With it being Father’s Day today, we thought it would be interesting to talk about the “Father of Ceylon Tea”, James Taylor!
Born in Scotland during the 1830, James Taylor was one of the most influential tea pioneers of Ceylon tea. At the young age of 16yrs, he signed up to work as an Assistant Supervisor on the Loolecondera Estate coffee plantation in Ceylon. After 5 years, his employers were so impressed by his work they placed James in charge of the whole estate which was around 1,100 acres at that time.
Having been instructed to experiment with tea plants and got his first seeds from the Royal Botanical Gardens of Peradeniya near Kandy, James left Sri Lanka briefly during 1866 to visit India where he studied the basics of growing tea on plantations. On his return James cleared over 19 acres of forest to plant his first seedlings in the district of Hewaheta Lower. James began to experiment with different methods of processing the tea leaves using his bungalow as a factory, rolling and firing the leaves over charcoal fires.
Within five years he had established a fully working tea factory and commenced the manufacture of packaged tea. During the 1870's following the blight of coffee plants when the entire coffee industry was destroyed, the estate owners, following James Taylor's lead, changed their crops to tea.
The expansion of the tea industry in Sri Lanka grew rapidly and in 1886, James planted just 17 acres of seeds in the Lover's Leap division in the Loolecondera Estate. This was the only estate ever owned by James Taylor. From initially exporting just 23 pounds of tea to London, by 1890 the export of tea had reached 22,900 tons. This success was ironically the reason for James becoming redundant as large plantation companies took over estates; James was no longer required as the manager at Loolecondera.
Aged 57yrs, just one year after his dismissal, James Taylor died after contracting gastroenteritis and dysentery. He lies buried in Mahiyawa Cemetery, Kandy and the following words are written on his tombstone "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." He certainly was the Father of Ceylon Tea.
Tea in Sri Lanka today
The production and trade of tea remains to be one of the main sources of revenue for Sri Lanka with over 1 million people employed and continues to hold its spot as the world’s fourth-largest producer of tea. In 2001, the Sri Lanka Tea Board opened a Tea Museum in Hantana, Kandy to offer valuable insights into the rich and vibrant history of how its tea was primarily manufactured.
It is always so fascinating to see how one person can create such an impact in history, and James Taylor certainly achieved that. On Father’s Day we celebrate fathers from all walks of life, embracing the wisdom they pass on to us and remembering it forever.