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Full text of "Indentured labor in the age of imperialism, 1834-1922"

IN THE 




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The indentured labor trade was initiated to replace freed slaves on sugar 
plantations in British colonies in the 1830s, but expanded to many other 
locations around the world. This is the first survey of the global flow of 
indentured migrants that developed after the end of the slave trade from 
Africa and continued until shortly after World War I. This volume de- 
scribes the experiences of the two million Asians, Africans, and South 
Pacific islanders who signed long-term labor contracts in return for free 
passage overseas, modest wages, and other benefits. The experience of 
these indentured migrants of different origins and destinations is com- 
pared in terms of their motives, conditions of travel, and subsequent 
creation of permanent overseas settlements. The study considers the per- 
spectives of both recruits and employers, identifies objective and 
quantifiable data for making comparisons, and relates this new indentured 
labor trade to other large-scale migrations. 



Studies in Comparative World History 

Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

1834-1922 



Studies in Comparative World History 

Editors 

Michael Adas, Rutgers University 

Edmund Burke III, University of California, Santa Cruz 

Philip D. Curtin, The Johns Hopkins University 

Other books in the series 

Michael Adas, Prophets of Rebellion: Millenarian Protest Movements against the 

European Colonial Order (1979) 
Philip D. Curtin, Cross-Cultural Trade in World History (1984) 
Leo Spitzer, Lives in Between: Assimilation and Marginality in Austria, Brazil, West 

Africa, 1780-1945 (1989) 
Philip D. Curtin, The Rise and Fall of the Plantation Complex: Essays in Atlantic 

History (1990) 
John Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Formation of the Atlantic World, 

1400-1680 (1992) 
Marshall G. S. Hodgson and Edmund Burke III (ed.), Rethinking World History 

(1993) 



Indentured labor in the 

age of imperialism, 

1834-1922 



DAVID NORTHRUP 

Boston College 



*M 



CAMBRIDGE 

UNIVERSITY PRESS 



Published by the Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge 

The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RP 

40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011-4211, USA 

10 Stamford Road, Oakleigh, Melbourne 3166, Australia 

© Cambridge University Press 1995 

First published 1995 

Printed in the United States of America 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 
Northrup, David. 

Indentured labor in the age of imperialism, 1834-1922 / David 
Northrup. 

p. cm. - (Studies in comparative world history) 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 

ISBN 0-521-48047-7. - ISBN 0-521-48519-3 (pbk.) 

1. Indentured servants - History. 2. Contract labor - History. 
I. Title. II. Series. 
HD4871.N67 1995 

331.5'42'09 - dc20 94-38289 

CIP 

A catalog record for this book is available from the British Library. 

ISBN 0-521-48047-7 Hardback 
ISBN 0-521-487519-3 Paperback 



Contents 



List of maps, figures, and tables page vii 

Preface ix 

Beginnings 1 

Indentured labor, slavery, and free migrations 4 

Focus and scope of this study 10 

Demands 16 

From slavery to indentured labor 17 

The new imperial economy 29 

Supplies 43 

Africa 44 

China 51 

India 59 

Pacific islands 70 

Japan 72 

Female migrants 74 

Voyages 80 

Ships and regulations 81 

Routes and experiences 85 

Mortality and its causes 89 

Trends 99 

Indentures 104 

Periods and destinations 105 

Costs, productivity, and profits 113 

The migrants' experience 120 

Remuneration and repatriation 129 



vi Contents 

6 Conclusions 140 

The end of indenture 141 

The aftermath 148 

Appendix A: Tables A.l - A.6 155 

Appendix B: Source notes for maps 165 

Bibliography 167 

Index 181 



Maps, figures, and tables 



Maps 

1 Principal overseas indentured migrations, 1834-1919. 3 

2 Principal indentured labor imports into the Americas. 25 

3 Principal indentured labor imports into Africa. 37 

4 Principal indentured labor imports into Oceania. 38 

5 Principal indentured labor exports from Africa and Europe. 49 

6 Principal indentured labor exports from southern Asia. 53 

7 Principal indentured labor exports from East Asia. 61 



Figures 

2.1 Annual average slave and indentured labor imports (by 
thousands) into the Caribbean and Mascarenes, by decade, 
1801-10 to 1911-20. 21 

3.1 Origins of indentured overseas migrants by decades (in 
thousands). 44 

3.2 Emigration from British India, 1855-1865, suggesting the 

impact of the 1857 Rebellion. 66 

4.1 Ship size on selected nineteenth-century overseas migration 
routes. 82 

4.2 Passenger densities on selected nineteenth-century routes. 85 

4.3 Mortality on selected ocean voyages in the nineteenth 

century. 90 

4.4 Indentured passenger deaths per thousand, 1850-1900. 100 

5.1 Destinations of indentured overseas migrants by period. 107 

5.2 Distribution of annual earnings, British Guiana, 1869. 130 

5.3 Distribution of savings by Indians returning after five-year 
indentures in Mauritius, 1840-41, in rupees. 136 



viii Maps, figures, and tables 

Tables 

3.1 Female portion of selected overseas migrations, 1843-1919. 75 

4.1 Mortality among Chinese to Cuba, 1847-60, and Indians to 

the British Caribbean, 1851-70, by passengers per 100 tons. 93 

4.2 Chinese to Cuba, 1847-60, and Indians to the British 
Caribbean, 1851-70, by size of mortality. 94 

5.1 Costs of indentured labor on various routes, 1847-1913. 114 

5.2 Mortality of adult indentured laborers. 122 

5.3 Rates of repatriation of overseas migrants. 132 

6.1 Share of total population in selected territories deriving from 
indentured migration, 1900-60. 149 

6.2 Distribution of occupations after indenture, 1899-C.1938. 150 
A.l Decadal exports of indentured migrants by origins, showing 

intended destinations, 1831-1920. 156 
A.2 Decadal imports of indentured migrants by destinations, 

showing origins. 159 
A. 3 Indentured emigration from British India, 1855-65, 

suggesting the impact of the 1857 Rebellion. 162 
A. 4 Ship size and passenger density in nineteenth-century 

transoceanic voyages. 162 

A. 5 Mortality on ocean voyages in the nineteenth century. 163 

A.6 Changing mortality patterns in the nineteenth century. 164 



Preface 



Despite its importance for the nineteenth century, the indentured labor 
trade remains little known to most well-informed people, including his- 
torians. To most North Americans, indentured labor refers only to the 
seventeenth- and eighteenth-century migration from Europe to the Amer- 
icas. The African slave trade of that same era is well known, but not the 
sizable indentured trade that followed the end of slavery. Yet in its own 
way this new indentured labor trade from Asia, Africa, and the Pacific 
islands deserves comparison with the larger, contemporary exodus from 
Europe to overseas locations in the nineteenth century. 

The obscurity of the topic is not a product of its neglect by historians. 
Indeed, there has been a growing volume of books and articles on in- 
dentured labor in recent decades. But most of these works have examined 
the subject in terms of a single place of origin, a single destination, or, most 
common of all, the experience of a single migrant people in a single 
overseas location. Although comparative studies of indentured labor have 
begun to appear, most works are still intended for other specialists. This 
is the first book to attempt to tell the global story of the new indentured 
labor trade for a general audience. 

Indeed, I must admit that when I began this research seven years ago, 
I little suspected how broad the topic was and into how many interesting 
new corners of world history it would lead me. My interest in indentured 
labor grew out of a series of projects focused on the organization of labor 
in precolonial Africa, the export of labor through the Atlantic slave trade, 
and the tortured transition from slavery to various forms of forced and 
coerced labor in colonial Africa. 1 Not surprisingly, my initial approach 
focused on the resemblance of indentured labor to slavery, particularly 

1 David Northrup, Trade without Rulers: Pre-Colonial Economic Development in South-Eastern 
Nigeria (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978); Beyond the Bend in the River: African Labor in Eastern 
Zaire, 1865-1940 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1988); ed., The Atlantic Slave Trade (Lex- 
ington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1994). 

ix 



x Preface 

after reading Hugh Tinker's influential book on Indian indentured labor. 2 
In the Preface to that work, Tinker relates how he began his research with 
a moderate and detached point of view about indentured labor and was 
gradually led by his reading of the evidence to present a darker picture of 
it as a new system of slavery. It is ironic that in the course of my research 
on the subject my views shifted from near Tinker's final outlook back 
toward a median position, which sees indentured labor overall as having 
more in common with the experiences of "free" migrants of the same era 
than with the victims of the slave trade. In part this was due to the 
influence of a new generation of historical scholarship unavailable to 
Tinker. In part it resulted from a predisposition, derived from current 
trends in the study of the slave trade, to pay particular attention to the 
motives and actions of the migrants themselves. In addition, the method- 
ologies and controversies of slave trade historiography have provided 
useful models for comparing the literature of indentured labor, notably in 
the discussion of shipboard mortality in Chapter 4. 

As a brazen and belated intruder in this field of study, I am humbly and 
gratefully aware that I am reaping the fruits of others' labors. Although I 
have made use of the large body of contemporary records and reports 
published in the British Parliamentary Papers, there can be little herein that 
is not conscious or unconscious product of others' research and conclu- 
sions. Insofar as this work can claim originality, it lies in the breadth of its 
treatment and in its comparative approach. It is hoped this synthesis 
proves useful to beginning students wishing an overview of this topic, to 
more advanced students trying to gain perspective on it, as well as to 
specialists seeking to place their work in a broader context. 

This is the place to acknowledge the fullness of my debts. In addition to 
the scores of specialized works cited in the following chapters, the quan- 
tity, quality, and breadth of scholarship by several individuals has been a 
profound influence on the field of study. To the extent that I see any 
farther, it is because I stand on the shoulders of these giants; to them I 
dedicate this volume. I owe much to a series of thoughtful comparative 
articles in which Stanley L. Engerman examined the size and significance 
of contract labor. Though somewhat differently conceived, this study 
walks in the marvelously straight furrows he has plowed. I have profited 
immeasurably from the outstanding work by Ralph Shlomowitz, whose 
writing includes a raft of carefully focused and meticulous examinations 
of the Pacific islander trade as well as broad comparative essays on the 
indentured labor trade's global compass. The germ of my interest in this 

2 Hugh Tinker, A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas, 1830-1920 
(London: Oxford University Press, 1974). For a critique of this work's weakness in compar- 
ative migration and migration theory, see the review by Brian Blouet and Olwyn M. Blouet, 
Caribbean Studies 16.2 (1976): 251-53. 



Preface xi 

subject was planted by a fortuitous encounter with Arnold J. Meagher in 
Lisbon more than thirty years ago when he was finishing up his magis- 
terial (but unfortunately never published) dissertation on the Chinese 
indentured labor trade to Latin America. Wherever he may be, I wish him 
to know that his work convinced me that a comparative survey of the trade 
was possible and has been a regular source of information and insight on 
a wide range of topics. 3 

I also wish to include Hugh Tinker in this dedication. While I am led to 
disagree with some aspects of his thoughtful, scholarly, and passionate 
examination of Indian indentured labor, my frequent citation of him in 
footnotes reveals the extent of my indebtedness to his pioneering research. 
I could not hope to match the depth of knowledge and insight of his work 
and am grateful that the broader scope and shorter length of my own make 
it unnecessary to do so. My own work is more skeletal than Tinker's in two 
senses: it is very much sparer, a bare-bones outline, and, in using a com- 
parative approach, it pays more attention to the overall structures that 
underpinned the trade and less to the surface details. This sometimes leads 
me to quite different emphases. 

For their generous criticisms of earlier versions of this work and /or for 
their kindness in providing me with copies of their own and others' work, 
I wish to give heartfelt thanks to Professors David Eltis (Queens Uni- 
versity, Ontario), Stanley Engerman (University of Rochester), Daniel 
Headrick (Roosevelt University), Doug Munro (University of the South 
Pacific, Fiji), Monica Schuler (Wayne State University), Ralph Shlomowitz 
(The Flinders University of South Australia), Mrinalini Sinha (Boston Col- 
lege), and William Storey. Only the author bears responsibility for the 
errors and lapses that remain. 

3 For references see the bibliography. 



1 

Beginnings 



In the summer of 1870 Mohamed Sheriff was buying flowers for the table 
in the bazaar in Lucknow, the capital of Oudh, a state that had been 
forcibly annexed to British India in 1856. Like many other upper-caste 
brahmans (priests) and kshatriyas (warriors) of Oudh, Sheriff had found 
employment in the Indian army, in his case as a servant to a British officer 
in the 13th Native Infantry. Whether because his officer had left India or 
for other reasons, Sheriff had left his employ, so that when a man ap- 
proached him in the bazaar to ask if he was looking for work, Sheriff 
answered "yes." The man told him there was plenty of work in the sugar 
plantations of Demerara, and Sheriff agreed to go. 

The man in the market was the local agent of a labor recruiter, the final 
link in a chain that extended back to the sugar growers of Demerara in 
British Guiana on the Caribbean coast of South America. Along with nine 
others recruited from Lucknow on this occasion, Sheriff was escorted to 
Calcutta, probably traveling the major portion of the distance on the rail- 
way completed just four years earlier. On 25 August 1870, five days after 
arriving in Calcutta, he boarded on the Medea, a large 1,066-ton vessel 
chartered to carry indentured migrants from Calcutta to British Guiana at 
the rate of twelve pounds a head. With Sheriff were 446 other Indian 
recruits, mostly younger males, but including 91 women, 31 children, and 
21 infants. During their eighty-seven-day voyage through the Indian 
Ocean, around southern Africa, and across the Atlantic, five more infants 
were bom. Six persons died during the voyage - a much lower death rate 
than a few years earlier. 

Described as "intelligent looking" and able to speak English, Sheriff had 
served as a sirdar (headman) for the other immigrants in their dealings 
with the ship's officers. For this he expected to receive a payment of $3, but 
by the end of the voyage he had abandoned hope of receiving a $19 bonus 
the Indian recruiter had promised him in Lucknow. Nor, he told British 
investigators who met the ship in Guiana, had he received from the 



2 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

officials who examined him in Calcutta the required copy of the inden- 
tured contract into which he had entered by accepting free passage to 
Guiana. That he received the salary of "ten annas to two rupees a day" he 
had been promised by the recruiter when he got to Moor Farm, a planta- 
tion whose owner purchased his indenture, is also doubtful. According to 
the investigators, wages for able-bodied Indian males on sugar plantations 
in British Guiana in 1870 were about 28 cents a day, not quite 10 annas and 
far less than two rupees (32 annas). 

The physical adjustments to the arduous and unfamiliar life of the sugar 
plantation would not have been easy for Sheriff, who was not a farmer, a 
characteristic he shared with many of his fellow recruits from Lucknow, 
whom he described as "not all cultivators - some barbers, coachmen, 
porters, and other followings." Still, Sheriff's psychological adjustment to 
his new surroundings may have been easier than that of his companions, 
since he had traveled abroad before, having accompanied the 14th Regi- 
ment during the British invasion of Ethiopia in 1868. No known records 
trace his life as an indentured laborer. Nor is it known if he stayed on in 
British Guiana (as most Indians did) or if he ever returned to India. 

While no single example can hope to capture the enormous range of 
individual indentured experiences, in their broad outlines those of Mo- 
hamed Sheriff had much in common with those of tens of thousands of 
other migrants 1 who left their homes between 1834 and 1914 under in- 
dentured contracts to labor in lands far from home. He is exceptional 
largely in that his name and some of his life story have survived in 
historical records. The lives of most others can be imagined only through 
anonymous statistics. Along with the Medea, fifteen other chartered ships 
left Calcutta for British Guiana during the 1869-70 season, carrying a total 
of 6,685 passengers. At the time of his arrival there were 52,598 recent 
migrants in British Guiana, mostly Indians, over 70 percent males, more 
than three-quarters still under indenture. That same season eight ships 
landed 3,811 additional Indians from Calcutta in the British West Indian 
colonies of Jamaica and Trinidad. 2 In 1870 thirteen vessels carried 4,076 

^o avoid cumbersome and confusing switches in point of view, this study refers to inter- 
continental travelers as migrants rather than immigrants and emigrants. It also often follows 
the common historical convention of using "nineteenth century" to refer to the historical era 
from 1815-1914, rather than to just the years 1801-1900. 

Sheriff's interview and the calculation of prevailing wage rates are in the 1871 Report of the 
Commissioners Appointed to Enquire into the Treatment of Immigrants into British Guiana, 
in Great Britain, Parliamentary Papers (hereafter PP) 1871 xx [c. 393], pp. 59-60, 97. Details of 
the voyage and other immigrants may be found in the 1871 General Report of the Colonial 
Land and Emigration Commission (CLEC), pp. 7-10 and appendix 16; PP 1871 xx (369). For 
Indian railroads, see Daniel R. Headrick, The Tentacles of Progress: Technology Transfer in the 
Age of Imperialism, 1850-1940 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 65. Sheriff may 
well have journeyed up from Bombay on the even newer rail line that was completed to 
Allahabad in 1870. 




•o 

c 

•s 



4 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

indentured Indians to the British colony of Mauritius, one of the Masca- 
rene islands of the Indian Ocean. Indians were also migrating under in- 
denture by that time to Southeast Asia and to French colonies in the West 
Indies, but indenture was not a uniquely Indian experience. That same 
year (1870) 12,383 Chinese indentured laborers set sail for Peru and 1,312 
for Cuba; 305 Chinese arrived in Hawaii, and a few Pacific islanders were 
recruited to Queensland, Australia. 3 Indentured migration from Africa had 
just ended; the first experiment in such recruitment from Japan had taken 
place in 1868 and would be resumed on a larger scale in 1885. 

Indentured labor, slavery, and free migration 

Though he may not have received a copy of its terms, Mohamed Sheriff 
was aware that he had signed a contract of indenture. The particular 
contract he signed, stricter than those affecting migrants from India to 
British Guiana before 1862, bound him to five years of service for which- 
ever employer purchased it and then to a second five-year contract to 
complete his "industrial residence" in the colony. 4 At that point he was 
entitled to free passage home, but many accepted a cash "bounty" for 
signing a new labor contract instead. 

Although such serial indentured contracts were a novel feature of the 
later nineteenth century, indenture had a long history in British colonies in 
the Americas. More than half of all European migrants to British colonies 
in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are estimated to have been 
indentured, including three-quarters of those to seventeenth-century Vir- 
ginia. Impoverished British, Irish, Scottish, and German migrants accepted 
the conditions of indentured "servitude" in order to begin a better life in 
the New World colonies. A trickle continued to arrive until shortly before 
the new, largely Asian, indentured migrants began to arrive in the 1830s. 5 

These new indentured migrants differed from their European prede- 
cessors in more ways than their origins. Indentured Asians, Africans, and 
Pacific islanders of the nineteenth century went to a wider variety of 
destinations in the Americas, as well as to islands in the Indian and Pacific 
Oceans, to Australia, and to parts of East and southern Africa, making 
theirs more global than the European migrations across the North Atlantic. 

3 Colonial Blue Book of Mauritius, 1871; Arnold J. Meagher, "The Introduction of Chinese 
Laborers to Latin America: The 'Coolie Trade,' 1847-1874" (Ph.D. dissertation, History, 
University of California, Davis, 1975), tables 13-14; Katharine Coman, The History of Contract 
Labor in the Hawaiian Islands (New York: Arno Press, 1978), p. 63. 

4 Alan H. Adamson, Sugar without Slaves: The Political Economy of British Guiana, 1838-1904 
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), pp. 54^-56, 110. 

5 David W. Galenson, "The Rise and Fall of Indentured Servitude in the Americas: An 
Economic Analysis," Journal of Economic History 44.1 (1984): 1-26. 



Beginnings 5 

Unlike the earlier European indentured servants who generally received 
only their maintenance, the indentured laborers of the nineteenth century 
received wages along with free housing and medical care, along with 
clothing and full rations in many cases. Nor were the new indentured 
laborers direct successors to the old. Indentured Europeans in the West 
Indies had largely been replaced by enslaved Africans during the second 
half of the seventeenth century and slaves also displaced most indentured 
servants in the Chesapeake Bay colonies during the eighteenth century. As 
Chapter 2 will describe in more detail, the new indentured migrants were 
first recruited as successors to the slaves freed in the British colonies in the 
1830s. When French, Dutch, and Spanish colonies ended slavery, they too 
turned to indentured labor, as would the owners of plantations and mines 
in places that had never had slavery. 

Some influential commentators have portrayed the new indentured la- 
bor not just as a successor to slavery but as a disguised continuation of that 
abolished institution. The British secretary of state for the colonies in 1840 
expressed fears that the still modest Indian indentured labor trade might 
easily become "a new system of slavery," while the viceroy of India, in 
urging its termination in 1915, charged that it had indeed become "a 
system of forced labour . . . differing but little from . . . slavery." Several 
modern historical analyses also link indentured labor and slavery at least 
in some sectors of the trade, of which Hugh Tinker's study of indentured 
Indian labor is the most influential. 6 

There are striking resemblances. Especially in the early years of the 
trade, many indentured laborers were recruited through kidnapping and 
coercion or were seriously misled by unscrupulous recruiters about their 
destinations, duties, and compensation - circumstances that gave rise to 
unflattering nicknames: "blackbirding" in the South Pacific, the "pig 
trade" in China, the "coolie trade" in India. Crowded conditions of trans- 
port and the high mortality rates in transit have also invited comparison 

6 Quotes from Hugh Tinker, A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas, 
1830-1920 (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), pp. vi, 339-10. See also Johnson U. J. 
Asiegbu, Slavery and the Politics of Liberation, 1787-1861: A Study of Liberated African Emigra- 
tion and British Anti-Slavery Policy (London: Longmans, 1969), p. 119, who states that the 
African "emigration scheme degenerated into almost open slave trading after 1843." With 
regard to the labor trade from East Africa to Reunion, Francois Renault, Liberation d'esclaves 
et nouvelle servitude: Les rachats de captifs africains pour le compte des colonies frangaises apres 
I 'abolition de I'esclavage (Abidjan: Nouvelles Editions Africaines, 1976), p. 71, concludes "le 
respect du volontariat chez l'engage se reduisait, en regie generate, a une fiction admin- 
istrative" [the voluntary aspect of the recruit was reduced, as a general rule, to an admin- 
istrative fiction]. According to Monica Schuler, "The Recruitment of African Indentured 
Labourers for European Colonies in the Nineteenth Century," in Colonialism and Migration: 
Indentured Labour before and after Slavery, ed. P. C. Emmer (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 
1986), pp. 125-27: "In practice, . . . African indentured labour recruitment cannot be distin- 
guished from either the 'legal' or 'illegal' slave trade." 



6 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

with the slave trade. Finally, at their destinations indentured laborers 
performed tasks, lived in dwellings, and endured harsh disciplinary mea- 
sures that in many cases were identical to those of the slaves they replaced 
- or very nearly so. In Cuban plantations, slaves and indentured Chinese 
even worked side by side. On Peruvian desert islands where Chinese 
mined guano deposits, conditions may have been worse than those asso- 
ciated with slavery. 

Despite these similarities, most recent scholarship has questioned 
whether the indentured labor trade as a whole is best viewed as little more 
than a modified form of slavery. Researchers have argued that the worst 
circumstances applied to a distinct minority of indentured migrants, 
whereas most indentured laborers were recruited, transported, and em- 
ployed under conditions that were quite distinct from the systems of New 
World slavery. Using more rigorous methods of comparison and relying 
less on emotive anecdotal evidence, economic and demographic historians 
have emphasized the voluntary nature of most indentured migration and 
the role of epidemiological factors rather than abuse in producing high 
mortality rates among some emigrant groups during transit and acclimat- 
ization to a new environment. For example, with regard to indentured 
Pacific islanders Ralph Shlomowitz reports, "During the past twenty 
years, ... a revisionist interpretation has emerged: after an initial peri- 
od .. . the labor trade came to be, in the main, a voluntary business ar- 
rangement, subject to government supervision, with the islanders being 
willing participants." More generally, Stanley Engerman argues, "It must 
be emphasized that the movement of contract labor differed from slavery," 
at least in being a voluntary bondage of limited duration. The view of 
indentured labor as "an extension of slavery ... is not supported" by a 
recent volume of articles, according to its editors. 7 Paralleling recent de- 
bates about systems of slavery, the critical issue is not deciding whether a 
system was "harsh" or "mild," but which conditions were exceptional and 
which typical. Another feature of the new historiography is its concern 
with relating indentured labor to the changing historical circumstances in 
capital markets, ideas, and technology that shaped the nineteenth century. 

In evaluating these conflicting schools of interpretation, it is useful to 
bear in mind that during the nineteenth century the new indentured 
migrants were not alone in being described as laboring under a new form 
of slavery. The campaign to free black slaves in the West Indies had led to 
protests from industrial Europe's "white slaves," the disenfranchised la- 

7 Ralph Shlomowitz, "Epidemiology and the Pacific Labor Trade," Journal of Interdisciplinary 
History 19.4 (1989): 589; Stanley Engerman, "Contract Labor, Sugar, and Technology in the 
Nineteenth Century," Journal of Economic History 43 (1983): 645; E. van den Boogaart and P. 
C. Emmer, "Colonialism and Migration: An Overview," in Emmer, Colonialism and Migra- 
tion, p. 11. 



Beginnings 7 

borers in the satanic mills. In 1838 the Workingmen's Association of North- 
ampton denounced their "slavery to the rich" and "the shackles which 
held them in a state of bondage." The next year the liberal French Catholic 
Felicite de Lamennais wrote a volume on the working class called Modern 
Slavery (De I'esclavage moderne). The Communist Manifesto at midcentury 
argued that industrial workers were "slaves of the bourgeois class/' as well 
as of the machine and the bourgeois state, and near the end of the century 
Pope Leo XIII' s famous encyclical letter on the condition of the working 
class echoed the first of these judgments. 8 

While the charge that industrial workers were "slaves" was in part 
metaphorical and much influenced by the campaign rhetoric of the abo- 
litionists, it is quite true that the "free" laboring person (like the bonded 
migrant) was under economic, political, and social constraints that were 
more than just the common human need to earn one's bread by the sweat 
of one's brow. The labor law of the period, though stopping short of the 
provisions of slave codes, could be harsh and unforgiving: workers were 
bound by contract to set pay and hours, absences and lateness were se- 
verely penalized, and discipline could be enforced by corporal punish- 
ment. Even after many reforms, "wage slavery" remained a popular meta- 
phor. In short, it is important to see the new indentured labor in the context 
of its times. 

Does the fact that both wage and indentured laborers in the nineteenth 
century were so frequently spoken of as "slaves" suggest they may have 
shared more in common than is generally acknowledged? Colin Newbury 
and others have pursued this approach with regard to the contempo- 
raneous overseas migrations of "free" Europeans and "indentured" non- 
Europeans. There were differences as well as similarities, but, on the 
whole, indentured laborers seem to have had much more in common with 
the masses of Europeans who ventured overseas in this period than with 
the older European indentured servants or African slaves. In the first place, 
despite some exceptions, most indentured migrants left their homes vol- 
untarily, just like most of the fifty million unindentured Europeans (a few 
convicts aside) who migrated overseas. Both were pushed to leave their 
families and friends by economic misery, discrimination, and famine at 
home and pulled to new locations overseas by hopes of better conditions 
and opportunities. Second, both resulted in permanent settlements as well 
as cyclical migrations. Newbury also points out that the distinction often 
drawn between the European "settler" and the non-European "sojourner" 

8 See R. J. M. Blackett, Building an Antislavery Wall (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), pp. 
23-25; Marcus Cunliffe, Chattel Slavery and Wage Slavery: The Anglo-American Context, 1830- 
1860 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1979), pp. 10-12. Pope Leo wrote in Rerum 
Novarum, para. 6: "a very few rich and exceedingly rich men have laid a yoke almost of 
slavery on the unnumbered masses of non-owning workers." 



8 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

or "laborer" is not justified. Despite the fact that indentured labor contracts 
usually guaranteed return passage, a great many indentured laborers 
settled permanently in their new homes after the expiration of their con- 
tracts, rather than return to their countries of origin. If the assumption of 
impermanence on the part of indentured laborers is exaggerated, new 
studies have shown the proportion of European migrants who returned to 
their countries of origin was often quite high. 9 

A third factor that free and indentured migrants had in common was the 
ships and maritime regulations of their transport overseas. The vessels 
carrying free and indentured migrants in the nineteenth century were 
much larger and faster than those that carried slaves and indentured 
migrants in the previous centuries. Such changes in shipping and in the 
scale of migration reflect the broader changes in the era's economy, which 
encouraged overseas investment and commercial development of new 
areas of the world far distant from the high-growth industrial societies. 

While sharing these common factors, the two groups of nineteenth- 
century migrants also differed in important ways. Europeans went over- 
whelmingly to other temperate areas where they were free from legal 
bondage, while indentured Asians, Africans, and Pacific islanders went to 
tropical areas where they faced long years of bondage to repay the debt of 
their transport. In part, as studies by David Galenson and W. Arthur Lewis 
have pointed out, nineteenth-century Europeans were willing to migrate 
only to destinations with wage rates higher than those prevailing in their 
own region (which were already high by global standards) and most faced 
only a brief passage to North America, while people from low-wage coun- 
tries in other parts of the world had to accept the offers of more distant 
tropical areas that were willing to subsidize their voyages in return for 
indenture. 10 

However, political manipulation was also an essential part of the dif- 
ferentiating process. In the first place, significant numbers of impoverished 
Europeans received government-subsidized passages that had no restric- 
tions attached. From 1840 to 1878 the Colonial Land and Emigration Board 
in Great Britain selected residents of the British Isles for free or assisted 



9 Colin Newbury, "Labour Migration in the Imperial Phase: An Essay in Interpretation," 
journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 3.2 (1975): 235; Sucheng Chan, "European and 
Asian Immigration into the United States in Comparative Perspective, 1820s to 1920s," in 
Immigration Reconsidered: History, Sociology, and Politics, ed. Virginia Yans-McLaughlin (New 
York: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 38. 

10 Galenson, "Rise and Fall of Indentured Servitude," pp. 16-26; W. Arthur Lewis, The De- 
velopment of the International Economic Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), 
pp. 14-20. Galenson calculates that the cost of a passage from East Asia to Hawaii, North 
America, or the West Indies was 3.5 to 10 times the per capita annual income in the region 
of origin, whereas the cost of a passage across the Atlantic was only half of the per capita 
annual income of European areas. 



Beginnings 9 

passage to colonies in Australia. Over 350,000 Europeans received pas- 
sages assisted by the governments of Australia, New Zealand, southern 
Africa, and other British colonies. The governments of underpopulated 
lands such as Canada also subsidized passages for British citizens and 
other Europeans, including 200,000 Ukranians. The provincial government 
of Sao Paulo, Brazil, similarly underwrote the recruitment of over 800,000 
Europeans, mostly from Italy, in the decades before 1907. Overall about 10 
percent of European migrants in the nineteenth century traveled under 
government subsidy, while another 25 percent had their passage funded 
by relatives and friends. 11 

Governments chose to subsidize the cost of European migration, while 
requiring non-Europeans to repay their passage in indenture, for reasons 
that included unconcealed racial preferences and prejudices. For example, 
the governor of British Guiana justified imposing no indenture on Portu- 
guese whose passage that colony's government paid while simultaneously 
imposing one on Indian and Chinese migrants on his belief that the Portu- 
guese did not require to be compelled to work. 12 As will be detailed in 
Chapter 2, many countries and colonies also encouraged European settle- 
ment to "whiten" their populations under the guise of maintaining "civil- 
ized" standards. As Sidney Mintz has pointed out, a clear corollary of such 
white preference was the construction of "racist policies" to exclude non- 
European migrants from temperate areas where higher wages were in- 
herently more attractive. 13 Instances include the Asian exclusion laws in 
the United States and Canada and the restrictions on the entry and status 
of Indians and Chinese in southern Africa and of Chinese and Pacific 
islanders in Australia. 

To summarize, comparing indentured laborers with other nineteenth- 
century migrants reveals both similarities and differences. In form the new 
indentured trade of the nineteenth century strongly resembled the Eu- 



n D. A. E. Harkness, "Irish Emigration," in International Migrations, vol. 2, Interpretations, ed. 
Walter F. Willcox (New York: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1931), pp. 266, 
276-77; Dudley Baines, Emigration from Europe, 1815-1930 (London: Macmillan, 1991), pp. 
50-52. Newbury, "Labour Migration," pp. 240-42; he terms (p. 255) indentured the 900 
Europeans who signed one-year contracts in return for free passage to Queensland, Aus- 
tralia, in 1906-12. 

n PP 1859 xvi [c.2452], Governor Wodehouse to H. Labouchere, 6 June 1857, p. 232. Brian L. 
Moore, "The Social Impact of Portuguese Immigration into British Guiana after Emancipa- 
tion," Boletin de Estudios Latinoamericanos y del Caribe 19 (1975): 4-5, argues that since the 
41,000 Portuguese, mostly from Madeira, introduced into the British West Indies at govern- 
ment expense between 1841 and 1881, were allowed to pay a monthly tax instead of being 
held to a contract: "In effect, [their] obligation to labour for a given period on the plantations 
was waived, or at least treated leniently, in contrast to other immigrants who were in- 
troduced at public expense." 

13 Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: 
Viking Penguin, 1985), p. 72. 



10 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

ropean indentured labor trade of earlier centuries, but had no direct his- 
torical connection. Rather it was created to replace African slavery. That 
fact and the resemblances in their recruitment methods and labor condi- 
tions permit an interpretation of the new indentured labor as an extension 
of African slavery. But if indentured labor had one foot in slavery, it clearly 
had the other in the much larger voluntary overseas migrations of that era. 
As will be argued in more detail in the following chapters, indentured 
Asian, African, and Pacific island migrants had much in common with the 
even larger number of European migrants in their motives, conditions of 
travel, and subsequent creation of permanent overseas settlements. At the 
same time differences between the two migrant groups stemming from 
preexisting economic conditions and political manipulations meant that 
the initial labor experiences and destinations of indentured laborers set 
them apart from their European counterparts. Though a part of larger 
population movements, the indentured laborers of the nineteenth century 
also stand as a distinct group who deserve to be studied on their own. 

Focus and scope of this study 

There are many studies of indentured migrants from particular regions 
and into particular territories, but none that treats the labor of the nine- 
teenth century as a whole. This study seeks to compare the different 
nineteenth-century indentured migrations and to relate their experiences 
to those of other contemporary migrant groups. Because, as the previous 
section of this study has shown, there are many areas of partial overlap 
between the experiences of indentured, enslaved, and free migrants, the 
first task is to delineate the limits of the study's central focus. In brief, it is 
concerned with labor migrations that were indentured, were intercon- 
tinental, and occurred during the period 1834-1922. 

The first characteristic, indenture, serves to focus the study very largely 
on Asian, African, and Pacific islander migrants, since only a small number 
of Europeans migrated under indenture for reasons discussed earlier. Yet 
this is not a study of non- Western migration as a whole. This rubric also 
excludes the enormous numbers of internal labor migrants in these lands 
as well as the substantial numbers of Asians who ventured overseas free 
of any bond. The initial Chinese migrations to the Australian and Califor- 
nian goldfields, for example, were of free migrants, as was most of the 
Indian migration to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). As Chapter 3 will make clear, these 
migrations were an important part of the context in which indentured 
labor operated, but also need to be clearly distinguished from the in- 
dentured migrations. 

More difficult to classify are some Asian migrants who traveled on 
borrowed funds. Few would consider the need to repay money owed to 



Beginnings 11 

family and friends a significant limitation on a migrant's freedom. How- 
ever, when the debt was owed to a stranger who had also arranged 
employment at the new destination, a situation quite common among 
some Chinese and Indians, the difference from a formal contract of in- 
denture becomes tenuous. In the case of recruits from India to Southeast 
Asian plantations it was known as the kangany system in Malaya and the 
maistry system in Burma. A recruiter (kangany, maistry) hired by em- 
ployers or employer organizations advanced money to each recruit for 
expenses and passage from India and arranged for a labor contract at 
destination out of which this debt was repaid in installments. 14 

Another example of formalized debt contract was the "credit ticket" 
system that had developed between China and parts of Southeast Asia in 
the nineteenth century. Chinese labor brokers in southern China advanced 
recruits money for their passages and expenses and upon their arrival in 
the Straits Settlements (Malaya) sold these "unpaid passengers" for $20-24 
to Chinese planters or foreign tin-miners. 15 A similar system organized by 
private companies was used to recruit Japanese laborers for Peru (1899- 
1909), Hawaii (1894-1900), and Mexico (1901-7). 16 Many Chinese came to 
North America (and Australia) under similar terms of debt bondage. Ac- 
cording to Persia Campbell, "there is no doubt that the greater part of the 
Chinese emigration to California was financed or controlled by merchant 
brokers, acting independently or through the Trading Guilds," who ad- 
vanced the Chinese the funds and retained control of the debt after their 
arrival. The Chinese repaid the debt in monthly installments including 
interest calculated at the rates equivalent to 50 to 100 percent a year. In 
Canada the brokers sold their lien to the employer who deducted it from 
wages, preventing the laborer from leaving his employ until the debt and 
accumulated interest charges were paid. It proved difficult for official 
investigators in both the United States and Canada to resolve whether 



14 Usha Mahajani, The Role of Indian Minorities in Burma and Malaya (Westport, Conn.: Green- 
wood Press, 1973), p. 97; Michael Adas, The Burma Delta: Economic Development and Social 
Change on an Asian Rice Frontier, 1852-1941 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1974), 
pp. 91, 98-99. Recruiters were usually experienced Indian workers. Mahajani implies this 
led to "perpetual indebtedness of the laborer to his Kangany or Maistry"; Adas does not. 

15 Persia Crawford Campbell, Chinese Coolie Emigration to Countries within the British Empire 
(London: P. S. King & Son, 1923), pp. 1-6. She observes that half or more of the Chinese 
passengers to Malaya from the ports of Amoy, Hong Kong, and Swatow were under such 
credit ticket terms in 1876 but that by 1887 the number had declined to 27% of the Chinese 
arriving in Singapore and by 1890 to 8.4%, the rest being free of such debt to agents (though, 
of course, they may have owed friends and relatives). 

16 Toraje Irie, "History of Japanese Migration to Peru," Hispanic American Historical Review 
31.3-4 (1951): 443; Dorothy Ochiai Hazama and Jane Okamoto Komeiji, Okage Sama De: The 
Japanese in Hawaii, 1885-1985 (Honolulu: Bess Press, 1986), p. 25; Yuji Ichioka, The Issei: The 
World of the First Generation Japanese Immigrants, 1885-1924 (New York: Free Press, 1988), 
p. 69. 



12 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

these Chinese were being held in an involuntary bond because of the 
circumstances of their debt. 17 

In the case of Chinese migrants to California, where formal contracts of 
indenture were illegal, the debate has become quite sharp. The influential 
older study by Gunther Paul Barth holds that credit ticket passages to 
California were "made at times under arrangements similar to the thinly 
veiled slave trade of the coolie system," referring to the indentured Chi- 
nese labor trade to the Americas whose voluntariness has itself been the 
subject of sharply differing interpretations. On the other hand, Shih-shan 
Henry Tsai argues that "whether they came with their own money or 
under credit contract, these Chinese were free agents, as were the Eu- 
ropean immigrants." Most recently, Patricia Cloud and David Galenson 
have staked out a position between these two, arguing that what began as 
credit ticket emigration became "a system of effectively indentured labor 
based for the most part on voluntary bargains," whose details were con- 
cealed to evade legal prohibitions against indentured contracts. As such 
divergent interpretations suggest, hard evidence is very meager, strongly 
influenced by the political climate of the times, and difficult to interpret. 18 

Where evidence permits, this study includes Asians traveling to the 
Americas whose passage and subsequent labor obligations were closely 
linked. The term "contract laborers," often used to describe this expanded 
category, is avoided here because of the ease with which it can be confused 
with the many other kinds of labor contracts. Thus, in speaking of "in- 
dentured laborers," this study will include a portion of individuals under 
bonds that are analogous but not identical to legal indenture. 

17 Campbell, Chinese Coolie Emigration, p. 28. 

18 Gunther Paul Barth, Bitter Strength: A History of the Chinese in the United States, 1850-1870 
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964), p. 67; Shih-shan Henry Tsai, China and 
the Overseas Chinese in the United States, 1868-1911 (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas 
Press, 1983), p. 16; Patricia Cloud and David W. Galenson, "Chinese Immigration and 
Contract Labor in the Late Nineteenth Century," Explorations in Economic History 24.1 
(1987): 26, 37-40. See Charles J. McClain, Jr., "Chinese Immigration: A Comment on Cloud 
and Galenson," Explorations in Economic History 27.3 (1990): 363-78, and Patricia Cloud and 
David W. Galenson, "Chinese Immigration: Reply to Charles McClain," Explorations in 
Economic History 28.2 (1991): 239-47. Galenson, "Rise and Fall of Indentured Servitude," 
p. 23: "Much remains unknown about the actual operation of the system under which 
Chinese, and later Japanese, migrants worked in the western United States, but many 
contemporaries believed these workers were effectively indentured, in being tied to specific 
employers for fixed terms." Campbell, Chinese Coolie Emigration, pp. 28-53: "Counsel for the 
Chinese declared [to a Canadian commission in 1900] that no evidence could be produced 
to show that the Chinese emigrated under servile contracts. It was definitely denied by 
some of the Chinese witnesses that in 1882 any Chinese were under a "contract" of labor. 
But it was not denied that a great number of them were under bonds of debt" (p. 53). At 
that time there was strong pressure to block Chinese entry to North America for reasons 
that had more to do with racism and the complaints of competition by other immigrant 
groups, so it was in the interest of Chinese to claim their status was similar to that of other 
immigrants. 



Beginnings 13 

Confining the study to intercontinental migrations distinguishes long- 
distance overseas migrations from population movements within single 
continents, whether overland or by sea voyage, some of which were also 
under contracts of indenture (as in the case of South Indians to Assam and 
to some Southeast Asian locations). Although from the perspective of a 
single region intercontinental and mfracontinental labor migrations were 
part of a single continuum, from a global perspective the experiences of 
intercontinental migrants stand apart. In the first place the ocean voyages, 
lasting one or more months, were themselves a major distinguishing ex- 
perience for intercontinental migrants. Moreover, the expense of retracing 
such a long voyage meant that the typical intercontinental migrant spent 
much longer under indenture abroad and was much less likely to return 
home than the typical intracontinental migrant. That fact in turn meant 
that the intercontinental migrants and their descendants abroad were 
more likely to develop distinct cultural and social identifies than their 
counterparts who retained closer ties to their homelands. 

In some cases the line between intercontinental and intracontinental 
migrations is not simply a matter of distance. For example, Indian migra- 
tions to the Mascarenes are counted as intercontinental, since Mauritius 
and Reunion are usually considered as a part of Africa, even though these 
voyages were not too much longer than some maritime migrant routes 
between parts of Asia. The rationale for including the Mascarenes is not 
just a matter of geographical precision but of historical continuity. As 
Chapter 2 explains, indentured Indian migrations to the Mascarenes were 
intimately linked with the extension of routes to the West Indies and were 
counted by contemporary officials as "regulated" (subject to more rigorous 
inspection and record keeping), whereas those to Ceylon and Southeast 
Asia were not. The migrations from East Asia and the South Pacific to 
Hawaii may also be considered intercontinental if one adopts the perspec- 
tive of the American government, eager to extend the scope of the Monroe 
Doctrine, that Hawaii was a part of the American continents, in order to 
make these distant Pacific island groups parts of different continents. The 
most arbitrary use of "intercontinental" is in the case of the South Pacific 
islanders' migrations to Australia and Fiji, which may all be considered to 
be within the "continent" of Oceania. That aside, it can be argued in favor 
of their inclusion that the circular interisland recruiting routes made their 
voyages far longer in reality than the distances from any island to its 
destination, but far stronger reasons for their inclusions are that they are 
historically linked to the other migrations and the fact that so much fine 
work has been done on these migrations recently that it would be foolish 
not to include them. The reader is asked to excuse some measure of 
arbitrariness in the application of this definition so that the larger ex- 
perience may be considered as a meaningful whole. 



14 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

The temporal focus of this volume is less open to ambiguity. It begins with 
the first significant migration from India to Mauritius and ends with the 
expiration of the last batch of Indian contracts in the Caribbean colonies. 
What needs to be explained is not the few minor cases that fall outside these 
temporal limits but the underlying forces that caused the new interconti- 
nental indentured labor trade to rise and fall during these decades. Some 
discussion of the defining characteristics of this era is thus called for. It was, 
of course, the age of industrialization, an age of powerful new wealth and 
new technologies. While the industrial revolution gave rise to new factories 
and cities, first in Britain and then other areas adjoining the North Atlantic, 
its effects were soon felt in rural areas in the far corners of the world. As Eric 
Wolf has pointed out, "industrialization and the introduction of large-scale 
cash cropping in agriculture went on apace." 19 Cotton plantations, which 
rarely employed indentured labor, were one well-known example as were 
sugar plantations, which depended heavily upon it. So too were other plan- 
tations employing migrant labor that fall outside the definitions of this stu- 
dy, such as the tea plantations on Ceylon, which employed over 350,000 
unindentured Indian migrants by 1917, and the cocoa plantations on the 
Portuguese islands of Sao Tome and Principe that imported nearly 100,000 
indentured Africans from Angola by the early 1900s. 20 

The nineteenth century was also the golden age of capitalism. Immanuel 
Wallerstein has called the period of 1730 through the 1840s, "the second 
era of great expansion of the capitalist world-economy," while Eric Hobs- 
bawm has called the quarter century that followed the "age of capital." 21 
Capital was not simply liquid assets, since factories, fields, ships, and even 
labor itself (especially when enslaved or indentured) can be considered 
capital. Rather capitalism refers to the integrated system of production, 
transportation, and markets that drew the world together as never before 
and with such immense implications for the laboring masses of the world. 
If the popular image of capitalists as greedy moneybags describes one 
aspect of their numbers, it is more useful to understanding the global 
economy to consider them as investors and manipulators, rational actors 
in an era of rapidly changing prices and demands. The role of capital 
investment in directing the demand for indentured labor in sugarcane 
colonies is examined in Chapter 2. 

This was also an age of imperialism, a word with almost as many 



19 Eric Wolf, Europe and the People without History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 

1982), p. 355. 
20 Tinker, New System of Slavery, pp. 32-33; James Duffy, A Question of Slavery (Cambridge, 

Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967). 
21 Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World-System 111 (San Diego: Academic Press, 1989); the 

quote is the subtitle. E. J. Hobsbawm, The Age of Capital, 1848-1875 (New York: New 

American Library, 1979). 



Beginnings 15 

different meanings and controversial interpretations as capitalism. One 
need not agree with the particular meanings attached to it by the classic 
works of Hobson or Lenin in order to use the term more generally to 
describe a phenomenon that was economic at its base and global in its 
reach. The word imperialism is also a welcome designation for the wave 
of colony grabbing that swept across parts of Asia and most of Africa in the 
last third of the nineteenth century. 22 Chronologically this "new imperial- 
ism" matches the history of the indentured labor trade poorly and only a 
tiny number of indentured laborers went to colonies founded in that 
period, notably the Indian labor for building the East Africa railroad and 
for the plantations of Fiji. 23 But the "new imperialism" was actually the 
second stage of a longer process that began with the first round of Eu- 
ropean colonization and empire building in the sixteenth and seventeenth 
centuries and which assumed a new form from the growth of indus- 
trialization and capitalism. Thus this study uses the term imperialism to 
refer to both economic and territorial expansion by industrial (and capital- 
ist) nations, an expansion that reached a certain dramatic, if not entirely 
rational crescendo in the "new imperialism" at the end of the century, just 
as the longer process of global capital expansion Wallerstein describes 
reached its culmination in Hobsbawm's "age of capital." 

These time limits do not preclude a more cursory examination of related 
topics. In order to introduce sufficient background to understand these 
migrations, the scope of the early chapters includes earlier developments. 
The study also breaches the terminal date to consider the long-term fate of 
the different migrant groups and the ways in which plantation economies 
adjusted to the end of the indentured labor trade. 

In brief, the goal of this study is to compare the rise and fall of the new 
indentured labor trades in a broad context but with a clear focus. The 
emphasis is on highlighting the similarities and differences of the various 
branches of these population movements. Since the trades were created by 
the demand for labor, the next chapter takes up the reasons why that 
demand arose and was sustained for many decades. However, if the full 
story is to be told, it is vital that the motives of individuals who undertook 
these migrations be given equal consideration. Despite problems of com- 
parable documentation, that is the subject of Chapter 3. 



22 J. A. Hobson, Imperialism: A study (London: A. Constable 1902): V. I. Lenin, Imperialism: The 
Highest State of Capitalism (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, n.d.). A very 
useful summary of this topic is Harrison M. Wright, ed., The "New Imperialism ": Analysis of 
Late-Nineteenth-Century Expansion, 2nd ed. (Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1976). 

23 From 1896 to 1901 indentured Indians were recruited on three-year contracts for East 
Africa, their numbers reaching 19,000 at the peak of activity; Tinker, New System of Slavery, 
p. 277. Brij V. Lai, Girmitiyas: The Origins of the Fiji Indians (Canberra: Journal of Pacific 
History, 1983). 



2 



Demands 



An acquaintance tells me of an odd situation which may present itself 
of the Slave difficulty: & that comes from a queer quarter, no less than 
China - that some gangs of Chinese labourers have been imported into 
Cuba, who do the field-work so well, are healthy & orderly, & work at 
such a small price, that it is found that crops can be raised at a much less 
price than by the cumbrous & costly Slave machinery. A score or two of 
years hence, with the immense multiplication & rapidity of trans- 
port . . . now only just beginning to be established; scores of Celestial 
immigrants may be working in the cotton & tobacco fields here & in the 
West Indies Islands. Then the African Slave will get his manumission 
quickly enough. 

- William Makepeace Thackeray to his mother, 
Washington, D.C., 13 February 1853 



Thackeray rightly connected the rise of the Chinese indentured laborers 
with the ending of slavery, though he somewhat exaggerated their cheap- 
ness and future geographical distribution. The first ship carrying Chinese 
laborers to Cuba, the Oquendo, had set sail in 1847, fully six years before he 
wrote, and the first experimental use of Chinese plantation labor in the 
West Indies had begun in 1806 when two hundred Chinese men were 
dispatched to Trinidad. That experiment had not ended Trinidad's reliance 
on slave labor nor did Chinese migration play the role Thackeray pre- 
dicted in ending slavery in Cuba and the United States. Still, Chinese 
laborers were a major element in easing the transition from slave labor in 
Cuba as well as Peru and, on a smaller scale, they played a similar role in 
some British Caribbean colonies. 1 



'Arnold J. Meagher, "The Introduction of Chinese Laborers to Latin America: The 'Coolie 
Trade,' 1847-1874" (Ph.D. dissertation, History, University of California, Davis, 1975), pp. 
40, 399, and passim. Barry W. Higman, "The Chinese in Trinidad, 1806-1838," Caribbean 
Studies 12.3 (1972): 21-28. 

16 



Demands 17 

However, Chinese were not the principal alternative to African slaves. 
East Indians were drawn into the indentured labor trade in much greater 
numbers, along with Africans, South Pacific islanders, Japanese, and some 
Europeans. Nor was the end of slavery the only force that generated the 
indentured labor trade. In the decades following the famous novelist's 
letter, multitudes of indentured laborers traversed the oceans to planta- 
tions and mines in lands that had never known slavery. This chapter 
examines the growing demand for labor that began with the ending of 
slavery in the Caribbean and Mascarene colonies and quickly spread more 
widely along with sugarcane plantations and other products of Western 
economic and territorial imperialism. 

From slavery to indentured labor 

Despite the existence of a few earlier experiments, it is fair to say that the 
new indentured labor trade arose in direct response to the abolition of 
slavery in the colonies of Great Britain in the 1830s and to its subsequent 
abolition or decline in French, Dutch, and Spanish colonies. Ironically 
what was conceived as a progressive step toward free labor came to be 
viewed by some contemporaries and some modern historians as a new 
form of bondage and a thinly disguised continuation of slavery. A brief 
survey of the politics and perspectives of that era of reform will help to 
make the matter clearer. 2 

Since the late eighteenth century British abolitionists had been cam- 
paigning against the notorious commerce dominated by their own compa- 
triots. Given slavery's importance to the plantation economy of the British 
West Indies and the great political power of the planter class and their 
allies, the abolitionists first directed their efforts to the limited goal of 
ending the trade in slaves from Africa. This was not just a tactical ex- 
pedient, for most abolitionists (like Thackeray) accepted the validity of the 
argument put forth by Adam Smith that free labor would be both cheaper 
and more efficient than slavery. Deprived of fresh supplies of slaves, the 
plantation owners would be led by economic self-interest, if not by mor- 
ality, to ameliorate the conditions of their slaves and eventually transform 
them into a free labor force. 

In 1792 the House of Commons voted in favor of a resolution that, if 
implemented, would have ended British participation in the Atlantic slave 
trade in 1796. Britain's actual withdrawal from the slave trade began a 

2 Two works have greatly influenced my understanding of these events: William A. Green, 
British Slave Emancipation: The Sugar Colonies and the Great Experiment (Oxford: Clarendon 
Press, 1976), and David Brion Davis, Slavery and Human Progress (New York: Oxford Uni- 
versity Press, 1984), especially part 2. 



