V1 mulberry

V1 mulberry
Kuppam, AP, 2010

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

James Anderson of Madras - 3

Anderson versus the East India Company

Anderson's relationship with the Governor and the Board of Revenue who represented the Company's interests in Madras, and no doubt their own too, was a significant part of the problems he encountered. Their priorities were different. The Company was concerned first with raising revenue in the form of rents and taxes. If there was a need for investment it had to be in enterprises which would clearly yield a profit to the Company, and in the shortest possible time. Anderson, on the other hand, saw the plight of the people, both as a result of the recent disasters and from a long-term lack of circumstances such as to encourage development. He noted particularly the miserable condition of the lower classes and those who would later be identified as 'untouchables'.

He saw an important part of their problems as a shortage of demand for labour over a large part of the year. Encouraging economic activity was therefore his priority, and he wanted to achieve it by making new crops and new enterprises available and by helping people to obtain the resources, land in particular, which they would make productive.
He did his best to persuade the Company first that putting money into sericultural development would be profitable for it. In doing so he certainly exaggerated the speed with which profit could possibly be achieved: he had perhaps to do so in order to interest the Company at all. But it is also clear with hindsight that, as a pioneer, there was no way he could know either the hazards awaiting him or the timescale appropriate to such a major enterprise. He was probably not the first and certainly not the last would-be promoter of development to find himself in such a predicament.

It was over the second part of his policy, getting private people into sericulture, that the major clash came. There were two routes he proposed taking. One was to lure ordinary people into sericulture by example and incentive. The example was to be provided by more or less official European plantations which could demonstrate rearing and even reeling. He encouraged them particularly through
his extensive correspondence and its immediate publication in a succession of small books. The incentives came later when trying to boost the uptake amongst Indians by providing mulberry cuttings, silkworm eggs and necessary equipment, and guaranteeing to buy villagers' output, both of mulberry leaves and cocoons.

But it was the second route which caused most trouble. This was the provision of land for large-scale sericultural enterprises, either for Europeans, though Company policy at the time was in general against putting land into European hands, or for wealthy Indians. In Anderson's eyes the country was empty; there were huge amounts of land that had been cultivated
before the 1780 war but that had then dropped out of cultivation, and in addition there was waste land which had never apparently been used at all. He thought - and said repeatedly in a barrage of increasingly heated letters to the Governor and the Board - that surely, when the future prosperity of the country was at stake, land could be found and provided on terms which would encourage people to take it up and get on with planting the extensive areas of mulberry which would be needed.

The Company, however, was concerned - as always - with revenue, and also with the tangle of existing rights and claims to land. No clear policy had yet been arrived at for sorting out a system of landholding and revenue such as would later be achieved with 'permanent settlements'. There was as yet little understanding of principles and even less of surveys on the ground. The Company agreed with Anderson that the land had to be brought back into cultivation, but it was also worried about the practical difficulties of doing this. A worry was that incentives to take up new land would simply encourage people to abandon their existing lands for new allocsations on which they would have to pay less. There would be a net loss of revenue to government with no net gain in the amount of land farmed. With so much unresolved, there were long delays in dealing with the early applications submitted, and the terms that were finally offered were not encouraging.

Anderson raged at the officials, portraying them in his numerous letters as bureaucratic nigglers and wasters who did not have the interests of the country at heart. Since he had developed powerful backing from the Directors of the Company in London, they put up with this patiently - in contrast to an earlier occasion when he had been told bluntly to mind his own business and stick to his medical responsibilities. They even did their best to oblige him. At the same time however, having ceased to reply to his letters over several months, the Board of Revenue wrote
to the Governor complaining of his behaviour. They took the opportunity at the same time to express serious doubts about his sericultural schemes in general. The Governor replied with some sympathy: 'we hope the Doctor will, for the sake of the object he professes to promote, adopt a more conciliating and respectful conduct towards you in future'. The correspondence was copied to Anderson, who promptly responded, on 22 February 1794, that he had therefore to 'decline any further interference'; he would, that is to say, pull out of the enterprise, including, as it soon turned out, the supervision of the farm at Vellout that Parkison was managing.

After a delay of a few months however, he could not keep away altogether from sericulture. He continued to rear worms in Madras for some time, but the impetus behind official involvement with sericultural promotion that he had provided was at an end. It took a little time for the Company's projects to be liquidated but, by the time of the last Mysore War in 1799 which put an end to Tipu's sericultural initiatives, the Company had also abandoned sericultural development.

