Book Excerpts : Colonial Imigration 19th-20th Century


Book:Colonial Emigration 9th-20th Century, Proceedings 1825-1848 Vol: One
Author: Leela Gujadhur Sarup
Publisher: Aldrich International
Price: 6750/--

Leela Gujadhur Sarup spent a decade in libraries and archives across India to ferret out information on the emigration of Indian indentured workers to different sugar colonies across the world. In the end she produced a masterpiece of rare value on the subject. We excerpt from the introductory part of her latest book
For the benefit of posterity, I have compiled records from several Archives pertaining to Colonial Immigration from the British Raj. For over a decade, I have assiduously researched for materials pertaining to this subject. Like one possessed, I spent hours on the benches of the Archives in Calcutta, Delhi and Mumbai. No two Archives have the same records. Over the years, Emigration got transferred to several Government Departments. From General Department, I had to search the registers of the Commerce Department, then Finance, then Home and so on; the search has not been easy, specially when I had to hand-copy most of the records!

I was determined to get to the primary sources as I felt the documents available in these Archives would not last very long. The papers are brittle and have turned into a yellow, acidic colour. When a page is gently turned, a piece remains between the fingers and the page does not turn!

Over the years, I kept hearing that the records are being laminated. I have requested for records sent for lamination, three years earlier! It appears that once records are sent for lamination, other more important documents take over in priority line! Quite a few registers are worm-eaten, right through. Laminating such documents may not be possible.

The Colonial Emigration of Indentured Labourers started with the abolition of slavery. Without this background and the conquest of Mauritius, indentured labour would not have come into existence.
Movement for the abolition of slavery in the British colonies started around the latter part of the 18th century. Finally, a motion was tabled in the British Parliament in 1807. The House of Commons considered approving the prohibition of slave trade and by 1823, envisaged abolition of slavery and issued a circular for better treatment of slaves. In 1828, Colour Bar was abolished in the British Colonies. Due to acute shortage of workers in Mauritius, Governor Coleville managed to get a few Indian slaves in 1928 but this move was highly criticized.

Leela Gujadhur Sarup
Leela Sarup, need Gujadhur, was born in Calcutta, India. She hails from renowned industrial family of Mauritius. Her initial education was in Mauritius and she returned to India to complete her studies. When not travelling, she spends her time mostly in Calcutta and Mussoorie

During the period when debates on the abolition of slavery were taking place in the British Parliament, Mauritius and Reunion were conquered in 1810 as in 1808, the East India Company had lost 22 ships in one single year to the pirates who were based in Reunion or Bourbon and Ile–de-France or Mauritius. With about 8000 Indian sepoys and the support of a small fleet from England, both these islands were overtaken by the East India Company. During the Treaty of Paris in 1814, Bourbon was returned and renamed Reunion by the French, while Ile-de-France became Mauritius, named after the Dutch Prince Maurice, and was retained by the British as in those days, all ships sailed to and from England via the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa found it convenient to stop at Mauritius.

Mauritius was populated by the French settlers and their coloured slaves from Africa. During the French occupation of Mauritius, several Indians from Pondicherry and Karikal (places under French occupation in India) were taken to the island. 

A small number of independent Indians also settled in Mauritius as traders, jewelers cobblers, tailors, carpenters, masons and so on. When the French settlers refused to lend or hire these Indian workers to the British for the development of the island, the second Governor, the Hon’ble Major General Gage Hall ordered the French planters to repatriate 800 Indian field workers and to pay them compensation of 26,000 dollars as well, as per proclamation dated 1st may 1816; these 800 Indians apparently were taken as slaves or else wages would have been paid to them on a regular basis and there would have been no need to pay them compensation prior to their departure from Mauritius in 1817. Quite a few of the Independent Indian traders, cobblers etc. were also ordered back to India.

When the British required manpower to work for the development of the island, they could not trade in slaves as the British Parliament was considering its prohibition. The first British Governor in Mauritius, Robert Townsend Farquhar turned to the East India Company in Calcutta. To help out, the East India Company despatched Indian convicts for life, as the system of Indentured labour did not exist.

