Organised research in tea started in India as early as 1891 when a Joint Committee of the Indian Tea Association (ITA) and the Agricultural and Horticultural Society of Bengal appointed Mr. M. Kelway Bamber, a Chemist. Till then all important contributions towards growth of tea industrywere the results of untiring personal efforts of pioneers who had to struggle
against heavy odds. Mr Bamber initiated work on chemistry of tea, soils and manures in an effort to understand the chemical basis of tea quality. The findings of this work were published in his book “The Chemistry and Agriculture of Tea including Growth and Manufacture” in 1893. The ITA then assigned Dr.George Watt, Entomologist, Govt of India the task of investigating the subject of Tea Blight and the potential of the plant Adhatoda vasica as an insecticide against tea pests.
Dr. Watt extensively toured the tea areas of Assam and Naga hills in 1895 and was convinced that the investigations could only be accomplished by conducting a series of long term studies. He published the findings in the book “The Pests and Blight of the Tea Plant” in 1898. Dr. Watt impressed upon the planters on the need for proper cultivation of the tea plant as well as protection from pests and diseases. He dealt with all aspects of tea cultivation like, plucking, pruning, manuring, drainage and even advised pipe drainage. Following his report, ITA proposed for appointment of a Scientific Officer for research on chemistry, cultivation and manufacture of tea. According to Dr. Watt, the proposed investigations were to include (1) study on the influence of environmental factors like soil, climate, moisture, topography
of the land, shade, proximity to jungles, etc., on the character of the tea leaf (2) chemical aspects of tea plants in relation to disease resistance, manure requirement, yield and quality improvement and (3) all stages of manufacture and also its relation with field operations. For this Dr. Watt suggested that the concerned scientist should have a strong Botany and
Chemistry background and should be supported by a local laboratory in addition to the Central Laboratory in the Calcutta Museum. However, the proposal could not be put into immediate effect for want of fund. In 1899, ITA with financial support from the Governments of Assam and Bengal appointed Dr Harold H. Mann as the Scientific Officer. He joined in 1900 and this heralded a new era in scientific research on tea in Northeast India.
Dr. Mann started work in the laboratory of the Government Reporter on Economic Products in the Calcutta museum. His work became so impressive from the beginning that both planters and Agency Houses appreciated it and made a concerted effort to augment research for the benefit of the Industry. In 1902, on the advice from ITA, Dr Mann prepared a project for
expansion keeping the Calcutta laboratory as the Head Quarters. He suggested establishment of an Experimental station in the Central part of the tea districts, preferably in or around Jorhat as it was well connected by rail and river, the main means of communication at that time.
The station was to be like American Experimental Station with about 20 hectares of land to carry out experiments on methods of planting, manuring, plucking, pruning, etc., and their effects on the tea bush and quality. It should also be near to a factory and manned by an officer who should primarily be an agriculturist and organic chemist and supported by an entomologist and a mycologist.
Finally, the project received support from the Governments of India, Assam and Bengal and with contributions from ITA and various Tea Planters Associations, one station was established at Heeleakah Tea Estate, about 20 km south of Jorhat in 1904. The station was put under charge of Mr. Claude Hutchinson. The Scottish Assam Tea Company provided a bunglow, some old tea area and land for extension. By 1905, the station had 13 ha of land where experiments on (1) manuring method on quality and yield, (2) green manuring plants and (3) pruning, plucking systems were laid out. A chemical
laboratory was also set up in the station. The experiments also included studies on effects of temperature on fermentation and quality, mosquito blight and red rust. These studies could establish (1) importance of Dhaincha as green
manure (2) efficacy of oil cakes and (3) no adverse effect of manures on tea quality.
Dr Mann studied the tea soils of Northeast India. He observed that tea plants grew in acid soils and responded well to manuring with oil cake and cattle manure. In many places he observed that tea roots suffered from waterlogged condition as a result of which microbial activities were impaired and the plants deprived of nutrients. He emphasised the need for proper drainage.
His work on fermentation showed that fermentation at 77-82°F temperature produced the best tea. He found that rapid withering or prolonged withering for more than 24 hrs yielded inferior tea and the flavour deteriorated if fermentation was carried out more than 3 hours. High temperature interfered with the desired reactions. He also devised a chemical method of measuring certain important elements in tea quality.
In 1906, another laboratory was opened at Kannykoory in Cachar where Mr. C. B. Antram joined as Entomologist and started work on three serious pests of tea. After the appointment of Mr. Claude Hutchinson, Dr Mann
became the Chief Scientific Officer and continued up to 1907. The findings of Dr Mann were published in 34 pamphlets and reports. With Dr Watt, he has also revised the formers book on Pests and Blights of Tea Disease in 1903. Mr Hutchinson succeeded Dr. Mann in 1907 and Dr. G. D. Hope took over charge of Heeleakah station in the same year and became the Chief scientific Officer in 1909 on retirement of Mr. Hutchinson. Mr. P.H. Carpenter was appointed as Asstt. Scientific Officer at Heeleakah.
