Robert Fortune (1812-1880) was a Scottish botanist who was sent to China by the Horticultural Society of London to research and collect exotic plants. He made two long journeys and lived in the country between 1842 and 1845.
Fortune was completely fascinated with the landscape he found and learned Mandarin so that he could travel freely. As a result of his travels many new exotic flowers and plants were introduced in Europe like the famous bonsai. In Fujian, Fortune learned the secrets of tea plant care such as oxidising of tea leaves. Consequently he discovered that green and black tea are from the same plant. His journey is described in his book A Journey to the tea countries of China.
English Heritage blue plaque outside Robert Fortune’s home at 9 Gilston Road, Chelsea, London
However his most famous accomplishment was the successful transportation of tea from China to India in 1848 on behalf of the British East India Company. He was chosen because of his knowledge of the country, local customs and language. His mission, though, was no longer concerned with research, but instead to steal the secrets of tea.
As purchasing tea plants was forbidden by the Chinese government of the time, Fortune disguised himself as a Chinese merchant. He wore local dress, shaved his hair and grew a pigtail for some of his journeys. These lasted for more than what was allowed for a European traveler at the time, as he visited forbidden areas of China that had only been visited by the Portuguese before. If he were caught he could face the death penalty.
The technology and knowledge that he brought from China, was very helpful in the later flourishing of the Indian tea industry. In 1866 only 4% of the tea consumed in England came from India. In 1903 it increased to 59%. The Chinese could not understand how their tea secret could have escaped while in Darjeeling, a town in India, the production of tea was growing fast.
I would like to dedicate this post to a dear friend who visited Canterbury recently and sent me this beautiful picture. I wish I were there too!
História Viva. Ano IX Nº 104 Brasil 2013 www.historiaviva.com.br
More posts about tea:
Tea Time- uma pausa para o chá