James Taylor’s Loolkandura : The First Tea Plantation in Sri Lanka – ජේම්ස් ටේලර්, ලූල්කඳුර වතුයාය හා ලංකාවේ ප්‍රථම තේ වගාව

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Visiting Taylor’s Seat, Taylor’s Log Cabin, Well and the Very First Tea Patch.

James Taylor Seat at Loolkandura Estate

James Taylor Seat at Loolkandura Estate
Image courtesy of Dr. Ashan Geeganage

Loolkandura Estate in the Kandy district is the very first patch of tea was planted as a test after the failure of coffee plantation in Sri Lanka. With the wild success of this plantation, then 21 year old planter James Taylor who was in charge of this plantation has been forever immortalized and has become a part of post colonization history of Sri Lanka.

Taylor had signed on for three years as an assistant supervisor on a coffee plantation in Ceylon in 1852. The sixteen–year–old Scot, son of a modest wheelwright, would never see his native land again. Five years after he took up his post, his employers, Harrison and Leake, impressed by the quality of his work, put Taylor in charge of the Loolkandura Estate (then Loolecondera Estate) and instructed him to experiment with tea plants. The Peradeniya nursery supplied him with his first seeds around 1860. He cleared 19 acres of forest in Hewaheta Lower, and planted the first seedlings which became a such a success which finally caused his downfall as well.

The Ceylon Tea became so popular, large tea companies flocked in to the “Ceylon Tea” market and  started consolidating small estates. The small Loolkandura (Loolecondera) estate too was caught in this consolidation and Taylor was eventually dismissed by the estate management.

In 2nd May, 1892, aged 57 years, one year after being dismissed, Taylor passed away due to severe gastroenteritis and dysentery. His body was buried in the Mahaiyawa Cemetery in Kandy.

As a tribute to man who brought little known Ceylon to the world recognition with the  ‘Ceylon Tea” brand,  Loolkandura Estate has now restored several locations used by James Taylor including the very first tea patch open to the general public.

Here you can see the Taylor’s Seat, a rock seat used by James Taylor which gives a fantastic view of the surrounding mountain ranges, The chimney of the log cabin which was used by Taylor ( only remaining part of the cabin), The well used by Taylor and the very first patch of tea which was planted by Taylor now known as the No.7 field of the Loolkandura (Loolecondera) Estate.

One unique decision of James Taylor is the naming of the estate. When all other planters who setup estates named them with English names close to their hearts Taylor named his estate “Loolecondera”, by the local name of the area Loolkandura as he spelled it.

Traveling from Kandy, take the Galaha Road ( B364) and continue on the road for 34 kilometers passing Hindagala, Mahakanda, Galaha and Deltota to reach the entrance to the Loolkandura (Loolecondera) Estate. To reach these the above landmarks you need to travel a further 4 km inside the estate on winding roads.

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Map of  James Taylor’s Loolkandura Estate

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The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites.

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Travel Directions to James Taylor’s Loolkandura Estate

Route from Peradeniya to James Taylor’s Loolkandura Estate

Through : Hindagala –  Mahakanda –  Galaha- Deltota
Distance : 38 km
Travel time : 1 hour
Driving directions : see on google map

The rise of the Ceylon Tea Industry
James Taylor and the Loolecondera Estate

Source : Daily News – October 16, 2001

By the end of the 19th century, the word ‘tea’ was no longer associated with China, but with Ceylon.

Tea is produced from Camellia Sinensis, of which there are three main varieties; the China, Assam and Cambodian. Today, a vast number of hybrids exist, developed to take advantage of the strengths and weaknesses of each variety, and to adapt plants to the specific geographical and climatic circumstances of each area.

The plants did not figure among the local flora on the island of Ceylon, a British crown colony, until the early 19th century when several entrepreneurs used their estates as test plots. In 1839, Dr. Wallich, head of the botanical garden in Calcutta, sent several Assam tea plant seeds to the Peradeniya Estates near Kandy.

This initial consignment was followed by two hundred and fifty plants, some of which went to Nuwara Eliya, a health resort to the south of Kandy at an altitude of 6,500 feet. The Nuwara Eliya experiment produced excellent results.

Seeds of Chinese tea plants, brought to Sri Lanka by travellers such as Maurice de Worms, were also planted in the Peradeniya nurseries, although these yielded disappointing results and Chinese plants were gradually abandoned in favour of the Assam variety that is now grown on every estate in Sri Lanka. Tea cultivation nevertheless remained a minor activity for twenty years. Coffee remained the island’s main export crop. However in the 1870’s the dreaded blight systematically destroyed coffee plants. The entire coffee industry was destroyed. Tea then appeared as a godsend and the entire local economy shifted to the new crop within a few years. This rapid substitution owed a great deal to the fruitful initiative of a man named James Taylor.

In 1851, near Mincing Lane, which was later renowned as the tea centre of the world, Taylor had signed on for three years as an assistant supervisor on a coffee plantation in Ceylon. The sixteen–year–old Scot, son of a modest wheelwright, would never see his native land again. Five years after he took up his post, his employers, Harrison and Leake, impressed by the quality of his work, put Taylor in charge of the Loolecondera Estate and instructed him to experiment with tea plants. The Peradeniya nursery supplied him with his first seeds around 1860.

Taylor then set up the first tea ‘factory’ on the island. It was in fact a rather rudimentary set up. The factory soon became famous throughout the island. In 1872, Taylor invented a machine for rolling leaves, and one year later sent twenty-three pounds of tea to Mincing Lane. Taylor trained a number of assistants, and from that point on; Ceylon tea arrived regularly in London and Melbourne. Its success led to the opening of an auction market in Colombo in 1883, and to the founding of a Colombo tea dealer’s association in 1894. Taylor continued to test new methods and techniques at the Loolecondera Estate (which he would never own) until the end of his life. He never left the estate, except for a single short vacation in 1874 – spent at Darjeeling, needless to say, in order to study the new tea plantations. His talent and determination were officially recognised when Sir William Gregory, Governor of Ceylon, paid Taylor a visit in 1890 to congratulate him on the quality of his tea.

But the rise of the industry nurtured by James Taylor was also the cause of his downfall. Rapid growth was accompanied by a concentration of capital in the hands of large Corporations based in Britain, and a wave of property consolidation forced out smaller planters. In 1892, he died suddenly of dysentery at the age of fifty-seven, on his beloved soil at Loolecondera.

The 1884 and 1886 International Expositions held in London introduced the English and foreigners to teas produced in the British Empire. But it was at the 1893 World Fair in Chicago that Ceylon tea made a tremendous hit; no less than one million packets were sold. Finally at the Paris exposition of 1900, visitors to the Sri Lanka Pavilion discovered replica tea factories and the “five o-clock tea” that became so fashionable.

The promotional policy was so effective that by the end of the 19th century, the world “tea” was no longer associated with China, but with Ceylon. The island’s prosperity sparked covetousness on the part of British companies and London brokers, who wanted to acquire their own plantations and cut out the middlemen.

This marked a turning point in the saga of tea; pioneers gave way to merchants whose name or label would soon become more important than the country in which the tea was grown.

Source: Contemporary Tea, Time Vol. X No. 3 September – November 2001

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