Derek Perry - More

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Derek and Bev visit New Zealand

 Bi-Annual Report Witta Tea Garden

The Queen, Butterflies and Nagas

My Ancestral and Family roots with India

Growing up amongst the Green Hill of Assam

Bi-Annual report Twitta T E

Smallest Tea Estate in the World

Perry's Folly



Earthquake 1897

Fading Away

Chatterjee Babu

Shaiton Bhag - The Devil Leopard


We Three - Memories of Bob Struthers



January 7 2015

Derek and Bev visit New Zealand

Derek tells us ;

Bev and I flew recently to Christchurch to enjoy a family Christmas. On Boxing Day we flew to
Auckland airport , were met by Bev,s aunty Joy to be driven down to the lovely town of
Cambridge for a visit to greet another old aunt living in a home for the elderly.  As we tootled
down the lush Waikato country near Hamilton, my eye caught signage directing the tourist
to New Zealands own home grown Tea Estate.  This made for a compulsive stop and brief
inspection to look around the estate.  We walked around the areas of mature tea bushes,
an avenue of giant teapots and noted a factory premises shut down for the public holiday
as were the office and reception areas.  Not a soul in sight to ask the many questions
that so needed answers. Attached are a few random photographs with Bev and Joy
featured on one.  This was indeed an exciting and unexpected surprise leaving me
speculating that if I had lived on in New Zealand I might have become involved.  Wishful
thinking, of course.  As I have done so myself, I thoroughly recommend a search
of the Zealong web on Google, it does provide interesting information and for any
one keen to resurrect their tea planting skills, the site advertises a vacancy for a
tea farmer.  Any koi-hai takers?













April 16 2013


(Smallest tea garden on the earth stubbornly refused recognition By the Guinness
book of records)


For Ko-Hai readers moderately interested in the progress and reputation of  Witta
Tea Estate, Queensland Australia


Season 20012/20013 was not a great one.  Inclement wet weather all over Queensland
held back growth during late January, February and March and crop was down on the
previous season by about 2 Kilos.  Fortunately the standard of the flavour of black tea
was maintained.  Those knowledgeable tea connoisseurs are always surprised at the
mild smoky flavour that envelopes the taste buds.

This intrinsic quality is brought about by slight over firing in the final stages of oven
baking.  The result was achieved by accident during hit and miss oven timing.  I am
pleased to mention that the feed back from my modest consumer public indicate, no,
to tampering with the endearing smoky flavour.


Pruning of the whole estate has been accomplished followed by application of blood
and bone fertiliser in appropriate dosage.  The attached photographs of the pruned
tea bushes indicate this accomplishment.


Sadly labour relations deteriorated to a new nadir when I lost half the labour force.  It
became necessary to dismiss and sack one of the ladies for gross insubordination. 
The problem arose from a heated debate over the difference between pure two and
a bud leaves and the ‘bhangi’ variety.  Fortunately the event has not impinged on the
domestic front and I have not yet heard from the tea garden labour union although
recourse to them was threatened.  However a certain Irish agitator, Mr L. Brown,
whom you all well know, is playing on the susceptibilities of the lady, suggesting she
demands compensation.  This may or may not become an issue; however one must
be wary of women with long memories stirred up constantly by a nattering Northern
Irish Orangeman.


As you know Mr Brown is also my friend and occasional visiting agent, I am therefore
at a slight loss as to the motives for this mischief.  When he does visit Mr Brown
brings his own bottle of Scotch, I am therefore reluctant to press matters.  Also it
seems that after exhaustive and very recent research by a Perry cousin in England,
the first Perry’s to come out to India were from Northern Ireland not far away from Mr
Brown’s and the Perry roots. As this makes us possible ‘Jat Bhais’ and blood
brothers I am working on the matter  resolving itself amicably.


I have advertised locally for replacement labour without much success.  There were a
few nibbles here and there, but the matter of remuneration became the stumbling block. 
Payment with love seems not to be acceptable.  I will need to recruit again from
Christchurch NZ at my next visit there.  After their terrible earthquake experience,
Cantabrians will do anything for love.


Jon Perris Prop.


16 April 2013



July 1 2012


 The Queen, Butterflies, and Nagas


With due and humble respects to Her Majesty, this article has no connection with the celebrations for the Diamond Jubilee of our good Queen, Elizabeth II.  I am referring to the recent publication, "The Naga Queen" author Vicky Thomas, which tells of the remarkable life of Ursula Graham Bower among the Zemi Nagas of North Cachar, Assam.  This book, I do recommend to the Koi-Hai fraternity. The account of Miss Bower throwing herself wholeheartedly into the fabric of the Naga communities is utterly compelling.  To read about her hunger to be part of these people is to understand a very humane, compassionate perhaps unique person.


As the pages unfolded I felt transported back to my time in Haflong, (sometimes known as ‘Hafshort') the Head Quarters of the North Cachar Hills where my father was the district officer (SDO).  Many of the events described in the book happened while we as a family lived there. I was a mere lad growing up, but my memory of those years is still very clear.


There are two points I would like to draw to attention that will undoubtedly capture the reader.  First, it is about the extraordinary character of Miss Bower, a young lady educated at Roedean now in her very early twenties with a sense of adventure which eluded her while living with the upper class London set.  She has a compelling urge to escape this pretentious and suffocating lifestyle designed for her to ultimately find a suitable husband.  Chance took her on a voyage to India, then across to Manipur and her first encounters with the Nagas.  Miss Bower was captivated by her contact with the Naga people she met in the area.  A strong urge to discover more about them became her driving force.  How she achieves this is very well documented in the book.  Her eventual acceptance by the Zemi Nagas, while living with them in the village of Laisong, North Cachar hills, is a story of devotion and trust against all odds.  She is a young woman viewed with some suspicion by the authorities and Zemi villagers.  Yet she overcomes all obstacles even to the extent where the Zemis saw her as the successor to their Queen, Gaidiliu, a Naga heroine who led a revolt against the administration with unfortunate consequences.  Ursula's achievement towards the bridge building and restoration of near normal acceptance of Government authority is also told.



The second point that evoked memories on my part is about the Nagas themselves.  Growing up in Haflong I was aware of other minority tribes scattered in the area in villages around, such as the Kukis, Kacharis, a few Lushais and some Khasis.  These people although ethnically quite apart in culture and language lived side by side in relative harmony. But the Zemi Nagas were by far the dominant tribe and seemed always to be "in your face", to use a modern metaphor.  Now, looking back, I can understand the fascination the Naga people exerted over Miss Bower.  She saw them

as fiercely independent, loyal and honourable, openhearted and generous but shy and suspicious. But gain their trust, and they were friends for life.


In a previous article I wrote on the KH web, I recalled my memory of Miss Bower when she came to Haflong to discuss important matters with my father.  During the Jap crisis, when the local rest houses were occupied by the military top brass, she would stay a night or two with us.  I happily surrendered my bedroom to her as I moved out to sleep on the open veranda, but not too far away was the ever alert, faithful Namkia, Miss Bower's self appointed ‘Minder'.  Namkia, who always stood statue-like by her side, his spear at attention rather like an African Masai warrior, without the need to stand on one leg.   Namkia's greatest moment of glory arrived when he put aside his spear to be armed with a military Tommy gun at the height of the Japanese threat. There was something surreal about a semi-naked Zemi Naga shouldering an automatic firearm.  He would have put the fear of God into the gangster mob if let loose on the streets of Chicago,


I mentioned that Miss Bower was invited by the Mother Superior to address the girls and boys at the sports and prize giving functions at the St Agnes Convent at the end of 1945.  Beside her the ever- present Namkia.  I cannot remember her words of wisdom but I am sure she would have impressed everyone not least for her legendary reputation as the Naga Queen.  The thought now crosses my mind that our humble little tinned roof Convent would have been a far cry from the hallowed halls of Roedean.  I am sure this lovely lady, being the person she was would not have batted an eyelid.  A comparison would not have been in her nature.


Miss Bower's daughter Catriona spotted my ramblings on KH a few years ago.  She contacted our esteemed editor, David Air, and found me.  Catriona now lives in Delhi, she and I have become firm Skype friends.  From what I am able to gather, Catriona is a chip off her mother's block.  In the book Catriona contributes largely to the latter days of her mother and father's life.  She also told me that she has retraced her mother's footsteps among the Naga villages near Laisong village.  She received an incredible reception befitting the daughter of their legendary Queen.  Catriona continues to work in the background on behalf of the Zemi.  She was recently instrumental in obtaining Indian Government funding to set up a Pickle factory enterprise, employing the Nagas from the Laisong area.


Padre Horsley was the Anglican minister for the Cachar district. The Anglican Church and Manse were located at Silchar.  This good Priest would visit his scattered flock from time to time.  His jurisdiction extended from Haflong to Laisong where among the nearby villages some Zemi had turned Christian.  The Padre invariably timed his visits to coincide with my Father's programme to inspect the Laisong area.  They had become good friends and we often had him over for meals when he came to Haflong.  Horsley was a tall gaunt man with angular features and wore his black hair in a dishevelled state of anarchy.  He was amiable, loveable but strangely did not suffer fools easily.  His Silchar parishioners, mostly tea planters, objected strongly to his many outspoken unorthodox outbursts from the pulpit.  He was seen also as a

supporter of the Independence for India movement.  These views at the time did not endear him to the inebriated members of the Silchar Club. We heard of rumblings from the so called faithful down there and the Padre admitted that there were moves to replace him.  I think my father described him as a likeable eccentric.  At Haflong the good Priest spent his leisure moments swimming like a dolphin in the waters of the picturesque lake and diving off the board by the bridge.  Then reports came to my father's ears that this respectable man of the cloth was swimming and diving and frolicking starkers in the nude. Holy Mackerel! For the locals who spotted this strange behaviour it was a matter of ‘burra sharam' (extreme shame) to observe a white man skinny dipping.  My father had to take him aside and discreetly suggest that a pair of shorts to cover the genitals might be a wise choice.


One of Horsley's passions was photography, his favourite subject being the Zemi Nagas of Laisong village. The attached photographs are a few samples of his art.


My father was a collector of butterflies.  The Cachar hills are a treasure trove for the serious lepidopterist.  I would follow my father with my own net into the forests down into gullies and up steep hills into bamboo thickets.  I developed a sturdy pair of legs.  Sadly I was not nimble enough to catch some of those beautiful, glorious swift flying specimens with the most gorgeous markings. Even when they settled on a jungle bloom or animal dropping they were alert to the sight of a flashing white net sweeping down to scoop them up towards their doom.  The Blue Triangle' or Graphium Sarpedon with its green iridescent streak down both wings eluded my every attempt to capture it.  I now live among the hinterland hills of Queensland with views of tumbling hills and valleys stretching in the distance towards the great Australian divide.  To my great astonishment I have come across Mr Sarpedon, striking as ever, flitting about in all his glory among the trees and plants of our property.  I am still pondering the mystery of how he arrived here from North Cachar or vice versa.  But even if I wanted to capture this little fellow my legs now in their present state of decline would not allow it.  Better to just enjoy his tantalising appearance and wonder at how nature works.


Back to Haflong.  In late 1945, Lt Colonel Betts of V Force came to visit us.  I was again excited to meet a high ranking military officer.  So far I had not met any officer higher than Colonel, I saw them as heroes.  I envied my father who had briefly met Major General Bill Slim Commander in Chief of the 14th Army, accompanied by a Brigadier or two at a hurried conference down at Lower Haflong station at the height of the Jap flap.  So Colonel Betts would have to do.  My father and Col. Tim Betts were in a huddle and later it transpired that the Colonel was a keen butterfly man.  My father suggested that a visit to Laisong village would bring him more than ample reward in the butterfly department.  (Father did not then know that, ‘more', would be the operative word)  Also, and by the way, Miss Bower resident there would give him hospitality and point him towards the best butterfly spots.  However on his return the Colonel reported that romance had superseded all else and that he had netted the greatest prize of all, the Naga Queen, they were now engaged to be married.


Sometime at the beginning of 1946, the Victory over Japan was celebrated at Haflong.  This was a time to mark the occasion as a thank you to all the tribes people and Naga V Force scouts for their contribution towards repelling the Japs out of the hills of Assam.  The Governor of Assam with entourage attended a celebration for which all of Haflong gathered into the grounds of the Haflong Club.  Mrs Ursula Betts brought down a large contingent of her Naga friends from Laisong and the surrounding villages.  Among this large group were the Magulong village singers and dancers.  Up to that moment, this unique Zemi community were unknown.  An amazing people - living in relative isolation, they had developed a penchant for constantly singing; even when they talked they sang.  At feasts of welcome or feasts of births and marriages the women harmonised while the menfolk drummed and danced like dervishes leaping into the air. It was a haunting sound that they produced.


The Naga visitors were housed as guests at the Haflong Naga Village behind the bazaar, others were fed and watered in the shelter of the bazaar sheds. The stage was set for a spectacular late night event.  I was aged ten and confined to barracks but, as I had often done before, I sneaked out and hovered in the background unseen by my parents.  What a ‘tamasha', the dancing, drumming and singing went on and on the leaping men silhouetted against the flames of an enormous crackling bonfire.  Afterwards the guests and all the Nagas feasted on pig and buffalo meat downed by copious quantities of Zu, Naga rice beer.  At that point and before the food I decided to scuttle back to my bed with the sound of the bass and baritone men's booming harmony ringing in my ears.  The following morning our residence was visited by the Magulong troupe.  They came to give thanks and to be photographed in the spacious gardens of the SDO's residence.  The girls were entranced by the variety of flowers growing in my mother's colourful flower beds. They had never seen sweet pea blooms before and asked if they could pick them to wear through their stretched ear lobes.  My mother readily let them pick as many as they desired.


The following year, late 1947, my father was transferred to Shillong to take up a senior Government position.  By this time Colonel Betts and Ursula had left the district.  Before we left Haflong the word had spread.  Behind the scenes a massive farewell was being arranged by the Zemi Naga people.  On the day of departure we were escorted down to Lower Haflong station by Nagas led by Namkia from Laisong village with the Magulong dancers in full voice accompanied by men drumming a frenetic beat.  My father and mother walked in front followed by my brother Digby and myself the three miles down to the station, my two sisters were led riding on ponies.  There was no vehicular traffic on the roads of Haflong in those days. That was some procession, not only with Nagas but many of the townspeople joined in to say their goodbyes.  At the station we clambered onto the reserved compartment taking the train to Lumding Junction and onwards to Gauhati.  The emotion was palpable, making it difficult to settle comfortably into our seats.  Before the guard's whistle shrilled for departure, the Naga group of singers and drummers reached a crescendo of lament, then stopped to a dramatic silence.  As the train slowly pulled out, my father and mother stood in the open doorway of the carriage and wept as they sadly waved goodbye.  An unexpected but fitting farewell for a very kind and well respected man by the people he had served.


The Butterfly Man

Three little Zemi Maids are We


Young Zemi Warrior


 1946 The Moguling Village girl dancers and singers with my mother and two sisters

 My parents at the Zemi Naga Welcome Arch V J Day 1946 celebrations
Note; The replica head hunters trophy at left hanging from the lower cross beam


4   Padre Horsely's version of Custers last stand

 February 7 2012 

                          My Ancestral and family roots with India

                                                            1787 - 1848   


The germ of an idea for commemorating the Millennium in some special way came to mind shortly after the celebration of my formal withdrawal from the work force.  My working life had spanned four countries and now I was settled to live out my retirement in Queensland.  The magic milestone of sixty five years, seen only as a distant mirage during one's youth, had inexorably crept into view, it is now a living factual event.  The reality that the occasion coincided with the new age of millennium is only of passing note.  Of far greater significance is the birth of a grand daughter Mia Eloise, a real life, true living millennium baby.  Now that is something to celebrate and record for the world to know about.  But there is another event of millennium significance that links the birth of Mia Eloise to a colourful historical association with the great sub continent of India.  It is the granting of a Royal Charter in the year 1600, by Queen Elizabeth 1, to a group of London merchants giving them Royal approval to prosecute profitable trade with the area known as the Indies.  The Royal Charter gave birth to The Honourable East India Company, ( HEIC ). That landmark date was to create an impact over the Mogul Empire of India that at the time of the issue of charter could never have been envisaged.  So this millennium also celebrates the four hundred anniversary of  the HEIC and later the Raj, whose influence was to have a profound affect on the lives of my ancestors in India over a period of some two hundred years.

This then, is a humble attempt at recording the history and parts played by the Augier, Bruce, Delanougerede, Perry and Simpson family names and their descendants, some of whom, for at least seven generations, served variously in the commercial activities and civil administration of the Raj's Empire building, mainly in the Assam region of India. It may be that at some time in the future, my grand children and their children will recognise these notes as a treasure to be passed on, not to be lost to the mists of the past but rather to keep alive the telling of the exploits of their ancestors with India.

It is necessary to delve into history of the very beginnings of the HEIC, its development from remote commercial trading at outposts separated by distance of the vast land mass of the Indian sub-continent, to acquisition of territory that far surpassed the aspirations set out through the original intentions of its charter. Then one can imagine the reasons that provoked many to risk their lives by seeking adventure, possible fame and with it, some promise of the fabled riches of the East.  It seems the European people were drawn inexorably like gannets to the tantalising reports of fortune that could be grasped once a foothold was established anywhere in the mysterious area of the East.

As mentioned, celebrations of the millennium 2000 coincide with the establishment of The Honourable East India Company by the issue of a Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth 1 on the 31st December 1600.  The occasion gave the body of merchants in the City of London Royal approval to conduct a rich trade in fabrics and spices with the Indies.  Spurred on by the success of the Armada, 1588, English naval confidence felt more than adequate at taking on the Portuguese monopoly of trade in spices from the south coast of India and the Islands of Java and Sumatra.  The Company efforts at achieving supremacy in wresting this lucrative trade from the Portuguese and later the Dutch turned out to be disastrous.  Thwarted in the Spice Islands of the East Indies by the aggressive Dutch, the Company quickly began to think of other ways of putting to good use its Charter.  The Company then set up a small trading post at Surat on the West coast of India north of Bombay and in 1615, King James 1, appointed Sir Thomas Roe as his Ambassador to the Mogul Court of Emperor Jehangir at Delhi to secure improved trading privileges elsewhere in India.

From this small beginning, The Honourable East India Company, turned from trading to ruling an Empire.  It is to servants serving that Company, and then the Raj, in areas of trade commerce business and Government service, that today's generation of  Augiers, Dawes', de la Nougeredes, Goulds, Hazels, Holcrofts, and Perrys, trace the Oriental part of their hybrid ancestry.

The transition from trading entity towards the establishment of supreme rule over the once mighty Mogul Empire is one of the most remarkable accidents of history.

Up to the middle of the eighteenth century, the Company's Indian possessions were limited to the three settlements of Madras, Calcutta and Bombay, each had a few satellite settlements dependent on it, and each was in charge of by a Governor or President, hence the term Presidency which continued to be applied to the provinces of Bombay and Madras until the end of the Raj.

From 1746 onwards, the rivalry of the French and the unsettled state of India owing to the break up of the Mogul Empire made it necessary for the Company to engage in military operations to protect its settlements and trade.  Thanks to the leadership of the young Company servant, Robert Clive, who combined great daring in war with a talent for intrigue, the French under the leadership of Dupleix, and their Indian allies were not only defeated, but the British in Calcutta became masters of the whole rich province of Bengal.  This however gave the Company a frontier to defend against troublesome neighbours.  It was owing to repeated attempts to solve the frontier problems, rather than any deliberate policy of conquest, that during the eighty years following Clive's final departure in 1767, the British flag continued to advance, so that by 1857, apart from a few little French and Portuguese territories, the whole of India had come under the Company's sway.

However, only part of the whole of India was ruled directly by the Company; the rest consisted of Indian states many of which were ruled by hereditary Rajas.  Some of these had risen out of the ruins of the old Mogul Empire and been brought under British influence by treaty, others politically established from a background of intrigue, by the British themselves, for the benefit of Indians supporting the Company's cause.

Originally, the three presidencies of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, headed by respective Presidents went about their affairs independent of each other with each entity answerable to the Board of Directors in London.  Once the whole of Bengal came under the control of the Company based at Calcutta and then the largest and richest of the three Presidencies, a Governor General was appointed to administer all three territories.  By the year 1770 Warren Hastings, was appointed the first Governor General, heading a council whose members for reasons of their own, often chose to be obstructive.  Where Clive established British power in India, Warren Hastings extended it and consolidated it by successful wars against the Maharatas and also against the French, who were once again giving trouble.  At the same time he laid down the foundations of the administrative, judicial and financial systems of government.  He encouraged Indian education and championed the lot of the poor Indian peasant, seeking a miserable existence at the bottom of the Hindu caste system.

Hastings achievements are all the more remarkable in view of the constant and bitter hostility to which he was subjected by members of his council.  In particular the notorious Philip Francis, with whom Hastings was obliged to fight a duel to protect his reputation, was able to convince the British Prime Minister of the day that Hastings should be answerable to Parliament for alleged deeds of corruption.  Following Hastings return to London, he was ordered before Parliament and impeached, a trial that dragged on for seven years.  Eventually Hastings was acquitted, but at terrible cost both financially and to his health.  His is another tragic example of a hero accepted by the people of India but vilified in his own country.

It was about the time of Hastings's struggles in Calcutta that the first ancestors came over to the Indian sub continent.  Two were of French origin; they were Pierre de la Nougerede born at Montbron 1723 and Pierre Augier born at Aimee, in the area of Savoie, Grenoble in the year 1757.  Another was Joseph Perry of Irish/Scottish stock, born 1776. Throughout the nineteenth century and later the de la Nougerede and Augier families intermarried and bred extensively.  Charles Alfred Perry a descendant of Joseph Perry married my grandmother Mary Rosalie de la Nougerede and granddaughter of Rosalie Augier at Shillong in 1906.

There is little known background to the French origins of Pierre dela Nougerede.    One apocryphal story tells that the family originally known as Nougerede were rich land owners. At some time in French history, in obedience to a Sovereign command, they lent substantial funds to the King of France.  The King unable to repay the loan is said to have satisfied the request for repayment with typical Royal disdain.  He granted them the title of de la.  The ‘title' was added to Nougerede becoming, de la Nougerede, giving it a nice aristocratic sound. The Royal favour of a mere title, hardly a satisfactory settlement for the debt. 

Pierre de la Nougerede came to Pondicherry on the East coast of India, well before the Revolution of 1889.  Pierre may have been a trader or a soldier of fortune or else exiled from French soil in disgrace for some indelicate matter, but he remained in Pondicherry until his death in 1768.  Little is known about the next generations of his descendants.  There are confusing stories handed down by generations of delas of escape from the Revolution in France during 1889, by escaping to the French colonies in India.  If this were genuine, it would suggest that perhaps there were other remnants of the family still living in France who then sought refuge in India.  The facts of the matter may be that at the time of the Revolution in France, which also affected the colonies, de la Nougeredes with Royalist sympathies would have merely moved over the border into British India. Some research in France has been unproductive there appears not to be any families today bearing the de la Nougerede name.  During the Revolution of course, many people whose names were even remotely connected with land ownership or the aristocracy were obliterated in the cruel widespread blood bath that followed.  To all intents and purposes the surname de la Nougerede seems to have disappeared altogether from the French scene.

The Pierre de la Nougerede relationship has been researched, among others, by one Bernard Gallagher, a de la Nougerede descendant living in Ireland.  He has a family tree that claims descent from Pierre's line.  However, there is a lack of proof to authenticate the known dela Nougerede descendants of Pierre. Lewis (Louis) de la Nougerede 1790 to 1829 is said to be grandson of Pierre.  Lewis is married to Sarah Mellor in Calcutta 1814.  Lewis and Sarah have many known descendants of which Bernard Gallagher is one.

There is good evidence to suggest that my grand mother, Mary, descends from the marriage of another Louis Matthew de la Nougerede to Adelaide Augier the daughter of  Pierrre Augier. The year is 1815, when in Europe the battle of Waterloo was the most significant event. Tracking this Louis Matthew back to Pierre of Pondicherry is fraught.  It is known that the other Louis, anglicised to Lewis Matthew married Sarah Mellor in 1814 at Calcutta one year before Louis Matthew married Adelaide Augier in 1815 also at Calcutta.  At the time it seems obligatory to give the name Louis to de la Nougerede males, possibly same generation cousins. The reason, in all probability, was to ensure the name would not fall extinct because of the high mortality rate. One can reasonably assume that one Louis changed to Lewis to avoid confusion with the other Louis. However, when the tombstone was erected for Lewis and Sarah, Lewis reverts back to Louis.  There may well be an intriguing explanation for the existence of two Louis Matthews, both concurrently residents of Calcutta.  Louis Matthew, claimed as the patriarch of the Shillong dela line, as mentioned, married Adelaide Augier, daughter of Pierre.  It is within the realms of possibility that this Louis was indeed a political exile from his native land at the time of revolution.  Perhaps he was the last de la Nougerede to leave the shores of France and is only distantly related to the descendants of Pierre of Pondicherry.  If this supposition is accepted then the anecdotal claims of an escape from the frightening events of revolution on mainland France could indeed be legitimate.

Others beside Bernard Gallagher have caught the bug in the search for records of births marriages, deaths, with the last will and testaments as a  source a partial family gean ology.  At the time of Independence to India in 1947, all British records of the many generations of European and mixed European residents were transported to the India Records Office in London.  The India Office is the only source of family research.  However, whether from loss of records during transit or the fact that birth deaths and marriages in nineteenth century India were not officially recorded, the task of research is made the more difficult.

It has always struck me that because of the stirring nature of the period in French history and the possible association with old French gentry at the time of revolution, the Shillong dela Nougerede family, as I remember, as in my grandmother Mary, 1885 to 1950, her brothers Louis, 1887 to 1960, Arthur, 1889 to 1959, and Charles, 1890 to 1969, appeared to exude an air that suggested they were a special breed apart, born of better stock.  Whether this emanated from a feeling of a perceived superiority or just a cavalier attitude to impress the Anglo Indian culture in the class social structure that existed or a combination of both, will always be an intriguing question.

