We are indebted to Fiona Scott for sending this story, written by her father John Clark about his joining Tea in 1926 and his journey out to Assam via Calcutta. An interesting read about a newcomer commencing his career from Kolony Tea Estate.
It is now over half a century since I first passed through the portals of 22 West Nile Street, Glasgow C 1, the address of Finlay's Glasgow offices in those days. I think it was early 1926 I answered an advertisement in one of the Scottish papers for "Young men with engineering experience to be trained as Tea Estate Managers".
In July 1926 I was working in Birnam (the Gateway to the Highlands) and had gone down to Largo, situated on the north coast of the Firth of Forth, and the birthplace of Robinson Crusoe - to visit my parents who were there on holiday. It was a beautiful sunny day when I met my parents on Largo Pier and Father handed me a letter from Messrs. James Finlay & Co Ltd, Glasgow, requesting me to call their offices on a certain date. Little did I realise the tremendous difference this was to make of my life!
I duly called at 22 West Nile Street on the day mentioned and was interviewed by a Mr. Warrington. I have never forgotten how Mr. Warrington put me at my ease, and the great kindness with which he treated me. During all my years with Finlay's I have always been treated with unfailing kindness and consideration by all those in authority, a fact for which I have never ceased to be grateful.
Largo pier, by the way, is nothing like Brighton Pier! It is, or was, just a jetty built from solid stone, to form a harbour for fishing and other small craft between the pier and the spur of land on the other side. Many West of Scotland people went to the Fife coast for their summer holidays year after year, and many must remember Largo Pier with nostalgia.
Mr. Warrington told me he thought I would be suitable for the position in mind, but he liked Mr. Mann - who had been I understand Findlay's Visiting Agent in India - to interview applicants. Mr. Mann however lived in Edinburgh, and only came to Glasgow two or three days a week, and was not on that particular day in Glasgow. I had traveled though from Dunfermline, where my home was, and would it be convenient for me to return home via Edinburgh. Would it be convenient!! In the twenties when men with University degrees were working as door to door salesmen, anything would be convenient when applying for employment. I therefore paid my rail fare returning to Dunfermline via Edinburgh. Mr. Mann lived in a house called "Red House" in a residential district of Edinburgh. It was a beautiful house built with red sandstone. The interview with Mr. Mann was very pleasant, and he told me that I would probably be confirmed in the position offered.
However a temporary shock was about to follow! I was again called to Glasgow and informed by Mr. Worthington that the position I had been offered had been filled in India! This was a blow. Mr. Warrington did not however prolong the agony. He told me that the position had been as an engineer assistant to the Sapoi Tea Company. This company, of which Sapoi was the only estate, was what was known as a "Rupee" company, and for which Finlay's in Calcutta were the Managing Agents. Mr. Warrington told me that he had not been too happy about sending me to Sapoi, a fact that I did not fully realise at the time, and only did so after I had been a few years in Assam. He continued that he was sending me out to Calcutta where I would be employed as an assistant manager on an Assam Tea Estate in one of the Finlay Group of Companies. This was indeed a lucky break for me.
My first Agreement was duly drawn up, dated 23rd September 1926, at a starting salary of Rs.250 (18 pounds and 15shillings) per Mensem, starting from the day I first joined an estate. This Agreement was conditional in those days on the applicant being able to deposit 50 pounds with the Company. This amount was remitted to India, and the equivalent in Rupees held for the disposal of the applicant. This money was mainly for the purchase of a tropical outfit in India. Glasgow office paid me Ten pounds for my expenses during my journey to Calcutta - An account of such expenses to be presented in Calcutta.
All arrangements having been made I set off from Dunfermline by train to London on 12th October 1926. It may be of interest to know that my 3rd class fare cost 2 pounds12 shillings and 11 pence. On the 16 October I took a train to the Albert Docks, London - railway fare one shilling and eight pence where I boarded the steam ship "Novara" for Calcutta where we arrived on 20th November 1926.
