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Indian indenture in the Straits Settlements, 1872-1910: Policy and practice in province Wellesley

Indian indenture in the Straits Settlements, 1872-1910: Policy and practice in province Wellesley
David Sinjeet Chanderbali


School of History, The Australian National University, Canberra ACT 2601, AUSTRALIA.


The Introduction to this thesis provides a brief survey of Indian indentured immigration into selected colonies, and presents some of the conflicting interpretations of Indian indenture. It also states the main object of this study.

Chapter I discusses the factors that gave rise to large-scale sugar cultivation by Europeans in Province Wellesley, and examines the reasons why the local Malays and the Javanese and Chinese immigrants were not adequately responsive to the demand for indentured labour, and why the planters continued to rely on the Tamils of Madras Presidency, despite their reluctance to emigrate overseas permanently.

Chapter III attempts to establish the commencement date of unregulated Indian indentured emigration to the Straits, and provides some glimpses of the nature of the early traffic. It goes on to trace the events that led to the embargo on labour migration from India to the Straits, and examines the negotiations that eventually brought about the establishment of regulated indenture.

The measures taken to satisfy the planters’ labour needs and the reasons why indentured recruitment, competing with "free” recruitment for Ceylon and Burma, failed to yield the number of labourers required are discussed in Chapter IV.

Chapter V examines the conditions in which the emigrants were housed and otherwise looked after at the depot at Negapatam. It establishes that bona fide indentured recruits were substituted, and that frequent illegal use was made of Karikal as a port of departure. It also examines whether the emigrants' treatment during the voyage to Penang conformed with the legal requirements.

An account of the betrayal by two planters of Governor Ord's promise to the government of India, which involved the scandalous ill-treatment and neglect of a large number of labourers is provided in Chapter VI. It also discusses the punishment of the offenders, the headmen's exploitation and chastisement of the labourers, and why it was difficult for them to obtain redress.

The planters' illegal separation of the labourers into first and second class gangs, the labourers' low earning capacity and their inability to procure adequate food, and the consequences that followed are discussed in Chapter VII.

Finally, Chapter VIII examines the quality of the necessary provisions made for the labourers' accommodation and medical treatment, and discusses the effects of the sexual disproportion and of injuries on the labourers' health. The discussion closes with an examination of the main causes of the high mortality-rate among the labourers, which dealt the coup de grace to the system in 1910.