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 a correspondence that explores ways to provide emigrants with hygenic conditions during the long passage from India to Trinidad

From: Mr. T. W. C. Murdoch, 

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

...But his views in regard to ventilation and compelling the people to come on deck are so different from what have been maintained by others whom he has been accustomed to consider most competent to give an opinion on the subject, that we cannot venture at once to adopt them confidently. 

Those who have investigated the subject in India have generally come to the opposite conclusions. Thus Dr. Mouat, in paragraph 187 of his Report, recommended an increase of the ordinary ventilation by taking a couple of planks out of the deck under the Long Boat.

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

Dr. Scriven, the Medical Examiner of Emigrants at Calcutta, suggested an increased number and caliber of wind sails, and the Committee of Medical men appointed to enquire into the subject adverted to the difficulty of keeping women and children on deck as a special cause of disease. The same view has prevailed among our Surgeons and the Colonial Authorities, and the fittings of the Ships have accordingly been arranged with the design of increasing the amount of ventilation in the between-decks to the greatest extent consistent with safety.

It would be unreasonable to accept the single opinion of Mr. Pearse as conclusive against so much opposite testimony. If any mechanical means of ventilation could be devised by which the foul air of the between-decks might be exhausted, Dr. Pearse’s views would be more consistent with recognized sanitary axioms; but it is difficult to believe that, in the absence of such means, the mere insertion of ventilating cowls in the deck, the mouths of which are to be all carefully turned from the wind, will sufficiently draw off the foul air in the hotter latitudes. Nor is it easy to understand how the between-decks can be properly cleansed and kept sweet unless the people are compelled to pass a considerable portion of the day on the upper deck. 

A distribution of the fresh air drawn into the between-decks, so as to prevent cold draughts in any one spot, is, of course, desirable, but it is difficult to effect; and though we have tried several apparatuses for the purpose, we have not yet discovered an efficient one. Where a Ship is moving rapidly throughout the water, as a Steamer, there is no difficulty. It is where a Ship is becalmed, or scarcely moving, that a distributing apparatus rather impedes than facilitates the entry of fresh air. Yet it is in clams or very light winds that ventilation is most required. 

6. Nevertheless there is so much good sense in Mr. Pearse’s argument, and his practice has been so successful, while the theories and practice of others have had too little effect in reducing the mortality, that his views have an indisputable claim to serious and respectful consideration. I propose to call the attention of other Surgeons who have been engaged in Coolie Emigration to this point, to ascertain whether, when it is suggested to them, their experience confirms Dr. Pearse’s view, or the contrary. I would also suggest that the Report should be forwarded to the Secretary of State for India, with a request that it may be sent to the Indian Government, and that their attention also may be directed to the point.

December 2010

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