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Tea—Part 2

October 2nd, 2014 · 1 Comment · 100th Anniversary, Books, Main Branch, West Branch

Fortune02By 1800, tea had become the most popular drink in England.  Almost all the tea in the world came from China and the British were unable to control the quality or the price.  Around 1850, a group of British businessmen set out to create a tea industry in India.

This task required a botanist.  Enter Robert Fortune, young, Scottish by birth, botanist.  What he   became in doing this task, was a botanist, a plant hunter, a thief and a spy.  In 1845, Robert Fortune, when he was thirty, took a two year trip to China in search of new plants.  When he returned to England, to help pay for his trip, he published a travelogue of his adventures.  He had been attacked by pirates and bandits.  He had encountered disease and severe storms.   Once dressed in disguise as a wealthy Chinese merchant, he was allowed to see the tea gardens.

Robert Fortune’s travelogue changed his life.   He was approached by a representative of the East India Trading Company.  This representative asks Robert Fortune to return to China, to smuggle tea plants out of China and into India

Robert Fortune agreed to the undertaking.  To jump start production in the East India Trading Company’s tea gardens he brought back living plants.  He returned with 2,000 plants, 17,000 seeds, plus specialized techniques of Chinese tea growing and manufacturing.  He somehow persuaded Chinese tea workers to leave their homes and accompany him to India.  This entire undertaking took two years.

After this undertaking Robert Fortune was employed at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and in his later years at the Horticultural Society of London.  Robert Fortune died in 1880.  Little is known of his final years because his wife Jane Fortune burned his papers and letters, shortly before she died.

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