Manufacture of Black Tea by Charles Alexander Bruce

 December 6 2011
This is the start of the Beginnings of Tea and this new page has been created for it--it is  being spearheaded by Derek Perry and Larry Brown whom we thank for all their hard work 

December 13 2011

The First story is an 1838 Account of the Manufacture of Black Tea as practiced at Suddeya in Upper Assam by C A Bruce who was the Father of Tea in Assam

it is presented in PDF form to allow the reader to increase or decrease the size of the print page by page--enjoy

Click on links below to read each page
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These are the gravestones of Charles Bruce and his wife Elizabeth 




Below is the second story

                              TEA IN ASSAM


                        THE BRUCE BROTHERS.


                                                  (Written and researched by Derek Perry)


                                                COPYRIGHT  DEREK PERRY




                                                           Page One


It would be a truism that most people associate Scotsmen with the soothing amber liquid brewed for centuries, known to all as Whisky.  This story is about two brothers born in Edinburgh in the late eighteenth century.  They are Robert Bruce and his younger brother Charles Alexander.

 Both left Scotland at a young age to lead adventurous lives, Robert with the Army and Charles with the Navy. The year now is 1823 and through an odd set of circumstances both brothers found themselves campaigning in the remote upper reaches of North East India.  This land, known as Assam was occupied by Ahom Rajas subservient to oppressive Burmese rule. To the brothers can be attributed the discovery of Tea growing wild in large areas, where local people had been imbibing an amber liquid from a brew of dried leaves they called chai.  This discovery was to make a momentous change to the whole face of that part of India.

Little is known of Robert Bruce's early Army career. A search of records held at the India Office of Family History, provided the following:

Robert Bruce, born 19th May 1789.  Location:  St. Cuthbert's, Edinburgh.

Parents: Daniel, of Grass market; Ann Robertson.

Notes: Cadet 1807.

As a young midshipman Charles Bruce served on H M ships in the Mediterranean in campaigns against the French during the Napoleonic wars.  Later he is on his way to India.  Charles in a letter home writes:

"I left England in 1809 as a midshipman on board the  "Windham" under the command of Captain Stewart, and was twice captured by the French on the outward voyage  after two hard fought actions"

He was marched across the Ile de France ( Mauritius) at the end of a bayonet and kept prisoner on board a ship until the island was re- taken by the British;


 "thus I suffered much, and twice lost all I possessed, and was never remunerated in any way.  I afterwards went as an officer on a troopship against Java, and was at the taking of the place.  At the outbreak of the Burmah war, I offered my services to Mr. Scott, then agent to the Governor General and was appointed to command gunboats.  It was my good fortune last year to go against the Duffa Gaum and his followers, who threatened to over run our frontier, and it was again my good fortune to expel him twice with my gunboat from two strong positions."

The upper regions of Assam would have seemed to the outsider as the most unlikely place on earth for any European to contemplate moving into during the time of its

 occupation by the Burmese.  Yet by an extraordinary set of circumstances the Bruce brothers were in Assam at a pivotal time of its history.  The timing was perfect as a new order dictated by the presence of tea was to set in motion a most unexpected commercial enterprise.

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.  These last waves 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.   This was 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 Brahmaputra valley.  Their success was hampered not so much by enemy resistance as from the impossible terrain and bad weather. 

Sir Edward Gait, extract from, "A History of Assam".

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 GauhatiThe 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.
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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 Brahmaputra.  The former,

which was remarkably well served by its Intelligence Officer, Lieutenant Neufville, 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 Patkai, 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 Singphos 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.

(Taken from Gait's History of Assam published in 1905, an invaluable text book for the serious study of Assam from earliest times.)

Following the expulsion of the Burmese in 1825 and the signing of the Treaty of Yandabo  in 1826, the condition of the Brahmaputra 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 new 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 transformation was the discovery of the Camellia Sinensis tree growing prolifically in the wild in large areas within the dense upper region forests, north east of the Burhi Dehing river.  In one stroke, and, quite by accident, tea was found growing wild in this remote area.

Right up to the time of conflict in Assam, the popular source for tea was associated only with the China trade.  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 quantities to satisfy the growing thirst of the British public. The propagation of opium was actively encouraged by growing the poppy plant and 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 in India 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 Himalayan 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.  He was on board with Cook when unexpectedly a lush green country appeared from beneath a long white cloud, now named New Zealand.  Sir Joseph's documentation and sketches of the fauna and flora of New Zealand, is famously recorded.  Banks Peninsular near Christ Church, New Zealand is named in his memory.


