Demanding the Governor appropriate a private ship to promptly transport them “home,” indentured Indian labourers grew impatient, repeatedly pressing the colonial authorities for acknowledgement, answers and action. Afraid they would end up stranded and abandoned in British Guiana (BG) as their contracts expired, groups of homesick and concerned workers from six estates in the three counties quickly sought meetings with officials ranging from managers to Magistrates, and even the highest administrator.
A ten-man delegation from the Anna Regina plantation in Essequibo descended on the headquarters of the Essequibo Sheriff, M. L. Fowler on January 30, 1843 as tensions rose. In a sworn statement made before him, they declared: “Our time of service has expired; it expired on the 26th of this month. We want to go back to our own country. Our ‘matties’ (mateys) say all want go (sic). They tell us to say so. We want a passage back to our country, to Calcutta.”
Producing a copy of their 1838 pact, they insisted, “It shows that our time of service has expired, and that it expired on the 26th of this month. We have been to look for the Magistrate of the district; he is not come (sic). We have asked the manager, Mr. Hughes, to send us back. He says we must wait two months. We do not want to wait; we want to be sent immediately to our country, according to our agreement when we left home.”
“We have worked four days. We have had no allowance. When we asked the manager for an allowance, he said he would put us in gaol. He called Jim (the estate’s policeman) and told him to put us in gaol. We come to make you know, and to beg that we may be sent back one time,” the contingent maintained.
The BG details are documented in the House of Common’s Accounts and Papers: Thirty-two Volumes for 1843, on the East Indies, preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University and available online through Google. The Sixth Volume names the representatives as Ramdurg probably the sirdar or gang leader Ramboll/Ramball, Sinecha, Cattu/Khatoo, Baguard/ Bagnard, Kissinar (Kisnoo/Krishnar), Mutorn/Muthoor, Chamor, Dasoo, Sinah/Singha and Dajohn.
In a flurry of related correspondence with the British Colonial Secretary, Lord Stanley that February, BG’s Governor, Henry Light referred to his talk with the “deputation of Coolies from Berbice.” He cited the six weeks since the expiry of the 1842-year-end Demerara indentures at absentee proprietor Andrew Colville’s Belle Vue, and the Vriedstein and Wales estates previously controlled by the labour scheme’s mastermind John Gladstone.
“I have since had various applications from the Coolies located in Demerara, on the estates formerly belonging to Mr. Gladstone, and on that owned by Mr. Colville, respecting their return to Calcutta. Notwithstanding my personal assurance to the Coolies of Anna Regina, in my visit paid to that estate…that vessels would be sent here for their conveyance to Calcutta, deputations of these persons have come to me here, praying for my interference in their behalf,” Light said.
Passing on Fowler’s letter, the Governor also forwarded a copy of the investigation arising from “some grievances” by the Anna Regina “Coolies.” The District Stipendiary Magistrate, A.M. Lyons was ordered to examine the complaints.
However Light stressed to Stanley, “I have great pleasure in stating that no blame can be attached to (owner) Messrs. (John) Moss’s attorney and manager, Mr. (P.) Hughes, who has behaved most liberally to them, and has shown the kindest intentions towards them; but the one fixed idea – ‘home’ made them wretched at the delay, suspicious of their employer, and for some time unwilling to receive any food from their employer, fearful that they might be thence subjected to a new indenture: they have been thus of little use to the estate.”
“The same thing may be said of the Coolies on the estates in Demerara. Yesterday my house was besieged by them. They attribute to me the authority of their own native chiefs” and so they requested, “ ‘There were ships enough in the (Demerara) river; why did I not take one of them, and send them back?’ ” Light divulged. But he found, “It is difficult to reason with these simple people, and still more difficult to persuade them they will not be deceived. I have only to express my deep regret that those gentlemen who brought the Coolies to this province, who knew them to be almost entirely without wives or women, and separated from their families, should have allowed themselves to be under the delusion of the inclination of the Coolies to remain in this country. The delay in fulfilling the contract has filled the Coolies with dismay…”
“I have considered it my duty to state these circumstances to your Lordship, that measures may be taken by the importers of the Coolies, if not already adopted, to fulfil, without delay, the engagements into which they entered when they induced these people to come to this province,” the Governor asserted.
In his report Magistrate Lyons revealed that on February 3, 1843, “20 Coolies arrived at my office, and handed me a letter from the Government Secretary’s Office, commanding me forthwith to proceed to Plantation Anna Regina, as the day was half gone, and it was impossible the complainants could reach Anna Regina before 5 P.M. I consequently informed them that on the following morning1 would visit their estate.” The estate’s attorney and manager, Hughes was away at his Georgetown home, so Lyons requested the coloured interpreter and superintendent, Charles Wiltshire “to have the Coolies brought before me…”
Wiltshire said he had twice offered them “their usual allowances of food, and that they would not take it; that they had received their clothing; that Mr. Hughes, the manager, desired him on the 30th (January 1843) to serve out to them their usual allowances of food, which he did; but they would not receive it, saying they wanted to go home to their own country.”
Lyons counselled the “Coolies” that “receiving their usual allowances, would not forward their leaving the estate as soon as the ship arrived.” The protesters only relented and accepted the disbursements appearing particularly “pleased and satisfied” after Lyons assured them he would revisit the estate when Hughes returned. At that parley, Hughes promised “the Coolies I would continue to feed them as usual, regularly so, until the ship arrives to take those who wish to go to India; that they shall have every necessary care and attention when sick…”
In the ensuing “Case of the Coolies located on Plantation Anna Regina versus Mr. Hughes, Attorney and Manager of the said Estate,” Hughes testified when their indentureship ended, “on the 27th January 1843, a number of Coolies came to me with their tools; I received them and took a list of them; I stated I was sorry the ship was not here to take those who wished to go to Calcutta.” He denied having threatened to jail the “Coolies” claiming he advised them, “You have fulfilled your contract; let us have no quarrelling, but wait quietly until the ship arrives, which I hope will be soon, and I shall find you as usual until that time…”
He directed Overseer, John Taylor, “for the two days of the week that was left, to give them three pints of rice, and half an allowance of fish…I then told them if they wished to work, they should have their usual allowances and the same wages as the other labourers until the ship came; some went to work, others remained in their houses.” In turn, Hughes charged, “several Coolies came and said they wished to go to work, but that the others said they would beat them, and steal their money. I told them ‘If anybody troubles you go to a magistrate; I will write your complaints.’ ”
Taylor swore that on January 31st, when, “I opened the store door and told the superintendent, a Coolie (Ramboll), to call the other Coolies to come and get their allowances; he went and returned saying they would not come, that they said they would rather buy it. I came out of the store and locked the door. The superintendent himself would not take his allowance, but offered to buy some from me, and I sold him two guilders’ worth; he said he was afraid to take his allowance without paying for it, as the others would beat him.”
When Head Overseer, Daniel E. Powell asked Wiltshire “if he had served the Coolies with their allowances; his answer was, they would not take it; he had offered it, but that they would not take it. On the following day I ordered Mr. Wiltshire to tell them again; he said he had told them; indeed, I told many myself, but they did not come. “
ID looks over the outcome of Hughes’ case. The Manager pleaded not guilty to all the charges alleged by the indentured Indians. The Magistrate found the “complaint not proved” and it was “consequently dismissed” with the “defendant admonished to be more careful in future.”