18 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

decade later in 1806 when, as a wartime measure against Napoleon's 
continental domination, Parliament banned British subjects from engaging 
in the slave trade to foreign colonies. This measure terminating two-thirds 
of the existing British slave trade, eased the passage a year later of the bill 
outlawing British participation in the remaining slave trade from Africa. 

British abolition turned out to be just the first step in a long and complex 
process. The Atlantic slave trade continued and even expanded as citizens 
of other nations quickly stepped into the profitable commerce Britain had 
abandoned. In the meanwhile British colonies were finding it difficult to 
adjust to doing without fresh supplies of slaves. Slave populations, whose 
numbers had been built up by a century and a half of massive imports, 
started to decline as soon as fresh supplies were cut off. In the twenty- 
seven years after 1807 the number of enslaved persons in the British 
Caribbean as a whole decreased 14 percent from about 775,000 to 665,000, 
with a similar shrinkage probably taking place in the slave population of 
the British colony of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. The decline was most 
marked in the newer sugar-producing colonies of British Guiana and 
Trinidad, which had the highest proportion of African-born slaves and 
whose population thus reflected the Atlantic slave trade's gender im- 
balance of two males for each female. Despite legal imports of slaves from 
other British West Indian colonies, their slave populations shrank by more 
than a quarter. Although the effects on sugar production varied widely 
from colony to colony, the overall sugar exports from the British West 
Indies stagnated during these decades. 3 

Moreover, these labor shortages failed to promote better treatment for 
slaves in the British colonies, still less to transform slavery into the freer 
labor system the abolitionists had expected. Indeed, many observers of this 
social experiment believed slavery's harshness increased. Abolitionists 
then launched a second campaign in the reform years of the early 1830s 
aimed at legal emancipation of the slaves. Though moved by the abo- 
litionists' moral fervor, the practical members of Parliament had no desire 
to combine social reform with economic disaster. "The great problem to be 
solved in drawing up any plan for the emancipation of the slaves in our 
colonies," wrote Lord Howick, a leading abolitionist, at the end of 1832, "is 
to devise some mode of inducing them when relieved from the fear of the 
driver and his whip, to undergo the regular and continuous labour which 



3 B. W. Higman, Slave Populations of the British Caribbean, 1807-1834 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins 
University Press, 1984), pp. 72, 135-^7. Reliable estimates of the slave population of Mau- 
ritius do not exist before 1826 when 69,000 were recorded; at emancipation in 1835 com- 
pensation was paid for 56,700, another 4,000 having been manumitted between 1826 and 
1835; Sadasivam Reddi, "Aspects of Slavery during the British Administration," in Slavery 
in South West Indian Ocean, ed. U. Bissoondoyal and S. B. C. Servansing (Moka, Mauritius: 
Mahatma Gandhi Institute Press, 1989), pp. 106-9. 



Demands 19 

is indispensable in carrying on the production of sugar." 4 Thus the law 
passed in 1833 freeing slaves in British colonies was combined with two 
measures aimed at protecting the plantation economies from the shock of 
complete emancipation: direct financial compensation to the owners of 
emancipated slaves and a forced apprenticeship of four to six years for 
freed persons over the age of six and a half. Neither worked as intended. 

The vast sum of £20 million paid to planters for the loss of their slaves 
was intended to reduce their high debt burden and enable them to com- 
pete with colonies still using slave labor. Amounting to just under half the 
market value of the freed slaves, the compensation payments did reduce 
the planters' massive indebtedness but this increase in their individual 
credit worthiness failed in most cases to attract new investment because of 
well-justified doubts about the ability of British sugar plantations to turn 
a profit without slavery. 

The apprenticeship program was also a form of compensation to the 
planters since it required emancipated field slaves to provide 40.5 hours a 
week of unpaid labor to their former masters during the six years follow- 
ing emancipation. It was also expected to introduce the freed persons to 
wage labor since apprentices were paid for any additional labor. In fact, 
apprenticeship fulfilled neither goal. Many planters used the apprentice- 
ship laws to extract as much unpaid labor as possible while simulta- 
neously reducing some customary distributions of food and clothing to 
their plantation workers, turning "apprenticeship" into "little more than a 
mitigated form of slavery" in William Green's judgment. Moreover, the 
need to pay wages for work done above the 40.5 hours a week drove up 
the planters' production costs. In the end, planters got less unpaid labor 
than expected because growing unrest among the apprentices, partly stim- 
ulated by the continuing abolitionist criticism of the system, forced the 
West Indian legislatures to terminate apprenticeship earlier than planned. 
Complete emancipation in the British West Indies arrived on 1 August 
1838 and nine months later in Mauritius. 5 

In most colonies, complete emancipation was even less successful in 
creating an effective labor force than apprenticeship had been. Staying 
clear of the hated plantation was a high priority for many persons liberated 
from a lifetime of forced labor, though not always an achievable one. For 
example, two months after the end of apprenticeship many Jamaican 
plantations were operating with only a quarter of their former labor force 
and only a few had over half, so that much of the 1838 sugar crop rotted 

4 Quoted by Eric Williams, From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean, 1492-1969 

(New York: Vintage Books, 1984), p. 328. 
5 Green, British Slave Emancipation, pp. 131-61, 218-21 (quotation from p. 151); William Law 

Mathieson, British Slave Emancipation, 1838-1849 (New York: Octagon Books, 1967), pp. 

235-39. 



20 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

in the fields and only limited planting was done for the 1839 season. 
Throughout most of the British West Indies, "black labourers were un- 
willing to remain submissive and disciplined cane workers." 6 The situa- 
tion was similar in Mauritius: nearly all of the 10,000 purchasing their 
freedom during the apprenticeship period abandoned the plantations for 
good; virtually none of the 13,000 female laborers completing apprentice- 
ship ever returned on wages; only 4,000 of the 17,000 men completing 
apprenticeship agreed to sign one-year labor contracts. By August 1846 
only 189 former apprentices were still working as laborers on the planta- 
tions. 7 Thus a growing social and economic crisis quickly replaced moral 
reform as the central issue in the British plantation colonies. 

The desertion of the cane fields had little to do with freed persons' 
dislike of regular and continuous labor. Where land was available, former 
slaves preferred devoting their energies to scratching out a humble ex- 
istence on their own farms to resuming their former roles on the planta- 
tions. Indeed, many hard-working individuals had used earnings saved 
during the apprenticeship period to purchase early release from that bond- 
age or to acquire a small parcel of land. By the 1860s a third of the black 
population of Jamaica was living in independent villages in the island's 
mountainous interior, often on land purchased with missionary help. Trin- 
idad and British Guiana also had abundant land not under sugar cultiva- 
tion and faced widespread labor shortages immediately after emancipa- 
tion. Planters there offered higher wages to attract people back to the 
plantations and also used their political power to close off alternative 
livelihoods by passing laws making it more difficult to buy small plots of 
land, evicting squatters from public land, and enforcing harsh vagrancy 
laws. However, where land for independent farms was unavailable, such 
as in Barbados, most laborers had little choice but to return to the planta- 
tions. Barbados was also the only place in the British West Indies where the 
population grew after the end of the slave trade, which served to keep the 
labor force abundant and cheap and forced many Barbadians to emigrate 
to other parts of the region in search of work. 8 

Even where planters succeeded in restricting alternative livelihoods for 
emancipated men, most British plantations saw a sharp falling off in the 

6 Green, British Slave Emancipation, p. 170. 

7 M. D. North-Coombes, "From Slavery to Indenture: Forced Labour in the Political Econ- 
omy of Mauritius, 1834-1867," in Indentured Labour in the British Empire, 1840-1920, ed. 
Kay Saunders (London: Croom Helm, 1984), pp. 81-83, 118-19; Reddi, "Aspects of Slavery," 
pp. 119-21. 

8 Donald Wood, Trinidad in Transition: The Years after Slavery (London: Oxford University 
Press, 1968), pp. 91-97; Alan H. Adamson, Sugar without Slaves: The Political Economy of 
British Guiana, 1838-1904 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), pp. 32-33; J. H. Gallo- 
way, The Sugar Cane Industry: An Historical Geography from Its Origins to 1914 (Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 146-54. 



Demands 



21 




1 



1810 1820 1830 1840 1850 1860 1870 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920 

decade ending in 

Figure 2.1. Annual average slave and indentured labor imports (by thousands) into the 
Caribbean and Mascarenes, by decade, 1801-10 to 1911-20. Sources: For slaves to the Carib- 
bean, David Eltis, Economic Growth and the Ending of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (New York: 
Oxford University Press, 1987), table A.8. For slaves to the Mascarenes, Paul E. Lovejoy, 
Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University 
Press, 1983), pp. 151, 221, and Francois Renault, Liberation d'esclaves de nouvelle servitude: Les 
rachats de captifs africains pour le compte des colonies franqaises apres I'abolition de I'esclavage 
(Abidjan: Nouvelles Editions Africaines, 1976), pp. 42, 72. For indentured laborers, Table A.2. 



labor of two groups who had been of great importance to the slave gangs 
- women and children. Women sought out domestic employment, while 
increasingly numbers of children spent their days in schools promoted by 
missionary societies. Even more significant was the fact that many men 
who returned to plantation labor after apprenticeship did so on a less 
continuous basis. Trinidadian and Jamaican plantation agents told parlia- 
mentary investigators that the productivity of the labor force after appren- 
ticeship was only two-thirds of what it had been earlier because of absen- 
teeism. Labor shortages had driven up wage rates somewhat in the months 
after the end of apprenticeship, but estate managers were convinced that 
more money would not attract more work because what laborers really 
wanted was time to cultivate their own lands. Thus they believed that the 
freed persons would cease working in the cane fields as soon as they had 



22 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

the minimum funds they required to live. In the words of one estate 
manager in Trinidad, it was "an irrefragable fact; the more money, the less 
work." This conclusion is open to question but the prevalence of such 
beliefs served to keep wages low. 9 

Ironically, in their struggle to retain the profitability of the plantation 
system, the planters found important allies among British abolitionists, 
who, as Eric Williams has pointed out, were ideological radicals but eco- 
nomic conservatives. 10 Their campaign against slavery had been accom- 
panied by the argument that "free labour could produce tropical staples 
more cheaply than slave labour." Emancipation in the British colonies was 
meant to inspire emancipation elsewhere. As Lord Elgin argued to Jamai- 
can legislators in 1842, their region was "the theatre of a great experiment, 
the issue of which may affect the doom of thousands now in bondage, and 
of millions yet unborn." Yet at that moment the reality was otherwise: 
sugar production in the British West Indies was falling and its price rising, 
reducing its competitiveness in world British markets. Cuban, Brazilian, 
and American planters were hardly to be inspired by such a model. 11 

Planters concluded that the solution to their mounting labor problems 
lay in attracting new immigrants from abroad. Given the arduousness of 
the work and the low wages they were willing and able to pay, it soon 
became apparent that only people already too poor to pay their own 
passage to the islands would accept such terms of employment. Though 
populations around the Atlantic were tapped for the West Indies, the 
planters' search for an adequate supply of recruits soon turned to the 
denser populations of Asia. 

Many planters' first preference was for European laborers, whose work 
habits they believed superior and whose presence would "whiten" the 
population mix that under slavery had become over 90 percent African in 
most plantation colonies. Although their recruitment efforts coincided 
with the beginnings of a massive European out-migration, the West Indies 
secured only a tiny portion of their needs from this source. Private re- 
cruiters brought a few hundred poor French and German migrants to 
Trinidad in 1839-40 and over 4,500 other Europeans were introduced at 
public expense, mostly to Jamaica, between 1834-45. However, their 
strong antipathy to plantation labor and the existence of much more at- 



^estimony of Robert Henry Church of Trinidad, 5 May 1842, and Thomas MacCornack of 
Jamaica, 16 June 1842, in PP 1842 xiii (479), Report from the Select Committee on West India 
Colonies, pp. 110-11, 344—46 (quotation from Mr. Church, p. 111). Mary Elizabeth Thomas, 
Jamaica and Voluntary Laborers from Africa, 1840-1965 (Gainesville: University Presses of 
Florida, 1974), p. 9. 

10 Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (Charlotte: University of North Carolina Press, 1944), 
pp. 181-88. 

n Green, British Slave Emancipation, pp. 191 (quotation), 266. 



Demands 23 

tractive alternatives in North America made Europeans difficult to re- 
cruit. 12 The one notable exception was the emigration of some 30,000 
Portuguese driven to accept indentured contracts into British Guiana in the 
1840s and 1850s after the tragic failure of both the potato and grape 
harvests in Madeira. But they only partially relieved the labor shortage. 
New European migrants succumbed to tropical diseases in large numbers 
and the survivors quickly deserted the plantations for shopkeeping and 
other less onerous jobs. 13 

Another group planters tried to attract were persons of African descent 
born in the Americas, whose strength and endurance they had long re- 
spected. Densely populated Barbados provided a steady supply of la- 
borers, but efforts to attract recruits from North America yielded limited 
results despite the growing discrimination free blacks faced in the United 
States in the years before the Civil War. Trinidad paid for the passage of 
over 1,200 recruits from New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia between 
1835-40, though when the Jamaican commissioner for emigration toured 
the same cities in 1842, trying to offset his colony's inferior wage rates by 
touting Jamaica's superior social and political rights, the results were 
disappointing. Besides their small numbers, few of those recruited from 
the United States chose to remain in the Caribbean and few of these who 
stayed continued as plantation laborers. 14 

Several British colonies also attempted to meet their labor needs by 
recruiting Africans freed from slave ships apprehended by the British 
patrols, beginning in the early 1830s with the modest numbers liberated 
from slavers intercepted in the Caribbean en route to Cuba. In 1835 the 
governor of Trinidad sought permission to recruit from the much larger 
body of liberated Africans in the British colony of Sierra Leone on the West 
African coast. Initially the British government rejected the plan, sensitive 
to abolitionist arguments that such recruitment would appear to be a 
thinly disguised revival of the slave trade. However support began to 
come round from several sources. Abolitionists were worried lest the 
collapse of British West Indian sugar plantations undermine their conten- 

12 Thomas, Jamaica and Voluntary Laborers, pp. 19-28. In Limerick the Irish staged a riot against 
any of their number boarding what was termed a "slave ship" that was recruiting labor for 
the West Indies. 

13 Wood, Trinidad in Transition, pp. 89-91; G. W. Roberts and J. Byrne, "Summary Statistics on 
Indentured and Associated Migration Affecting the West Indies, 1843-1918," Population 
Studies 20.1 (1966): tables 3 and 7; Brian L. Moore, "The Social Impact of Portuguese 
Immigration into British Guiana after Emancipation," Boletin de Estudios Latinamericanos y 
del Caribe 19 (1975): 3-5. A few thousand to block the settlement of ex-apprentices in the 
island's highland interior; see Douglas Hall, "Bountied European Immigration to Jamaica 
with Special Reference to the German Settlement of Seaford Town up to 1850," Jamaica 
Journal 8.4 (1974): 49-50. For a comprehensive treatment of migration into the British West 
Indies, see Green, British Slave Emancipation, pp. 261-93. 

14 Wood, Trinidad in Transition, pp. 67-68; Thomas, Jamaica and Voluntary Laborers, pp. 19-20. 



24 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

tion that free labor was superior to slave labor economically as well as 
morally. The costs and practical difficulties of maintaining the growing 
number of African "recaptives" in Sierra Leone and elsewhere led others 
to see practical merit in an emigration program. Thus, the balance of 
official opinion tipped in favor of government-sponsored sailings across 
the Atlantic, which began in 1841 initially under colonial control and from 
1843 under the British government. 15 Despite the many problems in initial 
recruitment detailed in Chapter 3, the British West Indian colonies man- 
aged to import some 13,500 liberated Africans from Sierra Leone during 
1841-50, plus an equal number from other liberation depots. However, the 
success of the patrols in bringing the slave trade to an end also reduced the 
number of recaptives. As Table A. 2 shows, in the next decade the number 
of liberated Africans introduced into the British West Indies fell to just 
under 5,000, with another 4,300 being introduced after 1860. 

Long before liberated African migration ebbed, far larger numbers of 
laborers were being recruited from British India. Mauritian planters had 
imported a few indentured Indians (along with some Chinese from Sin- 
gapore) in 1829 16 and turned to India for labor as soon as slavery came to 
an end. British Guiana followed suit in 1838. However, reports of abuses 
in the recruitment of Indians had led the government of India to ban 
further sailings the next year. After certain reforms and reconsiderations, 
voyages to Mauritius were permitted to resume in 1843 and to the West 
Indies in 1845. By 1850 nearly 120,000 Indian laborers had arrived in 
Mauritius, over 12,000 in British Guiana, and another 10,000 in Trinidad 
and Jamaica. The very heavy Indian migration to Mauritius during the two 
decades after 1843 (see Table A.2) provided that colony with enough 
resident labor to reduce the need for fresh imports during the rest of the 
century, especially as demand for Mauritian sugar stagnated. As the Mau- 
ritian demand waned, Indian migration to the more distant locations rose, 
satisfying British West Indian labor needs for the rest of the century. 

While the numbers of Indian laborers were still modest and their work 
habits and endurance below expectations, West Indian planters had won 
British government permission in 1850 to recruit indentured laborers from 
China. British Guiana initially offered a bounty of £100 for each Chinese 
migrant delivered to the colony. High mortality and high costs caused by 
competition from California, Australia, and Peru led to the suspension of 
Chinese imports. A new, better regulated trade landed 12,178 Chinese to 
the British West Indies between 1859 and 1866, with a few more later. 
Though highly regarded, Chinese labor was a luxury the colonial planters 

15 Green, British Slave Emancipation, pp. 265-76. 

16 Huguette Ly-Tio-Fane Pineo, Lured Away: The Life History of Cane Workers in Mauritius 
(Moka, Mauritius: Mahatma Gandhi Institute, 1984), p. 17. 



Demands 



25 





WEST INDIES Cuba Jamaica Trinidad Other BWI French 



•0 




Indians 
Chinese 
Africans 
Europeans 
Totals 



121,810 



36,412 
1,152 

1 1 ,396 
4.466 



143,939 

2,659 

18,360 

897 



121,810 56,726 165,855 



10,363 69,444 

574 2,129 

5,027 14,700 

5.778 1.180 

21,742 87,453 



Cuba 



Jamaica 



<K> <~: 



3 Guadeloupe 
<a Martinique 



<0 Trinidad 



™k 



'""./ 






GUIANAS 


British 


Dutch 


French 


Indians 


238,740 


34,502 


9,645 


Chinese 


13,018 


2,839 




Africans 


14,575 




3,700 


Europeans 


32,216 


480 




Javanese 




19.330 
57,151 




Total 


298,549 


13,345 



^s 



PERU 



Chinese 98,500 

Japanese 17,764 

Pacific islanders 2.116 
Total 118,380 



800 km 



800 mi 



Map 2. Principal indentured labor imports into the Americas. Source: Appendix b 



26 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

could afford only intermittently, since the costs of recruitment were double 
those from India. 17 

Emancipation in the French and Dutch plantation colonies occurred 
later than in the British colonies, producing similar labor shortages. Both 
sought to alleviate these shortages by importing indentured labor, pri- 
marily from British India along with modest numbers from China. Both 
also drew extensively on their own overseas empires, the French bringing 
substantial numbers of laborers from their outposts in Africa and India, 
while nearly half of the labor the Dutch brought to the West Indies came 
from Java. 

Although France lost its most important plantation colony, Saint- 
Domingue (Haiti), as a result of the massive slave revolt of the 1790s, the 
remaining French plantation colonies continued to depend on slave labor 
until 1848. On the eve of their emancipation most slaves in France's Indian 
Ocean colony of Reunion had been induced to sign two-year labor con- 
tracts, which most subsequently refused to renew, preferring casual labor 
in town or subsistence farming in the interior plateaus to further labor on 
the plantations. French West Indian colonies also experienced a massive 
exodus from the plantations, the labor force in Martinique, for example, 
falling from 72,000 in 1848 to 20,000 in 1851. 18 

To meet the labor shortage in Reunion French planters sought to imitate 
the example of their British neighbors in Mauritius by bringing labor from 
India, but their request for direct access in 1851 was put off by British 
Indian authorities who expressed doubts about French sincerity in pro- 
tecting their British Indian subjects' rights. While negotiations dragged on, 
the French recruited what labor they could from their coastal enclave of 
Pondicherry in southeastern India. From there Reunion obtained an aver- 
age of 5,400 Indians a year in 1849-55, but the average number of recruits 
fell to 1,750 a year during 1856-60, due to restrictions on the recruitment 
of British Indians through that port. Nearly a thousand indentured Chi- 
nese were recruited in 1859. More active recruitment efforts in Zanzibar, 
Mozambique, Madagascar, and other eastern African locations were able 
to make up some of the shortfall, but under circumstances that both con- 
temporary and modern observers regarded as a thinly disguised continua- 
tion of the slave trade. The number of Africans stayed under a thousand 
a year in the early 1850s, averaged 4,150 a year in the middle 1850s, but 
then, as Indian laborers became harder to obtain, shot up to 10,000 in 1858. 

17 Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 270-77; Walton Look Lai, Indentured 
Labor, Caribbean Sugar: Chinese and Indian Migrants to the British West Indies, 1838-1918 
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), pp. 87-91, table 23. 

18 Francois Renault, Liberation d'esclaves et nouvelle servitude: Les rachats des captifs africains pour 
le compte des colonies francaises apres I'abolition de Vesclavage (Abidjan: Nouvelles Editions 
Africaines, 1976), pp. 11-13. 



Demands 27 

In all at least 34,200 Africans were recruited from the Comoro Islands, 
Madagascar, and the East African mainland, mostly for Reunion. 19 

Meanwhile, the planters of the French Caribbean were also struggling to 
supplement their labor supply. Subsidized voyages supplied a few hun- 
dred French and Madeiran migrants but with no better long-term benefits 
than in the British West Indies. 20 Much more labor came from recruitment 
from the Atlantic side of Africa under circumstances as legally dubious as 
that from eastern Africa. The French had experimented with the repur- 
chase (rachat prealable) of slaves in their West African colony of Senegal in 
1839-40 to secure labor on fourteen-year contracts for public works in that 
colony. In 1853 the practice was resumed in Senegal and extended in 1854 
to French coastal enclaves further south. The same year repurchased Af- 
ricans began to be transported to the French Caribbean colonies of Cay- 
enne (French Guiana), Martinique, and Guadeloupe in 1854 on six-year 
contracts. During the eight years of its operation some 18,400 African 
contract laborers were received in these colonies. Contemporaries and 
most modern historians agree that only legal niceties distinguished this 
recruitment from the slave trade. 21 

The mounting scandals associated with this recruitment in Africa 
moved British authorities to relent and grant the French access to the 
better-regulated Indian labor market in return for terminating their labor 
imports from Africa. The French imported indentured Indians from Cal- 
cutta to Reunion beginning with 5,333 in 1862 and a ship from Madras 
reached Guadeloupe with 330 in 1864. Regulations permitted indenture 
for five-years (longer than in British colonies at that time) but entitled 
Indians to free return passage at the end of that period, in contrast to the 



19 Hubert Gerbeau, "Engagees and Coolies on Reunion Island: Slavery's Masks and Free- 
dom's Constraints," in Colonialism and Migration: Industrial Labour before and after Slavery, ed. 
P. C. Emmer (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1986), pp. 223-24; Meagher, "Introduction of 
Chinese Laborers," p. 290. 

20 Renault, Liberation d'esclaves, p. 16, says there were about 500 subsidized French migrants 
from 1845 to 1850 plus 680 indentured Madeirans. 

21 Renault, Liberation d'esclaves, pp. 18-91, 158; Monica Schuler, "African Immigration to 
French Guiana: The Cinq Frere Group, 1854-1860," Bulletin of the African Studies Association 
of the West Indies, 4 (1971): 64-72, and "Kru Emigration to British and French Guiana, 
1841-1857," in Africans in Bondage: Studies in Slavery and the Slave Trade, ed. Paul E. Lovejoy 
(Madison: African Studies Program, University of Wisconsin, 1986), pp. 174-78. Renault 
says (p. 29) that in the effort to reconcile freedom and labor, the former was the loser. 
Schuler, "Kru Emigration," p. 125, is more circumspect, noting that a principal recruiter was 
a former slave trader but stressing the difficulty of determining how willing the recruits 
may have been. Gerbeau, "Engagees and Coolies," pp. 221-23, gives numerous examples 
of forced recruitment. Paul Lovejoy, Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa 
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 146, refers to this as a "disguised trade 
in slaves." David Eltis, Economic Growth and the Ending of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (New 
York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 246, counts all African recruits to the French 
Caribbean as slaves. 



28 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

ten years then required in British colonies. In addition to the 49,000 Indians 
brought to Reunion between 1844 and I860, the island recruited 35,000 
other laborers by 1883 and a total of 79,000 Indians sailed for the French 
Caribbean between 1853 and 1888. By the mid-1880s British officials had 
sufficient evidence of the ill-treatment of indentured Indians in the French 
colonies to warrant their refusing to sanction any more shipments. 22 

The slave trade to Dutch Guiana (Surinam) had ended in 1807, at a time 
when the colony was under British occupation. The Dutch regained control 
in 1814 but did not emancipate their slaves until 1863, even then imposing 
an apprenticeship that lasted another ten years. As in the British colonies, 
Surinam's slave population had declined after being cut off from new sup- 
plies from Africa, falling from about 50,000 in 1800 to some 30,000 in 1863 
and acute labor shortages after emancipation caused Surinam's sugar 
production to drop sharply. To meet the labor needs on its own plantations 
the government of Surinam had brought 18 Chinese laborers from Java in 
1853 and another 500 directly from China in 1858, the Chinese being re- 
garded as the most industrious and dependable workers available. Be- 
tween 1865 and 1869 a private Surinam Immigration Corporation brought 
2,015 more Chinese from Hong Kong, far below the planters' wants and at 
a very high cost. Experiments with small numbers of European laborers 
imported from Madeira and the Netherlands and of Javanese from the 
Dutch East Indies, as well as 1,500 free blacks from Barbados during these 
years also proved unsatisfactory as a long-term solution to the colony's la- 
bor problems. 

By the time apprenticeship came to an end in 1873 China had banned 
further indentured labor emigration, so the Dutch planters turned to in- 
dentured labor from India. Although viewed as less reliable than the 
Chinese, Indian laborers could be obtained in steady lots at predictable 
prices through arrangement worked out with the British authorities. Some 
34,500 Indians were introduced over the next forty-four years with the 
right of a free return passage after the end of a single five-year contract. (In 
comparison, Indians in British Guiana had to work two five-year terms 
before being entitled to free passage home.) Surinam planters also im- 
ported 19,000 indentured laborers from Java between 1853 and 1920. 23 

22 Hugh Tinker, A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas, 1830-1920 
(London: Oxford University Press, 1974), pp. 95-96, 99-100, 109, 240, 259, 265, 276-78; see 
map 3. 

23 Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 287-89; J. Ankum-Houwink, "Chinese 
Contract Migrants in Surinam between 1853 and 1870," Boletin de Estudios Latinamericanos 
y del Caribe 17 (1974): 49, 56-59; K. O. Laurence, Immigration into the West Indies in the 
Nineteenth Century (Kingston, Jamaica: Caribbean University Press, 1971), pp. 43-45; Craig 
A. Lockhard, "Repatriation Movements among the Javanese in Surinam: A Comparative 
Analysis," Caribbean Studies 18.1-2 (1978): 85-86; Pieter Emmer, "The Importation of British 



Demands 29 

Though these details about Surinam have taken the story into the twen- 
tieth century, the main thrust of the argument so far has been that it was 
the end of slavery, first in the British colonies and subsequently in the 
French and Dutch colonies, that precipitated the growth of the indentured 
labor trade. Unable to sustain its numbers once the Atlantic slave trade was 
cut off, the enslaved population began to decline and after their emancipa- 
tion freed persons were disinclined to continue plantation labor at the 
former levels of intensity - or at all. New labor supplies were needed, but 
the wages the planters believed they could offer were such that only 
persons too poor to pay their own way could be attracted. Through metro- 
politan subsidy, colonial taxation, and, in some cases, the use of highly 
irregular methods of recruitment, laborers were brought from the Atlantic 
islands, North America, Africa, and China, but the most enduring source 
for the Caribbean and Mascarene colonies was India. 

The new imperial economy 

The intercontinental indentured labor trade had arisen to remedy the labor 
shortages caused by slave emancipation, but its endurance and growth 
were governed by much broader changes. Spreading Western political and 
economic empires not only facilitated the recruitment of labor from India, 
China, Pacific islands, and other places - points that will be examined in 
the next two chapters, but also led to the establishment of new colonies that 
sought indentured labor. The most significant part of this new labor de- 
mand stemmed from the rapid expansion of sugarcane plantations in the 
second half of the century, in these new colonies as well as in older 
producing areas. As this section will detail, new technology and new 
capital investment also played vital roles in sustaining the demand for 
indentured labor. 

During the century before Western imperialism reached its crescendo in 
the late nineteenth century, there had been a steady expansion of economic 
and territorial empires (especially by Great Britain). During and after the 
Napoleonic Wars, Britain took possession of several older colonies that 
soon became major importers of indentured labor: Trinidad acquired from 
Spain in 1797, Mauritius (lie de France) taken from France in 1810, British 
Guiana annexed from Holland in 1814. Other colonies, first developed as 
European settler areas, acquired an appetite for indentured labor only later 
in the century. From the Cape Colony in southern Africa, taken from 
Holland in 1806, new settler colonies were founded in midcentury that 

Indians into Surinam (Dutch Guiana), 1873-1916," in International Labour Migration: His- 
torical Perspectives, ed. Shula Marks and Peter Richardson (Hounslow, Middlesex: M. Tem- 
ple Smith, 1984), pp. 94-97. 



30 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

later imported indentured labor: Natal used Indian labor for sugar planta- 
tions and the Transvaal's gold mines employed Chinese labor. Other new 
colonial foundations pertinent to the growth of the indentured labor trade 
included the British settlements in Australia and Britain's progressive 
annexation of the Straits Settlements around Singapore from 1786 to 1824, 
which led to protectorates over Malaya from 1874 to 1896. The imperial 
ventures of the United States in Hawaii and Cuba also opened up impor- 
tant destinations for the East Asian labor trade. 

The indentured labor trade depended as much on the West's "informal" 
empire of financial and commercial networks as it did on the formal 
empire of colonies. As the cost of ocean travel fell and its speed increased 
in the nineteenth century, more distant parts of the world became impor- 
tant to the Western industrial giants. By one calculation, the volume of 
world trade rose tenfold between 1850 and 1913. 24 The spectacular growth 
of world sugar production in the nineteenth century was an important part 
of this phenomenon. 

Amid the turbulence of slave emancipation the one bright spot for sugar 
producers was that the market for their product was increasing rapidly. In 
industrial societies a growing urban proletariat joined the middle classes 
in consuming vast quantities of candy, jams, and sugared pastries, while 
spooning still more sugar into their tea, coffee, and chocolate - themselves 
newly popular beverages for the masses. In Britain sugar consumption per 
capital increased fivefold during the century. Growing urbanization and 
rising living standards promoted a rapid increase in consumption in con- 
tinental Europe and North America as well. To meet this rising demand 
global production of cane sugar rose from 300,000 tons in 1790 to 10 million 
tons in 1914. 25 

The dark side of these changes for the cane sugar producers was a steep 
and steady fall in sugar prices during the century before World War I. In- 
deed, rising consumption was strongly stimulated by falling prices. In Brit- 
ish Guiana, which may serve as an example of global trends, the downward 
slide had begun even before the end of slavery, the prices received by pro- 
ducers falling by over 50 percent between 1800 and 1829, from £40.45 a ton 
to a low of £18 including the imperial preference of £3.75. The sugar market 
recovered briefly when production dropped in the 1830s as slavery and ap- 
prenticeship were ended, but declined again as West Indian production 
picked up. The fall in sugar prices continued as the imperial preference was 
phased out beginning in 1846 and competition grew from new sugarcane 

M W. W. Rostow cited by Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (New York: 

Random House, 1989), p. 414. 
^his treatment of the sugar economy is heavily indebted to Galloway, Sugar Cane Industry, 

chaps. 6-9. See also Mintz, Sweetness and Power, pp. 73ff. 



Demands 31 

plantations in other parts of the world as well as from sugar beet cultivation 
in France. By the 1870s producer prices were down to around £22 a ton and, 
as the glut grew in the 1890s, they fell by another £10 on average, reaching 
a low of £9.60 in 1896, then recovering slowly. 26 

In this competitive environment the successful growers needed more 
than access to a steady supply of cheap labor. To remain profitable while 
the unit price of sugar tumbled they had to invest heavily in better land, 
fertilizer, and new machinery that could increase their productivity. Such 
investments required borrowing large amounts of capital from lenders, 
who favored regions richest in natural resources and with the best access to 
large markets. It is fair to say that access to a regular supply of low-wage 
labor, though very important to sustaining the scale of production, was less 
decisive in the long-run profitability of individual sugar plantations and 
particular colonies than was the quality of land and the quantity of capital 
available. Some additional consideration of land, capital, and technology, 
therefore, is in order before returning to the role of indentured labor. 

Since the seventeenth century the West Indies had witnessed the rise 
and fall of individual sugar colonies whose fertile lands were first ex- 
ploited, then depleted. Barbados had given way to Jamaica, which in turn 
had lost out to Saint-Domingue, until revolution undid that colony in the 
1790s. During the first part of the nineteenth century fresh and fertile fields 
enabled British Guiana and Trinidad to grow faster than the older French 
and British colonies, but by midcentury the large Spanish colony of Cuba 
took over the lead. 

The nineteenth century also saw the rapid extension of sugar production 
outside the West Indies. By midcentury Mauritius had become Britain's 
premier sugar producer, having expanded from 27,000 acres under sug- 
arcane cultivation in the 1820s to 129,000 in the 1860s. During the second 
half of the century the quest for virgin tropical soils led to the establish- 
ment of new sugar plantations in Southeast Asia, Australia, Hawaii, and 
southern Africa. Indeed, by 1900 the sugar from these new producers 
surpassed that from the West Indies and Mascarenes combined. 

Virgin lands outproduced those depleted by decades of sugarcane pro- 
duction, but equally important was investment in new technology that 
increased the yields from the milling and curing operations. Beginning in 
midcentury the traditional vertical three-roller crushers driven by animals 
or waterpower were replaced by heavier horizontal rollers, powered by 

26 Dwarka Nath, A History of Indians in British Guiana (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1950), 
table 32. According William Woodruff, Impact of Western Man: A Study of Europe's Role in the 
World Economy, 1750-1960 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1967), table VII/2, the British West 
Indian share of the U.K. sugar market fell from 37% in 1850 to 4% in 1900, while European 
beet sugar climbed from 1% to 80%. Galloway, Sugar Cane Industry, p. 133, says beet sugar 
had two-thirds of the world market at end of the century. 



32 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

steam engines. Such roller units arranged in series in Hawaii raised the 
quantity of juice extracted from about 65 percent to over 95 percent by the 
early twentieth century, a level that soon became the industry standard. 
Once the juice was extracted, it had to be boiled down to a heavy syrup 
(massecuite), traditionally a long, fuel-consuming process, then allowed to 
cure in smaller containers where the sugar crystals formed and the waste 
molasses drained away. A new vacuum-pan process permitted the boiling 
to be done at lower temperatures and thus with greater fuel efficiency. 
Another new device, the centrifugal, used high-speed spinning to extract 
the molasses in much less time, producing a dryer sugar in the process. 

The need to make large investments in new equipment produced two 
different successful strategies in the sugarcane colonies, both of which 
spelled the end of traditional planter society. Especially in the newer 
producing regions of Hawaii, Java, and Natal, there was a consolidation of 
ownership of the fields and, during the last quarter of the century, the 
growth of corporate ownership of both the cane fields and mills. In other 
places, the traditional self-contained plantation declined as cane growing 
and milling became separate operations, permitting many independent 
growers to supply cane to independently owned central mills. The latter 
system was most characteristic of Australia, but small producers also 
became a major factor in the survival of sugar mills in the Mascarenes, in 
Cuba (where they grew a third or more of the sugar in 1887), and in 
Trinidad (where they raised a third of the sugar in 1906). 

The expansion of land, capital, and technology on the sugarcane planta- 
tions affected the use of labor in many different ways. In some cases the 
availability of cheap labor enabled the old plantation system to survive 
into the twentieth century, delaying the introduction of new technology. 
For example, a continuing surplus of labor in Barbados, despite the de- 
parture of 100,000 persons, kept wage costs so low that the island lagged 
behind other producers in technological changes before 1900. Brazil and 
Louisiana were also able to draw upon the impoverished local population, 
thus avoiding the expense of importing and training new labor. By a 
successful marriage of land and local labor, Java expanded its sugar pro- 
duction rapidly in the second half of the century, surpassing Mauritius as 
the Indian Ocean region's major sugar producer in the 1870s and, during 
the Spanish-American War, eclipsing Cuba as the world's greatest pro- 
ducer. 27 

Other sugar-producing areas, such as Hawaii and Fiji, outgrew their 
local labor supply after 1850 and turned to imported indentured labor. Yet, 
in many cases, the decision to import indentured laborers from afar was 
not just a matter of demographics. As Eric Williams has pointed out, many 

27 Galloway, Sugar Cane Industry, pp. 134-^1, 152, 165-79, 211-13. 



Demands 33 

more West Indians migrated within or from the Caribbean region in the 
early twentieth century than entered British Guiana and Trinidad under 
indentured contracts. 28 Thus the key issue in the West Indies, as in Peru 
and southern Africa, was why an intercontinental labor migration took 
place when a regional one might have sufficed (and later did so). The 
answer is not indentured laborers' greater productivity. Indeed, most 
planters were convinced that their indentured Indian laborers were less 
productive than the Creole Africans they supplanted. Nor was indentured 
labor necessarily cheaper once the considerable recruitment costs were 
taken into consideration. The key factor may have been that the terms of 
the indentured contract allowed for much greater control of the labor force, 
a point that will be developed in Chapter 5. 

Because these changes in the sugar industry produced highly varied 
responses, it is useful to look in more detail at how the demand for 
indentured labor was connected to developments in different cane-grow- 
ing areas. This overview will include Peru and southern Africa where the 
labor was also used for mining. 

Jamaica's sugarcane industry illustrates an unsuccessful adjustment to 
these new circumstances. Although it had been Britain's premier sugar 
colony in the eighteenth century, Jamaica's decline had begun even before 
emancipation. The underlying problem was that the soil's fertility had 
been exhausted by decades of sugarcane production. The nearly six mil- 
lion pounds paid to the island's planters in compensation for their slaves 
did little to reverse the inexorable decline, since slipping production re- 
stricted the ability of most Jamaican planters to finance more efficient 
production methods themselves and to borrow more funds. Some planta- 
tions survived but many more went under. Despite the arrival of 57,000 
indentured laborers, Jamaican sugar exports declined rapidly during the 
last quarter of the century. Access to labor was not sufficient to save 
Jamaica's sugar industry. 

In contrast, the greatest sugar producers and the greatest importers of 
indentured labor in the British Caribbean were British Guiana and Trin- 
idad, whose virgin fertile lands attracted ample new capital. Guiana's 
sugar exports grew 270 percent between 1852 and 1908, most of the in- 
crease before 1870 being attributable to a 142 percent expansion of acreage 
(31,000 to 76,000); most of that after 1870 was due to technological innova- 
tions that increased yields per acre by 55 percent. Trinidad's development 
was similar, with sugar exports increasing 270 percent between 1850 and 
1880. 29 The colonies' increased production was greatly facilitated by large 

28 Williams, From Columbus, pp. 359. 

29 Adamson, Sugar without Slaves, pp. 106, 179; Nath, Indians in British Guiana, tables 29-30; 

Bridget Brereton, A History of Modern Trinidad, 1783-1962 (Kingston, Jamaica: Heinemann 

Educational Books, 1981), p. 84. 



34 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

indentured labor imports, the two accounting for over 85 percent of all the 
indentured labor entering the British Caribbean, 299,000 into British Guia- 
na and 166,000 into Trinidad. 

Britain's Indian Ocean sugar colony, Mauritius, also greatly increased 
production. Sugar exports rose from an annual average of 33,443 tons in 
the 1830s, to 100,000 tons in the 1850s and 1860s (at which time the colony 
was producing nearly 8 percent of the world's cane sugar). That growth 
depended heavily on the easy access to indentured laborers from India, 
375,000 of whom had arrived by 1870, two-thirds since midcentury. But 
growth slowed considerably after that. Capital necessary for moderniza- 
tion became hard to attract, both because Mauritius lay far from the major 
sugar markets in Europe and North America and because the opening of 
the Suez canal in 1869 diverted shipping between India and Europe north 
of the island. Under those circumstances the colony labor needs came to be 
largely satisfied by the resident population of Indians no longer under 
indenture and by the older African residents. As a partial alternative to 
capital investment the planters from the 1870s engaged in a grand morcelle- 
ment of their estates, the selling off of the less profitable lands in small 
parcels to Indians no longer under indenture, whose continued cultivation 
of sugarcane did much to sustain the colony's production and caused a 
modest boom in the early twentieth century. 30 

On the whole France's plantation colonies faced an even harder transi- 
tion from slavery. The French West Indies, cut off from adequate supplies 
of new labor and facing direct competition in their traditional French 
market from domestic sugar beet growers, registered only modest gains in 
production during the second half of the century. A severe earthquake on 
Guadeloupe in 1843, which destroyed many of the old mills, had the 
unexpected benefit of speeding the transition to more efficient central 
factories. Reunion went through a cycle of boom similar to that of Mau- 
ritius in the earlier nineteenth century with sugar production peaking at 
73,000 tons in 1860. During the crisis after 1860 its production fell by 
two-thirds, and even during the recovery from 1890 to 1914 annual pro- 
duction remained at between 35,000 and 40,000 tons. J. H. Galloway attrib- 
utes Reunion's decline to France's greater commercial interest in neighbor- 
ing Madagascar and to the competition from domestic sugar beets. 31 

The revival of Peru illustrates another working of the international 
economy in a country attempting economic development. 32 Native and 

30 Larry W. Bowman, Mauritius: Democracy and Development in the Indian Ocean (Boulder, 

Colo.: Westview Press, 1991), pp. 20-26. 
31 Andre Scherer, La Reunion (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1980), pp. 52-58, 74-75; 

Galloway, Sugar Cane Industry, pp. 221-22. 
32 Woodruff, Impact of Western Man, p. 171; Jonathon V. Levin, The Export Economies: Their 



Demands 35 

colonial Peruvians had long enriched their fields from the mountains of 
guano (bird droppings) that had accumulated over many centuries on the 
rainless islands adjacent to the rich feeding grounds of the Humboldt 
Current off Peru's Pacific coast, but it was not until the development of 
scientific soil analysis in Europe during the early nineteenth century that 
the commercial value of these nitrogen-rich deposits came to be more 
widely recognized. Guano shipment began in the 1840s to the United 
States (where it revitalized the tobacco fields of the upper South), to the 
West Indies (where it helped to avert the complete collapse of sugar 
production in Jamaica), as well as to Australia and Europe. By 1860 Per- 
uvian guano had become one of Latin America's most important exports. 
The capital was largely British, partly French, but the labor force was 
primarily indentured Chinese. 

Peru's participation in the growing market for sugar was held back by 
several factors in the first half of the nineteenth century: the disruptions of 
the wars of independence; a labor shortage due to British abolitionist 
policies, which virtually ended the flow of slaves into Peru after 1810, 
causing the slave population to decline from over 40,000 in 1792 to 25,500 
at midcentury; and high interest rates in the 1830s along with problems of 
entry into the Chilean market. The plantations' revival came from the 
capital generated by the growth of guano mining, some of which was 
channeled to plantation owners by the government's payment of seven 
million pesos compensation when slavery was abolished in 1854. By then 
improved sea transportation gave Peruvian planters better access to dis- 
tant markets, but the greatest constraint on sugar's expansion remained 
finding sufficient labor. Indigenous population densities were low and free 
immigration small. Not until the late nineteenth century would rising 
population pressures and civil unrest drive a significant number of Per- 
uvian Indians into the labor market to sustain the plantation systems. Until 
then plantation owners relied on indentured Asian labor, importing nearly 
100,000 Chinese between 1849 and 1874 and 18,000 Japanese between 1898 
and 1923. 33 

Southern Africa was another nexus of new European settlement, capital, 
and labor. During the century older settlers expanding out of the Cape Col- 
ony founded new settlements. Between 1849 and 1851 about 5,000 British 
settlers were attracted to the fertile Indian Ocean colony of Natal by subsi- 



Pattern of Development in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 
1960), pp. 27-31, 49-63, 73-74, also tells the story of international capital. 
33 Michael J. Gonzales, Plantation Agriculture and Social Control in Northern Peru, 1875-1933 
(Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985), pp. 18-21, 84-95, 118-36; Watt Stewart, Chinese 
Bondage in Peru: A History of the Chinese Coolie in Peru, 1849-1874 (Durham, N.C.: Duke 
University Press, 1951), pp. 20, 100. 



36 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

dized passage and free land, even though the land was generally not of the 
best sort. Initial plans for small cotton plantations using labor from local 
Zulu villages did not succeed, since the African population of about 100,000 
found little attraction in plantation work for wages. Instead, the Zulu were 
able to satisfy their wants by farming the substantial tracts reserved to 
them, selling cash crops to the towns, hunting for ivory, or renting surplus 
land in the areas designed for European settlers. As cotton gave way to sug- 
ar cultivation in the early 1860s, under the leadership of experienced plan- 
ters from Mauritius and the British West Indies, it was natural to bring in 
indentured Indian labor. Once the Indian government's initial resistance 
had been overcome, some 6,450 Indians were brought on three-year con- 
tracts between 1861 and 1867. Following a lull during the sugar depression 
from 1866 to 1872, sugarcane came to be the dominant crop in the subtro- 
pical coastal lowlands, with large company-owned estates becoming the 
norm. Under the supervision of an official protector of Indian immigrants, 
another 146,000 indentured Indian laborers were introduced between 1875 
and 1911, mostly for work on the sugar plantations. 34 

The discovery of gold in the neighboring independent colony of Trans- 
vaal set off a mining boom in the 1880s that attracted large numbers of 
young English-speaking males. For two decades most unskilled labor was 
obtained from nearby African communities, the number of African miners 
attracted by the high wages rising above 100,000 in 1899. The destruction 
and dislocation caused by the long South African War (1899-1902) virtu- 
ally halted gold mining. When peace returned, the mineowners faced 
declining ore quality and shrinking access to cheap labor, since Africans 
were turning to safer and better-paying jobs in towns, which also afforded 
them much more personal freedom than the prisonlike mining com- 
pounds. Until the recruitment of large numbers of contract laborers from 
much poorer neighboring colonies (notably Portuguese Mozambique) 
could be built up, a temporary solution was the importation of 64,000 
indentured Chinese laborers in 1904-6. Although such labor was costly to 
recruit (about twenty pounds each), part of the cost was offset by the fact 
that the Chinese worked at much lower wage rates than local Africans. 35 



34 Leonard Thompson, "Co-operation and Conflict: The Zulu Kingdom and Natal," in The 
Oxford History of South Africa, ed. Monica Wilson and Leonard Thompson (Oxford: Oxford 
University Press, 1969), 1:334-390; Henry Slater, "The Changing Pattern of Economic Rela- 
tionships in Rural Natal, 1838-1914," in Economy and Society in Pre-Industrial South Africa, ed. 
Shula Marks and Anthony Atmore (London: Longman, 1980), pp. 148-61; Peter Richardson, 
"The Natal Sugar Industry, 1849-1905: An Interpretative Essay," Journal of African History 
23 A (1982): 515-27. Tinker, New System of Slavery, pp. 30, 113, 258, 272, 280-^83. 

35 Peter Richardson, Chinese Mine Labour in the Transvaal (London: Macmillan, 1982); Ching- 
Hwang Yen, Coolies and Mandarins: China's Protection of Overseas Chinese during the Late Ch 'ing 
Period (1851-1911) (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1985), pp. 335-47. 



Demands 



37 




Map 3. Principal indentured labor imports into Africa. Source: Table A.2. 



Queensland in northeastern Australia also became a significant importer 
of indentured labor in this period. As in Natal, colonists had moved into 
Queensland to grow cotton but turned to sugar after the bottom fell out of 
the cotton market following the U.S. Civil War. Separated from New South 
Wales in 1859, the new Queensland government first sought to bring labor 
from India but, before that could be arranged, private recruiters began 
securing laborers from the South Pacific islands to the northeast. Between 
1863 and 1904 some 62,500 indentured laborers from the Solomons, the 



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Demands 39 

New Hebrides, and other island chains were brought to the Queensland 
plantations. 36 

A contrast to the Queensland approach to labor was to be found in Fiji, 
acquired as a British colony in 1874, where the Colonial Sugar Refining 
Company of Sydney (which had a virtual monopoly on refining sugar in 
Queensland) expanded in 1874 and began operations to serve the sugar 
estates. Like their counterparts in Natal, the indigenous people of Fiji were 
not pushed by land shortage to seek wage labor for Europeans, especially 
since their numbers tumbled due to the introduction of new diseases (as 
in Hawaii), nor were the colonial authorities willing to impose a forced 
labor system when voluntary migrants could be brought so much more 
easily. Between 1864 and 1916, 26,000 Pacific islanders and 56,000 in- 
dentured Indians were introduced to Fiji. Their labor brought Fiji's sugar 
exports to 46,400 tons in 1893 and double that by 1914. 37 

The nineteenth century also saw rapid transcontinental and overseas 
expansion of the United States, whose vast domestic markets and imperial 
thrusts also helped generate a demand for indentured labor. As the pre- 
vious chapter has argued, the effect of Chinese migration to California and 
other parts of the American West starting in the mid-nineteenth century 
has been the subject of differing interpretations but there is no ambiguity 
about the vital role Chinese and other contract labor played in the expan- 
sion of sugar plantations in Hawaii and Cuba. 

American interest in the Hawaiian islands began with the New England 
whalers and missionaries, who arrived in 1819-20. After President John 
Tyler staked out the tropical islands as part of the American economic 
sphere of interest in 1842 by invoking the Monroe Doctrine, the Hawaiian 
government altered its laws to permit the establishment of American- 
owned sugar plantations. Hawaiian sugar interests enjoyed a brief period 
of prosperity before 1850, when California's annexation to the United 
States cut them out of the protected American market. Better marketing 
conditions during the American Civil War attracted new investment to 
Hawaii that made the fledgling sugar industry more competitive and, after 
ten years of negotiation, a reciprocal treaty between Hawaii and the United 
States was signed in 1876, giving Hawaiian sugar duty-free access to the 

36 Galloway, Sugar Cane Industry, pp. 228-33; Peter Corns, Passage, Port and Plantation: A 
History of Solomon Islands Labour Migration, 1870-1914 (Carlton: Melbourne University 
Press, 1973), pp. 25-59; Charles A. Price, with Elizabeth Baker, "Origins of Pacific Island 
Labourers in Queensland, 1863-1904: A Research Note," Journal of Pacific History 11.2 (1976): 
110-11, for the statistics. Another 85,000 or more islanders were recruited to plantations in 
German New Guinea from 1884 to 1914; Stewart Firth, "The Transformation of the Labour 
Trade in German New Guinea, 1899-1914," Journal of Pacific History 11.1-2 (1976): 51. 

37 Tinker, New System of Slavery, p. 30; Galloway, Sugar Cane Industry, pp. 222-23; Newbury, 
"Melanesian Labor Reserve," p. 12; Ralph Shlomowitz, "The Fiji Labor Trade in Compar- 
ative Perspective, 1864-1914," Pacific Studies 9.3 (1986): 107-52. 



40 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

American market. This set off a period of very rapid expansion fed by 
heavy investment in land, irrigation, and technology. 38 

Although labor shortages caused by demographic collapse of the in- 
digenous population had begun to appear before 1850, in the early 1870s 
the native Hawaiians supplied still nearly 80 percent of the plantation 
labor force, even though that required employing half of all Hawaiian 
men. However, the expansion of sugarcane plantations after the reciprocal 
treaty could only be accomplished by importing new labor. Chinese immi- 
gration, which had rarely amounted to more than a hundred a year be- 
tween 1852 and 1875, jumped to an average of 2,600 a year in the decade 
after 1876. Most of those after 1876 signed contracts only after arriving in 
Hawaii but owed debts to recruiting companies for their passage. As the 
demand for labor increased efforts were made to tap other immigrant 
sources. A very costly effort that brought 2,500 Polynesians to Hawaii 
between 1879 and 1885 suffered from high mortality. Smaller numbers of 
German and Norwegian migrants and 11,000 Portuguese migrants were 
also attracted in this period. 39 

An annual average of 2,000 Chinese continued to arrive in Hawaii 
between 1886 and 1899, but their numbers were surpassed, first by nearly 
30,000 indentured Japanese laborers who were brought between 1885 and 
1894 under government-sponsored contracts, and then by 36,000 laborers 
recruited by private companies, who had to reimburse the costs of their 
passage from their wages. Another 70,000 Japanese emigrated to Hawaii 
from 1900 to 1908. This Hawaiian sugar growth exemplified the ability of 
heavy investment of capital and technology both to produce sugar with 
great efficiency and to dominate social and environmental factors. 40 

The spectacular development of the Spanish colony of Cuba was also 
heavily dependent on American capital and markets and, to a lesser extent 
than Hawaii, on Asian indentured labor. Though the largest of the West 
Indian islands, Cuba had been of minor economic importance until it 
received an infusion of expertise and capital from French planters fleeing 
the Haitian revolution who began the development of the island's ex- 
tensive and cheap fertile land for sugar cultivation. Government, private 

38 Despite its age, there is a great deal of useful information in John W. Vandercook's King 
Cane: The Story of Sugar in Hawaii (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1939). 

