Tea to Dumfries and bagpipes from Pakistan

India and Pakistan have celebrated over sixty years of independence, and now is a good time to reflect on both how the bonds between these countries were established and how they continue to grow and strengthen today, as well as looking at how several Scots played pivotal roles in the development of Indias culture and economy.

After independence in 1947 and later, migrs from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka began to arrive in Scotland and today we have one of the most thriving Asian communities in the world; food, the arts, business and religious tolerance and diversification have all benefited enormously from Scotland's estimated 55,000 Indians. But our links with the subcontinent go back much further than the 1950's and 60's . . .

During the 17th and 18th centuries the British, Dutch and Portuguese fought constantly for control of Sri Lanka's (then known as Ceylon) lucrative spice trade, but it would be a Scotsman Mullborn Lachlan Macquarie, who went onto become Governor of Australia's New South Wales who finally led the (mainly Scottish) 73rd Regiment to a decisive victory over the Dutch. The British took control of Ceylon in 1815 and the foundations for Ceylon's tea trade were laid. It would be a trio of Scotsmen who developed these foundations into a worlddominating industry . . .

James Taylor was sixteen when he arrived in Ceylon from Kincardineshire in 1852, to work as an assistant supervisor on a coffee plantation. Eager and inventive, Taylor began experimenting with growing tea, particularly Assam, a new variety that had been discovered by another Scotsman, trader and explorer Robert Bruce (no relation!) in northeastern India. Prior to Taylor teaproduction was a laborious, handmade process. He was to invent the first tearolling' machine, a device that revolutionised the industry and spread Ceylon tea all over the world.

In 1893, just a year after Taylor's death, an incredible one million packets of Ceylon tea were sold at Chicago's world's fair. He has become known as the father of Ceylon tea' and a small army of people carried his body to its final resting place at the island's Mayaiyawa cemetery.

A contemporary of Taylor's who perhaps made an equally important contribution to the development of Indian trade died the year before him. Sir William Mackinnon was born in Campbeltown, Argyll, and started work in the grocery trade. He first travelled to India in 1847 and joined a school friend in the coasting' business; carrying merchandise from porttoport around the Bay of Bengal. In 1856 he founded the Calcutta and Burma Steam Navigation Company. Within five years it would grow enormously to become the British Indian Steam Navigation Company, with trading operations stretching from Burma and the Persian Gulf as far as Aden and Zanzibar, where Mackinnon founded the Imperial British East Africa Company.

Mackinnon's companies were pioneering and forward thinking businesses, dedicated to eliminating the slave trade, treating nations equally and prohibiting trade monopoly: an early forerunner in many ways of today's Fair Trade campaigns. Few men did more than Mackinnon to open up trade links with the Indian subcontinent and, in 1889, in recognition of both his commercial success and his humanitarian work, Mackinnon was made First Baronet of Strathaird and Loup.

But it would be a Glasgow man who would use the foundations laid by Taylor in teaproduction and by Mackinnon in shipping to bring Indian tea to the world, at the same time making his own name forever synonymous with the product Sir Thomas Lipton.

Once upon a time Sir Thomas was just plain Tommy Lipton, a Glasgow grocer. The son of poor Irish immigrants Lipton grew up in the Gorbals in the 1850's and left school at the age of ten to work in the family shop, a humble grocery selling butter, eggs and ham. Clever, ambitious and industrious the young Tommy also supplemented the family income by working as a printer's errand boy and a shirtcutter. In the evenings, serious about bettering himself, he attended nightclasses at the Gorbals Youth's school.

In 1865, aged sixteen, Lipton signed up as cabin boy and sailed from Glasgow for America. He was to spend five years travelling throughout the country, working on tobacco and rice plantations, and as a farmhand, doortodoor salesman and grocery assistant. When he returned to Glasgow he opened his first shop Lipton's Market in the city's workingclass area of Anderston.

Soon enough he had a chain of stores, first throughout Glasgow, then Scotland and finally across Britain. In 1890, and already a millionaire at the age of forty, Lipton arrived in India for the first time, where he met Taylor and saw the teatrade first hand. Up until this point, tea was expensive, and its consumption in Britain was strictly limited to the middle classes. Lipton, realising that middlemen were making enormous profits, bought four tea plantations on Ceylon and began growing and importing his own tea, allowing him to dramatically reduce the price and make tea affordable for everyone.

A natural marketing genius, Lipton was the first person to begin packaging tea in individual, brightly coloured packets that were emblazoned with his slogan Straight from the tea gardens to the tea pot'. Lipton's became a household name across Europe and the US and he arguably did more than any other man to popularise tea across the world, massively improving both his own fortunes and those of India in the process. Tommy Lipton from the Gorbals became Sir Thomas Lipton in 1898 when he was knighted by Queen Victoria.

By the dawn of the 20th century, thanks to men like Taylor, Lipton and Mackinnon, India and Sri Lanka had eclipsed China as the world's leading teaproducers and had transformed their economies beyond recognition.

Around the same time as Lipton's tea was beginning to (literally!) pour into Scotland from the subcontinent a uniquely Scottish product was gaining a foothold over there. Sialkot in Pakistan has been home to a thriving bagpipes manufacturing business for over a century now, with many small companies in the city making pipes as well as Highland dress and exporting them all over the world. Nadeem Bhatti is the CEO of one such business, which was started by his grandfather in 1895, selling bagpipes and Highland dress to British Army regiments. His business grew,' says Nadeem, and by 1910 he was the first person to start exporting bagpipes to Scotland!' Truly a case of coals to Newcastle!

Nowadays, of course, Scotland and South Asian business connections stretch far beyond bagpipes and a cup of tea, a fact recognised by the Scottish Asian Business Awards held anually since 2006.

In 2009 400 business luminaries attended the event where Glasgow-born Azeem Ibrahim was named Entrepreneur of the Year. The event showed how diverse Asian business interests in Scotland had become, with fashion retailers rubbing shoulders with property developers, grocery store owners mingling with technology magnates and other tycoons. This year's Scottish Asian Business Awards, at the Crown Plaza hotel in Glasgow on 24 November look like being even hotter than last year's.

On the cultural front the huge contribution the Indian arts have made to Scotland is celebrated in Edinburgh each September, when the city holds the Mela festival. Now in its fifteenth year the festival brings South Asian traditions into a modern Scottish environment in a dazzling display encompassing arts and crafts, dancing, food, costumes, parades, music and acrobatics; a multicultural explosion showcasing the most exciting aspects of south Asian traditions.

In 2007 an exhibition charting the historic links between Scotland and South Asia called 'Tea and Tigers: Stories of Scotland and South Asia', was opened by the Duke of Edinburgh. It looked at the story of the Scots in the sub continent through a collection of private correspondence and journals and diaries, as well as paintings produced by Scots who travelled to and lived in the subcontinent. Curator Jan Usher said she hoped that 'by highlighting the story of Scotland's involvement with India, its history and complexity, we hope to contribute to an awareness of present-day Scottish–Indian relations and to encourage a deeper understanding of Scotland's South Asian communities.'

As ScottishIndian entrepreneur Sandy Majhu, who has interests in nine pharmacies as well as the Harlequin Group of restaurants – bought for £8 million - says, there is no such thing as a traditional Asian business' anymore. Asians are everywhere, from call centres to any hotel you'll see an Asian face with a Scottish accent.'

Here's to the next two hundred years of Scottish-Asian relations...

Edinburgh Mela

Sir William Mackinnon - Wikipedia

James Taylor - Wikipedia

Thomas Lipton - Wikipedia

Tea Muse

The Asian Business Awards

Last updated 25 Jun 2013