Objections to the shipment of 'coolies'



Friend of India, August 30 (Calcutta)
Extract from the MADRAS SPECTATOR
December 7th 1849

The Madras Athenœum states that the authorities of Pondicherry have lately shipped 500 coolies to their plantations in the Isle de la Reunion.  We expect confidently to hear this statement denied by the French Government, as so extraordinary a proceeding cannot be allowed to pass without enquiry on the part of the British Government.  The coolies were, of course, obtained from English territories, and they are shipped off to an Island of which they know nothing whatever, in which no provision for their maintenance has been made, and in direct defiance of the laws and regulations of the British Government.  The matter is simply this, that a certain number of persons have been decoyed from British territories, and sent to labor for life in a French settlement, to take the place of the slaves who have been emancipated by the Assembly.  The laws of British India cannot be set aside in this manner by the Governor of a petty town. – Ibid.



ANOM REU 32 'Articles de Journaux de l'Inde au sujet de l'emigration des Coulis pour l'ile de la Reunion.'

On 25 August 1849, the French newspaper l'Impartial, of Pondicherry, a French settlement in southern India, published an indignant response to a number of articles that had appeared in the British Indian newspapers relating to the recruitment of Indians from Madras and their shipment via Pondichery to the  French sugar island of Reunion in the south western Indian Ocean. The British press, stated l'Impartial, were representing what was in fact a well regulated system of migration to be one in which monstruous abuses were occurring. A selection of the British press reports were filed in the emigration proceedings of Reunion island which are now held at the French overseas colonial archive [Archives Nationales d'Outre Mer - ANOM] at Aix. A sample is transcribed below:


At a Meeting of the Committee, held in the Town Hall, on Monday, the 10th day of September, 1838, at 10 o’Clock A.M.



J.P. GRANT, Esq.






No. 8. – Abdoolah Khan. 10th Sept. 1838.

Q. 355. What is your name? – A. Abdulah Khan.

Q. 356. What is your profession? – A. A Doctor.

Q. 357. Where were you educated? – A. In the Hospital of H. M. 67th Regiment under Dr. Kenny.

Q. 358. How long ago is that? – A. About ten years ago.

Q. 359. Have you been in practice since that period? – A. Yes, among the natives of Calcutta.

Q. 360. Have you ever been engaged as a Doctor in a ship conveying Coolies to the Mauritius? – A. Yes. Twice.

Q. 361. On what ship did you first go? – A. I forget the name of the ship. The Captain’s name was Hopper.

Q. 362. How long ago is that? – A. About ten months ago.

Q. 363. How many Coolies were on board that ship? – A. Two hundred.

Q. 364. Where did you embark on board that ship? – A. I embarked at Kedgeree.

Q. 365. Were all the Coolies on board when you embarked? – A. Yes.

Q. 366. What was the state of the health of the Coolies during the voyage form Kedgeree to the Mauritius? – A. All had good health excepting two persons who were sick.

Q. 367. Did any of them die? – A. Two died in consequence of having swallowed large quantities of Opium.

Q. 368. Where did they procure the Opium? – A. They purchased it in the Bazar before they went on board.

Q. 369. Did you converse often with the Coolies while on board? – A. Yes, I did.

Q. 370. Did they seem to understand where they were going, and for what purpose they had been engaged? – A. Yes.  They did understand that they were going to the Isle of France and as Coolies.

Q. 371. Did they know that they were to be separated for five years from their families? – A. No.  They thought they were going only for two months as it was stated to them.

Q. 372. Who told them it was only for two months? – A. The Duffadars.

Q. 373. Had they not been told at the Police that they were to be absent five years? – A. They did not tell me, if this had been stated to them.

Q. 374. Did the Coolies appear to be happy and comfortable? – A. What happiness! They were all crying.

Q. 375. What were they crying about? – A. For their discomforts, such as want of room for sleeping and for dressing victuals and also for want of utensils for eating from.

Q. 376. Had they a sufficient quantity of water? – A. It was stinking and thick, something like beer foaming up.

Q. 377. Did the Coolies say they were very sorry for having come? – A. They did.

Q. 378. How did the Captain and the Officers treat them? – A. They used to beat them and drive them from one place to another.

Q. 379. How long were you on the voyage? – A. Two months.

Q. 380. How long did you remain at the Mauritius? – A. I remained two months.

Q. 381. Did you often see the Coolies after your arrival at the Mauritius? – A. I met with a few of them in the Bazar.

Q. 382. Did they say how they were employed? – A. They told me that they are carried to work at 4 o’clock in the morning, at 1 o’clock they had to leave for one hour to dress and eat their victuals, and then they went back to work till 5 o’clock.