Research during this period contributed significantly to the enrichment of knowledge of tea soils, manuring, cultivation, plucking, pruning, green manure plants, tea seed nursery disease, red rust, blister blight, red slug caterpillar, bark eating borers, thrips, mosquito-blight, ferment and fermentation, taints on the packed tea, foundation of modern agricultural methods of soil management in tea besides focussing attention on major pests and diseases and manufacturing processes.
Towards the end of the decade, more attention was given for dissemination of the generated information amongst the tea planters. For this, officers during their visits delivered lectures at convenient centres.
The Government of India also provided manpower in some of these investigations. L. de Nice’Ville, Entomologist, Indian Museum participated in the study on tea mosquito blight and in fact, died of fever contracted during a visit to Terai for investigation. The Imperial Economic Mycologist investigated the canker of tea and another tea seed disease. The Mycologist, Government of Madras in 1910, contributed an article on blister blight in Darjeeling.
However, as continuation at Heeleakah seemed impossible primarily for want of labourers, ITA had to look for another site for the station and a final report on the work at Heeleakah was published in 1910.
Tocklai Experimental Station
Tea research was further consolidated by establishing a research complex in the loops of the river Tocklai at Jorhat in 1911 named as Tocklai Experimental Station. The Jorehaut Tea Company Limited provided the site. The Governments of Assam and Bengal shared with the industry the expenditure of establishment of Tocklai. In the beginning, one laboratory and two bunglows were constructed. Mr. A. C. Tunstall, a Mycologist and Mr. C. A. Andrew, an
Entomologist joined Tocklai in the same year. Mr. P.H. Carpenter, Asstt. Scientific Officer and Incharge of Heeleakah shifted to Tocklai and this and the resignation of the Entomologist Mr. Antram marked the closure of the two stations at Heeleakah and Cachar. The two state governments with Govt. of India also provided sizeable grants towards the recurring expenditure from 1911 and thus the Tocklai Experimental Station started functioning.
Mr. H. R. Cooper joined Tocklai as second Asstt. Scientific Officer, in 1914. The Borbhetta experimental estate was set up on 50 ha land acquired from the Government to which more land was added later. During the World War-I, the work at Tocklai hampered as two of the senior officers were called for active services and who could resume duties only in 1919 after the War. During this period, Mrs. A.C. Tunstall has to look after the field experiments at Borbhetta. She has also collected tea seeds from different sources and established the botanical specimen plot, a source for many cultivars including the clone TV1. Systematic recording of meteorological data was stared at Tocklai in 1918. The following year Mr. P.H. Carpenter
resumed duties and took over as Chief Scientific Officer from Mr.G.D. Hope. Mr. Carpenter prepared a plan for expansion of infrastructure at Tocklai for improvement in the activities and suggested appointment of a Chemist, Bacteriologist, Biochemist, Botanist and Agricultural Officer in addition to Resident Advisory Officer in each district comprising of 12,000 hectares. The suggestions were approved. Mr. C. R. Harler was appointed as second chemist in 1920, Mr. H. H. Wiles as Agriculturist (in 1921 but left in 1923), Mr C. J. Harrison as the Third Chemist in 1924 and Mr. S. F. Benton in 1925 as
Bacteriologist. Mr. Harler was placed in charge of a temporary substation at Dooars in 1925 but the scheme was withdrawn a few years later.
The infrastructure was also improved in 1920 by adding the Entomology Laboratory and four bunglows. Two years later, the Mycology and Bacteriology laboratories were constructed. The factory and the powerhouses
were built and electric supply systems installed in 1926. The Guest House and one bunglow were constructed in 1929. With the increase in infrastructures the lecture courses for planters were started in 1922.
In 1930, the Empire Marketing Board offered to bear half the cost of botanical research to be carried out at Tocklai. A new laboratory was built and Dr W. Wight was appointed as Botanist.
During the same year Mr. Tunstall, for the first time in the world, successfully propagated tea from green shoots cuttings. This finally led to development of a simple vegetative method of propagation of elite bushes
as clones and this is now the method of propagation widely used in the tea world.
The steady growth however received a jolt in 1931 on account of financial crisis in the industry due to unrestricted and over production forcing Tocklai to cut down expenditure.
The services of some staff members were dispensed with. The Calcutta Central Office was also closed down. The publication of ITA quarterly Journal started in 1911 was stopped in 1932. Mr. C. R. Harler, soon after leaving Tocklai published a book “The culture and marketing of Tea” in 1933.
The industry however, recovered within a few years. In 1935-36, a commission of Enquiry headed by Prof. Sir Frank L. Engledow was appointed to look into the working of the station. The committee recommended (1) formation of the London Advisory Committee, comprising representatives of ITA and scientists, (2) fundamental study in UK on the chemistry of made tea, (3) opening of district advisory service, (4) furtherance of certain lines of research and (5) collaboration in certain field of research among tea growing countries. As a follow-up, following steps were taken immediately:
- Formation of the London Advisory Committee.
