It is well known that the tea industry was the foundation on which the modern economy of Sri Lanka was developed. Even today, one and a half centuries since the beginning of this industry in Sri Lanka, tea exports generate the foreign exchange earnings.
The vision of James Taylor on the enormous potential of tea as a plantation crop, difficult conditions under which he worked, manner he perfected the art of the manufacture and dedication of his entire life to the plantation tea industry to the extent of staying a bachelor all his life, are legendary among the tea planters of Sri Lanka.
The commemoration of the 125th death anniversary of Taylor is therefore of great significance to the plantation industry of Sri Lanka. Even after 125 years there are many lessons to be learnt from the life and deeds of this ‘pioneer’ tea planter, not only for the planters but for all professionals and entrepreneurs.
According to an obituary notice appeared in the Ceylon Observer on May 4, 1892, Taylor rallied on Sunday getting up and giving orders about the work as usual and made every enquiry as to how the work went on, how much tea of each grade packed and ready and all that sort of thing, which had become second nature to him.
From the above obituary one could observe that his only interest was seeing to the progress and well-being of the tea bush until his demise. He went about with his task on the estate till he breathed his last. That is why he often boasted, “My work lasts forever.”
Taking the colossal and economically crucial period of time the tea industry we see today, I hope that this message will give all of you associated with the tea industry an insight into Taylor’s dedication to his assignment and it will remind us that it is up to all of us to improve and consolidate the tea industry established over 150 years ago as an industrial beacon to be reckoned with among the tea producing countries.
It is therefore not only a duty but an obligation on our part, as the beneficiaries of him to remember this great pioneer at least on instances like this when his 125th death anniversary is commemorated.
According to the record of burials available at the Mahiyawa Cemetery, Kandy, his sister purchased a small plot of land in the Presbyterian section and the monument erected there is inscribed as follows: “In pious memory of James Taylor of Loolecondera Estate, Ceylon, the pioneer of the tea and Cinchona Enterprises in this island who died May 2, 1892 aged 57 years. This stone was erected by his sister and many friends in Ceylon.”
All concerned with the well-being of the industry hope and pray that the management companies will show the intrepidness and foresight of the founding father in managing the estates, which is in their purview ensure the stability and growth of the industry.
In this account of the late James Taylor, I may have omitted other important factors in relation to this gentleman but the fact remains that as a nation we should be grateful to the pioneer who brought this great tea industry to Ceylon on commercial basis and we largely depend on this for employment and foreign exchange to the present day.