Tea Tales of Assam - WK Warren

Whilst perusing my ‘library’ I found a small book that I had forgotten about.

Having once again taken it down and opened up the pages, and started to read it in ‘bits and pieces’, the author has written quite a good story of the beginnings of the tea company James Warren & Co, who had owned tea gardens throughout the Assam Valley, especially so in the Doom Dooma district, and Tingri.

There are, of course, many references to the family Warren in this book, and the companies owned by them, plus a general description of the countryside in Assam at the time the family were consolidating their tea plantations.

One particular paragraph advises about the opening of the road from Dibrugarh to Saikhowa as follows:

“I have already mentioned that in the early days Assam depended in the main on its rivers for means of communication. Such few trunk road (Rajah Allies) as existed under the Ahom administration had fallen into disrepair and disuse since the Burmese occupation. Between Dibrugarh and Sadiya there was only the Rungagora road to Saikhowa ghat and then across the river to Sadiya on the frontier, and the Jeypore road to the Dehing where there was a military post on the Naga frontier. These roads, my father told me, were hardly more than forest tracks and only passable on horseback during the dry cold weather. During the rains it was necessary to do the journey by elephant. In due course, what is now known as the Sadiya Road was constructed and opened in Dibrugarh with great ceremony. A public holiday was declared, the local Regiment was turned out on parade and fired a triumphant salute as the Colonel Commandant in charge of the district made a suitable speech and cut the tape under the triumphal arch through which a bullock ghari decorated with garlands of flowers passed on the first journey by a wheeled vehicle from Dibrugarh to Sadiya. The Dibru-Sadiya raiway now runs alongside this road having been opened in 1884 under the auspices of Doctor Berry-White, I.M.S.*, who was my father’s greatest friend in Assam.”

Another interesting note is as follows: “During these early days, my father had a very close friend, R. Gordon Shaw, in business in Calcutta. During a period of depression his business fell on difficult times and it seems there was some likelihood of his having to close down. My father suggested to him that if he had to give up his Calcutta business he should come up to Assam and start in tea. With this idea in view he (my father) took up a number of “Free Simple” grants on Gordon Shaw’s behalf. These eventually became R.G. Shaw’s Assam Frontier Tea Company, but Gordon Shaw never came to Assam as a tea planter. It must have been about this time that Gordon Shaw was joined by C.W. Wallace and the firm of Shaw Wallace was formed and the business recovered and started an era of prosperous expansion”.

I think I must sit down and read this little book (87 pages) again!

Best regards

Alan Lane

*According to the comments further on in this book, it is stated that Dr. Berry-White was “The proprietor of the Panitola Tea Estates and Hukanpukhri Tea Estates and other Tea Properties” – He also established the Berry-White teaching hospital in Dibrugarh which carried his name until taken over by the Indian Government when British rule came to an end, and is now known as the Assam Medical College. The building of the Assam Railway was mainly due to his unremitting energy and perseverance and his negotiations with the Government started in 1878. A company was formed in 1881 called The Assam Railways and Trading Co.Ltd, and the railway to Margherita was completed and opened on the 18th February 1884 .