2nd November 1834
It was in 1834 that labourers were introduced under a private importation scheme which lasted until 1839. In August 1834, a batch of 39 free labourers on board the Sarah from Bombay arrived in the colony. On 9 September 1834, G. C. Arbuthnot, representative of Hunter Arbuthnot & Co. of Mauritius, signed a five-year contract with 36 Hill Coolies , before the Chief Magistrate, D. McFarlan at the Calcutta Police Office. Their monthly salary was five rupees and they received six months' pay in advance. One rupee was retained for the passage. Food and clothing were provided according to a fixed scale. The Chief Magistrate read and explained the content of the contract to the coolies, with the help of an interpreter. On approval of the agreement, the recruits then affixed their thumb marks on the contract. On 15 September, these 36 indentured labourers embarked on board the Atlas which reached the colony on Sunday 2 November 1834. Permission for their landing was granted on Monday 3 November and on the following day, they set foot on Mauritian soil where they went to work at the 'Antoinette' sugar estate.
Mauritian Sugar planters looked for additional labour long before slavery was abolished. In 1839, the year apprentices were freed, an Immigration Committee was formed and Government sought permission to recruit labourers from Madagascar and East Africa. The Queen of Mdagascar, Queen Ranavalona I and the Imam of Muscat were contacted. Malagasy labourers were also recruited from the West Coast. Ship arrival registers indicate that they were of Antanosy, Antamboly, Tamboly, Saklava or Betsimisaraka origin. Between 1839 and 1843, 3,215 Malagasies were indentured to employers in Mauritius. The term of their engagement was between 1 and 2 years. Many either deserted or chose to return to Madagascar. Many Comorians were also recruited. 223 labourers arrived on 25 January 1841 on board the Donna Carmelita. They were employed by British planters Chapman, West, Hunter on Mount Estate. On 14 November 1843, 125 more labourers arrived on the Samson.
Throughout the history of Mauritius, a number of attempts were made to introduce Chinese labourers in the island but all of them failed.
Under the Dutch occupation, Chinese convicts were brought in from Batavia but they were sent to the Cape Colony when the Dutch abandoned the island in 1710.
Archival records of the French period indicate that the slaves of Chinese origin served as carpenters and servants at Ile de France. However, one of the earliest imports of Chinese agricultural labourers took place in 1760, when the Comte d'Estaing despatched some 300 men and their families from Bencoulen. Dissatisfied with their living conditions, they refused to work and were therefore repatriated. Later on, when Port-Louis became an important entrepot on the trade route to Asia, Chinese labour was recruited, as testified by Charles de Constant, a commercial agent residing in Canton who, in 1783, embarked 132 Chinese on one ship for Ile de France.
Following the abolition of slave trading during the British period, schemes were devised to import Chinese labourers. In 1829, agricultural workers from Penang and Singapore arrived in Mauritius. Even though they were skilled sugarcane growers. they could not adapt themselves to the harsh working conditions and resorted to acts of larceny and plunder for a living.
The Government had to repatriate them to restore peace and order in the colony.
With the prohibition of Indian Immigration which lasted from 1839 to 1842, planters once more had recourse to the importation of Chinese labour. Some 3,000 Chinese contractual labourers aged between 20 and 40 years old arrived from Singapore, Penang and Macao, during that period. This was the biggest number of Chinese labourers ever to be introduced. As with previous imports, these Chinese could not face the hardship of the plantation regime and soon gained a reputation of insubordination. Most of them deserted the estates and became 'vagrants', causing 'nightly depredations' in the capital. In order to prevent them from being a burden to the colony, the authorities had no alternative but to repatriate them. Repatriation started as early as 1843 when 200 Chinese labourers were sent back to Penang on board the Eleanor. After these bad experiences, local planters were reluctant to seek further supplies of Chinese labour.
From 1834 to 1910, Indian Immigrants originated from the Presidencies of Bengal, Madras and Bombay. Before 1843, labourers recruited under private initiatives (1826-1839) came mainly from Cochin, Colombo, Madras, Pondicherry, Calcutta and its periphery. From 1842 to 1910, numerous factors influenced the choice of regions from where recruitment was to take place. Calcutta became the principal port of embarkation of indentured labourers to Mauritius because of existing commercial links with the colony. Ships sailing between Calcutta and Mauritius also benefited from reduced freight cost. Furthermore, the Calcutta Agency at Bhowanipore was more effective in collecting and dispatching the required number of recruits.
Experience of employers with the various ethnic groups of immigrations and preferences expressed by planters, suspension of various ports of emigration between 1844 and 1850 were some of the other factors which compelled agents to tap one source of labour rather than another. Geoghegan, for instance, expressed the reasons why 'hill coolies' were sought:
"The earliest recruiting grounds for the colonies were in the so-called 'hill coolies' or 'adivasi' areas of Bihar and Chota Nagpore, but the proportion of tribals in overseas migration had declined as a result of heavy mortality."
Bihar became a large labour supply region by the mid 19th century.
Bihar became a large labour supply region by the mid 19th century as a result of the severe socio-economic upheavals provoked by the British policies such as the revenue and land settlements, heavy taxation and the Money lenders Regulation Act. Conditions worsened with harvest failures due to droughts and famine which forced the popualtion to resort to emigration. Labourers were sought from the specific regions of North Western provinces, Oudh and Central Bengal.
South India constituted another important source of labour given that recruits were perceived as good workers and as being of sound constitution. They also suffered from lower mortality rates during the voyage. Moreover, the journey to Mauritius which was shorter proved advantageous to planters whose contingents of workers reached the colony in the expected time.
There is evidence of tribal presence in Mauritius as from 1835. The principal places of origin of the tribals were Chota Nagpur division and the districts of Ranchi, Hazaribagh and Ramghur in South Bihar. In January 1843, there were 96 tribals out of the 231 passengers who arrived on board the Northumberland. Between 1842 and 1870, about 54,956 tribals were introduced. They represented 17% of the total Indian population brought to Mauritius during that time.
With the setting up of the Emigration Agency in the early 1840s and the reopening of the Madras port in 1849, South Indian indentured labourers came from the districts of Chingleput, Tanjore, Trichinopoly, Tinnevelly, Salem, Coimbatore, Arcot, Vizagapatnam, Masulipatnam, Guntur, Nellore and Cuddapah.
Tamils represented the majority of Indo-Christians who arrived in the early 19th Century. They came from Tanjore, Trichinapoly, Negapatnam and Pondicherry.
Approximately 9% of all indentured labourers emigrated from Bombay. The majority of them were Marathis. On board the Mertoun, the first ship to bring labourers from Bombay on 15 June 1843, one hundred out of the 173 passengers were of 'Maratta' caste. The most important areas of recruitement were the districts of North and South Konkan, Ratnagiri, Savantvadi, Satara, Malvanand and Thane.
The proportion of emigrants from Telugu-speaking districts of Andhra and Hyderabad was 5.6%. The main districts of recruitment were Rajamundry, Vizagapatam, Ganjam, Chittoor and Nellore.
It is to be noted that Madras Presidency today is Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka.
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