39 Edward D. Beechert, Working in Hawaii: A Labor History (Honolulu: University of Hawaii 
Press, 1985), pp. 58-63, 81, 90-91; Clarence Glick, Sojourners and Settlers: Chinese Migrants in 
Hawaii (Honolulu: Hawaiian Chinese History Center and the University Press of Hawaii, 
1980), pp. 6-11; Judith A. Bennett, "Immigration, 'Blackbirding/ Labour Recruiting? The 
Hawaiian Experience, 1877-1887," Journal of Pacific History 11.1-2 (1976): 16-24. 

40 Yuji Ichioka, The Issei: The World of the First Generation Japanese Immigrants, 1885-1924 (New 
York: Free Press, 1988), pp. 40ff.; Yukiko Kimura, Issei: Japanese Immigrants in Hawaii (Hon- 
olulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1988), pp. 3-13; Dorothy Ochiai Hazama and Jane 
Okamoto Komeiji, Okage Sama De: The Japanese in Hawaii'i, 1885-1985 (Honolulu: Bess Press, 
1986), pp. 23-25. Galloway, Sugar Cane Industry, pp. 226-28. 



Demands 41 

Cuban, and British capital (for railroads) promoted the development of the 
industry in the middle decades of the century but the later growth of 
Cuba's sugar was tied to its proximity to the growing American market, 
which by 1865 bought 65 percent of the Cuban crop. North American 
merchants also became increasingly important to the financing of the 
Cuban sugar producers, and in the final decades of the century the in- 
vestment of large amounts of North American capital for new mills and 
railroads sustained the industry's modernization and continued growth. 
American investment in Cuba amounted to $50 million at the end of the 
century and rose to $1.3 billion in the 1920s. Despite temporary pauses 
caused by the Ten Years' War of 1868-78 and the Spanish- American War 
of 1898-1900, Cuba's sugar production rose rapidly from next to nothing 
in 1800 to 300,000 tons in 1850 and then to 3 million tons in 1914. 

Much of the labor to clear and operate the sugar plantations came from 
massive imports of slaves, half a million between 1801 and 1850 and 
another 200,000 between 1851 and the early 1860s, when the intervention 
of Union forces during the American Civil War finally forced an end to the 
slave trade. 41 In response to long-standing external and internal abo- 
litionist pressures, an 1870 law declared free all slaves over sixty years of 
age and those subsequently born of slave parents. Slavery itself was re- 
duced to a sort of apprenticeship (patronato) in 1880, the final liberation 
coming in 1886. As slave labor became scarcer, Cuban planters had sought 
other sources of labor. A small number of Mayan Indian prisoners were 
obtained from Mexico on ten-year bonds in 1849 and another 1,800 more 
from 1854 to 1861. More important were the 122,000 indentured Chinese 
imported to work in the cane fields from 1847 until China halted shipments 
in 1873 due to their mistreatment. 42 

Conclusion 

This chapter has argued that the reemergence of an overseas indentured 
labor trade in the nineteenth century was the result of two separate but 
overlapping factors. One was the chronic labor shortage that developed in 
the wake of slave emancipation, first in the British plantation colonies in 
the 1830s and subsequently in French, Dutch, and Spanish colonies. The 
growth and expansion of this demand were also intimately linked with a 
new phase of imperialism in the nineteenth century, in which Western 
capital, settlers, and new technology penetrated a world open to their 
awesome power and skills. The development of sugar plantations in lands 

41 Eltis, Economic Growth, p. 245. 

42 Laurence, Immigration into the West Indies, pp. 27-35; Franklin W. Knight, Slave Society in 

Cuba during the Nineteenth Century (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1970), pp. 

43-45, 154-78; Galloway, Sugar Cane Industry, pp. 162-69. 



42 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

that had never known slavery was an aspect of this imperial expansion, 
which drew heavily on indentured labor, as was the opening of some 
mining operations. Not surprisingly, its industrial strength, colonial em- 
pire, and global trading interests made Great Britain the key player in this 
process, but important contributions were also made by the United States 
and France, as well as Spain, the Netherlands, Peru, and Hawaii. 

A quite different form of Western expansion in this period was the 
massive migration of impoverished Europeans to North America and in 
lesser proportions other continents. Yet the indentured labor trade was 
very largely made up of persons from Asia, Africa, and the Pacific islands, 
although it did include small numbers of Europeans. How this phenom- 
enon was tied to demographic and economic conditions in their countries 
of origin, political circumstances, and prevailing racial attitudes is the 
subject of the next chapter. 



3 

Supplies 



Born in India, we are prepared to go to Fiji, 
Or, if you please, to Natal to dig in the mines. 
We are prepared to suffer there, 
But brothers! Don't make us labourers here. 1 



The growing demand for plantation labor coincided with a growing will- 
ingness - often bordering on desperation - by individuals in many parts 
of the world to accept long-distance migration as a way to improve their 
lives. In the language of migration studies, the push of undesirable cir- 
cumstances at home was joined to the pull of opportunities overseas. This 
chapter looks at how the new indentured labor was connected to changing 
economic and political circumstances in the migrants' homelands and to 
local and regional patterns of labor migration. A third factor, the politics of 
imperial expansion, completed the legal and logistical connections be- 
tween the labor-short employers and the distant reservoirs of distressed 
potential migrants. 

The mix of circumstances was different in each part of the world. For 
Africa, the new trade was closely linked to the ending of the long-standing 
slave trade. For China and India, indentured labor overseas was an ex- 
tension of much larger patterns of local and regional labor migration. For 
Japan and the South Pacific, overseas migration was intimately connected 
to the end of centuries of isolation from the outside world. The scale and 
scope of nineteenth-century indentured migrations (see Figure 3.1) were 
also shaped by new factors. Most areas of supply were experiencing a 
rising tide of population and impoverishment. All were affected by the 
expanding network of Western political and economic imperialism. 



Poetry of Indo-Fiji and from northwest provinces of India, quoted by Brij V. Lai, Girmitiyas: 
The Origins of the Fiji Indians (Canberra: Journal of Pacific History, 1983), p. 88. 

43 



44 



Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 



500 



400 



300 



200 



100 




1840 1850 1860 1870 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920 

Decade ending 

Figure 3.1. Origins of indentured overseas migrants by decades (in thousands). 
Source: Table A.l. 



Africa 

In contrast to the dominant importance of the African slave trade in global 
labor migrations before the early nineteenth century, the number of Af- 
ricans in the new indentured migrations was modest. Nevertheless, it is 
useful to begin this overview of supply conditions in Africa since that was 



Supplies 45 

where some of the earliest cases of indentured labor recruitment began. In 
addition, the failure of Africa to meet the expectations of labor recruiters 
underlines the importance of an adequate push factor in ensuring the 
success of the overseas labor trade. 

Indentured African labor began as a by-product of Britain's suppression 
of the Atlantic slave trade. Believing Africans rescued from slave ships 
could not return to their homes or fend for themselves in the colonies 
where they might be freed, the Privy Council issued regulations in 1808 for 
placing such liberated Africans under the care of others. Able-bodied men 
were to be inducted into Britain's West India Regiments or into the Royal 
Africa Corps of the British Navy, which had the additional advantage of 
reducing the need for British personnel in the unhealthy tropics. Other 
liberated Africans were to be apprenticed to "respectable persons" in 
British colonies. Some 3,250 Africans liberated by Vice-Admiralty Courts 
in the British West Indies between 1807 and 1819 were inducted into the 
military for life or apprenticed to individuals under fourteen-year con- 
tracts of indenture. Several thousand of the 20,571 Africans liberated at 
Sierra Leone between 1808 and the end of 1825 were also made to enlist in 
British military forces and most of the rest were indentured as apprentices 
to Sierra Leone residents for terms ranging from three to nine years. 
According to Christopher Fyfe, some of these apprentices learned a trade, 
others ran away or were resold as slaves, and "many remained drudges, 
virtual domestic slaves, to masters and mistresses who treated them badly, 
even cruelly." 2 

These early patterns foreshadowed many aspects of the later overseas 
indentured labor migrations, but, except for military recruits, Britain re- 
sisted shipping liberated persons out of Sierra Leone for several decades 
lest such migrations be seen by Africans and by European humanitarians as 
a disguised revival of the slave trade. Meanwhile, efforts were made to cor- 
rect other shortcomings of the anti-slave trade campaign. By the 1830s Af- 
rican adults newly liberated at Sierra Leone no longer faced long terms of 
apprenticeship, but were maintained at government expense for six 
months and allotted free land and tools, while missionaries provided fur- 
ther support and comfort. Food and land were in abundant supply and the 
colony developed a series of village communities, complete with churches 

2 Johnson U. A. Asiegbu, Slavery and the Politics of Liberation, 1787-1861 (London: Longmans, 
1969), pp. 27-31; Roger Norman Buckley, Slaves in Red Coats: The British West India Regiments, 
1795-1815 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), pp. 131-37; PP 1821 xxiii (61), Annual 
Returns by the Collectors of Customs of Negroes that have been apprenticed [1807-19]; PP 
1826-27 vii (312), Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of the Colony of 
Sierra Leone, 9 May 1827, pp. 52-53; Christopher Fyfe, A History of Sierra Leone (London: 
Oxford University Press, 1962), pp. 105-7, 114 (quotation from pp. 182-83). Asiegbu (p. 31) 
estimates the total number of liberated Africans recruited for military service up to 1840 was 
at least 12,000. 



46 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

and schools. However, the end of slavery in the British Caribbean colonies 
led to considerable pressure to transform a policy that had been designed to 
find suitable and inexpensive accommodation for liberated Africans into 
one that was more responsive to planters' needs for more African labor. By 
ending the recruiting ban the government could, at one stroke, stem the 
costs of maintaining the rising population of liberated Africans in Sierra 
Leone, alleviate the labor crisis in the West Indies, and satisfy the concerns 
of British abolitionists and officials who were eager to demonstrate that 
there was a practical alternative to slavery in plantation colonies. 

In 1840 restrictions on the recruitment of liberated Africans in Sierra 
Leone for overseas employment were lifted, although the first agents from 
Jamaica, Trinidad, and British Guiana who tried recruiting in Sierra Leone 
in mid 1841 could persuade only a few persons to leave. When the British 
government took direct control of the operations in 1843, providing gov- 
ernment transport vessels and simplifying the recruitment regulations, the 
results were still disappointing. Few Africans liberated from slave vessels 
were in sufficiently distressed circumstances to want to undertake the 
perils of a second sea voyage. Even those who might have benefited from 
leaving were held back by fears of reenslavement and harsh treatment - 
fears actively promoted both by Sierra Leone landowners not wanting to 
lose their source of cheap labor and by missionaries dreaming of sending 
out bands of Christian recaptives from Sierra Leone to win the African 
continent to the Gospel. 

The lack of volunteers from among liberated Africans caused recruiters 
to examine the potential of neighboring populations, particularly a group 
of related peoples just to the south, largely in what became Liberia, known 
to Europeans as the Kru, whose men had long hired themselves out as aux- 
iliary laborers on European vessels trading in coastal West Africa. The Kru 
had become indispensable to the burgeoning palm oil trade and also served 
regularly on the Royal Navy's antislavery patrols. Kru laborers helped es- 
tablish the brief British outpost on Fernando Po Island in 1827 and accom- 
panied the British explorations of the Niger River in 1833 and 1841. They 
seemed the perfect candidates for services in the Caribbean colonies. Un- 
like most of the Africans, the Kru were eager to work for Europeans and 
their employers were unstinting in their praise of Kru laborers' hard work, 
loyalty, and thrift. In 1844 a British commissioner reported that the Kru 
might well furnish "many thousands" of hardworking and willing laborers 
a year for the West Indies. However, determined efforts first by British re- 
cruiters and then by the French succeeded in recruiting only about 2,400 
Kru for the Caribbean colonies between 1841 and 1857. 3 

3 PP 1847-48 xliv (732), Emigration from Sierra Leone to the West Indies, Report of R. Guppy 
to the Governor of Trinidad, 18 October 1844, p. 7. The best overview of the Kru is George 
E. Brooks, Jr., The Kru Mariner in the Nineteenth Century: An Historical Compendium (Newark, 



Supplies 47 

Particular issues stymied the recruitment of Kru laborers: most resisted 
signing long-term contracts and refused to bring their wives with them 
(which might have made long-term contracts more palatable); they dis- 
liked plantation work and found the wages offered in the Caribbean 
colonies unattractive; those who went reported instances of mistreatment 
and difficulties in returning home. Even if some of these issues could have 
been resolved, the number of recruits that the modest Kru population 
could have yielded would never have been large. Nor were the prospects 
promising for voluntary labor recruitment elsewhere in the continent that 
had supplied slaves to the Americas and the Islamic world during many 
previous centuries. Communal labor was abundant and slave labor was 
growing rapidly in mid-nineteenth-century sub-Saharan Africa, but la- 
borers like the Kru who regularly hired themselves out at some distance 
from their homes were decidedly exceptional. Most Africans had access to 
all the land and other productive resources they needed. Indeed, the 
abundance of land in relation to population was a principal reason for the 
absence of labor markets and a principal motive for the spread of domestic 
slavery. In addition, the arduousness and insecurity of travel throughout 
the continent severely limited the mobility of those who might have 
wished to leave home. 4 

The failure to find sufficient voluntary laborers did not end recruitment 
efforts from Africa. Instead, it accentuated the shift to ethically ambivalent 
schemes that tapped the victims of the Atlantic slave trade and of in- 
digenous African slavery. To diminish the appeal of staying in Sierra 
Leone, the colony's government discontinued settling-in allowances in 
1844, forcing newly arrived recaptives to emigrate, enlist in the military, or 
fend for themselves. In addition, Africans freshly released from captured 
slave ships were kept in quarantine so as to insolate them from stories 
about hard conditions in the West Indies. Before the recaptives were re- 
leased, they were given a talk on the merits of life in the Caribbean colonies 

Del.: Liberian Studies Association in America, 1972), and the definitive examination of their 
recruitment to the Guianas is Monica Schuler, "Kru Emigration to British and French 
Guiana, 1841-1857," in Africans in Bondage, ed. Paul E. Lovejoy (Madison: African Studies 
Program, University of Wisconsin, 1986), pp. 155-201. 

4 A. G. Hopkins, An Economic History of West Africa (New York: Columbia University Press, 
1973), pp. 11-27; Colin W. Newbury, "Historical Aspects of Manpower and Migration in 
African South of the Sahara," in Colonialism in Africa 1870-1960, vol. 4, ed. Peter Duignan and 
L. H. Gann (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), pp. 523-27; Paul E. Lovejoy, 
Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University 
Press, 1983), pp. 153-58 and passim. On the basis of considerable research, Paul Lovejoy 
concludes, "there were certainly more slaves in Africa in the nineteenth century than there 
were in the Americas at any time"; foreward to Claude Meillassoux, The Anthropology of 
Slavery: The Womb of Iron and Gold (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), p. 7. Cf. 
Patrick Manning, Slavery and African Life: Occidental, Oriental, and African Slave Trades (Cam- 
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 23, "After about 1850, there were more slaves 
in Africa than in the New World." 



48 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

and those who signed up were loaded directly onto migrant ships. 5 Under 
these circumstances, the number of migrants from Sierra Leone rose to an 
annual average of 1,500 in the late 1840s. Even more Africans were re- 
cruited from the liberation depot on the small mid-Atlantic island of St. 
Helena, whose limited resources virtually precluded permanent settle- 
ment by more than a few. 

However, the supply of recaptives was finite. After midcentury their 
numbers fell off rapidly as the Atlantic slave trade was brought to an end. 
In all, about 37,000 liberated Africans were recruited for the British Car- 
ibbean from 1834 to 1867, including some from New World liberation 
depots. 6 Although liberated Africans were an inevitable by-product of 
Britain's commendable actions in suppressing the slave trade, their diver- 
sion to colonial plantations still had many shortcomings as a program for 
recruiting free labor. Asiegbu's charge that under the new policies of the 
mid- 1840s labor recruitment "degenerated into almost open slave trading" 
may be an exaggeration, but it would be equally hard to extol such policies 
as a model for free-labor recruitment. 7 The options were sorely limited by 
practical and budgetary constraints and, while it does not reduce these 
faults, it may be noted that the French and Portuguese, who did not take 
an active role in suppressing the slave trade and thus had no supply of 
recaptives under their control, were doing far worse. 

In order to secure labor for public works in their West African colony of 
Senegal the French in 1839-40 had begun purchasing the freedom of slaves 
held by other Africans and then binding them to fourteen-year contracts to 
work off the cost of their freedom. In 1853 the practice of monetary re- 
demption (rachat prealable) of slaves was resumed in Senegal and the next 
year extended to French coastal enclaves further south. From recruitment 
within a colony it was only a small step in 1854 to transporting redeemed 
West Africans on six-year contracts across the ocean to the French Carib- 
bean colonies of Cayenne (French Guiana), Martinique, and Guadeloupe. 
Many of the Senegalese recruits, who left from the notorious slave depot 
of Goree, protested upon their arrival in French Guiana that they were not 
volunteers or had been misled about the wages and conditions of work 

5 Asiegbu, Slavery and the Politics of Liberation, pp. 44-83; Monica Schuler, "Alas, Alas, Kongo": 
A Social History of Indentured African Immigration into Jamaica, 1841-1865 (Baltimore: Johns 
Hopkins University Press, 1980), pp. 6-26; William A. Green, "The West Indies and In- 
dentured Labour Migration: The Jamaican Experience," in Indentured Labour in the British 
Empire, 1840-1920, ed. Kay Saunders (London: Croom Helm, 1984), pp. 6-17. 

6 See Table A.l and Map 5. In addition to the liberated Africans from St. Helena, Sierra Leone, 
Rio, Havana, and other depots, by an order of 1844 slaves captured in East Africa could be 
taken directly to Mauritius for liberation. This assured the colony "a cheap supply of African 
labour without the expense of emigration offices and agents," according to Asiegbu, Slavery 
and the Politics of Liberation, p. 57, although in fact few recaptives appear to have been taken 
there. 

7 Asiegbu, Slavery and the Politics of Liberation, p. 119; cf. Schuler, "Alas, Alas, Kongo," p. 6. 



Supplies 



49 



INDENTURED EUROPEAN EXPORTS 
Caribbean Hawaii 



Madeirans, etc. 


36,284 


10,835 


Germans 




1,279 


Norwegians 




615 


Others 


6,242 


372 



713,000 
341,000 



AFRICAN LABOR EXPORTS 

Enslaved 

Brazil, 1836-56 

Cuba, 1836-66 

Indentured 

1 ) "Redeemed" Africans to French 
and Dutch Caribbean 

Upper Guinea 20,426 

Gold Coast 2,500 

2) "Liberated" Africans to British 
Caribbean, by depot 

Sierra Leone 
St. Helena 
Rio & Havana 
Other 

3) Regional labor trade 
Angola to Sao Tome 
& Principe 
SE Africa to Indian 
Ocean Islands 



15,434 

16,287 

2,459 

4,952 



97,000 



50,000 





Gold 
Coast 

Sao Tome ° 



Principe r Co, 



a St. Helena 



1 ,600 km 
l I l 



1,600 mi 




Map 5. Principal indentured labor exports from Africa and Europe. Source: Appendix B. 



50 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

there. During the eight years of its operation some 20,426 African laborers 
were sent to the French Caribbean (including about 1,200 Kru and other 
Africans who were not the produce of such ransoming). An even larger 
recruitment took place from eastern Africa for the French Indian Ocean 
colonies under similar circumstances. From a trickle of 574 in 1850 the 
redeemed African migration there rose to a peak of 10,000 in 1858. Assum- 
ing a mortality in transit of 25 percent, Francois Renault estimates that 
between 1848, when slavery was officially abolished, and 1861 as many as 
60,000 Africans were recruited from the Comoro Islands, the large island 
of Madagascar, and the East African mainland, most destined for Reunion. 
Most of these were technically engages a temps, that is, contract laborers, but 
contemporary and modern observers have found little to distinguish them 
(or those sent to the French West Indies) from slaves. 8 

In their west-central African colony of Angola, the Portuguese had 
begun using enslaved Africans on local plantations in the 1850s, when it 
was no longer possible to send them overseas. Forced by foreign pressure 
to abolish slavery in 1858, the government "apprenticed" the freed slaves 
to their former masters until 1875. Next came a system of contract labor in 
Angola under which "nonproductive" Africans (in effect, anyone not al- 
ready working for the Portuguese) could be forced to sign a five-year labor 
contract at very low pay. The growing "pacification" of the colony's hinter- 
land provided captives who were also forced to sign contracts. Between 
1876 and 1915 some 97,000 contract laborers were shipped from Angola to 
Portugal's island colonies of Sao Tome and Principe under five-year in- 
dentures that provided for free return passage. Charging this was little 
more than slavery under a new name, investigators could find evidence of 
only thirteen ever having been returned to Angola by the end of 1908. 9 

Even if one were willing to overlook all its serious shortcomings, the fact 
remains that indentured labor recruitment in Africa failed to satisfy the 
demand resulting from the ending of slavery. Indeed, more than five times 
as many enslaved Africans were brought to Cuba between 1840 and 1867 
as entered all Caribbean colonies under indenture. Of over 60,000 overseas 
indentured recruits from Africa, less than 10 percent were completely 



8 Schuler, "Kru Emigration," pp. 174-83; Francois Renault, Liberation d'esclaves et nouvelle 
servitude (Abidjan: Nouvelle Editions Africaines, 1976), pp. 34-39, 158. Renault (p. 29) says 
that in the effort to reconcile freedom and labor, the former was the loser. David Eltis, 
Economic Growth and the Ending of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (New York: Oxford University 
Press, 1987), p. 246, counts all of these as slaves. Hubert Gerbeau, "Engagees and Coolies on 
Reunion Island: Slavery's Masks and Freedom's Constraints," in Emmer, Colonialism and 
Migration, pp. 221-23, gives numerous examples of forced recruitment. Lovejoy, Transforma- 
tions in Slavery, p. 146, refers to this as a "disguised trade in slaves." 

9 James Duffy, A Question of Slavery (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967), pp. 
98, 209, 211. William A. Cadbury, Labour in Portuguese West Africa, 2nd ed. (New York: Negro 
Universities Press, 1969), pp. 59, 81, 85. 



Supplies 51 

voluntary (about 2,400 Kru and perhaps as many liberated Africans re- 
cruited from among the established population in Sierra Leone). Those 
Africans rescued from slave ships by the British between 1844 and 1867 
(about 60 percent of the total) had little choice but to migrate overseas 
under indentured contracts, but the constraint of their migration, resulting 
as it did from their status as displaced persons and the absence of realistic 
viable circumstances, can clearly be distinguished from the still existing 
slave trade from which they had been rescued. It is far more difficult to 
make such a distinction in the case of slaves redeemed in Africa by the 
French (and, on a much smaller scale, by the Dutch) for the purpose of 
being shipped overseas to Caribbean colonies. Like the indentured labor 
trades to offshore African islands in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, this 
was forced labor largely devoid of any voluntary component. 

The African labor trade illustrates two points of general significance to 
supply conditions in the global indentured labor trade. First, the absence 
of an adequate number of voluntary migrants did not prevent recruiters 
from using more questionable recruiting methods. Second, short of reviv- 
ing the methods of the slave trade, it was impossible for recruiters to obtain 
large numbers of migrant laborers in the absence of social and economic 
circumstances that made people willing recruits. The slave trade had been 
the classic example of labor recruitment by pull alone, offering a sufficient 
price to draw people to enslave others. Offering a much lower inducement, 
the indentured labor trade's success depended on there being a com- 
plementary push from within areas of labor supply. Few Africans felt such 
a push in the nineteenth century and few of those were sufficiently des- 
perate to migrate overseas. Indeed, well into the colonial period, colonial 
officials in Africa found recruiting sufficient labor extremely difficult un- 
less it was done by force. 

China 

The circumstances of Chinese overseas labor migration resembled those in 
Africa in two significant ways: Western recruiters of different nations were 
confined to a few coastal enclaves and a large component of the recruits 
were involuntary. The division of political authority made regulation of 
the trade difficult, though separate efforts by Britain and China eventually 
improved the conduct of the trade. This absence of effective regulation 
permitted both Western and Chinese recruiters to use coercive and de- 
ceptive methods especially in the early years. China differed notably from 
Africa in the much larger number of persons who were sent overseas 
under contracts of indenture. This difference can be explained partly in 
terms of China's much larger population (about times five that of the entire 
African continent in these decades), but must ultimately be attributed to 



52 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

the fact that many more Chinese were voluntary migrants. Not only was 
Chinese labor migration already well established, but worsening condi- 
tions in nineteenth-century China drove many more people to make use of 
China's superior internal transport to reach the coastal ports and to seek 
work abroad. 

Labor migration from China has a long history. For several centuries 
before the 1800s some Chinese had ventured overseas to escape their 
miseries and make their fortunes, establishing colonies in many parts of 
Southeast Asia. Although from the early Qing (Ch'ing or Manchu) dynasty 
onward such departures had been declared treasonous activity punishable 
by death, since officials considered emigrating Chinese to be malcontents 
who might easily be recruited into the armies of foreign enemies, this law, 
which remained on the books until 1893, was poorly enforced and appears 
to have had little effect on voluntary emigration before or during the 
nineteenth century. This tradition of overseas migration was not only a 
model for the new indentured voyages; some of the earliest Western 
recruitment took place among Chinese already resident in Southeast Asia. 

Burgeoning Chinese emigration in the nineteenth century was closely 
related to deteriorating economic and social conditions. One general factor 
was a population explosion from 150 million in 1700 to 430 million in 1850 
that led to overcrowding on rural lands and fed price inflation. Periodic 
natural disasters, particularly floods and droughts, along with growing 
political instability, war, and rebellion, drove many to leave home in 
search of better opportunities. A series of internal conflicts and wars 
against foreigners seeking access to the vast Chinese markets added to the 
disruptions. For example, the massive Taiping rebellion of 1850-64 re- 
sulted in a large exodus from the lower Yangzi. 10 

Only a small percentage of Chinese migrants went overseas, even 
though East Asia offered no close counterpart to the settlement frontiers of 
nineteenth-century North America. The warm southern provinces of 
China and its Southeast Asian neighbors were already densely settled. 
Vast deserts made northwestern Xinjiang province, incorporated in 1884, 
"forbidding territory" in Jonathan Spence's words, and it attracted few 
new settlers. Only the northern frontier across which China's invaders had 
often come was welcoming. Despite government prohibitions, millions of 



10 Ta Chen, Chinese Migrations, with Special Reference to Labor Conditions (Washington, D.C.: 
Government Printing Office, 1923), pp. 4, 51-56, 75; Robert L. Irick, Ch'ing Policy toward the 
Coolie Trade, 1847-1878 (Taipei: Chinese Materials Center, 1982), pp. 11-14; Ching-Hwang 
Yen, Coolies and Mandarins: China's Protection of Overseas Chinese during the Late Ch'ing Period 
(1851-1911) (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1985), pp. 33-36; Marianne Bastid- 
Bruguiere, "Currents of Social Change," in The Cambridge History of China, vol 11, Late 
Ch'ing, 1800-1911, part 2, ed. John K. Fairbank and Kwang-Ching Liu (Cambridge: Cam- 
bridge University Press, 1980), pp. 582-84. 






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54 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

Chinese migrated deeper and deeper into the cold but arable northern 
plains. By the early twentieth century the Chinese settlement in Manchuria 
was advancing at the rate of 300,000 to 400,000 a year. 11 

A second internal migration was to the coastal cities, which swelled with 
impoverished people desperately seeking low-paid jobs on the docks and 
in the factories. For some cities became stepping-stones to areas of earlier 
Chinese overseas settlement: from Fuzhou to Taiwan, which became a full 
province of China in 1885, from Canton and Macao to Southeast Asia and 
the East Indies, which absorbed millions and drew some of China's first 
diplomatic outposts after them. These ports of southern China also became 
staging areas for longer voyages to new lands across the Pacific, Indian, 
and Atlantic Oceans. 

Many emigrants, perhaps most, financed their voyages with money 
advanced by families or future employers, though the origins of a formal 
system of employer-subsidized Chinese emigration are obscure. At least 
from 1823 there was a Chinese-run "credit ticket" system, which advanced 
money for passage and expenses to Chinese migrating to Southeast Asia. 
Up to 1842 emigration to the Malayan Straits, the Dutch East Indies, and 
the Philippines was largely conveyed in Chinese junks, but Chinese agents 
subsequently hired superior European vessels for the voyage to the straits, 
putting in place another essential piece of the long-distance contract labor 
trade. As Meagher has observed, "With the involvement of Western ship- 
ping in Chinese emigration to Southeast Asia, it was a comparatively easy 
step to expand the movement to North and South America and Aus- 
tralia." 12 

Easy technically, that is, but it was still a large step psychologically. 
According to Spence, "Most [migrants] were men who often married just 
before they left China and dreamed of returning someday to their native 
villages, loaded with riches, so they could buy more land and expand their 
families' waning fortunes." 13 For this reason recruiting even destitute Chi- 
nese to remote overseas locations from which return would be difficult or 
into work that held little hope of riches was not easy. In addition, Chinese 
had long held an unflattering image of Western "barbarians" (an image 
that Western action in the Opium Wars did nothing to improve), in whose 
domains they were reluctant to reside. 14 However, when Chinese who had 



"Jonathan D. Spence, The Search for Modern China (New York: W. W. Norton, 1990), p. 210; 
Bastid-Bruguiere, "Currents of Social Change," pp. 583-84. 

12 Persia Crawford Campbell, Chinese Coolie Emigration to Countries within the British Empire 
(London: King & Sons, 1923), pp. 1-3; Arnold J. Meagher, "The Introduction of Chinese 
Laborers to Latin America: The 'Coolie Trade,' 1847-1874" (Ph.D. dissertation, History, 
University of California, Davis, 1975), p. 141 (quotation from p. 147). 

13 Spence, Search for Modern China, pp. 210-12. 

14 Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," p. 148. 



Supplies 55 

been drawn to the gold rushes in California, British Columbia, and Aus- 
tralia began to return with evidence and stories of riches, the sinister world 
of the barbarians was cast in a more favorable light. 

Meanwhile, Western presence on the China coast had grown rapidly. 
The oldest European base on the Chinese coast, the Portuguese enclave of 
Macao dated from the 1550s, but the establishment of British control over 
neighboring Hong Kong and the opening up of five other Chinese port cit- 
ies in the wake of the First Opium War (1839-41) put in place another link 
essential for the great overseas migrations to the lands of the Western bar- 
barians. Though labor recruitment was but a small part of imperial expan- 
sion, through these treaty ports would come the Chinese laborers whose 
fabled capacity for hard work at low cost had attracted British interest. 
Shortly after Britain's exodus from the Atlantic slave trade in 1808, a parlia- 
mentary committee examined the practicality of bringing Chinese to the 
West Indies, noting in its favor the disposition of Chinese to emigrate and 
their orderly work habits, but on the debit side their intention to return to 
China, the near impossibility of getting Chinese women to emigrate, the 
problem of the Chinese government's reaction to what was technically il- 
legal under Chinese law, and the potential opposition of West Indian leg- 
islatures to the introduction of a new racial group into their already divided 
societies. For these and other reasons the European-organized transport of 
indentured Chinese labor overseas did not begin until the 1840s. 15 

The first experiment involved the transport of 582 indentured Chinese 
from Singapore to Mauritius in 1843. Impressed by its success and in 
response to requests from planters in British Guiana, the British secretary 
of state, Lord Stanley, approved recruiting Chinese in the Straits Settle- 
ment for the West Indies, though Indian laborers were recruited instead. 16 
Between 1847 and 1852 the trade in indentured laborers grew rapidly, 
initially from the treaty port of Amoy (Xiamen), and then from Canton and 
Hong Kong. The trade was largely in the hands of two British firms, Tait 
and Company and Syme, Muir and Company. "The latter built a special 
barracoon or 'pig pen' (chu-tsai kuan), as the Chinese called it, in front of 
their firm," where the potential emigrants were stripped naked, examined 
for defects, and, if approved, made to put their mark on labor contracts and 
then stamped or painted with the letter of their destination: C for Cuba, P 
for Peru, S for the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands. 17 

15 PP 1810-11 ii (225), Report from the Select Committee appointed to consider the practicality 
and expediency of supplying the West India Colonies with Free Labourers from the East; 
Irick, Ch'ing Policy, pp. 7-8, says "several hundred" Chinese had gone to Brazil from 1810 
onward, some had gone to Hawaii from 1820 onward, and that fourteen had made their 
way to California (presumably from Hawaii) before 1848. 

16 Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 147-^48; Irick, Ch'ing Policy, p. 82. 

17 Irick, Ch'ing Policy, pp. 26-27. 



56 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

The recruits were delivered to the European firms by Chinese brokers 
(kheh-tau) and their subordinate agents. As befitted the fact that recruiting 
was illegal under Chinese law, these "crimps" were rough types who, to 
earn the lucrative "capitation" fees that rose rapidly with the demand for 
Chinese labor, regularly deceived recruits with unrealistic expectations of 
riches, concealed the distance of the actual destination, bought up debtors 
and prisoners of clan wars, and sometimes resorted to kidnapping. Chi- 
nese officials were powerless to regulate an illegal trade and the Western 
shippers, besides ensuring that the recruits could meet minimum health 
standards, imposed screening procedures that were uneven at best. 18 

The situation quickly became explosive. A major riot in Amoy in 1852 
disrupted the trade and led to investigations that revealed the grave 
abuses. That year also saw the first "mutinies" by unwilling Chinese en 
route to unknown destinations, including one on the American ship 
Robert Bowne nine days out from the port of Amoy with 410 Chinese 
migrants. The vessel returned to Amoy where 17 Chinese were charged 
with mutiny. According to one of them, who stuck to his account under 
torture: 

They were beguiled on board the barbarian ship as contract laborers by emigration 
agents and confined in the hold. . . . After the ship sailed, the said barbarians gave 
each man in the hold a contract of servitude. If he did not accept he was flogged. 
[Then] the said barbarians suddenly seized all of them, brought them on deck and 
cut off their cues [queues]. More than ten who were sick in bed and could not walk 
were immediately killed and thrown into the ocean. 19 

Such shocking disclosures attracted great notoriety in the press and led to 
investigations that uncovered still more abuses. Reforms were implemen- 
ted both by countries involved in the transport and recruitment of coolies 
and, after some delay, by the government of China. The American Con- 
gress effectively banned participation in the trade by its citizens in 1863, 
though with little effect until after the Civil War. Other Western nations 
increased regulation of the trade during the 1850s, but the British occupa- 
tion of Canton during the Second Opium War (1858-60) also increased the 
number of refugees and unemployed Chinese who became fair game for 
the crimps. 

As scandals continued, Europeans blamed the Chinese government for 
inaction and corruption, the British blamed the Portuguese (whose port of 
Macao became home to most of the trade fleeing stricter British regulation 

18 Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 68-81. 

19 Irick, Ch'ing Polio/, pp. 33-35. Of the Chinese all but one were acquitted, but the American 
officers were charged with piracy and murder. Meagher finds no evidence to support Irick's 
suggestion that the ship had a Latin American port as its ultimate destination. 



Supplies 57 

in Hong Kong), and Canton residents attacked both crimps and foreigners 
associated with the trade. Though enough scandals continued to surface to 
perpetuate the image of Chinese contract labor as a new slave trade, real 
reforms were also being implemented. Irick has effectively argued from 
Chinese documents that, while Chinese officials were impeded by admin- 
istrative glitches and disputes over how to regulate a trade that was, by 
Chinese law, entirely illegal, they had far more concern for the welfare of 
the migrants than contemporary westerners believed. They began to ne- 
gotiate a series of treaties with westerners in the 1860s and sent inves- 
tigative commissions to Cuba and Peru in the 1870s. Western govern- 
ments, including the Portuguese in Macao, also made regular efforts to 
eliminate the worse abuses. The greatest blame was put on the crimps, 
whom the governor of Macao maintained "so brainwashed the emigrants 
into doing and saying as they dictated, so as to deceive the hated foreigner, 
that even three separate examinations before emigration officials were 
unable to detect all the victims of coercion." 20 

Because kidnapped, deceived, and willing migrants were all mixed 
together, it is virtually impossible to distinguish among them as was done 
earlier for the African migrants. The Chinese commissioners in Cuba in 
1874 reported that 80 percent of the Chinese they interviewed declared 
themselves to have been "kidnapped or decoyed," but this proportion 
seems improbably high. It is likely that the Chinese laborers, who were 
very discontented with their conditions in Cuba, gave the commissioners 
th^ answer they thought most likely to obtain their release. The reliability 
of those interviewed was also brought into question by the commissioners' 
indirect suggestion that few Chinese migrants in Cuba were "industrious 
men, who emigrate willing to better themselves," some being "bad char- 
acters" emigrating "to escape the results of gambling and crime" and 
many others "stupid fellows" easily ensnared by crimps. 21 

For all the very real abuses associated with their recruitment, more 
Chinese contract laborers may have been victims of economic and social 
misery than of deceit and kidnapping. Those who were recruited by deceit 
may well have been matched by others who did everything in their power 
to deceive recruiters about their qualifications. An eyewitness at Amoy in 
1852 wrote of "the care with which the poor fellows take to conceal any 
little physical defect[:] men of advanced years pick out their grey hairs . . . ; 
boys try to appear [as] men . . . and no one is under 19 or over 33 according 

20 Irick, Ch'ing Policy, pp. 67, 95-96, 137; Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 

131-37, 311-12. 
21 Ch'en Lanpin, A. Macpherson, and A. Huber, Report of the Commission Sent by China to 

Ascertain the Condition of Chinese Coolies in Cuba (Taipei: Ch'eng Wen Publishing Company, 

1970), pp. 3, 39^10. Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 227-28, casts doubt 

on the commission's objectivity. 



58 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

to their own account." 22 The line between voluntary and involuntary is 
further blurred by the fact that the migrants' desperation and ignorance 
made them easy to cheat and deceive. As Irick concludes: 

Many hoping to better their family fortunes . . . agreed to go abroad under false 
pretenses and willingly accompanied the crimps to Macao. Some accepted em- 
ployment in the belief that they would be working in Macao. Others, hearing of the 
good fortune of clansmen or other villagers in California, undoubtedly offered 
themselves for employment, not knowing the difference between Peru and 
California. Still others were easy prey for the crimps because of poor family 
circumstances. The prisoners of clan wars, especially prevalent in this period of 
disruption in southern China, were another source of bodies. Macao itself, with its 
gambling dens, could also be expected to fill a part of the quota; perspective coolies 
were lured into rigged games and had to forfeit themselves or a member of the 
family to clear their debts. 23 

While efforts to regulate the trade surely decreased the number of forced 
migrants, revelations of continuing abuses fed efforts to solve the problem 
by abolishing the Chinese coolie trade. When bad weather and unrest 
among the Chinese passengers of the Maria Luz out of Macao forced the 
Peruvian ship to seek refuge in Yokohama in 1872, Japanese investigators 
determined that all of the 230 Chinese on board were unwilling immi- 
grants to Peru and returned them to China. Influential Chinese residents 
of Hong Kong added their voices to the protests, as did the crown colony's 
chief justice, John Smale. A British Foreign Office inquiry led to new 
regulations in 1873 banning the outfitting or financing of coolie ships in 
Hong Kong. Along with Chinese actions stemming the flow of potential 
emigrants into Macao and threatening open hostilities, these British mea- 
sures finally led Portuguese authorities to ban the trade. 24 The last ships for 
the Americas left Macao in 1874. 

This was not the end of overseas Chinese migration. The push of misery 
continued to send large numbers of persons abroad, including many who 
could not pay their own passage. Passengers arriving in Singapore on the 
credit ticket system had their debt sold to an employer; in California the 
migrant's debt was separate from the employer's contract and repaid by 
the individual migrant from his wages. Most migrants to Hawaii, British 
Columbia, and Australia were under a system similar to California's. The 



^Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," p. 71, quoting The Friend of China, 25 

December 1852, which also reported that a quarter of Amoy's population had perished of 

hunger and disease in 1851. 
23 Irick, Ch'ing Policy, p. 205. 
^ibid., pp. 206-72. Pressures by American consuls in Amoy and Swatow were effective in 

forcing the Canton governor to adopt the "get tough" policy against the Macao trade, as 

Western opposition to the scandals there solidified. 



Supplies 59 

legal distinctions are clear enough but some researchers argue that the 
practical difference for the Chinese migrant could be very small. 25 

In the early twentieth century the Chinese indentured labor trade was 
revived under more rigorous regulation, most significantly to southern 
Africa and to France. 26 An Anglo-Chinese Labor Convention brought 
63,695 recruits to the gold mines of the Transvaal in 1904-7; at their peak, 
they constituted 35 percent of the work force. In contrast to the earlier 
migrants from southern China, these recruits were nearly all from the 
provinces of northern China, where a series of disastrous floods of the 
Yellow River and the disruptions of the Boxer Rebellion had created mil- 
lions of refugees. Agreements between China and the European Allies also 
brought at least 140,000 Chinese contract laborers to France in the last 
years of World War I, where they were largely used in burying the dead 
and in other support roles. 27 

In summary, indentured labor recruitment in China attracted more peo- 
ple and a greater proportion of willing migrants than in Africa, but re- 
mained a very flawed system. The numerous scandals over kidnapping, 
deception, and other abuses were the signs of deeper structural failings 
promoted by the absence of a unified system of control, which eventually 
forced a three-decade suspension of most recruitment. The early-twen- 
tieth-century indentured recruitment, based on bilateral agreements strict- 
ly regulated at both ends, demonstrated that large numbers of Chinese 
could be recruited without raising issues of freedom. It also demonstrated 
the strong push to migrate that social and economic conditions in China 
promoted, since many more Chinese applied for southern Africa than 
could be accommodated, even though the work was difficult and danger- 
ous and the wages were far below what local Africans would accept. 

India 

Although China contributed mightily to the overseas labor trade and to its 
ill repute, India provided the greatest number of indentured migrants and 

25 Credit ticket migrants were 27% of the Chinese arriving in Singapore in 1887, but only 8.4% 
in 1890. See the discussion of this topic in Chapter 1. 

26 German planters recruited a few thousand Chinese for plantation labor in Western Samoa 
from 1902 to 1914, and some 1,100 Chinese were recruited to Cuba in 1919. See Campbell, 
Chinese Coolie Emigration, pp. 219-20; Duvon Clough Corbitt, A Study of the Chinese in Cuba, 
1847-1947 (Wilmore, Ky.: Asbury College, 1971), p. 109. 

27 Peter Richardson, "Chinese Indentured Labour in the Transvaal Gold Mining Industry, 
1904-1910," in Saunders, Indentured Labour, pp. 267, 272; Peter Richardson, "Coolies, Peas- 
ants, and Proletarians: The Origins of Chinese Indentured Labour in South Africa, 1904- 
1907," in International Labour Migration: Historical Perspectives, ed. Shula Marks and Peter 
Richardson (Hounslow: M. Temple Smith, 1984), pp. 167-85; Ta Chen, Chinese Migration, 
pp. 142-44; Thomas E. LaFargue, China and the World War (Stanford: Stanford University 
Press, 1937), pp. 151-52, says Chinese "coolies" were first used in Siberia and that from 1916 
to 1918 190,000 served in France. 



60 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

the clearest test of the system as an acceptable alternative to slave labor. 
The size of the exodus from India reflected the push of rising distress in 
that territory and still more its close integration into the British empire. 
Europeans had only toeholds in Africa and China, but by the mid-nine- 
teenth century virtually all of India was directly or indirectly under British 
control. Most of the 1.3 million Indian migrants who ventured overseas 
were processed through British depots, traveled on British ships, and 
worked in British colonies, with the whole operation coordinated and 
regulated by the British officials in Westminster and New Delhi. Even 
those who went to French and Dutch colonies were largely subject to 
conditions of travel and labor set down in treaties and other agreements 
with Britain. Was such unified control also more instrumental in removing 
abuses from the system or in subordinating the welfare of Indians to the 
interests of colonial planters? It is clear that, in comparison to the China 
labor trade, Indian migration was more effectively regulated from an 
earlier stage, had fewer serious lapses and abuses, and achieved a higher 
level of voluntariness while ensuring a lower level of mortality in transit. 

Like the Chinese, the indentured Indian voyages of the nineteenth cen- 
tury had precursors in earlier external Indian migrations. "Indians have 
never been a stay-at-home people," begins one survey of Indian migrant 
labor; from the early Middle Ages Indian traders sailed far and wide in the 
ocean that bore their name, turning much of Southeast Asia and the East 
Indies into an "Indie World." The traders were joined by itinerant laborers, 
widely known in sixteenth-century eastern Asia as "coolies" (which may 
derive from the Tamil word kuli, meaning "wages"). At the end of the 
eighteenth century Indian laborers and traders were a common sight in 
Southeast Asian ports, Ceylon, and East Africa. Not all these laborers were 
voluntary migrants: there were also several thousand Indian slaves in the 
French colonies of Mauritius and Reunion. During the early nineteenth 
century British officials endeavored to stop the slave trade from South 
India, while also contributing to the flow of unfree labor by sending Indian 
convict labor to Sumatra, Penang, Singapore, and Mauritius (British from 
1810). 28 

As Chapter 2 has outlined, the new "coolie" migrations had their begin- 
ning in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. The first French 
recruiting efforts between 1826 and 1830, from their coastal enclaves of 
Pondicherry and Karikal, provided the island of Reunion with about 3,000 
laborers and servants. In response to the 1834 law ending slavery in the 
British Empire, the planters on the neighboring British island of Mauritius 
also turned to India for labor. By the time the apprenticeship system that 

linker, New System of Slavery, pp. 44-^15. Quotation from S. B. Mookherji, The Indenture 
System in Mauritius, 1837-1915 (Calcutta: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1962), p. 5. 



Supplies 



61 



PRINCIPAL JAPANESE LABOR MIGRATIONS 
Indentured Other 



Hawaii, 1868-1924 


65,000 174,000 


Peru, 1898-1924 


18,000 


Brazil,1908-24 


26,000 


N.America, 1885-1 924 


226,000 


Australia, 1885-1907 


7,500 
Not Indentured 


Reaional. 1885-1924 


Asiatic Russia 


303,000 


China 


105,000 


Korea 


72,000 


Philippines 


21,500 


Other Countries 


162,000 



PRINCIPAL CHINESE LABOR MIGRATIONS 
Intercontinental Indentured Other 



Peru, 1849-75 


117,000 




Cuba, 1847-73, 1901-24 


138,000 


17,000 


Other Carib., 1852-70 


24,000 




Transvaal, 1904-7 


64,000 




Hawaii, 1852-99 


34,500 


18,500 


Australia, 1848-80 


6,000 


100,000 


USA, 1851-1920 




348,000 


France, 1917-19 


140,000 




Regional 


All types ^\ 



Malaya Strts, 1881 -191 5 
Philippines, 1876-1901 
Siam, 1876-1901 
Sumatra, Java, 1876-1901 



5,750,000 

325,000 

310,000 

86,000 




okohama 



\\N Principal Migrant Sources 



Swatow 
NN^Canton 
1 "^^Rongkong 
lacao 



800 km 




Map 7. Principal indentured labor exports from East Asia. Source: Appendix B. 



62 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

had replaced slavery came to an end in 1839, there were already some 
25,000 Indians on Mauritius, including several hundred women. Mau- 
ritian planters confidently expected to expand their sugar production by 
recruiting unlimited supplies of indentured Indian laborers who would 
work for less than the resident African freedmen. 29 Planters in the British 
West Indian colonies got the same idea, as their efforts to recruit adequate 
numbers of free laborers from Africa and elsewhere fizzled. 

However, as the prospects for a great expansion of the Indian labor trade 
loomed, so too did opposition from reform-minded British officials, many 
with connections to antislavery societies and concerns about the revival of 
a new forced labor trade. An investigation of the Mauritian labor trade in 
1838-39 uncovered sufficient instances of misrepresentation and coercion 
in the recruitment of laborers and of their exploitation and abuse on some 
plantations that the Indian government suspended all overseas labor mi- 
gration in May 1839. Some concern was directed at five-year contracts of 
indenture, which most of these Indian migrants to British and French 
colonies had had to sign. However, the most intense debate was not about 
the flow of laborers to destinations within the Indian Ocean, which seemed 
unstoppable despite the ban, but whether migrations should again be 
allowed to the more distant Caribbean colonies. Lord John Russell, the 
British secretary for the colonies, in February 1840 expressed deep reserva- 
tions about future migrations: "I should be unwilling to adopt any mea- 
sure to favour the transfer of labourers from British India to Guiana . . . 
which may lead to a dreadful loss of life on the one hand, or on the other, 
to a new system of slavery." The majority report of the investigators of the 
Mauritius trade, released in October 1840, similarly concluded, "We are 
convinced ... if West Indian voyages be permitted, the waste of human life 
and misery that will fall on the Coolies under the name of free labourers 
will approach to those inflicted on the negro in the middle passage by the 
slave trade." Russell's successor, William Gladstone, was also greatly per- 
turbed by the circumstances of a growing exodus of Indian laborers which 
he conceded was voluntary, writing to the governor of Mauritius in 1846, 
"if, on the one hand, it is not to be doubted that the Coolie immigration has 
been advantageous to the material interests of the immigrants themselves, 
and has also served the purpose of effectually relieving a severe pressure 
of the demand for labour upon its supply, at and after the moment of 
emancipation, on the other hand, I think it impossible to deny that serious 
objections prima facie lie against the scheme on almost every other 
ground." 30 



29 Tinker, New System of Slavery, pp. 44-46, 61-63; Mookherji, Indenture System, pp. 14-17. 
30 Russell is quoted in Tinker, New System of Slavery, p. vi; PP 1841 xvi (45), Report of the 
Committee appointed ... to inquire into the Abuses alleged to exist in exporting from 



Supplies 63 

Yet humanitarian opposition to indentured labor migration from India 
was undermined by other practical and moral considerations. Withhold- 
ing such labor endangered the livelihood of the British plantation colonies 
and thereby undermined the pragmatic moral lesson emancipation was 
supposed to demonstrate to French and American authorities: that ending 
plantation slavery was not inevitably followed by the economic collapse. 
In addition, it was difficult to champion the virtues of free labor while 
denying Indians the right to sell their labor overseas. At the end of 1842 the 
ban on emigration to Mauritius was lifted, releasing a flood of some 45,000 
Indians into that colony during 1843 and early 1844. New regulations 
limited these migrants to one-year contracts that were signed only after 
their arrival in the colony under the supervision of the colony's new 
protector of immigrants. Once Indian labor emigration was allowed to 
Mauritius, its extension to the West Indies could not be denied in principle. 
Coinciding with the new policy regarding liberated African recruitment in 
the Atlantic, a law of 16 November 1844 legalized Indian emigration to 
Jamaica, Trinidad, and British Guiana, with the first shipload sailing from 
Calcutta in January 1845. Like the Indians to Mauritius and the early 
African migrants, they were not made to sign a contract of indenture in 
advance or even on arrival in the West Indies, permitting some, in Green's 
words, "to exploit their freedom by wandering aimlessly throughout the 
countryside." 31 

Naturally, pressure mounted to prevent such expensive lapses. Earl 
Grey, colonial secretary from 1846 to 1852, though also leary of any 
revival of slave labor, was brought round to permitting the indenturing 
of laborers prior to sailing by his adherence to two other principles. First, 
he believed in the right of colonial legislatures to be controlled by the 
settler population, which in the case of the West Indian colonies meant by 
the planters, who strongly supported indentured migration. Second, he 
supported the right of colonial subjects to emigrate, which logically in- 
cluded the right of impoverished Indians to accept subsidized passage in 
return for a work obligation. Mauritius was allowed to require a one-year 
prior indenture in 1847, followed by Guiana early the next year and then 
by other colonies. 

Once prior indenture was accepted in principle, the term of the in- 
denture quickly lengthened. Mauritius made three-year contracts the 
minimum in 1849 with the West Indian colonies quickly falling in line. 

Bengal Hill Coolies and Indian Labourers, of various Castes . . . , p. 295; PP 1846 xxxv (530), 
no. 36, Gladstone to Governor W. M. Gomm, 14 May 1846, pp. 216-17. 
31 David Brion Davis, Slavery and Human Progress (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 
p. 210; Tinker, New System of Slavery, pp. 71-81; PP 1867 xlviii [3812], 114, Blue Book of 
Mauritius, 1865; William A. Green, British Slave Emancipation: The Sugar Colonies and the 
Great Experiment (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), p. 277. 



