James Taylor – “The Father of the Ceylon Tea Industry”
Over the weekend of the 22nd to the 24th of August, Scotland’s Tea Festival will be hosting a series of events in Laurencekirk and Auchenblae in Aberdeenshire celebrating tea and Scotland’s contribution to the tea industry, particularly focusing on the life of local born man James Taylor, who was known as the “The Father of the Ceylon Tea Industry”.
Ceylon Tea is famous the world over for its quality, and it all began with a Kincardineshire man. The son of a wheelwright, James Taylor was born on the 29th of March 1835 at Mosspark near Auchenblae. In 1852, at the age of 17, he immigrated to Ceylon (now modern day Sri Lanka) to work on a coffee plantation. By the mid-1870s Ceylon was the world’s largest coffee producer, however it wasn’t to last. In 1869 the first signs of coffee-rust, a coffee plant disease, were discovered, and it only took just over ten years for it to wipe out the entire coffee enterprise in Ceylon. This was a potential disaster since the Ceylonese economy and its people were heavily dependent on the coffee industry. But disaster was avoided with thanks to the reclusive James Taylor who had been experimenting with growing a different type of plant, growing it along the edges of the roads on his coffee plantation, Loolecondera. This plant was tea.
In 1866 Taylor had visited neighbouring India to learn the basics of growing tea on plantations. He returned and started a plantation at Loolecondera estate in Kandy in 1867 where he started growing small amounts of tea along with the coffee. By the time of the coffee-blight he had nearly 20 acres (77,000 m2) of the Loolecondra plantation planted with tea, and it wasn’t long before the local people, who were losing so much from the coffee-blight, came to Loolecondera to learn about the cultivation of and manufacture of tea. The uptake was rapid, and it eventually saved Ceylon’s economy and its plantation industry.
James Taylor was the first Ceylon planter to succeed with tea, and during his time at the Looleconderra estate the export of tea expanded from just 23 pounds to 22,900 tonnes by 1890. He died on the 2nd of May in 1892 at the age of 57. His gravestone says “In pious memory of James Taylor of Loolecondera Estate Ceylon, the pioneer of the cinchona and tea enterprise in this island, who died May 2, 1892, aged 57 years”.
Even though Taylor isn’t well known in his country of birth he is still widely revered in Sri Lanka, and in 1992 a museum was built to commemorate him, and the British High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, John Field, said of Taylor at the 100th anniversary of his passing: “It can be said of very few individuals that their labours have helped to shape the landscape of a country, but the beauty of the hill country as it now appears owes much to the inspiration of James Taylor, the man who introduced tea cultivation to Sri Lanka”.
For more information about Scotland’s Tea Festival and their events in Auchenblae and Laurencekirk, visit their website: www.scotlandteafest.co.uk/