Background to the first Indian Immigrants

By Ravi Dev

Sir John Gladstone, 1st Baronet – Wikipedia

The first Indian indentured shipment was made by John Gladstone who owned Plantations Vreed en Hoop and Wales in West Demerara. Like most planters, he was convinced that after the imminent abolition of slavery the freed Africans would not deliver the regimented labour that sugar production demanded. He was aware that planters in Mauritius had addressed the concern by recruiting Indian indentured labourers through the Calcutta firm of Gillanders, Arbuthnot & Co., of Calcutta, where the major partner was his cousin.
According to one report, Gladstone, wrote to Gillanders on the 4th January 1836, and explained his fears on the labour question. “After giving a most glowing account of the colony—the lightness of the labour required, and the repose enjoyed by the people—their “comfortable dwellings, and abundance of food”—the schools on each estate for the education of children; and the instruction of their parents in the knowledge of their religious duties”—(there are no schools on Vreed-en-Hoop, or Vriedestein!!) he sums up all by observing, “it may be fairly said they pass their time agreeably and happily.” Full of fears, however, for the future, he adds, It is of great importance to us to endeavour to provide a portion of other labourers, whom we might use as a set-off, and, when the time for it comes, make us, as far as possible, independent of our negro population.”
Gladstone then ordered 100 Coolies—“young, active, able-bodied people,’’ to be bound to labour for a period not less than five years, or more than seven years,” the wages not to exceed four dollars per month,” to provide themselves!”
Gillanders & Co., responded positively on 6th June, 1836; explaining that they had shipped more than 2000 Coolies to Mauritius since 1834. “The contracts… are all of a similar nature; and we enclose a copy of one, under which we have sent 700 or 800 men to the Mauritius; and we are not aware that any greater difficulty would present itself in sending men to the West Indies, the Natives being perfectly ignorant of the place they agree to go to, or the length of the voyage they are under taking.’’
They then go on to state that the men selected for Mauritius, “Dhangurs…are always spoken of as more akin to the monkey than the man. They have no religion, no education, and, in their present state, no wants, beyond eating, drinking and sleeping; and to procure which, they are willing to labour.” The “Dhangurs” were also called “Hill Coolies” and Gillanders description fitted the trope that indentureship would “civilize” them.
On the 10th March, 1837, (after persuading his friend Lord Glenelg, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, to issue an Order in Council in 1837 to permit the West Indian planters to ship coolies from India) Gladstone and his friend John Moss informed Gillanders & Co. that in the following May, they intended to forward the good ship “Hesperus to take Coolies to Demerara,” to the number of 150, and that should they have children to take with them, fifteen or twenty may be sent in addition“
Andrew Colville and Messrs. Davidsons, Barkley & Co. of London,” owners of Highbury and Waterloo plantations in Berbice joined their friend Gladstone in a similar commission to.Gillanders & Co. (This was for the Whitby). The two ships would land on May 5, 1834 with 396 Indian Indentureds.