64 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

Mauritius and British Guiana provided a free return passage for migrants 
completing a minimum of five years under contract. From 1862 a mini- 
mum five-year initial contract became the norm in all the British sugar 
colonies and remained so until the end of the system. 32 Destinations also 
multiplied. Legal bans on emigration to Natal and Reunion were lifted in 
1860 and to the French West Indies in 1865. Indentured Indian migration 
to Dutch Guiana began in 1873, to Fiji in 1879, and to East Africa in 1895. 

The multiplication of the scope of the trade depended on the existence 
of an adequate supply of Indians willing to leave. They were not a simple 
extension of the maritime tradition mentioned earlier, for in fact overseas 
migration went against the grain of most Indian communities. For the new 
overseas migrants, who came from the inland villages rather than the 
seaports of India, departing from the close-knit rural communities was an 
act of singular courage or desperation. Venturing across the "Black Water" 
of the Indian Ocean was also deemed to be a violation of caste for most 
Hindus. A half century after indentured migration began, an emigration 
agent in Calcutta could still describe it as "most unpopular," declaring, 
"The Indian peasant will not emigrate excepting he is actually compelled 
by stress of circumstances: he prefers to struggle on in his native village, 
a victim of ever-present poverty, varied by seasons of actual want." 33 

Nevertheless, it is clear that such stressful circumstances led large num- 
bers of Indians to desert their ancestral villages during the nineteenth 
century. As in China, the overseas labor migration was only a fraction of 
a much larger movement of people set in motion by overcrowding, ecolog- 
ical disasters, political upheavals, and changing economic conditions. 
There was considerable migration from rural areas to the cities, short-term 
migrations within British India for seasonal work, and indentured migra- 
tion to Assam in northeast India for work on the new tea gardens from 
about 1840. Indian labor also moved to other British colonies in southern 
Asia in great numbers. It has been estimated that labor migration from 
South India to Ceylon for tea plantations (1843-1938) totaled 1.5 million 
and to Burma for the rice harvest (1852-1938) may have been 2.6 million, 
though these figures are inflated by the inclusion of large numbers of 
persons who migrated several times. Between 1844 and 1910, another 
quarter of a million Indians went to labor in the colonies that became 
British Malaya. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century total 
departures from India, both indentured and nonindentured, rose from an 

32 Tinker, New System of Slavery, pp. 81-85; Alan Adamson, Sugar without Slaves: The Political 
Economy of British Guiana, 1838-1904 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), pp. 50-53; 
Green, British Slave Emancipation, p. 277. 

33 As late as 1931 only 3.6% of Indians lived outside the province or state of their birth; 
Kingsley Davis, The Population of India and Pakistan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 
1951), p. 107. The quotation is from Fiji Emigration in Calcutta, 1896, cited by K. L. Gillion, 
"The Sources of Indian Emigration to Fiji," Population Studies 10 (November 1956): 141. 



Supplies 65 

average of 300,000 a year to over 425,000, of which the overseas indentured 
component was less than a tenth. 34 

One fundamental cause of this rising labor movement was growth of 
population. India's population of 185 million in 1800 may have increased 
by 100 million people over the course of the century. The population of the 
Madras Presidency alone tripled. 35 Rising densities put great pressure on 
rural resources, lowering living standards for those at the bottom of the 
social order and adding to the severity of periodic famines to which India 
had long been prone. Along with massive starvation locally (which did 
little to slow the overall rise in population), such famines produced large 
numbers of refugees, whose numbers can be correlated to peak departures 
from Madras and Calcutta in the second half of the century. 36 

The push to migrate has also been attributed to the effects of British rule, 
both negative and positive. Reforms in land tenure and taxation led to 
widespread changes in rural communities, as did the abolition of various 
forms of rural servitude. The expansion of agricultural plantations and 
manufacturing created new jobs, while British imports caused structural 
unemployment in crafts such as the handloom weaving. The suppression 
of warfare among Indian territories ended disruptions to local commerce 
and cultivation, whereas the suppression of rebellion against British rule 
had the opposite effect. This is not the place to try to sort out the con- 
troversies over the magnitude and direction of the effects of British rule on 
India. 37 Although not all would agree, it seems likely that Britain's direct 

34 Davis, Population of India and Pakistan, pp. 99-101. 

35 The source of the global estimate is Colin McEvedy and Richard Jones, Atlas of World 
Population History (New York: Penguin Books, 1978), pp. 184-85, but Leela Visaria and 
Pravin Visaria, "Population (1857-1947)," in The Cambridge Economic History of India, ed. 
Dharma Kumar with Meghnad Desai (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982-83), 
2:487, argue that growth was slow until the 1880s or even the 1920s. For Madras see Dharma 
Kumar, Land and Caste in South India: Agricultural Labour in the Madras Presidency during the 
Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1965), pp. 120-24. 

36 A. J. H. Latham, "South-East Asia: A Preliminary Survey, 1800-1914," in Migration across 
Time and Nations: Population Mobility in Historical Contexts, ed. Ira Glazier and Luigi de Rosa 
(New York: Holmes and Meier, 1986), pp. 20-22, correlates food, famine, disease, and 
cyclones with peak migrations from Madras to Burma and Ceylon. For other references, see 
Tinker, New System of Slavery, pp. 97, 118-19, and P. C. Emmer, "The Meek Hindu: The 
Recruitment of Indian Indentured Labourers for Service Overseas, 1870-1916," in Emmer, 
Colonialism and Migration, pp. 194-99, who stresses that Indian indentured migration was 
based on the push of epidemics and famines. 

Lai, Girmitiyas, p. 2, ties migration to the "unprecedented changes brought about by British 
penetration of Indian agrarian society." A spectrum of opposing views are presented in M. 
D. Morris, T. Matsui, B. Chandra, and T. Raychaudhuri, The Indian Economy in the Nineteenth 
Century: A Symposium (New Delhi: Indian Economic and Social History Association, 1969). 
The broader debate about the economic impact is neatly summarized by Neil Charles- 
worth, British Rule and the Indian Economy, 1800-1914 (London: Macmillan, 1982), while 
Frank Perlin's review of The Cambridge Economic History of India, ed. Tapan Raychaudhuri 
and Irfan Habib (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982-83), in Comparative Studies 
in Society and History 30 (1988): 379-81, effectively points out the limitations of that work in 
addressing the issues. 



66 



Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 



50,000 -I 




45,000 ■ 




40,000 ■ 




35,000 ■ 




30,000 ■ 




25,000 ■ 




20,000 ■ 
1 ^ c\nn ■ 




10,000 ■ 




5,000 ■ 




■ 






1856 1857 1858 1859 1860 1861 1862 1863 1864 1865 

Year ending 30 April 

Figure 3.2. Emigration from British India, 1855-65, suggesting the impact of the 1857 

Rebellion. 

Source: Table A.3. 



economic impact on Indians became pronounced only from the middle of 
the century and that British presence was only one of several factors 
contributing to the desire to emigrate. Even if people's decisions were 
determined largely by their personal circumstances and conditions in their 
locality, the influence of the Raj was certainly pervasive. The strongest case 
for British rule pushing people to emigrate can be seen in the correspon- 
dence between the peak in migration overseas at the end of the 1850s and 
the widespread disruptions associated with the Indian Rebellion of 1857 
and its suppression (see Figure 3.2). As was evident in the example cited 
at the beginning of Chapter 1, the construction of railroads and other lines 
of communication also greatly facilitated the movement of would-be mi- 
grants to the coastal ports. 

Modern studies have clarified some of the connections between internal 
and external labor migration in the hinterlands of the principal ports. 
Dharma Kumar has effectively surveyed changing labor migrations in the 
Madras Presidency of South India which supplied most of the Indian 
migrants to the Mascarenes and Natal, along with most of the very much 
larger unregulated labor migrations to Ceylon, Burma, and Malaya. 
Anand Yang has shown that individuals who were veterans of the grow- 
ing seasonal migrations in the Bihar province of northeastern India were 



Supplies 67 

commonly found in longer-term migrations, including those from Calcutta 
to the sugar islands of Mauritius and the West Indies. In contrast, the 
Bombay Presidency in the northwest furnished few overseas indentured 
migrants, except for the large number of Punjabis to East Africa at the turn 
of the century, in large part because Bombay's growing textile and other 
industries absorbed most of the rural migration of west-central India. 38 

Overseas migration was a part of these larger population movements of 
nineteenth-century India, but it was a very selective part. Perhaps one 
person in ten who left a natal village in search of new opportunities 
ventured abroad. Of those who did, only about one in ten became an 
indentured migrant to a distant overseas colony. In examining those who 
became overseas indentured migrants, it is thus necessary to consider both 
how they reflected the larger patterns of migration and how the complex 
process of self-selection and official selection limited their representative- 
ness. 

Not surprisingly, many came from the social and economic margins of 
Indian society, even if they were not simply the poorest of the poor. In 
midcentury the port of Calcutta, through which two-thirds of overseas 
migrants left, drew heavily on the impoverished and hardworking Dhang- 
ars and other "hill-people" of the northeast, so-called "tribals" lying out- 
side the Hindu caste system. 39 Already accustomed to migrant work on 
Bengal indigo plantations, many risked the journey to Mauritius, for ex- 
ample, to take advantage of wages that were easily three times higher in 
the 1840s. Their recruitment was made even easier by the fact that, like the 
Chinese, early recruits to Mauritius received "advances" or "gratuities" 
equivalent to two months' wages before sailing that enabled them to buy 
themselves out of debt and provide for family members left behind. 40 
Other recruits from the bottom of Indian society included landless Tamils 

38 Kumar, Land and Caste, especially chap. 8; Anand A. Yang, "Peasants on the Move: A Study 
of Internal Migration in India," Journal of Interdisciplinary History 10 (summer 1979): 37-58; 
Morris David Morris, The Emergence of an Industrial Labor Force in India: A Study of the Bombay 
Cotton Mills, 1854-1947 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965); Gill M. Yamin, "The 
Character and Origins of Labour Migration from Ratnagiri District, 1840-1920," South Asian 
Research 9 (1989): 33-53. 

39 Tinker, New System of Slavery, pp. 46-55. Dhangars and other "Hill Tribes" formed 30% of 
the migrants to Mauritius in 1837-38; Report . . . Bengal Hill Coolies, appendix 2 A; Tinker 
(p. 49) estimates they accounted for 40% to 50% of overseas migrants from Calcutta in the 
1840s and 1850s. 

40 PP 1844 xxxv (530), Emigration to the West Indies and Mauritius, pp. 211-15; PP 1846 xxviii 
(691-11), no. 13, Governor Gomm to Lord Stanley, Mauritius, 2 July 1845 and enclosures. Mr. 
Robert Neave, Civil and Sessions Judge of Azimgurh, Northwest Province, Bengal, re- 
ported that on Bengal plantations Dhangar laborers received wages of three rupees a 
month, out of which they had to pay for food, clothing, medicine, and fees owed to the 
crimp who recruited them, whereas those who went to Mauritius started at wages of five 
or even six rupees a month, in addition to full rations, a clothing allotment, and medical 
care, and owed nothing to the labor recruiter. 



68 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

of South India, especially the Pariah (Untouchables) who formed 20 per- 
cent or more of Tamil population. A study of the ship records of migrants 
from the Madras Presidency to Natal from 1860 to 1902 shows that the two 
largest social castes were the Pariah (14.6 percent) and the Vanniah, an- 
other agricultural caste (14.3 percent), but that their share of the total 
migrants was higher at the end of the period than at the beginning. 41 

As these figures suggest, migrants were not only from the lowest strata 
of society. Throughout the period knowledgeable officials reported that 
migrants represented a cross-section of rural India. For example, one 
well-informed senior civil servant in India who had interviewed several 
bands of laborers traveling from Bengal to Mauritius in the early 1840s 
reported migrants included "not merely the lowest and most indigent 
class of people, but a large number of people of high caste and respecta- 
bility," the greater part of whom had left home due to economic distress. 42 
Modern studies have confirmed these conclusions. In the 1870s and 1880s 
just over a third of the Hindus leaving North India for overseas destina- 
tions belonged to the lowest castes, a third were members of agricultural 
castes, and the rest belonged to artisan castes and high castes. Migrants 
to Fiji, for example, came from 260 identifiable social groups (Hindu 
castes and subcastes, Muslims, and other categories). Such figures raise 
the question of whether the Indian migrants were simply the most dis- 
tressed individuals within these groups or whether the prospect of a new 
start overseas attracted the most ambitious among those feeling the pinch 
of personal, social, and economic circumstances. Higher than average 
personal ambition was characteristic of European migrants in this period 
and some contemporary observers believed this to be true of most Indian 
migrants as well, but the Indian records contain too little information to 
be sure. 43 

A closer look at the process of recruitment suggests that while ambition 

41 Surendra Bhana, Indentured Indian Emigrants to Natal, 1860-1902: A Study Based on Ships' 
Lists (New Delhi: Promilla, 1991), table 15. 

42 Statement of Mr. Robert Neave, 3 June 1845, enclosed in Gomm to Stanley, Mauritius, 2 July 
1845. 

43 Tinker, New System of Slavery, pp. 55-56; Lai, Girmitiyas, passim, working from the emigra- 
tion passes of over 45,000 individuals leaving from North India from 1879 to 1916; see also 
Bhana, Indentured Indian Emigrants to Natal and Ralph Shlomowitz's cautionary review of 
the latter in the Journal of Natal and Zulu History, i4 (1992): 113-21. Scholars at Flinders 
University (South Australia) have confirmed a similar social mix among migrants from 
South India; personal communication by Ralph Shlomowitz. Lai, p. 89, quotes British 
observers near the end of the indentured migration period in support of migrants rep- 
resenting the more highly motivated, whereas Ralph Shlomowitz, "Coerced and Free 
Migration from the United Kingdom to Australia, and Indentured Labour Migration from 
India and the Pacific Islands to Various Destinations: Issues, Debates, and New Evidence," 
paper prepared for International Institute of Social History Conference, Amsterdam, Sep- 
tember 1993, pp. 7-8, is more cautious about reading too much about motivation into the 
evidence about Indians. 



Supplies 69 

may have motivated some, other migrants were driven by desperation. 
Overseas migration was not spontaneous; an army of labor recruiters 
persuaded Indians to leave home and escorted them to the coastal depots. 
At the base of the process was the Indian recruiter or arkatia, who 
watched the markets, caravanserais, railway stations, bazaars, temples, 
and urban centers for likely candidates. The "most villainous part of the 
whole operation," according to Tinker, the arkatia "knew who was in 
trouble, who had fallen out with his family, who was in disgrace, who 
was wild or wanton. If a big man wanted to get rid of a troublemaker, 
the arkatia was in contact. If the police were making things hot for 
anyone, he was in the know." 44 

The arkatia made the first contacts, often encouraging unrealistic ex- 
pectations, and then, pocketing his fee, handed his recruits on to the 
licensed official recruiters, whose job it was to make sure the recruits were 
fit, informed, and willing to serve overseas. The inland recruiter screened 
the candidates for health defects, had their understanding and agreement 
to the terms of the contract certified by a registering officer (usually a 
magistrate), and sent those who made it through the process on to Calcutta 
or Madras. There they were reexamined by a medical officer for fitness and 
questioned again about their agreement to the terms of the indenture 
before they could sign the contract and be shipped abroad. 

Even though a third of those who registered in a subdepot were elim- 
inated as unfit or changed their minds before sailing from Calcutta, this 
double screening did not in fact ensure that all recruits were suitable and 
voluntary. Many seem to have gotten through the process with only the 
vaguest notion of what they were embarking upon. One weakness in the 
system was that the official recruiters, a job which did not attract those of 
the highest character, had a financial incentive to provide as many recruits 
as possible. Examining magistrates, protectors, and medical personnel 
were under pressure to process large numbers of recruits quickly and 
could not always maintain the highest standards. Yet, as in China, the fault 
also lay with the recruits, who concealed illnesses and claimed to under- 
stand what they did not. Despite subsequent information to the contrary, 
many recruits seem to have clung to the distorted or exaggerated terms 
sketched for them by the arkatia. When reality dawned, accepting one's 
fate may have seemed easier than retracing the steps already taken. There 
was in some, according to one official, a "sense of helplessness, like that of 
an animal who has been caught in a trap and has given up the useless 
struggle to escape." 45 



linker, New System of Slavery, pp. 121-23. 

45 Emmer, "The Meek Hindu," table II; Lai, Girmitiyas, tables 4 and 5; quotation from Tinker, 

New System of Slavery, pp. 129-30. 



70 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

The trap may be an odd symbol for a process that was intended to 
guarantee Indians the right to emigrate freely, but it is not an entirely 
inappropriate one. Migrants were certainly caught by the poverty and 
misfortune of their lives and could easily have found the circumstances 
associated with recruitment disorienting and intimidating. As with a fish 
trap, the deeper they entered, the harder it was to wriggle free. Yet many 
other Indians would have seen overseas recruitment as liberation, not 
entrapment. Within the spectrum of options open to Indians motivated by 
ambition or desperation to leave their rural homes, indentured migration 
overseas promised higher wages and greater chances for savings. Com- 
pared with the kidnapping that was rife in the China trade or the highly 
constrained circumstances of liberated and ransomed Africans, the Indian 
trade was constructed and run to maximize consent and understanding. 
The management of the system was not perfect, the arkatia sometimes 
lured Indians with exaggerated promises, and eager recruits were often 
incapable of imagining the actual distances and circumstances they would 
face halfway around the world, but in the judgment of Pieter Emmer, 
"little evidence exists indicating that fraud, deception and even kidnap- 
ping were widely used." 46 

Was it the push of domestic circumstances or the pull of overseas op- 
portunities that most shaped the departures from India? The views of 
researchers have been remarkably polarized. 47 Most of the disagreement 
seems to be the result of imprecision in defining the terms of the question. 
It is clear that in the nineteenth century overpopulation, crop failure, and 
widespread social and economic change pushed many Indians into some 
form of labor migration - long and short term, internal and external, 
regulated and unregulated. It is equally clear that the tiny percentage of 
that total that was deflected into the overseas indentured trade was very 
largely a product of the demand for labor in the colonies and the process 
of recruitment and screening, the pull factors. As in most other cases of 
migration, the two went hand in hand. 

Pacific islands 

By the last third of the century few parts of the middle latitudes remained 
untouched by the new labor trade. Ironically, the peoples of the South 
Pacific, whose ancient ancestors had explored and settled these far-flung 
islands in their outriggers, were themselves drawn into new migrations by 
the expansion of Western shipping and plantation economies. The recruit- 
ment began with early whaling ships, which sometimes recruited extra 

46 Emmer, "The Meek Hindu," p. 187. 

47 See Latham, "South-East Asia," for a summary. 



Supplies 71 

crew members from among the islanders, not always under voluntary 
conditions. There was also some recruitment of island women, many of 
whom may have been taken against their wills in more than one sense. 
From the early 1860s islanders were recruited to serve new plantation 
economies. 

Efforts to recruit laborers from Easter Island, Polynesia, and Micronesia 
for Peru (1862-63) and Hawaii (1879-85) had proved too costly both in 
lives and in money to continue. The greatest sustained trade was within 
the southwest Pacific basin (see map 4), with some 90,000 island people 
going to British colonies in Queensland and Fiji. Sixty percent of these 
were from the New Hebrides (modern Vanuatu) and 29 percent from the 
Solomons. Another 16,000 Pacific islanders were recruited to German Sa- 
moa and to French Polynesia and New Caledonia. Unlike mainland Asia, 
recruitment from the smaller islands of the South Pacific was not the 
extension of any local system of wage labor or seasonal migration. How- 
ever, in parallel with the external migration to Queensland and Fiji, there 
developed an internal system of labor recruitment for European planta- 
tions on the large island of New Guinea, involving 85,000 indentured 
laborers on the German half of the island (1884-1915) and 80,000 contract 
and casual laborers on the British half (1890-1914). 48 

The details of the Pacific island labor trade have received careful ex- 
amination in recent years, notably by historians at Australian univer- 
sities. 49 It is now generally accepted that, like the China trade, Pacific island 
recruitment included widespread kidnapping and deception by private 
recruiters in its early years, gaining it the nefarious nickname "black- 
birding." However, as demand grew, the largest segment of this labor 
trade came under the careful supervision of the British government 
officials in Queensland (Australia) and Fiji, thus taking on the general 
characteristics of the Indian indentured migrations. One major difference 
from the Indian trade was that most Indians sailed from recruitment 
centers in a few ports (indeed, very largely from Calcutta and Madras), 
while the dispersed nature of the Pacific islands required ships to ply a 
regular circuit of dozens of calling places to obtain a single cargo of 
laborers. 



48 Grant McCall, "European Impact on Easter Island: Response, Recruitment and the Poly- 
nesian Experience in Peru," Journal of Pacific History 11.1-2 (1976): 90; Henry Evans Maude, 
Slavers in Paradise: The Peruvian Slave Trade in Polynesia, 1862-64 (Stanford: Stanford Uni- 
versity Press, 1981); Colin Newbury, "The Melanesian Labor Reserve: Some Reflections on 
Pacific Markets in the Nineteenth Century," Pacific Studies 4.1 (1980): 6. 

49 Recent reviews of the literature are Clive Moore, "Revising the Revisionists: The Historiog- 
raphy of Immigrant Melanesians in Australia," Pacific Studies 15.2 (June 1992): 61-86; Ralph 
Shlomowitz, "Marx and the Queensland Labour Trade," Journal de la Societe des Oceanistes 
96.1 (1993): 11-17; and Doug Munro, "The Pacific Islands Labour Trade: Approaches, 
Methodologies, Debates," Slavery and Abolition 14 (1993): 87-108. 



72 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

Despite the attention paid to this trade, the motives of the migrants are 
difficult to assess precisely. In contrast to the situation among mainland 
Asian migrants, Pacific islanders seem to have felt little push of economic 
privation, except for occasional famines. Instead, it appears that the trade 
goods brought back by the early migrants enticed others to follow them, 
especially from islands that produced no cash crops that would have 
provided an alternative source of cash. While the new labor migrations 
assumed the characteristics of an adventure or rite of passage for young 
men (in part replacing interethnic warfare), Adrian Graves rightly cautions 
against a simplistic vision of the migrant as "a Pacific Sambo, mindlessly 
lusting for the bright lights of civilization." The islanders' decisions to 
migrate took place in a more complex context of local cultural expectations 
and ecological crises, as well as evolving regional economic and cultural 
patterns. 50 

Japan 

Widespread squalor and rapid change were characteristic of Japan during 
the decades after it had been forced to end its long self-imposed isolation 
by Commodore Matthew Perry's squadron in 1853. One study notes, "by 
the early 1860's, Yokohama had become rather like a boom town of the 
Wild West - flimsy, raffish, jaunty and harsh, and populated largely by 
Jacks-of-all-trades, rootless, incurably optimistic men who made up laws 
to fit their own particular needs as they bowled along from one adventure 
to the next." 51 Such was central Yokohama with its elite Western com- 
munity of diplomats and merchants, but the city's surrounding slums 
overflowed with Japanese displaced and impoverished by the rapid social 
changes of this period who had far less reason for optimism. The slum 
dwellers' lives were further disrupted by the great fire that destroyed 
much of the city in November 1866. Less than two years later Yokohama 
sent forth Japan's first small band of 149 overseas contract laborers to 
Hawaii. After a pause, others followed from Yokohama and other south- 



50 Adrian Graves, "The Nature and Origins of Pacific Labour Migration to Queensland, 
1863-1906," in International Labour Migration, Marks and Richardson, p. 114; Clive Moore, 
Kanaka: A History of Melanesian Mackay (Port Moresby: Institute of Papua New Guinea 
Studies and University of Papua New Guinea Press, 1985), pp. 45, 337, while accepting 
that fewer than 5% of migrants to Queensland were physically kidnapped, suggests that 
many more were "culturally kidnapped," i.e., unintentionally exploited by the disparity 
between their world and that of the powerful Europeans. Cultural kidnapping may be a 
useful concept for the context in which Moore is working, but it is not useful compar- 
atively since virtually all migrants were motivated by their belief in a better world 
overseas. 

51 Pat Barr, The Coming of the Barbarians: A Story of Western Settlement in Japan, 1853-1870 
(New York: Viking Penguin, 1988), p. 144. 



Supplies 73 

ern Japanese cities and from the island of Okinawa, then a Japanese posses- 
sion. 

In contrast to neighboring China, Japanese migrations were distin- 
guished from the beginning by the decisive role played by the new re- 
formist Meiji government in directing and regulating the recruitment of its 
citizens. Japan also differed from China and India in having scarcely any 
history of labor migration outside the country before entering the overseas 
labor migrations of the nineteenth century. However, there was a tradition 
of short-term internal labor migrancy by destitute young men who left 
home with the universal hope of returning wealthy. Known as dekasegi, 
this same term came to be used for the overseas migrations that began in 
1868. The half century before World War I was also one of heightened 
internal migration among rural communities and to Japan's growing cit- 
ies. 52 

Those destitute migrants of 1868 were a product of that urban influx, 
selected from those who, in the words of the American recruiter, had been 
"picked out of the streets of Yokohama, sick, exhausted, and filthy and 
without clothing to cover their nakedness." Despite abuses that resulted in 
a Japanese investigator taking forty back to Japan with him the next year, 
seven out of every eight of those who completed their three-year contracts 
chose not to return to Japan. When the Japanese government organized 
further emigration to Hawaii in 1885, some 28,000 impoverished Japanese, 
mostly from the Hiroshima area of southwest Honchu, applied for fewer 
than 1,000 places. Of the nearly 30,000 who emigrated to Hawaii on three- 
year contracts during the next decade, more than half decided to stay on 
(or venture further afield to the United States or elsewhere) at the end of 
their indenture. With the establishment of private emigrant shipping com- 
panies in the 1894, the scale of emigration increased, though the migrants' 
debts for passage were owed to the emmigration companies, not part of the 
labor contract signed in Hawaii. 53 By 1907 some 125,000 more Japanese 
laborers had arrived in Hawaii. By then official Japanese views of overseas 
settlement had been greatly transformed, with the growing Japanese com- 
munities overseas being regarded as a source and symbol of national 
power. 54 In 1908 U.S. restriction of new Japanese immigrants helped divert 

52 Yuji Ichioka, The Issei: The World of the First Generation Japanese Immigrants, 1885-1924 (New 
York: Free Press, 1988), pp. 3-4; Gilbert Rozman, "Social Change," in The Cambridge History 
of Japan, vol. 5, The Nineteenth Century, ed. Maurius B. Jansen (Cambridge: Cambridge 
University Press, 1989), pp. 556-58. 

53 Edward D. Beechert, Working in Haivaii: A Labor History (Honolulu: University of Hawaii 
Press, 1985), pp. 65-69; Ichioka, The Issei, pp. 40-46; Yukiko Kimura, Issei: Japanese Immi- 
grants in Hawaii (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1988), pp. 3-10; Dorothy Ochai 
Hazama and Jane Okamoto Komeiji, Okage Sama De: The Japanese in Hawai'i, 1885-1985 
(Honolulu: Bess Press, 1986), pp. 23-25. 

54 Akira Iriye, "Japan's Drive to Great-Power Status," in Cambridge History of Japan, 5:759-62. 



74 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

the flow to South America: by 1924 nearly 26,000 Japanese had arrived in 
Brazil and 21,000 in Peru. 55 

By no means all of the overseas Japanese were indentured laborers; 
growing numbers of students, merchants, and unindentured labor mi- 
grants also joined in the outflow from Japan. Those to Hawaii before 1894 
were mostly under prior contract, as were those to Peru. Though in- 
dentured contracts were illegal in the United States from 1885, many 
Japanese who entered the United States were under a debt to the contract- 
ing companies and, like their Chinese counterparts, were closer in status 
to indentured laborers than to free immigrants. Japanese-run labor con- 
tracting companies paid commissions to their agents in Japanese ports, 
arranged reduced group rates on regular steamship lines or even chartered 
entire ships, "advanced passage fares and sometimes the thirty dollars 
steerage passengers needed to avoid being deported as paupers," some- 
times provided false passports to gain entry, and brokered the contracts 
immigrants signed on their arrival in San Francisco. In return they ex- 
tracted significant levies from the immigrants. Many collected ten cents a 
day from each recruit's wages along with other fees. 56 

Female migrants 

In 1840 a British commission looking into whether a more balanced ratio 
of men and women might be recruited into the emerging Indian inden- 
tured labor trade came to a pessimistic conclusion: "no regulation . . . 
would . . . , in practice, suffice to secure the emigration or export of a due 
proportion of women, or an emigration of families" because of the oppo- 
sition of "all classes of private persons concerned as exporters or import- 
ers," the "jealousy and prejudices of Asiatics," the "want of due accom- 
modation" on ships, and "the extreme poverty of the immigrants." In 
support of its views the commission noted the virtually total absence of 
women among the substantial numbers of Chinese migrants in Southeast 
Asia and the East Indies. 57 The commission's pessimism proved exagger- 
ated. Concerted efforts by British agents showed that it was possible to 

55 Magnus Morner, Race Mixing in the History of Latin America (Boston: Little, Brown and 
Company, 1967), p. 132; Yamamoto Ichihashi, "International Migrations of the Japanese," 
in International Labor Migrations, vol. 2, Interpretations, ed. Walter F. Willcox (New York: 
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1931), p. 621. 

56 Ichioka, The Issei, pp. 57-75. Other limits on a laborer's freedom practiced in the Alaska 
canneries included salary advances, high-priced company stores, and the encouragement 
of gambling (ibid., p. 78). See also Yuzo Murayama, "Information and Emigrants: Inter- 
prefectural Differences of Japanese Emigration to the Pacific Northwest, 1800-1915," journal 
of Economic History 51.1 (1991): 127-28, and Masaoka Kodama, "Japanese Emigration to 
U.S.A. in the Meiji Era," Shakai Keizai Shigaku 47 .4 (1981): 6-7. 

57 Report . . . Bengal Hill Coolies, p. 295. The commission, which was opposed to emigration, 
endorsed a recommendation that a third of future Indian migrants should be women. 



Supplies 75 

Table 3.1. Female portion of selected overseas migrations, 1843-1919 



Origin 


Destination 


Date 


Women as % of Adults 


China 


United States 


1848-68 


3.5 a 




Peru 


1849-75 


<0.lb 




Cuba 


1847-68 


<0.1 c 




British Guiana 


1859-74 


16.6 C 




Dutch Guiana 


1865-69 


14.7 C 




Hawaii 


1879-83 


<2.0d 


Sierra Leone 


West Indies 


1848-49 


34.0 e 


India 


Mauritius 


1843-45 


12.4* 




Mauritius 


1862-65 


26.48 




British Guiana 


1851-55 


16.1 e 




British Guiana 


1868-1917 


30.6" 




All destinations 


1891-1919 


27.8i 


Japan 


Hawaii 


1885-94 


19.2J 




Peru 


1899-1909 


3.6k 



Sources: (a) Shih-shan Henry Tsai, China and the Overseas Chinese in the 
United States, 1868-1911 (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1983), 
p. 22. (b) Michael J. Gonzales, Plantation Agriculture and Social Control in 
Northern Peru, 1875-1933 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985), p. 99. 
(c) Arnold J. Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers to Latin America: 
The 'Coolie Trade/ 1847-1874" (Ph.D. dissertation, History, University of 
California, Davis, 1975), pp. 93-95. (d) Clarence E. Glick, Sojourners and 
Settlers: Chinese Migrants in Hawaii (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 
1980), p. 15. (e) Calculated from the records of the Colonial Land and 
Emigration Commission, (f) Bluebook of Mauritius, 1846, p. 202. (g) Bluebook 
of Mauritius, 1865, p. 119. (h) Dwarka Nath, A History of Indians in British 
Guiana (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1950), table 19. (i) Great Britain, 
Statistical Abstract Concerning British India, (j) Hilary Conroy, The Japanese 
Frontier in Hawaii (New York: Arno Press, 1978), appendix E. (k) Toraje Irie, 
"History of Japanese Migration to Peru," Hispanic American Historical 
Review 31.4 (1951): 651-52. 



raise the proportion of women to nearly 17 per 100 men among Chinese 
recruited for British Guiana. 58 Women also constituted a substantial pro- 
portion of indentured Indian and African migrants, though not of East 
Asian and Pacific island migrants. These variations resulted from circum- 
stances in the lands supplying recruits, from the preferences of those who 
employed such labor, as well as from policies adopted by some recruiters 
(see Table 3.1). 



B Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 83-93. Cuban censuses counted 1.6 
Chinese women in Cuba for every thousand Chinese men in 1861 and 0.6 per thousand in 
1899. 



76 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

The role of supply conditions is most clear in the case of African mi- 
grants. Because females were a third of the slaves traded across the Atlan- 
tic, that proportion was also true of the liberated Africans who were 
subsequently indentured in the Caribbean. In contrast, among Africans 
who were not preselected by the slave trade, notably the Km of Liberia, 
there were only a handful of women. Elsewhere, the departure of women 
was also subject to greater social and political constraints than was the 
departure of men. Melanesian chiefs opposed the departure of island 
women and Melanesian male recruits disliked having women on the ships 
because of the impossibility of enforcing taboos requiring the seclusion of 
women who were menstruating or giving birth. Under these circumstanc- 
es it is remarkable that women still constituted nearly 6 percent of Pacific 
island recruits to Queensland and Fiji. The number of East Asian women 
migrants, who were even more likely than men to feel the push of eco- 
nomic and social conditions, also remained small. The male predominance 
among migrants from China noted by the British commission in 1840 
remained characteristic of the later indentured Chinese to Peru or Cuba. To 
some extent, the paucity of East Asian and Pacific women recruits also 
reflected the preferences of employers, who had little interest in women as 
laborers. But even more it reflected the gender roles expected of Asian 
women. A great deal about Asian patriarchy may be inferred from this 
explanation of the paucity of Japanese women migrants in an older study: 
"Japanese women by instinct and training are not adventurous." 59 

India proved the greatest exception to this rule, but not from the begin- 
ning. So long as Indians were regarded as temporary recruits who would 
return home at the end of their indenture, there was no particular effort to 
recruit women, though some were permitted to accompany their hus- 
bands. However, as interest grew in establishing Indians overseas as a 
long-term labor force, in some cases halfway around the world from their 
homes, the issue of including women and families among the migrants 
came to the fore. In 1846 Colonial Secretary Gladstone had written the 
governor of Mauritius, musing at length on the "difficulties in the moral 
order of things" resulting from the "thin sprinkling of [Indian] women, 
whom it has been found practicable to introduce with the large mass of 
males; the yet rarer occurrence of cases of immigration in families; . . . the 
separation of the men from every natural and domestic relation of life." 60 
The issue was practical as well as humanitarian. While men might leave 
their wives or postpone marriages for a few years in the hope of returning 
with sufficient savings to better their circumstances, it seemed unrealistic 

59 Moore, Kanaka, pp. 64—68; Ralph Shlomowitz, personal communication. Quotation from 

Yamamoto, "International Migration of the Japanese," p. 622. 
60 PP 1846 xxviii (530), no. 36, Gladstone to Gomm, 14 May 1846, pp. 216-17. 



Supplies 77 

to suppose that single men would be content to live abroad for a decade, 
still less settle there permanently. In 1853, at the instigation of the British 
Colonial Office, a minimum of one female for every three males was 
required among Indian migrants to Mauritius. Three years later that pro- 
portion was extended to British Guiana. From 1868 the proportion of 
female migrants was raised to 40 per 100 males (except for Mauritius) and 
was strictly enforced. 

Despite much grumbling from recruiters that Indian women migrants 
could not be found, these quotas were not only met but exceeded. For 
example, women had been fewer than 4 percent of the migrants to Mau- 
ritius from 1834 to 1842 but between 1862 and 1865 an average of nearly 
36 females accompanied every 100 male migrants from India to Mauritius 
and females formed 32 percent of the immigrant population resident on 
the island. Similarly, among Indians departing for British Guiana the 
proportion of women to men rose from 19 per 100 (1851-55) to 44 per 100 
(1868-1917). Until the end of the indentured trade, Indian women con- 
stituted in excess of 40 per 100 men going to the West Indies, Fiji, and Natal 
(33:100 to Mauritius). 61 

The morality and motives of female migrants is a subject widely dis- 
cussed by contemporary observers and modern researchers. In some 
destinations a high percentage of East Asian women migrants were pros- 
titutes, intended for communal brothels, and in the case of the Chinese 
sometimes subjected to conditions of virtual slavery. 62 Contemporary Brit- 
ish observers were also inclined to characterize migrating Indian women 
as prostitutes or of low moral character. In the larger context of women 
migrants, these explanations are inadequate. Two knowledgeable early 
twentieth-century observers cited by Tinker reported that only a small 
percentage of departing Indian women were prostitutes, while a third 
were wives accompanying their husbands and the rest were women seek- 
ing to escape social and economic oppression: "mostly widows and wom- 
en who have run away from their husbands" as well as "women who have 
got into trouble and apparently emigrate to escape from the life of pro- 
miscuous prostitution which seems to be the alternative to emigration." 
Emmer notes that about half of the Indian women migrating to Surinam 
were unmarried and suggests that overseas migration may have been "a 

Huguette Ly-Tio-Fane Pineo, Lured Away: The Life History of Cane Workers in Mauritius 
(Moka, Mauritius: Mahatma Gandhi Institute, 1984), table 1A; for the other figures, see 
Table 3.1 of this chapter and Lai, Girmitiyas, pp. 97-103. 
62 Ichioka, Thelssei, pp. 28-30; Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 83-91. Lucie 
Cheng Hirita, "Free, Indentured, Enslaved: Chinese Prostitutes in Nineteenth Century 
America," Signs 5.1 (1979): 3-29, estimates that 85% of Chinese women in San Francisco in 
1860 may have been prostitutes and cites contracts from later in the century that bound 
women to work off the debt of their passage by years of prostitution and examples of 
Chinese prostitutes who were virtual slaves. 



78 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

vehicle for female emancipation" for the unwed and "an escape from a 
culture which was hostile to single women." Brij V. Lai's study of those 
going to Fiji demonstrates that half of Indian women migrants came from 
higher or middling castes, though the proportion from low castes was 
higher than among males. 63 Existing evidence provides only a slender 
basis for speculation, but it does seem clear that for women, as for men, 
emigration provided a means to escape oppressive circumstances and held 
out hope of a better life, even if domestic cultural norms and social in- 
stitutions made it much harder for women to join the emigrant flow. 

Conclusion 

This examination of the sources of indentured laborers reveals that the 
circumstances that pushed, pulled, or coerced populations - and even 
single individuals - into the trade were complex and varied. Many in- 
dividuals were kidnapped, coerced, or deceived, but it would seem that 
most had at least a partial understanding of what they were entering into 
and had chosen migration in hopes of improving their individual circum- 
stances or aiding their relatives who remained at home. The indentured 
labor trade in the nineteenth century thus depended on matching the 
motives of the migrating laborers with the demands of employers. Rarely 
can the motives of individual migrants be known, but it has been possible 
to distinguish among the circumstances of larger groups. The trade from 
Africa was closely connected to the Atlantic slave trade, both as a by- 
product of its suppression and as a disguised continuation of it. In the case 
of India and China the new indentured migration was built on an older 
tradition of labor migration and was accompanied by growing internal 
and regional labor migration. It is not possible to measure the force of this 
outward push, but it is clear that where it was generally lacking, as in 
Africa, only by highly coercive measures could a labor supply be pro- 
duced. Inevitably the outward push was tied to the pull of real or imagined 
attractions in the destination. In the case of most Pacific island migrants, 
the attraction of trade goods and adventure was the dominant factor. 

Most indentured laborers came from the dense populations of China 
and India, but sheer size was not the only factor. India's contribution to the 
trade was much greater than China's. As a proportion of their total popula- 
tion Japan and the Pacific islands also furnished more overseas migrants 
than did China. Effective regulation and management were very impor- 



63 Tinker, New System of Slavery, p. 205; Pieter Emmer, "The Great Escape: The Migration of 
Female Indentured Servants from British India to Surinam," in Abolition and Its Aftermath: 
The Historical Context, 1790-1916, ed. David Richardson (London: Frank Cass, 1985), pp. 248, 
250; Lai, Girmitiyas, pp. 104-6. 



Supplies 79 

tant in the yield and efficiency of the recruitment process. In midcentury 
China, where many carriers and destinations competed for labor and 
where local authority was weak, recruitment was accompanied by high 
levels of coercion that led to most recruitment being suspended during the 
last quarter of the century. Although not without flaws, Great Britain's 
regulations maintained a high- volume flow of labor migration from India 
and the Pacific islands to other colonies, interrupted only by temporary 
suspensions to enforce standards or limit the spread of disease. 

While most recruitment was controlled by Western governments, this 
was not the only possibility. The Japanese government effectively oversaw 
the recruitment, screening, and transport of its citizens overseas. Through 
bilateral agreements, China restored a more acceptable system of contract 
labor in the early twentieth century. No amount of control and efficiency, 
however, could make the system of indentured labor better than the dy- 
namics that underpinned it. Migrants' desires to escape from problems at 
home and to better themselves abroad played into the hands of recruiters 
seeking persons willing to enter into long-term contracts for modest 
wages. No amount of reform could make that conjunction less hard. 

Another factor that facilitated recruitment from some locations was 
transportation. Island dwellers had little difficulty in reaching the ships 
that called at their shores, whereas the mechanical and political difficulties 
of moving populations cheaply to the shores of the giant African continent 
further restricted recruitment there. Indian migrants (and to a lesser extent 
the Chinese) reached the coast on railroads built in the nineteenth century. 
The essential role played by parallel improvements in the scale and speed 
of maritime transportation is explored in the next chapter. 



4 

Voyages 



Man is of all sorts of luggage the most difficult to be transported. 

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations 

An efficient, low-cost transportation was necessary to connect the demand 
for labor and the distant supplies of would-be recruits. This chapter looks 
at the changes in passenger ships and the regulation of ocean travel that 
made indentured migrations possible. It demonstrates that the vessels of 
the new indentured labor trade were generally far larger and much less 
crowded than those in the middle passage of the Atlantic slave trade. 
Special note is taken of how conditions varied by source and over time, 
from the sometimes horrific early voyages of the poorly regulated Chinese 
trade to the speedy passages of the last decades of the trade. The chapter 
examines the reasons why mortality rates on indentured migrant vessels, 
though in aggregate distinctly lower than on slave ships, were still distres- 
singly higher than on ships carrying nonindentured passengers, and why 
these rates declined. It concludes that the voyages of most indentured 
laborers, while distinct in some ways, had much in common with those of 
contemporary unbonded migrants who left Europe in record numbers 
during the same period. 

In common with other migration studies, the chapter uses statistical 
records to identify trends and make comparisons among different types of 
voyages. It relies heavily on the manipulation of two existing compilations 
of ship records: the records of African and Indian indentured laborers 
published annually by the British Colonial Land and Emigration Commis- 
sion (CLEC) from 1841 to 1873 and the lists of ships carrying Chinese 
indentured laborers to Latin America and the Caribbean painstakingly 
combed from a wide range of sources by Arnold J. Meagher. 1 The ex- 

1- rhe CLEC reports have been conveniently reissued by the Irish Universities Press in the 
Emigration series of their British Parliamentary Papers reprint series. Arnold J. Meagher, "The 

80 



Voyages 81 

amination of the second half of the indentured migration period is greatly 
indebted to research in other unpublished series. Within the limits im- 
posed by the historical records, the impersonality of this approach is 
mediated by considerations of the individual experiences. 

Ships and regulations 

Maritime transportation in the nineteenth century underwent a rapid 
transformation. The number, size, and speed of oceangoing vessels ex- 
panded and these changes, along with the growth of government regula- 
tion, transformed the conditions of passenger travel. While ocean voyages 
in this era may seem far removed from the conditions of intercontinental 
transport in the late twentieth century, 2 they were equally distant from the 
conditions endured by overseas migrants, whether slave or free, in the 
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 

One major change was the great increase in the size of sailing ships. By 
the middle of the century increased use of iron fastenings permitted ves- 
sels to grow far beyond the limits formerly set by the size of available 
timbers. Their average size increased steadily thereafter, culminating in 
the construction of all-iron hulls at the end of the century. 3 Though pro- 
moted mostly by the rising volume of cargo shipments, these changes had 
tremendous implications for passenger travel. As Figure 4.1 shows, Af- 
rican slaves in the first half of the century had been crammed onto ships 
averaging under 200 tons. In the early 1850s European migrants were 
crossing the Atlantic on vessels averaging 450 tons. Ships carrying Chinese 
migrants to the British West Indies from 1852 to 1873 averaged 870 tons 
and those transporting Indian indentured laborers to that destination from 
1858 to 1873 had a mean size of 968 tons. The smallest ship from India in 
that period measured 435 tons, the largest 2,017 tons. 4 

Introduction of Chinese Laborers to Latin America: The 'Coolie Trade/ 1847-1874" (Ph.D. 
dissertation, History, University of California, Davis, 1975). Working independently from 
the same sources, John McDonald and Ralph Shlomowitz have arrived at similar results; see 
their "Mortality on Chinese and Indian Voyages to the West Indies and South America, 
1847-1874," Social and Economic Studies 41.2 (1992): 203-40. 

2 Though David Eltis, Economic Growth and the Ending of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (New 
York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 136, has pointed out that coach passengers in jumbo 
jets have no more room than did most nineteenth-century steerage passengers. 

3 Gerald S. Graham, "The Ascendancy of the Sailing Ship, 1850-85," Economic History Review 
9 (1956): 74-88; Joel Mokyr, The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress 
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 129-30. 

4 In comparison, ships carrying slaves from western Africa to the Americas in the period 1790 
to 1830 averaged between 150 and 200 tons, whereas those carrying slaves from southeast 
Africa to Cuba after 1850 averaged about 470 tons; Eltis, Economic Growth, p. 128. Vessels 
carrying Chinese to Latin America averaged somewhat smaller than those to the British 
West Indies because of the use of a number of undersized vessels in the latter years of the 
trade to Cuba. 



82 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

Tonnage 
100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1,000 




Figure 4.1. Ship size on selected nineteenth-century overseas migration routes. 
Source: Table A.4. 



These ships' cleaner lines and more efficiently distributed sails also 
made them much faster, culminating in the famous clipper ships of the 
1860s. It had taken the better part of six months to sail from India to Europe 
in the early eighteenth century; indentured laborers made the similar 
voyage from India to the Caribbean in an average of three months between 
1851 and 1873. Sailing ships cut the voyage time from China across the 
Indian and Atlantic Oceans to Cuba from an average of 125 days between 
1856 and 1860 to 110 days in the early 1870s. By the latter period some 
steam-powered ships were making the China-Cuba run in only 85 days. 

This development of steamers was another radical change in nineteenth- 
century shipping, though their use in transporting indentured labor was 
limited until late in the period. Coal-fired steamships had been experi- 
mented with in the early years of the African, Indian, and Chinese migrant 
labor trades, sometimes with great fanfare, but the early vessels were not 
particularly fast or safe and were very costly to build and run. Only with 
the development of more efficient high-pressure boilers in the 1870s were 
steamships able to rival the fastest clippers in speed. A few steamers were 
used in the last years of the Chinese trade to Latin America but steamships 
remained rare in the Indian labor trade to the West Indies. Only two made 
the passage up to 1873, and the slightly cheaper costs of the sailing vessels 



Voyages 83 

enabled them to retain two-thirds of the trade to the British West Indies 
even at the end of the century. 5 

Steamships became important earlier on shorter runs within the Indian 
Ocean where their ability to operate year round without regard to the 
monsoon winds gave them a distinct advantage. The British India Steam 
Navigation Company had started steamer service from India to Southeast 
Asia after the 1857 Rebellion and all emigrants to Burma and Malaya 
traveled by steamer in the final quarter of the century. The majority of 
migrants from India to Mauritius and Natal went in steamers from 1889, 
but this was not the case for those going to more distant Fiji until 1905 and 
to the West Indies until 1908. 6 

The second major innovation in maritime passenger travel in the nine- 
teenth century was in government regulation. In the late eighteenth cen- 
tury Great Britain had pioneered measures to improve conditions and cut 
losses during the middle passage of the African slave trade. Legislation in 
1788 and 1799 effectively reduced the number of slaves carried per 100 
tons burthen from over 250 to fewer than 100. 7 Britain's outlawing of the 
African slave trade in 1807 ended this experiment, but other sea travelers 
soon felt the effects of new regulations governing passenger density as 
well as the type and amounts of food, water, and medical equipment 
passenger ships had to carry. After 1828 British passenger acts became 
increasingly detailed in their specifications and increasingly effective in 
their enforcement. In 1840 ships from British possessions whose routes 
crossed the equator had to provide 15 square feet of space per passenger 
with decks no lower than 5.5 feet and containing no more than two tiers 
of berths. These rules applied to vessels carrying indentured Indians and 
Africans as well as Chinese shipped from Hong Kong. The Colonial Land 
and Emigration Commission was created in 1840 to keep track of passen- 
ger movement and mortality, issue more detailed regulations, and insure 



5 The use of the early British naval steamer Growler to transport migrants from Sierra Leone 
to the British West Indies in 1847-48 was not a success; Mary Elizabeth Thomas, Jamaica and 
Voluntary Laborers from Africa, 1840-1865 (Gainesville,. University Presses of Florida, 1974), 
p. 127. The first steamship, the SS Clarendon, left Calcutta on 7 March 1857 with 421 
passengers and arrived in British Guiana 91 days later. The only other steam vessel to carry 
indentured Indians to the British Caribbean before 1875, the SS Far East in 1869, reached 
British Guiana in 89 days. Hugh Tinker, A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour 
Overseas, 1830-1920 (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), p. 146; U.K., Statement Ex- 
hibiting the Moral and Material Progress and Condition of India . . . , 1898-99, 1899-1900, 
1900-1; Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," table 46. 

linker, New System of Slavery, pp. 146--47; John McDonald and Ralph Shlomowitz, "Contract 
Prices for the Bulk Shipping of Passengers in Sailing Vessels, 1816-1904: An Overview," 
International Journal of Maritime History 5.1 (1993): 90. 

7 Herbert S. Klein and Stanley Engerman, "Slave Mortality on British Ships, 1791-1797," in 
Liverpool, the African Slave Trade, and Abolition, ed. Roger Anstey and P. E. H. Hair (Liverpool: 
Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 1976), pp. 113-25. 



84 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

their enforcement. Spurred on by high passenger mortality associated with 
Irish famine victims and cholera epidemics in the British Isles, new passen- 
ger acts by 1855 required more head room and reduced passenger den- 
sities to no more than 100 adults per 200 tons burthen. The British example 
led other national carriers to adopt similar codes, though few approached 
the rigor of British enforcement. 8 

Because of these regulations, passenger accommodations on most labor 
ships became fairly uniform. At the beginning of the trade there were few 
ships specifically designed for passengers, so cargo holds were partitioned 
horizontally by adding long shelves along both sides (and down the mid- 
dle if space permitted). Each shelf was divided into "berths" six feet long 
and 21 to 24 inches wide. 9 Emigrants were segregated by sex, except for 
married couples. By the mid-1850s regulations on British ships specified 
that migrant laborers receive a space allotment of 72 cubic feet per adult 
(2x6x6 feet), somewhat greater than the 66 cubic feet then allowed per 
British soldier on troop ships. Tinker notes with regard to Indian migrants, 
"From the 1870s, the rules aboard coolie ships were more comprehensive, 
and more effectively enforced, than on most other passenger ships." 10 

As Figure 4.2 shows, the average passenger density on indentured labor 
ships was far smaller than on those of the African slave trade, just over 40 
migrants per 100 tons on ships from India and China to the British West 
Indies in the third quarter of the century and 55 migrants per 100 tons on 
ships from China to Cuba and Peru. Less cramped were indentured la- 
borers on ships from Africa to the West Indies, which averaged a bit under 
30 per 100 tons, similar to the 20 to 30 passengers per 100 tons on European 
immigrant ships to North America in the 1840s and 1850s. In contrast, 
densities in the peak decades of the nineteenth-century slave trade aver- 
aged 257 persons per 100 tons, well above the maximum of 167 adults that 
would have been permitted by the British regulations adopted for slave 
ships in the late eighteenth century. Indeed, one response to the risk of 
capture by British patrols was for captains to pack their vessels with as 
many as 300 to 350 slaves per 100 tons. 11 Nineteenth-century indentured 

8 Fred H. Hitchins, The Colonial Land and Emigration Commission (Philadelphia: University of 
Pennsylvania Press, 1931), pp. 119-53; Robert L. Irick, Ch'ing Policy toward the Coolie Trade, 
1847-1878 (Taipei: Chinese Materials Center, 1982), pp. 87, 209. The application of these 
rules to British ships from China was regularly evaded in the early 1850s. Spain and Macao 
adopted limits of 100 passenger per 200 tons in 1860 as did Peru in 1868; Meagher, 
"Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 167-68. 

Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," p. 166, with reference to a voyage from 
Macao to Havana in the 1860s. 

