With no other person able to speak the different languages of the Indian indentured immigrants on a notorious Demerara estate, the last remaining of two abusive interpreters was quickly pardoned by the Governor.

At the Bellevue holding owned by the absentee wealthy Scottish businessman, Andrew Colville, the “mulatto” translator, Charles George Sharlieb resorted to violence following the negotiated return of the Estate’s 22 escapees up river from Plantation Herstelling. The group had run away in protest over ill treatment at the cruel hands of the older interpreter, another Eurasian and Christian, William James Young, 21 from Cawnpore, Callinga, India, and won his immediate removal by the Manager John Russell as a condition of their going back to work.

But the relief was short-lived. According to the historical files, Sharlieb, whose age was variously given as 19 and 21, from Hyderabad, India would assault the 18 year-old labourer Bisram, by repeatedly striking him with a leather whip or strap at the sugar cane plantation in St Mark. The parish covered the area between the Plantation Mindenberg, Canal Number 1 and the upper West Bank of Demerara.

At the time British Guiana was divided into 18 parishes across Berbice, and the united Essequibo and Demerara, with nearly all named after popular Biblical saints ranging from St Mary, St George, St Paul, St James, St Andrew and St Luke to St Catherine, hence All Saints featuring the town of New Amsterdam. Trinity ran from Capooey Creek to the Pomeroon River.

Before an inferior Criminal Court of Justice, held at the Public Buildings, Georgetown, Sharlieb pleaded guilty to the assault and a second similar offence and was ordered to pay two fines of 50 shillings each totalling five pounds sterling, to spend ten days in the capital’s gaol, and to remain incarcerated for the same period until the sums were submitted.

Declaring “I acted under the impression that I had been authorized to do so, when the Coolies had been first put under my charge in Calcutta” he implored, “If I acted under a mistaken notion of my duty, as I believe I did, I hope the Court will act mercifully by me.” On the same day in May 1839, he pleaded not guilty and was given the second fine for assaulting the even younger Cato, by inflicting several blows or stripes on the teenager at Bellevue.

Cato testified, Sharlieb “tied my Hands, and I loosed them; he then shut the Door and licked me with a Leather Whip on my Back and Thigh; I do not know how many Licks he gave me; I cried out.” Then, “I went to the Engine House and met Mitchelo, a Negro Labourer; he asked me what I came for; I told him that Accused had licked me, and he took me to the Manager, Mr. Russell, and I told him of it…” Sharlieb “had previously told me not to go to the Schoolhouse; I do not know why he forbid me going to the Schoolhouse; the Coolies do not go to School.”

Colly Ram would testify that, “I saw Marks of Stripes on his Back and One Cut on his Thigh; he had a Jacket on; he lifted it up and showed me the Marks… I saw the Marks on Cato’s Back that Night, and several Times afterwards.” The Overseer, John Chichester said “I heard Cato cry out” and “the crying out was as of a Boy that was being flogged or punished” and “he was crying when he came out of Accused’s Chamber into the Gallery.”

Russell was removed as Manager at the end of that April with ensuing investigations following a short but an explosive January 1839 article in the British Emancipator newspaper about the many deaths and poor conditions at Bellevue. Russell acknowledged the boy’s complaint and revealed when he sent for Sharlieb the next morning, the interpreter replied that “he was sick.” Later, Sharlieb admitted “he did flog Cato” but “he did not state why, and I did not ask him.” But Sharlieb would deny having told Russell he had whipped Cato declaring, “he did not ask me.” Days later the Governor Henry Light ordered the sentence be remitted since “I considered the Accused had acted under a wrong Apprehension of his Power, having questioned him closely…”

Light agreed to an official request for leniency from the Estate’s Attorney, James Matthews based on a letter sent by Bellevue’s Medical Attendant, Dr. William Nimmo who also worked at the Vreed-en-Hoop and Vriedstein, and was a relative of their absentee proprietor, the powerful businessman/politician, John Gladstone, the mastermind behind the labour importation scheme.

