Dr Ernest Tooke, Jameson (1882-1950)


Seventy five years after his father left India, Rupert Jameson and his wife, Renate, 

travel to Assam to trace the past.





Researching Father    


Dr. Ernest Tooke, Jameson (1882 to 1950)


It was with trepidation that I made my way to the Head Master’s Office that October day in 1950. I had an uneasy feeling. I had been summoned there before, but usually for something punitive. As I write this, 68 years later, I remember well that summons. Mr. Hazard sat me down and told me gently that my father had just died in the hospital in Eldoret. He lent me his large green and yellow silk handkerchief as I grieved most tearfully. Amazing that I remember that handkerchief so well. Sadly, losing my father at the age of 13, I only realized after he was gone, how little I knew of his early life. My family consisting of my parents, my sister Alicia and myself had sailed away from England in 1948 to farm in Kenya. My sister and I were sent straight to boarding schools and it was there at Pembroke House, Gilgil, that the bad news hit me. I always felt since that time that I missed out on not having my Dad as a teenager, but also knowing nearly nothing of his personal history.

At home, we have many souvenirs collected by father emanating from Assam or Tibet. These include such items as ceremonial trumpets and horns, jade and silver tea cups, heavy brass teapots, Tibetan postage stamps and a box of old black and white photographs, mostly with no inscriptions on the back to indicate the place where they were taken. A few of these photos are marked with interesting names : Rangli, Teesta bridge, Kalimpong, Kala, Dochen Lake, Dak, Gyantse, Gangtok, Gantsa, Lingamanitang, Yatung, Amachu, Richengoan, Jalep, Gautong and Gilinka. It will be noted that Bengal, Tibet and Sikkim are featured as well as Assam. I only wish that Father had been more precise and diligent in recording his travels. Also, we have some of his silver trophies won in Polo tournaments, one from playing in Bishnauth and others in Quetta. What he was doing in Quetta is another question about which I have no lead. Just having these items stirs the imagination and made me think for years how nice it would be to know more about Father and where the items came from. We only knew that he had been the Doctor on some tea plantations in Assam and that he had gone into Tibet sometime. He had travelled in the Middle East (ancient cities of Babylon and Ur in present Iraq, Bagdad, Persia and up to Georgia) and spoke Arabic, Urdu and no doubt Assamese.

When it becomes hot and humid in Manila, where we now live, my wife and I like to go somewhere cooler if we can manage it. So in May we planned a trip to Sikkim and thought that afterwards we could spend time tracing my father’s roots during his 25 odd years in North East India about 100 years ago. It is nice to travel with an objective. We had never visited this part of India before although we had lived and traveled in India extensively. Previous excursions had included looking for graves of ancestors who had died in military service or while employed by the HEIC.  

Before leaving on our trip, we had done some research through various contacts associated with the tea industry, the Medical Colleges in London and Dublin, Golf and Polo Clubs which he may have been associated with and the inevitable Google. We wrote to a journalist and to any other party that we thought might be helpful. We tried to contact tea growers in the Cachar region without avail. We were luckier with the APEEJAY Ltd which owns the Borjuli Tea Estate in the Sonitpur region North of Tezpur. They were most kind and helpful, as without their help we would have had a hard time.

I know that Father spent much of his life on tea plantations in Assam, responsible for the hospital and the employees’ health. I knew also that he played polo, tennis and golf. His souvenirs which he collected are still with me and they indicate that he had often travelled in Tibet and the border regions in the North East. That border area was disputed even in those days. I remember Father telling me that when an expedition arrived in a remote village, all the inhabitants left to hide as they were not used to strangers. If they were Tibetans, they would have probably remembered the terrible Younghusband expedition of 1903/04 where hostilities broke out. Father put the wind-up gramophone, which the expedition carried, in the village square and played music. This would soon attract the curious villagers to whom he could then offer medical treatment. I often wondered what tune he played.

One time in Tibet, Father had great difficulty to buy postage stamps. He eventually succeeded and bought blocks of stamps, all of which I still have. Those stamps were first issued in 1912 and used for many years, so this fact does not help much in dating his visit. Incidentally, one block has an error on one stamp where it reads “POTSAGE” instead of “POSTAGE”.

