Coffee and cotton merchants in Ceylon and India

Allagalla Peak, Ceylon
Allagalla Peak, Ceylon, by Lt.Col. Harry Hemersley St George, 1877.
Image source © The Trustees of the British Museum.


Alexander Crowe (c.1800-76) lived at Woodcote Grove as a tenant from about 1847 until shortly before his death in 1876; he also owned a house at 43 Brunswick Square, Hove, where he spent some of the time. I have been unable to trace his ancestry and know only that he was born in Scotland in about 1800 and that he had a brother called Robert, born in about 1806. Information on the overseas aspects of this tale is piecemeal and sparse, so I have tried to join up the dots as far as possible, but some of the connecting tissue is conjecture.


Alexander was in the service of the Honourable East India Company as a young man and there is mention of an Ensign Robert Crowe at Madras in 1834, who may well have been the brother (Madras will be relevant in due course). It appears as if Alexander then established a coffee business in Ceylon and he was certainly a partner in Crowe & Co with a James Gardner, which partnership was dissolved in 1830; they were described as merchants and agents of 76 Cornhill, London.

The next business that pops up is A & R Crowe & Co, so I surmise that Alexander had taken Robert into partnership and that the latter was at the overseas end with the former in London (now at 35 Old Broad Street). Sadly, however, Robert died at Colombo on 25 August 1838, aged only 32, and was buried at Galle Face Burial Ground (near to Galle Fort - a church was subsequently built on the site and the tombstones moved to Kanatte Cemetery at Borella, Colombo).

The next partner in A & R Crowe seems to have been a Robert Christian; he and Alexander were also on the committee of the Ceylon Railway Company together - this company was established in 1845 to build a railway for the transportation of tea and coffee from Kandy to Colombo, although the line was not completed until 1858. The picture below shows why it took so long and how difficult and expensive it would have been. Sensation Rock is between Colombo and Kandy and you can take this journey today in Sri Lanka's last surviving Edwardian steam train, The Viceroy Special, should you feel sufficiently brave (and rich).

The Ceylon Railway at Sensation Rock c.1880.
The Ceylon Railway at Sensation Rock c.1880.
Image source: The Engineer of 19 August 1898.

Alexander appears to have established his businesses and then left the overseas end of things to others; he eventually concentrated on the processing and shipping of coffee rather than the growing. In 1845 he advertised for sale substantial estates in Ceylon; he may have been acting as an agent for others or all of this land may have belonged to him - I suspect that all or most of it was his and this may have been when he decided to get out of growing to concentrate on processing and transporting. The advertisement, in the Morning Chronicle of 24 March 1845, read as follows.

FOR SALE, in the Island of CEYLON. - The following valuable FREEHOLD ESTATES, viz.: - The Coffee Estate of Allagalla, containing about 400 acres, of which 360 acres are planted, and now coming into full bearing. The estate is 15 miles west of Kandy, and six miles from the Kaduganawa Pass, on the Turnpike road from Colombo to Kandy.-The Coffee Estate of Kirimantte Tenne, containing about 460 acres, of which 400 acres are planted, and now also coming into full bearing. This Estate adjoins the former.- Cinnamon Garden: 312 acres of the Government Cinnamon Garden of Kaderani; also, 1,700 acres of land in the Galle district , and a lot of building ground on the Kandy and Colombo Road. The whole of the above lands are held directly from the Crown. - For further particulars and prices, apply to Mr Alexander Crowe, 35 Old Broad Street, London; or to Messrs A & R Crowe & Co, Colombo, Ceylon.


I shall pause here to deal briefly with Alexander's family, since two of his sons will become relevant soon and need to be introduced.

Mrs Crowe was Matilda Emmaline Trezevant, born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1812; her family, unlike that of Mr Crowe, has been comprehensively researched at The Georgia Battalion Project and is worth a read. As that web page says, her parents, Peter and Elizabeth (nee Farquhar), moved to London with their younger children and that is undoubtedly where Alexander met Matilda; they were married at St Marylebone New Church on 8 December 1835. There were 11 children altogether and we know something about most of them, so I will give you more information as we go along. Their names and birth details are shown below.

