Sunday, 5 July 2009

Manintoddy Coffee

Coffee plants growing near Mananthavadi in 2006.[1]

One of the unexpected pleasures of writing a blog about even the most obscure of subjects is that somewhere out there in cyberspace, there is usually at least one other enthusiast for even this the most remote and unlikely of topics.

Suddenly, you get yet another set of absolutely fascinating leads, and off one goes again, in the hunt of yet another part of the jigsaw.

Thus it was this morning when total expectedly I received the following email from David Atkinson.

"Re your blog in February about:[2]

"An anonymous writer who had travelled to Tellicherry, wrote an article that appeared in 1854 in the "Home Friend, a weekly miscellany of amusement and instruction; By Society for promoting Christian knowledge"

I have identified him as Frederick Arthur Neale, he was born in Madras, 1821, son of Daniel Neale, of the Supreme Court, Madras.

His cousin (probably step-cousin), was Edmund Conry, who was a mariner who also owned a coffee plantation at Alway.

He was also brother-in-law to Anstruther Cheape & Thomas Ebenezer Boileau."

Not only has David managed to establish that Frederick Arthur Neale had written the original article, but he has also managed to establish that Neale had also written several other related articles that had all appeared in The Home Friend between 1853 and 1854.

Frederick Neale travelled extensively during the early 1850's visiting Syria, Egypt, India and Siam, and his articles are great fun to read.

Of greatest interest to me is Neale's article “Adventures in the Wynyard Jungle” which can be read on-line at Google Books. [4]

This book was originally published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge in their magazine "The Home Friend" as a part work, in which the article was published in 1853 over three issues in Volume III, on pages 235-240, 241-246, and 273-280.

The final paragraph on page 280 mentions Mr. Baber's plantation.

Of late years, Mr. Baber, the son of a late Madras civilian, established himself at Manintoddy for the purpose of introducing the coffee-plant into that district : he purchased a very extensive tract of ground, which was soon disencumbered of trees and planted with coffee. Mr. Baber had built himself a very pretty little villa. The last account we heard was that the coffee succeeded admirably, and doubtless others will soon settle there, which will be quite a boon to the officer commanding the detachment. Manintoddy produces very fine cardamoms ; indigo will also grow, and we believe a species of wild clove flourishes in the jungle, where also we have little doubt but that many other valuable plants and herbs, heretofore as unknown as the gutta percha was a few years since, must abound ; and the botanist who could set wild beasts and the fever at defiance, would, if he survived his researches, add much to the store of learning. The same may be said with regard to the animal kingdom, and birds, butterflies, moths, and insects. We ourselves have caught glimpses of birds and butterflies whilst passing through the jungle, such as we have never met with or read of, or seen in any collection, dead or living.

We know that this Mr. Baber, is was Henry Fearon Baber who had married the Honourable Maria Jane Harris, Granddaughter of Lord Harris of Seringapatam on the 26th of September 1841 at Ootacamund. Henry later became a tea planter at Kursiany near Darjeeling, in North Eastern India, where he died on the 18th May 1861.

This suggests that the Coffee plantation may not have been a long term success.

Henry Baber was not the first person to grow coffee at Mananthavadi. As far as it is possible to tell, that honour belongs to Captain Henry Bevan, who was appointed in April 1825 to command the Wynaud Rangers, a force set up from the recently disbanded Seringapatam local battalion.

Soon after my appointment to Manintoddy, I directed my attention to the introduction of the cultivation of coffee into Wynaud. A few plants were kindly given me by Mr. B. of Angeracandy[5], which throve so well, and proved so productive, that I recommended the measure to Mr. S., the collector [6], who seconded my views, and sent quantities of the seed to be distributed among the native inhabitants gratis. I pointed out the prosperous state of my coffee plants to several of them, and explained the process I used in the cultivation, but although they promised to give the culture every attention, they ultimately neglected it altogether, either through want of enterprise and energy to persevere, or from an idea that a tax would be levied on the article by government hereafter. I extended my plantations considerably while I remained at the station, on ascertaining from impartial and good judges (especially Bishop Turner, who had tasted the coffee), that it possessed the flavour and aroma of the finest Mocha berries.

