Colonial Emigration


During the days of the coolie trade, the British kept records of indentured workers and their travels in official diaries. Mrs Leela Gujadhur Sarup, historian and researcher, pulled out many such records from archives in India, and compiled books like the one above. Here’s an excerpt from page 165 of the book that looks at a complaint against a captain of a ship returning from Demerara in 1874
Colonial Emigration
19th-20th Century

Vol. 9

Leela Gujadhur Sarup

The Agent-General of Immigration for Fiji. 
The Officiating Secretary to the Government of India, 
Department of Revenue, Agriculture and Commerce.
Dated Calcutta, the 20th February 1878. 

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter No. 31 of 15th February 1878. From it I gather that on all points but one the Governor-General in Council is satisfied with the amendments and explanation that I have offered.

The point in question is that relating to deductions from wages on account of rations.

It appears to me that on this point we have the choice of two before us; one the evil of indebtedness, the other that of adopting as law a provision which practically amounts to this, that a man shall pay for his rations if he earns enough to do so, but that if does not, the balance due by him on this account shall not be carried on against him as a debt.

When it is considered that his rations will only cost weekly thirty-five pence, that he can earn that easily by three or four day’s work, and further, that if all his rations must be supplied gratis, I am inclined to consider that the latter is the greater evil of the two. But though I differ on this point from the conclusion arrived at by the Governor-General in Council, the arguments advanced in your letter, coming from the source they do, are entitled to the gravest consideration, and I accept the provision regarding deductions from wages, subject, however, to the approval of His Excellency the Governor of Fiji.

In paragraph 13 of your letter, you deal with the question of duplicate certificates of industrial residence, and state that “His Excellency in Council does not perceive why the section should have altogether cancelled and nothing put in its place.”

I struck the section out, as the Governor-General in Council objected to it, because I knew that it could not possibly be required for at least five or six years after the arrival of the first shipment of emigrants, during which time there would be ample opportunity for discussing the subject with the Government of India.

I did not adopt the provisions of section 155 of the British Guiana Law, because the charge therein was, I considered, too low to check the traffic in certificates which must take place so long as a certificate of industrial residence continues to be a valuable document, and this will continue to be so long as the present system of emigration lasts, under which men are introduced into a colony at great expense both to their employer and to the colony.

This traffic in certificates would render sections 85 and 86 of the draft Ordinance a dead letter, as emigrants under indenture could obtain certificates by purchasing them from others who had obtained duplicate on the plea that the original was lost, and it would be impossible to punish anyone for employing an immigrant who turned out to be under indenture where it was proved that the employer had acted bona fide, having first seen a certificate of industrial residence in the hands of the labourer.

You will, I have no doubt, reply to this that the provision is only intended to meet the case of certificates which have really been lost or destroyed, not parted with for fraudulent purposes; but this is just the point where the difficulty arises, for it is almost impossible to ascertain in many cases with the most rigorous cross-examination which is the case.

For instance, an immigrant states his paper has fallen into the water while he has travelling in a sailing boat or steamer, or fell into the fire, and is either lost or destroyed, as the case may be.

April 2012

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