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 mortals.  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, and 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 Jogighopa which is situated on the north bank of the Brahmaputra, opposite the town of  Goalpara on the right 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 contending amongst 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 were 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 surprise discovery of this beverage with all the qualities associated with a good cup of tea, he died.  However, before his passing, Bruce was able to convey information about the common use of tea by the North Eastern tribes 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 any kind of impact with the Tea committee set up by the Governor General Lord Bentinck,.  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 Jogighopa 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 Singphos.  It is more than likely he used the narcotic for trade with the people who were fast becoming addicted.  This probably accounts for the friendly reception he received from the Singpho chief, Bessagaum over their celebrated ‘cuppa tea' and with it the secrets of its source.  Robert died and was buried at Jogighopa, about the year 1824. 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 the uncontrollable Brahmaputra waters in full monsoon flood intent on shaping a new course.
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In 1955, I was on transfer from Karballa Tea Estate in the Dooars to Khowang in the Upper Assam valley, I decided to make the journey driving my little battered old Ford Prefect.  We travelled through Cooch Bihar and headed down to Jogighopa, then a nondescript shanty bazaar town.  By crossing the Brahamaputra on a ferry boat to Goalpara, I advanced uneventfully up the valley, towards Khowang Tea Estate situated in the Lakhimpur district.  The journey of some 600 miles was completed in two days.  Little did I realise that I was probably following, at a comfortable motorised pace, the 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 question is whether Charles was recruited for the position of commanding the gun boat flotilla because his elder brother was conveniently on the spot or did his command come about in the ordinary course of HEIC duties?  Of course, it may have been only coincidence that his elder brother, Robert, was resident and active in the area. 

Whatever the circumstances of his presence, Charles's previous Naval experience made him the ideal 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.  He would have gained valuable local knowledge of the conditions for the possibility of future tea cultivation, Chinese style. Once the Burmese were ejected, it is known that Bruce sailed his gun boat the "Diana" exploring the many tributaries close to the foot hills.  On occasion when the Singphos and Nagas objected to his activities, Bruce lobbed a few well placed cannon balls into the villages.  This high handed tactic was meant to secure respect among the local people. Charles Bruce was of a very perceptive mind and saw a vision for the future with the country of Assam becoming the major exporter of Tea. 

Meanwhile, the evidence that tea existed as a natural plant growing at their very own door step, languished in Calcutta botanical circles.  This was 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 soon to develop which quickly changed the political landscape.


A Tea Committee was appointed in 1833 by  Lord Bentinck, the Governor General, it 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 the 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.

A turning point 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 Charles Bruce was appointed by the Government to Superintendent this great project. The Committee again demonstrated 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 an ox, ingenious and versatile, he was impervious to any criticism.  He had the gift for making friends among primitive people aided by his reputation for putting his gun boat to good use.  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.  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 supported with 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.


This was a most prophetic statement, although, realistically, the whole of Assam could never be fully covered by Tea gardens.  By the 1950's when I drove up the valley between the towns of Jorhat, Sibsagar and Dibrugarh, as far as Doom Dooma.  All along this stretch of main trunk road for nearly 200 miles between, areas of paddy fields, acre upon acre of tightly knit tea bushes merge with the landscape. All the tea bushes carefully cultivated to give a luxurious green table top effect, shaded by a tall canopy of 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 brother's opium trade, 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.  However, 15 years after Robert Bruce's' 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 picked the new leaves as they sprouted.  Largely with the help of his Chinamen he manufactures the product we call Tea.  Somehow a batch of eight chests survived the hazardous journey by country boat down the Brahamaputra through the Sunderbans 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.


  From, H.A. 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 the 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. With those final remarks, C A Bruce fades forever from the pages of The History of the Assam Company 1839-1953.


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.

Our family has a proud connection with Robert Bruce; my great grand mother, wife of Achille de la Nougerede, is his grand daughter.  It is frustrating however that recent extensive search aided by media advertising has failed to trace other descendants.

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 Brahmaputra.  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. There is record that he worked the areas north of Tezpur, as far as the Bhutan foothills.  This area, today, is fairly densely covered by many Tea gardens, of which many may owe their existence to the work of Bruce. He is buried at Tezpur where he died in1871, his wife Elizabeth, born in 1804, passed away in 1885 rests with her husband.  Elizabeth lived to a handsome age and one wonders if she too came from hardy Scottish stock. During their twilight years the couple devoted many years to Christian missionary work helping poor people in the area.

Tezpur town is delightfully cradled among low hills descending down to the Brahmaputra River, meeting the waters at its widest points.  Here the River drifts lazily by giving the impression of a very wide picturesque lake, studded with brown sand dunes.  Often by evening the scene is of busy silhouettes in the distance of small fishing craft under tiny sail, gliding gently in and out of the reflected colours of glorious sunsets.

Back in 1955, my father was posted to Tezpur as the Deputy Commissioner with responsibility for the Government of Assam's administration of the Darrang District. At that time I was Assistant Manager on Khowang Tea Estate about 15 miles south of Dibrugarh Airfield in Upper Assam.  From there it was a mere hop over to Tezpur by regular daily Dakota flight. During some 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 visited his grave site.


