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 the account on Returnee Immigrants pages 297 to 298
Leela Gujadhur Sarup
As the number of fresh applicants since the Pandora sailed for Calcutta in November, 1872, had increased much during the crop season, it was deemed advisable to charter another ship to be here about the close of September, the Ganges was taken up, but owing to her long passage from England she only arrived here towards the 20th October, so that her departure will fall to be chronicled in next year’s report. It may, however, be mentioned here that of 414 souls embarked 240 adults deposited for transmission to India $ 48,000 besides a considerable amount of coin and trinkets entrusted to the surgeon-superintendent’s care.
The number of Indians who have served their time in other colonies, and who finally repair to Trinidad as a sort of central rendez-vous increases annually, so much so, that upwards of twenty men and women from both English and French Islands when the “Ganges” was about to sail applied to the Immigration Office for permission to leave in her for Calcutta on paying their own passage.
As some of those people had been working in this colony for eight and even ten years it would have been desirable to have complied with their request, but unfortunately the number of Trinidad coolies registered to return excluded all others, even the 50 from St. Vincent who had been promised accommodation in the first return ship; as it is, however, important to keep this colony always prominently before the Indian population of the West Indies as ostensibly linked with Calcutta, these applicants were promised passages thither, if possible, by the next opportunity.
Under this head it may be mentioned that a coolie named “Hullodhur,” registered to return in the “Ganges”. When the ship’s departure approached, the Agent of the estate on which “Hullodhur” resided called at this office to say that he was instructed by the proprietor, as soon as this laborer had positively decided on leaving for Calcutta to pay him a gratuity of $50 as a mark of the value attached to his services. Impressed with this liberality the Agent-General wrote to the proprietor in somewhat flattering terms, and was answered in words to the following effect: “No praise is due to me in this matter, the obligation lay with me entirely, for ‘Hullodhur’ had worked on this estate for the last 20 years for 300 days in each year, and I would willingly promise not $50 to every individual who would give the estate such service.”
Such details, although not strictly statistical, are interesting as a somewhat silver lining to the somber veil occasionally thrown over Indian emigration by the friends of humanity not directly interested in the future of these colonies. All experience leads to the conclusion that the Indian coolie can not only earn a great deal of money in the West Indies, but can take better care of it when earned than the average immigrant as shown in the following extract from the cruize of the Challenger (Times, 12th November): “While they were on board we inspected the goods of one of the Fiji laborers (returned from Queensland) which he had received as payment for four years work; they were worth less than £5 at Australia prices.
Allowing for freight and duty they might have been worth between £7 and £8 in Fiji. These were besides other articles, such as calico, a looking glass and other trifles, two Tower muskets, powder, shot, bullets, caps and a bullet mould; the hatchet and knives were the usual trade goods manufactured expressively for the South Sea Islands, which turn the edge at the first blow”.
—To be continued