A letter to Ceylon – November 1950

A letter to Ceylon

   Sydney and Audrey Hall left Ceylon in 1950 to take up residence at Manor Farm, Oddington, together with their son Philip and daughter Daphne. The following letter from Sydney to “Cassim”, who took over from Mr Hall as manager on the tea plantation in Ceylon. It gives an insight into the daunting task they faced farming in a wet and cold Oddington . Audrey founded the Kotmalee Dairy in Ceylon and, on leaving, handed it over to her staff.

The Manor Farm




28th November 1950

Dear Cassim,

I have meant to write to you for a long time now but somehow have had no time at all and with work on a farm never feel like writing after I come in from the field. We are settling in slowly and it took a long time to get all our furniture unpacked as we did not want to spoil the planks which are so useful over here. The coolies who nailed the packing cases rather overdid it as I counted as many as 42 nails in 2’ 6” of plank that was hardly necessary and unfortunately where they bailed the hoop iron on the planks themselves the nails went through the single planks and damaged the furniture. I should have told them at the time to be careful and only to nail on the battens or clamps when all would have been well. It was a case of doing them rather too well, but we have some very good planks and I have had them all planed by machinery which saves a lot of hand labour and already we have had two  large almirahs made from the mahogany planks. This is a funny old house dating back to about 1667 with thick walls and very uneven floors because in those old days they were not very careful and I suppose that anything was good enough anyhow, the building is still standing after all these years. The farm is 168 acres and quite big enough to keep us busy, we have two paid men, one looks after the cows and the other does all odd jobs and drives on of the tractors which we have to pull ploughs and carts or whatever may be necessary. Master Philip is the other driver and he too has a tractor in his charge and he is quite good at it.  I am learning to drive myself and it really is quite easy though ploughing is very much an art and there is a lot to learn. Very like ploughing in paddy fields and all done very systematically and it looks very well when finished. We missed the good weather this year to plant our wheat and we shall have to wait now until next February and hope that the weather may be suitable then. This land is very heavy which means that it is wet and all works have to be done just at the right time, otherwise it is quite impossible to take the machinery on to the land. There are other parts of course where farms are not so wet, but the land on such places is usually not so good. We shall have to farm this carefully and well to get good returns but all say that we should get returns with care. I am up at 6.15 every morning, make a cup of tea and wake the others including Hall junior, then we start the field work at 7 o’clock, the cowman has to start earlier than this as he has the cows in from the field and in the shed by the time we get out so that milking can be finished by 8 o’clock when the lorry comes to take it away. So far we are getting 25 gallons a day which sells for about 3/7d a gallon and we hope to increase this shortly as wages are high and we must make a profit. One man can milk twice the number of cows we have now, it is all a question of yield as on a Tea Estate. I am busy on all kinds of jobs and my hands are rough and rather sore now after a spell of very cold weather, in fact, I find it very difficult to use this typewriter owing to odd sore places on my fingers. I wish we had Baba Singho here as there is quite a lot of masonry work to be done before this place is as we want it. The cow yard which has buildings all round is very muddy and there is no place to leave the car so that we must have the ground concreted and a garage built which he could do very nicely though he would not like the cold at all. I could do with a carpenter and a blacksmith and Murugesan to help to clean up but as we cannot have these people we must do things ourselves as far as possible and what we cannot do shall have to give out on contract which is very expensive over here. Labour here is the cost though the two men we have work very well indeed and understand their jobs. We’ve had some very cold weather and very foggy too or misty like Nuwera Eliya in a bad sun and I had to take Hall junior to Hospital on Sunday with a poisoned finger, I could not see to drive. Miss Daphne came here for the weekend, she does not live with us and is working with some friends near Southampton which is down on the South Coast about two hours run by car from here. We shall have fairly hard time here this winter I fear but it should get better, and as the weather improves we shall find things easier. I have prepared accounts and we have a Chartered Accountant who will audit the accounts and fight any people when necessary. Mrs Hall is very sorry she has not written for so long but she too is very busy doing the house work and looking after the chickens and supervising the Dairy. I do all other works with the men in fact you would hardly know me now, but I feel fit and as time goes on should get fitter and stronger as I have to use my arms a good deal cutting wood in the hedges which divide the fields and cleaning out drains which are so necessary for the wet land. We have piped drains under the land and open drains round the edges of the fields.

Machinery for field work has been very expensive and has cost so far about £2000 but we are getting the best and it should give good service and last a long time. It is very easy to buy too much and we have to guard against this, on the other hand we must have enough of the right kind. The people who were before us and from whom we bought the farm tried to sell us their stuff but it was expensive and not at all good so we decided to have none of it but all new. The cowshed apart from the older buildings is built of concrete blocks as in Ceylon and has the same kind of milking plant that we brought out with us so that the spare parts will all be useful here which is lucky. We live in a small village with a Church about 300 yards away and two other villages 2 miles and 1 mile away. The Post Office is 2 miles away in Islip which is part of our address like Nawalapitiya P.O. Very nice to have our own land because we feel now that anything we do is for ourselves the same feeling we had when we bought that land at Salem and then put up the Dairy buildings. We should have done that years ago and not have spent any money elsewhere as you were always telling me. I hope you will find time to write to me telling me all your own news as well as other things as I shall never forget you and all at Imboolpittia, my old home. I often wonder how things are going and I hear a certain amount from Mr Walker Alexander who writes fairly regularly but he tells me nothing about I.M.P. as he knows nothing and does not see Mr Gascoyne very often. While I think of it we left a chair at Imboolpittia one of the desk chairs, one belonged to the Estate and one to us and we did not realise it until we unpacked, it may be possible to send it Home by Mr Hacking next year. The Estate chair was at my own desk near the telephone, the other was in Mrs Hall’s office. I also left a tyre pump (foot) and two grease guns in the factory garage. Peiris knows them, one was from my old Buick Car and the other was a brass one which Peiris always used, it screws out he will show it to you. These too could come with Mr Hacking and I will write to him about them. Had I known what things were like over here I should have had more furniture made in Ceylon it is very expensive here so we buy very old stuff when we can, and nothing modern, which is made of such  poor wood. The world is short of wood. The planks we have brought with us are worth about Rs.1/- a running foot, say 6” wide so we have not wasted our money. I shall have to do a lot of carpentry work when I get a chance and the winter will be the only chance. When the Summer comes and the days are longer we shall be working from 5 o’clock in the morning until 10 or 11 o’clock at night out in the field perhaps even longer with just time for food and a short sleep at night then off again. It comes like that because the crops are harvested in a short period and all come at once.

While I think of it, I am sending the two Proxies signed by my son and daughter in this letter instead of a separate letter to you as Secretary of Kotmalee Dairy also I enclose Rs.11 in notes which I found in my pocket book and this might pay for the postage or part of the postage on a further 15 lbs of Tea if Mr Gascoyne would let you have it for me. We drink a tremendous lot of Tea. I have my first cup at 6.30a.m. and my last at night and the stuff we buy here is terrible. The cost of the tea will be paid for by Julius and Creasy and I hope Mr Gascoyne will let you have it at a reasonable figure it is entirely for our own use. If you write a note with the bill they will send you a cheque you can say it is sent at my request or perhaps you can debit it to Mrs Hall through the Dairy against what the Dairy owes her or from what you have of hers if anything.

Please give my salaams to Ismath, and your office Staff, to the Tea Maker, Samarasinghe and Peiris and Edgar when next you see him. I must write to Oliver when I get a chance. Tell Mr Gascoyne that you have heard from me and give him my regards.


With best salaams to you, from us all

Yours sincerely