It was under the rule of Lord Hastings and the East India Company that Indian convicts, undergoing life imprisonment, were sent to Australia, Mauritius and Ben Coolen (all British Colonies), to help in building bridges, roads, barracks, etc. for the army and other Government officials. This process started in 1815 and ended in 1834. In the course of 19 years, about 4,000 Indian convicts were sent to Mauritius. Based upon the good behaviour and hard work of these Indian convicts, emigration of Indian natives to Mauritius was planned by the French settlers in Mauritius. The French, habituated to the indolent black slaves from Africa, found the Indian workers very hard-working, docile, polite and though these convicts were allowed free movement during the day, they did not resort to marooning, a common habit of the black slaves who would also find ways and means to be drunk most of the time.

A few convicts were loaned to a French settler, Toussaint de Chazal who established a silk industry in 1799 at Mondrain in the Plaines Wilhems. Between 1735 and 1788, a total of 37,915 slaves from the African continent were brought to the island; none of them was experienced at sericulture. With Mauritius passing into the hands of the British in 1810, and after a Treaty was signed in Paris in 1814, Toussaint de Chazal applied to the then Governor Robert Townsend Farquhar to allocate him a few Indian convicts to work on his farm; 28 men were allocated to work for de Chazal who then introduced the plantation of opium. Both silk and opium were successful trades from India and China and de Chazal had the foresight to step into these rewarding industries. The Carribbean islands had a headway and competition was stiff.

When it came to the knowledge of other officials that convicts meant for the construction of roads and bridges have been assigned to a private entrepreneur, de Chazal was forced to part with his task force but he re-petitioned for their restoration under the plea that silk production was more public than a private enterprise. In 1819, these convicts were restored to de Chazal who assigned ten men in the silk industry, six in the opium plantation, four in extraction of poppy oil, four in brick work and four in ploughing.

De Chazal had 60 acres under mulberry plantation and had another twenty-five acres cleared for extension. At the time of the convicts being handed over to de Chazal, he had thirty acres of land under cultivation of opium poppy and within a short time, due to the Indian task force, he increased the acreage by another 20 acres. The opium was exported to England where it was certified that the quality was of the highest purity; by 1819, fifty pounds opium was exported to Batavia [Indonesia].
Being extremely satisfied, de Chazal set an exemplary pattern of high standard of living for his convicts, which was emulated by only a few planters. De Chazal gave each convict a separate hut with a small patch of land to be used as a private kitchen garden. Such humane treatment led the convicts to work harder as they were not keen to return to the Government Barracks. The good behaviour and hard work of the Indian labourers made them in great demand, which set an example to obtain more such people from India. De Chazal started indulging himself in his own product and succumbed to an overdose at a Christmas party hosted by the Governor. Unfortunately, his enterprise collapsed within two years of his death and by 1824, all the 28 convicts were returned to the Government of Mauritius.

Finally, in 1833, slavery, throughout the British Empire, was abolished. On August 1st 1834, twenty million pound sterling was approved by the Imperial Treasury to be released as compensation to the owners of the slaves. The slave owners of Mauritius received a little over two million pound sterling although their expectation was twice as much. There is no known humanitarian gesture with such a parallel in history. In British Guiana, £19 was paid per slave to the planters, for their release.

The first batch of indentured labour to Mauritius was despatched under the rule of Lord Bentinck in 1834. There were no Colonial Emigration Acts at this stage to control the movement of indentured labourers. Private Agents, authorized by the planters of Mauritius, came to India to recruit men. G. C. Arbuthnot, a private recruiting agent, signed an agreement on September 9th, 1834, in the presence of the Chief Magistrate, and the Superintendent of the Calcutta Police, which enabled him to take 36 Hill Coolies to Mauritius. These coolies were illiterate and they were made to affix their thumb impressions on this very first contract drawn up by the French planters in Mauritius, that contained the following clauses:-

1. Contract of five years.
2. To and fro-free passage.
3. Rs.5 per month as wages.
4. Six months advance pay.
5. Rupee One to be deducted per month, on account of repatriation passage. If the contract of five years was fulfilled, the entire amount totaling Rs.60 would be refunded.
6. Free rations.
7. Free accommodation.
8. Free clothing.

It will be noted that return free passage was one of the main clauses incorporated in these contracts and later on, formed part of the Colonial Emigration Acts. The planters in Mauritius and later on, other colonies found ways and means to prevent the return of the natives of India, so that they could economise expenses on Agents’ fees, to and fro fares and other incidental expenses. 

To be continued...

August 2009

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