The year was 1936. The planters were a disheartened and disgruntled lot who were lost with no one taking any interest in them. The pioneers of the plantations became proprietors and the planter a salaried employee. Conditions became worse with many a planter losing employment. The few who survived were managing on meager salaries. A few started to think of a professional body to look after the planters but were afraid to say or do anything for fear of displeasing the proprietors.
The Planters’ Association came up with an idea in the early 1930s to form a separate body named the “Members Affairs Committee “but, sadly this Committee was not able to do much for the planting community. It was around 1935 that “The Times of Ceylon “published an article about a Society formed in Malaya to look after the interests of the working planter after which “The Times of Ceylon “received many letters from planters in Ceylon giving voice to fears for their future.
A big step had been taken. Mr. E. C. Marsh-Smith writing under a pseudonym of “Paddy Field Jones “, along with “The Times of Ceylon “, encouraged planters to write in while also seeking their views to a separate body meant only to look after the interests of the salaried planter and was surprised to receive many letters in favor. This was the beginning of the “The Ceylon Planters’ Society “.
Secrecy was the order of the day and many meetings were held under such conditions and finally in April 1936, “The Times of Ceylon “forwarded the list of the names of planters who had expressed willingness to join the proposed Society, to Mr. E. C. Marsh-Smith who was acting as the Convenor of the inaugural meeting. After a few more preliminary meetings on the 22nd of November, 1936 The Ceylon Planters’ Society was born graced by the then Governor. Sir Edward Stubbs and Lady Stubbs and amidst a hall full of planters and wives with no room to spare.
The first ever Chairman of the Society Mr. D. E. Hamilton conducted the affairs of the Society from his Estate Office at Oodoowerre for a few months and moved to “Daytona “the home of the Society in Kandy. The Society then boasted a membership of well over a 1000 members. By 1939 the membership rose to 1163.
In 1948, the Society had to be registered as a Trade Union much against the wishes of many members which were ironed out by Mr. D. E. Hamilton touring the country and speaking to the members personally holding pocket meetings. Since then right up to its 50th Anniversary the Society was able to negotiate and win for its membership many benefits while maintaining an amicable relationship with all Managing Organizations. By the time the Society reached year 50, its membership stood proudly at an all time high of 1226.
Prior to its 50th year, the Society had to work day and night to safeguard the interests of its members during the take over of estates by the Government which had been a very harrowing experience for the then Members of the Executive Committee. Yet, the Society had come out on top winning all obstacles. Even past its 50th year the Society continued to iron out problems with the State Owned Agents and the two State owned organizations that owned all the estates. The planters, themselves, with uncertain futures had to be looked after. The membership dwindled due to quite a lot of planters leaving the country, retiring prematurely, leaving for other lucrative jobs, etc. Still, the Society continued its single handed negotiations to uplift the conditions offered to the planters under the State Owned Plantations until the recent privatization.
Yet, it was no smooth road for the Society Office Bearers who appointed a Committee to discuss with the then President of Sri Lanka, the Minister of Plantation Industries and its Secretary, and iron out the problems faced by the planter, which was a total success. When reaching the Year 75, the Ceylon Planters’ Society was a body running on well oiled wheels without much hassle and with a contented membership.
Narrated by: Rohini Colonne