Tea World

Lesson 7

Discovery of Assam Tea Plant

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The discovery of the Assam tea plant is attributed to Robert Bruce, a Scottish adventurer who is supposed to have seen the plant growing wild in some hills near Rangpur (near present Sivasagar) the then Ahom  capital of Assam, during his visit in 1823 on a trading mission. You should know that tea plants were abundantly available in Upper Assam jungles and indigenous people of Assam used to drink the brew even before its discovery. The Singphoes and Khamties who came from Northern Burma (Myanmar) to Assam and selttled here in the pre-historic past were well acquainted with tea plants nad drank brew from the tea leaves.Anyway, Mr. Bruce who was a fortune hunter was in close touch with Maniram Dutta Baruah, popularly known as Maniram Dewan, local Assamese nobleman.Maniram introduced Mr.Bruce with a friendly Singpho Chief Beesa Gam and made an arrangement with him to supply some tea plants and seeds during his next visit. But it did not materialize due to his death.  However, in 1824, his younger brother, Charles Alexander Bruce met the Singphow Chief who supplied him some tea plants and seeds. Mr.C.A. Bruce was in charge of the British Gunboat division in the war with the Burmese occupying Assam in 1824 and posted at Sadiya. Mr. Bruce planted the tea plants in front of his bunglow at Sadiya on experimental basis for the first time. Some were sent to Commissioner Jenkins at Gauhati (Guwahati). A few leaves of these plants were sent to Botanical Gardens in Calcutta. Dr. N. Wallich, who was then the Superintendent of Botanical Gardens, identified the leaves as belonging to the Camellia family but did not consider them to be of the same species as the China tea plant.

Maniram Dewan

In 1834 the then Governor General of India Lord William Bentinck appointed a Tea Committee to advise on feasibility of commercial tea cultivation in India. The committee issued a circular asking for information on areas suitable for tea cultivation and sent its secretary Mr. G. J. Gordon, to procure tea seeds, plants and workers from China. In response to the circular, the Commissioner of Assam, Major F. Jenkins, made a strong case in favour of tea cultivation in Assam where tea plants were growing wild in forest. He also collected complete specimens of the local plants and forwarded them to the Government Botanical Gardens in Calcutta. On this occasion Dr. Wallich had no difficulty in identifying the specimens as tea, and the plants were not different from the tea plant of China. Upon this, the Tea Committee recommended that the indigenous plant under proper management be cultivated with complete success for commercial purpose.


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