10 Tinker, New System of Slavery, p. 145. 

11 Emigrant ships from Europe tended to sail only partially full, at least in the first half of the 
century, since more capacity was needed for the cargoes of cotton and timber on the return 
trip; David Eltis, "Free and Coerced Transatlantic Migrations: Some Comparisons," Amer- 
ican Historical Review 88.2 (April 1983): 271-72. Eltis, Economic Growth, pp. 135-36. 



Voyages 



85 



50 



Passengers per 1 00 tons 
100 150 200 



250 



300 




Free Europeans to Quebec, 1851-55 



Indentured Africans to Caribbean, 1848-67 



55 Indentured Chinese to Cuba and Peru, 1847-74 



41 Indentured Chinese to British Caribbean, 1852-73 



42 Indentured East Indians to British Caribbean, 1858-73 

i l l i l 



Figure 4.2. Passenger densities on selected nineteenth-century routes. 
Source: Table A.4. 



migrants were also much less crowded than indentured European mi- 
grants in the previous century, who commonly endured densities of 100 to 
150 persons per 100 tons. 12 

Routes and experiences 

It took some time for the changes in ship design and passenger regulation 
to become uniform. As a result, accommodations on different migrant 
routes in the early decades of the indentured labor trade varied con- 
siderably. Ships in the early Chinese labor trade were commonly fitted 
out in the manner of African slave ships so as to control victims of 
kidnapping or deceit, with "iron gratings over hatchways, walls between 
crew and coolie quarters, armed guards, [and] cannons trained on hatch- 



12 Sharon V. Salinger, "To Serve Well and Faithfully": Labor and Indentured Servants in Pennsylva- 
nia, 1682-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 91-94, suggests that 
indentured servant mortality may have been worse than slave mortality on transatlantic 
voyages, citing instances of losses in excess of 50% in the German and Irish indentured 
trade to Pennsylvania in 1729 and 1738, falling to about 20% for the Germans and rather 
more for the Irish at midcentury. The records are fragmentary and those she cites may be 
worst cases. 



86 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

ways." Under these appalling circumstances some Chinese migrants 
sought to escape through suicide, while others participated in attempts to 
take over the ship and force its return to China. These "mutinies" were 
put down with great brutality and loss of life. Meagher has catalogued 68 
"mutinies" out of 736 voyages from China, including some believed to 
have been instigated by pirates pretending to be migrants. Such uprisings 
gradually tapered off as the recruitment abuses that caused them were 
checked, "mutinies" being half as common in the 1860s as they had been 
a decade earlier. 13 

Indentured Chinese migration was also characterized by a wider variety 
of destinations and national carriers than was true of other migrant 
groups. The opening of the trade in 1842 had brought ships of every size, 
condition, and nationality to the Chinese ports. According to Meagher, 
"'The bigger and better equipped ships, mostly belonging to British and 
United States companies, were snatched up for the trade to California 
which was at its height in 1853, while the agents for Cuba, Peru and British 
Guiana had to be content with anything that could stay afloat." When the 
Californian and Australian gold rushes subsided, fast American clipper 
ships entered the emigrant trade from China, until an 1862 law, prompted 
by revelations of kidnapping and fears of mutinies, prohibited American 
ships from engaging in the "coolie trade." By 1865 Italian ships dominated 
the Chinese labor trade. 14 

The voyages of indentured Africans were much shorter than those en- 
dured by the Chinese, but also displayed a wide variety of circumstances. 
After the failed experiment with a royal navy steamer, the firm Hyde, 
Hodge and Company held the exclusive contract to convey liberated Af- 
ricans from Sierra Leone and St. Helena to the West Indies from 1849 to 
1861. The twenty thousand Africans recruited from western Africa be- 
tween 1854 and 1862 for the French Caribbean colonies were mostly trans- 
ported by Maison Maes and Victor Regis. 15 In the final years of the Atlantic 
slave trade about 5 percent of the liberated Africans on St. Helena were 
picked up by ships carrying migrants from India to the West Indies. 

The transport of Indian laborers was more uniform because it was 
dominated by a single carrier, Britain, whose regulations governed the 
departure, passage, and landing of the indentured laborers. Except for 

13 Irick, Ch'ing Policy, pp. 209-10 (for quotation); Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese La- 
borers," pp. 201-2. 

14 Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 153 (for quotation), 156-60; Irick, Ch'ing 
Policy, pp. 153-54, 209. 

15 Johnson U. J. Asiegbu, Slavery and the Politics of Liberation, 1787-1861: A Study of Liberated 
African Emigration and British Anti-Slavery Policy (London: Longmans, 1969), pp. 139, 149; 
Monica Schuler, "The Recruitment of African Indentured Labourers for European Colonies 
in the Nineteenth Century," in Colonialism and Migration; Indentured Labour before and after 
Slavery, ed. P. C. Emmer (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1986), pp. 143-44. 



Voyages 87 

regulations isolating the single women from the males, passengers were 
relatively free to move about in the holds and on the decks, weather 
conditions permitting. The size of the Indian trade and its longer duration 
also enable one to see more clearly the improvements in recruitment and 
transportation over time. Perhaps because they were more likely to be 
voluntary and better informed than Chinese migrants, indentured Indians 
were generally resigned to their conditions and their protests were "iso- 
lated," "insignificant," and "not very ominous." 16 

Overall, the ships carrying indentured migrants had a good safety rec- 
ord. Few sank and the small number that were unable to complete the 
voyage because of damage due to storms or running aground were gen- 
erally able to transfer passengers to other vessels. Only seven ships were 
lost in the twenty-eight years of the China emigration, a fact that is prob- 
ably attributable to the skill of those who braved the China trade. Several 
of these disasters were the result of uprisings on board ship. For example, 
three days after the Flora Temple, a U.S. ship under British charter, sailed 
from Macao in October 1858 some 850 Chinese migrants staged a "mu- 
tiny." When the ship struck a reef during the melee, all of the Chinese, who 
had been locked below decks to quell the uprising, were lost. In 1855 the 
Bald Eagle, a large American clipper with 744 Chinese from Swatow, sank 
with a loss of all passengers after catching fire during a "mutiny." 17 Of over 
350 sailings from India to the British West Indies between 1851 and 1873, 
just four failed to reach their destinations, of which only one went down 
with all passengers. 18 Stranded passengers were taken to their destinations 
on other ships. 

Despite the changes in design and law, ocean travel in the mid-nine- 
teenth century was no pleasure cruise. Even under the new regulations, 
passengers had minimal elbow room and little privacy. Sanitary facilities 
were rudimentary and the quality of food and water could deteriorate 
considerably during the long voyages from Asia to the Americas. Bad 
weather and mechanical failures prolonged the length of the trip and 
increased its discomforts. 

Such conditions were not unique to the indentured migrants. Even on 
well regulated European migrant ships in the latter part of the nineteenth 
century, comfort was at a premium. The words used by Joseph Chamber- 
lain, the president of the British Board of Trade, in commenting on corn- 
linker, New System of Slavery, p. 168. 

17 Irick, Ch'ing Policy, p. 61 n; Basil Lubbock, The China Clippers (Taipei: Ch'eng-Wen Publish- 
ing, 1966), pp. 44-49; Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 165-66, 403. 
18 The Hanover ran agound at St. Helena in 1859, suffering a loss of 15. The Fusilier was 
wrecked in 1865 at Port Natal, with a loss of 86 passenger lives. The Eagle Speed was totally 
wrecked on the Roy Mutlah Sands in 1865 with a loss of all 497 passengers. The Jason, 
wrecked at Cape Town in 1868, suffered no losses. The 598 passenger deaths on these 
wrecks represent a loss of 4.4 per thousand passengers embarked during this period. 



88 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

plaints about conditions of Irish migrants en route to North America in 
1881 could as well apply to most indentured laborers: 

The condition of steerage passengers in an emigrant ship must always be a subject 
of painful interest. The limited space, the rude accommodation, the poor and often 
dirty bedding and clothing, the awkwardness and novelty of the cooking and 
sleeping arrangements, the strangeness of the poor passengers to each other, the 
rough and unclean habits of some, and the helplessness of others, and, added to 
all, the discomforts of sea-sickness, necessarily create a scene even in the best 
managed ships which is too well calculated to rouse feelings both of pity and 
disgust. ... It must, however, be remembered that the conditions . . . are to a great 
extent inseparable from the carriage at moderate fares of a large number of poor 
persons on a long sea voyage, and that they cannot be much changed for the better 
without increasing expenses and demanding fares which would put an end to 
emigration. 19 

The future colonial secretary also reminded his readers that "the condi- 
tions which appear so intolerable to persons accustomed to comfort and 
luxury, appear very different to the emigrants themselves." Late twen- 
tieth-century readers, like contemporary upper-class critics, judging by 
very different circumstances of travel to which they are accustomed, may 
rightly find such voyages unimaginably horrible and disgusting. The per- 
spectives of most migrants would have been quite different. This is not 
because the poor felt pain less acutely, though it is likely their lives had 
inured them to conditions that those in other strata and times might find 
intolerable. Rather their frame of reference and their frame of mind are 
likely to have been different. 

Most would have been uncertain and confused about what lay before 
them, having been ill-informed by recruiters or lacking a knowledge of 
geography sufficient to grasp the implications of what they had agreed to. 
The magnitude and strangeness of the undertaking caused some to desert 
on the eve of departure and even those who persisted would have suffered 
from the sadness of leaving home and kin. All but a few would have found 
the life on a large passenger vessel strange and disorienting. If the food 
served up was also unfamiliar or at variance with their dietary preferences, 
the ship's mess would have been more regular and wholesome than what 
many had been able to obtain prior to their departure. More significantly, 
the truly voluntary migrants would have accepted these discomforts as the 
means to bettering their circumstances. For all the uncertainty, sadness, 
and strangeness of the voyage, it was the way to a better life and to fulfill 
a dream of returning home with riches. This hopeful frame of mind was 

19 Joseph Chamberlain, Minute by the President of the Board of Trade . . . , 5 July 1881, no. 1, 
in "Emigrant Accommodation on Board Atlantic Steam Ships," PP 1881 Ixxxii [c. 2995]. 



Voyages 89 

thus the greatest difference between indentured migrants and slaves, for 
whom the mental depression known to contemporaries as "fixed mel- 
ancholy" was one of the greatest horrors of the middle passage. 

Mortality and its causes 

Their hopes and dreams may have buoyed most indentured migrants' 
spirits, but the fact remains that large numbers died of physical ailments 
during the long voyages. Mortality among indentured migrants stands 
apart from among other nineteenth-century passengers, both free and 
enslaved. Deaths on voyages of indentured Chinese to Latin America were 
nearly 120 per thousand. Indian migrants en route to the British West 
Indies from 1851 to 1870 perished at the rate of 65 per thousand and those 
from Africa at 35. At first glance these losses seem comparable to those in 
the Atlantic slave trade, which from 1811 to 1863 averaged about 70 per 
thousand. Death rates on indentured ships would seem to have little in 
common with those on nineteenth-century European migrant ships to 
North America and Australia, which averaged less than 10 per thousand. 20 

However, such comparisons are misleading since they disregard the 
very different durations of these voyages. It is more meaningful to mea- 
sure deaths over a standard time period, a month being most suitable since 
most voyages lasted between one and three months. 21 Figure 4.3 shows 
that passenger mortality rates through the last quarter of the nineteenth 
century fell into three fairly distinct groups. The Atlantic slave trade stands 
alone at the high end of the spectrum with deaths of nearly 60 per thou- 
sand per month. European migrants, with average losses of 10 per thou- 
sand or less are at low end. The death rates among Chinese, Indian, and 
African indentured migrants stand between these two, at around 20 to 30 
per thousand per month. 

Why did the mortality of indentured laborers occupy this middle posi- 
tion, distinct from both the middle passage of the slave trade and from 
voyages of European migrants? Variations due to differences in the routes 
can be discounted, since the voyages of indentured Africans were quite 

20 See Table A.5. 

21 This follows the lead taken in studies of the Atlantic slave trade by Joseph C. Miller, 
"Mortality in the Atlantic Slave Trade: Statistical Evidence on Causality," Journal of Inter- 
disciplinary History 11.3 (1981): 385-^423; David Eltis, "Mortality and Voyage Length in the 
Middle Passage: New Evidence from the Nineteenth Century," Journal of Economic History 
44.2 (1984): 301-8; and R. L. Cohn, "Maritime Mortality in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth 
Centuries: A Survey," International Journal of Maritime History 1.1 (June 1989): 159-91. It 
should be noted that the death rates are measured against the estimated "population at 
risk" (average of the number leaving and the number arriving). The formula used for 
calculating mortality rate is: [(total deaths t- total passengers at risk) -=- average length of 
voyage in months] x 1000. 



90 



Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 



Deaths per thousand per month 
20 30 40 50 60 




£+I+I+I+I+IhX+I+I+I+I+I+I+I+I+I+I+X 



Indentured Chinese to Cuba, 1847-73 



2.4 



10 



Indentured Pacific Islanders to Queensland, 1873-94 



British to New York, 1836-53 



British Convicts to Australia, 1815-68 
I I I I 



Figure 4.3. Mortality on selected ocean voyages in the nineteenth century. 
Source: Table A.5. 



similar to those of enslaved Africans, while indentured Indians and Chi- 
nese going to the West Indies passed through the same waters and en- 
dured voyages of similar durations to those of European migrants to 
Australia. The key factors to be considered are the circumstances of the 
voyages themselves and the conditions of the passengers at the time of 
their embarkation. 

Were indentured passengers treated so much worse than free migrants 
that they died in larger numbers? Given the cultural and linguistic differ- 
ences between passengers and crew during a period of growing racism, 
more callous care or mistreatment would not be unexpected. Indeed, Irick 
has suggested that the early Chinese suffered from severe neglect and 
abuse because ship captains were paid $70 to $100 for each migrant 
boarded - not landed, although Meagher cites considerable evidence to 
show that this often repeated assertion is based on extremely slender evi- 
dence and argues that weightier evidence and common sense support the 
view that captains and physicians had financial incentives to land passen- 
gers alive and were penalized for losses. Even such incentives did not pre- 
vent the occurrence of many abuses. After reviewing the frequent and often 
grisly abuses in the Chinese coolie trade, Meagher still concludes, "it would 



Voyages 91 

seem that most captains were genuinely concerned with the well being of 
their passengers, if only to have them reach their destination alive." 22 

The fact that indentured passengers from India and Africa were covered 
by British regulations similar to those of transatlantic free migrants, or 
even stricter after 1855, cannot be taken to mean they escaped ill-treatment, 
since regulations were not always effectively enforced. Indeed, contempo- 
raries regularly blamed the high mortality on ships from India on short- 
comings in care and treatment. For example, British investigators attrib- 
uted the loss of 45 out of 380 Indians on the Bucephalus while en route to 
British Guiana in 1856-57 to the "total absence of all hospital accommoda- 
tion," to problems with food and cooking, and to "the excessive and 
mistaken kindness which induced the surgeon and captain to allow the 
people to remain below [deck] the greater part of the voyage." 23 Another 
investigation of exceptional mortality on two ships from Bombay to Mau- 
ritius in 1864 (a year when mortality from Bombay to Mauritius averaged 
74 per thousand per month) blamed the "misconduct and inefficiency of 
the surgeons, who are said to have been constantly intoxicated" and the 
insufficiency of food and fresh water, as well as an outbreak of smallpox 
and fever. 24 An inquest concerning the French vessel Auguste, carrying 
indentured migrants to Reunion from the French enclave of Pondicherry 
"revealed that some of the sick had been thrown into the sea while they 
were still alive and that the passengers had been deprived of water and 
food and had been whipped by the officers. Some of the women had been 
raped and several had died as a result." 25 These examples demonstrate 
ill-treatment of indentured migrants occurred, but such anecdotal evi- 
dence does not provide a basis for deciding whether these incidents were 
sufficiently widespread and severe to produce a measurable increase in the 
aggregate number of deaths. 

A broader comparative approach suggests that regulations may have 

^Irick, Ch'ing Policy, p. 209; Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 179-80. 

23 PP 1859 xvi [c.2452], Papers relative to Emigration to the West Indian Colonies, J. G. Austin, 
Immigration Agent-General, and H. G. Butts, M.D., Acting Health Officer, to Hon. W. B. 
Wolesley, Georgetown, 17 February 1857, pp. 225-27. It is likely that the investigators 
underestimated the role of cholera (dysentery), which so debilitated the already emaciated 
emigrants that many were so weak and /or depressed that they relieved themselves in their 
clothing. Further evidence that it was not factors peculiar to the Bucephalus that were 
primarily to blame is that eight other ships (out of thirteen) arriving in the British West 
Indies from India in 1857 had worse death rates. Moreover, death rates on ships from India 
to British Guiana from 1856 to 1860 were nearly three times higher than those from 1851 
to 1855. 

2i PP 1865 xviii [3526], 25th Report of CLEC 1865, p. 19. Despite the investigation, mortality 
was even higher from Bombay the next year: 82.6%o per month; PP 1866 xvii [3679], 26th 
Report of CLEC 1866, from appendix no. 17. 

5 Hubert Gerbeau, "Engagees and Coolies on Reunion Island: Slavery's Masks and Free- 
dom's Constraints," in Emmer, Colonialism and Migration, p. 224. Gerbeau does not give the 
date of the voyage. 



92 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

been quite effective in reducing onboard mortality. Thus the fact that 
losses in the trade from China to Cuba were nearly double those on British 
vessels carrying Chinese to British West Indies in the same period might 
reasonably be expected to be due in some substantial measure to more 
effective British regulation. The trade from China to Peru suggests a simi- 
lar inference. Losses in the early years of the trade to Peru (1851-54) were 
particularly appalling, averaging over 80 per thousand, but mortality on 
Peruvian ships (often old passenger vessels or converted cargo ships that 
were described as "floating hells") was ten times that on British ships. 
After the adoption of new regulations in 1864 mortality on Peruvian ships 
from China dropped by nearly three-quarters. 26 

However, it is more difficult to determine which aspects of the regula- 
tions were responsible for the variations in passenger losses. Is it signifi- 
cant, for example, that the Peruvian ships of 1851-54 carried many more 
indentured Chinese per ton than their British counterparts or that the 
Peruvian ships averaged 400 tons in size while the British vessels averaged 
almost 660 tons? As already noted, contemporaries firmly believed that 
overcrowding was closely linked to high mortality rates. One can also not 
fail to notice that the differences in mortality rates in Figure 4.3 generally 
correspond to the passenger densities in Figure 4.2: slaves were far more 
crowded than indentured migrants; indentured Asians were somewhat 
more crowded than contemporary European migrants. 

Yet it is difficult to demonstrate a positive correlation between the 
degree of crowding and rate of mortality even during the period when 
losses were greatest. Table 4.1 shows that on the 119 known voyages from 
China to Cuba from 1847 to 1860 densities varied over a significantly broad 
range: 18 ships carried over 70 migrants per 100 tons and 13 had under 40 
per 100 tons with the rest spread out in between. Yet there was virtually 
no difference in the mortality rates of the most crowded and least crowded 
groups of ships. On voyages from British India to the British West Indies 
the table does show a positive correlation between crowding and mor- 
tality, but because of British regulations there were only small variations 
in passenger density. 27 Highly significant in casting doubt on the connec- 

26 Watt Stewart, Chinese Bondage in Peru: A History of the Chinese Coolie in Peru, 1848-1874 
(Durham NC: Duke University Press, 1951), pp. 18, 56-57, 62. Records from Meagher, 
"Introduction of Chinese Laborers," tables 25-28. If one adds to the sample the one ship of 
each nation in 1850, the losses rise to 83%o for Britain versus 157% for Peru, since a mutiny 
on the British ship resulted in the deaths of 199 Chinese. 

27 Indeed, the density is largely attributable to differences in the number of children and 
infants. British regulations permitted 50 "statute adults" per 100 tons, with children 
counted as half an adult and infants not counted at all. That infants and children died at 
a higher rate than adults has been demonstrated from records of voyages from Calcutta 
from 1858 to 1862, which separated deaths by age category and from regression analysis of 
other records; Ralph Shlomowitz and John McDonald, "Mortality of Indian Labour on 
Ocean Voyages, 1843-1917," Studies in History 6 (1990): 45-50. A smaller proportion of 



Voyages 93 

Table 4.1. Mortality among Chinese to Cuba, 1847-1860, and Indians to the British 
Caribbean, 1851-1870, by passengers per 100 tons 

Chinese to Cuba Indians to British Caribbean 

Passengers 
per 100 tons Ships Deaths/1,000 Ships Deaths/1,000 



20-39.9 


13 


135 


90 


48 


40-49.9 


22 


159 


157 


57 


50-59.9 


33 


151 


28 


66 


60-69.9 


33 


164 


- 


- 


70-96.9 


18 
119 


134 


275 





tion between crowding and mortality is the fact that mortality on ships 
leaving French Indian ports for the French West Indies was no greater than 
on British ships from Madras, even though the former carried twice as 
many passengers per ton. British officials speculated that this was due to 
the French having higher selection standards and a superior understand- 
ing of the passengers' needs because they employed Indian doctors, while 
the British had switched to European doctors. 28 

Although contrary to commonsense expectations of both contemporary 
and modern observers, the conclusion that the discomforts imposed by 
shipboard crowding in the indentured labor trade bore little relation to 
mortality is in line with the general conclusions of studies of the African 
slave trade. Nor has a high correlation between mortality rates and ship- 
board densities been found on European migrant ships. 29 To be sure, 



nonadults after 1892 was a factor in the decline in deaths at sea in the last years of the trade 
from India. 

™PP 1859 xxxiv [2569-1] no. 115-16, 119, Consul Lawless to Earl of Malmesbury, Martinique, 
12 May 1858, 13 October 1858, 17 January 1859, enclosing the records of twelve ships 
arriving from French India with 5,795 passengers that can be calculated to have suffered an 
average mortality of 9.7% per month. The ten ships from Madras to the British Caribbean 
in this period suffered a mortality of 9.9%. See comments of the Agent General of Immi- 
grants in the Trinidad Annual Report, 1858, PP 1860 xliv [2711], pp. 36-37, and the CLEC, 
17th General Report 1857, PP 1857 xvi [2249-11], pp. 47-48. Because they did not factor out 
the much larger number of ships that sailed from Calcutta, British officials believed that 
mortality on the French ships was actually significantly lower than on British, an inference 
that is unwarranted for reasons to be explained here. 

29 See summaries of evidence in Charles Garland and Herbert S. Klein, "The Allotment of 
Space for African Slavers aboard Eighteenth-Century British Slave Ships," William and Mary 
Quarterly 42 (1985): 238-48, and Eltis, Economic Growth, pp. 265-68. For a recent contrary 
view, based on ninety-two surgeons logs in the 1790s, see Richard H. Stechel and Richard 
A. Jensen, "New Evidence on the Cause of Slave Mortality in the Atlantic Slave Trade," 
Journal of Economic History 46.1 (1986): 72-73. For other migrants, see Eltis, "Free and 
Coerced Transatlantic Migrations," p. 273. 



94 



Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 



Table 4.2. Chinese to Cuba, 1847-60, and Indians to the British Caribbean, 1851-70, 
by size of mortality (deaths per 1,000 embarked per month) 







Average 


Deaths 




%of 




Mortality 


Ships 


tons 


per 1,000 


Days 


passengers 


% of deaths 


Chinese 














80.1-132 


13 


896 


390 


124 


11 


28 


60.1-80 


10 


762 


321 


138 


8 


17 


40.1-60 


18 


791 


221 


145 


15 


23 


20.1-40 


31 


921 


123 


130 


27 


22 


0.1-20 


48 


779 


39 


119 


39 


10 


Total 


119 








100 


100 


Indians 














80.1 + 


6 


1,010 


351 


108 


2 


12 


60.1-80 


8 


969 


225 


93 


3 


9 


40.1-60 


21 


914 


165 


102 


7 


18 


20.1-40 


70 


921 


91 


97 


22 


31 


0.1-20 


203 


968 


29 


94 


66 


30 


Total 


308 








100 


100 



confinement in the tight quarters of a ship certainly facilitated the spread 
of infectious diseases through the air and through contaminated water and 
food, but by itself the degree of crowding was not a significant variable. 

Approaching the issue of mortality more directly, Table 4.2 looks for a 
correlation between mortality and other measurable factors. Despite a 
great spread in the mortality rates, this analysis fails to uncover any clear 
correlation between mortality and any other measurable factor. Both ship 
size and length of voyage vary independently of mortality rates. Indeed, 
the most striking fact to be drawn from Table 4.2 is how variable average 
mortality rates were. Two-fifths of Chinese migrants and two-thirds of 
Indian migrants traveled on ships with mortality of 20 per thousand or 
less, half of whom were on ships with a mortality of 10 per thousand or 
less. Put another way, for both groups over two-thirds of the deaths 
occurred on one-third of the voyages. 

Although the overall conditions indentured migrants experienced on 
their voyages may still have affected their survival rate, it has proved 
impossible to establish a clear connection between mortality and any sin- 
gle carrier-defined circumstance. The best regulated voyages generally 
had lower mortality than those poorly supervised, but overcrowding was 
not the main issue. Ships that carried fewer passengers per ton were also 
likely to have better regulated food and water supplies, a factor whose 
significance cannot be measured. Nevertheless, it is notable that even on 



Voyages 95 

the best regulated migrant routes indentured passengers suffered higher 
mortality than free migrants, leading one to conclude that some other 
variable was responsible. 

Thus, by process of elimination one is led to turn from the conditions of 
the voyages to the condition of the migrants who embarked upon them. 
Does the fact that mortality was higher among Asians than among Eu- 
ropeans, among Chinese than among Indians, and among Indians from 
Madras that those from Calcutta have to do with the place of origin? Three 
separable factors about the place of origin can be identified as affecting 
mortality on the voyages overseas: the general physical debility of the 
migrants before recruitment, their care between recruitment and boarding, 
and the likelihood of epidemic disease being introduced from the local 
environment. 

As the previous chapter has argued, those who became indentured 
migrants were often victims of social and economic distress. They included 
Africans rescued from slavery, Indians and Chinese fleeing famine and 
political upheaval, victims of poverty and deprivation. The southern Chi- 
nese who became indentured, for example, were not just poorer than the 
larger number of migrants leaving China without becoming indentured in 
this period but were also more likely to be suffering from physical debil- 
ities brought on by their poverty. A recent comparative study of Chinese 
migrants points out: 

Of the two streams of Cantonese who ventured overseas, those who traveled as 
free or semifree emigrants to the gold rushes in California, the Pacific Northwest, 
and Australia were probably upwardly mobile people who saw emigration as a 
way to obtain the funds that would enable them to benefit from the expansion of 
commercial agriculture, while those who left under the coercive conditions of the 
"coolie trade" to Cuba and Peru, as well as the ones who went to California after 
the placer mines there had given out, were more likely victims of imperialism, war, 
land dispossession, debt bondage, and natural disasters. 30 

Meagher has also drawn attention to the undesirable psychological and 
physical condition of indentured Chinese migrants in the 1850s. Some 
were prone to violence, either because they were the victims of kidnapping 
who wished to escape or because they were criminal types who accepted 

30 Sucheng Chan, "European and Asian Immigration into the United States in Comparative 
Perspective, 1820s to 1920s," in Immigration Reconsidered: History, Sociology, and Politics, ed. 
Virginia Yans-McLaughlin (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 44. A similar 
point was made by a contemporary British investigator: in contrast to the men who freely 
migrated to southeast Asia and the goldfields of California and Australia, indentured 
Chinese were and were likely to remain "the very poor and needy . . . and destitute"; James 
T. White, "Remarks on Emigration from China, and on the General Management of Chinese 
Emigrants in the British West Indies," Hong Kong, 8 February 1854; PP 1859 xvi [c.2452], 
Papers Relating to Emigration to the West Indian Colonies, pp. 35-36. 



96 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

indenture in hopes of staging a successful mutiny and seizing control of 
the ship - in the words of a contemporary source, "the scum of the em- 
pire." For others, indenture was a last desperate act to save their lives, the 
overwhelming majority "feeble, sickly, emaciated wretches, whom hard- 
ship, disease and hunger had reduced to the lowest ebb of vitality," in the 
words of a ship's doctor who had examined them. 31 

Because those willing to emigrate were often in poor physical condition, 
an important part of recruitment was screening out those suffering from 
chronic health problems. The procedure in China left much to be desired. 
At midcentury recruits were collected in sheds, empty warehouses, or 
floating hulks known as baracoons (the term borrowed from the slave 
trade) by speculators and crimps who then sold them to the captains or 
shipping companies, whose responsibility it was to select out the weakest 
while still making their quotas. Conditions were better at the government- 
regulated depots later established in Canton and Macao, but on the whole 
the selection process was fraught with irregularities. 32 

In contrast, the government depots where Indian recruits normally 
spent one to three weeks awaiting the departure of their ships strove to 
maintain the hygienic standards of the day. Under the supervision of the 
emigration agent, recruits were bathed, issued clean clothing (including 
woolens for those passing through cool latitudes en route to Fiji and the 
West Indies), and well fed. Two medical inspections were conducted, an 
initial one by an Indian doctor (or nurse in the case of the females) and a 
final examination by the surgeon superintendent just prior to sailing. 
Tinker stresses that, under the pressure of numbers and the need to fill 
quotas, these examinations could be very superficial (especially in the case 
of the women): "any coolie who was not suffering from an obvious mal- 
formation, or displaying evidence of disease, would pass." 33 Although 
conditions in the Indian depots were far from ideal, such exclusions of the 
physically unfit could account for some of the difference in the mortality 
rate of Indian migrants compared with that of the Chinese, which in the 
case of Indians going from Madras to Mauritius and the West Indies was 
one-sixth that of Chinese to Latin America. 

However, the difference between mortality rates among Indians from 
Madras and Calcutta is attributable to yet another factor, epidemic disease, 
which would appear to have been the most important single cause of death 
among all indentured migrants. The contrast between Madras and Cal- 
cutta is striking. In the typical year 1858 migrants en route from Calcutta 
to Mauritius perished at the rate of 19 per thousand while fewer than 5 per 



31 Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 154, 181-82. 
32 Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 97-139. 
33 Tinker, New System of Slavery, pp. 137-44 (quotation from p. 139). 



Voyages 97 

thousand died on the voyage from Madras. 34 On the longer sea routes to 
the West Indies, migrants from Calcutta (327 vessels in 1851-73) perished 
at the rate of 20 per thousand, while losses from Madras (23 vessels 
1856-62) were slightly over 4 per thousand. In some years there were even 
greater divergences. Despite efforts to improve conditions on ships from 
Calcutta, mortality among migrants from that port in 1856-57 was eight- 
een times higher than that from Madras. The reason was clear to both 
officials in India and to the British Emigration Commissioners: those de- 
parting from Calcutta came on board infected with disease, most com- 
monly cholera. 35 

The case of the Sir Robert Seppings from Calcutta to British Guiana in 
1856-57 may illustrate how the prevalence disease in the port, imperfec- 
tions in the screening process, and the eagerness of Indians to be accepted 
as migrants could combine to produce high mortality during the voyage. 
Cholera had been raging in Calcutta at the time of departure. On the 
second day out of the port 40 of the ship's 291 passengers were suffering 
from diarrhea and dysentery, 61 eventually dying before reaching their 
destination and 57 others having to be hospitalized on their arrival. Ac- 
cording to the captain, passengers reported "that most of them had been 
attacked [by illness] in depot, but had been told that unless they sup- 
pressed the fact they would lose their opportunity of emigrating." Who 
told them to conceal their illness is not clear, but it is suggestive of their 
desire to be accepted that they did so, even though, as the captain also 
reported, most of them "had come to Calcutta with the wish to go to 
Mauritius" (to which immigration had been halted for six months after 24 
October 1856 because of cholera among Indians arriving earlier in the 
year). 36 



34 As elsewhere in this chapter mortality rates have been calculated on the basis of a 30-day 
period to offset the different sailing times from the two ports. Tables of emigrants arriving 
in Mauritius in 1865 and 1866 show that vessels from Calcutta (50 ships) averaged 41 days 
in passage, while those from Madras (19 vessels) averaged 32 days; CLEC Report 1866, 
appendix 17, and 1867, appendix 18. The CLEC reported death rates to Mauritius by port of 
origin in India (as percentages of those embarking) for the years 1858 to 1866; of that series 
the 1858 rates were the median and the number of migrants that year was the second 
highest in the series (after 1859, which showed similar mortality rates). A smaller number 
of ships sailing to Mauritius from Bombay experienced mortality rates similar to those from 
Madras, except in 1864 and 1865 when they jumped to 74 and 82.6%o per month. 

35 PP 1857-58 xxiv [2395], CLEC, 18th General Report 1858, p. 53. F. J. Mouat, The Report on 
the Mortality of Emigrant Coolies on the Voyages to the West Indies in 1856-57, cited in Tinker, 
New System of Slavery, pp. 163-64. 

* 6 PP 1859 xvi [2452], Papers Relating to Emigration to the West Indian Colonies, T. W. C. 
Murdoch and Frederic Rogers, Emigration Officers to Herman Merivale, 4 May 1857, pp. 
125-26. The Roman Emperor, which left Calcutta a few days later, lost 88 of its 313 
passengers to cholera, dysentery, and bad weather and 63 others had to be hospitalized on 
arrival. 



98 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

The great variation in mortality on Chinese migrant ships that was 
noted in Table 4.1 is consistent with the outbreak of epidemics of cholera 
or dysentery while at sea, as was the case on voyages from India. A 
correlation of high mortality on ships with preboarding conditions was 
also characteristic of indentured Africans. The Colonial Land and Emigra- 
tion Commissioners' report for 1848 blamed the high death rate among 
the earliest shiploads of liberated Africans from Sierra Leone principally 
on "the state of debility to which the emigrants have been reduced by 
their previous hardships," which put them in need of better than ordinary 
feeding, as well on the high proportion of children and some deficiencies 
in sanitation. Of course, one should be skeptical of explanations that 
blame mortality on causes which the responsible officials could claim 
were beyond their control, but that does not make them untrue. Indeed, 
the correlation of unusually high shipboard mortality with the condition 
of the passengers who boarded is common to other migration studies. For 
example, losses of 163 per thousand among Irish sailing to Canada in 
1847 (compared with an average of 6 per thousand in the previous five 
years) were attributed to "fever," likely the cholera that reached Britain 
that year. Studies of mortality in the African slave trade have also found 
that the condition of the slaves at the time of their boarding was un- 
expectedly significant in explaining large variations among different Af- 
rican ports. 37 

Does such a conclusion lead back to blaming the recruiters? Did the 
eagerness of recruiters to provide cheap labor to colonial plantations or 
the carelessness of medical personnel in the port and on ship lead them 
to overlook adverse medical conditions? One must keep in mind that up 
through the middle nineteenth century even the best Western medical 
practice was still very crude. Medical examinations of Europeans did not 
routinely include taking temperatures, measuring blood pressure, or per- 
forming laboratory blood tests. Inoculations existed only against smallpox 
(Indian migrants were customarily vaccinated before leaving the depots) 38 
and the germ theory was not generally accepted. Cholera epidemics were 
still claiming thousands of lives in western Europe in the 1850s. Thus, 
while the medical staff that screened the migrants and accompanied them 



37 PP 1847-48 xxvi [961], CLEC, 8th General Report 1848, pp. 14-17, 22. Indeed, mortality 
among children was five times as high as among adults on the fourteen ships from Sierra 
Leone to the West Indies in 1848-^19, before the reforms in feeding were put into effect. See 
PP 1849 xxii [1082], CLEC, 9th General Report 1849, p. 67. Cf. Asiegbu, Slavery and the 
Politics of Liberation, p. 115, citing CO. 386/5. The high Irish mortality was a major impetus 
behind the new regulations governing shipboard densities and health measures. For a 
summary of the slave trade literature, see Eltis, Economic Growth, p. 137. 

38 Blue Book of Mauritius, 1865, p. 128. 



Voyages 99 

on their voyages might well have done a better job, it can be doubted if 
it was within their abilities in the middle third of the century to identify 
or treat diseases in ways that would have reduced the mortality on 
shipboard by any large amount. Meagher's comment on the China trade 
is more broadly relevant: "it would seem that the enormous death rate 
can be attributed to no single cause but to a combination of factors such 
as, ill-equipped ships, lack of government supervision, overcrowding, the 
semi-involuntary nature of the migration, lack of proper food, water, and 
medical care, and above all the weakened state of the migrants them- 
selves, which was aggravated by the conditions on board the vessels." 39 



Trends 

Examining changes in mortality over the course of several decades high- 
lights the major changes taking place in the indentured labor trade. As 
Figure 4.4 depicts, there was a very significant decline in passenger 
deaths on all major indentured migrant routes during the second quarter 
of the nineteenth century. Mortality from Africa to the British West Indies 
stabilized near 10 per thousand per month after midcentury, down from 
44 per thousand in the 1840s. Deaths among migrants from India to 
the British West Indies fell from over 26 per thousand per month in 
1851-60 to about 9 per thousand in the 1870s. Although it remained 
significantly higher, mortality among Chinese migrants to Cuba, Peru, 
and the British Caribbean colonies also declined from 40 per thousand per 
month in 1851-60 to 25 per thousand at the end of that trade in the early 
1870s. 

During the last half-century of trade indentured migrants had much 
less reason to fear dying during the voyage overseas than had their 
predecessors. Among the more than 100,000 Indians who took passage to 
British Guiana in the quarter century after 1875 mortality averaged 6.4 per 
thousand a month, rising somewhat to 7.3 per thousand for 1901-17 
(about a third the rates of the 1860s). Mortality on Indian voyages to 
Mauritius fell from 10 per thousand in the 1870s to under 4 per thousand 
at its end in the 1890s. Rates for Indians on the new routes to Fiji and 
Natal were also in that range, 40 and other routes were even lower. Losses 
from death and desertion averaged 3.8 per thousand a month on the 
revived Chinese voyages to the Transvaal in 1904-7, a tenth of the level 



Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," p. 184. 
40 British Guiana figures are calculated from Dwarka Nath, A History of Indians in British 
Guiana (London: Thomas Nelson, 1950), tables 2 and 3. Shlomowitz and McDonald, "Mor- 
tality of Indian Labour," table 6. 



100 
40 



Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 



35 " 



30 ■■ 



25 " 



20 " 



15 " 



10 ■■ 



5 " 



1851-60 



— Chinese to the Americas 

— Indians to British Caribbean 

"■ Africans to British Caribbean 

— Indians to Natal 




1861-70 



1872-80 



1881-90 



1890-1900 



Figure 4.4. Indentured passenger deaths per thousand, 1850-1900. 

Source: Table A.6 and Ralph Shlomowitz and John McDonald, "Mortality of Indian 

Labour on Ocean Voyages, 1843-1917," Studies in History 6.1 (1990): table 16. 



of those to Latin America in 1847-74. Migrants from lands new to the 
trade also experienced very much lower mortality rates. Pacific islanders 
suffered losses of 3.0 per thousand per month en route to Queensland in 
1873-94 and 3.6 per thousand en route to Fiji in 1882-84 and 1891-1911. 
There was only one death on the first voyage of Japanese indentured 
migrants to Hawaii in 1868, none during the first larger government- 
sponsored voyage in 1885, and there is no mention of deaths during 
frequent voyages thereafter. 41 
It is much easier to establish how sharply mortality diminished on 

41 Ralph Shlomowitz, "Epidemiology and the Pacific Labor Trade," Journal of Interdisciplinary 
History 19 (1989): table 3; Peter Richardson, Chinese Mine Labour in the Transvaal (London: 
Macmillan, 1982), pp. 157, 197; Hilary Conroy, The Japanese Frontier in Hawaii, 1868-1898 
(New York: Arno Press, 1978), pp. 68-81. 



Voyages 101 

indentured labor voyages than to explain precisely why the decline oc- 
curred. It is likely that improvements in shipboard accommodations, in the 
screening of embarking passengers, and in the application of practical 
sanitary measures all played a part. The trend toward larger and safer 
ships continued during the last half-century of the trade. The size of ships 
from India to British Guiana, for example, rose from an average of about 
1,100 tons in 1872 to over 2,000 tons after 1908. By the early twentieth 
century most indentured passengers traveled aboard steamships, which 
greatly shortened the voyage. Passage times from India to British Guiana, 
for example, fell from an average of 96 days in 1851-73 to just 41 days in 
1908-17. The steamships that carried Chinese laborers from Hong Kong to 
Durban in 1904-7 took only 30 days. 42 Steamships were also standard on 
Pacific migration routes in the late nineteenth century. In December 1891 
a steamship executive and a Tokyo businessman organized the Nihon 
Yoshisa Emigration Company to carry Japanese contract laborers to Ha- 
waii and other locations in the South Pacific. By the end of the century 
twelve separate companies were carrying Japanese contract laborers 
abroad and the 5,000-mile voyage from Japan to Hawaii took a mere 10 
days. 43 

The greater size and faster speed of these vessels did not reduce mor- 
tality directly, but they provided a more salubrious environment and 
shorter time for contagious diseases to spread and fester. Infectious dis- 
eases were less likely to come onboard with the embarking passengers 
during this period. The Pacific islanders came from generally healthy rural 
communities, not squalid cities. The northern Chinese and Japanese mi- 
grants of this era came from healthier climates than had the more tropical 
southern Chinese, Africans, and Indians of the earlier period. Measures 
taken in the ports of departure also made Indian migrants less likely to be 
carrying disease when they embarked in these later decades, though in- 
fectious diseases such as dysentery and measles not detected in the screen- 
ing process still led to deaths on some of the voyages. Brij V. Lai has 
demonstrated that in the 1890s over a sixth of those recruited in northern 
India were rejected as unfit at the subdepot or the Calcutta depot before 
departure. There were also improvements in Indian cities, such as the 
installation of a new piped water system in 1892 that reduced cholera 
contamination, although it certainly did not eliminate it, as the 1900 out- 



42 Tinker, New System of Slavery, pp. 146-47; Nath, Indians in British Guiana, tables 3-4; McDon- 
ald and Shlomowitz, "Contract Prices," p. 90. 

43 Yuji Ichioka, The Issei: The World of the First Generation Japanese Immigrants, 1885-1924 (New 
York: Free Press, 1988), pp. 47-48. Wayne Patterson, The Korean Frontier in America: Immigra- 
tion to Hawaii, 1896-1910 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1988), pp. 49-50. 



102 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

break that claimed the lives of 2.3 percent of Calcutta migrants at sea 
amply demonstrated. 44 

Improvements in shipboard sanitation and medical care are also likely 
to have played a role in enhancing the safety of the migrants. Although 
scientific medicine was still in its infancy, the medical personnel on board 
seem to have become more effective in ensuring that the diet was nutri- 
tious and that food and water remained uncontaminated, and in limiting 
the spread of infection. Such improvements were part of a much larger 
trend that reduced mortality not only among indentured migrants but also 
among nonindentured overseas travelers and among Europeans generally 
both at home and in the tropics. 45 

Conclusions 

This chapter has highlighted several aspects of the ocean voyages of in- 
dentured laborers. Although the rude shipboard accommodations, mis- 
treatment, and appalling mortality experienced by many of these migrants 
certainly merit comparison with the experiences of the ongoing slave 
trade, an examination of these voyages across the full spectrum of their 
distribution and the full term of their operation suggests still more com- 
parisons with the larger contemporary experiences of unindentured mi- 
grants from Europe and Asia. 46 

The great increase in ocean travel in this period was made possible by 
increased ship size and speed and increased government regulation that 
were shared by most indentured laborers. While still rudimentary, con- 
ditions were safer and less uncomfortable than in any earlier period. Even 
so, mortality among indentured migrants was distressingly high for young 
persons healthy enough to agree to several years of manual labor. The 
chapter argues that while conditions on shipboard were to some degree 
responsible for these losses, no one measurable factor - not even over- 
crowding - can be assigned a large share of the blame. Far easier to 



^McDonald and Shlomowitz, "Mortality on Chinese and Indian Voyages"; Ralph Shlomo- 
witz, "Mortality and the Pacific Labour Trade," Journal of Pacific History 22 (January 1987): 
41^45; Brij V. Lai, Girmitiyas: The Origins of the Fiji Indians (Canberra: lournal of Pacific 
History, 1983), tables 4 and 5. 

45 See Cohn, "Maritime Mortality," pp. 159-91; Philip D. Curtin, Death by Migration: Europe's 
Encounter with the Tropical World in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni- 
versity Press, 1989). 

46 Dudley Baines, Emigration from Europe, 1815-1930 (London: Macmillan, 1991), is a brief 
overview for Europe but there is no comparable summary of Asian migration, which was 
also considerable. For example, in 1883 and 1884 unindentured Chinese laborers were 
arriving in Singapore at the rate of 112,000 annually; Straits Settlements Blue Book for the 
Year 1884 in PP 1884-85 lii [c.4583], p. 205. 



Voyages 103 

document is that the migrants' physical health and their exposure to 
endemic and epidemic diseases were highly significant in accounting for 
the mortality rates in transit. Finally, the chapter demonstrates that mort- 
ality was not uniformly high during all periods but fell sharply and steadi- 
ly after the early decades of indentured recruitment. Evidence does not 
permit the measurement of which factors were most significant in produ- 
cing this reduction, but it is likely that larger and better equipped and 
regulated ships, faster voyages, improved experience in handling large 
seaborne populations and increased medical knowledge all played a role. 



5 



Indentures 



A man's destination is not his destiny, 

Each country is home to one man 

And exile to another. Where a man dies bravely 

At one with his destiny, that soil is his. 

T. S. Eliot, "To the Indians Who Died in Africa" 



After weeks or months at sea the migrants came in sight of the lands to 
which they had bound themselves in indentured service. The rigors of the 
voyage over, they now faced the challenges of adjustment to a new land 
and a new life. Some spent their first weeks in quarantine or in infirmaries 
recovering from illnesses (or succumbing to them). At most destinations 
the new arrivals were allocated to employers by local authorities; in Cuba 
and Peru migrants endured the frightening and humiliating experience of 
being auctioned off to the highest bidder. 

At their work camps migrants were housed in rudimentary lodgings - 
crude shacks inherited from the days of slavery, barracks nearly as 
crowded as the ships that had brought them, or, in the last decades of the 
trade, modest bungalows. The food furnished by employers (at least for the 
first few months) was often unfamiliar and sometimes in short supply. 
Clean water could be at a premium, sanitary facilities minimal or entirely 
lacking. The new diet, contaminated water, and the local disease environ- 
ment posed new threats of illness, in the treatment of which the medical 
facilities guaranteed by their contracts often left much to be desired. Only a 
minority of new arrivals were already hardened to the arduous physical 
labor they had contracted to perform. The tasks were unfamiliar, the work- 
day long, and the pace enforced by overseers and managers a test of their 
strength and stamina. Psychological adjustment could be almost as diffi- 
cult. The new surroundings, the sickness and physical toils, the problems of 

104 



Indentures 105 

mastering new skills and the rudiments of a new language, and the entry 
into a new community all taxed the minds as well as the bodies of the mi- 
grants. 

The initial experiences of most migrants roughly approximated the cir- 
cumstances just outlined, but as the first few days and weeks grew into 
months and years the variations multiplied. Each importing territory had 
its own laws and customs; each work assignment, its own challenges and 
rewards. Mining gold had little in common with mining guano; cutting 
cane in the boiling sun was not the same as boiling cane syrup in the facto- 
ry. However much they shared the culture and attitudes of their common 
class, employers differed in temperament and humaneness. Though 
change came slowly and unevenly, time did not stand still. The experience 
of the pioneers in 1838 differed from those arriving in 1875 or 1900. 

At least as important as these circumstances into which fate and fortune 
had dropped them were the differences among the migrants themselves. 
Their state of health on arrival and the immunities acquired from prior 
exposure to disease affected who sickened and died and who survived the 
challenges of the first year. Small differences in stamina, determination, 
and frame of mind could result in great disparities over the term of the 
indenture. Some gained in body strength and savings year by year, others 
lost their earnings in gambling or squandered them on drugs. Women 
generally earned less than men, but fortunes of individual women varied 
markedly. There were still more differences in what individuals decided 
to do at the end of their contracts. Some returned home with whatever 
money they had accumulated; others stayed on temporarily for another 
term to earn still more; many settled permanently in their new land. 

The challenge of this chapter is to describe some common and normative 
features of the migrant experience abroad without losing sight of these 
many variations. It examines that experience under four headings. The 
first two examine the larger parameters that governed employment con- 
ditions: the changing mix of destinations and conditions over time, the 
economic constraints on their employers. The second pair of topics follows 
the migrants' life cycle: the challenges they faced over the years of in- 
denture, what they gained and what they decided about the future after 
completing an initial indenture. It is not a story of villains and heroes, but 
of men and women confronting their circumstances. While attention is 
paid to variations over time and space, of necessity the emphasis falls on 
the ordinary, not the unusual, the typical rather than the extreme. 

Periods and destinations 

As Chapter 2 outlined, the indentured labor trade began as a daring 
experiment that sought to abolish slavery while preserving the colonial 



106 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

plantation economies. It took time to change employers' entrenched atti- 
tudes and labor practices and to establish new administrative and legal 
structures governing recruitment and employment. Given the magnitude 
of this task and the changes taking place in the global economy, it is not 
surprising that the new labor system had many shortcomings, or that those 
shortcomings aroused periodic attempts at reform. 

Although each territory followed its own timetable, the indentured la- 
bor system as a whole underwent notable changes in the destinations, 
origins, and treatment of migrants that roughly correspond to the four 
quarter-centuries of its existence (see Figure 5.1). Changes in the circum- 
stances of a typical migrant resulted from the elimination of the worst 
territories and from improvements in average living and working condi- 
tions brought about by improved government supervision. In most places 
wages showed little or no real improvement. 

During the period before about 1850 indentured laborers suffered from 
the growing pains inherent in setting up a new labor system as well as 
from employer attitudes and practices inherited from the days of slavery. 
In structure it was a fairly simple era: nearly all recruits came from India 
and Africa; nearly all went to British colonies. As Chapter 2 has detailed, 
British imperial and colonial officials responsible for Indian migration had 
extended the system with some deliberation and considerable oversight, 
rejecting some early regulations, such as an 1835 ordinance in Mauritius 
and an 1838 one in British Guiana, as being too close to slavery. They had 
also halted the shipment of Indian migrants to Mauritius from 1839 to 
1843, as they would later to French colonies from 1856 to 1860, to force 
receiving colonies to remedy abuses. 

Despite these governmental efforts to protect indentured laborers and 
distinguish them from slaves, the inescapable fact was that their lives were 
controlled by employers who had recently been slave owners and pro- 
tected by local officials who were closely allied with this class. Slavery had 
been ended over the protests of sugar planters, who in many cases were 
neither inclined nor capable of changing their labor practices. Associations 
with slavery were reinforced by the fact that in many early locations 
indentured laborers took over not merely the jobs but also the dwellings 
of the emancipated slaves. The early, Indian migrants to Mauritius and 
Reunion moved into the Camp des Noirs; their counterparts in British Gui- 
ana occupied the barracks of the "Nigger Yard"; the early Chinese in Cuba 
were processed through the Deposito de Cimarrones, a place of confinement 
for runaway slaves. In 1848 the governor of Trinidad reflected the class and 
cultural biases of the planter class in arguing to the colonial secretary that 
newly arrived "fatalistic worshippers of Mahomet and Bramah" and the 
"savages who go by the name of liberated Africans . . . must be treated like 
children, . . . and Wayward ones too." As Hugh Tinker observes, "The 



Indentures 



107 



900 T 



800 • • 



700 ■ ■ 



600 - 



500- 



400- 



300 ■• 



200 



100 




Queensland 
Fiji 
Hawaii 
I Peru 

Cuba 

IH French and Dutch 
Caribbean 

Hi British Caribbean 
H East & South Africa 
[J] Mauritius & Reunion 



1834-1850 1851-1875 1876-1900 1901-1920 

Figure 5.1. Destinations of indentured overseas migrants by period. 
Source: Table A.2. 



world of slavery still survived; the plantation was a world apart, on its 
own, subject to the laws - whims - of those in charge. 1 

Yet, in accounting for the treatment received by the early indentured 
laborers, the legacy of the past may have been less significant than the 
circumstances of the moment. What mattered more than the dead hand of 



a Hugh Tinker, A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas, 1830-1920 
(London: Oxford University Press, 1974), p. 177; Andre Scherer, La Reunion (Paris: Presses 
Universitaires de France, 1980), p. 63; Duvon Clough Corbitt, A Study of the Chinese in Cuba, 
1847-1947 (Wilmore, Ky: Asbury College, 1971), p. 7. Lord Harris, governor of Trinidad to 
Earl Grey, February 1848, is quoted by William A. Green, British Slave Emancipation: The 
Sugar Colonies and the Great Experiment, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), p. 279. 