Among my father’s papers was one concerning his experience in field trips into the Himalayas. He describes a punitive expedition led by Capt. G.A. Nevill, Political Officer, against the Dufflas of a certain mountain village. Nevill was the first Political Officer of the Western Section of the N.E. Frontier, established in 1913.

Father was born in Dublin in 1882, the second eldest of 9 brothers. He was schooled in Monkton Combe in England and then studied medicine at Trinity College, Dublin. His grandfather, William, was the scion of the Jameson Whiskey family and his grandmother, Elizabeth, came from the Guinness family. Together they disinherited themselves from any interest in the drink business. William, as a clergyman, found alcoholic beverages incompatible with his calling. His son, Robert, my grandfather, was employed as Land Agent on Lord Monteagle’s Estate on the Shannon River in Foynes, Limerick. He managed somehow to give a good education to all his sons ; sadly, two of them were killed WW1.

Trinity College Dublin revealed that Father wrote a paper on Epilepsy Treatment after graduating as a surgeon in 1907. He must have left for India soon after that; no doubt contracted already by a tea garden. We contacted the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin to ask if he had left any forwarding address. Marvelously, they informed us that in the 1920s he left an address as Kalacherra, Cachar, but in the 1930s his address was PO Barjuli. Now, this is strange because if he lived in Kalacherra, which is in Southern Assam, in the 1920s, it must be that he first lived in the North in the Borjuli region because we have a silver trophy awarded to his Polo Team dated 1912 Bishnauth, which is close by. It is possible that he moved to the South for a few years, perhaps working for the same tea company on another estate. The tea companies or their gardens change hands quite often. Records are difficult to trace or have been lost. Furthermore, only the Estate Managers’ names might have been recorded and not those of other employees.

Father left India in WW1 to join the RAMC. He served in Mesopotamia running a hospital on a barge on the Euphrates river. RAMC records show that he only completed one year 1915/16 but during this time his hair turned white from the stress of working in horrific conditions, treating badly wounded soldiers without modern facilities.

After the war, he returned to India where he stayed until 1933, taking of course home leave every four or five years. He sailed for example to Bombay in 1923 on the steamship Delta, no doubt returning from England. Notably, he traveled that time 2ndclass. I wonder if on other trips he worked his passage as a ship’s doctor. He made a trip in 1934 to Jericho, Jordan as a doctor on an archeological expedition. His sea voyages in 1948 and 1949 to Kenya are recorded but further passenger lists of ships to India I have yet to find.

When arriving in Bombay in 1923, he would have taken a train across Northern India to Guwahati or Tezpur. Before the railway reached Tezpur, it was only practicable to get to Tezpur by boat on the Brahmaputra from Guwahati.  

We were unable, in spite of trying , to find any trace of a tea estate near Kalicherra Father would have worked for. Therefore, we concentrated on Borjuli which is also easier to get to. We visited the ancient Station Club in Tezpur, wanting to ask the Secretary if he had membership records from 100 years ago. However, he was not available. An inspection of the premises showed a framed board showing past Club Secretaries. There we found that Capt. George A. Nevill had been Hon. Sec. in 1926. It could be that Nevill retired back to England soon after that. Since Father was his friend and had made some expeditions with Nevill, he took the opportunity to pay him a visit after he had left India in 1933. My future mother, at that time still unmarried, was due to visit her uncle George. George tried to put her off saying ‘there is a chap with me whom you would not like as he is not your type’. She went all the same and married my father shortly after. My sister Alicia was born in 1935 and myself in 1937. So, George became our great-uncle.

My parents stayed in England during WW2 with my father working as a doctor in Thetford, Norfolk. The family then bought a farm in Kenya and emigrated. After only two years there, Father died in 1950.

After visiting the Station Club in Tezpur, we felt that it would have been unlikely that Father was a regular there, as it was too far away from his hospital in Borjuli. It took us forty minutes to travel the distance by car and in the 1920s it may have taken longer and I do not suppose that he even owned a car. He told me that there were no roads around the garden. So he had to go by horse until he imported a belt-driven motorbike with which he could ride on paths, when he could get petrol to run it. It is more than probable that Father was a member of the Thakurbari Planters Club close to Borjuli Estate where the 19thcent. Club with a nine-hole golf course is still very active.

