History of Corramore

The following piece was taken from the Williamson Magor website in 2001. It was written by Reeta Vira and entitled ‘O Corramore!’ providing a fair bit of history and feel for the tea garden. The additional colour photographs were kindly provided by Devi Bhuyan whose father is no. 4 on the list of Managers further down the page

The road seems endless, stretching far into the horizon, flanked by seemingly immense tracts of inhospitable land - if one can see beyond the immediate overgrowth of wild grass on either side and the interspersed dense groves of bamboo forests there-between. Almost like an African safari track, this is the road that takes us - at great risk to our car tyres and frayed nerves - to Corramore, a tea estate tucked away in the wilderness, almost touching the foothills of the Himalayas. One wonders how these pioneers of yesteryear, on horseback and elephants, braving the most incredible odds, reached this remote site to plant a tea garden and turn it into a flourishing and profitable expanse of organised cultivation and enterprise.

The base for the wind-sock at the airstrip, built to be elephant-proof!

Corramore never fails to mesmerise whoever comes here because, once there, a unique blend of colour and an almost inspired arrangement of flora and fauna, permeate the senses. The driveway - with the office and factory on either side - winds up enticingly towards the Assistant Manager's Bungalow -starkly white, with a gleaming aluminium roof as its crowning glory. At the little iron gate (almost hidden by the tendrils of clinging vines), stands a frangipani tree, blessing the ground beneath and all those who stand under it with a never-ending shower of heady while fragrant blooms. We pause here, for there is much to imbibe.

The shallow but broad steps leading up to the bungalow are festooned on either side with a riot of colour - the cheerful clusters of pinks and magentas and whites of Phlox or the purple and yellow Pansies, grinning happily in the breeze. We reach the top, cross a stretch of lawn and there is the bungalow itself - a charming blend of quaintness and aesthetic appeal. Designed by Mr. A.E. Gordon* the owner of property till 1976, it was built in 1968 to house the garden's first ever married Assistant. The then Manager, Mr. Tim Healey, was the inspiration behind this Chota Bungalow.
(* - I have been advised that he may have helped in the design rather than created it - JK)

1968 - Tim Healey fourth from left

Its round verandah immediately sets apart from any other bungalow. Atop this verandah, we survey the scene around us. To our right is beautifully mowed grass up to a boundary of trees beyond which is the forest. Below us stretches the terraced garden. At every level, there are gorgeous beds of flowers. A fine old Pomello tree stands sentinel at the end, dividing the garden from the Mali Bari. And right here is a tract of such fertile land that any vegetable grows prolifically and willingly and without any effort at all.

Our gaze is now drawn a little to the left - past the gate across the path and on to a flaming Gulmohar tree. Its arched branches, laden with blooms in the radiant hues of a setting sun, branches, laden with blooms in the radiant hues of a setting sun, almost embrace the sky. With heart-rending nostalgia, I remember my daily visual converse with this tree many years ago when I came to Corramore as a young bride. In those days of youth, when solitude was not the rich and friendly companion that it is now, this Gulmohar tree was my beacon of light, my solace and my perennial source of delight. As I would stand everyday with my little baby (Bonnie) by the gleaming French windows dividing the verandah and living room - hearing the sounds of the factory, waiting for Alok to either come home for lunch or from work in the evenings - I would observe intently the cascades of Petunias on the sill of the verandah. It was inevitable, that the emerald and red of my Gulmohar tree, the sight of which mingling with my thoughts, the silence (except for the factory noise)and the particular colours of the day, would all leave a permanent impress on my mind.