108 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

slavery was the vital state of employers' purses. As a general proposition 
in this period, as later, it was better to be under contract to prospering 
employers than to ones near bankruptcy. The records of many investiga- 
tions reveal that the latter were more likely to push workers beyond their 
limits and to fall behind in paying wages. Likewise, it was generally better 
to be employed in territories and in industries that were prospering than 
in ones that were faltering. Monica Schuler has painstakingly cataloged 
how it was the decline of the plantation economy in Jamaica in the late 
1840s that led employers to reduce or suspend wages and increase the use 
of physical coercion. She concludes that it was not from the start but "after 
the first few years [that] the indentured labor system became the equival- 
ent of slavery." 2 

Fortunately Jamaica was not the norm or an especially large importer of 
indentured labor. In Mauritius and British Guiana the prospering sugar 
industry's expanding demand for labor encouraged employers to treat 
their laborers in ways that would encourage them to extend their contracts, 
which were for as little as one year initially. These circumstances also 
permitted officials to withhold laborers from employers who abused them 
and allowed migrants to change employers or even leave the colony early 
at their own expense. Only a third of the migrants to Mauritius in the 1830s 
took advantage of the free passage home to which they were entitled at the 
end of their five years of service; fewer than 2 percent decided to leave 
early in the 1840s. 3 

During the quarter century after 1850 the indentured labor trade reached 
its peak volume and greatest diversity. Like their earlier counterparts in 
British colonies, indentured laborers newly introduced into Hawaii and 
Dutch, French, and Spanish colonies faced attitudes and conditions influ- 
enced by the slave system the planters had been forced to give up (or, in 
the case of Cuba, still continued). In the worst cases, planters and officials 
connived in the kidnapping of laborers and in their confinement in slave- 
like conditions. Pieter Emmer observes with regard to early indentured 
labor in Dutch Guiana, "Outside the plantation the words 'slavery' and 



2 Monica Schuler, "Alas, Alas, Kongo": A Social History of Indentured African Immigration into 
Jamaica, 1841-1865 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), pp. 9 (quotation), 
45-64. 

3 PP 1846 xxviii (691-11), Papers Relative to Immigration of Labourers into the West Indies and 
the Mauritius, Rawson W. Rawson, Second Report of the Committee appointed for the 
purpose of inquiring into . . . the insufficiency of the Labouring Population, p. 160; Robert 
Neaves's, Notes on the Premature Return of the Immigrants to India and the Causes leading 
thereto, July 1845, p. 145, and Continuation of Mr. Neaves's Report upon Indian Immigra- 
tion, 19 July 1845, pp. 147-48. Neaves learned that about 45% of the individuals leaving 
Mauritius early at their own expense disliked the work and an equal proportion felt they 
had earned enough or had family or personal reasons for leaving, while the remainder were 
actually labor recruiters. 



Indentures 109 

'indentured labour' indicated a world of difference; for the workers on the 
plantation they meant continuity in recruitment, in work-load, daily life, 
health care, and, in resistance, crime and punishment." 4 

In British colonies stricter and longer contracts became the norm, a 
circumstance that permitted the abuses of indentured laborers to increase 
along with their numbers. An 1875 investigating commission reported that 
in Mauritius, the largest importer of indentured labor, beatings were a 
"common occurrence" and that on some estates "ill-usage has been sys- 
tematic and long-continued." As Chapter 3 has detailed, the rapidly ex- 
panding Chinese recruitment and the early Pacific islander recruitment 
were the subject of many abuses. Chinese laborers in Cuba were compelled 
to work excessive hours, subject to beating that produced permanent 
injury and even death, inadequately fed, and forced to renew contracts of 
engagement. 5 

The Chinese indentured laborers on Peru's coastal plantations also ex- 
perienced harsh treatment. Sold at auction in Callao, they customarily 
worked ten hours a day, six or seven days a week during the five to eight 
years of their indenture, with only three days off a year for celebrating each 
Chinese New Year. At its worst, their treatment by estate managers dif- 
fered little from that accorded African slaves or native Peruvian peons, and 
small rebellions were not rare. After one of these, the liberal newspaper El 
Commercio charged in 1876: "Accustomed to the easy service of the slave 
laborer, our hacendados have constantly rejected every system that is not 
based on the absolute submission of the peon, or the complete denial of 
their natural right." 6 

As in Jamaica, some of the conditions on Peru's coastal plantations are 
attributable to economic constraints. In contrast, the Chinese at work 
building railroads into the Andes under the American entrepreneur Henry 
Meiggs were much better treated. However, an adequate capital base did 
not always ensure proper treatment. The most miserable of the Chinese in 
Peru were those mining the very profitable guano deposits on the water- 
less, treeless, offshore desert islands. They were compelled by the crack of 
a whip to dig a quota of five tons of acrid bird droppings per person per 
day. To foreign visitors, the barren landscapes, the strange objective of this 

4 Pieter Emmer, "The Importation of British Indians into Surinam (Dutch Guiana), 1873- 
1916," in International Labour Migration: Historical Perspectives, ed. S. Marks and Peter 
Richardson (Hounslow, Middlesex: M. Temple Smith, 1984), pp. 94-95. 

5 PP 1875 xxxiv [c.1115], Report of the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the 
treatment of immigrants in Mauritius [hereafter Mauritius Commission Report], p. 583; 
Ch'en Lanpin, A. Macpherson, and A. Huber, Report of the Commission Sent by China to 
Ascertain the Condition of Chinese Coolies in Cuba (Taipei: Ch'eng Wen Publishing, 1970), pp. 
3-4. 

6 Watt Stewart, Chinese Bondage in Peru: A History of the Chinese Coolie in Peru, 1849-1874 
(Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1951), pp. 82, 221 (quotation). 



110 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

bustle of activity, and the enveloping clouds of yellowish ammonia-smel- 
ling dust that rose from their efforts appeared to be a scene from hell. And 
hell it was for the laborers, some of whom chose to escape from their 
inferno by leaping to their deaths from the guano cliffs. In the wake of the 
guano island scandals the government of Peru acted to suspend the im- 
portation of new laborers from 1856 to 1861. In the 1860s Chinese labor 
contracts normally contained clauses prohibiting their employment in 
guano mining, although these were not always observed. 7 

While chronic abuses were characteristic of this period, so too were 
efforts at correcting them. Governments wrote new labor codes and hired 
more officials to enforce them. Migrants to the older British plantation 
colonies, for example, were entrusted to the supervision of protectors of 
immigrants, who were charged with guarding their welfare. As the num- 
bers of indentured laborers grew, there were added agents-general of 
immigration and various subagents, who personally conducted inspec- 
tions of the migrants' welfare. Some countries that supplied laborers also 
took actions to correct abuses. Japanese officials suspended the shipment 
of laborers to Hawaii after problems with the first experiment in 1868, 
while the Chinese government terminated all shipments to Cuba and Peru 
in 1873 and 1874. 

Of course, well-meaning regulations could be blunted by local govern- 
ment officials, who were generally more sympathetic to the interests of em- 
ployers than of workers. The autonomy of the Peruvian planter on his es- 
tate was legendary, though reputations for kindness and cruelty varied by 
individual. A dispute between the governor of British Guiana and the col- 
ony's agent general for emigration in 1865-68 impaired the latter' s effec- 
tiveness. The situation in Cuba was much worse; as Meagher points out: 

Havana was far removed from Spain, and the colonial government traditionally 
made no effort to enforce decrees . . . which were not to its liking. In these cir- 
cumstances it is not surprising that the provisions of the law which sought to 
protect the Chinese laborer from personal abuse and injustices were ignored or 
violated with impunity 8 

Nevertheless, the momentum for reform led to a series of investigating 
commissions in the early 1870s that, by exposing the sometimes scandal- 
ous shortcomings of the system's operation, were usually the occasion of 

7 Arnold J. Meagher, "The Introduction of Chinese Laborers to Latin America: The 'Coolie 
Trade'" (Ph.D. dissertation, History, University of California, Davis, 1975), pp. 247-48, 256; 
Jonathon V. Levin, The Export Economies: Their Pattern of Development in Historical Perspective 
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960), pp. 31-33, 88-89. 

8 Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 225-26 (quotation), 252; PP 1871 xx 
[c.393], Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Enquire into the Treatment of Immi- 
grants in British Guiana [hereafter British Guiana Commission Report], June 1871, pp. 49-55. 



Indentures 111 

important reforms. Although each territory followed its own cycle of re- 
cruitment and reform, actions taken as a result of the investigations of the 
1870s marked a watershed in the system as a whole. The British Guiana 
Commission in 1871 led to legislation and increased vigilance that, in the 
later judgment of George William Des Voeux, the ex-magistrate whose 
accusations had led to its creation, "added at least something to the com- 
fort and happiness ... of indentured immigrants." An 1872 British com- 
mission of inquiry in Natal led to the adoption of reforms and the appoint- 
ment of a new protector of Indian immigrants, while one to Mauritius in 
1875 focused attention on the many shortcomings in that colony. 9 

As a result of these measures, the mistreatment of indentured laborers 
in the last quarter of the century was greatly reduced. Official supervision 
was everywhere the norm. In Queensland there were inspectors of Pacific 
islanders, while Indian migrants to Surinam were under the supervision of 
both government inspectors and the British consul. In Hawaii the resump- 
tion of Japanese migration in 1885 led to the creation of commissioners to 
oversee the welfare of all migrant laborers and, in time, an inspector 
general. 10 In addition, by the 1870s most indentured laborers were going 
to places such as Natal, Hawaii, and Queensland, which had never known 
plantation slavery or were under the control of a new generation with no 
personal experience of slavery. 

Although discriminatory practices based on differences in class, cul- 



^es Voeux is quoted in Walton Look Lai, Indentured Labor, Caribbean Sugar: Chinese and 
Indian Migrants to the British West Indies, 1838-1918 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University 
Press, 1993), pp. 138-40; for a largely negative assessment of the execution of the commis- 
sion's recommendations, see Alan H. Adamson, Sugar without Slaves: The Political Economy 
of British Guiana, 1838-1904 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), pp. 14-45. Jo Beall, 
"Women under Indentured Labour in Colonial Natal, 1860-1911," in Women and Gender in 
Southern Africa to 1945, ed. Cheryl Walker (Cape Town: David Philip, 1990), p. 147. Mau- 
ritius Commission Report concluded (p. 583): "We find that assaults upon labourers are of 
common occurrence, and that there are estates upon which ill-usage has been systematic 
and long-continued. We have not been able to discover the great physical, moral, and 
intellectual advance accruing to Indians that is asserted to be the consequence of their 
immigration to Mauritius." There were also parliamentary investigations of indentured 
labor in Queensland in 1869 and 1876. 

10 British Guiana Commission Report, pp. 45-46; Judith Ann Weller, The East Indian Indenture 
in Trinidad (Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico: Institute of Caribbean Studies, 1968), pp. 30-32; 
Edward D. Beechert, Working in Hawaii: A Labor History (Honolulu: University of Hawaii 
Press, 1985), pp. 95-96; Pieter Emmer, "Importation of British Indians," p. 94; J. Ankum- 
Houwink, "Chinese Contract Migrants in Surinam between 1853 and 1870," Boletein de 
Estudios Latinoamericanos y del Caribe 17 (1974): 66. Notable exceptions to improving con- 
ditions were found at the fringes of the overseas trade, such as in German New Guinea and 
the French South Pacific; see Stewart Firth, "The Transformation of the Labour Trade in 
German New Guinea, 1899-1914," Journal of Pacific History 11.1-2 (1976): 51-65; D. Shine- 
berg, " 'Noumea No Good. Noumea No Pay,'" Journal of Pacific History 26.2 (1991): 187-205; 
M. Panoff, "The French Way in Plantation Systems," Journal of Pacific History 26.2 (1991): 
206-12; and Ralph Shlomowitz, "Marx and the Queensland Labour Trade," Journal de la 
Societe des Oceanistes, 96.1 (1993): 12. 



112 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

tural, gender, and race persisted, it is fair to say that after 1875 (and much 
earlier in many places) the principal labor shortcomings were more the 
product of the economic and political conditions in which most indentured 
laborers (and their employers) operated rather than a holdover from slav- 
ery or a failure of administration. The clearest examples of how structural 
rather than personal issues governed conditions come in the 1880s and 
1890s when a sharp decline in sugar prices led many employers to try to 
squeeze more labor out of their employees and, where possible, to reduce 
their wages. In Hawaii, at the bottom of the crisis in the mid-1890s, wages 
for Japanese contract workers were reduced from $15 to $12.50 a month 
(though the workers' contribution to their repatriation expenses was also 
cut from $65 to $13); wages for beginning contract workers fell from $14 
(1889-92) to $11 (1895-99) a month. When lower wages led to a great 
increase in runaways in the 1890s, criminal penalties of three month's hard 
labor and imprisonment were added. Similar reactions occurred in some 
other colonies. Laborers in Trinidad, for example, experienced a fall in real 
wages and a sharp rise in prosecutions for contract infringements. How- 
ever, wages in Queensland were unaffected because labor from the Pacific 
islands was in short supply, despite wider-ranging recruitment efforts that 
also raised recruitment costs. 11 

In the early twentieth century the destinations of the indentured labor 
trade shifted again. Low sugar prices cut production and thus ended labor 
imports in the Mascarenes and other less efficient producers. Hawaii's 
annexation by the United States in 1900 ended indentured labor there, as 
did Australia's adoption of a white labor preference a few years later. But 
as some labor trades closed down, others were opened, expanded, or 
revived. China's repeal of the long-standing ban on emigration in 1893 led 
to a new migration from northern China to the mines of southern Africa. 
A quarter century after the end of Chinese labor imports, Peruvian planta- 
tions began to import Japanese laborers. The early Japanese suffered high 
losses from disease and complained of mistreatment, but by a large margin 
they preferred to stay on in Peru at the end of their contracts rather than 
return home or emigrate elsewhere. 12 The labor trades from Java to Dutch 

1 Catharine Coman, The History of Contract Labor in the Hazvaiian Islands (New York: Arno 
Press, 1978), table D; Gary Y. Okihiro, Cane Fires: The Anti-Japanese Movement in Hawaii, 
1865-1945 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991), pp. 27, 35; Tin-Yuke Char, comp. 
and trans., The Sandalwood Mountains: Readings and Stories of Early Chinese in Hawaii (Hon- 
olulu: University of Hawaii, 1975), pp. 280-83; Dorothy Ochai Hazama and lane Okamoto 
Komeiji, Okage Sama De: The Japanese in Hawaii, 1885-1985 (Honolulu: Bess Press, 1986), p. 
25. K. O. Laurence, Immigration into the West Indies in the Nineteenth Century (Kingston, 
Jamaica: Caribbean Universities Press, 1971), pp. 56-57; Bridget Brereton, "The Experience 
of Indentureship: 1845-1917," in Calcutta to Caroni: The East Indians of Trinidad, ed. John 
Gaffar LaGuerre (Trinidad: Longman Caribbean, 1974), p. 30. 

12 Stewart, Chinese Bondage in Peru, pp. 82, 102, 105, 137 (quotation from p. 221); see also his 
references to charges of slavery or near slavery on pp. 21, 55, 117-20. Toraje Irie, "History 



Indentures 113 

Guiana and from India to Fiji were both growing in this period. Though 
not free of faults, these migrations were still more carefully supervised 
than those in earlier decades. In 1910 the last and broadest of the British 
inquiries into Indian indentured labor, the Sanderson Committee, found 
"that the arrangements for housing, medical treatment, and general well- 
being of the indentured immigrants leave little to be desired, and that the 
wages earned are such as to enable them to save a substantial sum during 
the period of the indenture." Emphatic in its insistence that indentured 
labor was a system of free labor and in no way a disguised continuation 
of slavery, the committee pronounced its "unhesitating opinion, after ex- 
amining the best, most authoritative evidence that we could obtain on the 
subject, . . . that whatever abuses may have existed in the more remote 
past, no such charge can be substantiated against the system as it at present 
exists and has been in practice during the last 20 or 30 years." In its view, 
the only major fault remaining was the excessive use of criminal prosecu- 
tion to enforce contracts. The committee also recommended that future 
migration be restricted to colonies in good economic health and able to 
provide land for settlement to those time-expired migrants who wished to 
stay on. 13 

While the numerous investigations reveal that keeping indentured labor 
from reverting to slavery was an uphill fight in which not all battles were 
won, it seems fair to say that over time the reform-minded governments 
succeeded in keeping indentured labor within limits acceptable to the 
standards of the time. They pruned the worst abuses and shut off the 
access of some individuals and territories to new labor. Such actions did 
not alter the underlying economic realities of indentured labor. The next 
section explores the relationship of labor conditions to three factors: the 
costs of labor recruitment, the productivity of the labor obtained, and the 
profitability of the plantation economies. 

Costs, productivity, and profits 

Importing labor was not cheap. During the third quarter of the nineteenth 
century the cost of recruiting and transporting an individual indentured 
laborer averaged $50 to $60 on the shorter routes and $100 to $200 on 
longer ones, not counting the cost of eventual repatriation, to which most 
migrants were entitled (Table 5.1). The actual cost to the employer varied. 
Where shipping was done by private entrepreneurs who could sell the 



of Japanese Migration to Peru," trans. William Himel, Hispanic American Historical Review 
31 (1951): 437-52, 648-64. 
n PP 1910 xxvii [c.5192], Report of the Committee on Emigration from India to the Crown 
Colonies and Protectorates, 26 April 1910 [hereafter Sanderson Committee Report], pp. 
12-24; quotation from pp. 13 and 23. 



114 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

Table 5.1. Costs of indentured labor on various routes, 1847-1913 



Route 


Date Recruiting Transport 


Return 


Total 


Term 


Wage 


1847-1880 
















India to BWI a 


1847-73 


ca. $25 


$60-65 


$40 


$125-130 


3-5 




India to Mauritius 


1865 




25 


NA 




5 


$2.50+ 


India to Br. Guiana c 


1874 




64 




102 


5 


4.00+ 


China to Br. Guiana 


1874 






NA 


>200 


5 


4.00+ 


China to Cuba 


1847-71 


42-102 


50-75 


NA 


92-177 


8 


4.00+ 


China to Peru 


1852 


70 


80 


NA 


150 


6-8 


4.00+ 


China to Hawaii 6 


1852 






NA 


50 


5 


3.00+ 


Japan to Hawaii 


1868 






NA 


70 


3 


4.00+ 


Pacific to Queensland 8 1875-80 






25 


85 


3 


2.50+ 


Pacific to Fiji 


1866-80 






12.50 


58 


3 


1.25+ 


1881-1913 
















Pacific to Queensland 8 


1886-90 






25 


160 


3 


2.50+ 


China to Hawaii 1 


1881-89 






NA 


54 


3 


15.50 


Japan to Hawaii 1 


1885-93 






NA 


60-70 


3 


15.-17. 


China to TransvaaP 


1904-6 


18 


35 


35 


88 


3 


6.50+ 


India to Fiji 


1884-1913 


42 


40 


NA 


82 


5 


6.00 


India to Br. Guiana 


1907-8 








115 


5 


5.30 


India to Trinidad 


1909 








101 


5 


5.44 



Notes: Wages are monthly for an initial basic contract by adult males. BWI = 
British West Indies; NA = not applicable; "+" indicates that rations were provided 
in addition to the wages. 

Sources: (a) Records of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission; Judith 
Weller, The East Indian Indenture in Trinidad (Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico: Institute 
of Caribbean Studies, 1968), p. 140. (b) Blue Book of Mauritius, 1865, p. 115; 
Larry W. Bowman, Mauritius: Democracy and Development in the Indian Ocean 
(Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1991), p. 22. (c) Alan H. Adamson, Sugar without 
Slaves: The Political Economy of British Guiana, 1838-1904 (New Haven: Yale 
University Press, 1972), p. 105. (d) Arnold J. Meagher, "The Introduction of 
Chinese Laborers to Latin America: The 'Coolie Trade,' 1847-1874," Ph.D. 
dissertation, History, University of California, Davis, 1975, tables 8-9. 
(e) Clarence E. Glick, Sojourners and Settlers: Chinese Migrants in Hawaii 
(Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1980), pp. 7-8. (f) Hilary Conroy, The 
Japanese Frontier in Hawaii, 1868-1898 (New York: Arno Press, 1978), p. 28. 
(g) Ralph Shlomowitz, "Markets for Indentured and Time-Expired Melanesian 
Labour in Queensland, 1863-1906: An Economic Analysis," Journal of Pacific 
History 16.2 (1981): table 3. (h) Ralph Shlomowitz, "The Fiji Labor Trade in 
Comparative Perspective, 1864-1914," Pacific Studies 9.3 (1986): tables 2-5, 12. 
(i) Katharine Coman, The History of Contract Labor in the Hawaiian Islands (New 
York: Arno Press, 1978), table D. (j) Peter Richardson, Chinese Mine Labour in the 
Transvaal (London: Macmillan, 1982), p. 191. (k) Parliamentary Papers 1910 
xxvii [c. 5192], Report of the Committee on Emigration to the Crown Colonies and 
Protectorates, 1910, pp. 55-56, 65. 



Indentures 115 

contracts of their recruits at auction to eager buyers, the price of a contract 
might run well above actual expenses. For example, Chinese laborers 
regularly sold for $400 each at Callao (Peru) and those landed in Cuba 
between 1847 and 1871 fetched an average of $340. To avoid bidding wars, 
in most other territories a private association or the government contracted 
for delivery of migrants at a predetermined price. In addition, govern- 
ments often subsidized the expenses of recruitment from general revenues. 
After some disastrously expensive early shipment by a planters' Voluntary 
Subscription Immigration Society in British Guiana, for example, the col- 
ony's government took over the financing of the migrations, generally 
underwriting a third of the cost in the 1870s and 1880s, which taxes on 
planters only partially covered. From 1868 the government of Queensland 
closely supervised private recruitment at predetermined prices, charging 
employers a "capitation fee" for its services. Fiji had both government and 
private recruitment of Pacific islanders in the years after 1876, with its 
Immigration Department on occasion subsidizing recruiting and repatria- 
tion costs. The government of Surinam underwrote 40 percent of the cost 
of obtaining Chinese labor for its planters from 1863 to 1873. The first 
Chinese contract workers were brought to Hawaii for $50 each in 1852 by 
the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society, a planters' organization that 
coordinated recruitment from 1852 to 1865; thereafter recruitment was 
subsidized by the Hawaiian government's Bureau (or Board) of Immigra- 
tion, which from 1888 onward recouped part of its expenses by deductions 
from the migrants' wages. 14 

Table 5.1 also shows a positive correlation between recruitment costs 
and contract lengths, reflecting employers' need to recoup their invest- 
ments in recruiting expenses. Thus initial contracts of high-cost Chinese 
recruits in Cuba and Peru were typically for eight years, compared with 
five years in the British and Dutch Caribbean colonies where passage and 
recruiting costs were subsidized, and three years for the lower-cost routes 
from East Asia to Hawaii. This was not entirely a market calculation. 



14 Levin, Export Economies, pp. 82, 113; Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 
233-34; Ralph Shlomowitz, "Markets for Indentured and Time-Expired Melanesian Labour 
in Queensland, 1863-1906: An Economic Analysis," Journal of Pacific History 16 (1981): 
70-91; Ralph Shlomowitz, "The Fiji Labor Trade in Comparative Perspective, 1864-1914," 
Pacific Studies 9 (1986): 116-17; William A. Green, "The West Indies and Indentured Labour 
Migration: The Jamaican Experience," in Indentured Labour in the British Empire, 1840-1920, 
ed. Kay Saunders (London: Croom Helm, 1984), p. 22; Emmer, "Importation of British 
Indians, p. 98; Adamson, Sugar without Slaves, pp. 43, 139-41; Alan H. Adamson, "The 
Reconstruction of Plantation Labor after Emancipation: The Case of British Guiana," in Race 
and Slavery in the Western Hemisphere: Quantitative Studies, ed. Stanley L. Engerman and 
Eugene D. Genovese (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), p. 471; PP 1898 1 
[c.8657], Report of the West Indian Royal Commission, appendix C, 2:119; Okihiro, Cane 
Fires, p. 27. 



116 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

Governments also regularly imposed limits on contract length, although it 
is equally true that employers had success in raising legal limits that were 
uneconomic. For example, as employers in British Guiana were forced to 
implement reforms in other areas, they succeeded in raising the length of 
a standard contract from one year to five from 1854 and in gaining greater 
control over their new laborers. Since short-term labor contracts (generally 
no longer than a year) were the hallmark of progressive labor legislation 
in the nineteenth century, Alan Adamson can rightly argue that these 
changes constituted "a counterrevolution in Guyanese society [that] . . . 
reduced to zero what little social and economic freedom the immigrant 
had previously possessed." On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine 
how indentured labor trade to British Guiana would have continued with- 
out longer contract terms. 15 

Five-year contracts became the norm in other British colonies at this time 
with migrants in those closer to their homelands having the right to a free 
return passage after five years. Official opposition blocked any further 
lengthening of indenture contracts. Even though the rising demand for 
Pacific island labor required ever longer voyages that drove up the cost of 
recruiting an indentured Melanesian in Queensland from about $85 in 
1875-80 to about $160 in 1886-90 (plus fees and local transportation costs), 
the standard contract there remained three years. The three-year contracts 
signed by Chinese in the Transvaal gold mines were the minimum length 
over which mine owners could recoup their recruitment costs and the 
maximum length to which authorities would agree. 16 

Despite the high costs of recruitment, indentured labor was in much 
demand in places where local supplies were limited or where local labor 
was even more expensive. In Cuba, for example, indentured Chinese 
migrants were cheaper than African slaves. In the older British plantation 
colonies indentured labor was initially much cheaper than local labor. By 



15 Adamson, Sugar without Slaves, pp. 54 (quotation), 55, 110, and "Reconstruction of Planta- 
tion Labor," pp. 467-70. See Donald Wood, Trinidad in Transition (London: Oxford Uni- 
versity Press, 1968), pp. 133-35. The passage quoted from Adamson omits his charge that 
the 1854 laws represented "a movement back toward slavery"; rather than a reversion to 
an older labor system the longer contracts were a recognition that the costs of long-distance 
transport necessitated a longer payback period. 

16 Shlomowitz, "Markets ... in Queensland," pp. 78-79; Peter Richardson, Chinese Mine La- 
bour in the Transvaal (London: Macmillan, 1982), pp. 166-67. Government regulation could 
also impede shortening contracts: officials in British Malaya (Straits Settlements) in the later 
1880s repeatedly argued that the three-year contract mandated by law was too long (when 
tied to the low wages also mandated) to attract Indian labor of sufficient quality; cf. PP lxxii 
1888 [c.5249], Straits Settlements, Administrative Reports for 1887, p. 13. The term of 
indenture was finally reduced to two years in November 1899 and to 600 days in January 
1905; Ralph Shlomowitz and Lance Brennan, "Mortality and Indian Labour in Malaya, 
1877-1913," Indian Economic and Social History Review 29 (1992): 61. 



Indentures 117 

one calculation indentured Indian labor cost one-eighth as much as free 
African labor in Mauritius in 1840, though two-thirds as much was prob- 
ably closer to the truth. The first Indians brought to British Guiana in 1838 
were paid wages of just 80c a month (plus benefits) at a time when newly 
emancipated held hands were receiving 32c a day. 17 

But over time, the gap between the wages of experienced indentured 
laborers and nonindentured laborers tended to close, partly because the 
growing number of indentured laborers had the desired effect of forcing 
down wages other laborers could command, partly due to legal require- 
ments in Dutch and British Guiana that indentured laborers be paid at 
prevailing wage rates. In time the growing population of out-of-indenture 
laborers also created an alternative (and more experienced) labor supply, 
which commanded superior wages. For example, in Queensland in the late 
1880s the annual wage during first indenture contracts was £6 ($28.80), 
during a subsequent reindenture £8.70 ($41.76), and for Melanesians no 
longer under indenture £16 to £18 ($76.80 to $86.40). Most time-expired 
Melanesians worked on small farms, not plantations. Some employers in 
the British West Indies also made a habit of hiring time-expired migrants, 
finding their experience made them worth a premium price. 18 

The other side of the initially competitive cost of indentured labor was 
its lower productivity, at least by novice recruits unaccustomed to the tasks 
they were required to perform and experiencing many other problems of 
adjustment. Dissatisfied with the low productivity of their first Japanese 
recruits, for example, Peruvian planters cut their wages and dismissed 
those who objected, but planters became more satisfied as both sides 
gained experience working with each other. 19 Other employers also com- 
plained of the low productivity of new arrivals, of women, and of people 
whom they termed malingerers. 

After finding it impossible to import sufficient numbers of the African 
and European labor that they preferred and too expensive to import more 
Chinese, employers in the British West Indies came to depend on a labor 
supply they esteemed less, the East Indians. Because Indians were phys- 
ically smaller and weaker than Africans, they were not as productive. In 
Trinidad in 1872 it was estimated that an indentured Indian man required 
five to six hours to do field work that a Creole male performed in four to 



17 PP 1841 xvi (45); the majority report put the cost of Indian labor at £8.90 a year compared 
to £68.90 for freed slaves, but the calculations in Mr. Dawson's minority report of £13.18 
versus £19.20 seem better founded. 

18 Adamson, Sugar without Slaves, pp. 42, 119; Shlomowitz, "Markets ... in Queensland," pp. 
76-79; see pp. 89-91 for a discussion of the work preferences of out-of-indenture Melane- 
sians. 

19 Irie, "Japanese Migration to Peru," p. 447. 



118 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

five hours. With some exaggeration investigators in British Guiana at the 
same time reported that an Indian could do only half as much work as a 
Creole. 20 

To promote maximum effort (and reduce costs) employers in the British 
West Indies, Peru, and elsewhere took steps to tie wages to productivity. 
Instead of paying laborers for a certain number of hours of work, wages 
were linked to the completion of a "task," a system that had been com- 
monly used during apprenticeship to define a day's work. In practice, the 
best Creole men could complete two tasks a day, though few were willing 
to work more than three or four days a week. Some experienced Indians 
could also do more than 1 task a day, such as the man in the fifth year of 
indenture in British Guiana who completed 42 tasks a month, but in- 
dentured Indians typically accomplished much less. One study of thirty- 
nine estates in British Guiana showed that of the theoretical 260 tasks that 
the law set as a year's work, Indian laborers actually averaged only 122 in 
1854 and 140 in 1855. Another study in 1870 found that the average daily 
earnings of an ordinary Indian migrant laborer was 28c (14d.) versus the 
statutory wage of 40(t (20d.), which would represent the completion of 182 
tasks a year. While the trend was up, most likely because the proportion 
of first-year migrants in the work force was falling, productivity was still 
well below planters' expectations. 21 

This disappointing output was due not only to Indian migrants' typi- 
cally accomplishing less in a day, but also to their working fewer days a 
year than anticipated. In the mid 1870s Indian migrants worked an average 
of 153 days a year in French Guiana; in Trinidad the average was 200 days. 
Because of high absenteeism an Indian in British Guiana typically worked 
4 (rarely 5) days a week, not the 6 days the contract specified. On one 
well-run plantation on Trinidad in the mid- 1890s a typical Indian was 
absent from work a third of the time. In 1909 at least 20 percent of in- 
dentured Indians failed to turn out for work in British Guiana in any given 
week, while in Fiji absenteeism for indentured Indian males averaged 11.4 

20 PP 1871 xviii [c.768], Report of CLEC, appendix 26. Creole women took 5 to 6 hours per task, 
indentured Indian women 6 to 6.5 hours. In 1872 the agent-general of immigration in 
Trinidad reported that indentured Indian men generally took 5.5 to 7 hours to complete a 
task; Indian women took 6 to 7 hours; PP 1873 xviii [c.768], Report of CLEC, appendix 26, 
table 2. See Barry W. Higman, "The Chinese in Trinidad," Caribbean Studies 12 (1972): 21ff. 

21 Adamson, Sugar without Slaves, p. Ill; British Guiana Commission Report, appendix, part 
1, p. 97. In 1854 38% of the total number of indentured Indian migrants arriving in the 
previous five years were in their first year of service. In 1855 that figure was down to 19%. 
Although the corresponding figure for 1870 would be 30%, by then many indentured 
laborers had been in the colony more than five years. Thus, a more meaningful calculation, 
supporting the correlation of the absentee rate with the proportion of neophyte migrants, 
can be made for 1872, when first-year migrants were 9% of the total indentured labor force. 
These calculations are based on Dwarka Nath, A History of Indians in British Guiana (London: 
Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1950), table 1, and Adamson, Sugar without Slaves, table 9. 



Indentures 119 

percent and for females 23.7 percent. 22 Illness accounted for a significant 
part of the lost time, but many employers believed that much illness was 
exaggerated or imaginary and that Indians were chronic malingerers. 

Because absenteeism undermined the principal rationale for importing 
indentured labor in the older plantation areas (the need for a tractable 
labor force) and added to its cost, employers responded with a variety of 
coercive measures that added greatly to the harshness of plantation life. 
One method was to force migrants to make up missed days. In Mauritius, 
a migrant incurred a two-day penalty (a "double cut") for every day of 
labor missed, even for illness. As a consequence of such penalties, it was 
officially estimated in the late 1850s that a five-year contract in Mauritius 
took seven years to complete, while a five-year contract in Trinidad (where 
only one day had to be made up for each day missed) took six years. 23 

Legal action against migrants for unauthorized absences and other vio- 
lations of contract were also very common. In the first decade of the 
twentieth century 24 percent of indentured Chinese in the Transvaal gold 
mines were prosecuted in a year and in British Guiana the proportion was 
38 percent; convictions in Trinidad were 16 percent, in Fiji 20 percent. Most 
convicted for vagrancy in Trinidad were first offenders, suggesting that the 
fines may have had the desired effect. 24 

This overview of costs and productivity supports the conclusion that for 
employers indentured labor was a success, but a limited one. It enabled 
older plantation areas to obtain labor for less than newly freed persons 
were willing to accept and with new legal basis for long-term control and 
discipline. In addition, by increasing the available labor supply, it drove 
general wage rates down from the high levels of the postemancipation 
years. In newer colonies indentured migrations furnished a labor supply 
that was otherwise unavailable in sufficient numbers or at an affordable 
price. Yet when the high costs of recruitment and the low productivity and 
absenteeism are calculated in, indentured labor was not cheap, especially 
not to the sugar planters struggling with falling commodity prices. To 
sustain productivity, employers relied more on the stick of enforcement 
than the carrot of wages. No doubt, the actions of some employers and 
supervisors reflected ingrained prejudices and personality defects, but the 

^Eric Williams, From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean, 1492-1969 (New York: 
Vintage Books, 1984), pp. 354-55; Laurence, Immigration into the West Indies, p. 56; British 
Guiana Commission Report, p. 90; Sanderson Committee Report, 1910, p. 56. 

23 0n Trinidad in 1858 a typical Indian worked over two days a month more than a typical 
Creole or other migrant laborer; PP 1860 xliv [2711], Report of the Agent General of 
Immigrants, Annual Report Trinidad, 1858, pp. 36-37; Tinker, New System of Slavery, pp. 
186-89. 

Richardson, Chinese Mine Labour, p. 174; Tinker, New System of Slavery, p. 194; Weller, East 
Indian Indenture, p. 56. 



120 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

larger political and economic realities of the times sufficiently explain the 
overall pattern of wage rates and labor conditions. 

The migrants' experience 

Employers, governments, and markets constructed the political economy 
within which indentured labor operated, but the migrants themselves also 
shaped its operations by their actions and reactions. Although information 
on the perceptions of individual migrants is limited, it is possible to outline 
the differences in physical, mental, and social adjustment of migrant 
groups, in their earnings, and in the decisions they made at the end of their 
initial indenture. Which historical period (outlined in the previous section 
of this chapter) a migration took place in significantly affected the in- 
dividual experience, but the stress here will be on the changes over the 
cycle of an individual life: the differences in the first year and the last of 
indenture, the choices and benefits of a migrant in a second contract (or out 
of contract) compared with those of a first termer. 

One might expect to find a sharp difference between the experiences of 
those migrants who were true volunteers and those who were recruited by 
deception or even kidnapping, but this does not appear to have been the 
case. First of all, the line between these categories was not clear-cut, since 
few first-time recruits had a realistic image of what they were getting into, 
partly because of misinformation but mostly due to their own inability to 
imagine the geography and conditions they would encounter at their 
destinations. In addition, once overseas, most migrants seem to have 
adopted a fatalistic attitude toward what they had to endure, which fur- 
ther blurred the differences between their forms of recruitment. Instead, 
recruits' reactions were more likely to be formed by the actual conditions 
at their destinations and by their individual abilities to cope with un- 
familiar circumstances. Like other migrants crossing ecological frontiers, 
they were stricken by unfamiliar illnesses, which sometimes proved fatal. 
Like other cross-cultural travelers, they suffered greatly from homesick- 
ness and other psychological problems of adjustment. In time most learned 
to cope with the conditions they found at their work sites and some 
succeeded in changing them. While circumstances varied by territory and 
by employer, so too did the individual's response. 

No aspect of the migrant experience is more shocking than the high 
mortality they suffered. In January 1847, George R. Bonyun, a British 
doctor who had recently examined the survivors of the 36,000 migrants 
introduced to British Guiana during the previous decade, discovered that 
mortality varied widely among the different migrant groups. Least healthy 
were the Portuguese from Madeira, who had experienced an average 
annual mortality of at least 70 per thousand. While migrants from India 



Indentures 121 

were somewhat better off as a whole, their survival differed sharply by 
origin: South Indians departing from Madras had suffered mortality rates 
of 80-90 per thousand, whereas North Indians from Calcutta had ex- 
perienced losses of about 27 per thousand (the reverse of the situation of 
these two groups during the voyages out from India). The healthiest of 
Guiana's migrants were those from Africa, whose mortality of 14 per 
thousand was virtually the same as that of the Creole African population 
in the colony. 

Dr. Bonyun attributed these differences to three factors: the physical 
condition of the immigrants on arrival (Madeirans being debilitated by 
famine), their different susceptibility to diseases in Guiana, and the dif- 
ferences in medical care to which they had access in the colony, laying 
particular emphasis on the disease factor. The American consul in Mau- 
ritius concurred, attributing high death rates among Indian migrants there 
in the 1850s to cholera introduced from Calcutta in 1854 and to malaria in 
the 1860s. Modern research, particularly by Ralph Shlomowitz, has 
confirmed the primary role played by epidemiological factors among all 
indentured migrant groups. As Table 5.2 shows, Pacific island laborers in 
Fiji died at about twice the rate of Indian migrants there, since the latter 
had come from a more similar disease environment. Indeed, those from the 
isolated Pacific islands suffered high mortality almost everywhere they 
went (or even, as in Hawaii and Fiji, when they stayed at home). So did 
those moving from the temperate environment of Europe to tropical plan- 
tations. Mortality among other migrants varied with their exposure to 
unfamiliar diseases and unhealthy conditions. 25 

For this reason mortality also varied widely among the same migrant 
group at different locations. As Shlomowitz and Brennan demonstrate, In- 
dians suffered far greater losses in Assam, Malaya, and Mauritius, where 
the intensity and virulence of malaria was greater, than in Natal and the 
West Indies. Among most migrant groups the worst losses occurred during 
the first year of their residence abroad and declined as the survivors ac- 
quired greater immunity or resistance to the new diseases. Shlomowitz of- 

25 George R. Bonyun, M.D., to Henry Light, governor of British Guiana, Demerary [sic], 6 
January 1848, pp. 63-64; PP 1854-55 xvii [1953], 15th General Report of CLEC 1855, ap- 
pendix 62, p. 207, cites mortalities for Guiana in 1853 of 113%o for Chinese, 79%o for 
Portuguese, 36%o for Indians, and 14%o for Africans. Of the first 4,312 Madeirans to arrive 
in British Guiana in 1841, 282 died within nine months; Brian L. Moore, "The Social Impact 
of Portuguese Immigration into British Guiana after Emancipation," Boletin de Estudios 
Latinoamericanos y del Caribe 19 (1975): 5. Of the first 200 Madeirans entering Trinidad in 
May 1846, 91 died by the end of the year; Wood, Trinidad in Transition, p. 103. Nicolas Pike, 
Sub-tropical Rambles in the Land of Aphanapteryx: Personal Experiences, Adventures, and Wander- 
ings in and around the Island of Mauritius (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1873), pp. 91-110, 
471. Philip D. Curtin, Death by Migration: Europe's Encounter with the Tropical World in the 
Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). 



122 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

Table 5.2. Mortality of adult indentured laborers (deaths per 1,000 per year) 



Indians 


1868-70 


1871-80 


1881-90 


1891-1900 


1901-10 


1911-20 


Old Colonies 














Surinam 




53.6 


20.9 


16.8 


14.1 


13.9 


British Guiana 


44.8 


23.0 


24.1 


22.5 


18.1 




Trinidad 


45.3 


30.9 


22.7 


18.2 


19.9 


13.5 


Jamaica 


29.8 


32.3 


20.3 


20.8 


23.7 


24.3 


New Colonies 














Natal 








13.5 


19.7 


16.1 


Assam 




76.7 


59.4 


50.3 


40.9 


54.6 


Province Wellesley 














(Malaya) 




57.3 


39.7 


49.6 


56.9 




Fiji 






31.3 


20.9 


15.4 


11.2 


Pacific islanders 




1879-87 


1888-92 


1893-1906 


1907-13 




Fiji 




82 


66 


33 


38 




Queensland 




82 


53 


35 







Sources: The first entry for British Guiana (actually for the period 1855-72 
and not confined to adults) is from Alan Adamson, Sugar without Slaves: The 
Political Economy of British Guiana, 1838-1904 (New Haven: Yale Univer- 
sity Press, 1972), p. 145, and the last entry for Trinidad (actually 1911-15) is 
from Judith Ann Weller, The East Indian Indenture in Trinidad (Rio Piedras, 
Puerto Rico: Institute of Caribbean Studies, 1968), table 11. All the rest are 
from Ralph Shlomowitz and Lance Brennan, "Epidemiology and Indian 
Labor Migration at Home and Abroad," Journal of World History 5.1 (1994) 
table 1, and Ralph Shlomowitz, "Epidemiology and the Pacific Labor Trade," 
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 19 .4 (1989): 597. 



fers graphic evidence of this in the case of Pacific islanders in Fiji: among 
the 2,444 migrants arriving in 1880 the death rate was 1445 per thousand in 
their first year, 42 in their second year, and 27 in their third. Similarly mort- 
ality among the Japanese contract laborers to Peru was 157 per thousand in 
the first year (1899) but averaged only 8 per thousand during the next nine 
years despite the arrival of 5,500 new Japanese migrants. The mortality in 
Peru was made worse by an epidemic in 1899 and, although its decline was 
hastened by some reforms, it also reflected the growing proportion of older 
migrants in a colony. In cases where the migrant population was rapidly 
expanding or where there was a heavy turnover in migrants (both true of 
Assam and Malaya) mortality did not decline. 26 

26 Ralph Shlomowitz and Lance Brennan, "Epidemiology and Indian Labor Migration at 
Home and Abroad," Journal of World History 5. (1994): 58-64; Ralph Shlomowitz, "Epide- 



Indentures 123 

Mortality records do not exist for all migrant groups. Indeed, some of the 
most notorious destinations are the least documented. Even there, how- 
ever, disease is likely to have been the major factor governing death rates. 
No annual population records were kept for Chinese migrants in Cuba, for 
example, but a Chinese investigating committee estimated that there re- 
mained 68,825 Chinese alive there in 1874 (of the approximately 125,000 
brought there since 1847). 27 Those figures would be consistent with either 
of the worst mortality patterns in Table 5.2 - sustained losses at a 50 per 
thousand rate (the Malaya pattern) or very high initial losses (the Pacific 
islander pattern). The latter, reflecting the gradual adjustment to a new 
disease environment, is more likely and was the pattern among Chinese in 
British Guiana, where mortality declined from 113 per thousand in 1853 to 
50 in 1867 to 30 in 1869. 28 Researchers have not bothered to calculate 
mortality rates among Asian and European indentured laborers in Hawaii 
because few premature deaths occurred in the islands' malaria-free and 
generally healthy environment, though diseases introduced by outside 
contacts decimated the indigenous Hawaiian population and Pacific island 
migrants. 29 

Table 5.2 also shows that colonies making the transition from slavery to 
indentured labor did not generally suffer higher mortality than those that 
had never known slavery, suggesting that whatever differences in treat- 
ment existed, they were not significant enough to affect overall survival 
rates. The paramount role played by epidemiology does not mean that 
poor sanitation, overwork, and the quality of medical care had no impact 
on the mortality curve. As Dr. Bonyun noted at midcentury, ailing mi- 
grants who were treated in hospitals (where they received doses of qui- 
nine) recovered at a significantly higher rate than those given more cursory 
treatment in infirmaries on the estates. However, the care accorded to 
migrants did not keep pace with the rapid improvements in medical 



miology and the Pacific Labor Trade," Journal of Interdisciplinary History 19 A (1989): 596; cf. 
Ralph Shlomowitz, "Differential Mortality of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the Pacific 
Labour Trade," Journal of the Australian Population Association 7.2 (1990): 116-27. Irie, 'Jap- 
anese Migration to Peru," pp. 449-52. Grant McCall, "European Impact on Easter Island: 
Response, Recruitment and the Polynesian Experience in Peru," Journal of Pacific History, 
11.1-2 (1976): 97-98. 

27 Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," p. 236. Four years later their number was 
estimated to be about 50,000; PP 1878 lxvii [c.2051], Report on the Labour Question in Cuba, 
1878, by H. Augustus Cowper. 

^PP 1854-55 xvii [1953], 15th General Report CLEC 1855, p. 207; British Guiana Commission 
Report, p. 125. The latter rates may understate losses since the base population on which 
they are calculated includes deserters, some of whom were likely dead. Far worse rates are 
known: of 1,040 Chinese imported into Panama for railroad construction, half died in the 
first six months; 15th General Report CLEC 1855, p. 50. 

29 Iudith A. Bennett, "Immigration, 'Blackbirding,' Labour Recruiting? The Hawaiian Ex- 
perience," Journal of Pacific History 11.1-2 (1976): 21. 



124 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

knowledge and procedures around the turn of the century. Aside from 
vaccinations against smallpox, no other inoculations were routinely pro- 
vided by employers or local public health officials. Indeed, investigations 
revealed that elementary sanitary measures, regarding such things as 
water supply, drainage, and waste removal, were often poorly enforced 
before 1900. 30 

Problems of physical well-being went hand in hand with problems of 
mental health. As with disease, threats to mental health were usually worst 
during the first few months of residence abroad. Like migrants every- 
where, newly arrived indentured laborers found difficulty in adjusting to 
new circumstances. Unfamiliar surroundings, strange food, the absence of 
reassuring religious sites and festivals, and separation from family and 
friends added to their alienation. A poignant example of the lengths to 
which homesickness drove some migrants (and of their limited grasp of 
geography) was recounted by an immigration agent in British Guiana in 
1884: 

On several occasions small parties of new coolies deserted from plantation Au- 
rora[;] ... all told the same story, viz. that they had been informed that after a few 
days' journey through the forest they would arrive at a mountain on the farther 
side of which a road was to be found leading to Calcutta. 31 

Adding to their psychological problems were the unaccustomed rigors of 
long hours of manual labor, coping with unexpected illness, and dis- 
appointments about wages and working conditions. Although each in- 
dividual reacted differently, psychological adjustment was a major prob- 
lem for most new migrants. 

Many of these strains eased as migrants became more accustomed to 
their new circumstances, but the years brought little change in the shortage 
of women. This imbalance between the sexes inhibited the growth of stable 
family relations, promoted gambling and alcohol or drug abuse by male 
migrants to fight off loneliness, increased the demands on the existing 
women to perform traditional "female tasks" such as cooking, and some- 
times produced more pathological effects. As was shown in Chapter 3, 
virtually all Pacific island migrants and Chinese migrants (except to British 
Guiana) were males. As few of the former became permanent residents 
abroad, their family lives had to be delayed (or interrupted) until their 

30 Weller, East Indian Indenture, chap. 7; Brereton, "Experience of Indentureship," p. 30. See the 

plantation-by-plantation record of health care shortcomings in 1870 in the British Guiana 

Commission Report, appendix C, pp. 3-149. 
31 Nath, Indians in British Guiana, p. 90. Pike, Sub-tropical Rambles, p. 475, suggests that it was 

"home-sickness" that drove large numbers of indentured Indians to besiege Mauritian 

authorities with pleas to be repatriated as invalids. 



Indentures 125 

return from indenture. The unfortunate Chinese in Cuba and Peru were 
indentured for longer terms and had meager chances of returning home, 
although once out of indenture some, as in Hawaii, married women from 
other ethnic groups. Among indentured Indians overseas there were gen- 
erally two to three men for every woman; among Japanese migrants to 
Hawaii men outnumbered women by over four to one. Because this im- 
balance forced most men into involuntary celibacy, homosexuality, or 
irregular relations with prostitutes, it was a major source of dissatisfaction 
among long-term migrants. Indeed, Tinker argues, "The disproportion 
between men and women was the main factor in shaping the life of the 
coolie lines." 32 

Like other factors in their lives, this disproportion affected individuals 
differently. About a quarter of Indians migrated as married couples, 
though many such arrangements had been made in the recruiting stations 
or during the outward voyages and not all such pairings lasted as long as 
the term of the contract. Other couples were able to form agreeable tempo- 
rary or permanent relationships overseas. However, in the competition for 
women, richer and stronger men, especially foremen and overseers, had 
distinct advantages, a fact that drove other men to despair. Some re- 
searchers argue that this male competition offered women distinct advan- 
tages, whether they chose to change partners, to raise their status through 
relationships with more affluent and powerful individuals, or to enhance 
their independence from the sale of their favors. Because of their enhanced 
freedom, as well as because migration offered to widows, wives, and 
single women an escape from unhappy situations at home, Pieter Emmer 
suggests that "emigration can also be regarded as a vehicle for female 
emancipation." However, such apparent advantages could be overshad- 
owed by risks. Women migrants were commonly under a double bondage: 
to the indenture holder and to accompanying husbands or kinsmen. Those 
who sought to loosen the latter bond suffered moral condemnation or 
worse, as unfaithful wives were sometimes murdered by jealous spouses 
or kinsmen. For these reasons other pioneering research on Indian women 
under indenture emphasize their negative experiences. Brij. V. Lai stresses 
that Indian women in Fiji "suffered greater hardships than men," a view 
to which Shaista Shameem agrees, and Jo Beall places indentured Indian 
women in Natal "at the very bottom of the class-race-gender hierarchy." 
These different perspectives are not incompatible. As with indentured 



32 Tinker, New System of Slavery, p. 201. According to the British Guiana Commission Report, 
p. 86, "Nearly all the serious crime committed by Coolies is directly traceable to [the] 
disproportion of the sexes among immigrants." Brereton, "Experience of Indentureship," p. 
32, views the disparity between the sexes as "One of the most monstrous features of the 
immigration system," the cause of tension, personal suffering, and even violence. 



126 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

men, the fact that women migrants were still exploited under indenture 
does not preclude their using it as a means of improving their lives. More 
research on indentured women is needed to untangle these issues. 33 

It is also important to keep in mind the changing circumstances of 
indentured women over time. The small number of women accompanying 
migrating husbands in the early decades of the trade were not always 
considered part of the labor force nor bound by contracts. As their num- 
bers rose as the result of legal requirements, contracts became the rule 
along with the need to perform field work, usually of the least skilled type. 
In the Caribbean and Fiji indentured women became important to the 
sugar estates; in Natal they became essential to both sugar and tea estates. 
Yet, women earned less than men, whether because it took them longer to 
complete a task, because they worked fewer days a year, or because they 
were paid at lower rates for their labor, reducing some to destitution. At 
the end of their indenture contract, like the African women before them at 
the end of slavery and apprenticeship, few Indian women remained in 
plantation labor. In Mauritius in 1898 less than 3 percent of out-of-in- 
denture women engaged in agricultural labor; the proportion in Fiji in 
1921 was only 1.8 percent. Researchers have differed as to where to place 
this clear trend on the spectrum running from women's successful rein- 
tegration of themselves into traditional family roles to their victimization 
by a reestablished patriarchal domination. 34 

Individuals dealt with their frustrations, alienation, and feelings of de- 
pression in a variety of ways. The most extreme reaction to conditions was 
suicide, which in places became quite high, particularly by men. In the 
1850s suicide attempts among Chinese mining guano in Peru were a 
regular occurrence and the principal overseer reported over 60 succeeded 
in one year. Suicide among indentured Chinese in Cuba averaged almost 
800 per million in 1855-56. Tinker argues that suicides among Indian 
migrants were several times the rate (50 per million) in the areas of India 
from which most migrants came, citing incidences of 728 per million in 



33 P. C. Emmer, "The Great Escape: The Migration of Female Indentured Servants from British 
India to Surinam, 1873-1916," in Abolition and Its Aftermath: The Historical Context, 1790- 
1916, ed. David Richardson (London: Frank Cass, 1985), p. 248; Brij V. Lai, "Kunti's Cry: 
Indentured Women on Fiji Plantations," Indian Economic and Social History Review 22.1 
(1985): 71; Shaista Shameem, "Gender, Class and Race Dynamics: Indian Women in Sugar 
Production in Fiji," Journal of Pacific Studies 13 (1987): 10-35; Beall, "Women under In- 
dentured Labour," p. 166. Okihiro, Cane Fires, p. 33, presents a moderately positive view of 
indentured Japanese women's experience in Hawaii; see also Tinker's pioneering treatment 
in New System of Slavery, pp. 201-5, and Look Lai, Indentured Labor, pp. 142-44. 