On arrival in Calcutta on 13thMay, we booked into the Lalit Great Eastern Hotel. The next morning, we made our way to the Park Road offices of Apeejay Tea Ltd (a subsidiary of the Apeejay Surrendra Group), the oldest and third biggest tea company in India. They own an impressive number of tea gardens in prime locations in Assam and they also own the brand TYPHOO. We were most kindly received by Mr. Razi Khan, Director/Sales & Marketing, and Shikha Mukerjee, Advisor/CSR, who showed interest in our endeavor. 

Assamese ceremonial welcome at Borjuli Tea Estate with Manager and resident Physician

After a 3-weeks visit of Sikkim and Darjeeling, we were picked up by the Borjuli Tea Estate car for the 3 ½ hours drive from Guwahati to Tezpur. The next day, we were taken by the same car  to the Borjuli Tea Estate. We got a wonderful reception and were given the traditional gamusas and colourful jaapi hats which are used in welcoming ceremonies and other special occasions.

Hospital tour with Dr. Sharma


Hospital and other staff including Mr. Nasfiqur Rahman and Dr. Sharma


Tea pluckers

The Manager of Borjuli Tea Estate, Mr. Nasfiqur Rahman,  and his staff showed us the 19thcent. Office block which probably has not much changed since my father lived there. It is preserved and cherished by the Estate. Mr. Nasfiq took us to see the hospital which Father must have looked after around 100 years ago and introduced us to Dr. Sharma, the Resident Physician and his staff. On touring the hospital, we even saw cabinets with ancient surgical tools and a microscope that Father may have made use of, conserved as souvenirs. I could now imagine how things had been at that time. Father’s house by the hospital had unfortunately gone and there was a new building on its foundation. We were taken around the Estate to watch the tea plucking and later to see the Thakurbari Planters Club, a short drive away. There was nobody there except the caretaker as members gather once a week on Wednesdays to play golf, tennis or billiards. I am sure that Father would have been a member. Mr. Nasfiq invited us for a most excellent lunch at his Heritage Bungalow set in a huge garden with big old trees. What a peaceful place! We took many photographs and left for Tezpur feeling satisfied that our mission was accomplished.

We had planned to make a journey into Arunachal Pradesh to visit Tawang which had been visited by Captain Nevill when he was responsible for the region. At that time, Tibet was still taxing Tawang. Today, the Chinese again like to make territorial claims in this region. We regretfully decided not to go as rain, cold and landslides may have caused us delays. Instead to Shillong we went for three days. I played golf on the ancient course but was disappointed to find it in a neglected state. The Club House is run down with nobody to ask about previous members. When we visited Shillong Club of which the Golf Course is part of, the President promised to task a secretary with looking up the archives. In my father’s photos I had found picture postcards of the golf course, the club house and other landmarks. As Shillong and surroundings are in a beautiful area with lots of pine trees and a cool climate, I can imagine that Father must have gone there sometimes for a holiday. It is today about 4 ½ hours drive from Tezpur. 

From Shillong we flew to Calcutta and stayed a week at the Oberoi Grand. Indeed a grand hotel and a pleasure to stay there. The heat and the high humidity were fearful but we still managed to visit places of interest. We were fascinated by the well-known Park Street Cemetery. It is an extraordinary atmospheric place that reflects a bygone age at which time two monsoons represented the life expectancy for an expatriate. Did they not know the risks before going out there? Perhaps the lure of a fortune was enough to ignore this. Fortunes were indeed made as reflected in some of the massive tombs.

We found two Jamesons buried there: Dr. James Jameson, Surgeon, Secretary to the HEIC Medical Board. He died in 1824 at the age of 35. What we presume to be his son, an infant, John, buried in an adjacent tomb, died the year before James. It was surprising to note that there were no crosses anywhere in this Christian cemetery. Why not?

Incidentally, another Scottish physician, William Jameson, born in 1815 and died in 1882 (the same year Father was born), was a botanist who was well-known for his development work in tea growing at Saharanpur Botanical Gardens which helped to develop the Kangra Valley plantations. From 1875 he was Deputy Surgeon General of India. He died in Dehradun, so missed being buried here in Calcutta.

We returned to Manila knowing slightly more about Father than before. It was a good mission.


Rupert Jameson 

Manila, July 2018