The Augier history in India is a little more complete.  Pierre Augier probably chose to enter the French enclave of Chandanagore situated on the River Hoogly some fifty or so miles North of Calcutta. Records indicate that Pierre was resident in Chandanagore by the year 1787; he owned a property on the Rue de Paris before later moving from Chandanagore to establish a thriving business as an armourer, cutler and gun smith at 51 Cossitollah Rd., Calcutta.  Later he acquired a further property situated on Weston's Lane Calcutta. Obviously Pierre is a man skilled in his trade for which he must have been trained or apprenticed back in his home district of Savoie. Quite soon after he moved to Calcutta he anglicises his name from Pierre to Peter.  Pierre's eldest son is christened Mathieu, but sometime later the name changes to Matthew, he was born in the year 1890, probably at Calcutta.  Pierre married, it is believed, a second time, Ann or Annette, a lady described as coming from Madras.  It is impossible for Ann or Annette to be the mother of Mathieu, there is a record that Annette Augier died in 1820 aged 30 years and some months, wife and mother of 7 children, making the year of her birth 1890 the same year of Matthew's birth.  This is the first of a series of examples of a young bride marrying a husband very much older.  Other records including Pierre's last will and testament indicate he had 10 children, which would suggest that by their dates of birth, Pierre's first three children were by union from a previously unknown marriage. Pierre's last will and testament is a significant source of  Augier family information.  All his children are named in detail as beneficiaries.  L.M. dela Nougerede, Pierre's son in law, is a witness to the document.


How did Pierre Augier, come to be in the French colony of Chandanagore so far away from home?  The timing of Pierre's departure may have been due to the fear of oppression from the gathering gloom of revolution which began later in 1787. Or else he may have been employed in France by Compagnie des Indies Orientales. To get a better appreciation of France's trading and political involvement with India, we should examine a little the history of the French East India Company.


The father of the Compagnie des Indies was a Jean Baptiste Colbert, who was given a charter to trade with a capital of some fifteen million livres tournois in the year 1664.  A decade after the company's birth, Francois Martin established its Indian headquarters at Pondicherry, some eighty-five miles south of Madras on the Coramandal coast.  Subsidiary factories and trading posts were established at Surat and Chandanagore.  By the end of the century the French were soon competing vigorously with the English for favourable trading terms with India's traders for their merchandise.  By seizing the Islands of Mauritius and Bourbon in the Indian Ocean after 1721, France was able to station a powerful fleet ready for swift action against any Indian port. For nearly a hundred years the presence of the French fleet was a thorn in the side of the HEIC hampering its mobility to ply the seas without let or hindrance.

Very often there was swift retaliatory action by the English with French ships seized for booty and ransom of their cargo and crew.  Sometimes the passengers and crew were taken prisoner and obliged to serve the HEIC as convicted labour.

The two protagonists competing for the capture of the spoils in India were the previously mentioned Robert Clive and Joseph Francois Dupleix, both of whom quickly realised that all of India was ripe for imperial conquest.  Dupleix was the son of his company's director general, a statesman and gentleman with tremendous foresight.  It is a great pity he was not served and supported better by his masters.  Both Clive and Dupleix understood the attitude to politics of the Indian princes, and the acquisitive nature of these rulers who were constantly scheming to expand into territories within the crumbling ruins of the Mogul empire.  As a result of a power struggle in the Carnatic, South India, Clive won a daring battle at Arcot which effectively destroyed the French led campaign by the unfortunate Dupleix.  Now Clive became "King maker" in the south, while consolidating the British influence there.  The strength of his position in Madras and the South encouraged Clive to enter the province of Bengal with astonishing success for the fortunes of the East India Company.  Though Dupleix fought to continue his struggle, the French at home lost confidence in their heroic empire-builder, who was recalled by his directors in 1754 for wasting too much of their investment on unprofitable ventures.  Thus in the future of British India, the French were allowed by treaty to retain only the small French settlement colonies of Pondicherry in the south and Chandanagore on the Hoogly near Calcutta in the province of Bengal, together with a few satellite trading posts.

As the following events taken from French historical records indicate, the two French Colonies were constantly at the mercy of the superior British influence surrounding their tiny borders.

1757 - The English seize Chandanagore, defended by Renault de Saint German.  The triumph of Clive at the battle of Plassey delivers Bengal to the English.  The French are dispersed, Courtin flees to Dacca.  Jean Law de Lauriston flees to Cassimbazaar, accompanied by Anquetil-Duperron with a group of Officers and soldiers.

1761 - Jean Law and his troops are beaten at the battle of Helsa.  Law is made prisoner.

Pondicherry defended by Lally Tollendal, falls to the hands of the English.  The city is entirely razed, the church of the Capuchins is not saved.

1763 -  The treaty of Paris restores the colonies in India.

1773 - The new Royal administration dispossess the governor of most of its capacities by the nomination of a intendant appointed as Director of Finances, War, Navy and Justice.

1778 - The English for the second time seize Chandanagore.  One month later they seize Karikal, and three months later they take Pondicherry.

1783 - The treaty of Versailles restores to France its possessions in the Indies.

1785 -  Effective restitution to France of its establishments in India with privileges for the Compagnie des Indies to trade.

1787 - Benoit Mottet is named as director of Chandenagor.

1787 - Pierre Augier settles in Chandanagore.

1788 - The Lieutenant-Colonel Francois Emmanual Dehays de Montigny replaces Mottet.

1790 - The French revolution brings sweeping changes to the administration of  its establishments in India.  Dehays de Montigne is constrained to flee. He will end up finding refuge in Calcutta.  The creation of a new revolutionary Parliament causes dissension between the committee at Chandanagore City, managed by the Harbour Master, F A Blouet..

1793 - The English seize Chandanagore, for the third and last time.  They name Richard Birch Governor.

1793 - Peter Augier, cutler and armourer, No 51 Cossitollah, informs the public that among other services on offer, he has for sale double and single barrel guns. Dated at Calcutta November 28th 1793

1802 - The treaty of Amiens restores Chandanagore to France but is ignored by the English as hostilities between England and France are resumed again.

1816 - Effective restitution of Chandanagore as well as the cabins of Cassimbazaar, Dacca, Patna, Jougdia, and Balassore under the terms of the agreement signed in Vienna.

 It is possible that Pierre was a master craftsman as a cutler and armourer in his home town of Aime in the district of Savoie and may have been recruited by the Compaignie des Indoes Orientales, to ply his trade for the benefit of their soldiery stationed initially on the Island of Mauritius and it is likely that he later transferred to Chandanagore.  There is a recurring but unsubstantiated family theme, handed down, that suggests Mauritius was indeed a first destination for Augier and possibly even the Delanougeredes.  It would more than likely be, that the Island served the ships of the French Navy their crews and passengers as a natural haven for rest and recreation and re-victualling.  It would be tempting after the course of a long arduous voyage, for passengers to elect to settle for some length of time.

It seems almost certain that Pierre Augier was able to settle and make a comfortable living in Calcutta somewhere between 1787 and 1792, well before hostilities began in Europe between England and France.  His eldest son Mathew (Mathieu) is born in 1790.  Pierre's other children are Claude, John, Rosalie, Adelaide Louisa, Sophie, Rose Lise, Claudine and Perrine.  Pierre's eldest son Mathew married Elise Dufour daughter of Col. F Dufour of the French army, at St John's Church, Calcutta on 26.10.1817, my family descend from this Augier union.  Mathew and Elise Augier's  children are, Pierre, Joseph, Francis, Claude Charles, Charlotte, Sophie, Adeline, Rosalie and Perrine.  Note the not unusual habit again of handing down the previous generation Christian names, which of course causes a great deal of confusion for the researching genealogist.

The circumstances of Pierre's daughter, Rose Lise's Marriage to Francoise Marie Saint Ives is worth mentioning as it reflects the very early age that young girls in their puberty were married to husbands who were very often many years older.  This is a translation from French records held originally in the colony of Chandanagore.

In the Year 1824, 6th November at 3.45 p.m. in the presence of Antoine Le Franc, Leutenant of Police Chandanagore.  Francois Marie Saint Ives aged 39, born Landereau in the year 1785 son of Francis Louis Saint Ives, negociant, native of Orleans and Rose Augier, minor aged 14 years born at Calcutta on 28th September 1810 legitimate daughter of Pierre Augier, armourer native of Amie in Tarrantaine in Savoie, living in Chandanagore in the house in the Rue de Paris and his late wife Anne Augier, native of Madras who died at Calcutta 3rd December 1820

The father of Rose Augier has obtained an age dispensation .........

( Words of the marriage service and details of the banns have been omitted )

The ceremony is held in the presence of the witnesses, Mathieu Augier, brother of the bride aged 30 years (Verificatieur) at the Central Mint Calcutta, living in Chandernagore at Rue de Traverse,  Fracois Frederic Cambanon, Captaine aux Longcours, aged 36 years, living at Rue da Baz-bazase, Pierre Jean Moniot, merchant aged 30 years, living at Rue de Paris, William Vincent advocates clerk aged 23 years living in Calcutta staying in this town in Rue de Paris.


These last three witnesses are the brother in laws of the bride, the husbands of Rose Lise sister's, Claudine, Sophie and Louisa. They all sign this marriage contract with the contracting parties and the father, Pierre.

Speed for the unions in marriage by parents must have been a prime consideration in view of the very high mortality rate of those days.  What seems clear is not just the drive to continue the dynastic line to ensure large families against the death attrition, but a compulsion to select exclusively into French associations as a means for maintaining purity of culture and race.  This is very noticeable later in the next generations when Augiers and de la Nougeredes marry extensively with each other.

As previously described, the union between Matthew Augier (Pierre Augier's eldest son) and Elise Dufour in 1817, produced the following offspring, Pierre, Claude, Sophie, Francis, Adeline, Charlotte, Perrine, Matthew, and Rosalie.  Two of Matthew and Elises's daughters were to be joined in matrimony with male members of the de la Nougredes.  Firstly Charlotte is married to Jean dela Nougerede son of Lewis (Louis) and Sarah de la Nougerede.  Secondly, Rosalie Augier, is married to Louis Matthew de la Nougerede, when he dies, she marries his brother Charles William, at Gauhati, Assam.  In the case of Rosalie, we are confronted with a first cousin Augier and dela Nougeredes union, if it is proven that Louis and Charles were the off spring of Rosalie's aunt Adelaide and Louis Mathew de la Nougerede senior.  These marriages if they stand up to be fact, are significant as they seem to have set off a future rush of Augiers and de la Nougeredes intermarriage down the generations as the families proliferated.

At this point is worth trying to speculate what kind of profession or businesses the French ancestors were able to secure in those early days of settlement in India.  It is already know that Pierre Augier set up successfully as a Gun Smith in Calcutta, his eldest son Mathew was appointed to a position in the Mint at Calcutta probably as a consequence of an inherited training with the use of metals.  At the time of his sister Rose's marriage at age 14 in 1824, Mathew now aged 34, is described as having the position of verificatieur  at the Mint.  This would  be a senior position with good prospects of future promotion.  French residents living in British occupied Chandanagore of those times would have enjoyed relative freedom to move in and out of Calcutta.  Being of French background and possibly perceived to be of noble inheritance, would have worked to their advantage in Calcutta's dominant English high born society.  Those early French ancestors would certainly have been accepted as preferred partners to the Indian born residents of mixed blood.  Anglo Indians, with whom later generations of Augiers and Delanougeredes would form unions, but whose social positions then were sadly considered to be very inferior in the superiority stakes and pecking order of the day.  The growth of the Anglo-Indian population, a term only recently used for people of mixed blood; it was originally used for those of English born and raised in India, led to an awkward confusion within the pattern of Indian society which led to extraordinary prejudice .  In 1791, a proclamation excluded the Anglo-Indians from the Company's Military and Civil Service except in the most subordinate and menial positions.  Later Governor Wellesley excluded these people from Government House entertainment, and by 1835 inter-marriage itself was frowned upon.  So it was quite possible that apart from social acceptance, those of French birth and descent would have doors opened to them for opportunities of business and trade not as yet officially available to servants of the East India Company. They were prevented by their terms of employment not to compete directly in their own right.  This was to change dramatically in 1833 when the British Government, at home, stepped in to abolish the monopoly aspect of the HEIC's charter; this move opened the door for all private enterprise to compete freely on the open commercial markets in India and China, hitherto the exclusive domain of HEIC trading.

Before the de la Nougrede decision of some to enter Assam, which occurred about 1845-1848, it was known that many were occupied with the trade of indigo growing and manufacture in Bengal and Bihar.  During the early part of the nineteenth century the East India Company began to vigorously promote the cultivation and processing of indigo.  The demand for blue dye in Europe, to satisfy fashionable demand would become a very lucrative source of revenue for the East India Company.  However the process of extraction was labour intensive and physically taxing for the workers involved.  Unfortunately the manufacture of indigo led to very harsh exploitation of labour who were secured to a regime of very low earnings which caused industrial unrest and open rebellion during much of its history.

It is very possible that male members of the dela Nougerede family were employed as Managers or Overseers by the HEIC or else because of their status as French nationals, were in fact granted licenses to establish wholly owned indigo manufacturing plants.  If the latter is the case it would support the view that the family possessed sufficient personal capital for investment into this kind of venture.  At some time a sense of disenchantment with the prevailing culture of this difficult trade may have set in, prompting them to cast their horizons elsewhere. A heaven sent alternative presented itself, following the reports and advertisements printed in the Official Calcutta Gazette that land in large parcels was being offered in areas of Assam at favourable terms by the Government, to attract settlers into that area to pioneer the manufacture of tea.  With this exciting prospect, the opportunity was seized for creating a lucrative life style more in keeping with the traditional de la Nougerede way. 

The de la Nougeredes were now in the grip of the ‘Tea Rush' together with many like minded adventurers, who had resigned their British Army or Royal Navy commissions or official Government positions.

One of them wrote.

"To those (and the class is numerous in Britain), who, possessing but a moderate sum of money, wish nevertheless to maintain the position in life to which they have been educated, to whom trade and the professions are obnoxious, who having no military tastes or nautical tendencies are still anxious to use the energy and enterprise which are said to belong to the British - to such, tea-planting offers particular inducements."


How gentlemanly and easy it all sounded.

Exactly when, and in what numbers the de la Nougerede group arrived in the first instance at the small town of Gauhati on the banks of the Brahamaputra will never be known.  It is certain that after the initial de la Nougeredes foothold, there would have been an influx into Gauhati of other extended members of the family, chancing their futures with the promise of riches from this new trade of providing black tea in affordable quantities to the British people.  The Augier name features later as employees in the records of the Assam Tea Company.  Other relatives by marriage appear as witnesses on de la Nougerede birth marriage and death certificates recorded at Gauhati, they are the St Ives, and Pintos.  It is known from the inscription on Rosalie de la Nougerede's headstone, where she rests peacefully among the green pine trees of Shillong, that she entered Assam in the year 1848.  She was then only seventeen years of age, married, to Louis Mathew de la Nougerede, son of Louis Matthew de la Nougerede senior.

A river journey from Calcutta to Gauhati during the 1840's would have been by early paddle steamer that carried masts and were rigged for sail for use when the winds were favourable, it would have been a slow, perilous and tedious journey taking up to eight or ten weeks.  The prospects for settlement in this dificult land, was not for the faint hearted, there were few if any comforts, life expectancy was short, and there is sad testimony to this attrition by the many dela Nougerede headstones, both of infants and adults that lie today in the small Catholic cemetery at Gauhati.

Gauhati was now burgeoning into the Government head quarters for civil administration and military presence, as it gradually extended its authority into the heart of Assam.  Amenities for the small but growing European population would be in short order; I have been told that the de la Nougredes quickly established an emporium or shop to provide for the needs of domestic comfort for the benefit of the European residents.  All the provisions coming up by river boat from Calcutta. They acquired land in the town selecting good sites with river views.  Very soon after arrival they would have set out in paddle boats or dug outs accompanied by a government surveyor to explore the tracts of tea within the dense forest along the right bank of the Brahamaputra.  This was to mark out for purchase suitable wild growing tea tracts with land for the propagation and manufacture of black tea leaf.  This all suggests that they were sufficiently well funded to make these investments. Later about the year 1850 it is documented in the Catholic History of Assam that, "the first Catholics who settled permanently in Gauhati, were a French family de la Nougrede in 1848.  Two brothers Charles William and Louis Matthew owned some tea gardens near Gauhati and much land,- the site of the present Catholic Mission, was donated by them".  Although only Charles and Louis are mentioned here, it is known that not all the de la Nougredes settled at Gauhati, others moved further up country towards Dibrugarh to work the tea tracts located in those areas.

All in all, it must be said that the de la Nougerede settlers showed a determination to be successful in this yet untried venture despite having to work to clear the dense tracts of tea with the help of only a limited resource of available labour, using very primitive methods. Clearly, there was a cavalier air of confidence about the approach to the Assam adventure, which has always been a basic feature characteristic of the de la Nougerede ethos.  They would of course, have come into Assam enjoying the same status as any other European or British tea pioneer, yet proudly conscious of their distinct French flavour, perhaps unique from all the others among the new settlers.

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 FEBRUARY 4 2012  

Here we have another collection of memories about Meghalay during the second World War--Thank you Derek






There are two place names that have much in common.  I am told that the region of Meghalaya in India, is the newly adopted name given by the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo people meaning," Home of the Clouds."  When the Polynesian Maori sailed their canoes west from Hawaii across the Pacific about Seven hundred years ago, they made landfall.  Before them was this long land mass with a stretch of cloud shrouding the upper reaches.  The Maori settled there comfortably and named their new abode, "Te Ao Arora"; the land of the long white cloud.  Later the white man came and called it, New Zealand.  Two indigenous people for whose culture and history, the cloud formations of their respective land, represent important significance.  I have been privileged to live many years under the clouds and rain of both countries. But this is a brief account of my early life living among the monsoon drenched green hills of North Cachar and the area now known as Meghalaya.


I came into the world 75 years ago at the little town of Tura in the Garo hills.  I am told that Tura, at that time, did not offer much in the way of maternity care.  In my case I arrived through entry by caesarean section, an operation for which the local Medical Officer was a little short on experience.  Apparently, the usual agonising waiting before the scalpel incision was put to my poor mother was prolonged because the good Hindu M.O. with astrological fervour insisted the astral position of the stars had not reached their auspicious position in the night sky.  So on that propitious note, out I popped.


Seventy five years not out is not a bad innings.  I hope to collect a few more years with a few judicious push strokes with the odd tickle around the wicket before ‘Father Time' rattles the timber behind me.  Another ten would be nice, fifteen a lot better.


I have little recollection of my infant years at Tura.  I had a devoted Garo ayah whose name was Shoray that is all I know.  Also, I am told I developed an unfortunate tendency for purloining the crunchy rusks off the other few American missionary infants when all the babies came with their respective ayahs for the evening social gathering.


My first images are that of the small town of Jowai located some forty miles away from Shillong.  Now I had a new ayah and that became her name, "new ayah."  New ayah was of the Panaar people of the Jaintia hills.  She spoke no English but was fluent in her native Panaar.  At that age I spoke little of my mother tongue, English, and no Panaar.  However, over time new ayah spoke more English, and I developed a little English and more Panaar.  One could say that by the tender age of three or four I was bilingual.

Jowai could only be described as a Hill village town developed in only about thirty years from a collection of mainly primitive habitations.  There was the Court house, Jail, a Dak bungalow and a noisy, once a week under cover bazaar precinct.  There was a civic lake more the size of a pond and by it a small playground for gatherings.  But of Churches it boasted many impressive edifices of different Christian denominations.  On Sundays, many church bells rang with great persistence, beckoning the faithful from all directions.  The area was subtropical and wild, game abounded in all forms and sizes.  My father was called out by villagers to dispose of about a dozen rogue elephants and on one occasion a marauding leopard.  I was made to sit on the leopard carcass, to be photographed with feelings of great trepidation. 


The seat of administration was the Magistrate's Court, Government Treasury, and Police station with Jail, buildings all representative of the British rule above which the Union Jack fluttered gallantly from its flag pole, a symbol of peaceful Imperial presence.  Who would have thought then, that in less than a decade, India would proudly and rightfully become its own Independent Sovereign State?  From here my father as representative of the Raj dispensed justice and gave fair hearings to disputes that came before him from the Jaintia people, committing to jail those found guilty of felony and other crimes as listed under the Indian Penal Code.


 The house where we lived was the SDO's official residence would be one of the grander houses in the town sharing equal status with the smart dak bungalow reserved for visiting government dignitaries.  One of whom during our time there, was the highest in the land, His Excellency the Governor of Assam, Sir Robert Read with his wife, Lady Read.


Those formative years were bliss, I knew nothing else.  My parents loved me and I was spoilt rotten, I felt secure.  Of course I was naughty.  New ayah would frighten the living daylights out of me, by threatening my little wee life to the machinations of the dreaded ‘Shongnoh.'  The ‘Shongnohs' were a cult who were the masters of an offshoot of the mighty ‘thlen.'  The ‘thlen' in ancient Khasi times was a dragon like creature that craved human flesh and blood.  This mythical gentleman lived in a cave near Cherrapunjee, he was only appeased by human sacrifice.  One day a brave Khasi warrior confronted and killed the beast with a sharp sword and sliced it into little bits.  Not a happy, if gory end.  The bits reconstituted themselves into little ‘thlens' and the ‘Shongnohs' became their keepers.  On moonlight nights the ‘Shongnohs' go out in search of human victims, draw their blood into silver vessels to satiate the mini ‘thlens', appetite for blood.  For many years I would search the shadows at night and run like hell to get home safely. 

Night time in Jowai could be a little hair rising. There are not many little boys growing up in the safe haven of a large home but surrounded by forest and jungle with mystifying nocturnal sounds and very often the characteristic ‘sawing' and grunting from a prowling leopard or panther.  We owned a pony named George who helped carry father about on his long tours visiting villages in his district.  George was ‘safely' stabled in a closed shed some distance behind the bungalow, or so we thought!  One night we were awoken to an awful kafuffle coming from George's shed.  Next morning we found a disembowelled George victim of a determined leopard not a pretty sight for a young lad.  Poor old George.


Often on my evening or early mornings walks with ‘new ayah' we would pass a small village and the inhabitants would warn us that a ‘bhag' had been heard or seen in close proximity.  ‘New ayah' would hurl me onto her back to race home at great speed to the safety of the bungalow.  All this and the threat of the horror of the ‘thlen' used to really put the wind up me.  But not sure whether it had the effect of changing my naughty habits into angelic ones?


Sometime, back then, my early consciousness became aware of the presence of Shillong.  I had found Shillong and Shillong had found me.  Shillong was the place of fulfilled and exciting dreams. It was a small boy's Shangrila.  I discovered doting grandparents who lived in a large family home with many uncles and aunts and cousins spread around the town also living in large homes.  There were motorcars and electricity, smart shops and lovely tea shops with mouth watering confectioneries, better still a movie theatre.  Shillong was everything that Jowai was not.  Shillong was Paradise.  The Fir trees that covered the surrounding hills were taller. The green needles of the branches sang and whispered with the wind to give of their distinctive pine aroma.  And so began my love affair with Shillong.


Back before WW11 and during its early days, we frequently made visits to Shillong.  I was told that when I grew up to be a big boy I would go to school at St Edmunds.  A relative was then a senior boarder at St Edmunds, he visited us during the Puja holidays.  He wore long flannel trousers a tie and a smart blazer.  I couldn't wait to grow up to become a big boy and wear long trousers.  I was informed also that my father was one of the first day pupils when the school opened back in 1916.  Here was a tradition to live up to.

However, we were moved from Jowai to Haflong in the North  Cachar hills.  Here I began my early school education at the convent of St Agnes at Haflong.




The Raj enters the town of Jowai, 1939  The Governor of Assam


Sir Robert Reid met by my father in plus fours giving the impression that they are both purposefully heading for the first tee to commence the Jowai PGA tournament while the hushed Khasi people wait expectantly for the first shots to go screaming by.





The occasion of the Governor of Assam's visit to Haflong, 1942. 

Sir Robert Reid in more formal attire with Lady Reade, centre, attend the garden party given by my parents at our residence for the VIP residents of Haflong

My mother sits third from left, my father stands fifth from left, the lad in grey suit and tie sitting on the grass, at right, is the author aged eight.


















The Perry family arrived at Haflong, North Cachar Hills, during the month of November, 1941.  The transfer began from Jowai, located among the Jaintia hills, my father's last posting as SDO.(Sub Divisional Officer), via Shillong some fifty miles away, with an entourage of porters carrying the Perry household chattels, an ayah, and cook all by way of a journey on foot.  Except that, I was transported on the back of a sturdy Jaintia man in a basket arrangement with cover against the elements.  Facing rearwards, the "thapa", is a mode of transport lacking in dignity, I always felt, as I would have far preferred to be riding on the back of the accompanying horse, reserved for my father when he tired of the foot slog.  I was now a growing lad, a trifle conscious of my position as a young fella in the scheme of things appropriate to the culture of the colonial times in India.  My young brother, Digby, followed, also carried by "thapa", sleeping happily within the recesses of his basket.  This rear view journey took two days.  We stopped at Shillong for a few weeks living with my grandparents at the wonderful old rambling family home, Avondale, situated opposite Pinemount School with the cascading Crinoline falls a short walk behind.  The original home was in later years sold and lost in a fire.  Here we picked up little sister, Shirley, and my mother, both had left Jowai in advance allowing time for my mother to give birth to Valerie on the 31st October at the Welsh Mission Hospital there.  I was now six years old and somehow it felt that those years spent in the remote backwater of Jowai had been stolen away, I always sensed that there was a more advanced world out there somewhere and I was impatient to be part of it.


For me this new journey took on the feeling of high adventure, my restricted world at Jowai was to soon open up as I keenly anticipated the longish rail journey from Gauhati to Haflong with one whole night and two days on the train.  Furthermore, in the following year I was to be placed into the care of the holy sisters who ran the Convent of St Agnes with girls and boys of my own age and older.  My days of isolation at Jowai would soon be over and I relished the thought of making companions, to share a young boy's dreams and aspirations.  And soon I would learn to read properly, my most cherished desire.  All those books to relish; tales of high adventure, gallantry, romance and chivalry.  My imaginations savoured the thoughts of escape into the world of historical fantasy and make believe.


During the days in Jowai, I became forcibly aware that somewhere in the far away land of France, England was fighting another war to the death.  I distinctly recall the anxious gathering of the Welsh Missionary Ministers, the Italian Salesian Priest with my father and mother listening to the BBC news broadcast by ‘Wireless' from Daventry, that England was at war.  That was September 1939.  Suddenly, the idea of war, death, destruction and killing took a significant hold on my imagination.  The concept of people deliberately going out of their way to destroy each other seemed very difficult to comprehend.  Why, I wondered?  I was never given an adequate answer, and to this day I remain confused by that issue.  Conversations were sombre with wild speculation.  If Mussolloni joined Hitler, the Italian priests would be taken from their missions to be held in camps for the duration of the war, who would care for their flock ?  Suddenly, France fell and British forces were evacuated ignominiously from the French beaches near the port of Dunkirk leaving behind their equipment.  My father prosecuting an armchair war of his own demanded that Churchill take over the leadership from the inept Chamberlain, then Prime minister of England.  He got his wish.  Churchill, was the man most capable of defying Hitler and with his stubborn bulldog spirit was well prepared to scheme the onslaught for the eventual annihilation of the Nazis.  Although he held somewhat misguided views towards the aspirations of India's people for their self rule, Churchill, a staunch supporter of forever keeping on the flow of British rule in India, or at least into some distant future when the "Indian people were ready.", was for now, the man of destiny for the future of Europe.  And for all those living in India, the product of many generations of mixed European ancestry, Churchill gave some sense of respite for a few more years, before the inevitable sunset of the Raj.


