Abdoolah Khan

In September 1838, a committee charged with investigating the Mauritius ‘coolie trade’ asked Abdoolah Khan, an Indian doctor who had trained in the hospital of the British 67th Regiment, and who had made two voyages to Mauritius as ships’ doctor for Indian migrants to answer some questions at Calcutta Town Hall.

When did you leave Calcutta? –  I arrived here about a month ago and was on the voyage six months.

How many Coolies were on board? – About 300 Coolies and sixteen or seventeen women. … The coolies 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. Some were Dhangurs, some of Kishnaghur, some of Bhogepore, some of Chota Nagpore, and some of Boglipore

Did they seem willing to proceed? –  They were all crying on board the ship.  The Captain ordered all their hair to be cut, both of men and women, and I did cut their hair; and he used to lock them below the hatches at 4 o’clock.  I mean by locking up he ordered them down the hatches and kept them there.  If they cried for being kept there he brought some of them out and ordered the first Tindal to give them a dozen with a rope’s end.

Q. How much money had each of the Coolies on board Captain Edward’s ship? –They had from two to three rupees each which they very soon expenses by purchasing water and biscuit from the Lascars.

Q. Had the Coolies not enough to eat that they bought biscuit from the Lascars? –  They had not sufficient.  They had only tamarinds and rice daily.  The Captain ordered dholl to be given every fourth day because it would take too much water to dress the dholl every day.

Q. Did these 300 Coolies know how long they were to remain at the Mauritius and did they understand the nature of their engagements, when they would arrive there? – The women stated they were told they were to remain for five years, but what was written in the paper they don’t know.  The men only stated they were brought into trouble.

Q. Did they seem to be going willingly? – Some stated they were going willingly: others that they were fraudulently shipped by the Buttearas.

Q. How were the Coolies treated by the Captain and his Officers? –  The Captain used to beat every body. He even broke my thumb in beating me.

Q. On what occasions and for what reasons did the Captain beat the Coolies? –  Because they were crying and making a noise.

Q. Did the Captain compel the Coolies to do the work of the ship? – Yes, every day.

Q. What was the state of health of the Coolies? – Generally the men were in health, but a few who drank the salt water from not having fresh when thirsty, fell sick.

Q. On your second arrival at the Mauritius did you meet with any of the Coolies who came with you on your first voyage? – I did meet with some of them in the Bazar on Sundays.

Q.  What did they say to you? – They stated they were much distressed and said is there no Company, no Government in Calcutta?

Q. What did they complain of chiefly? –They told me that upon the least fault they were ordered to break stones.  When they are sick they are sent to Hospital and eight annas per day deducted from their pay.  I have looked at their clothes which are ragged and dirty, like those of the prisoners in the house of correction here.

Q. Did they tell you any thing else? –They said they were beaten with a leather strap by Madras men who are the overseers.

Q. Did any of them express a wish to come back? –They said they wished to God they might be sent back and others sent in their place…. They said the work they were put to can only be performed by Caffres who are stronger.  This is not the sort of business in which the Coolies in Calcutta are employed.