GUYANA UNDER SIEGE
Indian Indentured Immigration to Guyana
|Page 2 of 3|
Brief exposure of the deplorable
condition of the Hill Coolies,
8. SUBSEQUENT MOVEMENTS OF THE PLANTERS.
The restless activity of this powerful body, supported as it is by a corrupt and venal press, in the colonies, and by a well-paid band of agents in this country, was never more manifest than at the present moment, or directed to more unworthy objects. Convicted again, and again, of the grossest mis-statements respecting the conduct of the free negros -- the state of the crops -- and the general prosperity of the colonies, they continue to assert the absolute ruin of these possessions of the Crown, and call upon the Government to give them laws to coerce labour under a state of freedom, and to place the administration of the laws entirely in their own hands by the removal of the Stipendiary Magistrates; and to allow them to import, to an unlimited extent, and under contracts of service for five years, the natives of India, that they may be able to reduce the wages of their late slaves to the minimum point, and thus force them, once more, under their cruel and despotic sway.
In consequence of their exertions and misrepresentations, there is the most imminent danger at the present moment, that the Coolie slave-trade will be revived, and that the measures for which the abolitionists of this country have striven so long, and so zealously, will give place to others of the most objectionable kind. Already has it been announced in parliament, by LORD JOHN> RUSSELL, that the restriction imposed on the exportation of Hill Coolies, so far as they relate to Mauritius, are to be abandoned, and the intimation has been received with unbounded joy by the felon-planters of that colony. In the papers, which have just been printed by order of the House of Commons, we learn by a letter, dated Mauritius, the 11th of June, 1839, that the planters "yesterday received the gratifying intelligence, that SIR WILLIAM NICOLAY submitted a despatch to the Council here, by which it appears that the ministry apprise him of a bill which would be laid before Parliament, authorising the introduction of Coolies, and permitting them to engage for FIVE YEARS. "This intelligence," it is added, "has spread universal joy throughout the colony, and `nous sommes saurés,' escapes the lips of the least sanguine!" Whatever might have been the intention of the ministers of the Crown, they were not able, during the last session, to carry such a measure, neither the house nor the country would have permitted such an iniquitous scheme to be carried into effect. One fact is clear, however, that the admirable Order in Council of the 7th of September, 1838, regulating contracts in the Crown colonies, and which limited their duration to one year, and provided that where the labourers had been "induced to enter into the same by ANY FRAUD, MISAPPREHENSION, MISREPRESENTATION, OR CONCEALMENT," the same should be void; and which further required, that all contracts, to be valid, must henceforth be made, not at Calcutta and elsewhere, but in the colonies to which the labourers might resort, in the presence of the proper authorities, and under the forms therein set forth, was to be set aside in Mauritius, within a few months after it had gone into effect! And now what the Government dared not, or could not do last session, they propose to do this: Lord JOHN RUSSELL, will relax the restrictions on this infamous traffic in the persons of men, and throw open India, once more, to the Mauritians, who have ever shown themselves as destitute of every human sympathy, as they have proved themselves regardless of all laws human and divine!
In the papers which have been recently laid before parliament, which embrace but a very small part of the proceedings relative to the Hill Coolies in Mauritius, and are consequently extremely defective in the information they contain, will be found enough to convince the most sceptical of the inhumanity and wickedness of the doings of the Mauritian planters. The whole system has been characterized by the grossest fraud and cruelty, and has been sustained by the most infamous tyranny and oppression. How were the Coolies in Mauritius obtained previously to the restrictions being laid on? Mr. F.R. PRINSEP, secretary to the government of India, in an official report on the subject, states: "The methods adopted for procuring labourers to engage for service in colonies and places beyond sea, are productive of serious frauds, and have led to much oppression, and," he further observes, "the system is a source of injury and abuse, rather than of benefit to the labourers, in the form in which it is at present carried on." The governor, Sir WILLIAM NICOLAY, in referring to the same subject in a despatch to Lord GLENELG, dated 21st May, 1839, observes, "That very nefarious practices have been resorted to, in many instances, in order to procure labourers for embarkation for this island, is beyond all doubt," and Mr. Special Justice ANDERSON asserts in one of his letters to the governor, that "many of them have actually been KIDNAPPED from their own country, which," he adds, "they have ALL been induced to leave, under circumstances of GROSS FRAUDS." To go into the history of all those "frauds," would be to detail circumstances, second only in atrocity to those connected with the African slave-trade. The fact is established beyond dispute, that multitudes have been kidnapped -- forced into prison-depôts until the Mauritian slavers were ready to receive them-hurried on board-put under hatches and guards-robbed and pillaged of the advances made to them by the Maurtian agents in Calcutta -- shipped in large numbers on board vessels, without the requisite accommodation, food, or medical attendance- brought under the most fraudulent contracts to labour for years on scanty wages, and scanty fare-separated from their families and from their homes-compelled to perform the hardest agricultural labour known, at the discretion of their masters and without the protection of an upright, impartial, and efficient magistracy.
