In his early 50s, the ailing “Ragoo” knew that he might not last through the tough journey from British Guiana (BG) to India, yet he optimistically insisted on returning home. The estimated $26 000 in overall savings declared by some 200 of the 1838-indentured labourers on two chartered ships was officially insured “against any accident” on the orders of the Governor and the Court of Policy, but at least four of the aspiring returnees grew apprehensive about risking their lives and finally decided to turn back at the eleventh hour.
According to the Parliamentary Papers for the period, a medical inspection of the 70 individuals from Plantations Bellevue, Wales, and Vriedestein was carried out by the doctor assigned to the “Louisa Baillie” the American-born surgeon Thomas Moore, and BG’s Colonial Surgeon, Daniel Blair.
The medical pair reported in their April 28, 1843 assessment, that repatriation Immigrant Number 60, Ragoo showed, “chronic rheumatism, old age, and debility” and was “not likely to survive the voyage.” Seemingly resigned to his grim fate, the middle-aged man would have suffered from the painful inflammatory disease throughout his five indentured years, initially on the notorious Vreed-en-Hoop plantation owned by the scheme’s mastermind, the wealthy Scotsman, John Gladstone, and later at Wales, where the work force was transferred.
Seven others were found to be “suffering from disease” ranging from Mohun’s “small ulcer on right hand from a burn,” Mammeh’s “occasional ague” and Manyuoy’s “chronic rheumatism of thighs with debility” to Samm Chumm’s “small nail sore.” Following the May-1838 arrival of the just over 400 migrants, early accounts indicated Ragoo quickly lost days to “cuts” and “slight indisposition.” By November 1839 he was diagnosed in a sobering sick list from the estate’s hospital, “Monbade, dysentery; Bowanny Sing (h), toe amputated; Kyrantallee, inflammation in foot; Kyandee, sore gums; Guness, intermittent fever; Boodee Modun, and Ragoo, rheumatism…”
Apparently registered under a different title in both embarkation lists, he may have been the nearly-six-foot tall “Rajoo,” 48, in the 1838-BG-bound group aboard the “Hesperus.” But in the India-destined-1843 catalogue he was not among the 16 workers from the Wales Estate who revealed their nest egg of just over $1 000.
Indian names were commonly misspelt, mangled or compressed into a single word during various layers of officialdom. Written translation from complex Brahmi-script languages and diverse dialects into approximate standard English proved difficult, with titles easily becoming unrecognisable and descending into gibberish along the way. For example, Immigrant Number 131 on the “Hesperus,” started off in the 1838 Calcutta-created embarkation guide as the Tassaw-caste member, “Khatoo Rourit” from the city of Cuttack in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. By the time he disembarked in Demerara, his name was amended to “Khatow Rowut.” Five years on, as he struggled to return with his $180-savings to the family he had left behind, the peon was reduced to the single word “Cattu.” He was later shown, variously, as Immigrant Number 14, “Cannoe” and “Caunoe.”
Immigrant Number 33, Kostia had signed up for departure on the “Louisa Baillie” but changed his mind. When the Kahaur recruit Chucedoo/Chuckoo died suddenly after boarding the vessel in the Berbice River, several of the passengers developed a premonition about the long, tough trip and displayed a rapid change of heart as the ship waited in the port of Demerara to pick up the remaining Indians in the batch of 193.
Agent General for Immigration, James Hackett advised BG’s Governor Henry Light on May 1, 1843 that two men from Berbice and Demerara, “have declined to leave the colony, and have relanded with their money and effects.” Six days later he wrote “that three male Coolies (Ramhuta, Betlow and Mohun) have been reported to me as having left the ship Louisa Baillie over the Bar, and as having returned on shore by the pilot boat, bringing with them their effects, and money to the amount of $146 leaving the number now on board the Louisa Baillie on her way to India, 188.” The files are unclear whether the two sets of men were different.