Within a few weeks of our arrival at Haflong on Sunday the 7th day of December 1941 to be precise, my father was listening to the daily news bulletin from BBC Daventry, when he rushed out in some jubilation.  Attack on Pearl Harbour, the day of "Japanese infamy", at last, the mighty United States of America had declared War against Japan and more to the point against that nasty man Hitler and the whole of Germany.  The Japs would be easy meat, yellow slinky eyed upstarts, easy fodder for the might of Great Britain and America.  This arrogant belief was one of the greatest miscalculations in the history of warfare, within two years; the Japs would be knocking on the doors of Haflong, held at bay in a locked battle at Kohima and Imphal only fifty miles away as crows fly.  That story follows; meanwhile life at Haflong was idyllic, thoughts of war a million distant miles away.


The winter of 1941 to 1942 presaging the next School term, I spent, exploring the salubrious nature of Haflong, with its vista of hills, the magnificent view of valleys rising to the ranges beyond, winding walks along paths surrounding the periphery of the town and residential homes with golf course, examining the beauty of the lake and its boundaries.  After Jowai, this new home was sheer bliss, a touch of civilisation with the opportunity of making friends when school reopened.  St Agnes Convent was in recess as all Hill schools are in India for the three month winter period, December to March, after which the new term of nine months boarding and schooling would recommence.  This system had developed from the huge distances in India separating homes from the locations of the many hill schools, tucked high up many in the shadows of the Himalayas. 


Already my mother had become a popular figure with the nuns, I can just recall my first visit to the Convent, being shown around, the vast playing area of the hall, a large covered shed really, down the slope to the boys dorm and play shed with its incredible gate mechanism that required some huge physical effort to lift and open, many a future finger jammed here.  There were boys and girls in residence, I eyed them shyly wondering who might be friends with me when things got started.  Of course I was too young to consider why they were all in Convent residence and not at home spending the holidays with their own parents.  Although the reasons may have been explained, that these unfortunate children were either orphans or abandoned off spring of Cachar tea planters, it took time to realise that all children were not made equal in this world.  I had to cope with feelings of mortification for being so fortunate as to be part of a loving homogeneous family well provided for in the creature comfort department.  Indeed I often felt embarrassed by my burden of good fortune as compared to some of my peers at the Convent.  To my shame I once used my father's position of authority as the local Mikado and Lord High Executioner over the whole district to silence a stroppy girl with whom I was in constant verbal warfare.  In an exasperated moment I used the threat, that I would get my father to throw her into the local jail.  In retrospect, I realised that I had sunk to the depths and I never forgave myself for stooping so low.  I forget the lass's name; she was in a class below during the 1944/45 era.  She did not stay for longer than about a year, possibly her parents took my threat seriously, I do hope that was not the case!?


Haflong, situated about three thousand feet above sea level, had developed into a lovely little Hill Station attracting many retired Tea planters, Civil servants and Railway personnel.  To the eye, the garden style layout surrounding the lake with fir trees and jacaranda was quite sensational.  Amenities including a Club and tennis facilities a picturesque Golf course, the Groveland Hotel for visitors, offered comfort among breathtaking views.  The Sweeny's were among a group of residents in retirement attracted by those idyllic conditions.  Their children now grown up had all been mostly educated by the good nuns at St Agnes.  I had the pleasure to meet Monica Fosberry nee Sweeny and Terence Sweeny her brother in London in 2002.  Monica looked back to her days spent at the family home "Taradevi" with such joy, describing her Haflong as being, "that little piece of heaven on earth."  Sadly Monica passed away not long after from cancer, she was then eighty one years.  Terence, finished his matriculation after leaving St Josephs North Point Darjeeling, for a while he became our Scout master.


I can remember the school opening day with great excitement.  The Mother Superior was Sister Providence, a very approachable, kindly and likeable lady.  From the parlour she took my mother and I down through the main building, past the two girls dorms, the refectory past our 1947 class room, down hill across the playing fields to the quite spacious Kindergarten classroom situated directly over on the other side of the boys dormitory and playing shed  This classroom was part of a building that was occupied as a dormitory from time to time by junior girls or occasionally by more senior girls, to ease the congestion up the hill  This close proximity of boy dorms and girl dorms was often conducive to many a flirtatious exchange, making life quite interesting but limited in extent by the hovering presence of the nun in charge.


Life in the kindergarten began under the Australian born, Sister Vincent, my first taste of Australia, not that I was aware of it then.  Thanks to this good sister's tutoring, reading soon took on a level that set my inquiring mind on a search for more and more books. I began to devour everything that came my way including the Calcutta Statesman news paper, at home.  The class provided four Reading books each one advancing in their segments, represented by colour of book cover as story content matured.  The colours for the book motifs were, from memory, green, yellow orange (I think, but not necessarily in that order) Book Four was definitely in black.  I remember eagerly looking forward to jumping from the simple content of Book One to Book Four which featured the story of the lovable Brer Rabbit and his amazing adventures.  We learned to count, that was fairly straight forward but I saw no point in adding and subtracting, multiplication and the two times table seemed irrelevant, I can still recall the famous times table jingle which was sung out loud with gusto.  As for division and multiplication, the concepts quite eluded me.  Then there was a lot of activity with pasting onto card coloured paper shapes which helped pass the time.  We seemed to be a happy carefree lot.


I cannot pinpoint with any kind of accuracy who all my class mates were that year nor do I recall any developing or lasting friendships  The figures of Bertram Nelson, and his sister Florence are clear and another girl with red hair and vivacious personality whose name escapes me but who did take my fancy.  (Red hair did not return the following year.)  Mary Shaw may well have been there that year, but I cannot be certain, although her presence has always figured in my sub conscious from very early on.  The slight serious figure in blue gym slip, regulation white blouse, black shoes, little white socks with a tendency to droop, one droopier than the other, like a young gazelle growing up, always the flicker of a shy smile on eager face surrounded by a bob shape cut to hair worn slightly above the shoulder.                       

That year was highlighted for making my First Holy Communion.  There were about seven or eight of us First Holy Communicants, now I wish I could recall all their names, but the memory fails.  Bertram Nelson was a certainty but the others, no.   I am sure the others were drawn from other more senior class rooms.  We were prepared for this first life giving step into spirituality by Sister Providence and it remains an everlasting experience.  The simple child act of cleaning up the soul to receive the person of Jesus remains as fresh today as it was then.  This compelling act of preparation for receiving the Lord on every occasion since has remained with me all my life. 


I cannot remember much more detail from the year 1942.  Many events remain obscure, the school sports, concerts, picnics, my seventh birthday, Christmas even.  A happy state of amnesia generated perhaps by the soft comfortable family home life that I was then privileged to enjoy.  However, one salutary experience stands out as a stark reminder of the tragedies of life caused by the consequences of the hellish conflict across the border in Burma, as the Japanese Armies rolled back the impotent British Forces. That was the upheaval to the lives of the many innocent victims and the horror experiences as many thousands from the civil population retreating in bewildered disarray. 


During the early part of 1942 there was a general plea broadcast through out Assam for volunteers, specifically directed at the wives of Indian, European and Anglo Indian, officials to give their time and help to assist with the unexpected flood of thousands of refugee families fleeing their lives and homes in Burma from the merciless advance of the Japanese.  My mother considered rising to the call but with two toddlers, Digby, Shirley and one babe, Valerie, she was unable to assist. This mass evacuation of the civil population from Burma which began in May 1942 was accompanied by harrowing tales of the victims' terrible experiences on their exhausting march through the difficult jungle terrain over the seemingly endless border hill ranges.  Certainly no established roads existed to direct their weary trek; the path ahead had to be slashed out of the thick green tropical bush, which frustratingly impeded progress.  Houses, property, possessions were abandoned, most left with only the clothes they stood in, they took with them as much jewellery as they owned to be used as barter with the native tribes along the route for food.  Reduced morale, sickness and starvation took its toll.   Few of the elderly and very young survived, they merely sat down in a state of collapse along the route to die.  There were no accurate figures of the numbers that came through the Assam border Refugee reception centres before the onset of the monsoon scaled down the flow, but 250,000 would have been a conservative estimate, a further 40,000 were trapped in makeshift camps on the wrong side of the border when the monsoon onslaught did arrive making the journey into India impassable.  Their living conditions were appalling, with many dying from the affects of dysentery, malaria, black water fever and malnutrition.  Their final escape was made in September and October 1942 after the rains had receded but not before their numbers were reduced down to a pathetic 20,000 souls, capable of walking, or limping out, with the very weak, carried out by sturdy Naga porters.  There are of course no statistics, no memorials, no graves for those thousands of anonymous people who were swallowed up by the jungle to die.


The rail head receiving Burma refugees for processing closest to Haflong, was Dimapur station which fed into Lumding junction with onward routing via Gauhati to Calcutta.  My father's district in the North Cachar hills over which he had jurisdiction extended from Badarpur junction in the south near Silchar to Lumding along the hill section railway line, Haflong being the mid point and official headquarters.  To my delight he would often take me on tours of inspection up or down the line where he would adjudicate on civil matters concerning the local population consisting of Kuki, Naga and Cachari village tribes' people.  On this particular occasion we ran up to Lumding, which like most Indian rail heads attracted an itinerant assembly of peasant people sheltering under the covered platforms only coming to life when a passenger train stopped.  To my wonderment I caught sight of nondescript groups of people of European origin, mainly in dishevelled condition, standing around in a state of numbed shock.  As my dad and I stepped past this motley collection of Burma refugees on our way to the "European Only" restaurant for a sumptuous breakfast, someone called out "Maurice", my dad's name.  We stopped in our tracks and this tall man of once elegant stature in scarecrow clothes shuffled over with a young lad of about my age in tow.  It turned out that he and my father had been colleagues in the Assam civil service until he had opted for service in Burma.  The trek out had become a disaster for this once proud family, he had lost his wife and another child both succumbing to the rigours of the three month journey through a green hell.  The lad opposite me and I faced each other, he looked at me with deep sad weary eyes, his face encrusted with grime from the dust of travel and the tears of his ordeal.  He wore an oversized light brown tatty jumper, his shorts were ripped, and he wore no shoes.  The boy and I had no words to exchange, we were both lost in private thoughts of our own with questions that seemed to have no answers  My dad fiddled in his jacket pocket to pull out his wallet, slipping the contents of Rupee notes into the hand of his old chum.  With an awkward farewell, dad and I walked on, the memory of that encounter forever etched in my memory.




Now the submerged memory cells begin to activate and come to the fore.  The mists clear, shady figures become real identities with names taking on individual personalities.  Senior girls and boys begin to emerge, this year I was to feel a real part of the camaraderie of school life, with a healthy sense of belonging.


Day one was a shocker, oh what a fiasco, I prefer to forget my performance.  My mother duly delivered me through the heavy wood panelled front door resembling a medieval gateway, inside the entrance by the small parlour.  This rather forbidding construction was designed with an eye level grill with a small doorhinged on the inside for the inspection of visitors before entry was allowed into the Convent precinct by the duty nun.  Once through we were greeted by the good Mother Providence who then proceeded to personally escort me with my mother to the standard one classroom down the length of the outside covered verandah, right turn into the hall past the girls cubicles then immediate right through the classroom entrance door to be greeted by a sea of curious faces, seated at their desks, presided over by the teacher, the good sister Bernard.  I was overwhelmed and refused to be deposited by my mother, I clung to her for grim death, no way was I going to be cast away into this den of strange staring faces.  And so I bellowed and screamed embarrassing my poor mother while consternation was written over the faces of the good sisters.  Eventually I settled and so began the year of the class of 1943.


It was a good year, a vintage year, I progressed well made friends and held my head high as I began to gain ascendancy after my initial false start.  Names flicker to mind, Bertram Nelson, Oswald d'Sousa, Clarence d'Silva (both had elder sisters in other classes, I think) Mary Shaw was definitely there, demure and pretty but a little reticent.  Later in the year Maureen Lubeck arrived.  The story to their background was that Lubeck's father had been stationed as a Reuter's correspondent covering the war events from Burma.  He with his wife, Maureen, Sally and Peter made their way out of the city of Rangoon by some devious route to take up a similar position with the international press agency in Calcutta.


Maureen created an immediate impact; she was attractive, clever and had personality.  We did not immediately hit it off, I had to look to my status as best reader, and here was a rival who put better expression into her speech delivery.  I had been coached at home by my father and mother to speak very clearly with good pronunciation and for the first few months my position in class was supreme, now I had to deal with this interloper, and a mere girl to boot.  Young Perry was not happy. 


English history was my favourite subject.  Oh the tragic fate of the Princes in the Tower of London.  The Battle of Hastings followed by the Norman Conquest. Looking back today sixty years on, it seems inconceivable that in this remote corner of the hills in north east India where the lovely hill people were alluringly clad in scanty attire and until recently practised the art form of head hunting, we were relishing learning about the exploits of Anglo Saxon heroes such as Ethelred the Unready, King Alfred and Hereward the Wake.  Given the background conditions, here is another equally bizarre example of our staunch English education, a nonsense poem from our "Reader" that I can still remember reciting



Three jolly gentleman in coats of red

Rode their horses up to bed

Three jolly gentlemen snored till morn

Their horses eating the golden corn

Three jolly gentlemen awoke at day

Rode their horses, down the stairs and galloped


My eyesight began to fail horribly, it must have happened gradually, the deterioration attributed to a congenital inheritance and my avid reading habits at night illuminated by the combination of dim glow produced from petromaxes, paraffin lanterns and a torch under the bed clothes.  Forgive the pun but there were no opticians in sight in those days to test my condition and provide spectacles, other than at Shillong, a very long journey away.  Sister Bernard accommodated this defect by planting my desk on the front line opposite the blackboard.  She very sympathetically wrote in chalk on the board in bold capitals.  I can distinctly remember the occasion she wrote CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS then MEDITERRANEAN the letters of which we had to commit to memory, since which time, I have never had a problem with remembering the spelling of either.  To better illustrate the point of my steady approach towards a condition of semi myopic blindness, I completely missed seeing the mystery airman who parachuted out of the aircraft with engine trouble.  We were all on the sports field that evening with the whole school excited and pointing towards the direction of the slow canopy descend into the valley below where the railway wound through.  To my chagrin I could not see a thing.  The pilot of the aircraft circled making several low passes over the school but whether he was Jap or friendly was in doubt.  I returned home in some trepidation as my father was out of the station on tour.  My mother like every one else was pretty perturbed as to the identity and intention of our unexpected visitor.  As darkness came there was a commotion outside and two Naga villagers appeared escorting a tall much shaken RAF officer.  I think he was more scared from his personal ordeal, than we could imagine, because he was not sure whether he was in friendly territory or not.  Having ascertained the officers true bona fide's, mother gave him a stiff whisky and took him around to "Vanderville", the home of our French Canadian Bishop, Le Pierre, for a bed and a meal, meanwhile the Army base at Lower Haflong was alerted.  Very soon there was the rumble of an army lorry arriving to take away one very relieved RAF man.  The official explanation released from the RAF base at Khumbagram near Silchar directly beyond the Barial ranges of the North Cachar Hills, was that while on a reconnaissance patrol the aircraft with pilot and navigator, developed engine trouble.  The aircraft began to dive into an uncontrollable spin but the pilot managed to restart the engine easing the aircraft on to level fliht.  At this point the pilot gave the thumbs up signal to his mate to indicate that all was well.  However the somewhat "green" navigator, who thought all was lost, mistakenly took the pilots signal as a sign to take evasive action and promptly baled out, thus providing every one but myself at St Agnes a ring side seat of this spectacular parachute jump.


The whole experience of the airman falling out of the distressed aircraft jolted us back to the reality that a full scale Japanese invasion into our own little piece of heaven was distinctly imminent.  For the moment it was better to set aside the thought that just beyond the border all the signs indicated that the Jap army was preparing for an assault into Assam.  For the community at Haflong there was no other choice, but to  carry on as normal.  I cannot remember experiencing any of the tensions that must have existed at the time.  The sisters would have adopted an attitude of philosophical acceptance by immersing the school into a feeling that all would yet be well through faith and prayer, as many visits to the chapel testify 


That year I made my Confirmation with the First communion batch from the previous year and again I can only recall Bertram Nelson from that group.  The Rev Bishop Le Pierre, tapped me on the cheek and exhorted the Holy Spirit to make something out of me at a glittering candle lit ceremony one late evening in the school chapel.  I feel sure young Mary Shaw was there singing her little heart out to get us on our way.



I am afraid my ability to repeat a full roll call of all the names of the girls and boys in the Convent that year is severely diminished by the erosion of memory.  Many of them were children of Assam valley and Cachar Tea Planters. Among the boys, there were all the Nelsons, Mark, Clarence, Wilfred and Bertram then Clarence d'Silva and Oswald d'Souza, already mentioned, Noel Tipthorpe and his elder brother.  Then from our Tea districts there was, Peter Thom, Jimmy Hague, Bobbie Wilson, the Cramphorne boys George and Alistair (Bally) Later Tommy Tew, and John Joseph, they came to us in 1944 or 45.  Among the girls, the McQueen sisters, Valencia and Mary, Audrey Tipthorpe, Philomena Pachico, Phyllis Bryning, Vera d'Souza  From Cachar Tea, Peggy Hague, the Powell girls, Mary and Mavis, Bella Sweet and sisters, June and Phyllis Cunningham.  Of course, the always effervescent Lubeck, the cheeky endearing little Barbara Thom, then later the rather pretty Muriel Unger and Audrey Cooper whose many brothers were at St Edmunds, then last but by no means least, the lovely but shy little Mary Shaw. 


We boys were active in two Cub groups led by Canadian Fr. Louverre the Bishop's secretary and Bro Bernard a person with technical and building experience living at the Bishop's residence.  The two cub leaders were Mark Nelson, the other his brother Clarence.  Those Cub days were very happy, fired as we were, with our own noble agendas for good deeds.  Then there were tracking excursions into the hills and picnics down to the Dihing River were we learnt to swim.  Both Louverre and Bernard gave the sisters huge help and assistance with building and repairs.  I recall those exciting silent movie shows in the hall, so keenly anticipated, did we ever get through a full session ?  What disappointment when the projector bulb blew or the temperamental diesel engine driving the electric power broke down?  Those two clergymen were forever in that engine room overhauling and maintaining the "beast" as it was known.  They also organised the excavation and construction of the tank situated at the top end of the hall to hold water for the Convent needs.


For a few weeks that year, I was to experience being a boarder when the rest of the family travelled to Shillong for a holiday.  I think I responded very well to the regime and routine of the nun's convent life, except for the quality of the food.  Twice a day, lumpy soggy rice with a watery dal and nondescript curry was really too much for my spoilt taste buds.  My rather loud derogatory comments at the refectory table went down like a lead balloon, in earshot of Sister John, who charged over to give me the mother of a telling off.   At mealtime, the boys warned me that my innocent habit of placing my elbows on the table would incur the wrath of the good Sisters hovering in the refectory ready to pounce on unsuspecting miscreants.  Extreme caution was needed to avoid either one of Sister John or that other trigger happy terror of St Agnes, Sister Margaret.  Sure enough they would sneak up from behind roar into my ear that elbows on table was not acceptable behaviour, then forcibly lifting my arms, would bang them down again with a considerable jolt, jarring both funny bones into deadly numbness.  I did not have the audacity to inquire why this punishment was necessary, fearing further retribution.  Grin and bear it was the best policy.


Memories of the end of year concert flood back, with the fun of rehearsals and preparation.  The finale item was a tribute to Columbia for the benefit of the North American clergy from the Bishops house.  I remember gathering with other members of the chorus in many a rehearsal at the base erected for Columbia to stand on and pose magnificently, she being the star of the show, Valencia Mc Queen dressed like Britannia with a flag held aloft, but precariously poised while we sang a tumultuous North American anthem in her great honour.  Another item was a dance solo, performed by a light lissom lass whose name I cannot recall.  But I certainly remember the tinny music blaring from the old wind up gramophone played over and over again before the point of perfection was reached by that lovely dancer.  The haunting, La Paloma, I fell in love with that music and so it remains evergreen to this day.  The boys were to drill and March to the music of the March of the "Toy Soldiers" from the same tinny gramophone, wearing smart khaki uniforms with toy guns on the slope.  But our piece de resistence was the Sailors Hornpipe and I was planted on the front row specifically to catch the eye of my parents.  I was not impressed by this deliberate manoeuvre as my coordination of the hornpipe steps was less than dazzling.  Then the day came for the lowering by rope and pulley of the wings, presidium arch and curtains, stored away on the steel rafter beams up by the roof followed by the hustle, bustle and assembly of the stage at floor level, we kids were all agog with the magic transformation.


The 1943 school year was pretty good for young Derek in spite of the myopic handicap that I had to endure.  I was placed a creditable second in the class following the end of year examination.  First spot was taken by "clever clogs" Maureen Lubeck.  I believe I took it on the chin with good grace, probably because I was in the early throes of infatuation with that young lady.  There was an end of year prize giving in the packed hall, the Haflong celebrity prize giver being the resident Railway engineer, Mr Khan.


Christmas 43 was my first experience of midnight Mass held at the Convent Chapel.  Bishop Le Pierre presided over this one, with High mass which seemed to go on interminably.  I can remember the very long sonorous droning of his sermon; it seemed to go on forever as I patiently sat up, half asleep.  To my horror High mass was followed by two more "Low" masses, nobody had prepared me for this.  What a tedious penance for the poor Bishop, altar boys and community to have to endure.  When it was all over at about 3.00am the sisters provided my parents and the few other Catholic residents with coffee and cakes in the big parlour.  I recall sneaking off to join the rest of the school in the refectory for some sleepy light Christmas fare, and probably some of Sister Agatha's splendid plum jam on bread.


So ended the year 1943, the year that followed was to have moments of nightmare quality as the Japanese threat to our security became very real.  With the horrors of the Burma evacuation still fresh in the mind we waited our fate hoping that it could not happen again.  In the event, it turned out to be a very close run thing.





The year began badly with my father seriously twisting his ankle, fracturing some bones and damaging ligaments.  He had set out on one of his regular tours of villages located in the interior of his North Cachar district to meet with the people and settle any territorial land differences.  The mishap occurred as he started his journey on foot very close to Lower Haflong by the Dehing river. Clambering down some steps hewn into a short rock face, my dad slipped falling awkwardly.  The tour was abandoned, somehow father arrived home half hobbling half carried, in great pain, the ankle swollen to the size of a balloon.  At Haflong there was little in the way of proper medical help.  The small local hospital provided all but the most rudimentary first aid, while its medical services extended only to dispensing tinctures, cough  mixture and some drugs.  In serious case of illness, for example appendicitis, the patient had to be transported to Shillong or Silchar for treatment, taking up to two days travel.  Several days later, dad decided to take the one and half day journey by train to Silchar to consult the Civil Surgeon there and have the leg X-rayed.  I was deputed to accompany my father and render assistance on the journey.  Father was carried down to Haflong Hill Station in a "doolie", quite literally a chair lashed to two horizontal poles carried by four stalwart Nagas, two in front, two at the rear.  A reserve team of four followed to take over from the first carrying team when they tired.  The leg muscles on these strong hill men had to be seen to be believed.  This mode of transport was to become a feature for a while at Haflong for SDO Perry with his family following on foot at social outings and to Sunday mass at the Convent, the sight of which must have caused a stir.


Silchar was a hive of military activity; I remember seeing mechanised vehicles of all kinds clogging the narrow streets through the bazaars.  After sleepy Haflong the Silchar scene of troops on the move was quite impressive, but there was a palpable mood of anxiety.  The talk was all about war, the Japs were on the move, the question was could they be stopped?  There was time for the Civil Surgeon to examine father's ankle, have it x-rayed and put into plaster and be given a pair of crutches.  Having left behind the "doolie" at Haflong Hill, father, up to this point used his walking stick in a series of hops to move from A to B and I helped to pass things and carry as necessary.  We left Silchar on the return journey by rail, the train compartments monopolised by British military personnel, Officers and NCO's, the pattern of conversation focussed entirely on the rumoured break through by the Japanese army into Assam.  Even though I was only aged nine years, one could sense the atmosphere of uncertainty.  So far the Japs had been proved unstoppable, this time would the defence of Assam hold?  The journey to Badarpur junction was very slow.  At one particular halt for no explicable reason at some remote station, there occurred the usual noisy exodus of passengers on to the platform to escape the congestion and heat generated inside the stuffy coaches, followed by the hustle bustle of hawkers calling out their offerings of hot tea and food.  I can recall as clearly today as it was then, the poignant whistling from the lips of an RAF Officer as he paced the platform up and down lost in thought.  The tune was one that I had heard a few times before, probably from the static ridden radio and was desperate to learn and whistle for myself.  I mentally thanked the unknown Airman for sublimating the melody into my memory forever.  Later in life as I learnt the words of that famous Forces favourite Vera Lynn, song, "You'll Never Know just how Much I Love You, You'll Never how Much I Care", I wondered if that sentimental love torn RAF man ever survived that campaign to be reunited with the sweetheart he had obviously left behind somewhere.


The first class compartment we travelled in seated four passengers, the two heavy leather chaise lounge type seats taking the length of the carriage on opposite ends firmly fixed down.  These also served as beds for the night with two bunks above folding down to take the remaining two occupants.  There was no connecting corridor; each compartment had its own bathroom and toilet facility fixed at the end of the carriage.  One of our military travelling companions was a Colonel rejoining his regiment, a very "pucca" gentleman indeed.  At one of the station halts that evening his batman appeared from another coach and immediately began to lay out his officers regimental dinner jacket.  To my astonishment the colonel disappeared into the bathroom to return resplendently attired in his mess jacket with ribbons and glinting epaulettes wearing a smart black forage cap with scarlet flashes and three bright shiny buttons.  At the next station the batman appeared with a three course meal which was laid on a table at the other end of the carriage.  This eccentric British habit of keeping up the standards on a railway journey through the middle of no where, struck me then as impressive, but highly incongruous.  In fact during the course of our journey to Badarpur junction and onward to Haflong where we left the Colonel, he made three changes of uniform to suit the time of day.


