great mass
of the natives of this Country, Afghanistan, Thibet,
Persia, and the Orient in general.

Surely such prospects, if they be not exaggerated,
are a subject of congratulation, and the undertaking
affording them worthy of the attentive considera-
tion and fostering care of those entrusted with
the guidance and control of the affairs of this great

But to turn from the ideal to the real, from
what may be, to what has been, and is ; and thus
to put ourselves in a better position to decide how
far present results justify the foredrawn conclusions,
I shall take a brief retrospect of the history of
this very interesting experiment.

Little more than a quarter of a century ago no
one had any well formed idea that the tea plant
would grow and flourish in India. It is true that
there were speculations on the subject; that so
early even as 1793, Lord Macartney despatched
plants from China to Bengal " some parts of which '
says Sir G. Staunton ' His Excellency had been
informed, were adapted for their cultivation ;' that
experiments had been made at Penarig, in Java,

Ceylon and other neighbouring islands; that a
large and healthy tea tree, ten feet high, was
know to be flourishing at Katmandhu in Nipal ;
and that the subject had been brought under the
consideration of the Board of Control, and the
Court of Directors of the East India Company, ia
connection with our relations with China. It is
further true that in 1816, Mr. Gardiner, the Resi-
dent at the Court of Nipal, transmitted a plant
from thence to the Botanical Gardens in Calcutta,
and that Dr. TVallich sent a specimen of the
same to Sir Joseph . Banks in London ; that in
1826, Mr. David Scott sent down to Calcutta from
Munnipoor, certain leaves of a shrub 'which he
insisted upon was a real tea ;' that about four
or five years later, Lt. Charlton, second in Command
of the Assam Regiment was informed that tea grew
wild in Assam, and actually obtained three or four
young plants from the neighbourhood of Beesa,
which were planted in the Botanical Gardens of
Calcutta; that Major Bruce of Jorehat, was aware
of the existence of the tea plant; and that his
brother Mr. C. Bruce subsequently brought it to
notice. But the efforts of none of these gentle-
men produced any practical result, though it is
but fair to mention that this was mainly attri-
butable, to the unwillingness of an eminent botanist,
to admit that the leaves of Mr. Scott, or the plants
of Lt, CharltoD, were tea, Nevertheless we cannot

accord to any the full merit of a discoverer. If a
man goes into a wild country, and finds growing
there a certain fruit which he believes to be an apple,
and this fruit he sends to a distant botanist who
pronounces it to be an apple, and this inforraatiou
lie publishes to the world forthwith, that man has
the merit of having first announced a fact perhaps
a new one, and possibly one of great interest and
value. But if a man finds that there is a similarity
in the configuration of two countries; that their
climates as regards temperature and moisture are
much alike; that certain plants of the one flourish
at the same latitudes in the other ; and conclud-
ing from these data that a particular and desired
plant of the one habitat, will grow in the other,
and with the view of confirming his preconcieved
opinions, he sets on foot enquiries on the subject ;
and during the course, and in the prosecution, of
these enquiries it is ascertained, no matter by whom,
that the required plant, will not only flourish in
the required country, but is growing wild there
already, that man is undoubtedly a discoverer.
There is a wide difference it will be admitted
between the two cases. Lt. Charlton who first sent
tea plants to Calcutta from Assam about 1830, in
acknowledging, in 3834, the Circular of the Tea
Committee states; ' From what I have seen of the
tea plant in different parts of the world, and
lately in New Holland, propagated by seeds brought

direct from China, I have little doubt but that
found near Beesa is a species of tea, and though ifc
may be spurious, or even a Camellia, as Dr.
Wallich suggests, its growing there indiginous and
in great abundance, affords good grounds for
supposing that the introduction of the Chinese
plant into Upper Assam would be attended with
success.' Mr. Scott admitted that Mr. C. Bruce
was the first who brought the tea of Assam into
notice, though he himself had asserted its existence
in Munnipoor, in 1826; and the Society of Arts
of London, awarded him (Mr. Bruce) ' their Gold
Medal for discovering the indigenous tea Tracts,
and cultivating and preparing tea in Assam.' But
Mr. C. Bruce again, in a letter dated 20th Decem-
ber 1836 to Captain Jenkins Agent to the Governor
General on the North East Frontier, says, ' my
late brother [Major Bruce, J who was in Assam
before the breaking out of .the war, had previously
informed me of their existence/

Now there is nothing in all this to fix the discovery,
If it may so be called, of the indigenous tea plant
of Assam, or to warrant the slightest detraction
from the merit and honor due to the master mind
of the distinguished statesman, who 3 seeing the
great advantage that would accrue to India from,
the introduction of the tea plant, and impressed
with the firm conviction that the climate and soil
of portions of India were suitable to it, set on


foot enquries on the subject, and sketched a plan
for carrying out the object in view. To the wisdom,
the ability, the energy and active support, of Lord
William Bentinck, India is, undoubtedly, indebted
for this valuable accession to her .wealth, and to
him, in my opinion, must be accorded not only the
full merit of having discovered that the tea plant
will grow in many parts of India, and is, or would
appear to be, indigenous to some ; but of hnving
introduced it from China, and laid the foundation
of the present promising trade in that valuable
Article of Commerce.

