On Longmans’ maps of the time, the distinct furrows marking the world’s highest peaks dominate the narrow state snaking to the north-east borders of an expansive India, hued pale pink for British supremacy. Coloured a soft green for its proud, independent status, the country of “Nepaul” which was never colonised faced cities such as Oudh, “Behar” and Bengal further down.
The so-called “protected states” of the giant “Rajpootana,” “Gujerat,” “Bundelcund,” Mysore and Travancore are painted a symbolic rich gold, like Hyderabad and Aurangabad the huge hereditary princely kingdoms deemed “Dominions of the Nizam” a wealthy Muslim suzerain who was the first to agree to subjugation through British “paramountcy” signing an early subsidiary alliance agreement. The system would provide easy recruitment of subjects and a crucial base of support for the colonisers as they spread global dominion through the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Traditionally associated with red, the British Empire would eventually cover almost a quarter of Earth’s land mass and as much of its’ population or an estimated 458M people, with the so-called “pink bits” being a printer’s compromise for letters designed to be clearly read.
Far across to the other side of the world, in the lone pink portion of South America, the first groups of indentured East Indians eagerly awaited a pair of ships to take them home, unaware that the vessels were only organised at the last minute and would take several months from the smaller place of a large European island in the North Atlantic, which lorded over it all.
In the mixed group of 49, mostly men who had all signed up to toil on British Guiana (BG) sugar estates for five years, one of the most diligent individuals according to the official “Coolies’ Accounts” proved to be the intrepid Govind who declared $244 in his possession, a fine amount equivalent to an estimated hundred times its buying power today.
Chasing a dream of financial fortune, Immigrant Number 44, Govind had embarked in Calcutta as a little “brown” boy of four feet five inches from the “Chutree” caste of the predominantly Hindu “Napaul” (Nepal) travelling alone on the “Hesperus.” The records list his age variously as 13 and 17 years, but it is unlikely the former is correct given the significant sum he managed to save and the lower monthly salary of about three rupees or $1.50 the younger teenagers were paid.
BG’s Governor Henry Light would inform the Colonial Secretary Lord Stanley that while many of the immigrants “have saved considerable sums of money; some few refused to say what they have gained, or rather saved; and it is more than probable that neither the minimum nor maximum are truly given.” He pointed out, “There was much reserve and some difficulty in obtaining any acknowledgment of their gains; but when they thoroughly understood that it was your Lordship’s wish, in the name of the Queen, the objection was conquered in many.” Distrustful of the authorities 19 of the returnees refused to divulge their monies, several of them couples, with the document naming wives like the anglicized Mary, Moneima and Collindie/Calloundtee.
His November 1842 register revealed the 30 men including Govind who consented were each still due $28.33, with probable reimbursement of unexpired time, ranging between $6 and $9, giving the young man an overall $280 at the end of his January 27, 1843 bond.
Among them, the bonded group had saved a grand declared total of $5 395.50. Lumped together as “Hill Coolies” they came from a much-varied background. Their Rajpoot sirdar from “Gya” or Gaya in Bihar, “Ramball”/Ramlall, 41, showed an official gain of at least $269 from his monthly income of seven rupees or $3.50. His “Mussulman” deputy or “Mate” Shaik Mohobut, 44 from Arra village in Raghunathpur, Puruliya district, West Bengal, India was unlisted, but another Muslim, Jeewan Khan of Mynpore who had brought his wife and children to BG claimed $140, while Rajpoot “Ballee Rang”/Balliram left with $113. Immigrant Number 12, Ramdeen of Lucknow gave his overall earnings as $155, as against the lowest of $28 by Dhangar tribesman, Bundoo of Hazareebagh, and his counterparts Dossaw, $65 and family man Uckloo, $159.
Immigrant Number Nine, Munsook, an ordinary labourer, then 34 years old, of the “Goval” (Govil) caste hailed from “Soorangpore” (Sarangpur) in Gujarat, India’s westernmost state and disclosed an aggregate of $266. A pair of Chutree friends who travelled all the way from “Bandaw” (Banda), a town and district of British India, in the Allahabad division of the United Provinces to Calcutta, “Rum Sing”/Ram Singh, and “Joy-Chund”/Jai Chand managed to scrimp as well. Singh recorded the highest individual tally or $290, and Chand, $266.
The Anna Regina interpreter, the Eurasian or “coloured” Christian six-footer, Charles James Wiltshire from Madras, towered over his charges and was the best paid of the plantation’s immigrants earning $8 or 16 rupees monthly, but his name is not featured among those who chose to return to India, so his accumulated monies remained unknown.
He advised Light, “I am of (the) opinion that the Coolies have only given in part of the amount in their possession.” The Governor briefed Stanley that in addition to the sums mentioned in the list, “each Coolie will be entitled to 30 dollars more, being the amount of the rupee per month deducted from their wages according to indenture, to be returned to them at its close.”
“I pointed out to the Coolies the expediency of obtaining bills on Calcutta for the money they had saved, to secure them against loss; but, although they thoroughly understood what I meant, they preferred trusting to God, who, if it was right, would save them from loss; if not, they were ready to submit to loss.”
Light acknowledged, “Though a small mortality has taken place amongst the Coolies at Anna Regina, their number is still the same as when first disembarked, several births having replaced the dead.” Forty-six indentured males, and at least three spouses, and four children survived the tough three months-long oceanic voyage reaching BG on May 5, 1838. One man who suffered dysentery died soon after arrival.
“It is unfortunate that the same care as that bestowed on the Coolies at Anna Regina on their first arrival had not been shown on other estates in the colony where Coolies were located. I willingly respond to (the owners) Messrs. Moss’s declaration of the mutual benefit derived by employer and employed from the introduction of the Coolies at Anna Regina and have more than once contrasted their early condition in this colony with that of those on other estates, in proof of the kind treatment and attention paid to them by the agents or attornies (sic) of Messrs. Moss.”
He continued, “The condition in which the Coolies may arrive at Calcutta may perhaps be a little altered by the length of voyage; but as seen by me, they give proofs of not having suffered by the climate; they are healthy looking, with limbs well knit, straight and full, though not so muscular as the Creole black. Their loss will be much felt on the estate.”
As the labourers’ contracts were about to end at the Anna Regina estate on January 27, 1843, absentee proprietor John Moss, a leading Liverpool banker and major railway investor finally signed an agreement with Mr. Charles Alcock, for “the Passage and Accommodation of Free Labourers from Demerara to Calcutta,” costing £550 for the 220-ton vessel “Water Witch.” Passage money was payable at the rate of two-thirds on embarkation, “by bill on charterers at sight, and the remainder on disembarkation at the port of destination in India, at the, current rate of exchange.”
Moss agreed to put on board all “the provisions and stores, excepting water and cooking utensils” for the crew and passengers for 20 weeks. The pact stipulated that the space to be set apart for the labourers’ accommodation be subject to the inspection of the surveyors and officers appointed by the Governor. Medical comforts and bedding were to be supplied by Moss, and chloride of lime and “all other articles necessary for the cleanliness of the ship” were to come from the owners.
ID notes the Mosses’ shrewd business proviso for a 170-ton cargo of British coal aboard the “Water Witch,” 100 tons to be delivered in Demerara, the remainder in hogsheads for Calcutta when “so end the voyage; restraints of princes and rulers, the dangers of the seas and navigation, fire, pirates, and enemies, throughout this charter-party always excepted.”