Name Date of birth Place of birth
Alexander c.1835 St John's Wood
Elizabeth Farquhar c.1837 St John's Wood
Margaret 11.10.1838 Probably St John's Wood
Robert 1840 St John's Wood
Matilda 5.2.1842 Clapham
George 11.12.1843 Clapham
Emily 28.12.1845 Clapham
Alice 14.11.1847 Epsom
Arthur 22.7.1849 Epsom
Henry 27.5.1851 Epsom
Catherine (Katie) 11.1855 Epsom


There was a firm called Alexander Crowe & Co, as well as A & R Crowe, but I am not sure which company did what. Apart from the Ceylon coffee business, Alexander shipped cotton out of Tuticorin (also known as Thoothukudi) in Tamil Nadu, which was then part of the Madras Presidency and ruled by the East India Company until 1858. The port was and is on the south-east tip of India in the Gulf of Mannar.

In this map Tuticorin is shown as Tuttukkudi.
In this map Tuticorin is shown as Tuttukkudi.
Image source: via Wikimedia Commons.

The Tuticorin concerns were sold in 1877, so I am able to describe them for you (source: The Times of 7 April 1877).

Valuable Freehold: Cotton pressing and Coffee curing establishments. The cotton premises comprise manager's bungalow, with verandahs in front and rear, a three-storied go-down*, coach-house, stabling for six horses, press house with two steam presses (Hoggart's patent), cleaning go-doiwn, engineer's office, engine room, boiler room, eight substantial go-downs capable of stowing 15,000 bales of cotton, coal shed sufficient to hold 200 tons, and two sheds for examining cotton. The coffee premises comprise a good bungalow with verandah, peeling** go-down, packing go-down, barbecue, seven spacious go-downs, garbling*** shed, store go-down and printing shed. The properties form a square of rather more than 6 acres. Also two cargo boats of about 12 tons each.
*warehouse      ** for peeling the coffee beans      ***picking out diseased beans

Alexander also had a presence in Manchester, where the firm(s) would have dealt with the Lancashire cotton industry.


I have got ahead of myself in the attempt to explain how Alexander made his money and we shall now rewind. By 1864 Alexander Junior was in the business with his father and in that year Robert Christian bowed out of the partnership. I have no further information on Christian, other than that he was a coffee planter, but it may be that Robert and George Crowe, two of Alexander's other sons, were joining the firm. George became a planter in the Matale district (near Kandy) but sadly died, aged only 25, and was buried at the Garrison Cemetery, Kandy.

We can place Robert in Ceylon during 1867, since he married Frances Elizabeth Wall at Colombo Cathedral on 27 February of that year (they emigrated to Fremantle, Australia in 1887). Robert died on 22 September 1894 in Perth.

The cotton industry had experienced grave problems, especially in the early 1860s, which saw the Lancashire Cotton Famine, and in the 1870s the Ceylon coffee trade was decimated by a new disease called coffee rust, a type of fungus: it sent many businesses to the wall - not just the planters but processors, shippers and distributors too - and many of the coffee estates went over to tea. Alexander's empire was crumbling and we shall see very soon just how far it fell.

Matilda, his wife, had died at Brighton on 2 November 1865 and he stayed on at Woodcote Grove. Then, on 12 January 1872, Elizabeth Farquhar died at Brighton too, although she lived in Beddington. Finally, Alexander gave up Woodcote Grove and moved to his house at 43 Brunswick Square, Hove, where he died on 25 April 1876.

43 Brunswick Square (2nd house on left).
43 Brunswick Square (2nd house on left).
Image courtesy of Linda Jackson © 2014.

Almost immediately afterwards Alexander Junior and Robert put the businesses into voluntary liquidation, which is when the advertisement for the auction of the estate in Tuticorin appeared; they also sold pictures at Christies, including a Poussin, and the Brunswick Square property.

