April 26 201

   It should be noted that this came from a newspaper and was wide with little height--I have to work vertical thus, this is as good as I could with the photographs  Editor                            


From the LifeArgus

  Tea planters tell of real lives behind the drama

 Plucking in Darjeeling


 Top Tea plucking in Darjeeling in the early 1990's with the Himalayas in the background One of the

guests at the Reunion in Sussex Caroline Melling who provided this picture, was born in Darjeeling

Below left is a plucker and her baby. Centre Jim Robinson's brother Myles and sister Minette outside

Sessa Bungalow which was built in 1875 and is typical of the old bungalows in Assam with the

thatched roof


20 | News The Argus

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 The Argus News | 37

THE lush green mountains of the Assam region are thick with a humid mist hovering over hundreds of miles of tea plantations.

Living in bungalows overlooking the tea estates British families would be miles from their nearest neighbours, fighting off cobras with sticks, seeing tigers and leopards roaming the garden and eating curries ten times hotter than anything they’d ever imagined. It was all part and parcel of the nomadic lives of the expatriate tea plantation families managing thousands of acres of the evergreen shrub in South East Asia and a million miles from the Sussex they left behind from the 1940s to 1970s.

The hit TV show  Indian Summers was full of drama, scandal and intrigue – but the reality was an entirely different story.  While the Channel 4 drama tells the story of the decline of the British Empire and the birth of modern India set in the summer of  1932, the reunion guests are very clear. They were not, and never were, part of the British Raj and the colonial rule of India.

They were staff employed by tea firms to manage the plantations after legislation split the Indian Empire into India and Pakistan. Sometimes they had Indianbosses but they also employed locals who plucked tea and helped to run their bungalows. They all saw Indians as equals, often becoming firm friends.  This year was the 50th and final time some 50 people met at the Hydro Hotel in Mount Road, Eastbourne, to tell tales of tea and their life in India. Although smaller gatherings will continue, the formal lunch will cease as numbers dwindle. Reunion convenor Jim Robinson, whose family worked for the Balmer Lawrie tea firm, now lives in Oxford but spent time in Bexhill and the surrounding area when he was not in India. The 58-year-old said: “The south coast was popular with tea planters. It was quicker to get to and the region hosts a lot of sporting events.  “Sports such as tennis, polo or golf were part and parcel of your term of employment. You were expected to take part, it was a way  of life and a way of bringing people together in India.

“We’re stopping the formal reunions because most people are getting too old or frail to travel but we hope to plan something informal on a smaller scale. “We have made friends and contacts for life. It’s been an important event with a lot of memories.”  A number of guests were writing their memoirs and some already had books published about their experiences. He said: “It’s an important part of history. We were not the British Raj.  We didn’t run India or control it but we worked there and made things happen.”

Mr Robinson said he had a strong connection with his Ayah, his Indian nanny. He said: “Everyone I have spoken to had a deep affection for their Ayah. “It was the person the child would know the most. “They would feed us and wash us.  Our fathers would be out working and our mothers would be responsible for running the bungalows – sometimes with 12 servants to organise. It was quite the operation.  “We were seen as part of the community – they saw us as their children and this was how we tended to learn the language as they never spoke to us in English. “My first words were in Hindi.  Knowing the language could save your life in some situations out there.

“I have visited a number of times since I left and went back last year. The welcome is always incredible. “I do miss it and it is difficult but you have to make a conscious choice of where to stay and this reunion allows people to share memories.”


                                                  a plucker and her baby


 Jim Robinson's brother Myles and sister Minette outside  Sessa bungalow


                                                               Two tea pluckers


Photos from left::

Jacqueline Patel, Caroline Morgan, Tertia Graves, Caroline Melling, Jim Dame, Jimmy Robinson


                                                                 Memories of Assam

THE cluster of tea planters milling on the hotel lawn overlooking the sea on a brilliantly warm and bright spring Tuesday each wore a small silver brooch depicting two tea leaves. This denotes the tender sprig at the top of the plant – the only part of it ever to be plucked and harvested for drinking. Guests travelled from all over, as far as Australia. A number of the planters settled in Sussex after their tea planting days, or spent breaks from India in the area, and told The Argus their stories:

Memories of Assam

Jim Dame   once had to fight off a cobra during the rounds of his tea gardens,

which wereinterlaced withstrips of jungle. It danced up at him “just like they do in films,” he said. Luckily, a
colleague made a stick for him out of bamboo on his very first day on the estate. He never knew what he needed it for until that moment, allowing him to fend off the creature before it slithered away.

