Tea World

Lesson 7

A scientific commission was constituted in 1835 with Dr. N. Wallich, Dr. W. Griffith and Dr. J. McClelland to report on the Indian indigenous tea plants and to advise on the most favourable localities for starting experimental tea gardens. The Scientific Commission visited Assam in early 1836. Mr. C.A. Bruce, acting as guide, took the members to a number of tracts at the foot of the Naga and Patkai hills as well as to a few in the river valleys where the indigenous tea plant was growing in clumps. Having seen the tea bushes Dr. Wallich expressed the view that there was no need any more to import tea seed from China, while Mr. Griffith favoured import of the China seed because a wild plant is not likely to give as good a produce as one that has been cultivated for centuries. It was finally decided that the China plant and not the degraded Assam plant should be used for the Government experiments. The Commission failed to come to a general agreement regarding the most favourable localities for establishing experimental gardens. Dr. Wallich favoured the Himalayan region while the other two favoured Upper Assam where wild tea existed. So Mr. Gordon was sent again to China in 1836 and for many years China tea seed was imported regularly into India. From these seeds, nurseries were raised in the government Botanical Gardens in Calcutta and the plants were sent to Upper Assam, Dehra Doon, Kumaon and the Nilgiri hills.

The experimental-site at Saikhowa near Sadiya in Upper Assam was not proper where many plants died. The surviving plants were shifted to a new site near Chabua about 25 kilometres east of Dibrugarh. In the Himalayan region, tea seedlings were planted near Bhimtal and Almora. Later on, experimental gardens were successfully established with China plants in Kumaon, Garhwal and Kangra districts on the Himalayan foothills. Of the plants sent to the South, a few survived in Nilgiris and a small lot in Wynaad on the western coast.

Apart from establishing experimental plots of tea with the China plants and seeds, C.A. Bruce who was then appointed as the Superintendent of Government tea plantations, raised nurseries of the indigenous tea plant also. He has also explored a large part of the territory from Sadiya to Gabru Purbat in Upper Assam and discovered numerous tea tracts inside forests. Some of these tea tracts were cleared and the leaves gathered from the bushes were manufactured with the help of workmen brought from China. The first experimental samples of tea from the indigenous plants were sent to Calcutta in 1836. The samples received favourable comments, whereupon an invoice of eight chests of Assam tea was forwarded to London in 1838, which was auctioned on 10 January 1839. This was a momentous occasion because not only did it establish the worth of the Assam tea plant but determined the future course of tea cultivation throughout the world. Today, more tea is made from the Assam type of plants than from the China type.

Mr. C.A. Bruce was awarded the English Society of Arts medal, presented through the Agricultural and Horticultural Society of Bengal, for his contribution in the discovery of Assam tea plant. Major Jenkins and Captain Charlton disputed this decision and staked their claims for the honour. Acrimonious correspondence followed but eventually both of them also received a medal each from the Agricultural and Horticultural Society of Bengal. The only person who did not receive any award was Robert Bruce who is considered to be the real discoverer of the plant. Another person, Maniram Dewan, who later worked in the Assam Company for some time was ignored. He was the man who     brought the plant to the notice of Robert Bruce during his visit to Rangpur in 1823. The role of the Singphow tribe of Assam in bringing the local plant to the notice of the outside world cannot be ignored. It was a Singphow Chief again who supplied tea plants and seeds to C.A. Bruce. Another Singphow Chief, Ningroola prepared 35 out of the 130 chests of tea, which C.A. Bruce sent to Calcutta in 1841. This clearly shows that the Singphows must have been familiar with the plant and were making and drinking tea from antiquity

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