It is difficult to ascertain when the first shipment of Coolies to Mauritius took place, or the exact number of them which has been, at various periods introduced. It appears that from the 1st of August, 1834, to the 24th October, 1838, there were received from Calcutta 13,243 Coolies, viz., 12,994 men; 198 women; and fifty-one children. From the 1st June, 1837, to the 22nd June, 1838, there were shipped from Cochin 308 Coolies, supposed to be all males. From the 1st June 1837, to 24th June, 1838, there were shipped from Pondicherry 5058 Coolies, supposed to be all males. From the 1st June, 1837, to the 25th August, 1838, there were shipped from Rajahmundy 441 Coolies, viz., 434 men and seven women; making a total of 19,050 -- viz., 18,794 men, 205 women, and fifty-one children. But it is quite clear, from the petition addressed to her Majesty by the planters and others, dated 18th May, 1839, that a much larger number of Coolies had been introduced. The 100 persons who signed that document state, that within the "last four years" they had "caused to be brought from British India upwards of 20,000 native Indian labourers." It is stated, by some parties, that the whole number introduced cannot be much short of 30,000!
With respect to the mortality which has occurred since the arrival of the Indians at Mauritius, the statements are various. It is, however, admitted by the Governor, to have been great, and to have been "the source of deep regret" to him. In a despatch, dated 31st Dec., 1838, the Colonial Secretary (Mr. Dick) thus writes:-- "The mortality which has prevailed among the Indian labourers, as well on their voyage as after their arrival here, and more particularly on some estates and establishments, has been the source of deep regret to his Excellency. Mr. Special Justice Anderson, states the mortality of the Coolies in Port Louis, to amount to eight or nine per cent., per annum! This would be equal to the destruction of the whole number of Coolies introduced every twelve years!!
Out of the 19,050 Coolies introduced, of which we have any account in the papers before me, only 205 were women! It is easy to conceive, that, from this frightful disparity of the sexes, the most horrible and revolting depravity and demoralization must necessarily ensue; and that such large masses of ignorant and degraded beings must carry with them a most corrupting influence on others.
As to the general treatment of the Coolies in Mauritius, but one opinion can be entertained by the friends of humanity. Independently of the evidence derived from private sources, on which implicit reliance can be placed, which represents the state of the Coolies as deplorably wretched, and their hardships and sufferings even greater than those endured, by the negroes when slaves, the fact of their having become the prey of the MAURITIAN PLANTERS would be sufficient to justify the worst apprehensions that could be entertained on that point. One honest functionary in Mauritius, Mr. Special Justice ANDERSON, has spoken out upon this point in opposition to those who would have us believe that the Coolies in that colony are treated with "humanity and kindness;" and, we have no doubt, in opposition to his own interests and personal ease and comfort. In his letters to Governor NICOLAY, dated the 19th and 30th of November, 1839, he states, that those whom he had examined in Port Louis, were "overworked," were subjected to severe "personal chastisement," were without proper shelter and "lodging accommodation," were deprived of necessary medical attendance and care when suffering from disease, and in other ways seriously injured and abused, insomuch that he says, "it is a source of astonishment to me, that any body of freemen, whatever may have been their former condition, should have borne, with the patience and forbearance which the Indian labourers at Port Louis have displayed, the bitter disappointment which must have attended their introduction into this island," and, he adds, "to induce them to come here, their ignorance is worked upon in India by the most false and deceitful representations, and the robbery and pillage which has been practised on them at Calcutta, would scarcely be credited, if the fact was not established by the most convincing testimony. They reach this colony after having been robbed of six months pay, which is advanced, (or said to be advanced,) in India; and when here, their comfort is in every way neglected, while they are compelled by the engagements to which their own ignorance, or the avarice of others have bound them, to toil during five years for a recompense bearing no proportion to the work to which they are subjected, when compared with the common estimation of the value of labour in this colony, or to the sum which they would earn if they had the free disposal of their own time."
