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.’’

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