Early tea cultivation in India and Sri Lanka

Calcutta on arrival, S.R. Fever, RCMS 365_5_18

Talipot palm shelter, S.R. Fever, 1983, RCMS 365_5_20

The Royal Commonwealth Society Collections are very grateful to former planter John Weatherstone for another donation of beautiful artwork to add to his collection of archives relating to the history of early tea and coffee cultivation in India and Ceylon [Sri Lanka].  Weatherstone had worked upon tea plantations during the 1950s, and later wrote two books examining the industry’s first establishment and later development in India and Ceylon.  They document the experience of the pioneering planters and discuss all aspects of the industry from harvesting and processing to transportation, finance, marketing and changing patterns of consumption.

Gauhati, S.R. Fever, 1983, RCMS 365_5_21

Weatherstone’s books were splendidly illustrated with a rich variety of historical and modern prints, photographs, plans and maps.  They featured specially commissioned works from the artist Sidney Fever.  The latest gift from Weatherstone includes seven more items, including five original works by Fever.  A sketch dramatises the arrival of one of the many young men from Britain who were recruited to work on the Assam tea plantations in the late 1840s.  A watercolour illustrates a rough talipot palm hut, which often was the only shelter from the elements and wild animals enjoyed by pioneer planters before a more comfortable hut or log cabin could be built.  There is also a recreation of one of the Assam Company tea store-houses established at Gauhati along the river route to north-east Assam during the 1840s: a government official converses with a company agent, while tea is being loaded onto a steamer in the background.

Tea factory, Ceylon circa 1890, S.R. Fever, RCMS 365_5_22


Other watercolours illustrate carts pulled by Indian humped bulls in Ceylon, which provided transportation before the advent of the railway, and a reconstruction of an typical tea factory on the island circa 1890.

These exciting new acquisitions have been added to the on-line catalogue of the John Weatherstone collection, RCMS 365.

Tea carts, Ceylon, F. de la Poir, 1896, RCMS 365_5_19




  • Mary-Jennifer Cader (nee Jones)

    My grandfather Charles Josiah Jones was employed by a Scottish tea company sometime in the 1890s and was posted to Ceylon to help clear the land and plant tea. The estate he managed was named Peacock Hill Estate just off the Pussela Road to Kandy. I did visit the L shaped bungalow in the 70s with my ex-husband, Juni Cader, but the new owners were away at the time……..so was unable to view inside the house or glean much information on it’s history etc. It looked just as my father described it with certain unmissable landmarks. I would dearly love to learn more.

    • Dear Mary-Jennifer,
      John Weatherstone’s book ‘Tea – a journey in time: pioneering and trials in the jungle’ (2008) reproduces an 1864 lithograph of the Peacock Hill Coffee Estate, pp. 114-15. We have a copy at RCMS 365/6: https://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/db/node.xsp?id=EAD%2FGBR%2F0115%2FRCMS%20365%2F6

    • Dear Jennifer,
      Read your comments with much interest and would like to have more on your Grandfather.
      I bumped in to Juni a few months ago on Colombo at the Capri club.
      Iam trying to do some coffee on a plot of land in the Uva district and have some old books written on coffee
      in Ceylon. Ar you still in touch with Derrick Cramers wife Barbara Cramer.
      Keep in touch. carl.fernando@bluemail.ch or call +41 79 709 2752 or +94 722 422 803

      • Mary-Jennifer Jones Cader

        Hi Carl. I’m so sorry not to have seen your comments, until now. I am useless at navigating my way around these networks and, having posted the enquiry about my grandfather, failed to follow up on it. Do you know something about Peacock Hill Estate? I visited it many years ago with Juni and the new owners were not at home, but a helpful young man from a neighbouring tea factory was the person who pointed us in the right direction. Are you still living in Switzerland? I do not have Barbara’s number, but I can pass on your message to Peter Saturninas, with your number, and ask her to contact you. My e-mail address is: jennifercader@hotmail.com. By the way, was my name mentioned at all when you met Juni in Colombo? Or was he not alone at the time. Funny, he didn’t mention it to me! If you could point me in the right direction to get more details of my grandad’s estate life, I would be grateful. I do know that he was one of the pioneer tea planter’s sent out by a Scottish tea company to clear the land after the dreadful coffee blight, allow the ground to lie fallow, before planting the tea. Please keep in touch. Cheers, Jennifer. 23.8.2020.

    • Wasantha rathnayake

      ආයුබෝවන් !
      I am researcher about pilkington /coombe brothers in ceylon tea history …
      If you are interested please visit my update at:

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  • I was wondering about my grandmother’s family who were tea planters in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Her maiden name was Gibson and she had four sisters.

    • Hi Sue, my Great Grandmother was Edith Gibson 1891-1974 she had 4 sisters

      Emily 1899-1955
      Amy 1902
      Lena 1910-1989
      Annie passed away at a young age 1890- 1913

    • Mrs Patricia Molloy

      My Grandmother’s maiden name was Gibson….. Eva Gertrude. She married Frederick Henry Fraser in Colombo in 1914. She had 4 sisters, Gladys Lena, Elsie, Irene Anne (known as Anne or Anthea) and Myra. The Frasers were Planters in the Matale district. They were born and grew up in Australia.


    Hi. Do you know any idea about the name of the tea estate where your grandmother lived in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). If you are in a position to identify., please let me know I will trace it and come back to you with some details. .

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