In view of these facts the writer of this article would, earnestly call on every philanthropist in the kingdom, to use his utmost exertions and influence, in public and in private, to prevent the relaxation of the restrictions to which reference has been made; and to urge on the government the paramount importance of maintaining, in all its integrity, the Order in Council of the 7th September, 1838; and to demand that all the fraudulent contracts into which the Coolies have been induced to enter, whether in Mauritius or Guiana, shall be immediately cancelled, and the unfortunate victims of cupidity be permitted to return home. And that the parties whether in India, who have been guilty of entrapping them into fraudulent contracts, or in the colonies, who have injured and oppressed them, shall be brought to condign punishment. This would be a useful lesson to the planters. It would teach them to husband their own resources, and would procure for the emancipated negroes the consideration and care which are their due, for so long as the planters in the British Colonies can calculate upon the cultivation of their estates by the introduction of adult labourers, they will be as careless of the general welfare of their peasantry, in future, as they have been reckless of the lives of their slaves in times past.
Note.-The Parliamentary Papers which should be consulted on the subject, treated of in the foregoing statement, are as follows, viz., No. 180, 2nd March, 1838; No. 232, in continuation; No. 463, 1839. Hill Coolies in British Guiana, No. 77, 1840, in continuation, and No. 58, 1840, Mauritius; and to the information contained in these documents should be added, that which may be found in the columns of the British Emancipator, from the 29th May to the 2nd October, 1839, and in Number 4, of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Reporter, dated 26th February, 1840.
P.S. Whilst the foregoing statement was passing through the press, the Committee of the British and Foreign Anti-slavery Society presented a Memorial to Lord JOHN RUSSELL on the subject to which it refers. The deputation who presented the Memorial to his Lordship, were as follows, viz.:-Sir CHARLES STYLE, Bart., M.P.; DANIEL O'CONNELL, Esq., M.P.; EDWARD BAINES, Esq., M.P.; Dr. HODGKIN, and Messrs. W. BALL, G. STACEY, H. TUCKETT, D. TURNBULL, C.F. BROWN, J. BEAUMONT, R. RUSSELL, C. PHIPPS, JOHN SCOBLE, and J.H. TREDGOLD. In the interview had with his Lordship, it was understood that the government would persevere in their intention of relaxing the restrictions on the exportation of Coolies to Mauritius within certain limits. This is deeply to be regretted; let but the friends of humanity, however, be on the alert, and the design may yet be defeated.
The following is a copy of the Memorial presented:--
To the Right Honorable Lord JOHN RUSSELL, M.P.,
Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the Colonies.
THE COMMITTEE of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, have learnt with deepest regret, that it is your Lordship's intention to recommend to the Queen in Council, to relax the existing restrictions upon the exportation of Hill Coolies from Hindostan, so far as they affect Mauritius, and that initiative measures have already been introduced to the attention of the House of Commons for the accomplishment of that purpose.
In approaching your Lordship, for the purpose of respectfully submitting to your Lordship's consideration, the reasons which induced them to give to the contemplated measure, their most earnest and determined opposition, the Committee beg to assure your Lordship, that they are governed only by a sincere desire to secure the native Inhabitants of the East from injustice and oppression, and the recently emancipated Negroes in Mauritius, the full enjoyment of that liberty which has been obtained for them at so costly a sacrifice to the British nation.