My father's ankle injury, as it turned out, probably saved his life.  Before this mishap, he had been selected by the government and military authorities to penetrate the Naga hills beyond Cachar close to the Burma border to reinstate a breakdown of an arrangement for villagers situated in the region, to transmit, by runner back to an intelligence communication centre, verbal information concerning enemy patrol movements that would pinpoint the positions of Jap entry through the border territories.  The job was given to another Officer who ran into an unsuspecting enemy patrol and was never heard of again.  Later after hostilities had ceased his porters and servant who had also disappeared filtered back to report that their Sahib had unexpectedly stumbled on a Jap ambush and after interrogation had been executed by beheading as his entourage scurried off to loose themselves into the safety of the jungle.


There was an anxious air about proceedings as the school returned for work in March that year.  There was a sense of foreboding, perhaps because I was sensitive to what was being discussed at home, the unusual visits by top brass military men and Miss Graham Bower now wearing khaki uniform and carrying a Sten gun, with her constant escort of Nagas lately armed with .303 rifles instead of their habitual spears.  As it transpired her role was to coordinate, V Force set up with my father, to establish a militia of selected Naga men to act as scouts.  Their role was to bring back intelligence of any Jap army infiltration into the hill areas.   Miss Bower was to become a legend in her own right working with her people as a guerrilla leader.  She became known as the "Naga Queen."  So dubbed by the propaganda press, hungry to write up stories and enshrine her as a heroine.  All the while she worked unceasingly for the welfare of the people in the village of Liasong, near Haflong.  Miss Graham Bower wrote her story in "Naga Path" giving a very graphic description of her personal empathy with the Naga people and the later events of War in her area.  During the course of our school terms she appeared twice at  school functions with Namkia her faithful Naga body guard in attendance.  


I can distinctly recall our first day assembly as we lined up in rows under the roof of the hall, boys well to the front separated away from the girls.  Mother Desmond our new Superior addressed us before prayers choosing her words carefully when mentioning the uncertainty of the year ahead.  We all dispersed to our new classrooms.  We were fortunate to have the lovely Sister Bernard again for standard two and were installed in the class room attached to the part of the building with its music cubicles each one containing a piano.  My main recollection of that short lived term was the fact that I was the only boy among a horde of delectable young ladies, a very pleasant experience that was to feature for the rest of my school career at St Agnes. But the immediate and unexpected prospect of being the only male among a sea of young female gym slips appeared daunting.  I cannot recall where I sat relative to all those girls, nor do the faces of Lubeck or Shaw spring to mind at that point in time.


Muted Easter celebrations during April, 1944 and the Japanese crisis that was to cause the town of Haflong and the Convent some major disruption began to unfold.  Many anxious parents of the children came up.  Following Stations of the Cross on Good Friday my father met some of them privately in the Convent parlour to outline the plans to evacuate the civil residents living in Haflong, including the nuns and boarders without immediate access to their parents.  Special trains were to be provided to take them away to safer zones, Shillong, Calcutta and beyond.  I recall Mr Lubeck in serious conversation with my father, who advised him to leave with Maureen and Sally without delay.  The sisters were making arrangements to take all the remaining boarders to their Convents situated in the relative safety of Shillong.  In hindsight, had the Japs broken through into the Assam Valley, there would have been a second scramble to get away to Calcutta as the British and Indian Armies attempted to defend what was left of Assam, in a rear guard action somewhere in the vicinity of Gauhati, Dhubri or Goalpara.


Easter Monday was settled for the journey out of the immediate threat to safety in Shillong.  You say that you cannot recall the packing activity that must have occurred to vacate the Convent at so short notice.  There must have been an air of some turmoil and uncertainty at the short notice to vacate the Convent.  Knowing the good nuns they may have disguised the gravity of the situation by making the sudden exodus into something like a pleasurable adventure, to live away in some new place for a short time only. 


Meanwhile back at the Perry bungalow a domestic drama began to unfold.  My father's wish was that my mother and all of us siblings should accompany the St Agnes squad on the train to Lumding, on to Gauhati and onwards up the road to Shillong.  The intention, to live with Perry grand parents in the family home of Avondale.  My mother would have none of it; she dug her toes in firmly.  Her argument was that she would loyally stick by my father through thick and thin regardless of the consequences.  My mother quickly realised that in spite of my father's lack of mobility from the recent damage to his ankle he would wholeheartedly stick to his post in the face of any imminent Japanese break through, until commanded by his superiors to abandon Haflong.  Nothing would budge her from her admirable decision to stand by him.  I remember my father calling on Bishop Le Pierre at the Bishop's house just down the road, next door, who was himself packing up to leave for Calcutta,  to seek his influence to persuade my mother to leave for Shillong.  All to no avail, the only concession she made was to let go of me to proceed with the nuns to Shillong, so as to allow continuity of my schooling as a day boy at St Edmunds.  This was put to me as a choice decision and I remember clearly the attraction of being in Shillong with my grand parents who I loved dearly.  But by this time the full impact of the threat and danger of our position had sunk deeply into my psyche and I still vividly recall the gut wrenching significance of the situation.  Unhesitatingly, I opted to stay and keep the family unit intact.  My father had arranged contingency plans to move out quickly, if as the jargon of the time suggested, "the balloon went up".  However, later this solid family support for standing firm with my father was put to good use for efforts to heighten local morale.  On each Friday Bazaar day during the crisis, we as family mingled and chatted with the diverse array of hill tribe traders and shoppers to indicate that they had not been abandoned by their representative of the sirkar (the Government), and that despite the threat, life could continue as normal.


Now the days, weeks and months that followed became fraught with a sense of suspended anxiety.  I can remember how surreal it all was.  Our whole future depended on the incredible resistance of the British and Indian Army at the battles of Imphal and Kohima.  As the crow flies Kohima was only fifty or sixty miles away from Haflong.  Occasionally we could clearly hear heavy gun fire and to add to the tension the Japanese bombing raids at RAF base Khumbagram over the hills began as regular as clock work every evening at 6.00 pm.  The familiar droning sound of the squadrons of Jap bomber aircraft would become intense as they swung into view as specks over the ranges, then they would change course and disappear behind the hills as they approached the airfield target.  All hell would then let loose as the bombs crashed down, the explosions would be interspersed with the ground defence ack ack batteries.  This cacophony of unnerving sound would continue for half an hour or so before the Jap Air Force turned to head back to their base somewhere over the border with Burma.  Occasionally there would be a report of an enemy bomber being shot down and the local villagers would bring back sack fulls of aircraft debris to our Haflong bungalow.  After keeping a few souvenirs my father would pack the bits away to the military authorities for examination and identification.


During those early stirring weeks of the Jap invasion threat, we woke one night to the noise of a screeching whistle followed by several hideous explosions as the house shook three or four times before the drone of an aircraft disappeared into the darkness.  Fortunately there was no damage to people or property; it was thought the intention was to soften up the town with scare tactics.  But it was a mystery why the Jap pilot chose darkness to effect this harassment, during the day or even at late evening he would have secured some easy targets including the Haflong railway yard.  Thankfully that was the only occasion the Jap Air Force intruded over Haflong air space.


There was no kind of reliable information on the progress of battle at Imphal or Kohima.  Rumour was rife and radio news reports were sketchy and speculative.  Japanese propaganda set up a constant barrage of spurious claims that the battles were lost and the British in retreat yet again.  One Japanese bulletin, that raised a laugh in our household, and I remember it well, was that their Air Force had made a devastating Bombing attack on the Assam oilfields of Digby (Digboi)  My young brother, Digby was of course oblivious of this inaccurate if outrageous claim.


Haflong became an Army garrison town.  The Groveland Hotel was taken over to serve as a hospital for the wounded soldiers from the front.  The Tin bungalow on the hill near the dak bungalow became the local HQ for Army command for the top brass.  Down the hill above Haflong railway station a temporary camp of "bashas" was erected to house the large Indian Army contingent of soldiers.  There was a food shortage in the town and bazaar, fortunately the Army officers kept us provided with cans of British bully beef, hard army issue biscuits and powdered milk.  In the culinary department innovation was the order of the day, a staple diet of bully beef found its way into stews, rissoles, and even curry.


With no school, I spent my days reading and re reading all my books at home and roaming the town following the troop movements, my ear to the ground listening to the adult assessment of the defence of Assam.  It seemed to me like a case of waiting, waiting for something to happen and then move out damn fast.  In conjunction with the army, my father had arranged for the preparation of a giant beacon made of dry wood at a strategic position on one of the high peaks within view of Haflong.  This was to be lit only in the most serious event of Kohima falling to the enemy.  Unfortunately at this time of the year in the period before the arrival of the monsoon, the business of "Jhumming"  was practised by the many village people clearing the jungle for the cultivation of rice and vegetables.  "Jhumming" meant burning large tracts of dry jungle and forest, the effect being, that there would be many fires scattered among the surrounding hills, glowing into the night.  Most attractive during normal circumstances but lethal for ones peace of mind during this crisis.  There were many false alarms raised late at night, when Army officers would hurry over to our bungalow with my father and mother to gaze into the distant hills with high powered binoculars desperately trying to distinguish a "Jhum" fire in close proximity to the location off the real thing.


At this time also, my father seemed to spend many days, "gammy" leg and all, away from us, scouring the hills among the Nagas together with Miss Bower to co-ordinate the recruitment of Naga Scouts for the effective formation of V Force for reliable feed back of intelligence concerning Jap Army movement within the hills.  His absences away, handicapped as he was, gave us cause for alarm in the dire event of a sudden Jap break through


Fortunately for us "the balloon never went up", Kohima and Imphal were gallantly defended, the invasion repulsed and the rest is history.  The sixtieth anniversaries of  those events were celebrated during the year 2004.  However, it was not until about October that the all clear was given for the return home to the school  By this time the monsoon had abated and the campaign began for driving the Japanese back into Burma and beyond.  It was of course the turning point of WWII as the allies had by this time landed back on European soil and were well into the offensive for the defeat Germany.


As the Japanese hastily retreated back to Burma followed in hot pursuit by General Slim's Fourteenth Army, the souvenirs of war began to emerge.  We were inundated with the paraphernalia of battle, Japanese tin hats, leather dress belts, gas masks, assorted arms and rifles and of particular value Officers samurai swords.  Many strategically placed British Army food dumps contained in forty five gallon drums were recovered by local Nagas and tribes people.  These found their way into our Pantry, helping by necessity, to prolong the regime of Bully beef tucker.


My father's action of remaining at his post in difficult circumstances while immobile with one leg in plaster received official recognition.  The following are two mentions in dispatches that came his way.




10th November 1944


My Dear Perry

I am desired to say that General Slim, in expressing his appreciation of your work with "V" Force in the North Cachar Hills, writes


"For two years his wholehearted co-operation with "V" Force has been largely instrumental in the successful running of this area, while his own personal efforts and his considerable local influence have been directed to that end".


I am to add that it has given to His Exellency the Governor much pleasure to receive this warm commendation of your work


Your sincerely                  Sd/ - W Godfrey,  O.B.E  C.B.E.

Camp Haflong

The 8th May 1946


My Dear Perry,


I have read with particular interest the reports received with your D.O. No.1850 of May 6th and which I return herewith.  They are a record of a difficult and dangerous time in which despite considerable physical incapacity, you played a part of which you may well be proud.  A tribute now from me to this part is, I realise, somewhat belated but it is the first opportunity I have had of ascertaining first hand an account of the April- May crisis of 1944 in your sub division.  That that crisis was surmounted successfully is due in no small degree to the calm and efficient manner in which it was handled by you.


Yours sincerely


Sd/-  C. S. Gunning, C.I.E., O.B.E., I.C.S.

         Chief Commissioner Assam



The events concerning my return to school remain quite hazy.  I seem to remember that the lovely Sister Bernard did not return.  I am pretty sure our class mentor was Sister John who was to continue to be the for the two following years.  Apart from reading and history I was well behind the eight ball with other subjects and just floundered on for the rest of the year.


Before school re-opened, my parents took me down to Silchar for an eye test with an army optician.  He found that I had acute astigmatism that would require a complicated lens prescription to correct.  The lenses complete with frames had to be ordered from Calcutta, which allowing for the war emergency, would take considerable time to arrive.  The day I received my spectacles I strutted off to school in sheer delight, at last I was able to pick up clear distant images again. On arrival at school for assembly the boys chided me about my "four eyes", quite acceptable banter, but I was not prepared for Maureen Lubeck's reception of loud guffawing laughter at my expense when I appeared wearing those rather large horn rimmed spectacles perched on my nose.  My self esteem plummeted to the depths and I have to say I went off Miss Lubeck in a big way for a very long time.


One of the new faces was Agnes Clarke.  She was then about fourteen years, a senior girl with a most striking personality and quite attractive.  Agnes was introduced to me by one of the nuns somewhat formally, as the SDO Mr Perry's son; so began a friendship that was to continue to the end of 1947 when I left.  I thought this was unusual coming from a senior girl but I was very happy to accept her warm affection.  What I was not to know then was that Agnes was a victim of that cruel, harsh trek out of Burma, and that she was alone in the world, dependant on the charity of the good nuns. 


One evening shortly after becoming acquainted, I was cycling around our compound at home when two of the sisters appeared with Agnes to meet my parents.  It seemed like a very private but well planned meeting so I stayed away.  Afterwards I was told that Agnes had put on paper the harrowing account of her trudge out of Burma with her Burmese mother.  The journey began at Myitkyina and through the dreaded Hukawang valley over ridge after ridge of slippery escarpment, through swollen streams, infested with blood sucking leeches and all manner of deadly insects.  She stumbled three months later into the care of tea planter search parties on the border with Assam.  The journey had cost her mother's life after she became exhausted from the monsoon exposure and complete lack of nourishment dropping by the side of the trail like thousands of others and just drifted into death.  Before passing away her mother gave Agnes all the jewellery she was able to bring out and left her in the trust of a British officer who was the self appointed leader of their small party.  Agnes was handicapped by very bad eyesight relying heavily on her optical lenses without which she was close to blindness.  Continuing the journey again through the green turgid wet hell after loosing ones mother, must have been a grim prospect.  Worse was to follow.  One morning shortly after the tragic loss of her mother, Agnes woke up to find she was alone.  The party and its leader had disappeared; her glasses had been crushed and broken during the night and all the jewellery given to her by her mother was missing.  For days Agnes blundered alone alongthe rough trail, with just the instinct for survival driving her on.  She had just about given up in despair when a party of Indian refugees caught up with her and generously shared their meagre resources of food to get her moving again.  Eventually, weak and traumatised she was rescued by the safe hands of tea planter search parties.  She was then sent on to the Burma refugee reception centres in Assam.


My father took up Agnes's cause by submitting her story to the authorities in a bid to trace the disgraceful British Officer, to seek justice for his callous treatment and theft of her jewellery.  Sadly given the circumstances of so many among thousands of displaced people it was relatively easy for an unscrupulous person of his ilk to successfully loose himself in the bewildering mass of India's ebb and flow of people.  However, I believe that through my father's good offices, his submissions on behalf of Agnes, to the appropriate government authorities, produced a grant that would entitle her to receive a small pension on the grounds that her father, a British civil servant, with the Burmese government, had been killed by the Japanese in the course of duty.



1945 and 1946


I am unable to distinguish the class room activity of those years, the one seems to merge into the other.  For me, at any rate, the two years were academically not good, possibly because I was struggling to keep up.  The loss of a nearly whole year during 1944, was a severe handicap.  Now I spent long weeks away from school, tormented by debilitating attacks of malaria that left me physically and consciously very weak.  These bouts followed one after the other; the fevers were of delirious proportions with the body temperatures reaching a critical 105 degrees.  Still fresh in the memory is the nauseating taste of dose upon dose of liquid quinine.  While quinine helped to break the fever, it did nothing to eradicate the incidence of the malaria parasites within the blood stream.  With the body in a weakened immune condition, it became a physical struggle to combat the next stream of malarial bugs introduced into the blood from the bights of the wretched anopheles mosquito. From my recollection, I could not seem to muster the mental energy to push myself on with my studies.


The American Army invasion of Haflong brings back happy memories. The G I visits to the Convent were the best thing for a long time, they suddenly appeared from no where and a whole new world opened up.  It seemed to me that the nuns welcomed them with open arms, with the Convent becoming a kind of Hollywood Canteen.  They brought their Jeeps loaded with surprises, unknown sweets such as Babe Ruth and Butter Finger chocolate bars, comics and loads of tin food, K rations, peanut butter, spam and frankfurter sausages.  We had never in our lives experienced such varied and generous largesse, an introduction of phenomenal new tastes to our dull lives.  And precious Wriggly chewing gum, soon to became the accepted standard of currency among the boys, one piece of spearmint for the read of a Captain Marvel comic was the  going rate.  We boys would run to meet the convoy of Jeeps when we heard their approach in the distance, we sat on the bonnets and hitched on to the trailers, it was all tremendous fun.  The G I's were allowed a free run of the school; they provided us an exhibition of American football on the main field.  They gave away their colourful shoulder flashes, their smart GI caps which we duplicated and wore jauntily with some pride; thanks to Matron Thekla's innovate manufacture on her sewing machine.  My father took a dim view of my insistence for donning the copy Yankee headgear.  "Damn well looks like you are wearing a Ghandi cap, Derek", was his disapproving comment.  Father had a good point, the US Army Forage cap design, closely resembled the form of headgear chosen by the esteemed future leaders of India, Mr Nehru and Mr. Ghandi, better known as the Ghandi cap, which was to become enshrined as the ubiquitous symbol of their Congress Party in its lead up to Independence and beyond.  This was a time of Congress agitation, with the universal practice of civil disobedience as a method for persuading the British to "Quit India" and my father was then busy arresting and putting behind bars Ghandi cap wallahs who were disturbing the peace in his district.  For his eldest son to wander around the town of Haflong sporting the Mahatma's head gear would seem compromising to say the least, not that I minded at all.


In the face of this amazing G I invasion it seemed that even the nuns let down what hair they had hidden under their  bonnets, the rules were relaxed, and the senior girls were allowed to fraternise.  Social evenings were held regularly, the jitterbug was the thing, to Glen Miller's ‘In The Mood", the senior girls jived unrestrained.  Couples would discreetly disengage from the melee of the hall dance arena and disappear into the darker shadows of the adjacent classroom buildings.  We boys scouted these interesting movements, later quietly sharing exaggerated observations of smooching, kissing and passion.


All good things come to an end and the Americans paid their last respects as the war neared its conclusion.  As a final gesture of thanks, the soldiers gifted many a Jeep load of surplus tinned food.  We boys were given the task of unloading and carrying the cases of food from the entrance at the rear of the boys area, where the Dhobi sheds were situated, up to the store by the kitchen near the main dining hall or refectory as it was called.  Sister Agatha diligently patrolled the route of the boys chain gang to supervise the off loading and safe storage of all this manna from heaven.  I consulted with Peter and the gang; we devised a scheme for slipping the odd lose K ration or tin of frankfurter into a cache, well hidden from view of the watchful Agatha.  We chose a strategic spot behind a hedge selected for the safe repository of the contraband.  This was in close proximity of the senior boy's dorm, making access through the back window for retrieval and celebration at many a sumptuous midnight scoff, a piece of cake, with little risk of discovery from the slumbering duty nun.  All that was needed was a good tin opener. I took on the job of chief smuggler.  For some reason my strong sense of keeping to the Christine ethic of "though shall not steal", did not impinge upon my conscience.  I regarded this act as a rightful payment for labour; after all, it was merely a case of "pinching", quite different from "stealing".  The operation was a huge success except that as the only day boy, I defaulted on my share of the spoils, not one frankfurter was held back for my delicatessen.  In the end poetic justice, I suppose.  I decided not to complain because I failed to mention that my father being the chief man in the district also received a very adequate quota of surplus tinned food from good old Uncle Sam


Before the end of the 1946 year, we boys under the surveillance of our popular Scout Master, Terence Sweeny, were taken down to the Dehing river for a grand finale picnic.  Upon our return to base camp, we found that one of our troops, a chap by name of Denzil, had wandered off taking a wrong turn in the river to become lost in the thick jungle.  We yelled and called to no avail and as it were getting dusk, returned to St Agnes to report to the distraught of the Sisters.  The crisis was compounded by the fact that the boys father was due up in Haflong the following day to take his son home.  Search parties from the school were out all night; by dawn it was felt that at worst a wild animal might have got him, it was leopard and tiger country after all.  But the intrepid Denzil had the good fortune to run into a group of Nagas who recognising that he was a young Sahib, escorted him to the home of Mr Hendericks the Railway engineer who lived at Lower Haflong station.  So while the rest of us searched through the night, young Denzil slept happily, oblivious of all the fuss.  It was only next morning, that Mr Hendericks sent a runner to my father to tell us that Denzil was safe.


Towards the end of '46, the school put on a magnificent outdoor concert under the stars with a bonfire to finish it all off.  I think it was held to farewell Mother Superior Desmond and welcome her replacement Mother Declan.  We all loved Desmond she was a fine extrovert Irish lady with a great sense of humour.  She remained friends with my parents for many years until her death.  I remember I had to dress up as a Policeman in a fine authentic uniform, the purpose for which escapes me.  Once again I had some words in the script that were directed at my parents sitting in the audience front row which were supposed to bring the house down, not sure that it succeeded.  It was a great occasion and an exciting and fitting finale, when the bonfire was lit to the loud chorus of song from the entire school.


As I look back on those formative days, I must acknowledge the wonderful way the nuns trained us; their teaching was good, and their character building excellent.  Above all they were the ones to sow the seeds of faith and spirituality. They seemed to have an uncanny sense of nurturing the good from within us to tap into our strengths and prop up our failings.  Their ethos of sacrifice to others and surrender to a destiny with Christ, struck a chord which has become cemented to this day. 


This chronicle of the St Agnes experience must not close without mention of our chaplain, the Rev. Father Lazarus, an eccentric of simple and modest habits.  His only indulgence was a penchant for smoking endlessly, foul smelling Burma cheroots.  This larger than life German Priest with long flowing beard that once trapped a putrefying Gheko lizard, was truly a man of God.  He had that booming voice unmistakable when it came within range.  Somehow, he avoided being interned during the war, for his connections with the fatherland.  I think the Canadian Bishop was able to persuade the authorities, that this frail old man was quite harmless and beyond any remote desire to be a Nazi collaborator.  When he was invited to breakfast at home he would ask for boiled eggs and toast.  Having consumed the yolk and white with considerable relish, Fr Lazarus, would then munch up the shells crunching away happily, swallowing the lot with a good cup of coffee, wipe clean his lips and messy beard.


All of us at the school were in awe of this man, his Mass was a pure celebration and woe betide one of us servers with him at the altar if we mucked things up, he would let the whole congregation in the chapel know about it.  Of course under his tutelage we learnt the Latin responses with all the requirements of becoming efficient altar boys.  He was charged also to give us religious instructions.  He would line us boys up and talk to us about those nasty impure thoughts, the source of which, he said, hung between our legs.  To avoid those miserable fantasises, we had to control that part of our anatomy, emphasised by a hard whack with his huge hand over the trouser covered genital area, which was rather startling to say the least.  After these sessions we would slink off more confused than shocked, but accepting that the good father new best, while privately acknowledging, the existence of these pleasurable images, which were, apparently, taboo and sinful.  What would be the consequence of his demonstration in today's world one wonders?




A truly memorable year as I roll back the rewind button to play back those long gone distant images. 


All the girls were ever so friendly and made a great fuss of me, the lone male.  They were a very happy carefree group, always cheerful and full of humour.  I enjoyed the attention, the girls softer and mre gentle, in stark contrast to the vicious all male survival of the fittest cauldron that I was to be pitched into, the following year at St Edmunds.


Learning was easy, I enjoyed the lessons, and history was a study of the Stuarts.  I still remember that contemporary quote from some noble figure, who unflatteringly described James 1 of England, as "the greatest fool in Christendom".  I sided with the Parliamentarians against Charles 1, much to the disgust of my father who was an avowed Royalist.  But I did think beheading, extreme.  Trying to grapple with the intricacies of algebra and geometry, was a painful process, as I was prepared for the St Edmunds curricula.  An abiding memory on those hot sleepy pre monsoon afternoons, as my mind wandered away from the subtleties of Pythagoras was thecall of the Hullock monkeys, squabbling away in the dense jungle and trees across the valley.


I remember committing to memory a poem by Leigh Hunt from a book of classical poetry, the story of "Abu Ben Adhem" (May his tribe increase)


"He awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,

To see an Angel writing in a book of gold". 


I am surprised someone has not written a modern parody, "Abu Bin Laden" (May his Al Queda decrease). 


Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace

To see George Bush writing in a book of doom.


Then of course the class set literature "Olive Garden", with its theme of Grecian romance and lovers tryst, which did evoke certain pubescent stirring's towards the shy young lady on my left.  The other girls, I am sure, considered us to be an item particularly, as I had publicly declared my feelings for Mary Shaw, noted down by my own hand in the pages of one of the girls autograph book.  That mode of writing personal thoughts that became public knowledge as soon as the ink became dry.  The so called ‘Autograph' book was, I am certain, invented, with Convent girls in mind.


The other girls, stood back waiting for the spark to ignite, but twelve year old reticence and natural shyness held back any demonstrative manifestation.


The end of the 1947 school year virtually coincided with my father's order of transfer, from Haflong as a promotion within government, to the capital Shillong.  I left the Convent, but did not return to say my goodbyes; I felt emotionally, that it would be too painful and too difficult.

I was now back in Shillong following India's rightful achievement of Independence.  There had been many changes.  My grandparents had passed on, the family home sold.  Some aunts, uncles and cousins had left and gone ‘home.'  Only two elderly great uncles and aunts remained.  I was a little bemused, at the concept of referring to far away England as ‘home'?  Having now lived in a few countries and in many homes, I am of the opinion that home can be a transient spiritual feeling of where one feels most at peace.

The Irish Christian brothers at St Edmunds gave me a fine education, they set me up to face the world and I am indebted to them for that.  Three teachers were outstanding.  There was Bob Trevor, a lay teacher who was soft spoken.  He had a habit of giving one a withering glance when trying to squirm out of trouble, as much as to say, "look I don't suffer fools gladly, so just cut out the bullshit."  Bob's teaching approach was certainly effective as far as I was concerned.  We respected Bob and we responded to his teaching.  In 2002 I made a surprise contact with Bob Trevor.  Here is an interesting extract from his letter.

"I found my way into various teaching assignments in the County of Surrey commencing in 1952.  Surrey County Council seconded me to a year's course in mathematics at Homerton College, Cambridge in 1958.  Across the road from the College was Edmund Rice House.  This obviously rang some bells, as back in Shillong our annual calendar observed a holiday in honour of the founder of the Christian brothers.  Out of curiosity, I decided to call and who should answer the door but none other than Brother O'Leary who was our College principal in Shillong.  He had been appointed as Brother Superior at Edmund Rice House in Cambridge.  His brief was to oversee the needs of the Christian Brothers studying in Cambridge.  He invited me to tea where we reminisced about old times."

