At first glance, the mottled paper cover of the old, obscure book looks like polished granite with its uneven patches of dark brown against bright cream. From the collection of the Medical Library of Michigan University in the United States, it seems an unlikely source for fresh information on the fate of the first indentured labourers to attempt the hazardous and hard passage from British Guiana (BG) back to India.
Digitized by online giant Google, the well-preserved 1850 copy of the London Medical Gazette features “Brief notes on the disease, Indian Village Cholera and its Treatment” by the American-born doctor Thomas Moore, then of the Gwalior Contingent, in the central and strategic Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
Buried in that report and others published in the prestigious “Lancet” medical journal held in state libraries like the German ‘Staatsbibliothek,’ are detailed references to the over three-months-long unforgettable and horrific trip the young Moore undertook as a paid ship’s physician, seven years earlier. Despite “being amply provided with medicines, carefully selected,” the 23-year-old practitioner would be haunted by the miserable and mysterious deaths that stalked his unsuspecting passengers as they risked all crossing the “kala pani” or dreaded “black waters” a second time, collectively carrying at least $18 000 carefully scrimped during their bound service in BG from 1838. ….