 The house he had built for himself apparently still stood and was one of several nestling grandly on the side of a hill sloping down towards the Brahmaputra.  Also there were still a few elderly residents whose forebears were contemporaries of the Bruce era.  It was known that they told many interesting stories about the great man and may have held the answers to where descendants of Bruce's family were dispersed. 

The following year, 1956, I was transferred back to the Dooars in Bengal.  I piled some of my belongings into my old Ford war horse. The rest packed into a couple of tea chests to be despatched by rail.  Retracing my journey of the previous year, I called in to visit my parents at Tezpur for a few days of R and R.  This offered the ideal opportunity to do some Bruce trailing. Regretfully, it seemed that even with the best of intentions, those threads of the past, were overlooked and left unexplored.  I farewelled 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 River on the paddle steamer to the south bank I was too pre occupied with the long motor journey ahead to regret  the lost opportunity of discovering more about the brothers, Bruce, and with it the heritage of our family connection.


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  The Bruce Family details

CHARLES ALEXANDER BRUCE.  Born Edinburgh, Scotland in 1793. Died Tezpur 23rd April 1871

Age 78 yrs

Married to ELIZABETH: born 11th March 1804 died Tezpur 19th Feb 1885  age 81 yrs.


                                         FATHER OF THE INDIAN TEA INDUSTRY.


Family background:
His Parents:    Daniel Bruce and Ann Robertson*. Married 6th March 1788, Edinburgh, Midlothian,  SCOTLAND.

 They lived in a locality called ‘Grassmarket' which is south of Edinburgh Castle.

 The area still exists and has a checkered history.                                                    


Robert was the eldest in the family and he was born at St Cuthbert's in Edinburgh
On the 19th May 1789. He was a Cadet in 1807 (18yrs old)  (After his Army career   He established a Trading Post at Jogighopa on the banks of the Brahmaputra River. He was a close friend of the Rajah, Purandar Singh who introduced him  to Beesa Gaum, a  Singpho Chief who gave him tea plants. These were passed on to Charles and from then   on the story of tea establishment is well documented.) 

 Margaret Charlotte Bruce, Charles Alexander**,  Maria and Cecilia were the siblings of  Robert but the family grew with the addition of four brothers later. Margaret Charlotte may have been the youngest of the Bruce's and her marriage Is recorded thus: Margaret Charlotte Bruce was married (under age) to Charles Joshua Jones, Asst, Military Audit Office, on 18th March 1829 in Calcutta Cathedral.)

(some dates may have been recorded erroneously though it is possible that Margaret Charlotte could have been born 20 years after Charles Alexander.  It's not known  Whether she was born in Scotland or India. It's possible that she might have been invited By Charles and Robert to come to India as part of the "fishing fleet"    


Charles and Elizabeth's family: Donald James Bruce-born 30th August 1830-Suddeeah-Assam-christened 10th August 1835-Bengal Church.

Charles Farquhar* Bruce-born 29th Sept 1832-christened 16th August 1835.

Elizabeth Masters* Bruce-born 12th December 1840-Jeypore-Upper Assam-christened    12th December 1841.

 Francis Jenkins Bruce-born 31st July 1837-Suddeah-christened 12th December 1841.




*Ann Robertson was born 3rd February 1770 at Dalkeith, Midlothian. Her parents were Robert Robertson, born c.1729 Dalkeith and Agnes McLaren, born c.1733 Dalkeith, married 14th June 1754 Dalkeith.

**Various sources have indicated that Charles Alexander was one of six brothers and many Bruce's are listed as having tea gardens in the near Tezpur in the Darrang District of Assam. Charles' own garden "Bindukuri" is near Tezpur. The family was therefore made up of 6 boys and three girls.
*the middle names of Farquhar, Masters and Jenkins are interesting -  There were many    Scots Farquhars in positions of authority in Bruce's time.

Masters:    the Military Forebears of John Masters, author of Road to Mandalay, Bhowani Junction   Bugles and the Tiger and many others with the plot set in India. Masters was the son of a Lt  Colonel whose family had a long connection with the Indian Army. Conversely, it may have some connection to one of the three Superintendents, a Mr Masters, who was in charge of   the Southern Division of the Assam Company. Bruce and Parker were the other two Superintendents.

The Assam Company started in 1839 and was the first Tea Company in India.
  Lt Francis Jenkins)-had many expeditions to Tibet/Burma via Suddeeah and is cited by many as being a discoverer of the tea plant along with Robert and Charles Bruce, Maniram Dutta Barua and Lt Charlton. Although a number of people are credited with the discovery of the tea plant, Charles is, however, universally acknowledged as the pioneer who laid the foundations for the tea industry in Assam and is rightfully called the Father of Indian Tea.  







This has been compiled with the kind help of Derek Perry, Janina Hadrell and Paul Tucker.          

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