The memories unwound, we must now be back on the road as the whispering of the trees beckons us to follow the winding road further up and round a hill. We turn left and another unforgettable sight greets our eyes. We are now approaching the Burra Bungalow perched imposingly on top of a hill with the expanse of the Assam valley below. As we attempt to take a closer look at the vast space between the sky and the earth, we walk down the steps of the verandah which runs right around the bungalow. Down the slope of the garden we go. It gently terraces downwards to a sheer drop. Here time stands still. We are in a trance. Behind is the garden - resplendent with the kaleidoscopic hues of roses, and flowering shrubs in poetic array. And before us is the breathtaking valley - its silence echoing on the distant horizon, and a river carving out its unending story on the earth. This is Corramore - yes, priceless gem that does not compromise with the brightness of its colors; a jewel in the Major crown. The gentle honk of the car brings us back to the moment. And from here we retreat into history. In 1858, a little more than two decades after indigenous tea had been discovered in India, a certain Mr. Logan, having resigned his military commission, came to Caracara from Ayrshire, Scotland. Following a violent confrontation with the local Assamese, he was left for dead on the banks of the Ghagrapara river. Taken in by the Kacharis, he was nursed back to life and, with their help, he started planting tea at Ghagrapara. Two other brothers came from Scotland, one of them expressly to join the fledgling Logan estate. The Logan of this estate travelled to Guwahati to receive his brother, but once there, he died of 'confusion of the brain' i.e. cerebral malaria. The younger brother, on reaching Guwahati and finding his brother dead and buried in the European cemetery (now the site of the Guwahati Engineering College), carried on to the estate and continued to manage his prize property.

In 1909, during her world tour, Lucy Logan, the younger sister of the Logan brothers, visited India. On her way to Lord Curzon's epic Delhi Durbar, her journey brought her to Corramore. 'Aunt Lucy' as she was known to Mr. Alexander Gordon, a Director of the Corramore Tea Company (which was later absorbed into Williamson Tea Holdings), was so impressed by Corramore that she remained the biggest shareholder till her death in the early 60s - by which time she was over 90 years old. She maintained a keen interest in the garden and her Directors. Through George Williamson & Company, London, her writ held sway over Corramore till the garden passed on to her nephew, A.E.Gordon. It is believed that when Aunt Lucy died, she left her holding in the company to a 'home' for cats and dogs, and it took quite a number of years to get the shares back into the hands of the family!

Corramore was the Gaelic name of the Logan farm in Lanarkshire, Scotland ("Corrie" for cleft, "Mor" for big). The tea estate remained with the Logan family for over 120 years. The grant of land to the Corramore Tea Company also included Kerkeria and Kunderbhil. In 1920, Superintendent Wynham brought to the notice of the company the location of some 500 acres of land between Kerkeria grand and the political boundary. He observed that "though this section may not tempt others, it seems possible the day is no far off when the government will refuse permission to take up further land for tea cultivation and the opportunity to secure this valuable piece of land may thus be lost". So it came to pass that tea was planted at Kerkeria and it finally become the main division. Presumably because of this and the cooler; healthier at the higher altitude, the Manager moved from Chagrapara to Kerkeria, built a new factory and a bungalow on a hill.
By 1923, the area under tea was 400 hectares of which 16.19 hectares were of only four-year-olds and under. Indigenous tea covered two third of the total area. China tea accounted for about eight percent of the garden. Roughly 150kg of seed was put down at Kerkeria into nurseries. By 1926, the gardens were all free of jungle and there were 12 very good nurseries of 15 maunds of Lotachapri seed. Infilling at Kerkeria was done with Assam plants. About 335 acres in Kerkeria were 1st Class Assam tea throughout. Every bit of the 18 acres of young tea were "as good as you can see in Assam."

The factory, in 1926, was being rebuilt with iron posts. Power was obtained from a turbine worked by the hill stream and the factory was lit with electric light. The company always did have a close association with Bhutan and its people. An annual water rent was paid to the Bhutanese government because the water of the Laxmi river flowing from Bhutan was required to run the turbine (the water channel passing through the labour lines, therefore, served a dual purpose). The estate being situated on a road leading into Bhutan's Kalinga dooars, a considerable number of Bhutanese passed through (as, indeed, they still do) the estate on their way to the local bazaars.

The labour force comprised 1,620 working souls - the backbone of any tea estate. They then carried eight annas (or half a rupee) a day, if they were lucky. Disease was rampant and heavy losses occurred due to death. The fear of life accounted for a high number of absconders. They came mostly from Orissa and there was, always a crying need for more. Efforts were being made to devise a standard house containing two rooms - a more permanent type of dwelling which would reduce the cost of maintenance. A new oil engine replace to two small standby steam engines. A new Chang house was erected, increasing withering space up to 216,000 feet. By 1930, the total cultivated area was 672.28 acres - Kerkeria accounting for 373.11 acres, Kunderbhil 94.90 and Ghagrapara 204.27 acres. The extension policy was truly being well implemented.