For the culture of coffee, the climate and soil of Wynaud are undoubtedly favourable. The great moisture of the atmosphere, and the tenacious nature of the ground are sufficient to afford nourishment to the plants without the aid of irrigation, except when in their infancy.

I have no hesitation in recording my opinion, based on experience and observation, that any speculation in extensive coffee plantations undertaken in Wynaud, as also on the western frontier of the Mysore country, would, under proper management, be highly productive and profitable.

It would not require a very great outlay of capital, and no difficulty exists in obtaining grants of land, as the uplands and hills, where 1 found this plant to thrive best, being only used far grazing, are of little or no value; such valleys only as are under cultivation pay rent to the government. Every encouragement, therefore, ought to be afforded to persons who would reclaim and turn to account those uplands which are now little better than barren wastes. The duty realised by government of eight per cent, on the exportation of coffee would tend materially to augment the revenue, as the cultivation of the article becomes more general-

It is probable that Captn. Bevan's garden was near the fort in the centre of the current town.

A Google Earth Image of Mananthavadi marked up with the probably locations in the town linked to the East India Company Period.

Does anybody happen to know where Mr. Baber's Coffee plantation was?

Presumably, as it was one of the first plantations, it must be quite close to the town of Mananthavadi.

If you live in the town, or come from the area, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted on

[1]The modern town of Mananthavadi, was known as Manatoddy between about 1795 and 1825. It then appears in texts as Manintoddy, during a period between 1825 and 1860.
[3]Email from David Atkinson, 4th July 2009.
[5]Mr. B. of Angeracandy. Almost certainly Murdoch Brown, who ran a substantial plantation there.
[6]Mr. S., the collector. William Sheffield. January 1826 to February 1831.
[7]Major Henry Bevan, Thirty Years in India, volume II, published 1829, page 242.


ian r macdonnell said...

Hi Nick, me again after 10 early coffee planters in Wayanad. You've put me onto some good references thank you and some good extra info. Love to know who the "Morris" was - viz :- "....within a few years several entrepreneurs started estates in Mananthavady; Glasson, Richmond and Morris were the pioneers among them..". I think I've found the original source but no luck. As far as I can tell they were at a plantation called "Sunnyside, Pillay Cardoo, Manintoddy". I found a Sunnyside plantation in the UPASI 'Planting Directory of Southern, India- 1956'. It gives its postal address as Vayittri, which is Vythiri that is 25 miles south of Mananthavady. Could be the same Sunnyside (but century later!) as I gather back in c.1850 Manintoddy would be regarded as the main town for planters in that district (where the club was!). I have records of some Morris's, husband and wife dying there in 1847 and 1851 and a brother late of there who died 1854. Seeing it seems that this particular early entrepreneur trio didn't set up there until the early 1840's - maybe my records are actually of the entrepreneur Morris referred to. Gleeson was a Major... so I wonder if the Morris' were also HEIC Army?

Can't find a single reference to Pillay Cardoo though. Spelling?? Do you have any clues as to its meaning or origin or what its proper Indian spelling may be... or where it is?

Cheers, Ian Macdonnell, Melbourne

ian r macdonnell said...

Hi...on "Pillay Cardoo".

I guess Pillay could be Pillai which is relevant to some extent, or maybe giving some clue :-

(1) "Pallichal Pillai was one of the eight domains known as Ettuveetil Pillamar in the medieval history of south Kerala.

The Ettuveetil Pillamar were the part of the administrative system in Travancore (which consisted of territory of the present Thiruvananthapuram i.e. the capital of the state of Keralam and the district of Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu) from early times. They were known as Desavazhis, who were directly subordinate to the supreme power which was Nāduvāzhi." Wiki.

(2) Pillai, meaning Prince,[1] is a title of nobility which can either refer to a ruling chief, members of the nobility, or junior princes of the royal family historically ranked immediately below the king.[2] The oldest lineages of Pillais include not only Kshathriyas but also Brahmins who took up the sword.[3] From the early modern period, the title also came to be bestowed on Savarna subjects by the ruling families of Kerala for services military or political, most of whom were of Nair origin. WIKI.