Controlling Indentureds: Jails

By Ravi Dev

As we have emphasised, any violation of the Indentured Contract by the Indentureds was defined as a criminal violation. As was stated to a Royal Commission without any sense of irony, a planter declared that the Indentured labourers were brought to work in the fields, and if they were not there, should either be in the hospital or in jail.
The Immigrants Ordinances of 1864 stated: “Any indentured immigrant who, without reasonable cause, shall neglect or refuse to attend at the daily calling over of the names of the immigrants on the muster-role, at the time and place herein before mentioned; or shall leave unfinished any work without leave; or shall be drunk while employed at any work; or shall use to his employer, or any overseer, or headman, or other person placed by such employers in authority over him any threatening, obsessive or insulting words or behaviour, or shall commit any nuisance upon, or in the immediate neighbourhood of any dam or public thoroughfare of the estates shall, on being convicted thereof, be deemed guilty of offence, and shall pay a fine not exceeding £5 (more than one month’s wages) or be imprisoned with hard labour for any time not exceeding one month; and shall, in addition, if the convicting justice shall think fit, forfeit the whole or any part of the wages then due to him, not exceeding the wages of one week.”

Camp Street prison

If an immigrant was found outside of his “bound plantation” without a pass signed by a manager, he was jailed.
Throughout the indentureship period, more than 6% of Indentureds were prosecuted annually, and forced to pay fines, or more likely jailed because the immigrant did not have the money.
According to Eric Williams, “The Indian immigrant lived in the shadow of the jail. This was literal as well as metaphorical since prisons were built next to sugar plantations.”
While, technically, the Indentured could take the planter to court, according to one report, “the planter won 91 per cent of his cases; the Indian only 38 per cent”.
By 1884, out of a total Indian Indentured adult population of 15,251, 2043 were in jail out of the total prison population of 4659. That is: 13% of Indentured were in jail.

Mazaruni Prison

At Emancipation in 1838, there were three prisons in each of the counties: Georgetown and New Amsterdam pre-dated British occupation (1803), while the Wakenaam Gaol in Essequibo was established in 1837. With Indentureship, prisons increased exponentially to accommodate the convicted indentureds: Capoey, Essequibo (1838), Mazaruni (1842), Fellowship (1868), Mahaica (1868), Suddie (1874), Best (1879), Number 63 (1888), and Morawhanna (1898).
The time spent in jail by the immigrants was tacked on to their indentureship period, even though they performed all sorts of labour while incarcerated.