Most of the grand houses in Hove (including Number 43) are now divided into flats, so it's interesting to know what the building was like in 1876 (source: Times advertisement of 22 August 1876).

…first-class freehold mansion, with stabling, one of the most pleasant and fashionable parts of this favourite marine town. The mansion comprises a suite of six lofty and handsome reception rooms, smoking room, 12 bed and dressing rooms, with capital domestic offices: the stabling is detached and contains four stalls and a loose box, with harness room, double coach house and living rooms, the whole forming a very compact and desirable property.

General view of the west side of Brunswick Square.
General view of the west side of Brunswick Square.
Image courtesy of Linda Jackson © 2014.

There was more bad news in the family after Alexander's death: his youngest son, Henry, a Lieutenant in the 67th Foot (South Hampshire Regiment), stationed on the North-West Frontier, died on 27 February 1879 at Lawrencepur, which is just north-west of Islamabad. By 1881 Alexander Junior had gone blind and it looks as if two of the girls' marriages failed. Details of all the children, as far as I know them, are shown below.

The wedding of Emily Crowe, 1871
The wedding of Emily Crowe, 1871
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum.

In the above photo, taken in the garden of Woodcote Grove, Emily is obviously at the centre back with the groom and I think that the gentleman in the centre front must be Alexander Crowe Senior himself.

Alexander Junior

Alexander was married on 19 December 1867 at St Andrew's, Hove; his bride was the widowed Sarah Ellen Woodhouse (nee Cole), whose daughter, Isabel Hervey Woodhouse (see, you need to scroll down the web page in the link to see the photo), was a painter.

Their children, all born in Paddington or thereabouts, were Charles Alexander (1868), Alice Rosina (1870), Matilda Emmeline (c.1872), Cecil Hervey (1873) and Elizabeth Mary (1874); by 1881 they had moved from London to Stoke Poges and there must have been some money at that stage since there were nine servants. Sarah died at home on 10 August 1884, aged only 47. By 1891 Alexander had moved to East Blatchington, near Seaford, accompanied by his sister-in-law, Catherine Cole, and he died on 2 September 1894.

Charles and Cecil emigrated and lived in Geraldine on New Zealand's South Island. Cecil, a Lance Sergeant in the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, was killed in action on 9 August 1916 in Egypt. Charles died in 1950. Matilda Emmeline married Wicklow-born master mariner and author Jocelyn Fitzgerald Ruthven (1849-1943) and died on 21 July 1937 at an Eastbourne nursing home. The other two girls have proved impossible to track down.

Elizabeth Farquhar

Mrs Collyer-Bristow
Mrs Collyer-Bristow photographed by Cuthbert Hopkins.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum.

Elizabeth married solicitor Andrew Alfred Collyer-Bristow (the hyphen is sometimes present and sometimes not) at St Nicholas, Brighton on 15 April 1858. Their children were Alfred Collyer (c.1860 London), Mary Elizabeth (1863 Beddington), Olivia (1864 Beddington) and Margaret (1867 Beddington) and they lived at Beddington Place. Elizabeth died in Brighton on 12 January 1872 and the following year Andrew married Augusta Grace Lake; he died in 1909.

Mrs Collyer-Bristow with child
Mrs Collyer-Bristow with child (possibly Margaret)
photographed by Cuthbert Hopkins image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum.

Alfred, who ran a coach-making business, died unmarried on 2 December 1903. Mary Elizabeth, although living in Beddington, died unmarried in Llandridnod Wells, Radnorshire on 8 July 1913. Olivia died unmarried on 12 August 1899, still at Beddington Place. In 1888 Margaret married member of the Stock Exchange Ernest Octavius Lloyd (1853-1916), one of the Lloyds of Tayles Hill House, Ewell.


Nothing found.