■^M. D. North-Coombes, "From Slavery to Indenture: Forced Labour in the Political Economy 
of Mauritius, 1834-1867," in Saunders, Indentured Labour, p. 98; Beall, "Women under 
Indentured Labour," pp. 151-53; Shameem, "Gender, Class and Race Dynamics," p. 31. 



Indentures 127 

Mauritius in 1869-72 and 640 in Natal and 780 in Fiji in the early twentieth 
century. Although still indicative of serious personal alienation, lower 
averages are recorded for other periods; for example, suicides among 
Indians in Mauritius (1875-79) and in British Guiana (1865-70) were in the 
range of 250 to 350 per million and suicides were also less common in Fiji 
before 1900, perhaps because of a lower incidence of first-year migrants. 
Researchers agree that suicide was hardly ever directly linked to ill-treat- 
ment by employers and varied greatly by cultural community. Thus sui- 
cides were much more common among South Indian than North Indian 
migrants and three times as common among Chinese than among in- 
dentured Indians in British Guiana. 35 Moreover, although suicide attests to 
underlying tensions in many indentured communities, such a small pro- 
portion of migrants resorted to it even in the worst cases that this extreme 
action provides little insight into normative behavior. 

Desertion was a much more common way of getting out of a bad 
situation and one that was more directly linked to the work experience. In 
the early years of migration, when long contracts were not the rule, some 
Indians in British Guiana abandoned plantation labor to become squatters 
on vacant land or itinerant beggars, an honorable profession in India. 
Among the Chinese brought to the mines of the Transvaal there were 1,700 
desertions in 1905-6 "due to ill treatment and exploitation." In some 
territories migrants escaped indenture by fleeing to another state. From the 
1870s growing numbers of indentured Indians deserted Trinidad for Ven- 
ezuela, where they could easily obtain land. High wages in California and 
other parts of the Pacific Coast drew large numbers of migrants from 
Hawaii, many truncating contracts of indenture whether legally or ille- 
gally. An experiment with indentured Japanese for mines, railroads, and 
sugarcane plantations in Mexico from 1901 to 1907 came to an abrupt halt, 
after a series of strikes and other protests, when most of the migrants fled 
north of the border. Yet outright desertion was far less common generally 

35 Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 241^47; Corbitt, Chinese in Cuba, pp. 
79-80; Tinker, New System of Slavery, p. 201. Colonial Blue Book of Mauritius 1874, 1875, 
1876, 1877, 1879, in PP 1875 li [c.1336], 1877 lix [c.1825], 1878-79 1 [c.2273], 1881 lxiv [c.2829]; 
records for 1875-77 attribute 28% of known suicides to ill-health, 19% to alcohol or drug 
abuse, 18% to temporary insanity, 16% to domestic troubles, while 7% occurred after a 
murder or attempted murder. British Guiana Commission Report, pp. 125-26, 136-37, gives 
data that yield a suicide rate of 250 per million for Indians and 830 per million for Chinese 
in British Guiana. Brij V. Lai, "Veil of Dishonour: Sexual Jealousy on Fiji Plantations," 
Journal of Pacific History 20 (1985): 135-55, shows that the highest incidence of suicide 
occurred during the first six months of indenture, that most who committed suicide were 
men, and that suicide was more common among Hindus than among Muslims. Suicides 
per million in England and Wales in 1861-70 were 99 (males) and 34 (females) and in 
1901-10 were 158 (males) and 49 (females); Olive Anderson, Suicide in Victorian and Edwar- 
dian England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), table 2, pp. 80-81. 



128 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

than the short-term absenteeism that has already been noted as a frequent 
occurrence, notably in the West Indies. 36 

More common than outright desertion were escapist activities that 
marked the end of the workday or -week. Drinking and gambling were 
common among Indians, as was the use of cannabis, said (improbably) by 
one source to have been introduced to Jamaica by the Indian migrants. 
Many Japanese in Hawaii celebrated payday with "all night drinking and 
gambling sessions," which left some of them perpetually broke or indebted 
(though, of course, enriched others). Gambling also added to the indebt- 
edness or enrichment of many Chinese migrants. Many Chinese also 
turned to opium as an escape. Its use in Peru, for example, took a 
significant proportion of many Chinese migrants' incomes and some, who 
after years of addiction could no longer put in a full workweek, were 
forced to extend their bondage to pay their debts. 37 

As their numbers grew and the system became more rigidly institution- 
alized and impersonal, more and more migrants turned from escapist 
strategies to directly confrontational ones. Protests and strikes were com- 
monly led by individuals with greater education or longer experience in 
the colonies and took place under adverse economic conditions. Chinese 
staged protests against conditions in Peru and were found among the 
rebels in the Ten Years' War (1868-78) in Cuba. There were a number of 
small strikes in British Guiana and Trinidad beginning in the 1880s, which 
were usually put down with severity. Labor militancy was also notable 
among Japanese in Hawaii, who staged twenty-three strikes during the 
first half of 1900 on the eve of formal U.S. annexation and who deserted in 
such numbers that planters turned to labor from Korea, China, and Puerto 
Rico. A major strike by Japanese on Oahu in 1909, after the end of in- 
denture, cost planters over $2 million and won significant improvements 
in wages and living conditions. 38 

36 Adamson, Sugar without Slaves, pp. 47-48; Weller, East Indian Indenture, p. 51; Richardson, 
Chinese Mine Labour, p. 174; Yuji Ichioka, The Issei: The World of the First Generation Japanese 
Immigrants, 1885-1924 (New York: Free Press, 1988), pp. 69-70. 

37 Tinker, New System of Slavery, pp. 212-14, citing testimony of Dr. James Edwards to Sand- 
erson Committee, "that ganja, the 'leaf of friendship/ had been introduced by Indians to the 
Blacks of Jamaica." Hazama and Komeiji, Okage Sama De, pp. 39-40. Michael J. Gonzales, 
Plantation Agriculture and Social Control in Northern Peru, 1875-1933 (Austin: University of 
Texas Press, 1985), pp. 101-2, claims that a per-capita consumption of opium in Peru of 2.9 
pounds a year in 1876-82 represented 95 percent of an average Chinese migrant's annual 
wage. Consumption rose to 3.6 pounds per capita in 1885-90, but a rise in wages made it 
25-39% of average wage. The earlier figure seems improbably high. 

3S PP 1878 lxvii [c.2051], Report on the Labour Question in Cuba, 1878, by H. Augustus 
Cowper. Strikes in British Guiana averaged about 20 a year in 1886-90 (42 in 1888) and 12 
a year in 1899-1903; Adamson, Sugar without Slaves, pp. 154-55; for Trinidad, see Weller, 
East Indian Indenture, pp. 49-50. Wayne Patterson, The Korean Frontier in America: Immigra- 
tion to Hawaii, 1896-1910 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1988), pp. 12-13; Hazama 
and Komeiji, Okage Sama De, pp. 42-44. 



Indentures 129 

Although indentured laborers engaged in both passive and active re- 
sistance, it is really the absence of large-scale protest that is more striking 
and may give greater insight into the mentality of indentured workers. To 
be sure, protest was impeded by penal codes, which created a climate 
intimidating to expressions of discontent, though such a climate was not 
so oppressive as that endured by slaves in the Caribbean and Brazil where 
violent uprisings were feared and frequent. 39 In addition, as for other 
transplanted populations, newly arrived migrants would have found or- 
ganized resistance difficult. Disappointment and discontent there were, 
even despair, but there is also evidence to suggest that most migrants 
found in their indenture experience a sufficient measure of satisfaction of 
the dreams that had driven them into indenture. Most migrants made the 
best of the difficult conditions they encountered, worked hard, lived fru- 
gally, and survived to the end of their indentures. 

Remuneration and repatriation 

Contentment is impossible to quantify, but one can measure the financial 
returns migrants received. Here, too, there was a wide range of individual 
experiences. Earnings and savings varied considerably between novices 
and experienced workers, the vigorous and the ill, the ambitious and the 
less motivated, and between men and women. Fairly typical is the dis- 
tribution shown in Figure 5.2 of annual earnings of Indian migrants on one 
Demerara (British Guiana) plantation in 1869. The average migrant earned 
$53.43, but one-sixth earned over $80 during the year, one-sixth under $30. 
For the women included in this work force the average annual income was 
$46. Such wages were modest but frugal migrants could save most of their 
salaries since most employers also furnished lodging, board, medical care, 
and some clothing. 

Moreover, such wages were certainly higher than agricultural labor 
might earn in Asia and not far off the rates then being earned in Europe. 
The entire Demerara sample just cited received an average monthly wage 
of $4.45 and the top two-fifths averaged $6.68. Most other indentured 
laborers received wages within that range. In comparison rural monthly 
wages in the Madras Presidency of India were generally between $1 and 
$2. As Table 5.1 shows, starting wages in the West Indies about 1870 were 
$4 a month; a migrant who completed twenty-six tasks a month in Trin- 
idad would earn $6.50. The Hawaiian government calculated that its aver- 
age agricultural wage in 1870 was $7.50, which it suggested was higher 
than the corresponding wages of farm workers in Scandinavia and Ger- 

39 See the account of intimidation by an exceptionally articulate Indian migrant named Bechu 
to the West Indian Royal Commission of 1897, appendix C, 1:75-76, 131. 



130 



Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 
38 

33 




<10 10+ 20+ 30+ 40+ 50+ 60+ 70+ 80+ 90+ 100+ 110+ 

dollars 

Figure 5.2. Distribution of annual earnings, British Guiana, 1869. 
Source: Parliamentary Papers 1871 xx [c.393-II], Report of the Commissioners Appointed 
to Enquire into the Treatment of Immigrants in British Guiana, June 1871, appendix, 
1: 9. Based on records of 236 indentured Calcutta laborers on the Criming's Lodge 
sugar estate, Demerara. 



many ($3.30), Ireland ($4.25), and England ($6.50) and not far inferior to 
those in Wales ($8.50) and the United States ($10.50). 40 To be sure, wages 
do not measure satisfaction, but they do imply that most migrants need not 
have been disappointed by their earnings. 

Somewhat greater insight into the attitudes of migrants can be gathered 
from the choices individuals made at the end of their term of indenture: to 
return home, to sign a new contract, or to move into the labor market in 
the land of their indenture. Of course, these decisions were not just the 
product of individual preferences. In some cases making the return voyage 
was a practical and financial impossibility. For example, early Indian and 
African migrants in Jamaica found it difficult to return home because of the 
absence of regular shipping, while most Chinese lacked the funds to pay 
the passage back from Cuba and Peru (which was not provided by em- 

40 Beechert, Working in Hawaii, table 6, p. 107; M. Atchi Reddy, "Official Data on Agricultural 
Wages in the Madras Presidency from 1873," Indian Economic and Social History Review 15.4 
(1978): 453. 



Indentures 131 

ployers). 41 In other cases there were equally great impediments to staying 
on. Virtually all of the Chinese who went to southern Africa faced com- 
pulsory repatriation, because of policies seeking to restrict the permanent 
residence of non-European settlers. White-preference legislation also 
forced the repatriation of most Pacific islanders and Chinese migants from 
Australia from the turn of the century. 

Remarkably, the length of the return voyage does not seem to have had 
much effect on the rate of repatriation, perhaps suggesting that migrants 
harbored no great fear of the longer sea voyages. To be sure, over two- 
thirds of migrants returned to India and China on very short voyages from 
Southeast Asia and to Melanesia from Australia (enforced by repatriation 
policies in the latter case), but the proportion of Indian migrants who 
remained in Mauritius and Natal was about the same as those who re- 
mained in far more distant locations in the Caribbean (Table S.3). 42 The 
lower rate of return from distant overseas locations may reflect many 
migrants' longer term of residence there and thus their greater assimila- 
tion. 

Territories also adopted quite different policies about the rights of end- 
of-term migrants. Some tried to persuade or coerce migrants to sign new 
indenture contracts. Cuba's was the most draconian: from 1861 Chinese at 
the end of their first indenture had to leave the island (virtually impossible 
financially) or reindenture themselves. Only 140 are known to have man- 
aged to save enough to pay the long passage home; many who sought to 
evade the law were caught and ended up doing forced labor. 43 Some 
colonies chose the carrot rather than the stick. After 1854 in British Guiana, 
for example, those agreeing to a second five years of indenture received an 
immediate bonus of about $50 and the right to a free return passage after 
completing the new contract. Noting that over a third of the indentured 
labor force was under a second (or subsequent) term of indenture in 1870 
and were investing some of their savings in livestock, the investigating 
commissioners reasoned that the migrants must perceive their situation to 
be "at least the equal of what it was in India." 44 Planter enthusiasm for 
reindenture collapsed after 1873 when the very high rate of labor imports 



41 Tinker, New System of Slavery, p. 87; Schuler "Alas, Alas, Kongo, " pp. 88-93. 

42 Figures for Malaya (Straits Settlements) include both indentured and unindentured mi- 
grants; 15.2% of arrivals were indentured. In 1900-21 59% of Indian migrants returned to 
India; Usha Mahajani, line Role of Indian Minorities in Burma and Malaya (Westport, Conn.: 
Greenwood Press, 1973), p. 106. Indenture had been abolished in 1910. 

43 Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 223-25. As a way of encouraging end- 
of-term migrants to reindenture themselves, Mauritius and Natal levied a high tax on those 
staying on out of indenture; Tinker, New System of Slavery, pp. 232, 313. 

^British Guiana Commission Report, pp. 33, 182. The commissioners calculated the value of 
livestock owned by Indians resident more than five years in the colony was worth $674,790 
or about $33.44 per person. 



132 



Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 



Table 5.3. Rates of repatriation of overseas migrants 



Region 


Place of Indenture 


Nationality 


Period 


Percentage 


Indian Ocean 


Burma 


Indian 


1892-1935 


c.90 a 




Malaya 


Indian 


1881-93 


71 b 




Thailand 


Chinese 


1882-1917 


69 c 




Mauritius 


Indian 


1836-1910 


35 d 




Natal 


Indian 


1860-1911 


28 e 


Pacific Ocean 


Queensland 


Melanesian 


1880-1904 


75 f 




Hawaii 


Japanese 


1885-94 


37S 




Hawaii 


Korean 


1896-1910 


17 h 


Caribbean 


Surinam 


Indian 


1890-1931 


34 1 




Jamaica 


Indian 


1845-1916 


33J 




British Guiana 


Indian 


1838-1918 


28J 




Surinam 


Javanese 


1897-1938 


c.25 k 




Trinidad 


Indian 


1845-1918 


20i 


Martinique /Guadeloupe Indian 


1853-85 


21 s 



Note: These crude measures of arrivals against departures make no allow- 
ance for deaths or births (except in the case of Mauritius where departures 
exclude persons born in the colony). This results in an underestimation of the 
proportion of returns in cases where virtually all migrants were men (and 
thus births were far below deaths). Nor are repeat migrants factored out; 
where they were numerous (Southeast Asia, Queensland), their inclusion in 
the numerator may offset omission of deaths in the denominator. 
Sources: (a) Usha Mahajani, The Role of Indian Minorities in Burma and 
Malaya (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1973), p. 6. (b) Annual Report, 
Straits Settlements, 1890, 1893; (c) George William Skinner, Chinese Society 
in Thailand: An Analytical History (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1957), 
p. 61; (d) Larry W. Bowman, Mauritius: Democracy and Development in the 
Indian Ocean (Boulder, Colo.: Wesrview Press, 1991), table 2.2; (e) Jo Beall, 
"Women and Indentured Labour in Colonial Natal, 1860-1911," in Women 
and Gender in Southern Africa to 1945, ed. Cheryl Walker (Cape Town: 
David Philip, 1990), p. 147; (f) Peter Corris, Passage, Port and Plantation: A 
History of Solomon Islands Labour Migration, 1870-1914 (Carlton: Melbourne 
University Press, 1973), p. 150; (g) Hilary Conroy, The Japanese Frontier in 
Hawaii, 1868-1898 (New York: Arno Press, 1978), appendix E; (h) Wayne 
Patterson, The Korean Frontier in America: Immigration to Hawaii, 1896-1910 
(Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1988), p. 106; (i) K. O. Laurence, 
Immigration into the West Indies in the Nineteenth Century (Kingston: 
Caribbean University Press, 1971), pp. 45, 57; (j) G. W. Roberts and J. Byrne, 
"Summary Statistics on Indentured and Associated Migration Affecting the 
West Indies, 1843-1918," Population Studies 20.1 (1966): 125-34; (k) Craig A. 
Lockard, "Repatriation Movements among the Javanese in Surinam: A 
Comparative Analysis," Caribbean Studies 18.1-2 (1978): 88. 



Indentures 133 

finally resulted in a labor surplus, which was kept available to the planters 
by laws making it very difficult for end-of-indenture migrants to secure 
land for their own settlement. 

Those colonies where end-of-term migrants could hope to advance 
themselves beyond the level of plantation laborer had the highest retention 
rates. Hawaii was attractive for its higher than average wages (partly offset 
by high costs of living) and was relatively free of coercive pressures to 
reindenture, but its greatest appeal was the many possibilities for employ- 
ment outside the plantations. For example, of the 103 earliest Japanese 
migrants to Hawaii who completed their contract (1868-71), 90 chose to 
stay rather than to return to the poverty of their homeland, as did 57 
percent of the 20,000 completing their contracts between 1888 and 1892. 
Most Chinese completing a contract in Hawaii also stayed on to take 
advantage of other employment opportunities. After the economic down- 
turn in the 1890s, Hawaii's rate of retention of East Asian migrants 
dropped, mostly because of a drain to the more prosperous North Amer- 
ican mainland. 45 

In other territories migrants showed similar interest in using their sav- 
ings and rights of residence to enhance their economic positions. For 
example, despite efforts by authorities to discourage them by setting fees 
at prohibitive levels, many end-of-contract Indians in Mauritius bought 
licenses for trading and small manufacturing, or purchased land, animals, 
and equipment necessary for farming. As noted in Chapter 2, such Indian 
small producers sustained the island's sugar industry after the older plan- 
tations became unprofitable. 46 

After Mauritius went into decline, Natal became the most attractive 
Indian Ocean destination for Indian migrants because of southern Africa's 
expanding employment opportunities. Indeed, the rapid growth in the 
colony's Indian population in the late nineteenth century convinced white 
settlers that they would soon be outnumbered by Indians (as they were 
already by Africans) and led to the imposition of a £3 annual tax in 1895 
on new Indian residents not under contracts of indenture. Despite this 
substantial penalty, only 11 percent returned to India at the end of their 
indenture in 1902, while 20 percent signed a new contract of indenture, 51 
percent paid the £3 tax and joined the local free-labor market, and 18 
percent disappeared (presumably to stay on while avoiding the tax). How- 
ever, further restrictions on Indians (and protests led by the young Mo- 
handas K. Gandhi), along with a recession after the South African War, 
made the decisions of those to end their indenture in 1908 very different: 



45 Beechert, Working in Hawaii, pp. 68, 131-33; Clarence E. Glide, Sojourners and Settlers: Chinese 

Migrants in Hawaii (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1980), p. 44. 
46 North-Coombes, "From Slavery to Indenture," pp. 111-12. 



134 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

52 percent returned to India, only 6 percent paid the tax, while 43 percent 
reindentured themselves to avoid the tax and assure themselves of em- 
ployment. 47 

Trinidad put a more positive twist on its labor retention policies, paying 
$50 from 1851 to over a thousand Indians to give up their right to a return 
passage. This inducement to stay on became even more attractive when 
free land was substituted for the cash from 1869, especially when in 1873 
the offer included both land and cash. Between 1869 and 1880 2,643 Indian 
men settled on over 19,000 acres with their families. From 1885 to 1912 the 
rapidly growing Indian population on Trinidad was granted or purchased 
nearly 90,000 more acres, on which the Indians established villages and 
pioneered wet rice cultivation as well as sugar and cocoa farming. These 
land policies made Trinidad the most popular West Indian destination of 
Indian emigrants who stayed on at a higher rate than elsewhere. 48 

For those who chose to return home the decision was not irrevocable 
and many subsequently signed up for another indenture overseas. Natur- 
ally this was more common on routes where the voyage was of moderate 
duration, especially as ocean travel became faster and less harrowing. 
Thus repeaters accounted for 28 to 29 percent of Pacific island migrants to 
Australia in 1892-1903 and to Fiji in 1885-1911. Ten percent of the Indians 
entering Mauritius were veteran migrants in 1874-77, as were 14 percent 
of those a decade later in 1883-86. Even in distant Trinidad 7.4 percent of 
entering Indian migrants in 1885-94 were repeaters, over two-thirds of 
whom had served a previous indenture elsewhere, mostly in other West 
Indian colonies but one in five at Indian Ocean locations. 49 

In considering the motives of such repeat migrants, it is important to 
keep in mind both the continuing lack of employment opportunities at 
home as well as the cultural alienation that prolonged residence abroad 
may have produced. Emmer argues that such individuals "were the real 
victims of the system," since they failed to put down roots overseas yet 



47 Tinker / New System of Slavery, pp. 293, 313; Maureen Swan, "Ideology in Organized Indian 
Politics, 1891-1948," The Politics of Race, Class and Nationalism in Twentieth-Century South 
Africa, ed. Shula Marks and Stanley Trapido (London: Longman, 1987), pp. 186-87. Accord- 
ing to Beall, "Women under Indentured Labour," p. 148, the peak came in 1912, when over 
95% of end-of-contract Indians in Natal reindentured themselves. 

^Bridget Brereton, A History of Modern Trinidad, 1783-1962 (Kingston, Jamaica: Heinemann 
Educational Books, 1981), pp. 107-8; Brereton, "Experience of Indentureship," p. 34; Tinker, 
New System of Slavery, pp. 105-6, 120. After Chinese migrants refused to stay on or renew 
their contracts, Surinam also offered free land to Javanese migrants as an alternative to 
repatriation from 1895; Craig A. Lockard, "Repatriation Movements among the Javanese in 
Surinam: A Comparative Analysis," Caribbean Studies 18.1-2 (April-July 1978): 88. 

49 Shlomowitz, "Epidemiology and the Pacific," p. 589. Colonial Blue Book of Mauritius, 1874, 
1875, 1876, 1877, 1886 (PP 1888 lxxii [c.5239]). Trinidad figures are calculated from appen- 
dixes vi and ix in Weller, East Indian Indenture, pp. 151-52, 165; sites of prior indentures in 
the Indian Ocean included Natal (8%), Mauritius (6%), and Fiji (4%). 



Indentures 135 

could not readjust to their homelands. Michael Adas agrees that the "psy- 
chic costs" of migration were high, but argues that so too were the op- 
portunities to improve one's social and material status. 50 The financial (as 
well as psychic) costs for Indians seeking to reenter the caste structure 
could also be high. Some returning migrants spent their entire savings to 
do so. Quantifying these different circumstances is impossible, but it is 
worth noting that oscillation between place of origin and overseas settle- 
ment area was also typical of migrating Europeans in this period. 51 Indeed, 
a high degree of alienation has long been an intrinsic part of every mi- 
grant's lot. 

Had those choosing to return home fulfilled the migrant's dream of 
riches? In some cases, decidedly yes. Quite exceptional was the case of an 
Indian man returning from Trinidad with $10,000 in 1869, who had be- 
come a shopkeeper and moneylender after serving ten years of indenture. 
Less unusual but still not typical were the twenty Indian men who sailed 
from Trinidad in 1862 after five or six years under indenture who had an 
average of $450 each left over after paying their own return passage. 
Perhaps they were similar to the exceptionally strong and hard working 
Indian man encountered by investigators in British Guiana in 1871 who 
had earned over $200 during the fifth year of his indenture (more than 
double the average Indian man's earnings there) and was planning to 
return to India with accumulated savings of several hundred dollars. 52 At 
the other end of the spectrum, destitution and impoverishment were also 
common, perhaps particularly so for women. For example, fully one- 
eighth of the migrants returning to India from British Guiana between 1875 
and 1910 were paupers repatriated at government expense. 53 

What was typical? A comparison of the existing evidence suggests that 
most returnees had accumulated modest savings. Interviews conducted 
with the ninety-three Indians returning from their first five-year contracts 

50 P. C. Emmer, "The Meek Hindu: The Recruitment of Indian Indentured Labourers for 
Service Overseas, 1870-1916," in Emmer, Colonialism and Migration, pp. 187, 197, calculates 
that second-indenture migrants amounted to 4.6% of all the migrants leaving Calcutta in 
1878-1916. See Tinker, New System of Slavery, pp. 365-66, who argues that poor prospects 
of employment in India discouraged migrants from returning. Michael Adas, The Burma 
Delta: Economic Development and Social Change on an Asian Rice Frontier, 1885-1941 (Madison: 
University of Wisconsin Press, 1974), pp. 90-102; Emmer, "The Great Escape," p. 247, make 
the same point regarding Indian women. 

51 Teodor Shanin, "The Peasants are Coming: Migants Who Labour, Peasants Who Travel and 
Marxists Who Write," Race and Class 19.3 (1978): 285, cites a total reemigration from the 
United States to Europe of 47% in 1897-1918. The reemigration rate from Argentina to 
Europe, 1859-1926, was also 47%; from New Zealand to Europe, 1853-1930, it was 78%; 
William Ashworth, A Short History of the International Economy since 1850, 2nd ed. (London: 
Longman, 1962), p. 186. Many of those returning home subsequently made a second 
attempt to settle abroad. 

52 Weller, East Indian Indenture, pp. 106-7; British Guiana Commission Report, p. 97. 

53 Nath, Indians in British Guiana, table 6. 



Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 








34-60 80-120 132-160 175-220 240-260 280-300 350-354 



Figure 5.3. Distribution of savings by Indians returning after five-year indentures in 
Mauritius, 1840-41, in rupees. 

Source: Parliamentary Papers 1841 xvi (427), Examination of Coolies Returned from Mau- 
ritius. 



in Mauritius in 1840-41 show the considerable variation in individual 
savings (Figure 5.3; cf. Figure 5.2 for a similar distribution pattern in 
earnings). The median figure was 150 rupees (Rs.) ($81) and the average 
was a little higher, Rs.158 ($85.30). Twelve returned with virtually all of 
their five-years wages, Rs.300 ($162), or more. At the other end of the scale 
were twelve who had Rs.60 ($32.40) or less in savings, two of whom were 
identified as drunkards. Three-quarters had between Rs.100 and Rs.220. 
The first batch of Indians returning from five years in British Guiana in 
1843 on average did even better, carrying savings of $117.70 per person. 54 
The average savings reported for Indian migrants returning in later 
years are somewhat smaller, in some cases reflecting the effects of eco- 
nomic downturns in the colonies, but also due to the different demo- 
graphic composition of the immigrants, and to alternate means used to 



^PP 1841 xvi (427); Nath, Indians in British Guiana, p. 20. 



Indentures 137 

transmit money home. Indians returning from Mauritius in 1874-79 
brought an average of $64.60 each, though 11.5 percent had no savings 
with them. Average savings held by Indians returning from other colonies 
are similar: $51 from British Guiana (1875-1910), $77 from Surinam (1870- 
1916), $48 from Natal (1902-7, down from double that in 1899 as a result 
of postwar conditions), and $67 from Trinidad (1899-1907, down from an 
average of $104.50 in 1851-91). Much of the decline in per capita savings 
among Mauritius migrants after 1843 can be accounted for by the fall in the 
value of the silver-based rupee against the gold-based pound. Per-capita 
totals were also reduced in the later decades of the trade by much higher 
proportions of lower-paid or nonworking women and children and some- 
what higher proportions of paupers invalided home at government ex- 
pense. The latter, forming about 13 percent of returnees from British Gui- 
ana during the four decades before 1914, included persons who were 
chronically ill, elderly, substance abusers, or destitute for other reasons. 
Their proportions, rose sharply during periods of economic distress, ex- 
ceeding 20 percent between 1891 and 1900, perhaps reflecting efforts by 
colonial officials to reduce charity cases. 

A final factor of importance in accounting for the fall in average savings 
per returnee is the omission from the totals of savings other than cash in 
hand. One significant omission is gold jewelry, which in the case of non- 
paupers from British Guiana between 1875 and 1910 averaged nearly $9 per 
person. Also uncounted is the considerable amount of money sent back to 
relatives in India by postal money order in the later decades. For example, 
nearly $570,000 was remitted to India from British Guiana and Trinidad 
between 1890 and 1912, mostly in small amounts. Post office remittances by 
Indians from Natal in 1903 averaged $6.25 per migrant, the highest of any 
colony. It is not possible to correlate post office remittances with specific 
batches of returnees, but it is likely that if accompanying noncash valuables 
and unaccompanying remittances could be taken into account, the appar- 
ent decline in savings by healthy Indian migrants in the latter part of the 
period of indenture would largely disappear. Even though savings were 
modest in most cases and far from evenly distributed, it seems fair to con- 
clude that most Indians returning from a period of indenture had managed 
to better their financial status by laboring abroad. 55 

Less detailed records exist for other migrant groups. For East Asians the 
best available records concern remittances sent home by persons remaining 

55 Colonial Blue Books of Mauritius 1873-77, 1879; Nath, Indians in British Guiana, tables 6 and 
8; Emmer, "Meek Hindu," pp. 199-200; PP Annual Reports India 1902-7; Sanderson Com- 
mittee Report, 1910, pp. 69, 167; Williams, From Columbus to Castro, p. 356. The majority of 
witnesses told the Sanderson Committee (Report, pp. 12, 18) that Indians generally gained 
much more materially by serving several years in indentured labor overseas than they 
could have by staying home. 



138 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

overseas. The Chinese in Latin America seem to have had the least chance 
to amass savings while under indenture. Although overseas Chinese remit- 
tances rose from an estimated 20 million taels in 1886 to 73 million in 1907, 
sums that provided substantial parts of all Chinese revenues and capital 
investments, little of this was likely to have come from indentured Chinese, 
except for those in Hawaii. Japanese migrants in Hawaii (whose numbers 
were about 20,000 at the end of that period) sent $2.6 million home between 
1885 and 1894, not including what those who returned home carried on 
their persons. It was the custom for Melanesian migrants in Australia to 
bring back their savings in the form of trade goods, which became a vital 
part of the islanders' reciprocal gift giving. The value of such goods was not 
calculated, but Graves notes, "it was considered extremely shameful to re- 
turn home without a box and commodities." 56 

It is hard to escape the conclusion that, in general migrants who had the 
good luck to survive the rigors of their migration and indenture were 
better off physically (as well as financially) than when they had started and 
healthier than they would have been had they stayed at home. Although 
no records of body weight were kept, the American consul in Mauritius 
believed that abundant food and hard labor produced a substantial trans- 
formation: 

Look at the thin frail form of the Malabar when he arrives from India, and see him 
after some years' residence in the Island. His form assumes a roundness and his 
muscles a development, from exercise, wholesome and sufficient food and being 
well cared for, which speak volumes in praise of the civilizing influence he is 
unconsciously undergoing. 57 

Better health is also suggested by the much lower mortality rates on return 
passages than on outward voyages. Financial improvement was general, 
but there was wide variation. Some went home with significant savings, 
whereas others returned destitute or with little more than they had come 
with. Most fell somewhere in between. More research is needed, but it 
would appear that those who chose to remain abroad exhibited an equally 
broad range of financial conditions. 58 

56 Ching-Hwang Yen, Coolies and Mandarins: China's Protection of Overseas Chinese during the 
Late Ch'ing Period (1851-1911) (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1985), pp. 250-51; 
Marianne Bastid-Briguiere, "Currents of Social Change," in The Cambridge History of China, 
vol. 11: Late Ch'ing, 1800-1911, part 2, ed. John K. Fairbank and Kwang-Ching Liu (Cam- 
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980, p. 585). Adrian Graves "Colonialism and In- 
denture Labour Migration in the Western Pacific, 1840-1915," in Emmer, Colonialism and 
Migration, p. 242. 

57 Pike, Sub-tropical Rambles, p. 471. 

58 Weller, East Indian Indenture, pp. 104, 108. Mortality on ships from Mauritius carrying 
returning Indians averaged 2.5%o, compared with an average of 16.8%o on ships from India 
to Mauritius in 1858-68; calculated from returns in CLEC reports. 



Indentures 139 

This chapter has tried to understand the experiences of indentured 
migrants overseas by examining the forces that shaped their conditions 
and the ways in which migrants responded to them. In emphasizing that 
employers' actions were the product of economic and political forces, the 
chapter does not seek to deny the degree to which indentured labor was 
a form of exploitation or to minimize the suffering and abuse migrants 
endured. It does seek to distinguish impersonal economic and technolog- 
ical conditions from personal moral failings. Callous and cruel employers 
were not rare but at least during the second half of the period they were 
likely to suffer the loss of their best workers at contract renewal time and 
to be cut off from new indentured migrants by government officials. Iron- 
ically, this was both an age of growing capitalist domination and an age of 
heightened moral sensibilities and government regulation. Governments 
were also active (if not always entirely effective) in trying to set minimally 
acceptable standards and in mitigating the effects of too ruthless an ap- 
plication of supply and demand. 

Given the power of employers, international capital, and government 
regulation, it is easy to reduce employees to mere passive victims. Despite 
the constraints imposed by the historical record, the chapter has argued 
that indentured migrants also shaped their indenture experiences in im- 
portant ways. They brought cultural and personal norms with them, were 
affected by forces of nature (notably disease), worked according to their 
strength and ambition, saved and squandered their earnings, and ex- 
perienced good or ill luck. It would be foolish to maintain that they had 
much effect on the larger political economy that created and defined the 
indentured labor system, but equally foolish to suggest that individuals 
did not succeed in extracting a measure of material benefit and personal 
improvement from it. 



6 



Conclusions 



Every foreign land is a fatherland and every fatherland is a foreign land. 

-Letter to Diognetes, second century C.E. 



Ume Suenaga sailed from Japan to Hawaii in 1885 on the City of Tokio as 
an infant with her parents, Toranosuke and Saka. After completing their 
labor contracts on the Makee plantation on the island of Kauai, the elder 
Suenagas decided against returning to Japan and used money saved from 
their hard labors to open a grocery. Ume-san attended an English-lan- 
guage school on Kauai, but not wanting her to lose touch with the cultural 
traditions of their homeland, her parents arranged for her to live with a 
respected Japanese wholesaler in Honolulu in return for her performing 
household chores so that she could attend the new Japanese school 
founded there in 1896. A few years later at the age of sixteen she married 
Mankichi Yamada, who as a child of six had arrived on the same ship with 
his parents. A high school graduate, Mankichi (George) found work as an 
accountant, a court interpreter, and later as a successful contractor. He and 
Ume (Hazel) had six children before his death in 1926. The widowed Ume 
outlived her husband by fifty years, becoming a naturalized American 
citizen at the age of seventy-seven, a step that had been illegal for Asians 
until 1952. 

Each set of lives is different. Even among the Japanese who came to 
Hawaii in 1885 on the City of Tokio the lives just described were not typical: 
Families constituted less than a majority of the total passengers (43 per- 
cent); nearly two-thirds of the migrants eventually returned to Japan; few 
of the girls received as much schooling as Ume; few were as successful in 
business as Mankichi. Yet these lives at least illustrate the personal poi- 
gnancy of individuals striving to advance themselves and preserve their 



140 



Conclusions 141 

cultural heritage while settling in a new land. In that they represent the 
broader experience of postindenture migrants. 1 

This chapter draws the story of the new indentured labor to a conclu- 
sion. First, it describes how the indentured labor trade itself came to an 
end. But, as the Suenagas' lives show, endings are also beginnings. So there 
follows a brief sketch of some aspects of the new communities the in- 
dentured labor trade created around the world and of the labor systems 
that succeeded it. The interpretation of indentured labor also changed 
during the course of its existence as well as afterward. Viewed as a free- 
labor successor to slavery at its beginning, it was reviled as a new system 
of slavery at its end. In recent decades there has been an extensive reassess- 
ment of the indentured labor trade. Such debates will surely continue. By 
comparing the various streams of the trade and examining the historical 
forces that underpinned them, this study has sought to portray the broader 
context of this remarkable global phenomenon. But like the lives of those 
whom the trade affected, each segment also has its own story to tell. 

The end of indenture 

A long-standing debate about freedom and equality shaped the official 
decisions that ended indentured labor. The debate had begun with the 
abolitionists' prolonged campaign against slavery. They had argued that 
free labor would be superior in both morality and productivity. When the 
former slaves' own ideas of freedom led them to desert the plantation sys- 
tem in many key British colonies, the new indentured labor was organized, 
in part at least, as an alternative mechanism for demonstrating the abol- 
itionists' second premise. In some ways the new system had never escaped 
from its origins as a marriage of high moral expectations with the grim 
practical realities of plantation labor. Commissioners investigating serious 
charges about the lack of freedom of indentured laborers in British Guiana 
in 1871 noted how the failures of slave emancipation weighed heavily on its 
successor: "The fact is, there is a prejudice against [indentured labor], part- 
ly sentimental, because it is the symbol of defeat to the too sanguine hopes 
for the future of the African race which were entertained at emancipation; 
partly practical, because the government experiment in this direction 
failed, which was made in the apprenticeship of slaves." 2 



a The story of the Suenagas is from Dorothy Ochai Hazama and Jane Okamoto Komeiji, Okage 
Sama De: The Japanese in Hawaii, 1885-1985 (Honolulu: Bess Press, 1086), pp. 20-21, supple- 
mented with details from Franklin Odo and Kazuko Sinoto, A Pictorial History of the Japanese 
in Hawaii, 1885-1924 (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1985), pp. 39-42, 126, 206. 

2 PP 1871 xx (483), Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Enquire into the Treatment of 
Immigrants in British Guiana, p. 63. 



142 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

These disappointments over emancipation were one aspect of the debate 
about freedom; more important was the changing context of that debate. 
The campaign to end slavery in the older British colonies had broadened 
during the nineteenth century, extending its geographical scope world- 
wide and including many other forced labor systems. In India debt- and 
caste-based peonage were outlawed as forms of slavery in 1843. Serfdom in 
Russia and slavery in the United States came to an end in the 1860s, fol- 
lowed by the remaining systems of slavery in the Americas in the late 1880s. 
The Brussels Act of 1890 bound its signatories to the suppression of slave 
trading elsewhere in the world, leading to pressures to end slavery in non- 
European states and in the Europeans' newly acquired African empire. The 
League of Nations Slavery Convention of 1926 expressed an even larger 
international consensus against slave and slavelike labor practices. 3 

The nineteenth-century campaigns against slave labor were paralleled 
by the struggles of the new industrial classes to improve their laboring 
conditions. As was discussed in Chapter 1, European workers' low pay, 
long hours, corporal punishment, and dangerous working conditions were 
sometimes said to constitute "white slavery." Here too prolonged reform 
movements led to changes in laws defining the rights of laborers and 
regulating their ages, hours, and lengths of contract. Here too champions 
from Marx and Engels to Pope Leo XIII drew close comparisons of the 
working classes with slavery. After World War I this aspect of free labor 
also produced international conventions from the International Labor Or- 
ganization. 

Judgments about the conditions of indentured labor could not help but 
be affected by the changing consensus about what legitimately constituted 
free labor in other contexts. Conditions conceived as "free labor" in one 
time and place were denounced as "slavery" at a later time or another 
place. The earliest and clearest shift in the perception of indentured labor 
came in the United States, some of whose territories had been major 
destinations for such labor in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. By 
the 1850s, as a result of the long struggle over slavery, the holding of adults 
in indentured servitude or peonage had come to be seen in nonslave states 
as equivalent to slavery and thus incompatible with free labor. After the 
Civil War the Anti-Peonage Act of 1867 extended the prohibition of "vol- 
untary or involuntary servitude" to all states and territories of the United 
States. 4 When the United States annexed Hawaii in 1900, the prohibition of 
indentured contracts was extended to those islands. 

3 See Suzanne Miers and Richard Roberts, eds., The End of Slavery in Africa (Madison: Uni- 
versity of Wisconsin Press, 1988), and Martin A. Klein, ed., Breaking the Chains: Slavery, 
Bondage, and Emancipation in Modern Africa and Asia (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 
1993). 

4 Robert J. Steinfeld, The Invention of Free Labor: The Employment Relation in English and American 



Conclusions 143 

To be sure, changing perceptions were strongly influenced by the grim 
realities of some systems of indentured labor. The government of India 
refused to allow additional shipments of indentured Indians to French 
plantation colonies in the 1880s because local governments failed to safe- 
guard their rights adequately and ensure their repatriation. The termina- 
tion of indentured migrations between the Portuguese African colonies of 
Angola and Sao Tome in 1909 was prompted by criticisms arising out of 
an investigation led by the Cadbury chocolate company and its subsequent 
boycott of cocoa from the island. 5 Elimination or reform of the worst cases 
fostered questions about the acceptability of indentured labor elsewhere 
even under the best of circumstances. 

However, the final end of the indentured labor migrations was not 
simply the result of its perception as an unacceptable limitation of human 
freedom. It is a great irony that the age notable for its growing concern 
with universal human rights also saw strident new expressions of classism, 
racism, and nationalism. The clash between universal rights and particular 
interests often delayed the reform of laboring conditions. Yet the rise of 
strong expressions of nationalism in China and India also served to hasten 
the end of indentured labor. 

In response to the humiliations of the Opium Wars and the scandals of 
the indentured labor trade, the Chinese central government adopted a 
more assertive foreign policy by the 1870s to restore its national honor 
abroad. No longer avoiding direct involvement with the migrations, China 
moved to regulate and then to abolish the trade. In 1874 an agreement 
between Chinese and Portuguese officials ended the export of Chinese 
contract labor from Macao (other ports having dropped out earlier). Sub- 
sequent official investigations of the condition of Chinese migrants in 
Cuba, Peru, and the United States were part of China's emergence from 
long-time isolation and resulted in the suspension of most indentured 
labor overseas. 6 



Law and Culture, 1350-1870 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991), pp. 
122-84. 

5 William A. Cadbury, Labour in Portuguese West Africa (London: George Routledge & Sons, 
1910); James Duffy, A Question of Slavery (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 
1967); and William Gervase Clarence-Smith, "Cocoa Plantations and Coerced Labor in the 
Gulf of Guinea, 1870-1914," in Klein, Breaking the Chains, pp. 150-70. 

6 Arnold J. Meagher, "The Introduction of Chinese Laborers to Latin America: The 'Coolie 
Trade,' 1847-1874" (Ph.D. dissertation, History, University of California, Davis, 1975), pp. 
307-36; Irich, Ch'ing Policy, pp. 237-392. This was less than a complete ban since Chinese 
continued to emigrate to Hawaii under debt bondage; by formal agreement between the 
respective governments Chinese contract laborers were brought to the Transvaal in 1904-7, 
and approximately 150,000 Chinese laborers were recruited by France and Britain for use in 
Europe during World War I. For the last, see Ta Chen, Chinese Migrations, with Special 
Reference to Labor Conditions (Washington, D.C: Government Printing Office, 1923), pp. 
142-48, 207-10. 



144 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

As chapter 5 has shown, efforts to tar Indian indentured labor with the 
slavery brush were regularly rejected by British officials in the nineteenth 
century. The British Guinea commissioners in 1871 were emphatic in re- 
jecting charges that the indentured laborers there were under a yoke like 
slavery, while not denying that, like other free persons, their civil rights 
were not always respected. After its broader investigation of Indian in- 
dentured labor in 1910, the Sanderson Committee was likewise unequiv- 
ocal in concluding that indentured labor was free labor. To the long-stand- 
ing criticism that it was a form of slavery, the committee rejoined: "Our 
unhesitating opinion, after examining the best and most authoritative 
evidence that we could obtain on the subject, is that whatever abuses may 
have existed in the more remote past, no such charge can be substantiated 
against the system as it at present exists and has been in practice during 
the past 20 or 30 years." It found that "the arrangements for housing, 
medical treatment, and general well-being of the individual immigrant 
leave little to be desired and that the wages earned are such as to enable 
them to save a substantial sum during the period of the indenture." The 
committee's endorsement of the benefits of such a free-labor system to 
both workers and employers was subject to only a few strictures: the 
excessive use of criminal prosecution to enforce contracts should be re- 
duced; migration should be restricted to colonies in good economic health 
and able to provide land for the settlement of those time-expired migrants 
who wished to do so. 7 

Yet within less than a decade of this ringing endorsement, Indian in- 
dentured labor was banned for being incompatible with free labor. The 
change in official views was more a reaction to rising Indian nationalism 
rather than a reconsideration of the actual circumstances of indentured 
labor. When the young Mohandas K. Gandhi led protests in southern 
Africa over the general erosion of Indian rights there, nationalists back in 
India took up indentured labor as a convenient example of how Indians 
were treated unequally. To deflect criticism from the major issues of British 
rule in India, the government of India was willing to sacrifice a system of 
no particular importance to India as a whole, even if it remained important 
to the individual Indian migrants. Opposition by Indian members of the 
legislative council precluded the resumption of Indian indentured labor 
exports to Reunion and their extension to German Southwest Africa in 
1911-12. It was in this context that the Indian viceroy, Lord Hardinge, in 
July 1915 urged the end of indenture "to remove a racial stigma that India 
deeply resents" by ending official support for "a system of forced labour 

7 PP 1910 xxvii [c.5192], Report of the Committee on Emigration from India to the Crown 
Colonies and Protectorates, 26 April 1910, pp. 12-24 (quotations from pp. 23 and 13 respec- 
tively). 



Conclusions 145 

entailing much misery and degradation and differing but little from a form 
of slavery." The government of India then made the decision to end the 
indentured labor trade from India as of March 1916, though most of the 
trade actually ceased a few months earlier because of the requisitioning of 
passenger ships for war use. 8 

Like the abolition of slavery in British colonies eight decades earlier, the 
cessation of indentured labor from British India was achieved through a 
combination high idealism and practical politics. This does not diminish 
the luster of either accomplishment. However achieved, the rescue of 
future generations from slavery and the servitude of long-term indenture 
and the erosion of the artificial line between the rights of European peoples 
and those of Asians and Africans are important milestones in the advance- 
ment of the human condition. But it would be equally wrong to ignore 
many other instances where high-minded rhetoric about the end of in- 
dentured labor masked a racist agenda. 

This second path to the abolition of indentured labor resulted from a 
conflict between two forms of Western colonial expansion. During the 
century before 1920 there had been two quite distinct streams of overseas 
migration: one largely European and with rare exceptions unindentured, 
the other largely non-European and often indentured. To a remarkable 
degree they had gone to separate lands. As Chapter 1 related, this diver- 
gence was partly due to the economic resources of the migrants and partly 
to the different government subsidies applied to them. Where the two 
streams overlapped, as they did in the new overseas colonies of Australia, 
southern Africa, and Hawaii, European settlers were initially eager for 
ample supplies of indentured non-European laborers. However, this social 
and racial stratification lasted for a shorter time in the new colonies than 
had its settler-slave predecessor in the old colonial system, because in- 
denture was not a permanent and hereditary condition. By the beginning 
of the twentieth century the growing numbers of non-Europeans out of 
indenture and their competition for jobs brought the governments of these 
hybrid societies to adopt overtly racialist labor and immigration policies. 

One trend was to restrict the ability of end-of-term non-European mi- 
grants to compete politically and economically with European settlers by 
limiting their legal status and numbers. In the western parts of North 
America a large Chinese population, no longer needed in the 1880s now 
that unskilled European laborers were flooding in, was subjected to violent 
attacks and legal impediments. The United States Congress in 1882 passed 
the first of the exclusion acts that would deny Asian immigrants the rights 
accorded to white settlers. In short order, Canada passed less overtly 
discriminatory laws with similar results. As was explained in Chapter 1, 

8 Tinker, New System of Slavery, pp. 288-366 (quotation from pp. 339-40). 



146 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

with rare exceptions the Chinese laborers in North America do not seem 
to have been under indentured contracts, but the issue of their status as 
free immigrants was the more edifying aspect of the debate over their 
rights. 9 

A similar instance occurred in Natal where by 1893 Indians were esti- 
mated to number 46,000 compared with 45,000 Europeans (and 470,000 
Africans). To preserve whites' privileged position, the Natal government 
passed a series of laws in the 1890s aimed at confining Indian migrants to 
indentured roles as much as possible by imposing a £3 tax on those out of 
indenture, restricting the entry of unindentured ("free") Indians, and de- 
priving unindentured Indians of the possibility of legal equality with 
whites. This was the context of Gandhi's protest movements, which 
stemmed the implementation of some laws and secured the repeal of the 
£3 tax, but it was also the context in which Natal planters chose to forgo 
future shipments of indentured Indians. Similarly in Britain's East Africa 
Protectorate (Kenya), although a trickle of indentured Indians continued to 
be imported until 1921-22, the laborers who had built the Uganda railroad 
from 1896 to 1902 were largely repatriated and policies were adopted that 
discouraged Indian entry and encouraged European settlement. For a time 
it was possible to maintain the illusion that both African territories could 
be "white man's countries" despite the overwhelming numerical pre- 
ponderance of their indigenous populations. In both, Indians also con- 
tinued to outnumber Europeans. 10 

In late nineteenth-century Queensland debate about the morality of 
indentured labor went hand in hand with the promotion of European labor 
at the expense of Pacific islanders. The public manifesto of a leading critic 
in 1892 clearly reveals the clumsy blend of idealism and racism: 

I have been for many years one of the most determined opponents of the introduc- 
tion of servile or coloured labour into Queensland. My objection has not been on 
account of the colour of men's skins, but I have maintained that the employment 
of such labour under conditions to which we had become accustomed, was in- 
jurious to the best interests of the Colony regarded as a home for the British race, 
and principally for the following reasons: 1. It tended to encourage the creation of 
large landed estates, . . . and so discouraged actual settlement by small farmers 

9 Shih-shan Henry Tsai, China and the Overseas Chinese in the United States, 1868-1911 (Fayette- 
ville: University of Arkansas Press, 1983), pp. 24-87; Persia Crawford Campbell, Chinese 
Coolie Emigration to Countries within the British Empire (London: P. S. King & Sons, 1923), pp. 
41-56. 
10 B. Pachai, The International Aspects of the South African Indian Question, 1860-1971 (Cape 
Town: C. Struik, 1971), pp. 6-19; Maureen Swan, Gandhi: The South African Experience 
(Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1985); J. S. Mangat, A History of the Asians in East Africa, c.1886 
to 1945 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), pp. 39, 70-72; Robert G. Gregory, India and East 
Africa: A History of Race Relations within the British Empire, 1890-1939 (Oxford: Clarendon 
Press, 1971), pp. 52-53. 



Conclusions 147 

working for themselves. 2. It led to field labour in tropical agriculture being looked 
down upon as degrading and unworthy of the white races. 3. The permanent 
existence of a large servile population amongst us, not admitted to the franchise, 
is not compatible with the continuance of our free political institutions. 

Practical implementation of racial discrimination came piecemeal. In 1880 
Pacific islanders were restricted to work in the sugarcane industry, in 1884 
they were excluded from all skilled positions, and in 1892 excluded from 
all jobs in sugar mills. The movement toward exclusion took heart from 
Natal' s anti-Indian measures. After Queensland's incorporation into the 
new commonwealth of Australia in 1901, all new indentures were banned 
and a subsidy of £2 per ton was granted to sugar grown exclusively with 
white labor, for the most part individuals cultivating small units around a 
central mill. Most Pacific islanders were repatriated in 1905-6 after the 
expiration of their contracts. 11 

Impressed with this small farmer approach in Australia, the Hawaiian 
Sugar Planters' Association also promoted several programs (of high cost 
and limited success) to Europeanize and Americanize their labor force 
after annexation, in order to reduce the East Asian presence on and off the 
plantations. On the American mainland, although indenture was not the 
issue, the laws excluding Chinese and Japanese laborers because they 
competed with poor European settlers were a closely analogous phenom- 
enon. 12 

Consideration of the changing economic conditions also serves to di- 
minish the luster of an explanation of the end of indentured labor that 
relies too much on reform as a motive. In the midst of the sugar crisis of 
the 1890s a major British commission, voicing concern that the continued 
importation of indentured Indian labor to British Guiana and Trinidad 
could impose a heavy burden on colonial treasuries for their repatriation 
if the economy eroded any further, recommended the phasing out of new 
imports, especially in light of the substantial populations the trade had 
built up there. The fact that Indian labor imports were already declining 
in several overseas locations (and had even ceased in Mauritius) made it 
much easier for the forces favoring the trade's abolition to succeed. A 
different economic circumstance favored the end of indenture in Malaya: 

11 "S. W. Griffith's Manifesto," Brisbane Courier, 13 February 1892, forwarded by governor to 
British secretary of state, Correspondence relating to Polynesian Labour and the Colony of 
Queensland, PP 1892 lvi [c.6686]. See other correspondence in PP 1892 lvi [c.6686], 1893 lvi 
[c.6808], 1893 lxi [c.7000], 1895 lxx [c.7912]. Ralph Shlomowitz, "Marx and the Queensland 
Labour Trade," Journal de la Societe des Oceanistes 96 (1993): 3, 12, points out that even after 
the expiration of the last indenture contract in 1904 only 27% of sugar qualified for the 
European-preference subsidy. 

12 Beechert, Working in Hawaii pp. 86, 121-33; Beechert errs in suggesting (p. 86) that this racist 
fear of former workers becoming "a threat to white power . . . was unique to Hawaii" and 
absent from other sugar-growing areas. Queensland's success was not immediate. 



