“Tea Planting in the Outer Himalayah” by Alexander Thorburn McGowan

It’s not just a job. It’s an adventure.

We know it best as the slogan for the United States Navy. But it probably could have worked just as well about a century and a half ago for those hardy Britishers who left their homeland and made their way to India to become tea planters. One of the themes that frequently crops up in books that chronicle this lifestyle is how difficult it could be.

Tea Planting in the Outer Himalayah (Photo source: screen capture from site)
Tea Planting in the Outer Himalayah (Photo source: screen capture from site)

The latest such volume that came my way was Tea Planting in the Outer Himalayah, by Alexander Thorburn McGowan. It’s an 1861 work that the author describes as “a brief sketch of a tea plantation in the Himalayahs.” No false advertising there, since, at just under 75 pages, this one is actually quite brief by the standards of these older works about tea.

An assistant surgeon with the British military, McGowan wrote the book on a number of visits to Indian tea plantations that took place while he was on leave. Just getting to one of these locations was something of an adventure and the author’s descriptions of the heavily laden camel and mule trains and gangs of servants needed to make it all go smoothly are as well suited to a travelogue as to a book about tea.

Unlike some of the previous accounts I’ve discussed in these pages, McGowan’s book obviously tackles the subject from the perspective of an outsider, as opposed to those books which were actually written by tea planters or others in the industry. But it’s an interesting variation on the topic, nonetheless, and a work that combines equal parts of tea history, sociology and the aforementioned travelogue type observations.

Like all of the old tea books that I discourse upon here, this one is available in a free electronic edition from a number of sources. As an interesting aside, the volume I used was scanned from a copy held by the University of California Library. If you need any proof that obscure tea-related works from yesteryear don’t exactly fly off the shelves, consider the circulation card in the back of the book that shows that it was only checked out three times, twice in the Forties and again in 1977.

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