Guineas and races

Paid at least “a guinea” or about 21 shillings for each Indian indentured immigrant delivered alive to the destination colonies in the West Indies, seasoned medical doctors appointed as surgeons-superintendents wielded significant power aboard commercial “coolie-carrying” ships.

In the case of the 1877 maiden voyage of the fast clipper, the “Sheila,” Dr. Chapman would have earned a minimum salary of 624 “guineas” from merchant owners, Sandbach and Tinne for the corresponding number of passengers including 84 children and several newborns who finally disembarked “in fine condition” on November 17 at Five Islands, Trinidad. An estimated seven individuals died during the then speedy record 10-week long trip, a low figure given the usually poor living conditions of the closely-confined and multi-caste “jahaji bhai” and “behen” – ship “brothers” and “sisters” aboard, the ever-present threat of deadly epidemics and diseases, and ensuing high mortality rates.

Originally produced in the 17th century, the guinea was the largest denomination in British currency until it was replaced by the pound in 1816. The name refers to the Guinea and West African-origin of the gold supplied by the Royal African Company (RAC) to the English Mint for the 22 carat-coins. The mercantile firm, RAC, established by the House of Stuart of the British Royal Family was led by the Duke of York, James, whose brother Charles, the Second, gained the throne in the 1660 Restoration, becoming the beloved “Merry Monarch.” Taking half of the profits, King Charles allowed the company a lucrative monopoly supported by the country’s army and navy, to trade in precious metals, and commodities like ivory and tens of thousands of slaves. The Catholic Duke would succeed his popular brother on the throne in 1685, becoming King James II.

In his memoir, the “Sheila’s” Captain, William Angel, ….


From Lucknow to Moor Farm

The salt air, sea winds and ever-stronger spring tides sweep in from the swirling Atlantic sliding through the thick bushes and around the tall coconut trees that have taken over the long perished plantations.

The mad ocean

Borne upon the ocean’s foam Far from native land and home. Midnight curtain, dense with wrath.

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A very long journey 

“Bye and bye make very long journey,  Cross Kalla-panee I shall go…” excerpt “Bengalee Baboo” satirical song, 19th century.

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The din of dreary drums

The sharp scent of freshly ground spices, the cooking of traditional foods and the dull drone of drums like the dholak and the tabla would have helped make the tough ship-rolling-journey more bearable for the Indian indentured immigrants during the “Sheila’s” maiden trip to the West Indies.

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A wedding, no funerals

“Away, away, what nectar spray she flings about her bow. What diamonds flash in every splash that drips upon my brow.

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