His Lordship it is true had had the subject
brought to his notice by an intelligent gentleman
of the name of Walker, who, alarmed with others
at the unsatisfactory state of our political relations
with China, thought it not improbable 'that, at
no very distant period and from some apparently
accidental event^ not only the British Nation, but
all foreigners might be prohibited entering the
Chinese territories.' On this ground he considered it
of national importance ' that some better guarantee
should be provided for the supply of this Article
(TEA) than that already furnished by the toleration
of the Chinese Government/ He proposed, there-
fore, that the East India Company should ( reso-
lutely undertake the cultivation on the Nepaul
Hills and other districts where the Camellia, and
other plants of a character similar to the tea plant

are indigenous/ But Mr. Walker's idea was not
original. Sir Joseph Banks and Dr. Govan had,
long before him, recommended the experiment being
made in the Himalayas, and Dr. Forbes Royle, in
1827, had introduced the subject to the notice of
Lord Ahmerst, who preceded Lord William Benlinck
as Governor General of India, and subsequently
reported strongly in favor of it. Lord Ahmerst,
however, took no action whatever in the matter ;
and the Directors of the East India Company
do not seem to have taken any official notice
of Mr. Walker's memorandum, which might have
lain in their archives, food for moths, had not
the great statesman before mentioned come to-
India, and on the 24th January 1834 addressed
his Council in these words. { It is not necessary
that I should trouble the Council with many
remarks to support the abstract question of the
great advantage which India would derive from the
successful introduction of the tea plant ; and the
only points for consideration are whether there
are not reasonable grounds for the conclusion, that
there must be, in all the varieties of climate and
soil, between the Himalayas and Cape Comorin,
combinations of both, that must be congenial to
this particular plant ; and next, how far it may
be practicable to have from China cuttings of the
true and best descriptions of the plant, and know-
ledge and skill for its cultivation, and for the


subsequent process of preparing the leaves for
use/ ' The naturalization ' continued His Lordship
f of so many foreign plants and vegetables, the
natives of climates very different from our own
would, of itself, afford very sufficient encourage-
ment for any attempt of this kind. There, are,
however, some shrubs and trees that are familiar
to us, of such delicacy as hitherto to have lan-
guished wherever transplanted; the mangosteen
is one of these : the claret grape has deteriorated
in every other spot, and probably the same is
the case with the hock grape. In both instances
the desideratum has been, a peculiar soil, united
to a peculiar climate. We have no such cause
of apprehension with regard to the tea plant,
which nourishes over a space embracing many
degrees of longitude and latitude. As a practical
agriculturist, I am inclined to think that few of
the foreign herbs and plants that are become not
only naturalized, but also the mainstays of our
Agriculture, afforded in the first instance, a greater
promise of successful experiment?

His Lordship having thus practically enunciated
his news, proceeded in an equally practical manner
to carry them out, by appointing a Committee of
able men to submit to Government ' a plan for the
accomplishment of the object, and for the superin-
tendence of its execution/ This Committee was
called the Tea Committee, and amongst the mem-


5, I find the names of J. E. Colvin, late Lieut.-
Governor of the North Western Provinces,
0. Trevelyan late Governor of Madras, N. Wallich
the well know botanist, E. D. Mangles, and
others, all of more or less distinction. The Com-
mittee proceeded to collect all the information to
be obtained from books, and independent sources,
and finally submitted their report. In this docu-
ment, however, while they expressed their belief
that there were ' parts of the Company's territories
which present such features of climate and soil
that would warrant the expectation that tea might
be successfully introduced into them with a view to
commercial purposes/ from the cautious pains taken
to guard against the responsiblity of failure there
is latent evidence of the existence of some doubts
MS to the ultimate success of the experiment. It was
sufficient, however, for the Governor General, who
seems to have had no misgivings on the subject,
and who thereon immediately carried out his
original intention of deputing Mr. Gordon to China,
to procure seed, plants, and Chinamen experienced
in all the operations of tea planting and tea
making; and for this purpose a credit of from
twenty to twenty-five thousand dollars was placed
at his disposal.