- Establishment of fundamental study on chemistry of made tea in UK.
- Introduction of Annual Conference of planters and scientist. (The first Tocklai
Conference was held in 1937).
- Increase in the duration of lecture courses from two to three weeks.
Appointment of Dr. E. A. H. Roberts as Third Chemist (later Biochemist) in 1937, of Messer’s F. S. Mitchell, E. J. Winter and Dr. E. K. Woodford as Advisory Officers in 1939, of Mr. L. C. Comrie as Entomologist in 1938 and Mr. N. M. Macgregor as Senior Advisory Officer in 1939. This led to the establishment of district advisory centres in the Dooars, Darjeeling, Surma Valley and Assam and provided opportunity for field testing of Tocklai developed technology in different agro climatic regions.
During this decade, foundation was laid for proper field experimentation by adopting statistical methods. The Word War-II however again disrupted the activities at Tocklai. During 1941- 44, five of the senior
officers were called for war duty and others for national service. One of the officer, Mr. L. C. Comrie died in action in 1942. Army requisitioned the Administrative building, the Guest House, four bunglows and the Botanical laboratory. Mrs. Tunstall had to look after the agricultural experiments at Borbhetta and Mrs Wight the botanical investigations. Soon after the war, Mr Carpenter retired and Mr. C. J. Harrison took over as Chief Scientific Officer.
The first few years after the war were the periods of consolidation. The year 1946 saw the appointment of the first Indian Mr. N. G.Gokhale in the officer’s rank. The “Tea Encyclopaedia” was published for the
first time in the same year. In 1947, another Indian Mr. S. K. Dutta joined as Agriculturist and Mr. E. Hainsworth as Entomologist. The same year a delegation of ITA, London and Calcutta comprising of Messrs A.N. Stuart, E. J. Nicholls
and R. Hards visited Tocklai and emphasized the need for engineering research; this also being the view of ITA’s consultant engineer. In 1948, four more officers were appointed against vacancies in Entomology (Dr. G.M Das), Biochemistry (Mr. D.J. Wood), and Advisory Departments (Mr. P. M Grover, and Mr. R. L. Macalpine).
After partition of India, the Surma Valley Advisory Branch was retained on a maintenance basis till its closure in 1949. Opening up of the Cachar Advisory Branch followed this.
Three tea clones, viz., TV1, TV2 and TV3 developed for the first time in the world at Tocklai were released to the industry in 1949. This marked the beginning of a revolution in clonal selection and vegetative
propagation of tea.
In 1951, two more departments, viz., the Tea Tasting Department with Mr. J. M Trinick and the Engineering Department with Mr. I. McTear started functioning.
Dr. R.J. Mcllory was the first Director of Tocklai in
1952 when Mr. C. J. Harrison retired.
A second commission of enquiry headed by Prof Sir Frank Engledow visited Tocklai in 1953-54 and suggested that the Annual conferences should confine to specific themes and offer scope for free interchange of ideas
through active participation by planters. In 1954 the Two and A Bud, the institute’s quarterly journal was published for the first time. Mr. H. Ferguson became the new Director after resignation of Dr. Mcllory in 1955. The same year Dr. D. N. Barua was appointed as Plant Physiologist and Mr. D. N. Barbara as Maintenance Engineer. The Agricultural Chemistry Branch was started in 1956 with Mr. S. N. Sarmah as the Incharge, which functioned for a couple of years.
The first tea machinery invented at Tocklai was the “Rotorvane” by Mr McTear in 1957 that only gave indications of things to follow soon from the Tocklai engineers. The year next saw establishment of the Statistics Department with Dr. A. R. Sen and a Pesticide Testing Unit with Dr. T. D. Mukherjee as Incharges. The new Advisory Branch of Tocklai was also opened at North Bank in 1958. In 1961, Mr. H. Ferguson left Tocklai and Mr. N. G. Gokhale became the first Indian to hold the post of Tocklai Director. The period also saw a severe financial crisis and due to which as well as increasing running cost, ITA could manage the station only up to 1963.
From 1st January, 1964, the management of Tocklai was taken over by the Tea Research Association (TRA) formed as a co-operative research body funded partly by the Council of Industrial and Scientific Research (CSIR) and the Tea Board and partly by members of TRA by way of subscription. From that date the services of Tocklai was made available to all member estates of TRA.
Thus, since 1911 the research station, popularly known as Tocklai has come a long way growing
from strength to strength. Today, it is the oldest and largest research station of its kind. TRA has been linked to the Commerce Ministry and the Tea Board for receiving grants-in-aid from the Government. TRA functions under a Council of Management with members elected from the industry, nominees from the Ministry of Commerce, Tea Board, ITA and other sections of the industry. A scientific Advisory Committee, consisting of experts of various fields, guides the course of research.
Tocklai carries out and promotes research on all aspects of tea cultivation and processing with the principal objective of improving overall productivity and quality.