Colonial Emigration



Leela Gujadhur Sarup

An extract from a chapter on French Guiana (pages 94 to 96) in the above book written by Mrs Leela Gujadhur Sarup. The book is based on original archival records, as prepared by the British Government that ruled India at the time and is of immense value to descendants of indentured workers

Colonial Emigration 

19th-20th Century 

Proceedings 1875 - August 1876 

Vol. 7

The state of education among coolies in French Guiana is simply nil. These people are scattered in small parties all over the littoral, and at distances which exclude the possibility of union. At Cayenne even, where there are about 300 coolies employed as shopmen, labourers, servants, there is no kind of school for coolie children, though there is a charity school for Creoles. 

Every inducement is made that the coolies who have finished their time may re-indenture. There are but 97 free coolies who prefer to live and work independently. Regret is openly expressed on all sides at the sight of a fine body of coolies already acclimatized, accustomed to the ways of their employers, and who have assimilated themselves to their habits and mode of living, leaving the Colony.

It is labour lost and severely felt. No coolies have risen to any position as renters of land, as a few Chinese and many negroes have done. No obstacle is placed in the way of a coolie with funds renting or joining with others in renting, land for gold-seeking or for agriculture. The morale of the coolies is not unsatisfactory. Murder among them is rare. Quarrels or fights ending seriously on account of women or otherwise are not frequent. Assaults, absence from work, insubordination under the influence of tafia, which merits a few days’ imprisonment, are among the most frequent peccadilloes. Drunkenness when they are on an outing at Cayenne is observed of a Sunday, but this may be excusable. The women are in the proportion of one to three men. Many of the so-called marriages contracted in India are no marriages at all, but simple arrangements for living together… 

The number of immigrants who renounce explicitly and definitively their right to repatriation may be fixed at one per 1,000 per annum. No coolies have as yet demanded concessions of land for agriculture. Those who have an agricultural taste associate themselves with owners of land. Some, however, have obtained grants for mining purposes. Those coolies who have funds to send to India are required to deposit them at the Treasury, for which a receipt is given to them, and the Immigration Agent communicates the fact to the French authorities in India: the funds for whom the money is destined are paid by the Treasury in India. I am assured by the Immigration Agent that some of the free industrious coolies possess as much as 10,000 and 20,000 francs. 

In conclusion, I believe there is a certain prosperity within the reach of any coolie who succeeds in becoming acclimatized to the Colony, who is naturally industrious and a good labourer. They do not save much during their first indentureship, but they have learnt industrious habits, have become subject to a certain discipline, and if they possess any knowledge of art, will, even if they do not choose to re-indenture, find remunerative employment. 

Cayenne, The 31st December, 1874 
F. Wooldridge 
Her Majesty’s Consul 

Copy to: Commissioner of Police, Calcutta, and to all Magistrates and Deputy Commissoners of recruiting districts, and to the Protector of Emigrants. By order of the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, J. Crawfurd, officiating Under Secretary to the Government of Bengal.

September 2011

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