1. The Committee would remind your Lordship of the fact, that the Mauritian Planters have always been conspicuous for their daring violation of the laws under which they are placed; for their disloyalty to the Crown of these realms; and for their unwearied opposition to the humane measures of the Home Government, intended for the benefit and protection of their late bondsmen, as a decisive proof that no confidence can be placed in their good faith and honour, and that no substantial justice can be obtained at their hands for the Asiatic Labourer, or the emancipated Negro; and they are further confirmed in this view of the case by the notorious fact, that for the most part, the Authorities in Mauritius are influenced by the predominant party there, which is known to be hostile to British Laws and to British Rule, and to be violently opposed to the full and fair development of the great measure of freedom lately bestowed on the Negroes.
2. The opposition to the facts which have come to their knowledge, the Committee can place no reliance whatever on the general statements put forth by interested parties, representing the Coolies at present in Mauritius, as happy in their condition, and as having no wish to change it. Independently of other evidence, in their opinion, it is impossible to conceive, that these wretched persons can be contented with their lot, when it is remembered that large numbers of them were conveyed to Mauritius, under the most fraudulent pretences;-without regard to the equality of sexes, to the separation of families to their social elevation, or to their moral welfare, and forcibly brought under contracts for labour, for long periods of time at the smallest rate of wages. And in their judgement also, it would be contrary to the universal experience of mankind, to believe that they can be happy, when it is known, that the parties who introduced them into that colony, were influenced only by the sordid purposes of gain, and by the avowed intention of coercing the labour, and of keeping down the wages of the Negroes in a state of freedom.
3. As the Committee would earnestly deprecate the further introduction of Hill Coolies into any of the emancipated colonies, as fraught with the most injurious consequences morally as well as otherwise, to the existing labouring population, and as, therefore, calculated immeasurably to impede their advance in civilization and religion; they would respectfully submit to your Lordship that, on this ground also, the Mauritian planters are least of all fit to be entrusted with the care of the ignorant and degraded natives of Hindostan, inasmuch as they have shown themselves not only utterly regardless of, but entirely opposed to the education of their late slaves in morals and religion.
4. The Committee are firmly persuaded that the proposed measure, instead of inducing the Mauritian planters to act upon just and equal laws, and to depend on the exercise of humane treatment and good faith towards their present labourers, for the cultivation of their estates, will cause them to rely on unjust and adventitious expedients for the accomplishment of their objects, and will have the effect of reviving the traffic in the persons of men which no enactments in this country, however humanely intended, can prevent, or even control. It appears also to the Committee, that the necessary consequence of the relaxation of the restrictions on the exportation of Coolies to Mauritius, must lead to a similar measure in favour of British Guiana and Trinidad; an event, which they would greatly deplore, as fatal to the interests of humanity and destructive of the hopes they have cherished in connection with the freedom of the slave.
5. The pretence that the natives of India would be benefited by the proposed measure, the Committee venture respectfully to deny. In order effectually to relieve the suffering and oppressed Hindoos, they humbly conceive a series of enlightened, humane, and comprehensive laws must be substituted for those which exist; and the present system of mis-government be entirely abandoned. All partial expedients to relieve the misery which so extensively prevails in that vast country, can, in their judgement, only have the effect of retarding the introduction of those searching reforms which the exigencies of the people, and the prosperity and security of the empire so immediately and peremptorily require.
6. The distance of Mauritius from the controlling power of the home government, and the consequent difficulty and delay in obtaining information relative to the evils which exist in that colony, and of applying early and efficient remedies to them, has been felt by your lordship's predecessors in office; whilst the signal success of the Mauritian planters, in carrying on their nefarious schemes in frustrating the measure of government, and in displacing its officers and in obtaining an immense sum of money as compensation for slaves which had been feloniously introduced, by means the most fraudulent, fully justify, in the opinion of the Committee, the alarm they feel as to the consequences which will result from the projected measure.
7. For these reasons the Committee earnestly entreat your Lordship, and your Lordship's colleagues in office, not to advise her Majesty, to sanction the relaxation of the restrictions referred to, but to maintain them inviolate; and to order such measures to be immediately taken, as shall restore to their families and to their homes, those wretched Coolies who have been fraudulently introduced into Mauritius, and are held to service contrary to the Order in Council of the 7th September, 1828.
(Signed W. BALL,
British and Foreign
JOHNSTON & BARRETT, Printers, 13, Mark Lane.
© 2001 Guyanaundersiege.com