148 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

prosperity had made wages sufficiently attractive to be able to draw 
enough unbonded labor. 13 If a century earlier "capitalism" had not in fact 
extinguished slavery quite so neatly as Eric Williams argued in his in- 
fluential study, economic changes at least eased the way for its abolition. 
Similarly, the changing economic circumstances of the early twentieth 
century facilitated the ending of indentured labor, even though other 
factors dictated the timing. 

The aftermath 

The long-term cultural and demographic effects of indentured migration 
varied greatly. In some places the migrants' influence declined quickly 
after the trade ended. Having enjoyed the fruits of their labors, places such 
as Queensland and the Transvaal largely erased the migrants' presence by 
policies of repatriation and exclusion. Even in lands where most Chinese 
migrants did not or could not return home at the end of indenture, such 
as Cuba and Peru, the extreme imbalance in the sexes in time reduced their 
numbers. In some places, indentured migrants and their descendants 
blended into other population groups: for example, in the West Indies the 
descendants of indentured African migrants were absorbed into the much 
larger black population created under slavery and the descendants of 
European migrants, depending on marriage patterns, were similarly ab- 
sorbed into other strata of the population. The arrival of substantial num- 
bers of nonindentured migrants from the same homeland could also dilute 
communities dating from indentured migrations. 14 

If the vitality of migrant groups diminished in some lands, in many 
others their presence remained evident to even the most casual observer 
(see Table 6.1). East Indians replaced Africans as the largest part of the 
population in British Guiana, Mauritius, Reunion, and Dutch Guiana, in 
time becoming the majority in the first three, while Indians and Javanese 
together formed a majority in Dutch Guiana. By 1921 Indians were a third 
or more of the population of Trinidad and Fiji and continued to outnumber 
European settlers in Natal. Similarly Japanese and Chinese remained over 
half the population of Hawaii through the first quarter of the twentieth 

n PP 1898 1 [c.8655], Report of the West India Royal Commission, 1897, pp. 26, 38-39. Tinker, 
New System of Slavery, pp. 314—15, 364. The clearest exception was Fiji, whose economy 
strongly favored continuing indentured labor and was in consequence the last major 
employer of Indian laborers to abrogate indentured contracts 

14 The Chinese population in Cuba declined until the turn of the century, then expanded as 
the result of large new migrations in the early twentieth century. The number of Chinese 
in British Guiana fell from 6,880 in 1871 to 2,622 in 1911, thereafter rising slowly due to new 
immigration; Look Lai, Indentured Labour, p. 301. Despite their amalgamation with the 
larger population, Schuler, "Alas, Alas, Kongo," p. 8, was still able to locate descendants of 
African migrants to Jamaica in 1971. 



Conclusions 149 

Table 6.1. Share of total population in selected territories deriving from indentured 

migration, 1900-1960 





1900-1 


1920-21 


1940-44 


1957-60 


Indians in Mauritius 3 


70% 


71% 


63% 


67% 


Indians in Trinidad^ 


32 


33 




36 


Indians in British Guiana^ 


38 (1891) 


42 




48 


Indians in Fiji c 


15 


40 




49 


Japanese in Hawaii^ 


40 


43 


37 


32 


Chinese in Hawaii^ 


17 


9 


7 


6 



Sources: (a) Auguste Toussaint, Histoire des iles Mascareignes (Paris: Berger- 
Levrault, 1972), pp. 335-36; (b) Walton Look Lai, Indentured Labor, Caribbean 
Sugar: Chinese and West Indian Migrants to the British West Indies, 1838-1918 
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), tables 32-33; (c) Brij V. Lai, 
Broken Waves: A History of the Fiji Islands in the Twentieth Century (Honolulu: 
University of Hawaii Press, 1992), pp. 18, 33, 38, 63; (d) Franklin Odo and 
Kazuko Sinoto, A Victor al History of the Japanese in Hawai'i, 1885-1924 
(Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1985), pp. 18-19. All statistics for 1957-60 are 
from Chandra Jayawardena, "Migration and Social Change: A Survey of Indian 
Communities Overseas," Geographical Journal 58.3 (1968): table 1. 



century until their proportions were diluted by the arrival of new Cauca- 
sian and Filipino migrants. Where the sexes were not too out of balance, 
natural reproduction equalized the proportion of females in the migrant 
population within a few decades. In the case of Japanese in Hawaii this 
process was accelerated by sending for "picture brides," a process that 
helped transform the male-to-female sex ratio from 4 to 1 under indenture 
in the 1890s to 3 to 2 by 1920. Less vulnerable to the diseases that had 
afflicted the first arrivals, generations born in the new lands flourished and 
sometimes (e.g., in Fiji and Hawaii) surpassed the growth rate of in- 
digenous populations. 15 

The economic and social development of such substantial and self- 
sustaining expatriate communities was affected by the cultural heritage 
the migrants brought with them and by the opportunities open to them in 
their new homes. The Japanese in Hawaii benefited from both circum- 
stances. As the result of the rapid growth in education in their homeland 
during the late nineteenth century, Japanese migrants arriving in Hawaii 
possessed a high degree of literacy and a devotion to formal education. In 
1896 69 percent of male Japanese migrants in Hawaii were already literate, 
as were 25 percent of the females. After indenture they moved into a broad 

15 Odo and Sinoto, Pictorial History of the Japanese, p. 75. 



150 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

Table 6.2. Distribution of occupations after indenture, 1899-C.1938 (as percentage of 

total employed) 





Chinese 


Chinese 


Indians 


Indians 


Japanese 




in 


in 


in British 


in 


in 




Cuba 


Hawaii 


Guiana 


Trinidad 


Hawaii 




1899a 


1930b 


1899c 


late 1930s<3 


1926e 


Agriculture 








68 




laborers 


53 


27 


77 




39 


owners, farmers 




4 


15 




8 


Servants 


20 


13 


2 


2 


13 


Day laborers (non-farm) 








13 


9 


Commerce 


20 


35 


3 


6 


11 


Industry, construction 


2 


11 


3 


5 


14 


Learned professions 


<1 


5 


<1 


1 


3 


Other 


5 


6 


<1 


5 


2 



Sources: (a) Duvon Clough Corbitt, A Study of the Chinese in Cuba, 1847-1947 
(Wilmore, Ky.: Asbury College, 1971), pp. 92-94. (b) Clarence E. Glick, Sojourners 
and Settlers: Chinese Migrants in Hawaii (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 
1980), table 3. (c) Walton Look Lai, Indentured Labor, Caribbean Sugar: Chinese 
and West Indian Migrants to the British West Indies, 1838-1918 (Baltimore: Johns 
Hopkins University Press, 1993), table 21. (d) Yogendra K. Malik, East Indians in 
Trinidad: A Study in Minority Politics (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), 
table 1.4. (e) Franklin Odo and Kazuko Sinoto, A Pictoral History of the Japanese 
in Hawai'i, 1885-1924 (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1985), table 18. 



spectrum of occupations in Hawaii's expanding economy and, as the 
example cited at the beginning of this chapter suggests, with the aid of 
successful Japanese residents who had not come as contract laborers, they 
educated their children in schools that transmitted both Japanese and 
Western cultural values. In 1920 16 percent of the entire Japanese popula- 
tion in Hawaii was attending school. 16 As Table 6.2 shows, a significant 
number of Japanese (in comparison to other migrant groups) also man- 
aged to enter the learned professions at an early date. 

Chinese in Hawaii followed a pattern of occupational development 
similar to the Japanese, except for a higher proportion going into com- 
merce. While this trajectory was partially due to the opportunities Hawaii 
offered, it does not appear to be explainable exclusively by that circum- 
stance since the occupational profile of Chinese in Cuba a quarter century 
after the end of indenture is remarkably similar, with the notable absence 
of the learned professions. In part because of their smaller numbers Chi- 
nese in Cuba, Peru, and the British Caribbean were more likely than 

16 Odo and Sinoto, Pictorial History of the Japanese, pp. 127, 131. 



Conclusions 151 

Indians to lose their language, change religions, and marry outside their 
ethnic group. 17 

In contrast to the East Asians, Indian communities overseas generally 
underwent less rapid social change, even though they were larger and had 
emerged much earlier. In 1871 there were nearly 17,000 unindentured 
Indians resident in Trinidad (61 percent of the Indian community), 10,000 
in British Guiana (23 percent), and 134,000 in Mauritius (61 percent). By 
1910-11 the number of Indians not under indenture had grown to 96,000 
in Trinidad (89 percent), almost 118,000 in British Guiana (93 percent), and 
258,000 in Mauritius (100 percent). 18 In all three colonies, most Indians 
remained rural residents, working on their own or other persons' land. 19 
This situation reflected the Indians' strong preference for becoming rural 
landowners as well as their more limited opportunities for advancement 
in these colonies compared with those in Hawaii. Moreover, Indian com- 
munities did not consider schools as means of social mobility until well 
into the twentieth century. As late as 1970 the proportion of Indo-Trin- 
idadians, for example, with no formal education was ten times as high as 
for Afro-Trinidadians and as a consequence Indians were the most eco- 
nomically depressed ethnic group in Trinidad. The explanation partly 
reflects the absence of a literate tradition among most Indian migrants, 
who, as rural residents, also had limited access to schools. Cultural dif- 
ferences seem to have played an important role as well: long after the end 
of indenture most Indians remained aloof from both European and African 
cultures and tended to define career aspirations within the limits of caste 
status. Compared with East Asian migrants, both Hindu and Muslim 
Indians seem to have been more fearful of the cultural destructiveness of 
the Christian-dominated educational systems in their new homes. But in 
contrast to the Japanese in Hawaii, they lacked the financial resources (and 
strong motivation) to set up their own schools. As a result, in 1931 most 
Indians literate in English in Trinidad were Christians. 20 

17 Look Lai, pp. 204-16, suggests that because of this greater acculturation and smaller 
numbers there was little friction between Chinese and persons of African descent, except 
in Jamaica. 

18 Look Lai, Indentured Labour, pp. 220-22, 283; PP 1873 xlviii [c.709-I], Report of the Protector 
of Immigrants, Mauritius, 1871. 

19 Even in the early 1960s, 87% of Indians in British Guiana were rural as were 80% of the 
Hindus and 57% of the Indo-Muslims of Mauritius, far higher than other segments of these 
populations; Peter Newman, British Guiana (London: Oxford University Press, 1964), table 
5a; Burton Benedict, Mauritius (London: Praeger, 1965), p. 23. 

20 Dwarka Nath, A History of Indians in British Guiana (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1950), 
pp. 166-68; Raymond T. Smith, British Guiana (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), pp. 
108-12. Winston Dookerman, "East Indians and the Economy of Trinidad and Tobego," pp. 
79-80; Kelvin Singh, "East Indians and the Larger Society," pp. 59-60, 67 n. 25; Bridget 
Brereton, "The Experience of Indentureship, 1845-1917," pp. 32-37; all three in John Gaffar 
LaGuerre, ed., Calcutta to Caroni: The East Indians of Trinidad (Trinidad: Longman Caribbean, 
1974). 



152 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

Contrasts within Indian communities were notable. The many fine dis- 
tinctions of caste observed in India tended to be subsumed into the four 
broader orders or varnas of Hinduism, but these distinctions, as well as 
those between Hindus and Muslims and between North and South In- 
dians, were usually maintained by marriage patterns. Language differ- 
ences also reinforced distinctions. In the 1960s most Indians in Mauritius 
spoke an Indian language at home, with Hindi (Hindustani) predominat- 
ing, but Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, and Urdu were also represented. 
In Natal hybridized versions of Hindi and Tamil evolved, with English 
serving as an important second language. 21 Contrasts among Indian com- 
munities were also notable. Those on Fiji and Natal became more highly 
urbanized and educated by the mid-twentieth century, in part because of 
restrictions against their ability to own land. 22 Even closely situated Indian 
communities in the Caribbean developed in quite different ways, often in 
complete ignorance of each other's existence. 23 

While the new Asian communities differed substantially in the direction 
and speed of their cultural evolution, they nevertheless shared some com- 
mon features. All formed part of distinctly "plural societies," societies with 
sharply denned communities distinguished by "racial" and ethnic iden- 
tities and, less rigidly, by cultural norms. 24 Naturally degrees of cleavage 
varied. Indian communities generally distanced themselves from the older 
African populations, though culturally they were drawn more toward the 
dominant European population. Both Indians and Africans in the West 
Indies showed hostility to the Portuguese migrants' rapid economic suc- 
cess. While often cited as one of the most harmonious multicultural soci- 
eties in the world, Hawaii was also home to many forms of discrimination 
and antagonism, especially before the middle of the twentieth century. 
Another common feature of migrant communities overseas was their dis- 
tancing from their home communities as well. In this they shared the 
common experience of other expatriate communities. 

21 Benedict, Mauritius, p. 40; Hilda Kuper, "'Strangers' in Plural Societies: Asians in South 
Africa and Uganda," in Pluralism in Africa, ed. Leo Kuper and M. G. Smith (Berkeley: 
University of California Press, 1971), p. 256. 

^David Welch, "The Growth of Towns," in Oxford History of South Africa, ed. Monica Wilson 
and Leonard Thompson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), 2:179; Robert Norton, 
Race and Politics in Fiji, 2nd ed. (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1990), pp. 22-26; 
Brij V. Lai, Broken Waves: A History of the Fiji Islands in the Twentieth Century (Honolulu: 
University of Hawaii Press, 1992), pp. 85-86, 159, 229-31. 

23 V. S. Naipaul, himself descended from indentured Indian migrants to Trinidad, expressed 
great surprise at learning during a 1961 visit to Martinique that there had been a large 
indentured Indian migration there in the nineteenth century (of whose descendants only 
four or five thousand remained): The Middle Passage (New York: Vintage Press, 1981), pp. 
204-5. This interesting volume records his impressions of Trinidad, British Guiana, Suri- 
nam, Martinique, and Jamaica. 

24 M. G. Smith, The Plural Society in the British West Indies (Berkeley: University of California 
Press, 1965); Kuper and Smith, Pluralism in Africa. 



Conclusions 153 

Another way to assess the legacy of indentured migration is to consider 
what replaced it as a labor system. As with the legacy of the migrants 
themselves, this is a vast subject. Like the end of slavery, the end of 
indentured labor was less a sharp break with the past than a redirecting of 
the forces that produced it under a new legal mandate in a partially altered 
economy. The demand for migrant labor was certainly not over, though in 
many of the largest importing colonies the indentured migration had 
created a sufficient demographic base. In South Africa there was growing 
mobilization of local African labor as well as that of migrants from neigh- 
boring colonies (especially Mozambique for the mines). The colonies of 
East Africa also adopted policies of taxation and labor recruitment that 
enabled them to rely upon their own growing populations for low-wage 
labor. To deal with the labor shortages resulting from the ending of both 
slavery and indentured labor, the Cuban sugar industry adopted the colo- 
nato system by which leaseholders produced sugarcane for a central fac- 
tory. Unindentured migrants became increasingly important in the early 
twentieth century, including a half million poor Europeans from the Can- 
ary Islands and Spain during the two decades after 1898, 150,000 Chinese 
between 1902 and 1924, and migrants from neighboring Haiti and Jamaica 
beginning during World War I. 25 Hawaii and Australia also saw large new 
migrations of unindentured persons (including large numbers of Euro- 
peans) that enabled them to meet their labor needs. As was indicated in 
Chapter 2, the sugar industry also reduced its labor needs through the 
mechanization of many processes. 

The second half of the twentieth century has witnessed even greater 
population movements than the half century before World War I, and with 
many similar features. Rapid population growth and deficiencies of local 
economic development in Asia, Africa, and Latin America have pushed 
many people to migrate regionally or to other continents. New advances 
in transportation have continued the pattern of falling costs and rising 
speed begun in the nineteenth century, which have facilitated such migra- 
tions. The demand for guest workers has been a feature of maturing 
industrial economies and of modern agrobusiness, sometimes with pat- 
terns of ill-treatment reminiscent of indentured labor. 26 

Such circumstances foster the flood of migrants from North Africa and 
the Middle East into Europe, from Islamic South and Southeast Asia into 
the oil-rich Middle East, from Mexico and Central America into the United 
States. In 1993 there was an almost perfect approximation of the motiva- 

25 Duvon Clough Corbitt, A Study of the Chinese in Cuba, 1847-1947 (Wilmore, Ky: Asbury 
College, 1971), pp. 105, 117; Louis A, Perez, Jr., Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution (New 
York: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 13-14, 202. 

26 See Alec Wiliamson, Big Sugar: Seasons in the Cane Fields of Florida (New York: Alfred A. 
Knopf, 1989). 



154 Indentured labor in the age of imperialism 

tions and circumstances of indentured labor trade as young Chinese sold 
themselves into debt bondage and endured long voyages in crowded ships 
in a desperate effort to reach the employment Mecca of North America. 
While the motives and the means behind such migrations may be similar, 
what is different, of course, is that only in exceptional cases does modern 
labor migration duplicate the experiences common to indentured laborers 
in the nineteenth century, just as it was only in exceptional cases that 
indentured labor duplicated the experiences of slavery. 

This study has sought to present the larger experience of indentured 
labor as a distinct historical phenomenon. It was not a continuation of 
slavery, though, like slavery, it was largely concerned with sugar produc- 
tion, largely confined to non-Europeans, and was abolished in a campaign 
that stressed its incompatibility with humane standards of free labor. 
Indentured labor was also distinct from the larger European migration of 
the nineteenth century in its composition, in its destinations, and in its 
legal circumstances. Yet indentured migrants' motives in emigrating, the 
voyages that carried them, and their struggles to establish a new life once 
their contract was over do resemble those of "free" migrants and deserve 
to be included in that larger story. 



Appendix A: Tables A.1-A.6 



155 





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161 



162 



Appendix A 



Table A. 3. Indentured migration from British India, 1855-65, suggesting the 
impact of the 1857 Rebellion 



Season 


From Calcutta 


From Madras 


From Bombay 


Total 


1855-56 


9,942 


6,673 


700 


17,315 


1856-57 


7,242 


4,800 


513 


12,555 


1857-58 


12,531 


6,244 


1,983 


20,758 


1858-59 


23,312 


15,461 


6,252 


45,025 


1859-60 


25,590 


12,461 


3,471 


41,777 


1860-61 


14,533 


6,479 


860 


21,872 


1861-62 


22,600 


6,804 





29,404 


1862-63 


7,825 


4,665 





12,490 


1863-64 


6,189 


4,371 


706 


11,266 


1864-65 


13,485 


7,124 


936 


21,545 



Source: Statistical Abstract for British India, 1867, 1870, 1874. Season runs 
from 1 May to 30 April. 



Table A.4. Ship size and passenger density in nineteenth-century transoceanic 
voyages (number of voyages in parentheses) 



Voyagers and sources 



Period 



Average number 
Average of passengers 
tonnage per 100 tons 



Enslaved 








Africans to the Americas 3 


1821-1843 


172 (538) 


257 (267) 


Indentured 








Africans to West Indies* 3 


1848-1867 


632 (41) 


29 (112) 


Indians to British West Indies* 5 


1858-1873 


968 (277) 


42 (275) 


Chinese to Cuba c 


1847-1873 


728 (207) 


55 (342) 


Chinese to Peru c 


1865-1874 


839 (127) 


55 (162) 


Chinese to British West Indies 


1852-1873 


870 (48) 


41 (48) 


Europe to Quebec 3 


1851-1855 


450 (1580) 


26 (1580) 



Sources: (a) Calculated from David Eltis, "Free and Coerced Transatlantic 
Migrations: Some Comparisons," American Historical Review 88.2 (1983): 271; 

(b) Calculated from records of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission; 

(c) Calculated from Arnold J. Meagher, "The Introduction of Chinese Laborers to 
Latin America: The 'Coolie Trade,' 1847-1874," (Ph.D. dissertation, University of 
California, Davis, 1975), tables 13-15. 



Appendix A 



163 



Table A.5. Mortality on ocean voyages in the nineteenth century (number of 

voyages in parentheses) 



Routes and sources 



Period 



Average Mortality 

Deaths days en per month 

per 1,000 route per 1,000 



Enslaved 

West Africa to the Americas 3 

Indentured 

Africa to British West Indies* 5 

India to British West Indies* 5 

India to Mauritius"- 1 

India to Martinique 

China to Cuba^ 

China to Peru^ 

China to British West Indies d 

Pacific Islands to Queensland 6 

Free/Convict 

Europe to New York e 

Britain to Australia (Convicts) e 

Britain to Australia (Free) e 



1811-1863 


69.0 (687) 


37 (584) 


59.1 


1848-1867 


35.2 (112) 


32 (110) 


31.0 


1851-1873 


63.8 (350) 


96 (347) 


19.9 


1858-1868 


21.6 (463) 


38 (72) 


17.0 


1853-1858 


27.1 (12) 


85 (12) 


7.7 


1847-1873 


118.4 (342) 


120 (207) 


31.4 


1849-1874 


123.5 (178) 


110 (113) 


33.6 


1852-1873 


50.0 (47) 


104 (46) 


14.1 


1873-1894 


11.1 (558) 


111 (558) 


3.0 


1836-1853 




c.45 (1077) 


c 10.0 


1815-1868 


9.8 (693) 


122 (693) 


2.4 


1838-1853 




109 (258) 


7.4 



Sources: (a) Calculated from David Eltis, Economic Growth and the Ending of the 
Transatlantic Slave Trade (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 133, 
137. (b) Calculated from records of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission, 
(c) Parliamentary Papers 1859 xxxiv [2569-1], no, 115, 116, 119: Lawless to 
Malmesbury, 12 May 1858, 13 October 1858, 27 January 1859. (d) Calculated 
from Arnold J. Meagher, "The Introduction of Chinese Laborers to Latin America: 
the 'Coolie Trade,' 1847-1874," (Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, 
Davis, 1975), tables 13-15, 25-47. (e) John McDonald and Ralph Shlomowitz, 
"Mortality on Chinese and Indian Voyages to the West Indies and South America, 
1847-1874," Social and Economic Studies 41.2 (1992), table 3. 



164 Appendix A 

Table A.6. Changing mortality patterns in the nineteenth century (number of 

voyages in parentheses) 

Chinese Chinese Chinese Chinese Indians Africans 

to Americas to Peru to Cuba to BWI to BWI to BWI 



1846-50 


53.6 (5) 


105.4 (3) 


16.5 (2) 


none 


11.0 (NA) 


44.4 (55) 


1851-55 


26.0 (47) 


22.7 (13) 


26.3 (25) 


26.9 (9) 


13.0 (48) 


11.4 (13) 


1856-60 


43.6 (123) 


93.9 (6) 


43.5 (109) 


9.3 (9) 


33.0 (78) 


8.9 (16) 


1861-65 


35.1 (114) 


65.7 (40) 


20.3 (46) 


13.1 (28) 


22.6 (91) 


9.9 (27) 


1866-70 


24.9 (180) 


21.6 (50) 


27.4 (128) 


5.2 (2) 


15.6 (93) 




1871-75 


22.2 (87) 


22.6 (55) 


24.4 (31) 


1.0 (1) 


10.3 (40) 





Note: Chinese to Americas = Peru + Cuba + BWI (British West Indies). Mortality = 
deaths per thousand per month, based on the average population at risk. 
Sources: For Chinese mortality: Arnold J. Meagher, "The Introduction of Chinese 
Laborers to Latin America: The 'Coolie Trade/ 1847-1874," (Ph.D. dissertation, 
History, University of California, Davis, 1975), tables 13-15, 25-47; for Indian 
and African mortality: the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission records. 



Appendix B: Source notes for maps 



Map 2 (Latin America). All figures are from Table A.2. The distribution 
among the individual colonies is based on the sources listed in that table's 
notes with Portuguese migrants counted only up to 1860 and 20% of 
Africans to the French Caribbean colonies allotted to French Guiana. 

Map 4 (Oceania). Table A. 2, with some additional destinations and the 
distributions by source from Doug Munro, "The Origins of Labourers in 
the South Pacific: Commentary and Statistics/' pages xxxix-li in Labour in 
the South Pacific, edited by C. Moore, J. Leckie, and D. Munro (Townsville: 
Department of History and Politics and Melanesian Studies Centre, James 
Cook University of North Queensland, 1990). Munro' s figures produce 
totals at slight variance with those in Table A.2. The breakdown by Eu- 
ropean origin is from Katharine Coman, The History of Contract Labor into 
the Hawaiian Islands (New York: Arno Press, 1978), p. 63. 

Map. 5 (Africa and Europe). Figures are from Table A.l and the sources 
listed there, with these additions: coastal origins of liberated Africans are 
from David Eltis, Economic Growth and the Ending of the Transatlantic Slave 
Trade, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), tables 3, 4. 

Map 6 (South Asia). Intercontinental migrations from Table A.l. Re- 
gional migrations from Walter F. Willcox, ed., International Migra- 
tions (New York: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1929-31), I: 913 
(Malaya), 916 (Ceylon), and Usha Mahanjani, The Role of Indian Minorities 
in Burma and Malaya (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1973), p. 106 
(Burma). 

Map 7 (East Asia). All intercontinental migration figures are from Table 
A.l. Other Chinese migrations are from Willcox, International Migrations, 1: 
262-72 (United States), 525-27 (Cuba), 913 (Straits Settlements), 929-31 
(other Southeast Asia). The sources of migrants within China are from 

165 



166 Appendix B 

Arnold J. Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers into Latin America: 
The 'Coolie Trade/ 1847-1874," (Ph.D. dissertation, History, University of 
California, Davis, 1975), map 2. Nonindentured Japanese migrations are 
from Yamamoto Ichihashi, "International Migrations of the Japanese," in 
Willcox, International Migrations, 2: table 270. 



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Index 



abolitionists, 17-19, 22, 23, 35, 41, 46, 141 
absenteeism, by laborers, 118-19, 128 
Adamson, Alan, 116n 
Adas, Michael, lln, 135 
Africa, 13, 17, 18, 37, 60, 79, 153; labor mi- 
gration from, 4, 26-9, 31, 42, 43, 44-51, 

62, 78-9, 84, 89, 91, 99, 104, 106, 121; 
southern, 4, 8, 9, 29, 31, 33, 35, 59-60, 
112, 131, 144, 145; see also East Africa, 
North Africa, West Africa, and in- 
dividual territories 

Africans, 45-8, 50, 51, 59, 62, 117, 121, 133, 
141, 152, 153; enslaved, 5n, 33, 36, 50, 
90, 126; indentured, 4, 8, 14, 17, 23, 25, 
26, 27, 37, 44, 50-1, 57, 63, 75, 76, 80, 82, 
83, 86, 89, 98, 101, 130, 145, 146, 148, 
152; liberated, 23, 24, 45-8, 51, 63, 70, 
76, 86, 95, 98, 106; repurchased, 27; see 
also slaves, African 

alcohol, 124, 128 

Amoy, lln, 55, 56, 57, 58n, 61 

Angola, 14, 49, 143 

apprenticeship, 19-21, 30, 41, 45, 50, 118, 
126, 141 

Argentina, 135 

arkatia, 69-70; see also recruiter 

Asia, 13, 22, 35, 42, 52, 60, 64, 71, 87, 92, 95, 
102, 129, 153; see also East Asia, South- 
east Asia, and individual territories 

Asians, 4, 8, 10, 40, 77, 123, 138, 145, 151-2; 
see also Chinese, Indians, Japanese 

Asiegbu, U. J., 5n, 48 

Assam, 13, 64, 121, 122 

Atlantic islands, 29, 48; see also Canary Is- 
lands, Fernando Po, Madeira, Principe, 
Sao Tome, St. Helena 

Atlantic ocean, 4, 14, 24, 45, 47, 51, 54, 55, 

63, 76, 78, 81, 82 



Australia, 13, 24, 31-2, 35, 131, 145, 147; 
free migration to, 9, 10, 55, 86, 89, 90, 
112, 147, 153; indentured migration to, 

4, 30, 37, 54, 58, 61, 71, 95, 134, 138 

Baltimore, 23 

Barbados, 20, 23, 28, 31, 32 

Barth, Gunther Paul, 12 

Beall, Jo, 125 

Bechu, Indian migrant, 129 

Bengal, 53, 67, 68 

Bihar, 66 

Bombay, 53, 66, 67, 91 

Bonyun, George, R., 120, 121, 123 

Borneo, 61 

Brazil, 9, 22, 32, 49, 61, 74, 129 

Brennan, Lance, 121 

British Columbia, 58 

British Guiana, migration to, 1-2, 4, 9, 23- 

5, 28-9, 3^4, 46, 53, 55, 63, 64, 75, 77, 
86, 91, 97, 99, 101; indentured labor in, 
106, 108, 110, 115-19, 120, 122-4, 127, 
128, 130, 131, 135-7, 141, 144, 147; life 
after indenture in, 148-52; plantation 
slavery in, 18; sugar production in, 20, 
29-31, 33-4; see also Demerara 

British Guiana Commission, 111 

British India Steam Navigation Company, 

83 
British Isles, 84 
Brussels, Act of 1890, 142 
Burma, 11, 53, 64, 66, 83 

Cadbury (company), 143 

Calcutta, 1, 2, 27, 53, 63-7, 69, 71, 95-7, 101, 

102, 121, 124 
California, 10-12, 24, 39, 55n, 86, 95, 127 
Callao (Peru), 109, 115 



181 



182 



Index 



Campbell, Persia, 11 

Canada, 9, 98, 145 

Canary Islands, 153 

cannabis, 128 

Canton, 34, 55-7, 61, 96 

Cape Colony, 29, 35 

Cape Verde Islands, 49 

capital, capitalism, 14-15, 32, 35, 40, 109, 
138, 139, 148 

Caribbean, 14, 17, 21, 23, 29, 46, 47, 50, 51, 
62, 76, 80, 82, 126, 129, 131, 152; British, 
2, 5, 16, 17-20, 22-5, 27, 31, 33, 46, 48, 
81, 83, 84, 87, 89, 92, 99, 117, 118, 150; 
French, 4, 25-8, 31, 34, 48, 50, 53, 86, 93; 
see also individual colonies 

Cayenne, see French Guiana 

Central America, 153 

Ceylon, 10, 13, 14, 53, 60, 64, 66 

Chamberlain, Joseph, 87 

China: labor migration from, 16, 24, 26, 28, 
29, 41, 43, 51-9, 60, 61, 64, 69-71, 73, 76, 
78, 79, 82, 84-7, 92, 95, 96, 99, 112, 128; 
nationalism in, 143; return migration to, 
131; see also East Asia 

Chinese: exclusion of, 145, 147; free emi- 
gration by, 10, 12, 39, 52, 145-6; in- 
dentured emigration by, 4, 6, 9, 16, 17, 
24-6, 28, 30, 35-41, 51-9, 60, 61, 67, 74- 
7, 79, 143; voyages by, 80-3, 85, 87, 89, 
90, 92-6, 98-101, 154; under indenture, 
106, 127, 128, 130, 131, 133, 138, 143; af- 
ter indenture, 148-50, 153; see also coo- 
lies 

Chesapeake Bay, 5 

cholera, 121 

Christians, 151 

Civil War, American, 37, 39, 41, 56, 142 

Cloud, Patricia, 12 

Colonial Land and Emigration Commis- 
sion, 8, 80, 83, 98 

Colonial Sugar Refining Company, 39 

colonies, 142; British, 45, 60, 64, 71, 83, 106, 
108-9, 110, 115, 116, 141, 142, 145; 
Dutch, 17, 26, 29, 41, 60, 108, 115; 
French, 17, 26, 29, 34, 38, 41, 60, 62, 91, 
93, 106, 108; Portuguese, 143; Spanish, 
17, 31, 40, 41; see also Angola, Carib- 
bean, British Guiana, Cuba, Dutch East 
Indies, Dutch Guiana, French Carib- 
bean, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Mar- 
tinique, Mauritius, Mozambique, Peru, 
Reunion, Surinam 

colonization, 15, 29, 35, 106, 110 

compensation; see wages 

Comoro Islands, 27, 50 

Congress, United States, 56, 142, 145 

conditions, working, 10, 105, 106, 108, 109, 



113, 120, 121, 124, 126, 128, 129, 139, 
142, 143, 146, 147; see also mortality at 
destinations, rations, suicide, wages 

contracts, indentured, 2, 4, 8, 12, 27, 28, 33, 
45, 47, 58, 50-1, 54, 64, 69, 74, 79, 104, 
105, 108-10, 112, 115-19, 125-7, 130, 
131, 133, 135, 140, 142-4, 146, 147, 154; 
prosecution for violation of, 112-13, 
119; renewal of, 108, 120, 139 

coolies, 5, 12, 56, 58, 60, 62, 84-6, 90, 95, 96; 
see also Chinese, Indians 

credit ticket migration system, 11, 54, 59 

Creoles, West Indian, 117-18, 121 

crimps, see recruiters 

Cuba, 30; indentured immigration to, 3, 4, 
16, 25, 39, 55, 59, 61, 76, 95; voyages to, 
82, 84, 86, 92, 99, 114; indentured labor 
in, 6, 57, 104, 106, 108-10, 115, 116, 123, 
125, 126, 128, 130, 131, 143, 148; life af- 
ter indenture in, 150; slave trade to, 23, 
50; slavery in, 6, 116; planters in, 22; 
sugar production in, 31-2, 39, 153 

death, see mortality 

debt bondage migration system, 11, 12n, 

74, 95, 142, 154 
Demerara, 1, 129; see also British Guiana 
Des Voeux, George William, 111 
Dhangars, 67 
Dharma Kumar, 66 
discipline, labor, 6, 119 
disease, 79; in colonies, 23, 39, 112, 121, 

123, 124, 139, 149; on ships, 94, 96-8, 99, 

101-2; see also malaria, medical care, 

mortality, smallpox 
drug use, 105, 124; see also cannabis, opium 
Durban, 37 

Dutch East Indies, 28, 54, 77 
Dutch Guiana, 25, 28, 53, 64, 108, 112-13, 

117, 122, 148, 152; see also Surinam 

East Africa, 4, 5n, 15, 26-7, 53, 60, 64, 67, 

146, 153 

East Africa Protectorate (later Kenya), 37, 

146 
East Asia, 13, 30, 72, 75, 76, 115, 134, 138, 

147, 151 
Easter Island, 71 

education, following indenture, 149-50, 151 

Elgin, Lord (James Bruce), 22 

Eliot, T. S., 104 

Eltis, David, 27n 

Emmer, Pieter, 65, 70, 77, 108, 125, 134, 

135n 
Engels, Friedrich, 142 
Engerman, Stanley, 6 
Ethiopia, invasion of, 2 



Index 



183 



Europe, 30, 34, 35, 80, 82, 84, 98, 102, 121, 
129, 153; see also individual countries 

Europeans, 45-6, 56, 60, 93, 98, 102, 117, 
123, 142, 145, 153, 154; as employers, 39; 
free migration of, 4, 8-9, 22-3, 28, 68, 
81, 84-5, 89-90, 92, 117, 135; indentured 
migration of, 17, 25, 42, 44, 123; as set- 
tlers, 131, 146-8, 152; see also Germans, 
Irish, Norwegians, Portuguese, Ukra- 
nians; slaves, Europeans as 

famine, 7, 84, 95, 121 

Fernando Po, 46 

Fiji, 13, 32; migration to, 3, 38, 39, 43, 53, 
64, 68, 71, 76-8, 83, 134; voyages to, 96, 
99, 100, 113-15; indentured labor in, 
118, 119, 121-22, 125-7; life after in- 
denture in, 148, 149, 152 

food, see famine, rations 

France, 29, 34, 42, 59, 61 

French Guiana, 25, 27, 48, 118 

Fuzhou, 54 

Fyfe Christopher, 45 

Galenson, David, 8, 12 

Galloway, J. K, 34 

gambling, 74n, 105, 124, 128 

Gandhi, Mohandas K., 133, 144, 146 

Gerbeau, Hubert, 27n 

German Southwest Africa, 144 

Germans: as migrants, 4, 22, 38, 40, 49; as 

employers, 59n 
Gilbert Islands, 38 
Gladstone, William, 62, 76 
Gold Coast, 49 
Goree, 48 

Graves, Adrian, 72, 138 
Great Britain, 8, 17, 29, 42, 79, 83 
Green, William, 19, 63 
Grey, Henry George, 63 
guano, 6, 35, 105, 109, 110, 126 
Guiana, see British Guiana, Dutch Guiana, 

French Guiana 
Guadeloupe, 27, 34, 48 

Haiti, see Saint-Domingue 

Hardinge, Lord, 144 

Harris, Lord, 106-7 

Havana, 48n, 49, 110 

Hawaii, 31-2, 42, 142; labor migration to, 3, 
4, 11, 13, 30, 38-40, 55, 58, 61, 71-3, 145; 
voyages to, 100-1, 115; indentured labor 
in, 110-12, 121, 123, 125, 127-9, 138, 
140; life after indenture in, 133, 148-53 

Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association, 147 

hill-people (India), 67 

Hindus, Hinduism, 64, 67, 127, 151, 152 



Hindustani, 152 

Hiroshima, 61, 73 

Hobsbawm, Eric, 14-15 

Hobson, J. A., 15 

Holland, 29; see also Netherlands 

homosexuality, 125 

Honchu, 73 

Hong Kong, 11, 28, 55, 57, 58, 61, 83, 101 

Honolulu, 140 

housing, 5, 6, 104, 113, 144 

Ho wick, Lord, 18 

Hyde, Hodge and Company, 86 

He de France, see Mauritius 

imperialism, 14-15, 17, 29-30, 43, 55; see 
also colonies 

indenture: origins of, 4—10; end of, 141-8; 
see also by source and destination 

indentured servants and servitude (before 
1825), 4, 5, 8, 142 

India, 1-2, 5, 65-7, 126, 127, 129, 142-5, 
152; labor emigration from, 4, 5, 11, 14, 
24, 26, 28-9, 43, 59-60, 62, 63-4, 66-8, 
70, 73, 76-9, 92, 113, 120; voyages from, 
81^, 86, 87, 91, 92, 97-9, 101, 106, 121; 
return migration to, 131, 134—7 

Indians, 144; emigration by, 1-5, 9-10, 13- 
15, 17, 24, 26-8, 33-4, 36-9, 44, 55, 60- 
70, 71, 74-9, 106, 143; voyages by, 80-7, 
89-91, 94-101; under indenture, 104, 
106, 111, 117-19, 121-2, 125-37, 146-7; 
after indenture, 34, 148-52; North, 121, 
127; South, 13, 64, 66, 68, 121, 127, 152; 
see also slaves, Indian 

Indian Ocean, 1, 2, 4, 18, 26, 32, 34, 35, 50, 
51, 54, 62, 64, 83, 133 

industrial residence, 4 

industrialization, 14, 153 

International Labor Organization, 142 

Irick, Robert L., 56, 57, 58, 90 

Irish, 4, 84, 88, 89 

Jamaica, 2, 21, 23, 24, 31, 33, 35, 46, 53, 63, 
108, 109, 122, 128, 130, 152n, 153 

Japan, 72; emigration from, 4, 43, 72-4, 78, 
79, 101, 140 

Japanese, emigration by, 11, 12n, 17, 25, 35, 
38, 40, 44, 58, 72-4, 76, 101; voyages by, 
100-1; under indenture, 110-12, 117, 
122, 125, 127, 128, 140; after indenture, 
133, 138, 140-1, 147-51 

Java, 26, 28, 32, 53, 112 

Javanese, 25, 44, 148 

Johannesburg, 37 

kangany, 11; see also recruiters 
Karikal, 60 



184 



Index 



Kauai, 140 

kidnapping, 5, 56, 57, 59, 70, 71, 72n, 78, 

85, 86, 95, 108, 120 
Korea, 61 
Kru, 46-7, 50, 51, 76 

Lai, Brij V., 78, 125 

Lamennais, Felicite de, 7 

Latin America, 35, 56, 80, 82, 89, 96, 99, 
138, 153; see also Argentina, Cuba, Bra- 
zil, Peru, South America 

laws, 7; Asian exclusion, 9, 145-7; maritime 
passenger, 8, 46, 83-7, 92; plantation la- 
bor, 110, 129, 142 

League of Nations Labor Convention of 
1926, 142 

Lenin, V. I., 15 

Leo XIII, Pope, 7, 142 

Lewis, W. Arthur, 8 

livestock, 131 

Louisiana, 32 

Lovejoy, Paul, 27n, 47n, 50n 

Loyalty Islands, 38 

Lucknow, 1 

Macao, 54-8, 61, 87, 96, 143 

Madagascar, 26-7, 50 

Madeira, 3, 23, 28, 49, 120, 121 

Madras, 27, 53, 65, 66, 68, 69, 71, 93, 95-7, 
121, 129 

Mahajani, Usha, lln 

Maison Maes, 86 

maistry, 11 

Malabar, 138 

malaria, 121, 123 

Malaya, 11, 30, 53, 54, 61, 64, 66, 83, 116n, 
121-3, 147 

Manchuria, 54 

Marshall Islands, 38 

Martinique, 26, 48, 152 

Marx, Karl, 142 

Mascarene Islands, 4, 13, 17, 21, 29, 31-2, 
37, 66, 1 12; see also Mauritius, Reunion 

Mauritius, 13, 29, 36, 76, 147; migration to, 
4, 13, 14, 24, 26, 37, 53, 55, 60, 62-1, 67, 
68, 77, 97, 134; voyages to, 83, 91, 96, 
99; indentured labor in, 106, 108, 109, 
111, 117, 119, 121, 126, 127, 135-8; life 
after indenture in, 131-2, 148, 151, 152; 
slaves in, 18-20; sugar production in, 
31-2, 34, 133; see also Mascarene Islands 

Meagher, Arnold J., 54, 56n, 80, 86, 90, 95, 
99, 110 

medical care, 5; in depots, 96, 98; on plan- 
tations, 104, 113, 121, 123-4, 129, 144; 
on voyages, 91, 98-9 

Meiji, 73 



Melanesia, 76, 116, 117, 131, 138; see also 
Pacific Islanders, South Pacific 

Mexico, 11, 127, 153 

Micronesia, 71; see also Pacific Islanders, 
South Pacific 

Middle East, migration into, 153 

migrants, enslaved, see slaves, slavery 

migrants, indentured, see by nationality 
and destination 

migration, costs, 112, 114-17; regulated, 13; 
return, see repatriation; subsidized, 9 

mines, 5, 112, 116, 127, 153; gold, 36, 95, 
116 

Mintz, Stanley, 9 

Monroe Doctrine, 13, 39 

Moore, Clive, 72n 

Mombasa, 37 

mortality at sea, 1, 56, 84; by passenger cat- 
egory, 89-92; crowding and, 92-4; ship 
size and, 94-5; migrants' health and, 
95-6; disease and, 96-8, trends, 99-102; 
on return voyages, 138 

mortality at destinations, 120-3 

Mozambique, 36, 153 

Muslims, 68, 127, 151, 152 

mutinies, 86, 87, 96; see also Rebellion of 
1856 

Napoleon I, 18, 29 

Naipaul, V. S., 152 

Natal, 32, 35, 146-8; migration to, 37, 39, 
43, 53, 64, 66, 68, 77; voyages to, 83, 99; 
indentured labor in, 30, 111, 121, 122, 
125-7, 131, 133, 134n, 137; life after in- 
denture in, 152 

New Caledonia, 38, 71 

New Delhi, 60 

New England, 39 

New Guinea, 39n, 71 

New Hebrides, 38, 39, 71 

New South Wales, 37 

New York, 23 

New Zealand, 9, 135n 

Netherlands, 28, 42; see also Holland 

Newbury, Colin, 7 

Niger River, 46 

Ninon Yoshisa Emigration Company, 101 

North Africa, 153 

North America, 34, 52; migration to, 11, 12, 
23, 29, 30, 54, 61, 133, 154; voyages to, 
8, 84, 88, 89, 145, 146; see also California, 
Canada, Mexico, United States 

Norwegians, 40, 49 

Oahu, 128 

Oceania, 38; see also South Pacific and in- 
dividual territories 



Index 



185 



Okinawa, 73 

opium, 128 

Opium Wars, 54, 56, 143 

Pacific Islanders, emigration by, 3, 4, 8-10, 
17, 29, 37-9, 42, 44, 70-2, 75, 76, 78-9, 
115-16, 134; voyages by, 100, 114; under 
indenture, 109, 111, 112, 121-4, 146-7; 
after indenture, 131-2; see also Melane- 
sia, Micronesia, Polynesia, South 
Pacific, and individual territories 

Pacific Ocean, 4, 54, 71, 101 

Panama, 123n 

parliament, British, 17-18, 21, 55 

Penang, 60 

Perry, Matthew, 72 

Peru, 33-5, 58; migration to, 4, 11, 16, 24, 
35, 42, 55, 57, 61, 71, 74, 76; voyages to, 
82, 84, 86, 92, 95, 99; indentured life in, 

6, 104, 109-10, 112, 115, 117, 118, 122, 

125, 126, 128, 130, 143; life after in- 
denture in, 148, 150 

Peruvians, 109 
Philadelphia, 23 
Philippines, 54, 61 

plantations, 5, 17, 19-22; cotton, 14, 36; tea, 
126; sugar, 17, 19, 23, 28-37, 39-41, 106, 

126, 127; see also sugar 
Polynesians, 40, 71; see also Pacific Islanders 
Pondicherry, 53, 60, 91 

population, 117, 122, 153; British Guianan, 
121, 147; Chinese, 51-2, 58; Cuban, 123; 
East African, 153; Fijian, 148-9; Indian, 
65; Hawaiian, 123, 148-50; North Amer- 
ican^ 145; South African, 146-7, 152; 
West Indian, 147-8 

Portuguese, 9, 23, 38, 40, 108, 120, 121n, 
143, 152; authorities, 48, 50, 55-8 

Principe, 14, 49, 50 

productivity, labor, 33, 112, 113, 117-19 

prostitutes, 77, 125 

Punjabis, 67 

Qing dynasty, 52 
Quebec, 82 

Queensland, 4, 37-9, 71, 72n, 76, 100, 111, 
112, 115-17, 122, 146-8 

racial preference and prejudice, 9, 12, 22, 

90, 131, 133, 143-7 
racism, see racial preference and prejudice 
railroads, 1, 15, 41, 66, 69, 79, 109, 127, 146 
rations, 5, 67n, 114 
Rebellion of 1856, Indian, 66 
recruiters, labor, 1, 5, 22, 37, 45, 46, 51, 55- 

7, 69, 71, 75, 77, 88, 96, 98, 106, 115, 117, 
120 



recruitment, labor, 10, 26, 28, 29, 45-8, 50- 
2, 54-7, 59, 60, 62, 63, 67, 68, 70, 71, 73, 
76, 79, 86, 87, 95, 96, 103, 106, 109, 111- 
13, 115-16, 119, 120, 125, 153; see also 
kidnapping 

Renault, Francois, 5, 27n, 50 

repatriation, 4, 27, 108, 114, 130-2, 143, 146-8 

Reunion, 5n, 13, 26-8, 34, 37, 50, 60, 64, 91, 
144, 148; see also Mascarene Islands 

Rio de Janeiro, 48n, 49 

Royal Africa Corps, 45 

Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society, 115 

Russell, John, 62 

Russia, 61, 142 

Saint-Domingue, 26, 31, 153 

St. Helena, 48, 49, 86 

salaries, see wages 

Samoa, 38; Western, 59n; German, 71 

San Francisco, 74, 75 

Sanderson Committee, 113, 144 

Sao Tome, 14, 49, 50, 143 

savings, by migrants, 131, 135-8 

Scandanavia, 129 

Schuler, Monica, 5n, 27n, 108 

Senegal, 48 

Shameem, Shaista, 125 

Sheriff, Mohamed, 1-2, 4 

ships, 54, 80-83, 101-2; clipper, 82, 86-7; 
slave, 81-2, 84-5; passenger, 80-2, 87-9, 
140, 145, 154; junk, 54; steam, 74, 82-3, 
86, 101 

ships (individual), Auguste, 91; Bald Eagle, 
87; Bucephalus, 91; City of Tokio, 140; Cla- 
rendon, 83n; Eagle Speed, 87n; Ear East, 
87n; Flora Temple, 87; Fusilier, 87n; 
Growler, 83n; Hanover, 87n; Jason, 87n; 
Maria Luz, 58; Media, 1-2; Oquenda, 16; 
Roman Emperor, 97n; Robert Browne, 56; 
Sir Robert Seppings, 97 

Shlomowitz, Ralph, 6, 121 

Siberia, 59 

Sierra Leone, 23, 24, 45-8, 49, 51, 86, 98 

Singapore, lln, 24, 30, 55, 58, 60, 61, 102n 

sirdar, 1 

slave trade, 21, 23, 24, 28-9, 43-5, 47, 48, 
51, 55, 60, 76, 78, 80, 83, 84, 86, 93, 96, 
98; resemblance to indentured labor 
trade, 6, 12, 26-7, 55, 62, 80, 93, 102 

slaves, African, 5, 6, 10, 17, 18, 45, 47, 48, 
50, 76, 106, 116, 129, 141; Europeans as, 
6-7, 142; Indian, 60 

slavery, 16, 42, 47, 60, 62, 63, 104-8, 111-13, 
142, 144, 145, 148, 154; end of, 5, 17, 18, 
22, 28, 45-8, 50, 51, 60, 106, 141, 142, 
153; resemblance to indentured labor, 5, 
10, 50, 60, 77, 141, 154 



186 



Index 



smallpox, 124 

Smith, Adam, 17, 80 

Society Islands, 38 

Solomon Islands, 37, 38, 71 

South Africa, 153; see also Africa, southern; 
Cape Colony, Natal, Transvaal 

South African War, 36, 133 

South America, 54, 74; see also Latin America 

South Pacific, 5, 13, 17, 37, 43, 70, 71, 101; 
see also Pacific Islanders; Oceania, and 
individual territories 

Southeast Asia, 4, 11, 30, 31, 52, 54, 60, 74, 
83, 131, 153; see also Burma, Java, Ma- 
laya, Singapore, Straits Settlements, 
Thailand 

Southwest Africa, see German Southwest 
Africa 

Spain, 29, 84, 153 

Spanish-American War, 32, 41 

Spence, Jonathan, 52, 54 

Stanley, Lord, 55 

Straits Settlements, 11, 30, 54, 55, 116n 

strikes, 128 

Sri Lanka, see Ceylon 

Suenaga, Ume (Hazel), 140 

sugar, consumption of, 24, 30; preference, 
30; prices, 30-1, 112; production of, 18- 
19, 22, 30-1, 62, 108, 132-3, 147, 153 

sugar beets, 31 

sugarcane, 17, 20, 29-33, 36, 40, 153; mil- 
ling of, 31-2 

suicide, 126-7 

Sumatra, 60, 61 

Surinam, 28, 29, 77, 111, 115, 137; see also 
Dutch Guiana 

Surinam Immigration Corporation, 28 

Swatow, lln, 58n, 61, 87 

Syme, Muir and Company, 55 

Taiping rebellion, 52 

Tait and Company, 55 

Tamils, 60, 67, 68, 152 

task work, 117, 118, 124, 126, 129 

Ten Years' War, 41, 128 

Thackeray, William Makepeace, 16-17 

Tinker, Hugh, 5, 69, 77, 84, 96, 106, 125, 

126, 135 
transport, see railroads, repatriation, ships, 

voyages 



Transvaal, 30, 36, 37, 59, 61, 99, 116, 119, 

127, 148 
Trinidad, 31, 33; migration to, 2, 16, 18, 21- 

4, 29, 33^1, 46, 53, 63, 147; indentured 

labor in, 122, 127-9; life after indenture 

in, 134, 148-52 
Tsai, Shih-shan Henry, 12 
Tyler, John, 39 

Uganda, 146 

Ukranians, 9 

United States, 23, 30, 35, 39, 86, 112, 130; 
migration to, 9, 12n, 61, 73, 74, 142, 143, 
145, 153; slavery in, 16, 22, 142 

Vanniah, 68 

Vanuatu, see New Hebrides 
Venezuela, 127 
Victor Regis (company), 86 
Virginia, 4 

voyages, 1, 5, 13, 46, 52, 54, 60, 62, 80-103, 
154; see also ships, repatriation 

wages, 2, 4, 5, 19-23, 29, 36, 40, 47, 48, 58- 
60, 67, 70, 71, 74, 79, 106, 108, 112, 113, 
115, 117-20, 124, 127-30, 133, 136, 144, 
148, 153 

Wallerstein, Immanuel, 14-15 

West Africa, 46, 48 

West Africa Regiments, 45 

West Indies, 4, 6, 16, 22, 24, 31, 32, 40, 55, 
62, 63, 81-4, 86, 87, 89, 90, 92, 93, 96, 97, 
99, 121, 128, 134; see also Caribbean 

Williams, Eric, 22, 32, 148 

Wolf, Eric, 14 

women, 20-1, 55, 62, 71, 74-8, 105, 117, 
124-6, 129, 135, 137; on voyages, 87, 91, 
96 

Xiamen, see Amoy 
Xinjiang, 52 

Yang, Arnold, 66 

Yamada, Mankichi (George), 140 

Yangzi River, 52 

Yellow River, 59 

Yokohama, 58, 61, 72-3 

Zanzibar, 26 

Zulu, 36