1926 was the year of the General Strike, and goodness knows what they were firing the ship's boilers with. What I do know was that accommodated as we were in the 2nd class, aft of the funnels, we were periodically covered with black ash!! I am not a very good sailor and it generally takes me about a day before my stomach settles down. The first night on board I settled down on deck in a deck chair to read. The book I had was that excellent book by Jerome K. Jerome, "Three Men in a Boat". Unfortunately the first chapter in the book turned out to be all about sea sickness!! However the book is such good reading that I soon forgot all my troubles.
Our first port of call was Valetta in Malta. - All golden, appeared to just rise out f the ocean, bather in sunshine and history. We went ashore for a little, and had a cool drink in a restaurant. An elderly gentleman approached us and asked if we were interested in seeing the dancing girls. I was very young at the time and thought it very strange that anyone would want to look at little girls dancing on a beautiful sunny morning. Our next port of call was Port Said, where we took on coal, so no more black ash aft the funnels. I can still see in my minds eye, men with baskets of coal balanced on their heads running up a plank into the ship, then running down another plank out of the ship with their empty baskets. An elderly Anglo Indian lady asked me if she could come ashore with me. All she required was someone to escort her off the ship, and then she would leave me to my own devices. Somehow or other she never left me all the time we were ashore. However I think it was to my advantage as she introduced me to Simon Artze, a famous shop in Port Said at that time, and no doubt gave me some sound advice.
Our next port of call was Port Sudan - we did not call at Port Suez - which in those days was very primitive. I was interested in the Fuzzy Wuzzies. A name, I should think, derived from the hair style of the local men, which was favoured by many of the young men of today in the Western world. Next was Ceylon, or Sri Lanka as it is now known, it is a beautiful place.
We next called at Madras and on to Calcutta.
I was met off the ship by an Indian gentleman employed by Finlay's , I suspect that he met all raw young men from U.K. and elsewhere, and was escorted to Finlay's offices which were in what was know at the time as No. 1 Clive Street.
There I was introduced to Mr. T. C. Crawford, head of the TeaEstatesdepartment.
Mr. Crawford greeted me with the rather disconcerting statement that he had no idea why Glasgow had sent me out, and goodness knows where he was going to send me! However he introduced me to a very pleasant young man who was instructed to arrange accommodation for me at the Great Eastern Hotel, and I was to call on him - Mr. Crawford - again the next morning. Accommodation was duly arranged, and then the young man took me to Firpo's, a justly famous restaurant in Calcutta. A bottle of whiskey was put on our table, and one could help oneself to as many "pegs" as one wished at Rs.1 per peg. A peg could be any size within reason one wished to pour. A rupee was equivalent of one shilling and six pence, and a bottle of whisky retail was nine and nine pence. I did not drink in those days.
I duly presented myself at the office next day, and was told that I was being sent to Kolony Tea Estate in the Thakurbari, Darrang district of Assam. A tailor named Christo Das Dey then appeared and I was measured for my tropical outfit. The clothes were made from beautiful strong white cotton material and were beautifully tailored. The clothes were delivered in plenty of time for me to take them up country.
On the 23rd November I took a taxi to Calcutta Sealdah station and boarded a train for Santahar. Here one changed for the train to take one to Amingoan. (Later this change was at Parbatipur). Amingoan is on the south bank of the beautiful Brahmaputra River, and here one boarded the steamer for Tezpur, on the steamers way up the Brahmaputra. Tezpur was the steamers ghat (dock) for the district in which Kolony was situated.
The first class accommodation on those river steamers was forward on the upper deck, and was one of the most pleasant modes of travel I have ever experienced. The lounge deck was right forward, and immediately behind the dining room - where one was served with really first class meals - flanked on either side by three or four cabins with a bathroom on each side. The cabins had two doors, one with direct access to the dining room and the other with access to the deck. I entered the dining room by the first door, and an elderly gentleman on board informed me that this was "not done". One was expected to leave ones cabin by the deck door, and enter the dining room by the main doors. I apologized. Later in my career my answer might have been different.
