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History of Ceylon Tea is an industry-service project by Dilmah. Click HERE to read more.
3oth April 2023


  • Bracegirdle as a David taking on the British Plantation Goliath by Bernard VanCuylenberg
  • The Largest Tea Bush - Pitaratmalie Estate circa 1962
  • Memories of my life in Ceylon by Joan Turnbull
  • Photo Album of the Month - Downside Estate, Bandarawela
  • Contributor Photo Album of the Month - Nicholas Turner
  • Planter Profiles of the Month - Edward Ellice Nicol & Robert Edward Nicol
  • Down Memory Lane - Chandra Hemachandra Party in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of David Schokman.
  • Blast from the Past - Ceylon Tea Ads
  • Historical Events in 1938
  • Tea Radio by Dilmah

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Bracegirdle as a David taking on the

With May Day being commemorated tomorrow, this is a look back at one of the most significant events in the history of Colonial Ceylon and the Plantations.

By Bernard VanCuylenberg

During the colonial period of the late 1930s, a tea plantation in the Madulkelle district Relugas Estate, was the place where what appeared to be a simple act of insubordination by an assistant superintendent, was to have far reaching consequences and wider ramifications not only for the company concerned, but for the colonial government of the time and a left leaning socialist political party called the “Lanka Sama Samaja Party” (The Lanka Socialist Party), popularly known as the LSSP. The “David” in this case was a young assistant superintendent named Mark Bracegirdle and the “Goliath” was the government of the day – at first glance an uneven match.

The Superintendent of this particular estate Mr. H.D. Thomas was badly in need of an assistant, and he petitioned the company accordingly. As was the modus operandum of the day, a young Englishman Mark Bracegirdle was recruited from overseas and after he arrived in Ceylon and spent two days at the Agency House, where the director of tea inducted him into what a planter’s duties entailed. He was then sent to another estate for a stint of ‘creeping’. When he had completed his creeping to the satisfaction of the superintendent of that estate and the company, he finally arrived to take up duties at Relugas estate in Madulkelle to the relief of the superintendent.

Remember his name well. It is a name that figured prominently not only in the tea industry of that period, but also in political, business and government circles. Mark Bracegirdle did not come from England, though he was English in origin. He came from Australia! His mother and he emigrated to Australia from England in 1925 and when he grew up he trained as a farmer. He also joined the Australian Young Communist League — as history will show, his political leanings were to have a dramatic impact on his life in Ceylon. Settling in well, Bracegirdle went to work with vim, vigour and a hearty dose of enthusiasm! He got his hands dirty often as he did not believe in giving instructions and supervising. He would prune, weed, move stones in new clearings, lop trees, and sometimes pluck to the amusement of the women pluckers, and physically was hyper active! He was particularly sympathetic to complaints by the labourers, especially if such complaints were about their line rooms whenever repairs were needed. He was always accessible, and before long became the idol or pin up boy of the entire labour force! He even visited the line rooms of the labour and shared their meals with them.

Mr. Thomas was aghast! This was something unheard of in the days when the English Planters ruled their estates like some petty fiefdom and “never the twain would meet”, with apologies to Mark Twain. Meanwhile, his Manager kept an eagle eye on his progress and concluded that although he was an exemplary worker and a cut above the rest as far as Assistant Superintendents went, his attitude and behaviour to the established norms of the social structure were out of character. He had no idea of the mini revolution looming on the horizon which would rock this estate to its very roots!

Click HERE to read the full article


Tea bush on Pitaratmalie Estate, Haputale circa 1962. The planters in the image are John Burgess (left) and Manilal Abeyawardene (right).


The pictured tea bush on Pitaratmalie Estate, Haputale was the largest on the estates of The Ceylon Tea Plantation Co., Ltd., and The Ceylon Proprietary Tea Estates Co., Ltd., and was thought to be the largest in the country.

When it was photographed in circa 1962/63, it was about 100 feet in diameter, and when it was pruned that year, there were 294 pruning cuts on completion. This bush was in a field of bushes that were on average far larger than elsewhere on the estate. It was very ‘high jat’, or “vella thaylay” as the workers would call it. It had a single trunk from which spread the branches, which were about a foot off the ground, and for about half their length, about a foot high, though in cross section, elliptical in the vertical plain. The branches were supported in some places and, apparently, the pluckers used to walk along the branches when picking the leaf.

There were many bushes in the field that showed signs of similar growth, but this was special and as it spread over time, adjacent bushes which stood in its way were removed.

The story was that Mr. Masefield, for many years the Chairman of the Companies in London, would sack the Superintendent who killed this bush (at least that is what was thought). Be that as it may, whenever it was pruned, the PD, SD, pruning Kangany, head saw man etc. were always present.

