Leela Gujadhur Sarup

Calcutta to Colony


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 provided by a British consulate in Brazil on how the passengers on board planned to take over the vessel in which they were travelling. Instead of the indicated 12 days, the journey had last three months

From J. Brown, Esq., M.D. First Assistant,
Surgeon of the Presidency Hospital
To T. Warner,
Emigration Agent for Trinidad. 
Dated the 24th April, 1863.

With reference to the mortality on board the “Alnwick Castle”, and the cause which led to it; I have the honor to observe that the individuals were for the most part, selected by my colleague, Dr. Charles, during my absence and that he avers that the coolies were the finest he had ever seen, the remainder passed by me were selected with as much care as I always bestow upon what I consider a most important and responsible duty. 

The fact that of the fatal cases only four had been admitted shortly after the ship sailed, and that no individual died from disease until more than a month had been passed at the sea,

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

shows that the coolies must have been tolerably healthy, and in the absence of any detailed Report I must consider that owing to the sudden change in temperature from hot to cold or stormy weather, the casualties must have ensured. 

The mortality as far as medicines or medical skills could influence is only seventeen. In letter No. 1821, from the Junior Secretary to the Government of Bengal, it is there stated that out of the sixty three admissions in the Hospital a third of the cases (or twenty one in number) terminated fatally. But an analysis of the Return shows that of these seventeen can only be held to be chargeable in any way to Hospital mortality, so that the percentage really stands at 3.84 percent, instead of 4.3% as mentioned in the Return, and in this percentage I have excluded the premature birth from the total number. 

The returns alluded to show that two of the individuals jumped or fell over-board; one died suddenly, as might have happened anywhere and the fourth was a prematurely born child which would have died most likely whether any circumstances.

As to the question of opium eating, Dr. Charles and myself are too well aware of the appearance of an extreme and inveterate opium-eater to have passed such a man.

There is no mistaking the skin and bone, lanquid hollow eyed victim to inordinate opium eating any more than there is in detecting the smoker in the redeyed feverish looking, abrupt speaking, victim to its excessive use. No doubt the individuals are opium eaters, who are mentioned in Dr. Jolly’s report, but their constitutions must not have been much affected by it; and my experience in jails has shown me that I can keep opium eaters alive by small quantities of opium in the emaciated and extreme cases, while with other and slighter cases no opium is necessary, the supervention of Diarrhoea in such cases determining its use. 

Until however Dr. Jolly can show the percentage of opium eaters on board, the opinion as to opium eating being a cause of mortality must be a reserved one and looking to the quantity of opium on board, the rapid development of symptoms, which ensue in cases in which the want of opium is witnessed not having seen Dr. Jolly’s Report, and the long interval which lapsed without a single fatal case being observed, I must decline to venture to state what the causes of the mortability were, and leave it to the Surgeon Superintendent to explain it; as I have no doubt, from what I have seen of Dr. Jolly’s zeal and intelligence; he satisfactorily can, but I would in conclusion suggest that the weather and temperature should be carefully recoded in attempting to estimate the causes which led to the mortality.

September 2010

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