Firstly I must explain that the climate in Assam; particularly in West Assam - the Valley is approximately 400 miles long - is, during the Spring hot and windy, and not very pleasant. During the Summer and Autumn it is wet, hot and humid, ideal for the quick growth of tea, and it is during those months that he main crop is harvested. During the Winter months, November, December, January and February growth on the tea bush practically stops and no crop is harvested. This gives the planter time and labour for essential estate work, such a pruning and factory overhaul. However, during the Winter months mentioned the climate is, I would judge, the most wonderful in the world - lovely temperate sunny days, with cold night necessitating fires in the lounge, and blankets on the beds at night.
It was November when the steamer I was on sailed away up the Brahmaputra and the setting sun was turning the distant Himalayan Mountains snows red. I enquired when the steamer would reach Tezpur and was informed early tomorrow morning and I thought gracious we will be being the Himalayas by that time. However the next morning the snows appeared to be as far away as ever.
In the evening I sat out on the fore deck with my travelling rug around me. A nurse travelling on the steamer during the conversation remarked that the travelling rug was a very wise precaution. A gentleman on board, Jed More, a solicitor in Tezpur, told me that he nurse's brother was one of the most valued members of the Indian Intelligence Department.
We duly arrived at Tezpur the following morning, and an Indian messenger handed me a note from Mr. Mack, the manager of Kolony Tea Estate, informing me to take the Tezpur-Balipara railway to Thakurbari. After breakfast a very kindly gentleman, named I think Erskine-Scott, thought the best thing I could do was stay at The Dak Bungalow till it was time for the train to leave at approximately 2.30pm.
Erskine-Scott was a bit of a "character". He was a bit of a "loner", and was I think manager of Chardwar estate which in those days, because of bad roads, a very isolated place. The story goes that one of his relations would leave him money provided he named himself Erskine-Scott. Then another relation would leave him money provided he name himself Scott-Erskine, and so on, so that one was never quite sure how to address him.
Most towns in Assam have a Dak Bungalow. These Dak bungalows were rest houses, run by government, where one could obtain accommodation and meals. I remember with affection the elderly Mohammedan Khansama who ran the Dak Bungalow in Tezpur. He used to mother us assistants when we traveled from Tezpur to have teeth extracted by the travelling dentist who visited the district every cold weather. Not for us assistants the expensive journey to Calcutta to have a dental check. We were lucky to get the length of Tezpur about twenty miles away. Any rotting teeth were just yanked out.
Anyway I had lunch at the Dak Bungalow and the Khansama arranged ports to take my luggage to the station. The Tezpur-Balipara railway was a narrow gauge railway which ran between - as might be guessed! - Tezpur and Balipara, a distance of approximately forty miles. It was built originally for carrying tea from various estates to the river steamer for shipment to Calcutta - or so I should imagine. It also had some passenger coaches. These were open bench seats. The first class carriage had sides and windows to it.
I got down from the train at Thakurbari station to be met by E. M. Bryce who was an assistant at Nahorani estate adjoining Kolony. Bryce informed me that I would be staying with him at his bungalow till the assistant's bungalow atKolony was vacant. From the station we went to the Thakurbari Club, a lovely club, designed by Mr. Metcalfe of Bamgoan estate. It was a club day, and I later met Mr. Mack and was told to report to Kolony office at 7am the following day. Bryce had no car and we had to cadge a lift back to Nahorani. My bedroom was rather dismal, and the furniture consisted of an iron bed (fortunately I had brought a mattress with me), one dressing table, one wardrobe (which was full of overseas editions of the "Daily Mirror") and one kerosene storm lamp.
Next morning - the 25th of November 1926 - Bryce gave me a loan of his bicycle and I set off for Kolony, about three miles away. Thus I arrived at Kolony where I was to stay for the next five and a half years - at the end of my long journey - on a push bike!!