News that a second ship, the “Louisa Baillie” was finally on its way to sail them back to India would have prompted much excitement and relief among the 1838-indentured labourers. The young “Kahaur” man “Chucedoo” must have been particularly happy at the prospect of leaving British Guiana (BG) and being reunited with his family across the dreaded “kala pani” or black waters.
One of the numerous complicated castes found in many parts of India but concentrated in the North, the Kahaurs or Kahars are sub-divided into lower clans and today remain a mostly landless community of former palanquin bearers who have switched to farming and water-based jobs like fishing, with the decline of their decreed profession. They are hired to officiate at the numerous holy ceremonies along the banks of special rivers and waterways especially the Ganges.
Most likely Immigrant Number 218, the sole recorded migrant from the village of Dhungye, he had survived the long, rough sea journey once before, from Calcutta to Berbice aboard the “Whitby” in May 1838, facing up to old fears of oceanic odysseys. The short, 26-year-old “copper”-hued man with a distinguishing mark on the forehead spent the next five years toiling on the sugar estates of Highbury and Waterloo, owned by the absentee proprietors, the merchant brothers and partners, Henry and William Davidson, both major recipients of slave compensation.
Older brother, Henry, wrote Colonial Secretary Lord Stanley, on January 20, 1843, mere days before his workers’ contracts expired. He informed Stanley, “the first-class ship” the 413-ton-Louisa Baillie was engaged with Captain Rimington, to transport “the Coolies on my own estates and those of Mr. (Andrew) Colville and Mr. (James) Stewart.” Colville owned Belle Vue, notorious for its early ill-treatment of the Indian workers, while Stewart managed Vriedstein and Wales previously controlled by the scheme’s mastermind John Gladstone.
“Dr. Moore, from the Military Hospital, Dublin, and approved by Dr. Hume, the examining physician to the Honourable East India Company, has proceeded on board this vessel, and being amply provided with medicines, carefully selected, is to take charge of the Coolies during the voyage,” Davidson said. Anxious months of waiting to be repatriated ensued but with confirmation of the vessel’s departure from Britain, most of the Indians opted to reveal their accumulated savings to the colonial authorities, as a precautionary measure as they prepared to leave.
Originally listed as “Chuckoo” in the “Whitby’s” manifest, he had managed to squirrel away a significant sum of at least $200 among the highest deposits from Plantation Highbury, while earning at most $2.50 or five rupees each month provided he lost no days to sickness or absence. Seventy-five of the estate’s Indians officially declared an overall total of $8 555, with amounts ranging from as little as nine dollars to the admirable $250 from labourer Govindah and a joint tally of $480 made by the Dhangar brothers Bopun/Boobun and Durreean/Durreeaw Sing(h). Six others refused to divulge details. From nearby Waterloo, 27 recruits reported a gross of $3 633. The nest egg of Surnaum topped $300, as against the lowest $24 from several individuals and the non-disclosure of at least three.
These details are from 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. A review of the documents showed 188 labourers from the five estates chose to risk returning on the “Louisa Baillie” upon completion of their BG contracts, with almost $18 000 in savings left with the Captain.
BG’s Governor Henry Light noted, “It appears that the Coolies on Highbury and Waterloo are desirous of obtaining bills on Calcutta for the money they have saved, thereby showing more prudence than their fellow-countrymen at Anna Regina, and have shown less reserve in stating their savings, which amount in all to upwards of 12,000 dollars, or nearly 2,500 pounds sterling. I fear it is too late to obtain a Government order on Calcutta in their favour; but I trust, through the medium of the colonial bank, that payment at Calcutta may be assured to them.”
Fifteen of the recruits from the Berbice plantations decided to remain in BG, including two Dhangars, both called “Moghun” one of whom submitted $160 in savings. Seven of the men declined to state how much they had put aside. But “Nazer Alii/Ally” and “Kyloo” each managed $100, and “Madurie, married to a Creole” showed a handsome $91.
Berbice Sheriff, Charles R. Whinfield indicated a minimum 32 Indians had died during the five years in that county. Two “runaways” were documented at Mary’s Hope and at Rose Hall. Overall, about 100 of the some 400-landed Indian immigrants perished in BG, besides the estimated 18 souls who succumbed during the tough 11, 000-mile trip to South America.
Light argued, “Notwithstanding the mortality was supposed to be considerably above the average at the commencement of their indentures, yet, taking the whole five years, it does not amount to more than five per cent, per annum. Had there been a due proportion of the sexes, there is no doubt that the births would have been at least equal to the deaths, when, with only eight women to 160 men, eight Creoles have been born.”
Taking a shot at Gladstone, he declared, “Had the introducers of the Coolies acted with more prudence in their desire to obtain labourers from India; and had they selected more efficient, or it may be added, more trustworthy agents, the objections now made to an influx of labourers from India to this province need never have been raised. The fatal neglect of the Coolies located on the estates on the West Coast of Demerara, at the early part of their indentures, ought not to be visited on the whole colony.”
Rather, “Proofs of subsequent good treatment are not wanting. Industry protected and amply rewarded, assure to the people of India the means of acquiring wealth here, which they cannot obtain readily in their native land. If at any future period the natives of India be allowed to come to this province, a due proportion of the sexes should be observed, and at least one interpreter for 50 labourers. They should on no account be subject to indentures.” While Light’s recommendation was never accepted, the powerful players like the Gladstones, Davidsons and Colville intensified lobbying for the full repeal of the ban on new Indian immigration. Henry Davidson maintained: “From the highly satisfactory report of the Coolies it is earnestly to be hoped that the Government will consider that the period now approximates when the restrictions for preventing the free people in India from immigrating into the West Indies, may with propriety be withdrawn, and that the privileges conceded to one British colony may be extended to those (other) colonies…” He stressed, “As these people are now returning to Calcutta to see their families, having amassed by their industry during the term of their indentures no less a sum than 12,000 dollars, it is impossible to point out a stronger, than this practical argument, in favour of indenting any people that hereafter may wish to emigrate from India.”
However, the banker proprietor of Plantation Anna Regina, yet another rich absentee, John Moss slammed the Governor.
In a letter to Stanley, he ranted, “Governor Light reports that the Coolies would be glad to return with their families. He, with his strong feelings, advocates this. If allowed, they must go under other parties, not me. I would not undergo the anxiety occasioned by the unjust attacks made upon myself and others, for the part we took in this affair, again on any account…” While “the want of care on some estates put a stop to further importation” it was “the British Government and the Governor of Demerara (who) took no precautions respecting them, on their first arrival in the colony.”
For “Chuckoo” though, the voyage home would end suddenly, before it even began. In the files, the names were often mangled, and his last official known reference followed his eager boarding of the “Louisa Baillie” moored in the Berbice River. Colonial Surgeon, Daniel Blair, announced on April 18, 1843, “I this day proceeded on board the ‘Louisa Baillie’ to confer with the surgeon of that vessel relative to the death of the Coolie Chucedoo…(He) died of colony fever with liver complication, and that such disease is neither contagious nor infectious.”
ID learns that the Kahaurs are believed to be the remnants of an ancient people who occupied the Ganges valley before the coming of the Aryans. A key marriage ritual entails circling the sacred fire seven times and some members are still hired to carry water during weddings, deaths and other religious ceremonies.