Bob Powell-Jones

My good friend Bob Jones

- by Larry Brown


Bob Powell-Jones was my good friend and mate for some 60 years. He was in poor health for some time and a recent fall resulted in further injury and sadly he died on the 29th December 2020.

In this sad time my thoughts and condolences are with his wife Dorothy in Shillong and his daughters, Louise and Jill, who are in the UK.

Bob was one of the very few who ‘Stayed on’ and is immortalized in Hugh Purcell’s book “After the Raj” that portrayed a number of expatriates who remained in India after most had left.

‘Planter Bob’ s the Chapter in the book that tells of Bob’s time in Shillong, a place where many former Tea Planters decided to spend their remaining years. Oliver Carruthers, Ralph Twist, Don Papworth were some, there will be no more, Bob was the last of this line.

Bob will also remain in people’s memory through the Tara Tea Garden he planted out for Mrs Nayantara Sawian owner of the LaKyrsiew Tea Company. This lady commissioned Bob to set out a tea plantation on her ancestral land at Barapani Lake. In my opinion this is one of the most picturesque settings for any tea garden in the World.

Bob joined the Makum Namdang Company and in the 1960’s and the people there were a close knit group and supportive of each other the Superintendent, Managers, Senior and all other Assistants got on well together.

All the Senior people are no more and the only one left is Austin Rufus and his wife Muriel who now live in Mumbai. They are both well.

Sadly Bob is the first to leave our ‘59/60’s group that is scattered in different parts of the world: Paul Sherman-James, and Peter Pett in the UK, Colin Bryan in Canada, me in Australia, Polly Rajpal in Jaipur and Raj Bhasin in Goa. We all keep in touch and the non India Residents have visited Assam and other parts of India a number of times.

My first meeting with Bob was when Simon Penney brought him to the Namdang Factory Bungalow where Polly and I lived. Bob had an old acoustic guitar slung on his back and I was impressed when he showed me two simple two string chords he knew!

Bob was easy going and easy to get on with and so started a 60 years friendship that had ensuing good times, escapades and adventures!

I’m sure Bob would not mind the telling of some of them!


Bob was a keen Angler-as was Eric Nagendra Singh.

They fished the Tirap River. Bob fell in one day and got in trouble as he refused to relinquish his hold on the fishing rod. Eric Singh jumped in and helped to get him safely to the river bank.The story is worth telling because a week later the situation was reversed -Eric fell in and this time, Bob (to coin that lovely phrase much used in India) ‘did the needful’


Bob and I spent local leaves either in Calcutta or Shillong and on occasions when we were keen on furthering our guitar learning from the Vanguards and Fentones in Shillong we would get into the Ambassador on Friday afternoon, drive to Shillong and return on Sunday evening. We had the blessings of our respective Managers. (this would not have happened in Doom Dooma or other regimented Companies!)

A few times the poor old Ambassador was overworked and punished;

On one of the quick trips to Shillong the Dynamo burned out as we reached the main Assam Trunk Road. There was a Full Moon and to conserve the battery Bob and I drove many miles by moonlight only. We managed to reach Nowgong where the car finally stopped.

A young Muslim man asked us about our difficulties and soon had an electrician/mechanic on hand who agreed to ‘Do the Needful’ and have the Dynamo back and fitted in a few hours. The young Muslim man invited Bob and I for a meal with his family and after this he said as it was a long drive back to Margherita we could have a rest in a spare room.

We were very grateful but neither he or his Mechanic friend would take any payment.

A payment had to be forced on the Mechanic and we made him promise to share it with his hospitable friend. The Sixties were indeed the halcyon days in Assam.

Punishment was given by Bob when after  leaving a Shillong house party with 10 Khasi Boy and Girl passengers in the Ambassador wrong instructions were given to Bob who was driving   and a wrong turn took us to “Jacobs Ladder”  The 200 steps in parts of this removed the sump and we freewheeled to the bottom. Having 10 passengers made pushing the car to nearby Service Station where in the morning a mechanic would fit a new sump. Ambassador Reg No ASE 685 was the only car ever to negotiate the original ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ – and Bob was the Driver!

A couple of the Calcutta ‘Adventures’

George and Zhava Traub of the Calcutta Dentist Family took Bob and I to a Dance at the ‘Golden Slipper’

Not long after entering the dance hall a fight broke out between rival Anglo Indian groups. Chairs went flying through the air but the battle was short and the rivals shook hands and the music and dancing began and continued without incident. (This is where Bill Hadfield from Tocklai got a small penknife wound after an altercation. He was most indignant as he said there were a few notices on the building that stated “STICK NO BILL’S”!.........


Bob and I were in our twenties when he suggested that we should have a look at a place called ‘ISAIAHS’ in Freeschool Street so that we could verify it’s  bad reputation. It was ‘Whites’ wearing time and there we were, two fresh faced 20 something year old young planters dressed in white shirts and pants about to enter a supposed  dangerous place where few if any planters went.

We went in, sat at a table and ordered two pint bottles of Giraffe Beer.

There were a lot of attractive girls in there and they smiled at us. There were many sailors  but no smiles there only looks at us with suspicion. Bob and I kept our eyes down when a bearded sailor, with a striped vest and a scarred cheek walked slowly past our table cleaning his fingernails with a long dagger-he gave us a leering grin and nodded to us as he passed.

Bob and I finished our beer  in about 5 seconds and were out the front door-never to return!


Bob had a good sense of humour  and when we stayed at Mr Poonwani’s Lytton Hotel we were always accosted by an elderly Rickshaw-wallah who clanked his little bell and asked for custom. One evening Bob said let’s get into the Rickshaw.

When seated the Rickshaw wallah set off and asked “Kahan jaiga”?

The laconic reply from Bob “Barackpore jaiga”

After a few more steps the Rickshaw shafts were lowered and we got a big smile in return for our big ones!

 He was even happier when we gave him a large tip. (Barackpore was 26 km distant)


In deference to the guitar group in Shillong, the Vanguards, who were our mentors, we called our little band ‘the Mudguards’-Bob, without us knowing paid a visit to the local tailor and surprised Ron and I with pink shirts with black stitching to go with our DJ trousers when we played at a Dance or Party. More could be written on the Mudguards and on the Tea Garden, TARA, that he planted on the Lake’s slopes for the Khasi Lady owner.      





                       Tara Tea Estate at Lake Umiam-Meghalaya

                        A lasting testament to Bob Powell-Jones