It is worthy of note that this bush, and the field as a whole, was not particularly high yielding. It was noticed that the flush reduced, the further one got from the centre, and this of course was to be expected as sap flow decreases in direct proportion to the distance it has to travel.

Furthermore, unlike the ‘China jat’, the ‘high jat’ is highly apically dominant and therefore, tends to focus its vigour towards the centre.

Originally published in the Dilmah Talking Tea magazine (2009) with picture and information supplied by Ian Gardner.



One of History of Ceylon Tea's prized items is this 32-page piece written by Joan Turnbull. Joan spent 45-years in Ceylon, both as a daughter of a tea planter, and as a wife of one. Her fascinating account includes details of her family's participation during the visit to Ceylon by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954, one year after her Coronation. With the Coronation of King Charles in a few days, perhaps this is an opportune moment to feature this account.

By Joan Turnbull
To explain a little about my parents - my father was born at Crudgington Grange, Shropshire, went to Bloxham School near Banbury, did the ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe, worked for some time in a tea import company in London (which encouraged him to try his luck as a Tea Planter). He secured a job as a junior assistant (SD) on a low country tea estate in Ceylon in 1911. In 1914 he returned to England to join the Army and in World War I, joined the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and became a second lieutenant. He went to France with the Regiment in 1915 and after some months in France the regiment was sent to Salonica, northern Greece, where they remained fighting the ‘Bulgars’ until 1918. He attained the rank of Captain before returning to Ceylon as Manager of a small up country estate, where he met my mother Eileen Waring.

Eileen was born at the Hatton Nursing Home, Hatton, Ceylon, and was the daughter of Frank Evan Waring and Maud Megget of Craigie Lea Estate, Kotagala. Her young days were spent on Craigie Lea with a German Governess, but she finally went back to England to a Finishing School in Eastbourne – then quite famous and known as ‘Rannies’. After returning to Ceylon she met and married my father.

Frank Waring and family went out to Ceylon in 1816 with the Army, became Government Servants, acquired land (Great Valley) and Frank’s grandson became a coffee planter, but the coffee blight was too much for many planters and my grandfather had to sell his estate and was employed as manager of Craigie Lea for the rest of his working life.

Maud Meggett was the sister of Ernest Megget who was manager of Balangoda Group Tea Estate Ceylon. Through marriage into a Dutch family, Frank Waring can trace his family back six generations, so my children are the 9th generation born in Ceylon.

My mother, Eileen Maud Waring married Geoffrey James France Percival on 12 December 1923 at Forest Creek Church, Kotagala and the reception was held in the old Craigie Lea Tea Factory. My Waring grandparents were on Craigie Lea for many years.

Eileen and Geoff were then on Winby, Kadduganawa. I was born on 5 January 1927 in the Hatton Nursing Home. Soon after my birth they moved to New Valley, Norwood, where they remained until they retired in 1958. At that stage New Valley bungalow was an old wattle and daub structure with wooden floors and wood panelling. The bathrooms were very primitive with tin baths and “thunder boxes”.

Click HERE to read the full article



Downside Estate, Bandarawela - Manager's Bungalow & Factory

Click HERE to view the album.



Nicholas Turner

Click HERE to view the album



(L-R) Edward Ellice Nicol & Robert Edward Nicol

Click on respective photo to view profile


Photo from a famous Chandra Hemachandra party at Talawakelle in the 1960s. Chandra Hemachandra used to throw a lavish party each year which was always looked forward to by the tea planters. Some of those pictured here are (on floor  L-R) Ken Murray, John Bousfield and Larry Schokman, (the three ladies seated directly behind John Bousfield L-R) Peggy Medd, Sally Bousfield and Denise Schokman, and to her left, Ralston Tissera.


Settle down ladies, this was published in a women's magazine!
The Australian WOMEN'S Weekly in 1966 to be precise.
In Ceylon
  • The Tea Research Institute commenced work on vegetative propagation at St. Coombs Estate, Talawakelle
  • First Diesel runs from Colombo to Galle.
  • Adolf Hitler abolishes the War Ministry and creates the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (High Command of the Armed Forces), giving him direct control of the German military. Instability, conflict and power struggles across the world lead to WWII the following year.
  • A nylon bristle toothbrush becomes the first commercial product to be made with nylon yarn.
  • Lee Byung-chul establishes a trucking business in Daegu, Korea, which he names Samsung Trading Co, the forerunner to Samsung.
    Black Sunday at Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia: 300 swimmers are dragged out to sea in three freak waves; 80 lifesavers save all but 5.


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