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George Bird - coffee planter (1790 - 1857)

His obituary in the Morning Chronicle provided by the Colombo Observer. He died 1st March 1857.

DEATH OF THE OLDEST EUROPEAN COFFEE PLANTER IN CEYLON

 

We regret to have to record the demise of Mr George Bird, of Kondesally, of chronic diarrhoea (sic).  Mr G. Bird accompanied his brother, the late Col. Bird, to Ceylon in the year 1823, with the view of settling in this country as an agriculturist; and under the auspices of the late Sir Edward Barnes he commenced and carried on a coffee plantation at Gampola, in partnership with his brother, who was carried off by cholera in Colombo in 1829.  

 

This undertaking was the first attempt to introduce into Ceylon the cultivation of coffee by Europeans, and like the Pioneers in many similar undertakings the original introducers were unsuccessful in their efforts.

 

Mr Bird afterwards cultivated an estate at Kondesally, in conjunction with the house of Messrs. Ackland Boyd and Co., but the financial difficulties that so seriously affected all Ceylon interests compelled him again to abandon his undertaking. 

 

For a third time he planted an estate with Mesars. Tindall of London in the unfavourable district of Ambegamoa, but being, from age and infirmities, no longer able to sustain the fatigue and exposure of a planter's life, he retired

(after upwards of thirty years hard work) to his old residence at Kondesally, from whence, exhausted by long protracted illness, he recently removed to the house of his nephew in Kandy. 

 

Thus though the earliest, he was one of the most unsuccessful planters in Ceylon.


Mr Bird married, in 1828, Charlotte, daughter of the late Colonel Hook, by whom he had nine children, of whom seven are now living.  He was afflicted by the loss of his wife in childbirth in the year 1842, and by that of two of his children at the same period, which afflictions, added to his disappointments, so pressed upon his spirits as to lay the seeds of the disease that ultimately caused his death.


He breathed his last on the night of the 1st March.


List of inscriptions on tombstones and monuments in Ceylon, of historical or local interest, with an obituary of persons uncommemorated


March 1, 1857 George Samuel Bird.

Aged 67.

He opened "the new coffee plantation at Gampola," otherwise Sinhapitiya estate, on the left bank of the
Mahaweli-ganga, and about 15 miles from Kandy, in 1824.

Mr. A. M. Ferguson says of him : " Mr. George Bird, the real pioneer of coffee-planting on a large scale, was still engaged in the long but futile struggle to achieve success in 1837-46. The first coffee estate in Ceylon was opened in the Gampola District - so far back as 1824 by Mr. George Bird, who accompanied his brother (Colonel Bird of the 16th Regiment) to Ceylon in 1823 for the purpose of engaging in such agricultural undertakings as inducements in the Island should appear to offer; and the attention of the brothers (Colonel Bird being at that time Commandant of Kandy) was directed to the cultivation of coffee, and the valley of Gampola was selected as an eligible locality wherein to carry out their intended speculations.


Sir James Campbell, then Lieutenant-Governor, gave encouragement to the proposed undertaking by promising a grant of land for the purpose, which was afterwards confirmed by Sir E. Barnes, and thus commenced that cultivation on the site of two ancient Kandyan palaces, Royal lands (Singapitiya and Weyanwatta), which has been of such importance to the subsequent history of our Island. The mode of cultivation adopted and the enormous protective duties then in favour of the British West India colonies rendered this and two other estates at Ganga Orowa' and Matalle, that soon followed the one at Gampola, equally unprofitable ; and Colonel Bird's death from cholera in 1829 so paralysed the operations at Gampola that Mr. George Bird was induced to abandon the property in 1833 and remove to Kondesally, and subsequently to Imbulpitiya in Oudabulatgama. After having been engaged in the production of coffee for 33 years, with singular want of success, he died in Kandy having been the means of
conferring signal advantages on others, by the engrgy of his character, while to himself, the pioneer of coffee cultivation,
his best efforts served only to prolong his disappointment. Although a good practical man and possessed of great
experience, accumulated through many years of toil, his experience did not avail him, until failing health had destroyed
that energy which repeated disappointments could not impair." (" Ceylon in 1837-46.")




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