James Taylor and the Ceylon Tea Industry

Ceylon Tea Board on the occasion when the James Taylor Monument wa sunveiled n 29th January 2017

The commercial cultivation of tea in Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was then known, is acknowledged to have commenced in 1867 at Loolecondera Estate, Hewaheta, in the Kandy District, by an enterprising young agriculturalist, James Taylor, a redoubtable Scotsman, of which extraction were most of the  pioneers of the Industry.

james-taylor Taylor in the 1870s

james-taylor-11

Taylor, the son of Michael Taylor and Margaret Moir, was born on March 29, 1835, in a cottage called “Moss Park” on the Monbodde Estate, near Laurencekirk in Kincardineshire. On being recruited as a Coffee Planter on Narenghena Estate, he arrived in Ceylon on February 20, 1852. Following a brief posting there, he was transferred to Loolecondera Estate, where he spent the rest of his life and eventually expired on May 2, 1892, at the age of 57 years, of dysentery, while still in service.With the decline in Coffee in the late 1860s, in 1867, Taylor pioneered the commercial cultivation of Tea on Loolecondera estate. Tea soon replaced Coffee, which was the main cash crop of the island, hitherto, on account of the “plant blight” that devastated the coffee plantations. It was Taylor’s fortitude, vision and indefatigability that created this significantly successful agricultural enterprise – The Tea Industry of Ceylon, and it is to him that Ceylon Tea owes its worldwide fame.

As D.M. Forrest in his book A Hundred Years Of Ceylon Tea observed, “He was a natural technician. He sometimes spent more money than his proprietors liked, but his roads were the best in the district and, when finished, cost nothing for two years except 5s for a cross-drain. His thatching, too, was good for five years against the normal three.” It was he who first extolled the benefits of ‘finer plucking’, which enhanced the selling price of the made tea and raised the value of the land under tea cultivation, per acre.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle paid tribute to the indomitable spirit and the profound sacrifices made by the pioneers of the Industry when he wrote, Not often is it that men have the heart, when their one great industry is withered, to rear up in a few years another as rich to take its place; and the tea fields of Ceylon are as true a monument to courage as is the lion of Waterloo” 

The Sri Lanka Tea Board, in collaboration with the Colombo Tea Traders’ Association, has organized a series of celebratory events throughout the year 2017, to commemorate this momentous anniversary.

As a fitting tribute for his inestimable contribution to the Tea Industry and the country, the commemorative programme will commence with the unveiling, by the Hon. Minister of Plantation Industries at the Head Office of the Sri Lanka Tea Board, on January 19, 2017, of a monument, as an enduring memorial to him, in the form of a sculptured bust of James Taylor, acknowledged as the ‘Father of Ceylon Tea’, and who, at Loolecondera, was reverentially addressed as ‘Saami Dorai’, translated as ‘the master who is God’. As a commentator once remarked, And thereby hangs a tale of how a Scots wheelwright’s son was transmuted into a rustic God on a stony hillside in Ceylon”.

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34a-planter-estate-workers An image of a Planter and estate workers in the coffee era

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1 Comment

Filed under commoditification, historical interpretation, island economy, life stories, modernity & modernization, performance, sri lankan society, unusual people, world events & processes

One response to “James Taylor and the Ceylon Tea Industry

  1. Muralidhar Reddy

    This is a very informative article

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