Bro. Morrissey had a passion for classical English, the literature, the poets and the written word.  He helped me to appreciate the language with its deeply rich structure for description by recommending an array of splendid authors.   I shall always remember Morrissey dissolving into gales of mirth when reading Kipling's masterpiece, Kim.  Although he must have read it a dozen times, this particular extract seemed to tickle his sense of humour.  It is about the character of Hurree Chander Mukherjee, the lovely rotund Bengalee intelligence agent who was checking for Russian spies in the snowy wilderness of the North West Frontier with Afghanistan. (So what is new?)  Hurree is plodding along taking his time and is admonished by his British Superior.  Indignantly, Hurree ripostes, "But there is no hurry for Hurree."

Bro. Max Cooney made a significant contribution to my final year at St Edmunds.  He was a bear of a man; with a slight hunch back, he strode the school corridors belching noxious tobacco smoke from his pipe.  An eccentric fellow, he would quite often abandon the class room in high dudgeon for two or three days because preparation work was not up to standard.  In his absence, of course the class would play up.  We played cricket with rulers for batting and ping pong balls for bowling.  Eventually Cooney would return to resume normal relations without a word being mentioned.  Cooney for all his faults was a master at teaching mathematics.  He made it simple and for the first time I began to enjoy the subject and the challenge of solving problems.

As day boys we felt sorry for the boarders, nine months of incarceration seemed unfair.  Yet they thrived and there was always good humour.  But there was no comparing our freedom after school.  We would roam the hills in gangs as cowboys imitating our heroes of the cinema, John Wayne Errol Flynn, Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott, Joel Macrae, Tyrone Power, Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy and many more.  Our Mecca for fostering the imagination was at The Kelvin and Garrison Cinemas.  The open air life around Shillong was quite unique, swimming by the ‘Spread Eagle' falls, hiking down to ‘Bara Pani', picnics at the Peak.  It was a wonderful way to spend ones innocent youth.  But gradually the gang numbers reduced as they also left for ‘home.'

By 1952 it was my turn to be booked for ‘home' via Calcutta, over the Ganges across the Deccan plain to Bombay then across the seas to drizzly old ‘Blighty.'  Since then I have visited Shillong only briefly and not for nearly forty years.  The hill districts of my youth have now been absorbed into the separate State of Meghalaya. There have been, I have been informed, unrecognisable changes to the town.  Many iconic buildings have disappeared, mainly reduced through the ravages of instant combustion due to electrical faults. The style for the rebuilding of St Edmunds is questionable.  From recent photographs, gone is the grand sweep of its original timber façade, the front entrance porch above which the school library was housed.  All of that has been replaced by an undistinguished concrete block.

I have very recently returned home to Queensland after a visit to one of my other transient homes near Stratford on Avon.  I was visiting in the act of reacquainting myself with the fast growing collection of grand children.  Almost every day I walked the medieval streets of Stratford with old oak timbered Tudor buildings on either side.  Along the main street is the King Edward VI Grammar School still preserved as it was originally built by Royal Charter in 1553.  William Shakespeare was the school's most famous pupil.

Change is inevitable for progress to be effective and it is not my brief to yearn longingly or have regrets for the past.  I am reminded of the words whispered by King Arthur as he lay mortally wounded by the lake, to his faithful grief stricken Knight, the Bold, Sir Bevedere.  This is by way of remembering Tennyson's Mort d'Arthur, a real gem that has stuck in my mind these many years, thanks to the wonderful Irish Christian Brother education at St Edmunds.

"The old order changeth yielding place to the new.

And God fulfils himself in many ways,

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world."


April 8 2011 

                            Twitta Tea Estate

          25 Cooke Rd. Witta, Queensland 4552

                 Annual Reports for seasons 2009-11


The last two seasons have seen some robust growth over 25 of the 40 tea plants planted since 2007.  Several have made no advance at all probably due to poor drainage.  The remainder are bushes planted during seasons 2009 yet to develop good green leaf production quality similar to their older companions.

Black tea production exceeded expectations during season 2010 producing about 40 tea pots of quality flavoured black tea.  A good portion was exported overseas for friends and relatives to enjoy.  Season 2010/11 has seen a disappointing result because of the extraordinary rainfall encountered this Queensland summer.  Many of the bushes went into sulk mode declining to flush normally because of having to contend with constant wet feet.  Production is expected to be about the same as last season.  Export is on hold for the time being owing to current domestic demand.



One very old antique Mincer, manufactured in Birmingham (1934) was purchased for $45.  This replaces the one borrowed during previous seasons.



The labour force has been increased from two to three.  On compassionate grounds, a refugee from Earthquake ravaged Christchurch, New Zealand; the mum of our resident cute tea picker, Bev, has been employed.  Fortunately both have magnanimously declined remuneration, preferring to enjoy the liquid brew from out of their labour.  The experience shows that the ‘Bustee' of Christchurch produces the sweetest, best and most loyal female employees.



The claim that Twitta Tea is the smallest tea producing tea estate in the world has been declined by the Guinness authorities on grounds that anybody with just one tea bush could legitimately make claim for recognition of this record.  I give up!



Pruning will commence shortly following the New Moon on Sunday 18th April a date believed to be auspicious among natives of Witta.  This will be followed by an immediate application of fertiliser, ‘Blood and Bone.',


Jon Perris (St John Perry) Prop. and CEO Twitta Tea Estate, 25 Cooke Rd Witta, Qld. 

May 31 2009
Below is a great example of entrepreneurship--
thank you, Derek

        Witta Tea Estate

Manager and sole prop. Jon Perris.
Nearest P. O.  Maleny, Box 847. Qld. 4552
Nearest Rail Station.  Landsborough
Nearest Air Terminal.  Brisbane International
Nearest Steamer Ghat.  Brisbane Port.
Total Gross Area.  45 bushes under tea.
Estate pop. 2.
Estimated crop, season 2009/10  Enough broken Pekoe to fill 10 teapots.
Capital. Fully owned. Nil liabilities to local kayas.
Tea seed supplied by Lawrence Brown & Co. of The Gold Coast, Queensland and Shillong, India.

Marketing brand name.     Twitta Tea.

Application has been made to the Guinness Book of Records to claim
Witta Tea Estate as smallest in the World.

 Below is an example of New Growth

Witta T. E. was established in 2007 with seedlings supplied gratis by Lawrence Brown & Co
of the Goldcoast. Last season 5 magnificently flavoured tea pots of Broken Pekoe tea were
brewed and enjoyed from green leaf (two and a bud photograph enclosed) picked by Bev
the estate's cute tea picker

Bev was recruited from the district of Christchurch by Jon Perris the proprietor.  Bev has not yet
mastered the art of manufacture.  Being a Kiwi she will rapidly learn to ascend the heights of tea making, following in the footsteps of her fellow countryman, Sir Edmund Hilliary, who with his
buddy, Tensing  Norgay, scaled Everest.

 Below are examples of the estate

Manufacture of black tea is through the Rotor vane (Meat Mincer) process, followed by
normal fermentation on a white plastic chopping board, then fired and dried by curtesy
of the Estate Picker's (Bev) hairdryer. Last season several firings in the fan blasted
oven resulted in burnt offerings, which sadly had to be destroyed.

The Factory equipment is shown below

Photographs of the fermentation board, dryer and rotor vane (in exploded form) are above
with a residue sample of last seasons Broken Pekoe on small round plastic dish.

The Proud Proprietor is shown below


The owner of Twitta Tea, Jon Perris, (Photographed above) served his tea making
apprenticeship on estates of N. E. India.  He was given the title Jon Perris by the
lovely Christian workers of New Dooars T.E. who found some difficulty pronouncing
his proper name.    

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December 30 2005
Thank you for sharing your memories We also appreciate greatly the efforts of your old
Burra Sahib Gerry Halnan who obviously has not lost his sense of humour


This Photograph is the  Horizontal version of my faithful Ford Prefect, ASL 3821.  Sneaked
into a X'mas card this year from my old Burra Sahib, Gerry Halnan, ex Khowang, ex
Banarhat, now Sheffield, Yorkshire.  His note on the rear.  "The morning after, the night
before-5am 16th Aug 1958, Derek Perry comes to rest on the Katalguri roadside.
" The occasion was Independence celebrations at the Dalgoan Club, other mitigating
circumstances, it was raining damned hard couldn't see out of the windscreen.  The poor
car came to rest close to the New Dooars Chota Kuthi.

The Photograph below  is the more sedate vertical version of my faithful Ford Prefect
ASL 3821 with a proud owner posing by the New Dooars Div. Kuthi.  Get those trendy
Bombay bloomers, pretty cool eh !

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August 24 2005

In my day Khowang was seen as the ‘Flag ship Estate' for the Andrew Yule group in Assam.
(Karballa Tea Estate was the Dooars equivalent) An appointment to Khowang was seen
as prestigious, reputations were made or broken there. Managers, who won their spurs
usually received the reward of a Superintendency. For many decades each successive
Manager experienced a predecessor whose act was hard to follow.

My memory of the roll of honour of Managers goes back to Lt. Col. H A Pilcher MC; A D C
to the Governor of Assam and WW I veteran. Pilcher was Manager during the 1930's to
mid 1940's. Pilcher Sahib was the greatest of them all and became a legend, the bench
mark for subsequent Managers to be judged by the staff and labour. Pilcher was followed
by King, (King Khowang) here was another stalwart who strode the Moran district like a
Colossus. King retired in 1954, Peter Rex Acted for six months to hand over to Gerry
Halnan. Peter Rex came back as permanent Manager, then as Superintendent in 1956.
For the Latin student, yet another King of Khowang

I served as assistant under Gerry Halnan from 1955 to 1956. My best known predecessor
was Mr Kingdon-Ward, the author, botanist and anthropologist who later settled in Shillong.
Kingdon-Ward was taken on as a temporary assistant during WW II, he was a fine gentleman,
unfortunately he upset the labour and was beaten up for his trouble. Other assistants were
Johnny Hay, ‘Oliver' Twist and Mr. Poppet-Love ( For Poppet-Love, see Chatterjee Babu)
all of whom I have already written about.

For those fortunate to own a copy of Antrobus's History of the Assam Company, reference
to the appendix titled The Assam Company's Early competitors will be of interest. There is
an accompanying reproduction of a map dated 1864, entitled, "Tea localities of the Assam
Company and other Companies in the Jorehaut and Muttuck Districts of Upper Assam."
In particular there is mention of land in the names of Jenkins, McIntosh, Maitland and others.
These are the Bhamun and Khowang Divisions of the Assam Consolidated Tea Estates Ltd.

From memory, some of the oldest tea at Khowang dated back to the 1890's, those bushes
 at that time, still presented some strong healthy frames, providing splendid growth and very
good yields.  That cold weather (1955-56), we selected about an acre in area to experiment
with some good old fashioned collar pruning.  The frames were given to the pruners as
firewood, I managed to save one, which was skilfully turned into a table.  This lovely little piece
of Khowang, the branches inverted to form a five legged table with a polished teak round top
is with my son, David, at Stratford-on-Avon, England.'  

For the record and for those currently interested I have scanned a few old photographs of
the Khowang scene, half a century ago

Group pic 1

Perry's buggy my ever faithful Ford Prefect ASL 3841; The Company Standard Vanguard;
Godown and No 1 leaf shed, factory on left; Chota kuti with the mysteriously moving stone
carving by verandah plinth.

Group pic 2

Garden scene and Perry at Puja time.

Group pic 3

Durga Puja thatch shed; head Sikh carpenter working the kids ferris wheel; goat sacrifice:
staff worshiping with gong and mantras, Chatterjee Babu is there, Head clerk and the
Doc. Babu

Group pic 4

Two of the famous stone carvings and Godess Durga

Group pic 6

Perry's most ardent three "Phuls" (One of these most attractive damsels was my heroine in the short story "Shaitan Bhag"

Pic 7 Sports day, the man with the highest leap at the bar was a Driver.http://

Pic 8A Gerry and Joan Halnan with young Jennifer and Clive

Pic 8B Gerry and Joan Halnan and myself, 50 years on (Taken in Yorkshire, 2004)
Pic 8C Khowang Chota Kuti

Khowang Pictures supplied by Derek and we thank him

Click Here to See The Pictures

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In tropical and desert climes protection of the head from the searing heat of the sun is paramount for survival. Unprotected the blood vessels surrounding the delicate brain tissues reach boiling point causing heat stroke, cerebral fever and often death. Various countries of the world have produced a wide range of acceptable headgear to make working in the heat bearable. From Texas came the Ten gallon hat, Mexicans invented the cheeky Sombrero, Havana, Cuba, imported the Panama hat to relaunch it as a fitting fashion icon and Australia produced the rugged macho Bush hat.

What did India come up with ? The ghastly Topee !

From day one I disliked the topee which had to be worn constantly in the sun under pain of dire parental wrath. It sat inelegantly on ones head, doing little for ones appearance or sartorial ego. This thick wide brimmed helmet was made of a yucky coloured kakhi material. over a core of pith or paiper mache. It resembled the shape of a flying saucer with portholes for air circulation to match. Aerodynamically it proved useless, when flung, into the air as an idle diversion to see how far it would fly. Because of its structure an old topee was often used for target practice when floated down from an upstream point of the local river on the occasion of family picnics. Yet, riddled with .22 calibre bullet holes it remained unsinkable.

Only once during childhood in Assam, India, was I able to wreck revenge on my loathsome topee. I was about five years of age at that time. My father, mother and I were being transported by the proud owners, tea planter friends of my parents, in their very latest model ‘Chevrolet' limousine,1939 model, all new and shiny, its upholstery reeking of fresh leather. Our tea planter friends had picked us up at place called Dawki to take us to their bungalow situated on the tea estate near Jaintiapore close to the town of Sylhet. My topee, was as usual firmly clamped on my head but only loosely secured by its chinstrap which by now felt like a piece of very well chewed ‘biltong'.

The motion of the car, the affects of the toxic mixture of leather and exhaust fumes wafting through wound down seat windows, began to tell heavily on a queasy tummy. My mother quick to observe my perilous condition as my features turned to a pale shade of green, took immediate evasive action, saving huge embarrassment. She deftly whipped off my headgear to hold it like a basin under my chin. Mothers action provided me with the cue to gleefully eject tummy contents into this quickly improvised receptacle, which was then hurled out of the car window to be swallowed up by the passing landscape. "Good bye topee forever", I thought. Huh! My relief was horribly premature, I was kitted out again as soon as we were in sight of the nearest bazaar.

July 28 2005

   Earthquake 1897

We have to thank Derek Perry for this story of the earthquake from his family archives-

-Derek writes

After reading Larry Brown's graphic copy of a first hand contemporary account of the devastating Shillong 'Quake' of 1897, I have dug into family archives to retrieve and share several old photographs with some personal memories


The Old Shillong Club Circa 1890

Government House Shillong before the 1897 Earthquake

The Ward Lake Bridge pre-earthquake 

Government House Shillong after the 1897 Earthquake

The remains of the Ward Lake bridge is instantly recognisable, high and dry and looking very forlorn after  the dam at the end of the lake burst and cast its waters down the hill towards the race course.


The Ward lake Bridge

All Saints Church before and after the earthquake of 1897

It is interesting to note the solid stone work of the All Saints Anglican Church before and after as a pile of rubble.

I recall My grandmother telling her account of the shattering events of the day, she was aged twelve at the time.  She was in the family house, Avondale, situated opposite Pinemount School when the rumblings and shaking commenced.  Her first reaction was to grab her silver christening mug from its place on the mantle shelf, about the only possession she was able to save before the building was flattened.  That cherished mug became a symbol of the renaissance of life back to normal.  Sadly this relic of its time is now lost for the movement of family from India.  Perhaps it still has a place in someone's household in the town of Shillong.

From largely a tent City, Shillong, emerged with a new style of architecture, built of wooden frame and plaster walls, a mix of Tudor and Gothic Victorian.  The design was to ensure buildings would survive any future Quakes.  I personally remember the 1950 Shillong shake, this time the epicentre was somewhere North of Sadiya among the upper reaches of the Brahamaputra in the mountains.  Unknown to observers landslides caused major damming which then burst with the accumulation of the waters.  The result was a horrendous flooding disaster to the Upper Assam Valley. Th great Brahamaputra changed course in many areas, taking away a good section of Dibrugarh Town.  The Planters Club Government buildings and choice river side residential sites all floated away with the flood.

On the night of the Quake at Shillong, my Father and I were listening to a BBC Test Match commentary England vs. West Indies, the huge twelve valve Radio in its cabinet shook like a demented daemon, as mother and siblings rushed out of the house.  Dad and I held our ground undeterred, not game to miss the ball by ball commentary for anything.  This series of Tests which brought a West Indies Victory over England for the first time, was memorable for that great West Indian Calypso, with the line, "Those pals of mine, Rahmadin and Valantine.

Fortunately there was little damage in the Shillong area but the memory remains.

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November 2003


The passing of Johnny Hay has hit me more personally than I had thought.  Personally, because Johnny was of that genre of Tea Planter recruited almost immediately after World War II who were drawn from the ranks of the British Services.  These men were the backbone of the Industry when I wandered into Andrew Yules.  We looked up to them, enjoyed their comraderie, respected their war involvement, their many anecdotes of war time experiences, mostly hilarious.  Those who adapted readily to the rigours of tea planting, who kept coming back from leave after leave became the"Characters" of my day.  Johnny was of that ilk.  Others were, Peter Rex, Alan St John Gordon, "Ginger Truss", Gerry Halnan, David Shiner, "Pep" Pepper.  There  was "Sandy" Cleland who was with the Assam Regiment at the battle of Imphal and Kohima.  Sandy lost his best friend there, holding him in his arms to the end. There are many more, all of them officers and gentlemen, above all they were  pukka Koi-hois, to a man.

  As has been mentioned in the obituary section, Johnny Hay came short of his nemesis at the hands of an enraged leopard while serving with Andrew Yule on Khowang Tea Estate.  However it didn't just end there.  What followed typifies the wonderful culture of mutual bonding that often grew between Managers and Assistants and labour out of examples such as Johnny Hay's experience.   At the time Johnny's rescuer was a mere "jugalee" with ambitions of advancing towards the high point of Driver on the Khowang payroll. He was then serving a learning period as Johnny's "minder" on forays to the Moran Club and elsewhere, probably taking over the wheel following a surfeit of "chota pegs" to bring Johnny safely home to the "chota kuti" and tuck him into bed.   The act of becoming embroiled, regardless of personal safety, in Johnny's confrontation with the leopard was considered to be one of unmitigated courage and heroism.  Johnny freely admitted that he was a goner but for this exhibition of outstanding bravery.   The young "jugalee" was promoted to driver by a grateful Andrew Yule management, going on to become the personal driver to King, who was Khowang Manager and Company superintendent at the time.   But more to the point, every Christmas, Johnny, now with the Moran Company, would send word that he would visit the Khowang lines to personally attend the thatch and bamboo hut were the Driver and family lived, to offer munificence as a token of esteem for the man who saved his life.  The Driver, his wife with latest addition to the increasing brood would all be dressed up in their puja best to receive Johnny.  For the Driver, this was a proud moment as he accepted the Sahib's acknowledgment of his moment of bravery, which of course gave him a special status among all the resident families living in the Khowang lines, who all none the less, every man and woman, shared the privilege of being part of the occasion.  One more incident that would become embedded into the folk lore of the estate for future generations to mull over.   Johnny Hay, Alan Gordon and others were a part of that great golden age long to be remembered by those who were there then, but now, sadly, with each passing, the living memory of those special days, must inevitably fade away into obscurity.    




(Written and researched by Derek Perry)

When my great great grandmother, Rosalie Augier was growing up as a young girl, living in fairly comfortable circumstances with her family in the Cossitollah district of Calcutta during the late 1830's, she was not to know that she would end her days among the lovely green pine covered hills of Shillong, a place not as yet discovered or heard of by the outside world. Far from her mind would be a future bringing up nine children away from the fashionable metropolis of early nineteenth century Calcutta in a remote north east corner of India, only recently annexed, on this occasion with some genuine reluctance by The Honourable East India Company ( HEIC ). This territory was the once prosperous Ahom kingdom of Assam. Rosalie was to live to the mature age of 87 years when she died at Shillong in 1918 having outlived both her tea pioneer husbands, seven of her nine children, she also witnessed her new home in Shillong collapse into a mass of rubble during the great earthquake of 1897. It could be said without much fear of contradiction that this lady had experienced a remarkably full life.

Rosalie's father, Mathew Augier was a second generation Frenchman, probably born in Calcutta, who had married Elise Dufour, daughter of Colonel Dufour, a French resident of Chandanagore, in the year 1817. Mathew was employed in the Calcutta Mint in a position described as an Assistant, and more flamboyantly in the French, as a "Verificatieur". Mathew was the eldest son of Pierre, a Frenchman from Savoie, who had successfully set up business as a gun smith in Calcutta. Pierre died in the year 1833 leaving substantial property to his ten children. Mathew's postion in the Mint together with his subsequent inheritance meant that his family would be seen among the Calcutta citizenry of those days, as being reasonably prosperous. Rosalie's mother Elise, judging from an original portrait, is a striking dark haired, well born beauty of sultry appearance wearing a dress and ornaments tastefully selected. Her daughter, Rosalie born in 1831, was one of eight siblings the others were, Pierre, Francis, Claude, Charlotte, Sophie, Adeline and Perrin. The young Rosalie would have been brought up in the close Catholic family tradition, educated privately as there were few formal schools yet established in Calcutta for the children of European background. The family would have spoken in French, as the preferred language also in English and some Hindustani. Unfortunately there are no surviving photographs to give us any clue as to Rosalie's appearance. Family anecdote has it that she always declined to be photographed as a matter of principal. Rosalie was growing up as a young lady of determined character with a robust constitution able to withstand the deadly assortment of virus that pervaded the Calcutta atmosphere, for which, in those days, there were few cures. As the mortality rate was one of constant concern, it is possible that she too, like her aunt Rose Lise, married at fourteen, would have been prepared and trained for a life of very early nuptials. We now know that she entered the small town of Gauhati in the state of Assam aged seventeen, in 1848 as a married woman, the wife of Louis Delanougerede, that year she also gave birth to my great grand father, Achille Claude Delanougerede. The Delanougeredes had come to Assam on the coat tails of the great discovery of wild tea growing in abundance by the intrepid Robert Bruce with later development in the form of a successful cultural experiment, by his younger brother, Charles Bruce. At the instigation of the Honourable East India Company, Charles had proved that tea could be grown and harvested and manufactured as a commercial proposition to a standard acceptable by the discerning London market which up to that point, imported all tea, exclusively from China. Now the Government in Assam was giving away land bearing tea, in wild tracts, to encourage investment into this exciting new enterprise.

Assam would have seemed to be the most unlikely place on earth for any European to contemplate moving into during the time of Rosalie Augier's very early upbringing, a place in direct contrast to the comparative affluence and prevailing comfort of Calcutta. Assam was remote hostile and primitive by all the standards of the day. Briefly its history is this.

The Ahoms a race from the north Shan states of Burma conquered the country during the fourteenth century ruling the area for nearly five hundred years except for a short period of Mogul incursion. At that point in history, 1810 to 1820 the Burmese were back in Assam incongruously as invaders over the descendants of their forefathers. This last wave of Burmese invaders were a regime of cruel and fierce oppressors. In the parts of the territory where the Burmese influence was weak the local Ahom Rajahs set about each other in power struggles leading to internecine strife and vicious unrest. By the time the British came on the scene the country was in a state of anarchy. As it happened, British forces had already begun a campaign to eject the Burmese from occupied territory in conjunction with the greater invasion of mainland Burma in the year 1824, ostensibly to define the borders between the two countries, India and Burma. The British ably led by Colonel Richards assembled a force of three thousand men with several cannon and a gunboat flotilla at Goalpara, on the frontier of the old Ahom kingdom. To this force was now assigned the task of turning the Burmese out of the Brahamaputra valley. Their success was hampered not so much by enemy resistance as from the impossible terrain and bad weather.

Let Sir Edward Gait, from his, "A History of Assam", tell the story.

Colonel Richards, the British Commander had advanced his headquarters to Koliabar but, when the rains set in, the difficulty of procuring supplies compelled him to return to Gauhati. The Burmese thereupon reoccupied Koliabar, but also Raha and Nowgong, and, in revenge for the friendly disposition which the Assamese had shown to the British, they pillaged all the surrounding country and committed appalling atrocities on the helpless inhabitants. Some they flayed alive, others they burnt in oil, and others again they drove in crowds into the village prayer houses, which they then set on fire. The terror with which they inspired the people was so great that many thousands fled into the hills and jungles to the south, where large numbers died of disease or starvation.

When the rains were over, arrangements were made for a fresh advance of the British troops. Two divisions were despatched about the end of October, the one by way of the Kallang, and the other up the main stream of the Brahamaputra. The former, which was remarkably well served by its Intelligence Officer, Lieutenant Neuville, surprised several Burmese detachments, at Raha and elsewhere, and only just failed to catch the Governor himself at Nowgong. On the morning of the 27th January 1825 the enemy attacked an advanced post which was holding a bridge over the Namdang river. Supports were moved up quickly, and then, in order to encourage the Burmese to show themselves, a retreat from the bridge was feigned. The Burmese fell into the trap and rushed forward, whereupon they were attacked and put to flight with heavy loss.

The surrender of Rangpur, the recognised capital of Assam, and the ejection of the Burmese terminated the regular campaign, but the state of anarchy into which the country had fallen and the lawless conduct of frontier tribes still afforded plenty of employment for the British troops. The Singphos in particular were in urgent need of repression. During the Burmese occupation, they had made constant raids on the hapless Assamese, carrying off thousands as slaves and reducing the eastern part of the country to almost a state of complete depopulation. At this juncture, in June 1825, the Burmese, to the number of about six hundred, again appeared on the Pataki, and the Singphos made common cause with them. Captain Neufville at once led a party of the 57th Native Infantry up the Noa Dihing, and, by a series of gallant assaults, defeated the allies and expelled them from the Singhpo villages around Bisa, which he destroyed. The Singhpos then submitted, and the Burmese made their final exit from the country. In the course of this operation, Captain Neufville is said to have restored no less than six thousand Assamese captives to freedom.

This extract taken from Gaits History of Assam published in 1905 is an invaluable text book for the serious study of Assam from earliest times.

Following the expulsion of the Burmese in 1825 the condition of the Brahamaputra valley remained in a state of near chaos with little in the way of a responsible government infrastructure. The British were reluctant to assume full control to administer the vacuum left behind by the departing Burmese, and backed several rulers in turn with hereditary claims to govern but none of them proved competent. Civil war between the rival factions flared up and continued for some years. At the beginning of 1832, Purandar Singh was nominated to the possession of the whole of Upper Assam on condition of his paying an annual tribute of one hundred thousand rupees. On this he soon defaulted and the resultant inquiry exposed a general system of corruption which he apparently encouraged. His subjects were oppressed and misgoverned and his rule was hated by the bulk of the population. Finally in 1838, the British deposed him and exiled him out of Assam on a small pension, the whole territory was then annexed by proclamation. Now the entire Brahamaputra valley from Goalpara up to Sadiya in the North East corner was absorbed under the umbrella of British administration.