In the event, neither in the Company's territory nor in Mysore was this the end of sericulture. It survived surprisingly in a few remote spots, but evidence now emerging suggests that there were two more major sources of continuity. From an early stage Anderson had been interested in encouraging Indian princes to concern themselves with sericulture. The Nawab of Arcot, the major Indian ruler in the region, himself always
had perhaps too many more urgent concerns; at any rate he did not pursue it. Two of his sons who held court at Trichinopoly were, however, interested and so, more importantly, was his brother, Abdul Wahab Khan, at Chittoor. He established a plantation and sent people to learn reeling in Madras. In Chittoor, as today, it was possible to breed much more securely; on the coast it turned out to be increasingly difficult even to maintain silkworm stock through the monsoon season. It was largely owing to eggs from Chittoor that it was possible to revive rearing on the coast after disastrous attempts at it in both 1795 and 1796. When the Company closed the Vellout farm it was to Chittoor that some of the staff went for work. No evidence has yet emerged for events there over the next generation, but it is tempting at least to suspect here some connection with the presence there, in the early 1840s, of a substantial sericultural establishment run by a remarkable Christian missionary, Anthony Norris Groves, 'Father of Faith Missions'. This was briefly to play a significant part in the re-establishment of sericulture in the South.

The other tempting focus of interest is the Baramahal, the area ceded by Mysore to the Company in 1792 which is now mostly Dharmapuri and Salem Districts of Tamil Nadu. This was new territory and the Company's own. Capt. Alexander Read, with the assistance of Thomas Munro and others, was sent to take charge of it. Their first responsibility was to work out how revenue was to be raised from its land; it was here indeed that the ryotwari system of land revenue subsequently applied across large areas of India was first worked out. But they were also, in conjunction with this, concerned, like Anderson, with the economic development of the country. They investigated crops which might be profitably grown and transported, and amongst these was silk. Another assistant, Eyre W. Lyte, a former planter in the West Indies, was responsible for this and he had the assistance of Mohamed Arif, the Bengali who had set up Anderson's filature in Madras and had worked with him for five years. In 1795/6, again with direct support from Anderson, they established a 54-acre plantation and started rearing and reeling at Tirupattur, today in the south of Vellore District. This was an enterprise opening up inland at just the time when, on the coast, the decision to close down was being taken. As at Chittoor, there is then an unfortunate gap in the record which waits to be filled, but it is at least suggestive that it was not too far away, in Denkanikota of Dharmipuri District where sericulture was reported in the 1830s as already established. Whether this was a relic either of Tipu's Mysore schemes or Anderson's from Madras remains to be established.


Despite all the best efforts and ingenuity of both
Anderson and Parkison, the Company abandoned its silk projects and closed their plantation in September 1798. But even if, contrary to all Anderson's optimism, silk could not to be produced on the Coromandel Coast of Madras, it was here as well as in Mysore that practical and financial issues of sericultural development in the South were experimented with, struggled over and conclusive results achieved.

Anderson died in Madras in 1809. Doubtless he was disappointed in the failure of the Company's schemes but perhaps he died with the knowledge of Indian sericultural enterprise continuing. He wrote to Parkison in 1796, of new initiatives, that there would be 'time enough after the management of the worms is in the hands of the country people'. His many successors in sericultural development have indeed taken him up on this.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Bangalore Silk Farm

Part 2
Development and the Salvation Army

In January 1910 the Tata Silk Farm was handed over by Jamsetji’s son, Dorabji, to the Salvation Army and a new era was to begin. The interest of the government had been in improving the industry at its grass roots, but for that purpose the Farm was so far felt to have had little success, perhaps 'owing to the conservatism of the raiyats' as the Government of Mysore, Administration Report 1910/11 politely put it. Nevertheless, it was agreed to continue the original land grant and the Rs 3,000 annual subsidy for another three years.

The Salvation Army had grown out of a mission to the poor started in Victorian London by a Methodist evangelist, William Booth in 1865. This was reorganised in 1878 into a ranked and uniformed ‘army’ by Booth and his wife, Catherine. It was in effect a church for the poor and those rejected by respectable Christianity of the time, an ‘army’ organised to support ‘down and outs’, feed and house them, save them from alcohol and immorality, and lead them to a Christian way of life as the organisation understood it. Booth was its first ‘General’, its ministers and leaders were ‘Officers’, and other members were its ‘Soldiers’. All ranks were open to women as well as to men. As Booth described it: ‘The three “S’s” best expressed the way in which the Army administered to the “down and outs”: first, soup; second, soap; and finally, salvation’.