Q. 383. Did they say they were kindly treated? – A. They said that some gentlemen are good and treat them kindly, and some are not so who beat them.

Q. 384. Did they express any desire to come back to Calcutta? – A. They prayed to God they might be delivered and return to Calcutta.

Q. 385. Did they say they had enough to eat? – A. They said they got fourteen chittacks of rice, two chittacks of dholl, one chittack of ghee, and some dried fish.

Q. 386. Were they satisfied with their allowances? – A. They were not satisfied.  They wanted fresh fish and fresh meat.  The allowance was sufficient for those who sat idle, but not for those who worked hard.

Q. 387. How often were meals supplied to them? – A. They had two meals a day, one at one o’clock and the other at night.

Q. 388. When you were at the Mauritius did you ever see or hear of the Coolies being punished? – A. I never saw any of the Coolies punished – I heard they were punished in this manner – as they were working in a stooping posture nothing was done to them, but as soon as they stood erect the Sirdar or Overseer beat them with rattans.

Q. 389. Was it the same Sirdar who accompanied them from Bengal who punished them? – A. The same Sirdar – his name was Ramzaun Beg.

Q. 390. For what offences were they punished? – A. For standing erect and not working – this was when they stood up to take rest from working.

Q. 391. What was the instrument of correction? – A. It was a long leather thong (witness is asked to describe it.)  It was about an inch broad and nearly a fathom long.

Q. 392. Were the instances of punishment many? – A. I did not see it with my own eyes, the Coolies were crying and told me it was God’s curse that they had come to this hell where they dig the ground and are beat.

Q. 393. Did the Coolies tell you that the work they had to do was different from that which they were told they would have to perform? – A. No.  It was quite different from what they were told they were to do.

Q. 394. What was the work they were told in Calcutta they would have to perform at the Mauritius? – A. They were told they were to cultivate the ground.

Q. 395. What was the kind of work they had to do? – A. Nothing defined.  They must do whatever is ordered.

Q. 396. When you arrived at the Mauritius where were the Coolies taken? – A. They were carried over the hills to a place called Batissie.  Mr. Lamsin received 100 and Mr. Chauvet received the other 100.

Q. 397. Did you go to Mr. Sampson’s plantation? – A. I did not go. I was kept in the city.

Q. 398. Did you ever see any Coolies at work on the plantations? – A. I did not.

Q. 399. Where did you see the Coolies from whom you obtained all this information? – A. I saw them in the Bazar on Sundays.

Q. 400. How many did you see? – A. Sometimes three and sometimes five, sometimes ten.

Q. 401. How much money had each of the Coolies on board? – A. They had some two rupees and some one.

Q. 402. Did you hear whether or not they received each ten rupees? – A. They each received their money from the gentleman who examined them. The gentleman then asked them if they had received in full what was due to them and they said yes.  As soon as they got out of his sight the Buttearas, Sircars, and Krannies on one pretence or other snatched money from them. I did not see this, but this was told me by all the Coolies.

Q. 403. Do you know the distance from the town to Mr. Sampson’s estate? – A. I do not know; but Batissie is distant two or two and a half coss from the town, and the plantation beyond it, on the hills and jungle.

Q. 404. Did the Coolies who went with you in Captain Hopper’s ship sign any papers? – A. I heard they had signed some paper.  I only saw that they each had one bag, one thalla (brass plate), one lota (brass water pot), and some had one rupee and some had three annas pice and some eight annas.

Q. 405. Do you not know that those Coolies had signed agreements to remain five years? – A. The papers were with the Captain who delivered them to the Mauritius authorities.  I do not know what was in them. But the Coolies understood they were to return in four or five months.

Q. 406. Did you not say a little while ago, that the Coolies expected to work for two months only? – A. The Duffadars told them that they were engaged only for two months, so they expected to return to Calcutta in four or five months.

Q. 407. But did they not receive advances for six months? – A. Money was paid into their hands – but these are jungle people, what do they know about six months or two months?

Q. 408. Were the Coolies who went with you all Dhangurs? – A. They were of various descriptions.  Some were Dhangurs, some of Kishnaghur, some of Bhogepore, some of Chota Nagpore, and some of Boglipore.

Q. 409. By what ship did you return from Mauritius the first time? – A. I came up in the same ship with Mr. Dowson, viz. The Herefordshire.

Q. 410. Who paid for your passage to Calcutta? – A. Mr. Sampson paid my passage money, and gave me victuals, and fifty rupees as a present and also a character, which is in the hands of Mr. Hughes.