But now, a set of circumstances was beginning to influence a dramatic change to the face of Assam, which, within a few decades would bring many future years of peace and trading prosperity beneath the paternal control of the Raj. The catalyst for this amazing transformation was the discovery of the Camellia Sinensis tree growing prolifically in the wild in thick tracts especially within the dense upper region forests, north east of the Bori Dehing river. In one stroke, and, quite by accident, tea, was found growing wild in this remote area.

Right up to the time of Rosalie's birth the popular source for tea was associated only with China. The principal commercial organisation for conducting this trade was the HEIC also the rulers of India. It held the monopoly for this trade exclusively with China, but all this was soon to change together with the Company's odious trafficking in opium. The enterprising merchants in the employ of the HEIC had spotted a Chinese weakness for the use of the narcotic,opium, for which these people were fast becoming addicted. It did not take long for the HEIC to exploit the use of opium as the medium for currency in exchange for tea in unlimited quantity to satisfy the thirst of the British public. The propagation of opium was actively encouraged by its production in the areas of Bengal and Bihar where there was a plentiful supply of cheap labour. As long as opium could be manufactured in sufficient quantities the narcotic could be used without moral question as a convenient medium of exchange as payment for the import of tea from China. What a saving in hard currency for the HEIC.

Matters were to take on an unexpected twist. In 1833, the British Government, at home, curtailed the Company's monopolistic Charter making it open for any individual or commercial organisation to compete in all matters of trade, on equal terms. It was about this time that the HEIC looked seriously at the possibility of growing tea with China seed and manufacturing the harvested leaf by copying the methods used by the Chinese specialists. The ever resourceful masters at the HEIC had long considered the possibility of cutting out the China supply. They were informed in memo form by no less an authority than the great botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, back in 1778, that the climate in India was more than conducive for the growing of tea. In fact Sir Joseph during his explorations in the area of the Himalaya foothills, had recorded finding a Chinese type tea tree growing in the wild forests of Nepal. Sir Joseph Banks was the well known Botanist who accompanied the great Captain Cook earlier, on his famous voyages of discovery to the South Pacific, when unexpectedly a lush green country appeared from beneath a long white cloud, now named New Zealand. Sir Joseph's reputation for his amazing documentation and sketches of the fauna and flora of that country are famously recorded. Banks Peninsular near Christ Church, New Zealand is named in his honour.

The two Bruce brothers were now to create history, both gentlemen to be forever associated for posterity with the essential beginning of tea in Assam. Major Robert Bruce, the elder brother was from all accounts one of those exceptional cavalier characters of history who for reasons unknown seem fated to stand out from lesser beings. Typical of the Scots, who seem to appear always in the most unusual situations or in times of most trouble, Robert Bruce, who must have had a singular nose for adventure, was reputed to be one of the first Europeans to enter Assam. He came into the area as a trader who mixed himself up quite fearlessly with all the political factions of the time, entirely for his own advantage. He fought with one faction, was captured, changed sides, fought again, no doubt enjoying pecuniary gain for himself in the process.

The author H. A. Antrobus gives this account of Robert Bruce in his History of the Assam Tea Company 1839-1953.

Bruce, Major Robert, elder brother of C A Bruce. In different accounts of his connection with the discovery of the Tea Plant, he is described variously as Mr. or Major.

Having regard for the fact that until after 1833 no British or other European subject was allowed into India except with the approval of the East India Company, he could not have got into the country if it had not been for his service as a Major in the Bengal Artillery, and it is recorded that he was in receipt of a Government pension for having been formerly in the Maharatta Army. For this background or explanation for his presence in Assam, it is possible to account for his subsequent entanglement in the military operations of the native rulers endeavouring to wrest the province from the Burmese invaders, and why, with his military experience, he appeared at the head of one of these parties.

As an individual, Robert Bruce is recorded as having been for a long time resident at Jogigopho which is situated on the north bank of the Brahamaputra, opposite to Goalpara on the south bank. In the time of Bruce it was a trading centre of considerable importance, and Bruce had a Factory there.

Robert Bruce would seem to have got himself thoroughly embroiled in several factions striving for power in Assam, no doubt solely with an eye towards feathering his own nest, without any patriotic support for any particular party. It was in connection with Bruce's endeavour to espouse the cause of Brajnath, who was the contender from Cooch Behar for the throne of Assam, that it is possible to glean some idea of those intrigues. In 1814 Brajnath appeared before David Scott, the Governor General's representative in the area, and was taken into custody. Robert Bruce as one of his principal adherents, was arrested also, but was granted bail.

During the Burmese occupation of Assam, the rival Ahom rulers, Chandrakant and Purandah Singh, were contendingamongst themselves to oust the Burmese and regain what they regarded as their own kingdom of Assam.

Robert Bruce sided with Purandah Singh, and with the East India Company's permission obtained for him fire-arms and ammunition from Calcutta. Purandah Singh, with Bruce in charge of his army, advanced from the Dooars in May 1821 against Chandrakant, but was defeated and Bruce was taken prisoner. Bruce was released, however, on agreeing to take service with Chandrakant, and for the latter he obtained 300 muskets and ammunition from Calcutta. In 1822 Chandrakant with Bruce's assistance, inflicted several defeats on the Burmese and reoccupied Gauhati for a time.

In 1823 Robert Bruce went to Gurgaon, Rangpur and Sibsagar for purposes of trade. He was reputed to be the first British merchant to penetrate so far beyond what was then the limits of British territory on the North East Frontier. It was here that he learned of the existence of wild tea from a Singpho chief, Bessagaum.

Shortly after Bruce's discovery that this very palatable beverage with all the qualities associated with good cup of tea, had from time immemorial been imbibed by the Singphos of Assam, he died, but not before passing on this information to his younger brother Charles Alexander Bruce.Tea plants were secured and transplanted into earthenware pots and dispatched on to David Scott, Resident Agent to the Governor General who forwarded the specimens down river to the Royal Botanical Society in Calcutta for examination. It would take another ten years for this discovery to make an impact on the bureaucracy set up by the Governor General Lord Bentnick, which he named the Tea Committee. Later, C A Bruce was to play a significant part in the establishment, culture, and manufacture of indigenous Assam tea extracted from its own natural habitat.

C A Bruce's presence in Assam would no doubt have been influenced by his elder brother Robert. Charles Bruce born in the year 1793, had served as a young Midshipman with the Royal Navy in the later campaigns against Napoleon's French Navy. He resigned his commission and entered service with the East India Company, during which, he may well have become involved with his brother Robert's activities in Assam. The nature of the factory owned by Robert at Jogigopha has never been explained. One may fairly surmise that the elder Bruce was manufacturing opium under license for the HEIC, in which case it would, in due course, become the commodity most sought after by the tribes of N E Assam, particularly the Singpohs. It is more than likely he used the narcotic for trade with these people who were fast becoming recklessly addicted, which probably accounts for the friendly reception he received from the Singhpo chief, Bessagaum over their celebrated ‘cuppa tea' and with it the secrets of its source. Robert died and was buried at Jogigopha, about the year 1823. There is no trace today of his burial site or any of the relics of his factory. Much of the area was devastated by flood many years later by a raging Brahamaputra river in full monsoon flood with a mind of its own intent on reshaping a new course.

In 1955, I was on transfer from Karballa Tea Estate in the Dooars to another in Upper Assam, I decided to make the journey in my little battered old Ford Prefect. We travelled through Cooch Bihar and headed down to Jogigopha, now just a nondescript shanty bazaar town of little architectural merit. Then crossing the Brahamaputra by a ferry boat to Goalpara, advancing uneventfully up the left bank of the valley, except for the unfortunate demise of a few stray ‘pi dogs' crossing the road, towards Khowang Tea Estate situated in the Lakhimpur district. The journey of some 600 miles was completed in two days. It did not occur to me at the time, that I was in fact following, in rather more sedate circumstances, at a nice steady speed, the original pioneer trail of the Bruce brothers.

Although Charles Bruce may have assisted his elder brother with his ‘trading' activities, his reason for being in Assam at that time, was primarily to take command of the several gun boats used in the conflict with the Burmese, his patrol duties taking him sailing up river as far as Sadiya. The unanswered question is whether Charles was recruited for the position of commanding the gun boat flotilla because he was conveniently on the spot or did his command come about in the ordinary course of HEIC duties, or was it just a coincidence that his elder brother, Robert, the well known early European trader happened to be a resident and active in the area ? Whatever the circumstances of his presence, Charles's previous Naval experience made him the obvious choice for this appointment. As Sadiya is in close proximity to the areas of large tracts of mature tea growth situated in the forests of N E Assam, there is no doubt that he explored the area as far as his duties allowed, gaining valuable local knowledge of the conditions for the possibility of future tea cultivation, Chinese style. I believe Charles Bruce was of a very perceptive mind and saw a vision for the future with the country of Assam becoming a major exporter of Tea.

Meanwhile, the evidence that tea existed as a natural plant growing on their own door step, languished in Calcutta botanical circles, mainly because of some apathy and the general acceptance that the centuries old Chinese product could not be substituted outside that country. The situation of indifference was reinforced by the false belief that the specimens originally sent down from Assam, did not constitute the genus Camellia Sinensis from which China tea is manufactured. Add to this was the fact that Assam was regarded then as a remote impossible and troublesome area, unattractive for any kind of European commercial venture. But that was 1825, matters were to develop and quickly change the political landscape.

The Tea Committee appointed in 1833 by the foresight of Lord Bentnick, the Governor General, was given specific terms of reference to diligently explore the prospect of substituting an Indian product for Chinese imported tea, given the similarities in climate and availability of cheap labour within the Indian sub continent. Unfortunately there appeared to have developed a great deal of acrimonious division among the ranks of this newly formed Tea Committee over the precise nature of the Assam tea specimens as being anything similar to that of the Chinese variety or that there could be any possibility, even if it were so, of its successful cultivation on the lower elevations of the Assam topography. The general opinion was that only the Chinese plant could produce tea that would satisfy the markets in London. Two events occurred that were to influence the Committee's thinking. First, Mr Gordon was deputed to visit China to secure and bring back a large quantity of tea seed for planting experiments at selected areas around India and more importantly also to recruit eight to ten Chinese tea makers to advise on the growing and manufacture of the product. From this imported seed, 40,000 plants were reared under the more ideal conditions of botanical supervision at Calcutta and distributed to the various areas in other regions of India, but possibly for lack of knowledge the plants when transplanted, wilted and the experiment was a failure. Of the 20,000 sent to Assam, the area which had proved it could grow tea, only 8,000 survived the long boat journey. These plants, although germinated in the shade, were planted in the full sun and soon succumbed. It appeared that the combined action of climate and early agricultural ignorance of the people in Assam had successfully resisted a Chinese invasion

The second event was the visit to Assam by a delegation of the members of the Tea Committee to verify Bruce's earlier reports and confirm the plant to be the Camellia Sinensis capable of producing a ‘pot of tea' in commercial quantities acceptable to the markets on a scale that would produce profit. Much of the whole area of the state was traversed in some depth in separate missions, by representatives of the members of the Committee. Following a great deal of debate, the Committee made the decision to proceed with a Government financed experiment. The outcome was that sites for suitable gardens were selected and that Charles Bruce was appointed by the Government to Superintendent this great project. The Committee again demonstrated a divisiveness over Bruce's appointment. One member supported the appointment by stating that Charles Bruce was ‘eminently qualified for the duties in question' another was critical, whose view was that Bruce ‘was brought up to a seafaring life and whose residence in Assam had been devoted entirely to mercantile pursuits and the command of gun boats'. Dr. N Wallich, a member of the Committee, who more than any one appeared vacillating in the initial stages, and is the person mainly responsible for being dismissive of Robert Bruce's original discovery in 1824, nine years earlier, was now to endorse the younger brother's qualifications to head the project, he wrote

It is of the utmost importance that a trustworthy and properly qualified person should be nominated for the charge of the forests and for carrying into effect the above provisions and subsequent steps; and whose duty it should be to visits the forests frequently and in succession, and to report on their progressive condition.

Believing it to be impossible to find someone equally qualified with Mr C Bruce in point of experience, zeal and bodily constitution, it is my intention to recommend that gentleman in the strongest manner I can to the Tea Committee for the charge of the Assam forests; the more so as I have every reason to believe that you agree with me entirely in this matter...the excellent character which he deservedly bears amongst us all, his extreme strength of constitution which has enabled him to encounter the fiercest jungles at seasons which would be fatal to anyone else to come near them; all these considerations combine to render him eminently qualified for the duties in question.

Another member a Mr Griffith of the Tea Committee, did not quite share Dr Wallich's high opinion of Charles Bruce, he wrote :

From the remarks I have made as to the importance of improving the Assamese plant, it will be evident that certain qualifications are necessary in the person who has general superintendence of the whole plan. It has been generally allowed that the superintendence of any given plant requires at least a certain degree of practical knowledge, and if this is to be combined with some theoretical knowledge, the chances of success are much increased. Now, it may be fairly asked how the above qualifications fulfilled in the instance of the present Superintendent of Tea, Mr C Bruce ?

But Bruce, a persistent pioneer, strong as a buffalo and ingenious as Robinson Crusoe, was impervious to any criticism. He had the gift for making friends among primitive people. His great strength carried him through the jungle even at the most malarious season. He won the trust of the wild mountain tribes. He found vast areas of wild tea-trees, the leaves of which the hill people picked, cutting down the tree if it was too tall to pick. He seemed to be a man of extraordinary ability, possessing more than adequate natural skills to take on the task of creating an embryo tea industry with only the support of very limited resources. He passionately believed in a successful outcome and drove himself regardless of obstacles, while contending with many of the difficulties caused by the political unrest in the area which were beyond his control.

Extracts from his report to the Tea Committee sitting in Calcutta written from Jaipore, dated 10th June 1839 clearly indicate the nature of the man and his deep feeling for the great potential of the task he was handling.

I submit this report on our Assam Tea with much diffidence, on account of the troubles in which this frontier has been unfortunately involved. I have had something more than Tea to Occupy my mind, and have consequently not been able to commit all my thoughts to paper at one time; this I hope will account for the rambling manner in which I have treated the subject. Such as my report is, I trust it will be found acceptable, as throwing some new light on a subject of no little importance to British India and the British public generally. In drawing out this report, it gives me much pleasure to say, that our information and knowledge respecting Tea and Tea tracts are far more extensive than when I last wrote on this subject;_the number of tracts now known amounting to 120, some of them very extensive, both on the hills and in the plains. A sufficiency of seeds and seedlings might be collected from these tracts in the course of a few years to plant off the whole of Assam; and I feel convinced, from my different journeys over the country, that but a very small portion of the localities are as yet known.

A most prophetic statement, this, by Bruce. Although, realistically, the whole of Assam could never be fully covered by Tea gardens, in the 1950's when driving up the valley between the towns of Jorhat, Sibsagar and Dibrugarh, as far as Dum Duma along a stretch of main trunk road for nearly 200 miles between, the scattering of rice-fields, acre upon acre of tightly knit tea bushes merge with the landscape, carefully cultivated to give a luxurious green table top effect, canopy shaded by tall mature leguminous trees, geometrically spaced into neat squares. These many emerald like oasis's containing the cool thatched managerial houses, large factory buildings and adjacent withering sheds, the ancillary offices all of smart appearance, stood in stark contrast to the sadly impoverished conditions of the general country side.

In the same report Bruce turns his attention to the problem of a scarcity of labour and the attachment the affects of opium was exerting on the local population.

If I were asked, when will this Tea experiment be in a sufficient state of forwardness, so as to be transferable to speculators ? I would answer when a sufficient number of native Tea manufacturers have been taught to prepare both black and the green sort; and that under one hundred available Tea manufacturers, it would not be worthwhile for private speculators to take up the scheme on a large scale; on a small one it would be a different thing. In the course of two or three years we aught to have that number. Labourers must be introduced in the first instance to give tone to the Assam opium-eaters; but the great fear is that these latter would corrupt the newcomers. If the cultivation of Tea were encouraged, and the poppy put a stop to in Assam, the Assamese would make a splendid set of Tea manufacturers and Tea Cultivators.

The plight of the local people caused by the ravages to opium addiction, encountered by Bruce, seems to have made a huge impact on his sense of social justice, and of course, indirectly to the successful future of Tea growing. One wonders then, how he would have reconciled these views with his elder brothers proclivity in the collection of the poppy, its manufacture and distribution of the substance from his factory at Jogigopho. It is possible that after the death of brother Robert, his heirs scaled down or even closed down this trade, that we shall never know. However, 15 years after Robert Bruces' death, we have Charles taking a serious moral stance with the authorities over the issue of their apparent tolerance for allowing the unabated consumption of opium.

I might here observe, that the British Government might confer a lasting blessing on the Assamese and the new settlers, if immediate and active measurers were taken to put down the cultivation of opium in Assam, and afterwards stop its importation by levying high duties on opium lands. If something of this kind is not done, and done quickly too, the thousands that are about to emigrate from the plains into Assam, will soon be infected with the opium mania, that dreadful plague that has depopulated this beautiful country, turned it into a land of wild beasts, with which it is overrun, and has degenerated the Assamese, from a fine race of people, to the most abject, servile, crafty, and demoralised race in India. Few but those who have resided long in this unhappy land know the dreadful and immoral effects, which the use of opium produces on the native. He will steal, sell his property, his children, and finally even commit murder for it. Would it not be the highest of blessings, if our humane and enlightened Government would stop these evils by a single dash of the pen, and save Assam, and all those about to emigrate into it as Tea cultivators, from the dreadful results attendant on the habitual use of opium ?

Charles Bruce ends his report on a high jingoistic note, couched of patriotic fervour, typical of the period, as he is convinced that his discovery will ultimately bring large scale benefit to everyone, bar the poor Chinese.

In looking forward to the unbounded benefit the discovery of this plant will produce to England, to India, to millions. I cannot thank God for so great a blessing to our country. When I first discovered it some 14 years ago, I little thought that I should have been spared long enough to see it become likely, eventually to rival that of China, and that I should take a prominent part in bringing it to so successful an issue. Should what I have written on this new and interesting subject be of any benefit to the country, and the community at large, and help a little to impel the Tea forward to enrich our own dominions, and pull down the haughty pride of China, I shall feel myself richly repaid for all the perils and dangers and fatigues, that I have undergone in the cause of British India Tea.

But this is not the end of the story for the great, Charles Alexander Bruce. Bruce continued to create gardens in the more peaceful districts. To these he carried young plants from the jungle and with the help of his Chinese advisers, tended them. While these were too young to harvest he cut back wild trees and plucked the new leaves as they sprouted. Largely with the help of his Chinamen he managed to manufacture the product we call Tea. Somehow a batch of eight chests survived the hazardous journey by country boat down the Brahamaputra through the Sunderbands or delta of the Ganges and Brahamaputra at the mouth of the Bay of Bengal down the Hoogly river to Calcutta. From Calcutta the precious cargo was transferred to an East Indiaman and transported under sail on the long voyage to the port of London. Incredibly the market there gave the samples their approval and the tea sold at between 16 shillings and 34 shillings a pound. These were somewhat flattering prices due mainly to the novelty value put upon a new product other than the one coming from China. However, all concerned became wildly optimistic. Here was this tree growing wild, more than holding its own in the struggle for existence, without any help from man. True, Assam remained in sorely troubled state, as she had been for many years, suffering barbaric raids, the rivalry of rulers, exploitation of whoever was in power, corruption, cruelty. But, in 1838 the British Government took over the whole country. Thereafter, what could limit a new industry which seemed to have a touch of alchemy, turning green into gold ?

The Government had no sooner taken on its new political responsibilities when it severed its involvement with its very own Tea manufacturing venture. It declared the Tea lands of Assam, ‘open season', for development by private enterprise.

A joint stock company, The Assam Company Limited, was formed at a meeting held at No 6 Winchester Street, London on the 14th February1839, and resolutions duly passed establishing the new Company entity with a capital base of 500,000 pounds sterling in 10,000 shares of 50 pounds sterling each of which 8000 were allotted in Great Britain and 2000, in India.

Charles Bruce services were transferred to the newly formed Assam Company and he was engaged in duties as the Superintendent of the Northern division. A Mr J P Parker was appointed Superintendent of the Eastern region and a Mr Masters to the Superintendency of the Southern Division. The first few years of the Company's existence were marked with considerable optimism for its future prosperity. But, the information was based on selective reports that did not provide an accurate position of the expenditure incurred in the clearing of jungle and planting of new Tea. Besides the lines of communication were very basic and considerably slow as one may imagine from an area remote and so recently hostile. Reports from the Superintendents as they found time to attend to any paper work, would be out of date by the time it reached the local Board in Calcutta, certainly ancient history on arrival for consideration by the Board sitting in London. I quote from Antrobus, The History of the Assam Company.

There would seem no doubt that the Board's optimism was based on a very nebulous idea of the real facts. This is evident from the Director's report of 1843, based on the working of 1842, when the first set-back to their confidence makes itself apparent. Up to that time they had no data about the cost of cultivation and manufacture on which to base any opinion. The chief concern of the Superintendents in Assam was to justify their existence by emphasis on the area they had cleared of jungle around the tracts of tea which they had found growing wild.

The doubt and uncertainty by the Board in London was expressed publicly in their report to shareholders of 1843, which states :

It must be evident to you that from the novelty of the enterprise this was necessarily a work of time and that at the commencement of our operations we could only form a general opinion that there was every probability of the undertaking being one of profit.

The Boards endeavour to acquaint themselves with first hand information of what was really happening was the issue of a questionnaire to each of the three Superintendents - to Masters at the Southern Division, to CA Bruce at the Northern Division and to J P Parker at the Eastern Division. The answers were a voluminous report from Masters, and a combined, equally long one from Bruce and Parker from the Northern and Eastern Divisions. These reports, consisting as they did of many pages as reproduced in the Company's printed Accounts, are remarkable for the detail into which they enter, and it is perhaps more remarkable still that the Superintendents were able under conditions, in which they lived, to devote so much time to correspondence.

The particular reports were written in the months of July and September, and assuming correspondence was left for attention until after sundown, the writers must have experienced considerable discomfort writing in the faint light of a kerosine lamp, even assuming they possessed some sort of hand-operated punkah.

The Board were not satisfied and further demands were made on the three Superintendents to curtail spending as Capital was fast diminishing aggravated by the disappointing income from the sale of tea which by all accounts was of an inferior quality.

Then an incident arose out of a visit that J P Parker made to the Southern Division, and in his report to the Board proposed the enormous reduction of Rs. 5,000 a month in expenditure on the Division, which Masters assented to without offering any explanation for keeping up an establishment so much in excess of actual requirements. At the time the Company's finances were in a parlous state, that a saving of such a sum was possible without affecting efficiency made the Directors very angry, and they commanded Mr Masters' attendance before them in Calcutta.

Masters' reply to this directive is recorded in the Calcutta Minute of 15th July 1843, that he

...... refuses to come to Calcutta unless allowed his full salary, with all travelling expenses without the smallest retrenchment, declines any further communications with the Assam Company and will pay no attention whatever to any instructions the Directors may honour him with. He has given over charge of the Division with all accounts, books, treasure etc to Mr Grose, First Assistant until he receives orders from Mr Parker.

At the same time C A Bruce had been censured similarly and was equally irritated, but his reactions were not so vehement as were Masters'. His reply was that he " protests against such censures being applied after all in the service have risked their lives in performance of their duty, very discouraging and will not tend to make the Assistants more zealous".

The Secretary was instructed to acknowledge this mild protest and other recent communications from Bruce: " intimate to Mr Bruce that he will see the propriety of adopting a more respectful tone when communicating with the Board".

Bruce continued in the Company's service for only a short time longer. In the end it seems he was dismissed but there appears to be no record of this. The last mention of this great Tea pioneer in the records of the Assam Company, a year after his departure, is a note on expenditure: that in the Northern Division outlay during 1845, there had been over 2,000 pounds sterling in excess, their explanation for which was, "... this large difference is explained to have occurred partly from arrears left by Mr Bruce ..."

With this brief derogatory reference to Bruce by the London Board, there disappears from the annals of the Assam Company the name of the greatest figure in the original planting history of the Tea Industry in India.

There were six members of the Bruce Family connected with the foundation or earliest account of the Industry, Major Robert Bruce, Charles Alexander Bruce, C A Bruce Junior ( a son of Robert Bruce ), William Bruce, R Bruce and D Bruce. C A Bruce, C A Bruce Junior and D Bruce were at the same time all in the employ of the Assam Company Of all of them however, the name of Charles Alexander Bruce stands supreme as a pioneer of the Industry. He was born on the 11th January 1793 and died 23rd April 1871. He was fifty-one years when the Company dispensed with his services. With these final remarks, C A Bruce fades forever from the pages of Antrobus's publication, The History of the Assam Company 1839-1953.

The Bruce brothers were legendary among my family, for there is positive ancestral claim, my great grandfather Achille Delanougerede married Nina Elizabeth McNamara, whose mother, Mabel is the daughter of a Bruce, but which of the brothers, still remains a mystery, though Robert is the most likely contender. My generation has inherited a paucity of hard fact about any of our family beyond Rosalie Delanougerede. Apart from much independent research, still on going, only some of what is now written comes from family source, a family tree now in my possession, compiled by my great Uncle Charles Delanougerede, whom I affectionately remember and indeed became very close to during my time on Assam Tea Gardens. No man so advanced in years as the lovable Uncle Charlie, could, better hold his own in the serious department of imbibing countless ‘chota pegs' at the Naharkotia Tea Planters Club, Upper Assam, with such little visible side affect other than to become somewhat garrulous, and preface every conversational opening with,..."do you remember old so in so,.... well do you know.... ?" And so on and so on, like many a true old "koi hai"as he delved deep into his fund of amazing stories.

It was strongly rumoured that among my grandmothers treasured possessions when she passed on in the year 1950, were old faded photographs of both Robert and Charles Bruce. Sadly they were not recognised and retrieved for the posterity they deserve, before being irretrievably consigned, among her other unwanted effects, as scrap.

Charles Bruce lived during his latter days in the Town of Tezpur head quarters of the Darrang district, in Assam situated on the North bank of the Brahamaputra. It can be reasonably assumed that following his departure from the Assam Company, in 1844, Charles cast his eye elsewhere for new opportunities of tea development and it is more than likely he worked the areas north of Tezpur, somewhere, in that region as far as the Bhutan foothills. This area, today, is fairly densely covered by many Tea gardens, of which some may owe their existence to the work of Bruce. He is buried at Tezpur where he died in1871, his wife Elizabeth, born in 1804 and dying in 1885 rests with her husband. Elizabeth lived to a handsome age and one wonders if she too came from hardy Scottish stock.

