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.