As directed by Nimmo, Matthews asked for the penalties to be set aside, since there was “no Person on the Estate who understands the different Languages spoken by the Coolies.” Nimmo had stated, “There are some Patients on Bellevue with whom it is imperatively necessary that I should have full Communications, and a heavy Responsibility has been incurred by the Court in removing the Interpreter. If this were stated to the Sheriff, I am sure he would liberate Sharhib (Sharlieb).”

The Government Secretary, Henry Young explained in a memo, Sharlieb told Light during a private meeting at the Governor’s Apartments, in the Public Buildings, “that he was ordered by Mr. Russell to beat the Coolies if they did not work: that he did not make this Statement in his Defence before the Inferior Court, for that written Defence was made under the Eyesight of the Manager. The Statement given in to the Inferior Court originally contained a Declaration to the above Effect, when Mr. John Russell desired him to add the Words ‘at Calcutta’ so as to make it appear that the Orders to beat the Coolies were given at Calcutta.”

Magistrate, William Wolseley who headed a formal judicial investigation into Bellevue in March after the Emancipator’s exposé would reveal the true state and stench of Nimmo’s Estate patients and hospital. While it was a “spacious and airy Building comprising Two Stories” he would report: “(N)ever did I behold a more sickening or melancholy Spectacle than that which was presented to us in this Building; here we found Thirty-four miserable looking Objects, most of them in the Act of bathing their Feet, some writhing under Sores (chigoes) of the most frightful Description, others suffering from Fever and Bowel Complaint, and to aggravate this mournful Scene One Corpse on the Floor (covered with a Shroud), to which before we left the Estate another was added.”

He continued, “I cannot say the Hospital was particularly clean, but considering the general Habits of the Patients, and the Nature of their Diseases, the Preservation of Cleanliness must be a Matter of great Difficulty.” The medical journal showed Nimmo had instructed “in general the Rice to be stopped, and Biscuit, Barley, or Plantains given instead” while he directed patients “Such as will eat Pork or Beef to have a reasonable Quantity, and Soup with Barley or Tannias, sufficiently strong.” Charging “gross neglect” Light soon responded by moving the 27 neediest patients to the Georgetown hospital for new treatment under the Acting Colonial Surgeon, Dr. E.M. Smith. They included at least one “hopeless case” and a rare family of Kurmi caste members, Goordeall, his wife Lukeeah and their four year-old son Jooa affected by ulcers on the feet and legs.

Earlier, Nimmo, 36, had assaulted one of the patients, the sick 20-year-old Dhangar, Joy Sing(h) with blows to the back. From Midnapore in West Bengal, Singh was hospitalised for over four months with severe sores caused by the widespread, burrowing fly parasite colloquially called “jiggars/chigoes” which lived in the soils and sands of the colony. The doctor pleaded guilty and was fined 30 shillings or one and a half pound sterling, and ordered detained for up to a fortnight until the amount was paid.

In a related letter to the Marquess of Normanby, the British Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, Bellevue’s owner Colville welcomed the patients’ transfer but blamed Nimmo’s behaviour on the lack of hospital regulations. He claimed the doctor met Singh who disregarding advice, had left the hospital, removed the medical dressing, and applied one of his own. “In his Irritation Dr. Nimmo, very improperly no Doubt, struck him a single Blow with his riding Cane, and desired him to go back to the Hospital and have his Wound properly dressed.”

Nimmo denied “general negligence,” questioned the patients tally when “I have only 26 in my List,” and  retorted he only used “an unsparing hand” for food and medicine, while backed up by his staff of three nurses, a washerwoman, a man to cut firewood, “two Coolies cooking” and “one Woman, picking the Coolies Chiggers.”

ID looks at Governor Light’s initial worry that the neglected “Coolies” who recovered would demand the “cancelment” of their indentured contracts. Relieved, he would soon write, “I was not sorry to find that their Objection was removed by the Dismissal of the Medical Attendant, Dr. Nimmo, and the Manager.”

Around the Web