Thursday, 2 February 2017

A tale of two tea planters: Claud Bald and F G Marsh

As a child, I knew that my maternal grandfather, F G ‘Fred’ Marsh, had been a tea planter in Darjeeling. I also knew more vaguely that my great grandfather, Claud Bald, had ‘written the book on tea’.

Claud Bald: a tea pioneer
Claud Bald was born in Glasgow in 1853. He began tea planting on the Lohargur Tea Estate near Darjeeling in 1877 at the age of 24, the year following his father's death. In about 1881, he joined the Lebong Tea Company where he served as manager over the next 26 years.

David Bald, Claud's younger brother, is the first of the family to appear in Indian records. He died of cholera in Calcutta, on 3 April 1883 at the age of 24. He had been an assistant foreman at ‘Sindaria’ [which may be a misspelling of the town of Tindharia] in Darjeeling. I can't find what he did there but there was a tea plantation and a railway station there. Perhaps David had gone to India in the care of his older brother or perhaps he joined him there later. Both had training as engineers. Another younger brother Henry was in Darjeeling by 1887 and worked for the Government.

In October 1885 at the age of 32, Claud married 24-year-old Glaswegian lass Margaret Ker the elder daughter of religious parents. 

Why did he go to Darjeeling? He had arrived at a time of rapid growth for the tea industry. Between 1860 and 1864 the Darjeeling Tea Company established four gardens at Ging, Ambutia, Tukdah and Phoobsering and the Lebong Tea Company established tea gardens at Tukvar and Badamtam. Tea production from 1866 to 1874 had increased by 89%, from 1874-1885 to 56.8%, and from 1885 to 1895 by 22.4%. 1888 was the year India produced more tea than any other country.

In 1907, he became manager of the Tukvar Company’s estates, holding this position until his retirement in 1918 at the age of 65.

Fred Marsh arrives
Fred Marsh was born to English immigrants Henry and Mary Marsh in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1891. He arrived in India in 1912. His eldest sister Edith was already there with her husband, Percy Clark who was a Baptist missionary. Fred had also gone there to learn the local languages ahead of possibly becoming a missionary himself. Fred’s objective changed, however. He met the respectable Claud…and he also met Claud’s eldest daughter Margaret.

‘Marsh’, as Claud called the young Fred, became Claud’s assistant manager in 1913 managing Simla, a small estate. While he was there he married Margaret in December 1917. 

Claud was impressed with Fred and supported his successful bid to become manager at Phoobsering Tea Estate in April 1919. Later that year, Claud left Darjeeling to spend his retirement in Worthing. Tea had been Claud’s life and his book Indian tea: its culture and manufacture, first published in 1903, was revised three times during his life. He died in 1924.

Fred, along with most tea plantation managers, including his father-in-law, joined the Northern Bengal Mounted Rifles (NBMR). Fred joined a few days after the declaration of World War I.

Fred’s time at Phoobsering
On 15 January 1934, a severe earthquake opened up the ground under the 70-year-old Phoobsering house. Fred decided to design a new ‘earthquake proof’ house. Under the house were six concrete rollers and the house itself was a concrete block. The theory was that in an earthquake, the house could ‘shake, rattle and roll’ but not break. The house has since survived a number of strong earthquakes.

When World War II began, Fred and Margaret decided it was safest to leave their daughters with his brother Frank who lived in Melbourne. They then returned to India to ‘do their bit’ for the war effort and tea production continued to increase strongly. Fred and other NBMR members were involved in moving food supplies between Burma and India and facilitating logistics for some British and Australian troops though the details are not yet known.

In 1947, Fred decided that he was coming back to Australia. The ‘communists’ as Fred called them, had stormed many tea factories. Every window in the Phoobsering house was broken. Fred felt they had no choice but to leave the country though their original plan was to remain there even past retirement.

Fred and Margaret Marsh arrived in Melbourne from India in July 1947 where they lived for the remainder of their lives. As a widower, Fred visited Darjeeling and Bhutan in about 1967 after working for 10 years with an insurance company. He died in 1979 at the age of 88.


Claud entertains a few guests at Tukvar Tea Estate in 1914
Claud Bald (center with beard) at Tukvar in 1914. His wife is seated in front of him. Margaret is on the left. The troops are members of the Northern Bengal Mounted Rifles which Claud had been a member of as a young planter.

More details and pictures are at the Koi Hai site.