Professor Angela McCarthy’s current research is a biography of James Taylor, the ‘father of Ceylon tea’. Taylor, a Scotsman, left for Ceylon (known today as Sri Lanka) in 1851 and died there in 1892.
In attempting to recover Taylor’s life, numerous puzzles have emerged, one of which surrounds his personal life. His photograph albums, sent back to Scotland after his death, contain several images of a young Tamil girl. She was probably a coffee picker on the Loolecondera estate that Taylor managed before Ceylon’s coffee enterprise was devastated by disease. But why did she appear in his album? Together with Taylor’s cryptic notes, Angela speculates that he had a more intimate relationship beyond that of tea as others have claimed.
Angela’s recollections in pursuit of Taylor’s life are memorable.
“I have gazed awestruck at the scenery Taylor saw every day on the Loolecondera estate, walked in his footsteps, and visited his grave (my Sri Lankan driver believes I am Taylor’s lover reincarnated). At Talawakelle in the central highlands of Sri Lanka I have marvelled at a replica Scottish baronial castle that features a 13-foot high bust of Taylor at its entrance. I have also learned first-hand about another culture, been welcomed with overwhelming friendliness and hospitality by Sri Lanka’s diverse peoples, and grappled with language barriers, extreme heat, and exotic foods.”