In some observations drawn up by Dr. "YVallich,
by desire of the President of the Board of Control,
iii 1832, he stated that the attempts made to


introduce the tea plant at Penang and in Ceylon,
had failed; and that similar trials, made under
very similar circumstances in Java, having proved
c equally fruitless/ they had in consequence been
given up. In his first report, dated Macao 24th
July 1834, Mr. Gordon says; ' from the Agent to
the Dutch Company I learn, that they have got at
Java between 3,00,000 and 4,00,000 plants;
and that the Company is so sanguine of success
that they are extending the plantations vigorously.
Their annual supply of seed is immense ; and of
last year's despatch half has actually come up in
imrseries. The produce he asserts, is of very
good quality, between pekoe, and congo ; but oving
perhaps to the youth of their plants, they have not
succeeded in a perfect imitation of either pekoe or
congo/' And this statement as upsetting one of those
erroneous ideas formed from inaccurate or de fee-
tive information, which so helped in the outset to
retard the initiation of experiments in the natura-
lization of the tea plant, would have been valuable,
had not an event occured, that diverted attention
from Mr. Gordon and his enquiries in China, to
matters nearer home. This was nothing less than
the discovery that the tea plant was growing wild
at our own doors.

One of the Tea Committee's first acts was to issue a
Circular with a view to collecting information as to
the climate and soil of various localities in India, so


that on reciept of the necessary information from
China on these points, the seeds and plants might
be at once despatched to those places best adapted for
the cultivation. Dr. Falconer, the superintendent
of the Botanical Gardens at Saharunpoor, was de-
puted to examine and report on the countries
situated between the heads of the Jumna and
Ganges, for the purpose of selecting appropriate
sites for tea nurseries ; and Mr. Traill and Cap-
tain Jenkins the commissioners of Kamaon and
Assam, were addressed with a like intention.
Favorable reports in regard to soil and climate were
received from Dr. Falconer and Mr. Traill. But on
the 7th and 14th May J 834, respective^ Captain
Jenkins, and Lieutenant Charlton, reported not
only the soil and climate favorable, but their
firm belief in the existence of the tea plant
in Assam. And on the 8th November of the
same year, Lieutenant Charlton sent down to
the Tea Committee, seeds, the raw leaves of
the indigenous plant, and tea manufactured from
them, ' the best test ' as he remarked f that
the tree is not a Camellia as Dr. Wallich
imagines. 1 '

Here then was a positive proof-not the seed ; nor
the leaves of a tree only ; nor yet the tree itself;
but actually good and drinkable tea manufactured
there-from. The fact was indisputable ; and on the
24th December 1834, it was announced by the Tea



Committee to His Excellency the Governor General,
in the following glowing terms :

' It is with feelings of the greatest possible satis-
faction that we are enabled to announce to His Lord-
ship in Council, that the Tea Shrub is, beyond all
doubt, indigenous in Upper Assam, being found
there, through an extent of country, of one mou f h's
march within the Hon'ble Company's Territories,
from Suddya and Beesa to Younnam, where the
shrub is cultivated for its leaf. We have no hesita-
tion in declaring this discovery, which is due to
the indefatigable researches of Captain Jenkins and
Lieutenant Charltou, to be far the most important
and valuable that has ever been made on matters
connected with the agricultural or commercial
resources of the empire. We are perfectly con-
fident that the tea plant which has been brought to
light, will be found capable, under proper manage-
ment, of being cultivated with complete success
for commercial purposes, and that consequently
the object of our labours may be before long fully

The Committee proceeded to observe that they were
not altogether unprepared for this dispovery. They
knew that Mr. Scott had sent down the leaves
of a plant he stated to be tea in 1826 ; and that a
similar assertion had been made in regard to the
existence of the tea plant in Upper Assam. But
they felt bound, they added, to suspend their decision


3ti the subject until they should be in possession of
the fruit, which they considered the only test they
could safely take as a guide. Now eight years is a
very long time to allow for a suspension of judge-
ment regarding the species of a plant so long known
:o the commercial world as the tea plant. Had the
Tea Committee, with the knowledge they con-
fess to have been so long in possession of, either
individually before, or collectively after their
ippoinment, taken any active measures to satisfy
shemselves on the point which they imply in their
report was in question, they might have been admit-
:ed to some share in the merit of this discovery.
But there is nothing to show that they did so, or
shat they were not quite as much taken by sur-
prize as every one else in India. On the contrary
;heir proceedings, both before and after the dis-
covery, negative, any such conclusion. For, there
tvas no difference between the circulars sent by
;hem to Assam and any other part of India, and
m receipt of the intelligence of the new discovery, '
;hey completely altered the plan of operations they

Online LibraryW. Nassau (William Nassau) LeesTea cultivation, cotton and other agricultural experiments in India : a review → online text (page 1 of 24)