The 81-year-old, who has now retired in Uckfield, first went out to India on a merchant ship as a tea planter in 1954 aged 20 and spent a decade there. He had planned to join the Army but was turned down due to poor health and instead applied for the job he saw advertised in a newspaper. He said: “I can remember the taste of the very first curry I had in Assam. It was 10 times hotter than anything I had before. It was a rite of passage.“One of the fondest memories was my first drive in a wartimejeep with my dachshund by myside. It was my own little kingdomand a wonderful life there.”

Caroline Melling’s    father Stanley – a farmer in Chyngton – joined Dooars

Tea Company Limited in 1949 aged 24. His contract of employment said he was not allowed to marry in the first five years of his work and he later had to ask permission to take the hand of Eileen Matthews from Seaford.

Caroline was born in Darjeeling, boarded at Micklefield School in Seaford and visited her parents during the holidays. She said: “This is such an interesting point of social history. They were very much workers and integrated in society. People were treated with respect. “One of my earliest memories was travelling over on an aeroplane on my own. It was not a normal childhood. It was a very adventurous life; my father went on elephants. He wouldn’t have done anything like that if he had remained a farmer. “We saw tigers and leopards in the tea gardens. We used to drive back from the club and see the wildlife roaming through the teagardens. This is why the reunions are good – to meet others who had a life overseas and talk about the old days.”

Caroline Morgan,      62, of Seaford, recalls travelling out to India from

to visit her family with her brother Paul Graves, now 64, and having a luggage label hung around her neck. She said: “That is what they used to do for all the children who travelled alone to join their families. It made you feel incredibly important.  “Our life was not at all like the TV show Indian Summers. It wasn’t the days of the Raj, it was after independence. People went out as employees and had Indian bosses.

Tertia Graves,    Caroline Morgan’s mother, travelled on the last ever trip on

a flying
boat – a seaplane – for five days to join her husband Cyril. The 90-year-old, also now living in Seaford, was the oldest of the guests at the event and said: “It was all completely new to me. I was young and courageous and took it as it came. I had to lookafter the bungalow and the servants – it was very boring sometimes.
We would take records with us and read books and wait for our husbands to come home when we would drive to the club which was about 10 miles away – that’s where the social life was – for ‘meets,’ games, drinks and films.
“The tea planters were often exhausted – they worked long hours. Cyril looked after about 100 staff across 10,000 acres. The women did the plucking because their fingers were delicate to pick the leaves and the men did the pruning. It took 10 days to harvest an area.”

Lalli Crow    was 18 when shefirst went to India with her husband. They spent

managing their plantation before he drowned in a fishing accident at which point she moved into a village and lived there for 12 years, keeping chickens and cows to sell milk and eggs. The 81-year-old said she “absolutely hated” her first two years of life back in England and still wears a series of beautifully patterned saris.

Jacqueline Patel,    who used to study at college in Eastbourne, admits she is

still somewhat of a “Gypsy” because of her upbringing between India and England. Her father Iain Ross, 82, was one of the last tea planters to leave Assam when all the plantations were entirely handed over to Indian managers. She said the reunion was an incredibly emotional experience.  The 55-year-old said: “The house I have now in Epsom is the first I have truly settled in. I see India as home and



Jim Robinson with an ayah at the Sessa Tea Estate

ASSAM is one of the most important tea growing areas in the world. Situated in the North Eastern part of India it has the right climate and growing conditions for tea which was originally established in the mid-19th century by the British East India Company.

The first tea garden was Chabua Tea Estate in 1837 and one of our guests, Pauline Hamilton, was born there. Most of the bungalows in Assam where tea planters lived were either Victorian or Edwardian and the tea estates overseen by a manager with an assistant with superintendents looking up to about five gardens within one of the many tea firms such as Jardines, Gillanders, Balmer Lawrie, James Warren, Williamson Magor, McNeil Barry, Octavius Steel and WD Goodricke.

Originally the tea was transported down the Brahmaputra River to Calcutta but the train line and then planes from Dibrugarh sped up the process. Tea planters would often take annual leave in England and many chose the south coast, often deciding to settle in Sussex on retirement from tea. My own family bought a house in Bexhill to make it easier to do this, especially since I started to go to Sandown School and then on to St Andrew’s in Eastbourne.

My sister went to Ancaster House in Bexhill and my brother to Bexhill College.
Even in the early years of tea the south coast was a favourite holiday destination for tea planters who also sent their children to school there. Many tea planters left India in the 1960s or ’70s.