As mentioned earlier, Robert married Frances Wall (died 1936) and eventually emigrated to Western Australia; she was the daughter of George Wall, a planter, politician and newspaper editor in Ceylon. There were children, but I only have information on one - George Alexander, born 1871 Colombo, occupation miner. His WW1 service record is viewable on Mapping Our Anzacs.


Miss Crowe ?
Unfortunately, we do not know which Miss Crowe this is, but it is quite possibly Matilda.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum.

Matilda married engineer (sometime Chief Engineer of Travancore in Kerala) Walthew Clarance Barton on 3 April 1875 at St James, Piccadilly and I think it did not work out. He died in Ilkley in 1903, although his home was allegedly in Brighton. In 1881 Matilda was in Teddington, visiting an elderly Scottish East India merchant and his family - she may still have been with Walthew at this point; in 1891 she was in Kensington living on her own means and by 1901 she had gravitated to Twickenham as a dressmaker's pattern maker. She died in Kent on 3 August 1932.

There seems to have been one son, Charles Walter, born in Travancore in 1876; he was a distinguished soldier and there is a biography on the internet (the date of birth is incorrect on that website). An excellent account of part of his military career is at

Captain Charles Walter Barton DSO c.1918.
Captain Charles Walter Barton DSO c.1918.
Image source:


See main body of article.


Emily married Captain (later Lieutenant-Colonel) Albert Lloyd of the 100th Foot (Prince of Wales Royal Canadian Regiment, and later of the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry) at St Martin's, Epsom on 18 October 1871. Albert was the brother of Ernest Octavius Lloyd, who married the daughter of Elizabeth Farquhar Crowe/Bristow. There were four children, being Ethel Gwendoline (born 1872 Aldershot), Muriel Winifred (c.1875 Montgomeryshire), Gwladys (1877 Southsea-1887) and Farquhar Celynin (1880 Surbiton). By 1881 Albert was on half pay and he had retired by 1891. A newspaper report from 1894 indicated that all was not well with him: he had been summonsed by the RSPCA for beating a horse and failed to turn up for a court appearance, the magistrates being advised that he was insane and had been removed to an asylum - whether permanently or temporarily was not known at that point. It looks as if Emily then left him, as in 1901 she was with Ethel and Muriel in a Kensington flat, described as a needlewoman.

Albert was long out of the asylum by 1911, living in Portswood, Southampton; he had a 30 year old unmarried visitor (Edith Helen Marr), who appeared to have three young children, but I do not know if she was anything more than a visitor - although she was a co-executor of his estate when he died in 1914.

In 1911 Emily was living in Wallington with her daughter Ethel (now Mrs Walter Backhouse Hulke, with three children). Muriel married Charles Rustat Covey and died in 1929. Ethel, whose husband became a Brigadier-General with the DSO, emigrated to Canada and Emily must have accompanied her, as she died at North Cowichan, British Columbia (on Vancouver Island) on 25 April 1923. Ethel's son, Squadron Leader Cecil Walter Lloyd Hulke of the Royal Canadian Air Force, died on active service in Egypt in 1943.

Farquhar married Hilda May Jeanne St Lo Malet, He started out as a medical student but became a farmer in Crofton, British Columbia. Hilda divorced him in 1920, whereupon he married a Teresa Elizabeth Parsons; he died in California in 1949.


Believed to be Miss Alice Crowe
Believed to be Miss Alice Crowe
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum.

Alice never married and seems to have been without a home of her own after her father died. She is to be found in the censuses from 1881-1911 boarding with a Mrs Susan Overton, latterly in Eastbourne; she died there on 15 September 1916, leaving effects of 315.


Nothing definite found.


See main body of article.

Catherine (Katie)

Catherine married John Desmond Ernest Mortimer MRCS, LSA (c.1856 Buttevant, Cork-1942 Chartham Mental Hospital, Kent) on 30 June 1882 at Claygate. Their children were Katharina Desmond (c.1893 Horley-1968 Kent, unmarried) and Marjorie Violet (1894 Horley-1971 Kent, unmarried). Catherine possibly died in 1922.

Researched and written by Linda Jackson © 2014