Love on the tea plantation
The story of a group of teenagers known as the Kalimpong Kids has the making of a great movie.
Love amongst the tea plantations of Darjeeling, set against the backdrop of the Himalayas. Anglo Indian children being taken from their mums, never to see their parents again. Then educated in a harsh Presbyterian school, before being sent to New Zealand to start a new life as farm hands or domestic servants in Dunedin and Upper Hutt.
It sounds like fiction but it is the true story of 130 teenagers known as the Kalimpong Kids, who settled here between 1908 and 1938. Recently about 65 of their descendants gathered in Upper Hutt for a reunion.
Their parents and grandparents were the mixedrace children of British tea planters and native Indian or Nepalese women from Kalimpong. They were educated in an institution established in 1900 by a Scottish missionary, Dr John Graham.
Dunedin-based researcher Dr Jane McCabe, whose grandmother Lorna Peters was a Kalimpong Kid, organised the reunion.
When people first heard the story, they assumed the children resulted from the power imbal- ance between white tea planters and native women. But her research suggested that in many cases the children were the products of loving, long-term relationships.
The plantations were in isolated areas with strict rules. English planters could not marry until they had become managers, a process which took 10 years. Inevitably, relationships developed between local woman and the lonely planters.
The stigma attached to mixedrace relationships meant there was no possibility of marriage or taking the family back to England. The children were instead sent to St Andrew’s Colonial Home to be educated, with the understanding they would then be sent to New Zealand.
‘‘They did not want them to go back to England because they did not want their families in England to know about the kids.’’
Graham’s school educated the children in English and prepared them for a life away from the plantations. Boys were sent to New Zealand to work on farms and girls as domestic helpers.
McCabe visited Kalimpong, where she found extensive records on every child.
Although the story has some positives, the reality is that the children never saw their mothers again once they were sent away.
Several did have relationships with their fathers later in life, including McCabe’s grandmother who had arrived in Dunedin with five others in 1921.
Her tea planter father, Edgerton Peters, came to live in Dunedin and Lorna lived with him until her marriage. He then lived with her family for the rest of his life.
One person who enjoyed the reunion was 71-year-old Sylvia Slater from Upper Hutt, whose parents were both Kalimpong Kids. Her father Horace Brooks came to New Zealand in 1925 and was joined a year later by her mother, Constance Margaret Walker. The stigma of being illegitimate meant her parents seldom talked about Kalimpong. ‘‘Being cast in that period as a half-caste did not go down well.’’
Attending the reunion was an uplifting experience for her. She was proud of what the Kalimpong Kids achieved.
‘‘All the boys and girls who came out got on with their lives and made the most of it.’’