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World Tea Day – Mary Bryant

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

When Mary Bryant escaped in an open boat from Sydney in 1791, she stuffed her pockets with sarsapiralla leaves. Mary hoped these leaves would ward off scurvy. Mary’s husband and children never made it home to London after an epic voyage via Timor, however the leaves did. On return to London, Mary faced the noose for returning from transportation early, however James Boswell saved her. As a thank you to Boswell, Mary Bryant gifted him a handful of leaves.

Almost a quarter of a century later, sixteen tea leaves remain intact. The Beinecke Library in Yale holds fourteen of Mary Bryant’s leaves in a small glass case, and donated the remaining two to the Mitchell Library in New South Wales, Australia.

Boswell said nothing about the leaves in his diary, but I wonder if he had a chuckle. In 1769 he travelled to London to improve his health and took a course of Dr. Kennedy’s Lisbon Diet Drink. Such an elixir was only available at Mr. Woodcock’s perfumier, in the aptly named Orange Street in Red Lion Square. The mysterious ingredient was believed to be a compound of sarsapiralla – the same ingrediant to Mary Bryant’s tea.

Mary Bryant’s sister, Dolly, would go on to sell tea from China and India in her grocer’s shop.

Wherever you are today, enjoy a cup of tea.

Banner Picture – part of the print, A Tea Leaf by Alfred Crowquill, printer London, Lewis Walpole library, Yale University.

Tea leaves pictures – Boswell Collection, Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, Yale University.

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