Tezpur town is delightfully cradled among low hills descending down to the Brahamaputra river, meeting here at one of its widest points. The river gives the impression of a very wide picturesque lake, with busy silhouettes in the distance of small fishing craft under tiny sail, gliding gently in and out of the reflected colours of glorious evening sunsets.

Back in 1955, my father was posted there as the Deputy Commissioner with responsibility for the Government of Assam's administration of that District, effectively making him the most powerful person in that region. At that time I was Assistant Manager on Khowang Tea Estate about 15 miles south of Dibrugarh Town in Upper Assam on the south bank. Mohanbari airfield which served the Dibrugarh district was a mere 35 minute flight to Tezpur. One late monsoon morning in September, Gerry Hanlan, my Manager intercepted me as I was endeavouring to cajole about 200 somewhat wet and bedraggled women workers back into the moisture laden tea bushes to continue the business of picking two leaves and a bud or maybe three, (there was some flexibility about the third ). Gerry had just received a telegram from Andrew Yules' our Head Office in Calcutta requesting transfer of my services temporarily, to assist the beleaguered Manager of Hoograjulie Tea Estate, Ralph Twist who for obvious reasons was better known as ‘Oliver'. Details were sketchy but apparently Twist was confined to his bungalow with a high fever and nobody knew how to treat it. Meanwhile proper day to day management of the estate was suspended and the leaf on the tea bushes was growing out of hand. The estate was positioned in my father's Darrang district but its location made it almost inaccessible by ordinary transport during the heavy rainy season. In fact it was common knowledge that only Managers who had upset the Calcutta "Burra Shaibs" in some diabolical way were banished to serve a term there, and mostly they were forgotten forever. This was going to be an interesting exercise, I felt, particularly as I was left to my own devices for negotiating my way to the Hoograjulie estate. I was glad though that the directive mentioned, " temporary secondment".

My first initiative was to "wire" my father to tell him the good news, and seize the opportunity of possibly staying a night or two in the bosom of my family, my mother, brother Digby, and sisters, Shirley and Valerie. I was decanted safely on the tarmac by the Indian Airline Corporation, Dakota flight at Tezpur Airport where my father met me and drove me to the lovely home built for the comfort of the resident Deputy Commissioner in keeping with his high station. I stayed with my family for just a cup of tea, as duty, always paramount in these matters, dictated that my first obligation was to minister to the needs of my fever ridden colleague, the unfortunate Oliver. My father graciously escorted me on the 35 mile bone shaking journey to Hoograjulie together with the family who came for the ‘drive'. It was some drive as the official Jeep negotiated the numerous pot holes in low gear for much of the journey, often engaging gear in four wheel drive. Because of our common Andrew Yule connection my parents were already acquainted with "Oliver" from previous soirees at the Tezpur Planters Club. The hospitality he extended to us upon our eventual arrival was remarkable when it was more than expected that our host who was reputed to be stricken with the mystery fever might be less than forthcoming. The welcome we received was spontaneous and generous, our host ordering his splendid cook to rustle up a fine Chinese dinner. It was a happy introduction and my future as Oliver's temporary Assistant augured well.

Indeed I enjoyed my six weeks with Twist. His fever seemed to invade his person in the morning and continue into the afternoon, but by evening it was back to normal. So that apart from having to communicate with mine host while he was confined all day in pyjamas to his bungalow, with a thermometer almost permanently dangling out of the side of his mouth, the days went by pleasantly enough. What I did not know and made for some unexpected excitement was the problem of a presence of tiger in some number that gave our tea labour, myself included, some awful frights. There were sections of the estate abandoned with tea leaf growing out of control as they were thought to be the abode of the tiger. Fortunately there were no human victims, but much cattle became prey to tiger appetite. In time professional hunters were brought in to dispose of at least three of the unfortunate beast before the others retreated back into the Bhutan foothills at the base of the high Himalayas. These noble but unfortunate animals were fast running out of territory as human kind depleted the forests of their natural habitat

With no sign of the Twist fever abating arrangements were made for him to visit the specialist medicos in Calcutta to get to the bottom of the matter. A more senior Assistant was called in by the name of David Shiner as Acting Manager, and I was released to return to Khowang Tea Estate.

My father sent his four wheel drive vehicle to pick me up but I was able to stay only one night with the family at the palatial residence situated above the mighty river lazily flowing south among the great sand banks. I was fortunate later to be able spend that Christmas and Boxing day with the family and once again in April 1956, I called in for two nights as I was back on the road again driving my trusty Ford, reversing the previous years journey on transfer back to the Dooars as Assistant on Banarhat Tea Estate.

During these very brief Tezpur visits, the name Charles Bruce inevitably cropped up. My father was well aware of this illustrious gentleman's connection with the town and had traced his grave at the local cemetery. The house he had built for himself apparently still stood and was one of several nestling grandly on the side of another adjacent hill sloping down towards the Brahamaputra, well in view of the Deputy Commissioner's own residence. Also there were still a few elderly residents whose forebears were contemporaries of the Bruce era, it was alleged that they told many interesting stories about the great man and may have held the key to where and when the rest of Bruce family were dispersed. Regretfully, it seemed that even with the best of intentions, those threads of the past, were overlooked and left unexplored. I fare welled Tezpur for the last time, with hardly a glance over my shoulder, my emotions more concerned with the prospect of yet another long separation from my parents. As I crossed the mighty 'putra on the paddle steamer to the south bank I was too pre occupied with the long motor journey ahead to give any attention to the lost opportunity of discovering more about the brothers, Bruce, and our family connection.  
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(A recollection by Derek Perry)

When I was suddenly precipitated from Karballa Tea Estate in the Dooars, to Khowang Tea Estate in Assam, I was blissfully unaware of the underlaying reason for this move. The fact was that my predecessor as Assistant Manager at Khowang, Poppetlove-Smythe (name changed for obvious reasons) had succumbed to the perils of an unfortunate dalliance with a local maiden, a young nubile tea picker of some beauty. This sort of unseemly behaviour was expressly frowned upon by our masters in Calcutta, as it undermined their sanctimonious perception of maintaining the standards, "you can't let the side down you know, and all that sort of thing and never on your own doorstep etc. etc.". I remember back in the early fifties, the employment contract I signed was riddled with frightening terms that stated any fraternising of a lustful nature with garden females, could be dire and incur instant dismissal. Fortunately for him, Poppetlove-Smythe was not immediately shown the door but promptly exiled with a gigantic cloud over his head to another Tea Estate more than 500 miles away.

The head garden Babu at Khowang was Chatterjee Babu who over the years had become a legend in his own right. The instant we met, Chatterjee epitomised for me that endearing Kipling character, Hurree Chander Mukherjee, right down to his imitation patent leather shoes. "No hurry for Hurree." Chaterjee Babu might have stepped right out of the pages of Kim. He was the most endearing of Bengali gentleman, every inch the doyen of a Garden Babu. He cussed and swore at the batches of men and women workers if they were tardy and late for work and he drove them hard to pick the harvest of tea leaf before it grew too long and out of hand He was intimately involved with their individual affairs and was an outrageous gossip, but he was always ready to champion their grievances. He remembered all his flock by first names, not difficult when the dastur was to name offspring by the day on which the child was born, there were separate gender versions which helped to avoid complete anarchy.

Unfortunately, as a Bengali, Chatterjee walked a cultural minefield. His Assamese colleagues on the clerical staff who resented this foreigner, made his life pretty unbearable. To be a Bengali living in Assam is like a Palestinian trying to live in peace on the Gaza strip. Notwithstanding this, Chatterjee kept his cool and never lost his humour. Never the less Chatterjee, also took his responsibilities seriously he was dedicated towards the keeping of harmonious relationship between Management and workers while still maintaining the ideology of mutual respect

Soon after my arrival at Khowang, I was standing by a group of chattering women tea pickers cajoling them into action with some good humoured banter and receiving a fair amount of cheek in exchange. This was all part of the mutual summing up ritual with the arrival of any new Chota Sahib. At this point the chubby figure of Chatterjee Babu hove into view. He was pedalling along seated on a dilapidated old Phillips bicycle, his dhoti and shirt billowing in the wind like a galleon in full sail. As he came into view, Chatterjee released a series of verbal expletives like the huntmaster organising his hounds before taking off for the chase, castigating the group of women who without further ado, scrambled their baskets on to their heads to resume picking tea leaf with great energy.

Chatterjee dismounted and waddled over to me with a sheepish grin, his large eyes beaming, his mouth stuffed with red betel nut. He addressed me in a tone of the utmost respect, speaking with an accent remarkably similar to Peter Sellars. The dialogue went along the lines of something like this.

"Good morning Mr Perry sah"

"Hello Chatterjee, everything under control ?"

"Yes sah"

"Mr Perry sah, what I am saying to you?....You are one too, too good boy."

"Oh, thank you Chatterjee, very good of you to mention it."

"Mr Perry sah, kindly please, you must not go by one wrong way."

I was slightly puzzled.

"Mr. Poppetlove-Smythe, he is also one too, too good boy. But, Mr Poppetlove-Smythe he is going by one very wrong way. What I am saying to you ? Kindly, Mr Perry, you will not be going by one wrong way, as you are one too, too good boy. But, Mr Poppetlove he is going by one very wrong way, he is taking girl. Kindly, Mr Perry, you will not do this thing. Mr Perry, if you are wanting to take girl, kindly you will pray to your mother first."

"Thank you Mr Perry, what I am telling you? I am now also praying to God for your name."

With that, Chatterjee Babu mounted his rickety bicycle and meandered away over the horizon.

Did I take his advice ? Yes I did, I always pray to my mother.
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  February 25 2012 



         fiction and copyright by Derek Perry


"Take care sahib," Jim Burrows heard Ram Singh's whisper of concern, as he clambered up through the lower branches of the Siris shade tree on to the hastily prepared bambo machan platform.  Jim stretched down to grasp the upheld butt of the powerful rifle, which Ram Singh gently extended up towards him.  Jim acknowledged the tea estate headman's assistance with a wave of his hand and watched the tall, dark, sinewy figure, as he moved silently away through the close knit tea bushes.


The sun began to dip behind the thick tropical jungle, held back by the great dark emerald expanse of  the estates tea plantation sections, formally defined by rows of tall graceful shade trees, similar to the one that now provided his make-shift platform of some questionable repose.  Soon darkness would fall and overwhelm the sad scene below, which had compelled Jim to prepare to confront and dispatch its' perpetrator.


The moon at its full would rise late having to traverse the high Himalayan foot hills to his left.  Snatching the few moments of what twilight remained, he brought the butt of his rifle to his shoulder several times in an act of rehearsal for the expected action to follow.  Jim was in a state of shock and as he aligned the rifle sights on the tragic lifeless heap below, already attracting the presence of flies, he fought hard to keep his composure.  Only the single-minded purpose of a desire for retribution, kept him from retching freely.  Numb with emotion, Jim made himself as comfortable as the cramped circumstances permitted and contemplated the preceding events that lead him to his present vigil.





"Sahib, the estate families have asked me to make this appeal to you to undertake to rid our community of this devil leopard".  Ram Singh spoke as he stood by the large window of the estate office, his elderly, warm leathery features, with their large brown eyes firmly fixed on Jim.


It was midday, as lines of estate workers flowed in with their baskets bursting with picked tea leaf, for the ritual recording of the morning's harvest.  Jim was watching a colourful line of chattering women, excitedly lift their baskets onto scales as a clerk monotonously called out the weight before recording the amount into a very large ledger.


Jim now turned his attention to Ram Singh,

"You know my answer, and you know why I have sworn never to pursue another leopard."


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Jim mopped the perspiration from his brow.  The midday sun bore down heavily, shimmering over the tops of the tea bushes, while a thick haze blotted out the dramatic back drop of the high mountains to the north.


"But sahib, the man's death was an unfortunate circumstance which you could not have foreseen, and for which we all hold you blameless." Ram Singh tried to reason with Jim.

"If I had shot that animal cleanly instead of wounding it, that man, that poor victim, would be alive today." Jim replied.

Momentarily, Jim recalled the devastating experience not so long ago, when he stalked a wounded leopard through the heavy jungle, with the help of a few beaters. The mind shattering growl, as the stricken beast, about to be cornered, instinctively attacked the poor man obstructing escape. With its powerful forepaw and claw extended, it tore through the human flesh and sinew.  The fact that the opportunity provided Jim with sufficient time to fire a shot into the animal's heart at point blank range, could not by any stretch of feeling, compensate for the sacrifice of a human life.


"His death was destined, sahib, you must not take the blame.  The situation now is different, this leopard bhag, is so bold, that sightings have been reported of  it selecting cattle from the grazing fields in broad daylight.  It is certain that if the devil is not eliminated, your labour outside the estate will begin to drift away when you need them most, at the height of our tea growing season."


Jim was adamant, but his reply was without conviction. "Ram Singh, your comments are wise, but there are other methods to consider first, before I will ever undertake to personally hunt this bhag.


"I understand sahib". The estate headman looked at Jim impassively, he was about to make one more attempt at persuasion.  "Sahib, will you listen to the experience of this young girl, as you know she is not resident on the estate, she comes from a village outside.  Her name is Raimoni".


Jim marvelled at the beauty of the young girl approaching him, at least eighteen or nineteen summers, he thought.  Moving with a supple grace, her bare feet flitted over the ground like an exotic butterfly, a gossamer sari of turquoise hue fell from her shoulders and waist, a scarlet hibiscus adorned her jet black hair held back neatly in a coil at the nape of her slender neck.  She stopped by the window, bringing the tips of her fingers together, level with her firm breasts held provocatively beneath a tight fitting blouse.



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"Namaste, sahib," she greeted, drooping her large sultry eyes with a flutter of slender lashes.  She spoke in the sing-song language of the Oraons, a fine people who originally migrated from the hills of Bihar.


"Tell me your story," Jim said to her kindly.


"Sahib, I live alone.  My parents have left me to care for the livestock while they settle a land dispute at our home, four days rail journey away, near Ranchi.  Last night I

heard a commotion in the cattle shed.  Arming myself with a heavy staff and a kerosene lamp, I ventured outside to find out what caused the disturbance, at the same time calling to the cattle, to soothe them.  Then, I saw a huge spotted bhag spring from an opening in the side of our shed, its face dripping with blood.  Screaming, I all but fainted.  Soon the neighbours gathered, we entered the shed to find our best cow heavy with calf, dying from a terrible laceration.  This leopard must be killed, sahib, if not I fear for the rest of my cattle.  With my parents away, I am helpless and dependent on your protection."  Raimoni  looked at Jim directly, her eyes full of appeal.


"Get rid of the devil, sahib and I shall pray to the Lord Shiva to bestow upon you all the gifts of your desire".


"You are indeed a brave girl, Jim responded, and I sympathise with your distress and hope it will not happen again".


Turning to Ram Singh, Jim gave orders that would provide some measure of security.


"Now, Ram Singh, I want you to arrange to set traps of cages and live bait, with trip wire to drop the gates, by all the labour dwellings on this estate, in particular set one by the home of  Raimoni over in her village.  I am sure we will achieve our objective and snare the shaitan!


The old headman realised the futility of further persuasion, his sahib had stubbornly dug in his heels.


"Very well sahib, we will prepare the traps as you direct, but this one is full of guile, I fear it will not be lured this way".  Ram Singh walked away from the verandah, an erect and proud figure, disappointed, but accepting without resentment, his sahib's decision.


"Come on slobber chops", Jim called absently to Butch, his handsome boxer dog laying inelegantly spread-eagled on the cool cement floor, "it's time to go home and slake our thirst".  He leant down to pat his hound affectionately on its' squashed forehead.  Butch


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reluctantly followed Jim into the glare and heat outside the protection of the office, grumbling and grunting his objections.


Jim crossed the compound towards the leaf shed, wincing, as a twinge of pain ran up his right leg, an inheritance from a shooting mishap some years ago in the Terai jungles at the base of the Himalayan foot hills.  A surprised boar had made a charge, although Jim had side stepped smartly, the animal's razor sharp tusk furrowed his leg, severing a small tendon.  The accident had left him with a lasting limp, a fact that the plantation workers were quick to seize on.  He became endearingly known as the ‘lengra sahib', which roughly translated means, ‘the lame one'.




The last women picker, emptying the contents of her basket into the waiting lorry ready to transport the leaf to the estate factory, ran to catch up with her friends, her heavy ornaments jangling musically.


The duty clerk handed Jim a note of the mornings' leaf weight, from which he noted an obvious increase, an agricultural trend which would now continue.  He swung his long legs into an open jeep left standing under the embracing canopy of a large ‘Gold Mohur' tree.  Butch had already taken up his customary position on the rear seat, a picture of amiable ugliness.


Jim steered the jeep along the winding estate road brushing against the sides of the vigorous growing tea bushes, on his way up to his bungalow, nestled on a small hillock.  A warm wind brushed through his fair hair, he screwed up his eyes against the harsh glare, wondering ruefully where he had put his sunglasses.


Jim was worried, the estate headman was quite right of course, if the leopard continued its depredations, his tea labour would begin to leave, which at the height of the picking season, would spell disaster.  He was acutely aware that it would require a piece of phenomenal good fortune to trap this inherently cunning beast.


Still, he knew that if the killings continued much longer, he would have to take a personal hand to the situation.  The resident labour and those from outlying villages, were poor simple folk, their only currency measured in the number of cattle they owned. A marauding leopard with a taste for easy killing would bring much fear and hardship.


Jim slowed the jeep to take the sharp bend leading to the bungalow directly above.  Butch, in an action of slow motion, slid across the back seat landing softly on the green


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 verge.  Master and dog usually finished this part of the journey home, with an exciting race to reach the haven of the cool verandah above, only this time Butch decided to snuffle out something he had seen in among the tea bushes.  With snorts of delight his brindle coat heaved in and out of the undergrowth.


" Very likely a hungry village dog hanging about the bungalow precinct looking for a hopeful tidbit."  Jim told himself, as the jeep whined away in low gear, up towards the bungalow.


Jim relaxed in the comfort of a cane chair, the blades of the ceiling fan swishing ineffectively at the torpid air to provide the semblance of a cooling draught.  Below the verandah where Jim sat, the sprawling plantation spread away into the distance towards the far mountains which were lost in heat haze.


"Send one of the servants to bring in Butch," he said to Arun, Jim's major domo, who had gently shimmered in to place a welcome drink of fresh lemon and ice at his elbow.

But, the report soon came in that Butch could not be found.  Feeling more than apprehensive, Jim drove his jeep criss-crossing the plantation, stopping frequently and waiting, expecting at any moment to see Butch emerge through the tea wearing a sheepish expression on his idiot face.  Now, he felt real anxiety, this was uncharacteristic of Butch, who was far too lazy to wander away from the security of the bungalow.  Jim immediately set in motion an organised search to scour every square inch of the plantation.


The news when it arrived, stunned him.  Poor Butch had been found, a grotesque mangled heap lying in a small clearing at the center of a ten acre section of tea.  The tell tale pug marks surrounding the remains, abundant proof of the leopards murderous presence and its' intentions to stay in the area.


Jim allowed his emotions to flow freely, sadly recalling the little bundle in its basket, air freighted up from Calcutta on the weekly ‘Dakota', flight.  Lifting the little mite out of the basket, the tiny gargoyle like face emitted a friendly 'yip', while the small stub for a tail, quivered uncertainly.  The affectionate bond between master and dog, nurtured out of the loneliness of his plantation work, had now been cruelly extinguished forever.  Jim's mood changed to one of unmitigated anger, justice must prevail, he would not rest until this blasted animal was dispatched.



page 6.



As dusk gave away to inky blackness, Jim found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that below his precarious position in the tree lay the remains of his canine ‘buddy.'  He

welcomed the arrival of darkness which would quickly  draw a veil over the unpleasant scene below.  A feeling of disbelief absorbed his thoughts, but he took some comfort from the recollection of the attractive village girl, Raimoni.  The task he was now undertaking, which was directed at the nemesis of the shaitan bhag was as much for her as to the memory of Butch.


The necessity for keeping still had produced a cramp and pain particularly in the area of his buttocks that gradually gave way to a tolerable numbness.  Jim felt the cool evening breeze kiss his face as it rustled through the smaller branches camouflaging his hideout.  The interminable cadence of cicadas busy in the undergrowth kept him company.  Glow worms, flitting over the tops of the tea bushes pulsating their tiny iridescent signals, seemed drawn to come over to hover below, in a show of silent homage.  Occasionally the piercing vibrations of a mosquito came close, intent on drawing blood, but veering sharply to avoid contact with the repellent that Jim had liberally smeared over his face and exposed limbs.


From over towards the estate houses a good distance towards his right, the precise lilting notes of an Indian flute floated over the stillness, the silvery music seeming to herald the rising moon.  As the light from the big orange orb broke over the jagged ranges, the darkness gave way to softer form and deeper shadow.  Far, far beyond the ranges, the great white Himalayan peaks peered down on to valleys below, untouchable, aloof.  Jim reflected that it was moments such as this that had made him fall in love with his remote plantation existence. 


Jim thought of his father running the family stock broker business located in the heart of the City of London, the mental drive and energy the old man had put into his work only to be rewarded with a coronary.  Jim had narrowly missed being drawn into the trap, the routine nine to five drudge, where yesterday, today and tomorrow merged into soulless  monotony.  He thanked the Gods that he took on board the advice of his great uncle, after leaving school.


"A couple of years apprenticeship with an engineering firm" uncle Harry had suggested, "dirty your hands a little and acquire some basic practical skills. When you have successfully completed the course, come back to me and I will give you a letter of introduction to my very good friend Sir Percival Coutts, chairman of the Himalayan Tea Company, Sir Percy will put you on the next boat to Bombay".


Jim's first few months adjusting to the life of a tea planter in north east India did not come easily.  The strange loneliness, the unfamiliar and quite different lifestyle

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handicapped by his inability to communicate in the vernacular, made the transition very difficult. But gradually he melded into the ways of his estate labour by taking a genuine interest, learning their language, customs and religious beliefs.  Essentially his people were simple folk, asking only for a decent wage and fair treatment by the sahib towards them and the welfare of their families.  In this way Jim developed a love for the people, which was reciprocated beyond measure by their unconditional affection and respect.


But Jim did feel apprehensive for his future.  The political mood in India was changing, slow in the beginning following the end of the British Raj in ‘47, but now with a fresh sense of nationalism that was making demands for the replacement of ex-patriates.  Not that Jim had any personal quarrel with these aspirations, what he wished for most was that the fabric of  the simple society of ordinary folk like his friend, Ram Singh, their intrinsic charm, and self respect, would be preserved.


Jim, could foresee that sooner rather than later there would be a sad parting and he would need to search for fresh pastures.  He felt daunted at the prospect of finding sedentary work back home in England.  No, he would cast his horizons elsewhere. After experiencing three contracts and two six month long furloughs back to England, a profound change of attitude had occurred that had palpably reshaped his thinking.  The people he loved so much and who loved him lived their lives at the bottom of an iniquitous caste system ladder.  As he felt empathy with them so he felt at odds with an entrenched class society back home, his preference would be to search for a fresh life with people of a background of a more egalitarian approach, easy-going and relaxed.   The thought also, of the dreary English winter sent a faint shudder down his spine, and the prospect of a life in a winterless South Pacific country, somewhere, posed a decidedly more attractive alternative.


The weird scream of a pack of jackals shattered the stillness; instinctively he felt that the leopard was close.  Faintly the crunch of bone and tearing of flesh reached his straining ears.  The moment of reckoning, he thought.  Jim lifted the rifle to his shoulder; the fingers of his left hand gripped the barrel searching for the torch attachment.  With careful movement he levelled the rifle, pointing it at the spot he had memorised.  A small circle of blinding light caught a pair of amber eyes, Jim, in a split second action, aligned the rifle sights on a mark exactly equidistant.  As the explosion shattered the peace, he heard a malevolent growl coming from behind his machan, followed by the crash of a heavy animal escaping through the tea bushes, in full retreat.


Jim cursed.  A very dead jackal lay slumped on the ground below.


Page 8.



Ram Singh, the old reliable and faithful friend to sahibs before and sahibs to come, appeared at the estate office window, the white unshaven bristles on his features enhancing his stature as the respected patriarch.


"What now, my friend?"  Jim asked feeling drained and weary following his abortive vigil of the previous night.


"I warned you sahib, that this one is cunning, only cunning can match cunning."


"It sounds like you have devised some kind of plan Ram Singh?"  Jim questioned.


"This morning sahib, I found the animal's trail from your machan, I followed it through the tea and through the scrub grass that borders our grazing ground area.  From there the shaitan veered south dropping into the cover of the gully that leads to the old tea nursery." 


"As you well know sahib," Ram Singh continued, "behind the abandoned nursery are thick clumps of  bamboos, I am certain sahib that the beast lies up in the shade of the bamboos during the heat of the day.  The leopard will be hungry tonight, sahib, if this evening we tether a fat nanny goat  in the vicinity of the clearing, adjoining the nursery, I have a strong  premonition that the bhag will accept the invitation and come for the bait."


As Jim listened to Ram Singh's sound advice, he felt a sense of deep admiration for the man's courage.  Alone, unarmed, and with complete self disregard of the dangers inherent, he had persevered in trailing, a querulous brute thwarted of its last meal.  Had Ram Singh accidentally stumbled on the animal, the consequences would have been terrifying.  Still, Jim detected a flaw in the old man's plan.


"But, Ram Singh, if we construct a machan under the leopard's nose, it will surely become very suspicious and shy away."


"Sahib, no, no," he remonstrated, patiently.  "You must take up a position on the ground, holed up in one of the abandoned tea seed pits, where you will have natural cover and can more easily observe the movements of the goat."


Jim turned the prospect over in his mind; it was a bold plan calling for some degree of fearlessness on his part.  But, he was committed towards completing his mission of delivering the community of the, now hated, scourge.


"Very well, Ram Singh, meet me here at the office an hour before sundown, and don't forget the goat.




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The last of the sun's rays caught the brow of Ram Singh's face, lighting up his lean mahogany features.  Pausing only to give Jim an encouraging smile, the old man slipped away.


Jim took stock of the situation from his unusual position.  Holding the rifle and bending one knee with his elbow resting on the other, he certainly had an unimpeded view over the top of the disused pit, which smelt dank and musty.  The goat was secured by a length of rope to the thick root of an old tree stump. Feverishly it nibbled away at the surrounding grass, its ears and tiny tail twitching nervously.  Between chewing, it paused and raised its head to look at the night drawing in, bleating its little heart out, pathetically.