The boat arrived at Berbice on March 28 and did not reach the Demerara river until April 16. She set sail for Calcutta on May 1. The brig, “Water Witch,” a two-masted square-rigged ship hired by John and Henry Moss, exclusively for the 44 mostly “healthy” returning hands at their Anna Regina sugar estate, docked in BG early in April, and left on May 7, almost five years to the day after the Indians first arrived in the colony. Six of the fares were children under 14, among them John Bull and one girl, Mary.
Hackett superintended the embarkation and medical inspection of the 228-tonne “Water Witch” and its’ travelers under Captain Shadforth Morton, issuing release certificates on May 5, 1843. He stated, “I have found her seaworthy and in a fit and proper condition for the voyage; that there is a height of six feet and upwards between decks; that there is ample accommodation for the number of passengers embarked; that she has on board provisions and water-sufficient in quantity and good quality for the duration of the voyage, and for the number of passengers she is permitted to carry under…‘An Act for regulating the Carriage of Passengers in Merchant Vessels’ and that she is supplied with sufficient medicines and stores.”
He included, “a nominal list of such of these people who possessed of money, were willing to exhibit its amount, with the sum belonging to each placed opposite to the name and showing the aggregate amount to be $5 383. 09. The 15 others who refused to present their money to be counted, are supposed to possess about $1 600 more; this would make the sum $6,983. 99, to which must be added the sum of $725, in the hands of Captain Morton, to be paid to certain of them…on their arrival in Calcutta.” The monies were under separate and corresponding vouchers.
On the “Louisa Baillie,” the Highbury workers headed the deposits disclosing an accumulated $8 536, followed by those from Plantations Bellevue, $4 136; Waterloo, $3 388; Wales, $1 035 and Vriedstein, $853, totalling $17 948. Since many did not reveal their true and full earnings, the money taken back by returnees on the pair of boats would have topped well over $26 000.
Berbice’s Immigration Agent, G. G. Lowenfeld likewise deemed the bigger, 410-ton “Louisa Baillie” captained by Michael Rimington “seaworthy and in a fit and proper condition for the voyage to Demerara” with “ample” accommodation, provisions and water, a duly qualified surgeon and “sufficient” medicines and stores for the three-month Calcutta trip.
Light directed Hackett to assist “three Coolies, one of whom had been irregular in his work, and two others who had abandoned it altogether (who) were (therefore) refused a passage on board the ‘Louisa Baillie.’ ” He ordered the Agent-General to procure the lucky men, Mandut Doss, Anoopsing (h) and Govin a place on the spacious, better equipped “Water Witch” increasing the manifest to 47, and to pay the amount out of the immigration funds, directing the Attorney-General to bring the question before the supreme court for the recovery of the passage money.
Replying on June 1 to detailed if “late” queries from the British Colonial Secretary, Lord Stanley, Light estimated that about 60 Indians had chosen to stay in BG, with all but five settling in the rural districts. Officials amended the supposed number of deaths to 98 with another two, (Jummun and Pultun) having “absconded and lost soon after arrival.”
“Several of the Coolies, in their anxiety at the delay in the arrival of the promised ships for their return to Calcutta, wandered about the country, and may have located themselves in places unknown to the magistrates…” Light said.
He noted, “I have ascertained that several of those who have remained behind are purchasers of land and married to or living with black women.” The Governor argued, “Notwithstanding the long delay in the arrival of the vessels above named, the assurance thus given by their arrival, that faith was kept with the Coolies, had a satisfactory effect on the minds of all, and from all I can learn, they one and all of those who embarked, expressed their intentions of endeavouring to return with their families, satisfied that in this country they can be better off than in their own, and more free from oppression.”
ID considers Light’s view of the “selection made of these people at Calcutta” for “the agents seem to have cared little whom they engaged, and knowing from Mr. (Charles) Whinfield, the Sheriff of Berbice, who, from his various conversations with them elicited their history; that they were the scourings of the population of several of the large cities, it is only to be wondered at, that they so readily became industrious, or that so many have survived.”