THE ARRIVAL OF THE EAST INDIANS
Despite the recruitment of West Indian, African and Portuguese and other European labourers, this did not help very much to ease the labour shortage. After the West Indian islands placed restrictions on emigration, the sugar planters in Guyana began to look further afield to obtain a large labour force. One of them, John Gladstone, the father of the British statesman, applied for permission from the Secretary of State for the Colonies to recruit Indians to serve in Guyana for a five-year period of indenture. Gladstone himself owned a sugar plantation in West Demerara.
Gladstone's proposed venture was supported by a number of other sugar planters whose estates were expected to obtain some of the Indians to be recruited. By this time Indians were being taken to Mauritius to work on the sugar plantations and were proving to be very productive. Gladstone's request was granted and he, Davidson, Barclay and Company, Andrew Colville, John and Henry Moss, all owners of sugar plantations in Guyana, made arrangements to recruit 414 Indians. Of these 150 were "hill coolies" from Chota Nagpur, and the remainder were from Burdwan and Bancoorah near to Calcutta. (The word "coolie", a corruption of the Tamil word "kuli", referred to a porter or labourer).
To transport these Indians, two ships, the Whitby and Hesperus were chartered. The Whitby sailed from Calcutta on the 13 January 1838 with 249 immigrants, and after a voyage of 112 days, arrived in Guyana on the 5 May. Five Indians died on the voyage. The ship immediately sailed to Berbice and 164 immigrants, who were recruited by Highbury and Waterloo plantations, disembarked. The ship then returned to Demerara and between 14-16 May the remaining 80 immigrants landed and were taken to Belle Vue Estate.
Of the total of 244 Indians who arrived on the Whitby, there were 233 men, 5 women and 6 children.
The Hesperus left Calcutta on the 29 January 1838 with 165 passengers and arrived in Guyana late on the night of the 5 May, by which time 13 had already died. The remaining 135 men, 6 women and 11 children were distributed between the 8-10 May to the plantations Vreedestein, Vreed-en-hoop and Anna Regina.
On their arrival, the male adult Indians agreed with the estate owners to a contract, part of which (for Belle Vue plantation), stated:
1. We engage to perform willingly and diligently our duty as labourers, with the usual time allowed us for rest and food; and should we be, at any time during the period hereinafter named, unable to perform our duty, from sickness or other inevitable cause, we hereby agree to relinquish all claim upon our master for wages during the time we are absent, provided we are found in food and clothing while so absent from work.
2. As . . . the natives shall not be a burden to the colony in the event of their leaving their employment, one rupee per month shall be retained from the pay of each individual till there shall be sufficient sum to provide a passage for each to Calcutta, and should no such contingency take place, the money shall be restored at the end of five years.
Only the adult male immigrants - not the women and children - were bound by this five-year contract of indenture. Based on the contract, they received the following rate of pay:
Davidson, Barclay and Company, owners of Higbury and Waterloo estates in Berbice paid (per month) superintendents 24 guilders, headmen 10.10 guilders, labourers (men) 7.10 guilders, and boys 6 guilders. The other estates (in Demerara) paid superintendents 16 rupees, headmen 7 rupees, labourers (men) 5 rupees, and boys 4 rupees.
At that period the value of a guilder was 17 British pence when a British pound was made up of 240 pence. The value of a rupee was about 28 British pence.
The hours of work varied from estate to estate, but generally the working period was from 6.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. with a two-hour rest period around midday.
On the estates, each immigrant received a weekly allowance of food. Some estates gave the following: 13 lbs. rice, 1½ lbs. dried fish, ¾ lb. onions and a small quantity of pepper and ghee (or butter). Other estates gave daily allowances of 28 ounces of rice, 4 ounces of dal (yellow split peas), 1 ounce of ghee or oil, half an ounce of salt, 2 ounces of dried fish, 2 ounces of tumeric or tamarind, and 1 ounce of onion and pepper.
The allowance generally included 2 blankets, a jacket, 2 dhotis, 1 cup, 1 wooden bowl and 1 cup (to be shared by four persons).
Within six months of their arrival, reports reached Britain that the Indians were adapting to their new living situation, but by January 1839 agents of the Anti-Slavery Society accused some planters in Demerara of ill-treatment, including whipping, and expressed concerns over the high death rate of the Indians. The Society, which kept a close watch on the plantations to ensure that slavery in another form was not re-introduced, claimed that because of bad treatment which included flogging and imprisonment, some Indians had run away from the plantations. It also reported that each indenture was paid an equivalent of less than a third of what they should be getting.
Shortly after, a three-man team led by the Secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, John Scoble, visited Guyana to investigate the conditions under which the Indians worked and lived. After observing the conditions first hand they reported their concerns to the Governor, Sir Henry Light. In response to these charges, the Governor appointed a commission of inquiry and several African plantation labourers, who bravely gave evidence, supported the Society's accusations against the offending planters. The commission found that the Indians were indeed being ill-treated and the Governor ordered the prosecution of those who had brutalised them.
When news of the ill-treatment of the Indians reached India, the British authorities there immediately placed a ban on emigration to Guyana. The sugar planters in Guyana were very upset over this development since they were hoping that, if they continued to obtain a sizable labour force, they would be able to make fairly large profits.
Despite the bad treatment on some estates, other Indians, especially on the Berbice estates, were generally well treated.
Nevertheless, the death rate was relatively high. Of the 396 Indians who arrived in May 1838, 48 had died by January 1839. By the end of the indenture period in 1843, an additional 50 died. It was clear that the immigrants did not acclimatise well and fell sick very quickly.
At the end of 1843 when their period of indenture came to an end, 236 Indians (206 men, 12 women, 14 boys and 4 girls) departed for India in two ships, the Louisa Baillie and Water Ditch. Sixty others opted to remain in Guyana.