Leela Gujadhur Sarup



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 of the tribulations of indentured workers who journeyed the long distance between Calcutta and Trinidad

From: Mr. T. W. C. Murdoch, 

To: Sir F. Rogers, Bart., &c., &c.,
Dated Emigration Office, the 5th April 1862.

I have to acknowledge your letter of 20th ultimo, with a Despatch from the Governor of Trinidad, enclosing a Report from Mr. Pearse, Surgeon of the Alnwick Castle, on his voyage with Coolies from Calcutta to Trinidad.  

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

2. Mr. Pearse has been many years in our service, having made no less than nine voyages as Surgeon Superintendent of Government Emigrants. His present interesting and valuable Report may be regarded as the first fruits of the transfer to the Indian Service of a portion of our Australian Surgeons. It is to be hoped that the others who will be employed in Indian Ships this season will furnish us with Reports of a similar nature. Such Reports will supply more ample and reliable information as to the causes of disease on the voyage, and the precautions to be taken against it than could be obtained from any other source.

3. The mortality on board the Alnwick Castle was only five out of 478 souls, or a fraction over one per cent, and of these five deaths one was by suicide. So small a mortality is of very rare occurrence in Calcutta Ships, and is of itself a strong argument in favor of Mr. Pearse’s mode of treatment.

4. The peculiarity of Mr. Pearse’s view is, that the predisposing cause of sickness among Coolies is chill, and that the sanitary arrangements usually adopted for the ventilation of the Ship, and for keeping the Coolies on deck, instead of conducing to their health, render them more susceptible of disease. He argues that the Bengal Coolie is one of the most feeble of human beings; that he is accustomed to a warm, soft, enervating climate; that putting him on boardship has necessarily a depressing moral effect; that sea air is too bracing for his constitution; and that he has not vital energy enough to resist the effect of the change. 

The diseases from which Coolies suffered, he observes, are Diarrhea, Dysentery, and Bronchitis, the chief source of which is cold and chill, and in support of his theory he states that the three fatal cases of Bronchitis that occurred in the Alnwick Castle occurred among those berthed near the hatchways. The remedy which he proposes to apply is to protect the Coolies as much as possible from cold—first, by having proper booby hatches (such as are used in our Australian Ships) over the hatchways; second, by an alteration of the ventilation so as to protect the people, especially at night, from draughts of cold air; and, third, to issue warmer clothing and to make them wear it from the commencement of the voyage. Nor would he insist on the Coolies coming on deck so as to allow the between-decks to be cooled and purified, except in very warm weather.

5. So far as regards the fitting the hatchways with booby hatches and the issue to the Emigrants of warm clothing, to be worn from the first, and made in such a way as to protect the chest and stomach, there can be little hesitation in assenting to Mr. Pearse’s views, and I propose to communicate these suggestions to the several Emigration Agents, with a recommendation that they should be acted upon.

November 2010

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