The movement spread quickly, to Scotland, Australia, the United States, France and, in 1882, to India, as well as Canada, Sweden and Switzerland. Many other countries were to follow. The Indian branch was started by an ICS officer himself born in India but with the grand Anglo-French name of Frederick St George de Latour Tucker, of the Indian Civil Service. He had joined the Salvation Army as a Major, starting its work in Bombay. As well as evangelism, it set up social agencies of various kinds: for the alleviation of the effects of famine, orphanages, schools, cottage industries and settlements for the Depressed Classes, later Dalits. Medical work began in 1893. The movement was interested in supporting the poor in many societies by giving them employment in paying enterprises which would, together with support from charitable and government grants, finance the extensive operation as a whole. It was such an organisation – part mission, part business – that was asked to take over the Tata Silk Farm.

They made a bold beginning and expanded their activities fast and widely. Already in 1912 Commissioner Tucker published a booklet entitled Experiments by the Salvation Army with French, Italian, Mysore and Erie Silk Worms in India and Ceylon, 1910-1911. The Salvation Army management of the Silk Farm had expanded its mulberry plantation, erected new buildings, doubled the size of the original filature and was also reeling in Ramanagaram. They had trained seven of their ‘European Officers’ and students and villagers from around southern India and Bombay in sericulture and allied activities, and they distributed silkworm eggs and mulberry cuttings to places in western and central India which were also at the time becoming again interested in the potential of silk production. They had manufactured ‘a cheap and convenient reeling machine for cottage use’, and the Japanese system of reeling and re-reeling was also the subject of their training. In 1912 it was reported that
visitors from various part of India have called, and advice has been sought by numerous correspondents. Already the Tata Silk Farm has given birth to three other institutions of a similar character under our auspices in Ceylon, the United Provinces and the Punjab.
The Farm was awarded medals at exhibitions - gold in Bangalore and silver in Madras – for ‘its exhibit of the entire process from the silkworm egg to the woven article’. In all they claimed 10 gold medals, 8 silver and 5 bronze, with numerous certificates. A bale of its silk was shown at the London Silk Exhibition of 1912, where it was said to have ‘attracted great attention from the visitors, who included Their Majesties the King and Queen and other members of the Royal Family.’ (Tucker 1912; Playne 1914/5; Lala 2004: 55-57).

There is no doubt that they made an energetic start and ensured that ‘Tata Silk Farm’ would retain a lasting presence in Bangalore, if only as a place name the origins of which would be revealed with generous hyperbole at intervals over the years. They provided livelihoods and opportunities for the poor, neglected and often scorned in India and elsewhere. The original connection of Jamsetji Tata with the silk industry is also certainly of interest, one of the great and philanthropic names who have been associated with it since its ancient origins in China. Lala (2004: 57) writes : ‘In India of today, it is little known that the flourishing silk industry of south India especially was revived by the same man as was to give it iron and steel and hydro-electric power’. But whether either Tata or the Salvation Army discovered a viable way in which the industry could be developed and the poor could be simultaneously advantaged is much more doubtful and the issues that the connection involves are complex.

The Farm’s subsequent operation and its significance for the silk industry would be critically – indeed hostilely – assessed in a major report for the Indian industry as a whole by Professor H. Maxwell-Lefroy, entomologist and Imperial Silk Specialist (1916: 104-09). On the Bangalore Farm itself, he comments: ‘in regard to Mysore, … here if anywhere the Salvation Army should be able to make a large profit from the industry’. If with the cheap labour and even cheaper supervision available to it, they could not make the Farm financially profitable – as they were complaining in their latest annual report – ‘no-one can do it commercially’. He saw their silk enterprises as they had developed more widely as achieving nothing of benefit for the industry. On the contrary they were advocating practices often bad in themselves and able to survive only with the support of government subsidies.

Such problems would resurface prominently in the latter decades of the twentieth century. Much sooner, Tatas came back into the field, setting up a sericultural school at Closepet, for the 'benefit of boys of the backward classes and Mahomedans, who are made to work as wage earners' (Mysore Administration Report 1914/15). The Tatas’ various contributions to the silk of the South and the colourful part that the Salvaltion Army played deserved at least to be remembered.