Leela Gujadhur Sarup

Calcutta to Colony


Leela Gujadhur Sarup is a historical researcher and author on colonial emigration. Her works are based on hard-to-find documents as they originally appeared in the records of the British Empire. We reproduce, with permission, an extract of an account provided by a British consulate in Brazil on how the passengers on board planned to take over the vessel in which they were travelling. Instead of the indicated 12 days, the journey had last three months

From G. S. L. Hunt, Esq., 
Her Majesty’s Consul at Pernambuco,
To the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 
Dated Pernambuco, the 15th 
December 1862
I have the honor to report to your Lordship that a large Ship arrived off this Port on the 9th instant, hoisting the British Ensign and flying at the Peak the signal (No.3240) “Mutiny on board.” The Master, Mr. Cato, came to the Consulate immediately after the Ship cast anchor, and reported that he was the Commander of the Clasmerden of Liverpool, seventy days from Calcutta, with 450 Coolies bound for Demerara.

He stated that, on the 1st instant, he was informed by two of the “Sirdars,” the Overseers of the Coolies, that they had overheard certain of the Coolies conspiring to murder the whites and make themselves Masters of the Ship, and the question had been put to one of their number who had been a seaman whether he would undertake to navigate the Ship if the Officers and crew were thrown overboard. 

Colonial Emigration 19th-20th Century
Proceedings 1863 – 1869 Vol. 4

The Master said, moreover, that everything that could be converted into a weapon had been stolen by the Coolies and carefully concealed, that there was a large number of Mutineers at Cawnpore and Delhi among the passengers, and that it was owing to the influence of these men, he believed that the discontent which has appeared among the Coolies was to be attributed.

He had caused nine of the ring leaders, he said to be put in irons, and had hoped to be able to take the ship to Demerara; but the wind proving unfavourable, and his men being quite worn out with the prolong watches they had been obliged to keep for nine days, he had called off at Pernambuco to seek for assistance, as there was no British Vessel for War in the harbour. I immediately applied to the Government for a guard of thirty Marines, whom I caused to be sent on board to relieve the exhausted crew.

On the following day I went off the ship, and several of the crew, Sirdars and Passengers (Coolies) whom I selected myself for examination, were called up. The evidence confirmed the statement of the Master, and the Surgeon Superintendent declared positively his belief that it was the intention of the coolies to take possession of the ship if an opportunity presented itself.
I enquired among the coolies if they had any grievances, if they had been well treated and had had their proper allowance of provisions. All those whom I questioned replied that they had nothing to complain of on either score.

From what I learnt it appeared that these coolies had not been rightly informed as to the probable duration of the voyage. They were under the impression that it would not last more than ten or twelve days. They had also had a smaller allowance of opium than they were led to expect they should have received. Those circumstances caused a general dissatisfaction, which was taken advantage of by some evil-disposed persons among their number to invite them to revolt.

I went over the Vessel and found that nothing could be more satisfactory than the arrangements on board. The ship was extremely clean on every part. There was no crowding, and I remarked that there was a total absence of all unpleasant odour, which might reasonably be expected to exist when so many persons had been living for nearly three months within such a circumscribed space. Her condition, I thought reflected the greatest credit on the Officers of the Ship.

The passengers are also in excellent condition. I found only two of them in hospital. No deaths had occurred during the voyage, and all these facts taken together afforded the clearest evidence of the good management which had existed on board.

August 2010

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