Burra bungalow

In 1937, a new Burra Bungalow was built - the old one with its antiquated thatched roof being on the verge of collapse. This grand structure of 1937 exists even today atop a hill - witness to a magnificent panorama of the valley spread before it, of the pine trees whispering in the sultry beauty of the garden and an avenue of flaming Poinsettias bordering the driveway behind the bungalow. In the days past, this was an airfield which the Manager used. His aircraft would be parked in the garage behind his bungalow. On returning from the club at night, the Manager would circle over Corramore as a signal to round up the labour who, with their flaming torches, would rush to the airstrip and stand in rows on wither side to 'light' the runway for the aircraft to land safely. However, the runway being too short for the company's Cessna aircraft, a new one was constructed on the west side of the Kerkeria tea areas. The old one was put under tea. Standing on this new emerald-green runway, with the silent hills behind and a sheer drop into nothingness in front and, with as perfect carpet of tea spreading into the horizon on one side, we can only salute the planters of yore who, painstakingly, made this fairytale wilderness into a flourishing estate.

During World War II, an American aircraft crashed into hills north of the estate. Twenty years later, the oxygen bottle from the wreckage was still in use as part of welding equipment on the estate! A ropeway was installed from the main garden to the factory and this was an unqualified success - helping enormously in leaf transport and garden communication. It fell into disuse over the years and was revived only in 1976 and is now being used to transport leaf after having survived two realignments.

The ropeway

The present Assistant's bungalow, a charming blend of quaintness and aesthetic appeal, nestled between a cluster of trees, was designed by Mr. Gordon, the owner of the property till 1976. It was built around 1968 when, for the first time, there was a married Assistant posted there. This was during the time of the Manager, Mr.Healy. The access road in 1951 was a gravel pot-holed track wending its way from Ghagrapara river through the thick, continuous jungle, for a distance of seven miles to Kerkeria. The company maintained this road till it was taken over by the PWD in 1976. The company bridge across the river was washed away by flood water on 1st July 1959. The 9.40 inches of rain for 16 hours on that day and the extensive erosion to the river banks therefrom, widened the river to such an extent that the cost of replacing the bridge was beyond the means of a single company. AC power arrived from the National Grid and no sooner came the telephone system albeit with a technical hitch - rampant, destructive elephants!). A small portion of company land on the south bank of the Ghagrapara river was handed over to the Indian army for the construction of a camp after the Chinese incursion into Assam.

A couple of corrections required! Groove should
be Grove and Healy should be Healey

In 1978, a project for complete modernisation of the factory was initiated and the last phase was completed in 1985 with the construction and renovation of the garage-cum-mechanics workshop, of the general stores godown and the tarmacadamising of the factory yard. This project was implemented in stages, starting with the demolition of Changs and the construction of new withering troughs. For the first time, in 1985, all-green-leaf weighments were carried out in the field as against the past practice of having the last one done in the factory. According to the then Manager Sanbah Pariat, "thus more leaf is being plucked by an individual worker, at the same time reducing fatigue for the next day's performance, where the burden of having to carry green leaf from as far a distance as three km has been eliminated." Again for the first time, in 1986, teas were packed in multi-wall paper sacks instead of the well-established and familiar wooden chests.

The year 1993 brought a phenomenal season to Corramore. A record crop of 983,568 kg was produced. Improved field practices and the weather took credit for this achievement. What started as a small estate on the Indo-Bhutan border - shipping as it did an occasional invoice of tea by bullock cart from Kerkeria to the Mandalay river ghat to be shipped further by river steamer to Calcutta - has now become a modern estate with state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities. But, one hopes, however mechanised the methods of production, it will not overshadow the pristine grace of Corramore. So endearing is this idyllic estate that Tim & Joan Healey, the last of the Europeans who lived here (from 1961 to 1976), returned to Scotland and christened their house "Kerkeria."