The Munnar history has roots into the prehistoric period and to the stone ages, but the written Munnar history actually begins from 900 AD onwards. Tamilians in large numbers migrated to Munnar and nearby places during the war period of Pandia rulers. They crossed the woods and climbed up the steep hills with bundles on their backs and they got the name ‘Muthuvans‘. There was no transport facility or even permanent paths and Munnar was an isolated forest area. The British came to this place to exploit the scope for agriculture.
The High Ranges was earlier known as the Kanan Devan Hills, the name having been derived from a certain native chief,Kanan Thevar who had been a landlord in the Anchanaad Valley on the eastern side of the district. It is said that travellers from Madurai to the West Coast, who used to pass through his villages, had named these hills after him.
In 1877, the Poonjar Raja or Chief conveyed a large tract of land, measuring 588-sq. km. to one J.D. Munro, a lawyer in the employ of the Travancore Government. This tract, called the Kanan Devan Concession Land, was at that time undeveloped, largely unexplored and covered with dense jungle-an undisturbed abode of wild elephants and tigers.
In conjunction with A.W. Munro, H.G. Turner of the Madras Civil Service founded the North Travancore Land Planting & Agricultural Society, whose members developed their own estates in various parts of the High Ranges. A.W. Turner undertook the first cultivation near the Devikulam Lake in 1877.
These pioneers tried growing many crops, such as coffee, cinchona, sisal and cardamom, before discovering tea, the crop best suited to the area. The first tea was planted by AH Sharp at Parvathi, now in Sevenmallay estate, but then a 20-hector clearing in an immense jungle. In 1895, the Concession Area was purchased by Finlay Muir and Company, which subsequently became James Finlay and Company Ltd.
The original route to the Annamallais was hacked through the jungle in 1858 by Cogreve and Macpherson, and it led to what are now Velonie and Valparai Estates. The first Plantation was one of 20 hectors of coffee, set-up in 1897 by “Carver” Marsh. E.J. Martin introduced tea a few years later, and cardamom, cinchona and rubber were also added. The latter crops have now been mostly abandoned.
The Kanan Devan Hills Produce Company was established in 1897, together with the other subsidiaries of the Glasgow-based Finlay Group, namely the Anglo-American Direct Tea Trading Company and the Amalgamated Tea Estates Company. It opened or came to purchase 33 estates in the High Range and 9 in the Anamallias.
In 1964, a collaborative venture between the James Finlay Group, the pioneers in Tea cultivation, and the Tatas, the pioneers in Indian Industry, was initiated to develop value-added Teas and in 1976 Tata-Finlay Ltd. purchased the black tea producing/marketing operations and other interests.
The name of the company was changed to Tata Tea Limited in 1983 when the James Finlay Group sold their remaining share holdings, including the considerable hectorage and manufacturing facilities in north-eastern India. Today, Tata Tea Ltd. is the largest integrated Tea Company in the world, with activities spanning the entire spectrum of the industry.
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