Poor little animal, Jim thought, destined to die in sacrifice, for a cause it would never know.


A thick tangle of scrub encroached onto the clearing, bushy lantana and spindly ageratum, ample cover from which the leopard could launch itself.  Behind the scrub a curtain of dark green bamboos swayed and creaked in the slight wind.


Dramatically night's tense stillness claimed the brief twilight. Squinting over the top, Jim, could barely discern the white goat silhouetted against the inky background.  Hurriedly he withdrew into the security of the shallow pit, but a nagging thought that the leopard was at that moment laughing behind its evil face, preparing to spring on him, persisted in his imagination.  Gripping the rifle tightly he slipped the safety catch.


A pale moon rose slowly from behind dark craggy crests, shedding its' opaque glow onto the stage triggered for action.  Immediately the light was snuffed out by a black menacing cloud moving stealthily across the horizon.  A blood curdling Jackal howl, somewhere towards Jim's left, increased the flow of adrenaline coursing through his veins. He felt wet and clammy, with perspiration.  For what seemed an eternity the jackal kept up its maniacal call, when it stopped, it left a silent void that was unbearable.


The poor goat sensing impending doom began to bleat for its life.


"This is it." Jim said to himself, tensing his every nerve and muscle.  The goat's struggle to escape reached a hysterical pitch, as it pulled against the unyielding rope.  A low growl and a brief, but violent, scuffle extinguished the goat's cries of despair.


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Very calmly and so very slowly, Jim lifted his head in the direction of the leopard obliviously enjoying its repast.  Kneeling as before on one knee, easing the rifle silently over the edge of the pit, Jim, let his left hand slip over the torch contact, squeezing it


gently.  Instantly the beam of light focused on a beautiful if awe-inspiring spectacle, that of the huge cat, with its soft coat of tawny rosettes rippling over a mass of muscle and sinew, and its jaws tugging voraciously at the white immolation now dripping in a dyed crimson.


The target was too easy, carefully Jim aimed the sights at the white patch below the animal's left shoulder.  As the shot rang out, desecrating the silence, the leopard's magnificent head lifted in a slight question of surprise, then fell back.



The sound of drumming filled the still evening, the tantalising beat, an invitation to all to come and celebrate the feast to honour deliverance, by the sahib, of the dreaded shaitan bhag.


The people gathered dressed in their best finery at the maidan field, in front of Ram Singh's brick and thatched home. A temporary connection of electric wire to naked electric bulbs, run from the estate generator, provided a modicum of light, which would take better affect once darkness gathered.


Jim, with Ram Singh and senior garden overseers, sat at a specially prepared table.  The fare, a hideously hot curry of pork meat, the affects made insensitive only by quaffing tin mugs full of the best locally brewed rice beer.  Jim proceeded cautiously, eating and drinking only enough not to hurt the feelings of his hosts.  Jim's table was tended by the wives, but as is the dastoor, or custom, none sat with the men-folk.


As the party, lubricated copiously by the local ‘hooch' became more loquacious, Jim was asked repeatedly to tell the story of his recent exploit in every detail.  Such is the way, that events associated with the history of sahibs as they come and go, become enshrined in local folklore.


Now groups began to gather, each bringing their dancers and drummer.  Soon the young women would fall into jatra, dance lines, linked arms around waist, weaving in unison, their short intricate steps.


Jim scanned the sea of faces, but he did not see her.




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The drumming performed by the men only, began to take on a serious note, with competing groups, not to be out-done, also turning up the decibels to make their intentions clear.  Having eaten well, the girls felt drawn into the rhythm, linking up, side by side in teams of up to twelve in a phalanx formation, they commenced the dance.

Stepping forward three times, sideways once, and once back, then forward to repeat the routine, they followed the drummers in a circle. The pace set by the beat of the drum, now reaching a frenetic pitch.


Jim watched contentedly.  He felt a sense of euphoria, his people were well pleased, he had rid them of the scourge and they loved him. The pulsating rhythms began to affect his subconscious, and it was with a sense of exhilaration that he accepted the invitation of one of the young girls when she boldly pulled him into her group. Jim was a practiced dancer, falling easily into the pattern set by the leader.


The partial affects of the liquor sat nicely with Jim as he followed the steps with his two partners, closing one arm around each side of their supple waist, he could keep this up for hours.  Jim lost count of the number of partners, as they stepped out to be replaced by a fresh young dancer keen to enjoy the moment. 


As if in a trance, Jim became aware that his latest partner engaged herself sensuously against him more than ordinary modesty permitted.  Raimoni moved her lips close up to him to whisper softly. "Sahib, I am here to fulfill the promise made to my Lord Shiva, now it must be.  Let us slip away together to taste the rewards of our happiness."


The couple disengaged themselves to wander among the many other groups drumming and dancing through the night.  As they reached the perimeter where the harsh illumination gave way to softer shadow, they embraced, and then holding hands they walked away in silence down a track, allowing the blackness of night to envelope the couple in the tenderness of undiscovered feelings.


September 26 2006

This is an unusual story with its beginnings in the Dooars during 1954 and ending with an unexpected twist, twenty years later, in New Zealand.

My introduction to tea began at Telepara airfield situated in the Central Dooars where the ‘JamAir' workhorse Dakota had deposited me with my meagre luggage to begin what was to be a rewarding and unforgettable experience of tea management in N E India.  That early morning milk run from Dum Dum will be very familiar to those Dooars planters as the old Dakota flying towards the vast Himalaya mountain range backdrop, hopped from one airfield to another delivering its cargo of cold storage delights, machinery spare parts and the odd hung over planter late from a seedy Calcutta night club.

I was met by ‘Pep' Pepper an ex Fleet Air Arm pilot, the rotund senior assistant at Karballa Tea Estate where I was to serve my first year of Chota Sahib apprenticeship and I followed him towards the small office and reception building from where there were boisterous sounds of people gathered to welcome or farewell in coming and out going passengers.  My own arrival by the group was barely noticed, my Manager Jim Harper gave me a perfunctory nod, I gathered later he was there only to bon voyage Gerry and Joan Halnan and children, young Jennifer and brother Clive away on long leave to the UK.  Pep and I detached ourselves and proceeded back in the estate Pick Up to the bungalow for chota hazri.

Jim Harper was a tall slim built laconic gentleman of an avuncular nature with a wealth of experience of India and matters Tea.  He spoke several of the tea garden dialects with great fluency, he treated the garden labour with affection as if they were part of his family.  The labour loved and respected him, Karballa was a happy estate to begin a tea career on.  Sadly Jim was alone, a few years before, he tragically lost his wife in Ireland on a journey out of Dublin when the train she was on was caught in a freak winter snow blizzard.  Many passengers died of hypothermia trapped for many hours before rescue parties arrived.  Now Jim was looking forward to retirement in the following year having set his sights on running a little paper shop in a small village in Kent.  Jim had one attractive daughter, Eve.

I think Jim, now in the mellow mood of his last few months, saw in me, this very green new Chota Sahib, a little of himself when he was first posted to a remote tea garden in 1919.  He took me under his wing to gradually school me up, particularly with regard to labour relations.  I recall when he was explaining the two and a bud plucking methods and the requirement to break back and discard ‘banji' (barren) leaf,

"One thing you never do Perry", he said, "is to refer to any of these women as ‘banji' not even in banter."

Later at the Binnaguri club when the chairs were removed after the film to allow couples to tread the light fantastic to the music of scratchy Victor Sylvester and Jimmy Shand records, I would prop up the bar and watch, not inclined to test my two left feet.  The modern trend of free expression to music, with your partner, by frantically gyrating the hips and gesticulating wildly with the arms, had not yet been invented.  Jim, having returned from several strict tempo, Fox trots, Quick steps and a Gay Gordon or two with an assortment of gracious memsahibs, came up to me.

"Perry, don't you dance?"

"No, not really."  I replied

" You know Perry, you seem to lack the social graces."

I have to say I was somewhat chastened by his remark.  On the other hand, I was privileged to be the only Chota Sahib in the Central Dooars district allowed to escort his daughter Eve to Sunday swims at the private club pool.  Many a hopeful young assistant had approached Jim for the pleasure of some time out with his lovely daughter and been summarily turned down.

In 1955 Jim retired as Manager and Superintendent, he was given a very fond farewell by the labour and staff.  Before leaving he presented me with his own personal edition of "Castes and Tribes", to which I often refereed, a book I still have in my possession.  A few months later I was transferred from the Dooars to Assam, destination Khowang, the Manager there, Gerry Halnan.  Early one April morning I set out in my sturdy little Ford Prefect with a trusted ‘jugalee', (handyman) a suitcase or two in the back and my ten valve radio.  Two tea chests containing the rest of my possessions followed by rail on a goods train.  We tootled along merrily, through Cooch Behar, with its massive Maharajas palace looming incongruously over the town and its collection of poor shanty dwellings.  Then over the border into Assam to Jogighopa ghat to cross the Brahamaputura over to Goalpara.  Again smooth running, the Ford engine pistons cranked a happy tune without a murmur all the way to Gauhati where I caught the last evening gate catching the convoy of other vehicles to wind up the hill to Shillong for a few days.

Once again, having caught the early morning gate from Shillong, my faithful Ford chariot carried me and my ‘jugalee' now well rested and well fed, without mishap down the hill and up the valley, through Nowgong, Jorhat, Sibsagar and through Moran, where I consulted my little road map filched from between the pages of an old Assam Directory to realise that Khowang would soon loom over the horizon.

At Khowang I immediately developed a mutual friendship with the Halnans, the Jim Harper connection was a shared privilege.  Jim had influenced both our lives and careers.  On many an evening following leaf weighment, Gerry would invite me back to the burra bungalow for a cup of tea which extended to chota pegs and dinner.  We spoke of many things and on many subjects, often Jim's amazing early experiences of tea as he related them to Gerry would come up.  One in particular related to Jim's ordeal in shipping his very pregnant wife out of his tea estate, marooned by monsoon flooding and cut off from motor transport.  Jim had to hire a bullock cart to carry his wife, while following on foot helping the drivers with shoulder to the wheels when they bogged down.  Those were the days when one accepted such difficulties, taking what was provided by the Gods, without demur.

My story now changes scene to the Pacific and Tasman waters of New Zealand also known as Ao Te Aroa, Maori for "Land of the Long White Cloud."  After farewelling Assam in 1962, my then wife, beloved daughter Diane and beloved son David settled in the Midlands close to Birmingham where I chose a career in Banking, a quantum leap by any standard.  However I settled down to the sedentary pace of ‘bean counting' busy with banking exams and living in the midst of English semi detached suburbia.  For that period of 12 years, Assam and tea gradually receded from the memory. 

Without going into explicit detail of why, I now found myself in Auckland New Zealand to continue the next phase of Perry's peripatetic life journey. My first Kiwi job was as Paymaster for an NZ Wallboard Factory employing mainly Maori and Islanders from Samoa, the Cook Islands and Tonga, all of them a very amiable and relaxed group except after a surfeit of alcohol had hit their bellies at which point,  instant combustion would develop.  The Pub was not called the ‘Flying Jug' for nothing.  Every Thursday having worked out the pay, I would personally wander around the factory to distribute the wage packets.  Invariably they would thank me and say,

"You good pay man eh, come down to Pub, have drink with us."

For a while I declined the invitation.  Then I became involved with James Ashley Corbett.  James was the transport manager for the manufactured product of the wallboard.  He appeared at my office one day during those early times.

"Perry", he says, "you from India ?"

"Yes, James," I reply

"So am I, left in 1947 with my parents, they live in Hawkes Bay."

Hello, I thought something in common here.

"Any relation to the mighty Jim Corbett, famous slayer of man eaters in Kumaon", I inquired.

"No, not related at all," was the reply.  Later I found out that he did in fact, when the moment suited him, make spurious claims for being the great ‘Shikari's nephew but only to impress Kiwi curiosity.

" Perry", James continued, "the fellas would like to see you at the pub, care to come over after work"?

I assented and was rudely introduced to Kiwi Pub culture at saloon bar level. Upon entry I was immediately ‘shouted' a small glass and a two litre jug of Rum and Coke, a lethal concoction made worse if you follow up with further jugs and then change to beer.  After a few of these I thought ‘if in Rome, do as the natives do.' 

Driving home was no effort, pointing my car in the direction of my one bedroom home in the bush overlooking the splendour of the Manakau natural harbour, I merely drove by automated sixth sense, which in moments of lucidity from my alcoholic haze rather reminded me, splendidly, of my Chota Sahib days on tea gardens in Assam.

James and I developed a friendship, we played business house cricket together on Saturdays at the large Auckland Domain with twenty other elevens' who mostly wore white shorts and white long socks with their cricket boots.  A very peculiar Kiwi sartorial habit I thought, which I put down to the fact that they were too poor to afford to pay for long flannels.  "Go home Pom" was one of the many rude comments I received when I posed this question.  Fielding in the deep was a hazardous exercise as you had to spontaneously avoid flying missiles from adjoining match play while still trying to concentrate on the opposition batsman in your own game.  Win or loose after the game all teams headed for the nearest Pub.  Here was where James Corbett engaged me in his tactic to ease the pain of a semi inebriate home coming by asking me to call his wife to say he had invited me back to dinner and could she kindly pop another potato into the pot.  Poor Joan, his wife, could hardly be inclined to berate her husband, in the event of my arrival as honoured guest, while taking care also, to placate her with as much natural charm as I could muster. Mostly it worked.

As Easter 1974 hove into view, James very kindly invited me to travel with his family down to Napier, in Hawkes Bay to visit his parents, I could stay in a local Hotel and we could all then enjoy the festivities together.  I gladly accepted the offer as it also gave me the opportunity of seeing another part of NZ.  I thought it a good scheme to arm myself with presents for the old folk, a box of chocolates for mum and a bottle of Scotch for dad.

We drove down in two cars starting at a very early hour.  We headed down Highway One as far as the beautiful lake Taupo created a million years ago by a gigantic thermal explosion slamming debris over a vast area of the North Island of New Zealand.  Now the moonlight cast a serene glow over its waters with the dark dramatic background silhouette of slumbering volcanic giants in the form of Mt. Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu and Tongariro.  At Taupo we turned left from Highway One to head down exquisitely clad green native forests down steep valleys and gorges awash with sparkling streams to reach the fringes of eastern Hawkes Bay.  The area here and around Napier is full of towns with names associated with the Raj in India.  Some of these being the towns of Clive, Hastings, and Havelock North.

We arrived at the Corbett senior home a little before hazri time, where the family engaged themselves in the filial joys of greetings while I remained on the fringe of proceedings.  I distinctly felt an initial coolness and reserve towards this Corbett ‘hanger on' from Auckland, my gifts were accepted politely, however the old adage," beware of Greeks bearing offerings", sprang to mind.

The men sat down to a cup of tea while the chattering ladies took to the kitchen to prepare bacon and eggs for breakfast  Ashley Corbett turned to me and by way of an opening gambit for conversation, inquired.

"Derek I hear you were a tea planter in Assam."

"Yes" I replied, "that was an awfully long time ago."

"My brother in law, he's dead now, was a manager of a tea garden in the Dooars, I would visit him often in the course of my work in the district of Jalpaiguri." Ashely offered.

"So, where was your brother in law located?", I asked, brightening up at this interesting turn of events

"At Chonnabutti Tea Estate before going on to Karballa as top man for Andrew Yule", was the reply.

Immediately the penny dropped, Jim Corbett who was standing at that moment, a tall slim person, merged instantly as one with my memory of the figure of Jim Harper. 

"Good Lord, I blurted out, that must be Jim Harper, he was my Burra Sahib and I took out your cousin Eve", pointing my finger at Jim Corbett.

At all this Ashley Corbet could not contain himself, he dashed into the kitchen with great excitement, "My goodness me, this boy worked with your brother Jim," he almost yelled out to his wife.

Well after the furore had subsided, I had now become ‘top brick of the chimney', a recognised member of the family forever.  We cracked open the bottle of scotch toasting the memory of Gentleman Jim with several pegs before devouring a large and substantial plate of bacon and eggs.

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"We three, we're all alone, living in a memory, 
My echo, my shadow and me."

"I talk to my shadow, I speak with my echo, 
But, where is the one I love ?"

During the Forties and World War II, there emerged a popular singing quartet who became well known as the Ink Spots. Their harmonising was distinctive, broken only, by soliloquising the words of the song by the voice of the deep bass baritone member of the group. Their "Whispering Grass" was an all time hit, others were "Do I Worry," "The Gipsy" and of course, "We Three" This last hit was purloined by the BBC as a signature tune to open and close the comedy programme, "Happydrome." For those old enough to remember, the introductory line went like this, "We three, we're working for the BBC, Ramsbottom, Enoch and me !"

This story is about another we three, Bob Struthers, Sheikhawat and me. All of us were assistants working for Andrew Yule tea gardens, in the Banarhat area of the Dooars. We became inseparable companions, cementing the relationship over many a session of gin and pani's late into the night. The Banarhat chota kuti was the main assembly point, where I was the upstairs resident and 'Sheik' the downstairs occupant. On leave return from the UK, I had acquired, a priceless Platters LP and an Ink Spot LP, while rummaging through a record shop in the back streets of Aden. In our state of semi inebriation, we would fantasise and drool over the woolly sentiments expressed in the words on both those LP's, played ad nauseam, on my record player. We sang together with soggy meaning and reverence, our various thought associations linked to romantic past and present dalliances with the fairer sex. But, in the case of the "We Three" number we were a little more risque with the approach. Taking a leaf from the BBC, we parodied a version to go something like this, "We three, we love to pee in the same old WC, Bob Struthers, Sheikhawat and me."

'Sheik', Sheikhawat was a robust, virile, handsome young man from a Rajput family of good education and breeding. He possessed a certain elan bearing that was impressive. He was ideal tea planter material, self assured, he commanded respect. If Sheik had a failing, it was that he was forever "in love," sometimes with several ladies at the same time. Friendship was tested to the full when on numerous occasions, Bob and I had to extricate him from several complicated affairs of the heart that threatened total disaster.

Robert Struthers was born in London, one of two brothers. His parents moved to take the family to live in Wymondham, Norfolk, where Bob was educated at Grammar school in Norwich. Bob was called to National Service and joined the Royal Marines as a regular for three years. Bob's taste for overseas postings led him to Nairobi and the Kenya Police, where he learned to speak Swahali. After helping to fight the Mau Mau, he quit and arrived in the Dooars on Karballa Tea Estate. Bob was of sturdy build with fair hair and piercing blue eyes. He too had a devastating affect on the ladies. He had a quick rapier like wit and with his dry sense of humour, regaled his audiences with a fund of funny stories. Some he made up. I don't think Bob took life terribly seriously. Life was there to enjoy, "laugh in the face of adversity" was his catch phrase.

As will become evident, this story is more about Bob Struthers and several anecdotes concerning him, together with the development of our friendship, must be told.

Bob was in love. The lucky lady concerned was resident in Darjeeling. Distance from the Central Dooars was no obstacle. Bob had reliable transport in the form of a Lambretta Scooter. He suitably equipped himself against the changing pattern of the journey's temperature by donning his old Royal Marine camouflage jacket. Bob kept his tryst with true love, by regular weekend sorties. Leaving Karballa on a Saturday evening after tea, his faithful steed would carry him past our bungalow at Banarhat and with a jaunty wave he would phut, phut away into the distance. We of course worried and held our breaths for his safe return. Sure enough, during the early hours of a crisp cold weather Monday morning, the familiar throaty sound of his Lambretta, phut, phuting away, could be heard faintly in the distance, from as far away as the Jaldakha river crossing. We sighed with sleepy relief as Bob and machine with its healthy throttle, sped past our bungalow on safe return to the Karballa Chota kuti for a short early morning kip, before morning kamjari.

The onset of the monsoon dampened down Bob's ardour for the rest of the year. But he would claim that his Darjeeling visits were less for the pursuit of lust and more for a spiritual recharging of his soul as he breathed in the rarefied Darjeeling air while he gazed with wonderment, at the view of Kanchenjunga, from the verandah of the Planters Club.

Bob had this propensity for telling stories. A year or so after he had settled into tea, his grasp of garden Hindi had become quite fluent. This he loved to demonstrate by showing off his fast growing vocabulary during normal conversations. Ever the innovator, he would launch into Swahili when he became stuck, which of course, baffled everyone. Here is his favourite story told mostly in the vernacular, minus the Swahili. Where he sourced this yarn from is any ones guess.

The senior assistant returns to his bungalow with his new bride. It is evening and the master calls the bearer. 
Bearer. 'Ha. Sahib?' 
Assistant 'Whisky pani laow, memshaib ki wasti cocktail benow' 
Bearer. 'Bahoot acha Sahib', but hasn't a clue what a cocktail is. 
Bearer to Paniwallah. 'Paniwallah, cocktail kiar hi ?' 
Paniwallah. 'Hum nae mallum, cocktail nam hum kobi nae sooner, Bobachee kae poocho 
Bearer to Bobachee in the Bobachee khana. 
'Bobachee, Sahib cocktail munktha, hum cocktail nam kobi nae sooner. Cocktail kiar hi ?' 
Bobachee, thinks. 'Hum metha tail mallum, salad tail mallum, keresone tail mallum. Cocktail kubi nae sooner. Burra Sahib ki ayah bahoot hooseari hi, ayah say poocho.' 
Bearer is desperate and intercepts the wise old Burra koti ayah at the front gate, on her way home 
Bearer to Ayah, very rapidly. 'Ayah, ayah, chota sahib cocktail munkta, cocktail kiar hai ? Jaldee, jaldee bollo, sahib hum ko burra gali dayega !' 
Ayah ponders deeply, then blurts out the answer triumphantly. 
Ayah. 'Acha, acha, bap re-bap, abi hum mallum. Cocktal, Vaseline tail, hai !'

One could never label Bob Struthers as a snob. However, in some matters of perceived upper class practise, he was liable to weaken. Prefacing the Perry moniker, I had inherited a, St John, from my father, Maurice St John Perry. I was called 'St. J', or 'Singe', the labour called me the 'Jon Perris' sahib. So be it. The only advantage I found with the attachment, was that on a rare occasion it magically opened Northern hemisphere doors, otherwise closed. The effect in the Southern hemisphere is quite the opposite, so I consequentially jettisoned, St John, as I ingratiated myself into a more egalitarian society, trying hard to become an ordinary kiwi joker and of course as of now, a true blue aussie joker. So there you go, bonza !

Bob liked this 'St J' bit and must have been working on something similar for himself for a very long time. Bob pottered off on his first UK leave and based himself in the family home at Wymondham in Norfolk. We kept in touch by letter.

Sheik and I sallied down together to meet the refreshed third member of our trio when he returned to Telepara aerodrome. As the coughing, spluttering, engines of the Jam Air Dakota died, the doors opened and out popped Bob. He sauntered over with sartorial elegance, looking nothing like a tea planter, but more like the British charge d'af-faires from the consulate in Havanna. Clad in a fine, fawn coloured linen suit, he doffed his dapper new Panama, in greeting. Sheik and I eyed each other, we were impressed, this was splendid attire. The reunion was suitably muted, no great back slapping or anything like that, just the odd grin of welcome. That is, until Bob's luggage was delivered to his feet. Here again we noted a brand new set of matching cases freshly purchased from the Calcutta New Market. However on closer inspection, were astonished to note that the finely stencilled Struthers name had been rearranged to read, Robert St. Ruthers. Bob was enjoying the moment, then looked at us, and said, "Now laugh!"

This story does not quite end there. Bob came back with especially monogrammed letter head stationery with R St. R in bold letters. And for Christmas he ordered two matching Pint mugs engraved with the letters D. St. J. and R. St. R. with which we toasted our friendship on many an occasion.

There are many other droll stories to tell, suffice for a few selected ones. One of the best times we ever shared, was when I was acting on New Dooars and Bob was my assistant. Every day was hilarious, it was difficult to be serious, but I got by. The incumbent manager, Harry Smith, had a soft spot for the two of us. I was told later that Harry accorded me the ultimate accolade by never referring to me as that, 'Bloody man Perry' for failings during my acting tenure. My predecessors as his acting managers were all later prefixed with the 'bloody' epithet for not meeting Harry's high standard of expectation.

Bob followed me to Assam to act for me at Desam, in the Naharkotia district and Sheik was stationed not far away, still in the throes of falling in and out of love.

During the Sixties diaspora of ex-pat planters from the tea districts, Bob and I kept in touch by letter. Now growing tea in Papua New Guinea, Bob would visit me in England and I drove once to Wymondham to meet his parents. Bob's peripatetic journey then took him to the Copper mines of Bouganville Island where he performed the duties of Human resources, hiring and firing. Following the troubles at Bouganville, Bob, now married, settled down to a domestic way of life in the suburbs of Melbourne. Back in 1980, I flew to Melbourne from NZ for a holiday, met Bob at a wide assortment of Pubs, where we talked ourselves silly.

That was the last time I saw Bob, nor did I hear from him again for over 22 years, until very recently. I wrote, telephoned scoured the Australian white pages, Bob had disappeared. Shortly after my introduction to Koi-Hai in 2004, I posted a notice looking for Bob on the 'Where are they now site'. There was immediate break through, Bill Beattie from Cairns, responded. A few years previous, Bill's wife, Agnes, met a gentleman on a flight to the UK who was a travelling companion in the seat next to her. Bob Struthers was mentioned and yes, Agnes's companion knew Bob well from the City of Darwin.

Bob's domicile was now narrowed down to Darwin but short of flying up there to dredge every Pub in town, mounting an expedition to search and locate, seemed futile. Beside it is cheaper to fly to NZ than it is to Darwin.

Early in May this year, in the afternoon, I was staring moodily, at a blank 'Google' screen when I was prompted to type in, Bob Struthers, then hit enter. Scrolling down the page, I thought 'waste of time,' but continued to enter the second page. Half way down the list of Struthers names, a bold Bob, popped up, member of an exclusive group of consumers, of 100 Pints of Guinness, at a well known Darwin hostelry with Irish connections. The establishment boasted its own web site from which it took a moment only to extract the telephone number and address.

I made contact with Bob, we spoke several times, I wrote and promised to come to Darwin. Trouble was that Bob was poorly, and shortly after, taken to hospital. A very good friend of his kept me in touch with his condition.

On Friday 18th August 2006 at 11.50 am, Bob, aged 73, passed away. With wry humour to the end, Bob, before he lapsed into a coma, asked that he be taken to the 'burning ghat', without delay.

Bob's free spirit, I am sure, streaked away immediately towards the direction of Darjeeling, rested briefly at the Planters Club, before soaring over the massive Kenchunjanga range to become part of the Universe.

Sheik retired from tea in Cachar in 2004 and lives in Jaipur.

We Three, are now, We Two.
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