Australians value the right to have a ‘fair go’ as their top priority. It is no wonder, this” Nation of Convicts” believes in equality and fairness. But what Australia today, is not something we achieved accidentally as a nation. In 1837, Australia was seriously debating about bringing labourers from India. Even at those days, when slavery was the norm, Australian think tanks wanted to ensure that, these laborers are treated equal to the rest and should have access to all amenities which immigrant laborers of that time wouldn’t even dare to imagine.
In 1909, The Newsletter, An Australian Newspaper, which was on print from 1900 to 1918 published an article on the plight of Indian immigrant labourers in Fiji. Though, the article has some racial tone, we hope it will be a good read for the Indian immigrant community in Australia, to understand the life of Indian immigrant laborers in Fiji.
The Sydney Monitor (NSW : 1828 – 1838), Wednesday 14 June 1837
Free Indian Immigrant Laborers.
The Laborers proposed to be brought into this Colony from the Hill Countries of India, are in law as much subjects of the King of England, as-British persons; and are as much under the protection of the laws; and as far as their mental and physical capacities may permit, are entitled to all the privileges of British Institutions .and British civil and political rights, comforts, and immunities.
The Statute, Law of England, permits and regulates the apprenticeship of children at any age not exceeding twenty-one years. After a subject of Britain is twenty-one .years of age, be may, so far as we are aware, enter into any kind of contract for service he chooses ;He is not restricted as .to .the number of hours he may choose to, work, the quantity or quality of food; or the length of time he may engage himself for. In all these matters, a man or a woman .being of age is at liberty to please him. ‘The question, therefore, with respect to the apprenticing ‘or hiring the King’s Indian subjects is, whether because the law interferes not with the agreement entered into between British born men and women, it should interfere with those entered into between the simple uninformed people, of India, and our adroit and politic colonists ?
We suppose that all men not selfishly interested in the new trade ‘about to be commenced, will allow, that the law ought to regulate these contracts’ lest under the quiet suspicious name of apprenticeship, a system of virtual slavery be .commenced in this colony, which it may require years of exertion of future colonial philanthropist to get rid of. The time seems to us to have at length come, when through the deficiency of convict labour, added to its many evils, the labour of black people, or at least of men of colour, from some part of the world or other, will inevitably introduce itself into New South Wales; and consequently, that great question has. already arisen, namely; whether we are to imitate the conduct of the Southern’ States of the American Nation, the’ Nation’ of the Brasile, and the West Indian Island nation, in settling and fixing in this.
Free British Colony, an Indian slave population. Or, at least, a population hovering or vacillating- between Negro slavery, and British freedom. At all events; it is the time for Judge Burton, Bishop Broughton, Mr. Went worth, Mr. ‘Plunket, Mr. Carmlihael; and other ‘friends of ” the rights of man,” to come with eagle’s eye, to watch over the proceedings of our legislative Council in such of their deliberations as concern INDIAN IMMIGRATION
Does .our Council intend to leave It to tie discretion of the Importers of these ignorant Indians, to decide the following things concerning their introduction into this land of free Britons?
1.-The proportion of the sexes which shall be allowed to be imported.
2..–The quantity and quality of food which shall be allowed to them
3..-The quantity and quality of clothing, bedding, and lodging which shall ‘be’ allowed to them
4.–The number of hours they shall be required to labour.
5.–The protection they shall receive by the due payment to them of their money-wages; I. e. if any. Be allowed them
6.-The kind and degree of punishment they shall receive for misconduct and how They shall be enabled to bring their grievances before the Magistrates.
- -The certainty of such of them as may require it at the end of their terms being provided with a passage back to their native country,
8.-The term of their service, as it begins to be already called, their apprenticeship. In Our opinion, a misapplied term; for no British subject can be an apprentice under the laws of England, except he be a minor. The adult Negro slaves of the West Indies are now apprentices; but, they were made such by a special Act of Parliament. Let us consider each of these circumstances pertaining to the coming Immigrants, our ‘free lawny brethren, equally the subjects of the Kings as ourselves, and of course entitled to the good-wall and. pro taction of all right-minded men, especially of all Christian men. First then and before all, the proportion of the sexes that is to be imported.
An offence which St. Paul commands shall not be mentioned among Christians. It is known prevails in some countries of the East, as it did in the Augustan age of Rome; and is either not regarded as a vice at all, or is lightly regarded as such. Are then our ‘Colonial agents to be allowed ‘ to bring hither males without stint and not compelled.by law to import at the same time females in some just proportion? This is all we shall say on this subject. Even if our Colonial Legislature should ordain that one female should accompany every two males, the present great disparity of the: sexes will be increased to an alarming amount. In our opinions the Council should, ordain, while the present disparity of the sexes continues (say the next three years) that one female should accompany every male.
The more comely and intellectual, and civilized of these Indian females would find husbands among our white males of the lower order, and make better wives and mothers than the drunken thieving ‘ and carnal-minded inmates of our female factory, whom now, front dire necessity our free white canaille are obliged to take as wives. The food to be allowed to our lawny brethren after they shall have been set to work, we perceive by the papers laid before the Council, that the Mauritius plan era have been generous enough to agree to give their new free Indian labourers; two pounds weight of rice, to be flavoured with a little ghee and mustard oil; every day, without fresh animal food, or other sustenance.
If their work be proportioned. To this spare diet in the hot sun of the Mauritius, it is all very well; but it appears to us it would be more liberal, and certainly pay better, to give these strangers a penny-( worth of meat or fish per day, ‘and require more work. But we doubt not but that the heartless French planters. Cunningly intend to get a good day’s work out of’ their new friends, and. At the same time stint them to rice. But if the laws should not interfere to prevent the experiment (and we have a sorry idea of: Mauritius law, whether British or Colonial) the debility, disease, and death, of the labourers, will soon prove how far a starved belly, and hard work, can be made to go together. But this ‘will not cause any change among the heartless Frenchmen will merely cause them to calculate, how far the men who die of insufficient food can be replaced by fresh apprentices from India and Africa found more profitable to sting with food and kill with labour the old hands and, import fresh live-stock to replace them, the Frenchmen will not alter the system. It will be an immense advantage to our settlers,
if they can hire Indian men and women who will be willing to ‘feed on maize, or barley, or rye meal, in 1eu of rice; Rice will cost them two pence and lbs, besides .the carriage from, Sydney. Rye barley, or maize, grown by them, neighbours, will not cost them a penny a pound. It is said, that meat will cause disease among those Indians who never before used it. We are therefore glad to see, the Nation whence it is proposed to bring labourers to New South Wales, consider roasted rats and lizards, with a little salt to be a great luxury. Such men will not be long before a modicum of beef and mutton will be found to agree with their stomachs very well.
To take rice eating Labourers to Argyle, and the Country south of the Mittagong range, would be to take them to an early grave. One winter there, would despatch all the more delicate of them unless they had stamina to eat meat and had it given them;
Free white labourers there; eat from ten to twenty pound of meat a week. Many Assignees find it pay to give even their Convicts eight, Nine, and ten pounds of meat in lieu of seven, especially during the cold months, intervening between May and August. We hope the Council will ordain that with every Indian disembarked on our shores two-years supply of that food for the use of which he has contracted( including little mustard oil and ghee) shall also be landed.
- In order that the food may also accompany the belly’ without the food will never do. To bring the belly without the food will never do yet we will lay our lives on it , this will often be attempted to be done that is the natural cupidity of men, when he began to trade with human being as if they are so many of horses or working oxen.
- When they begins to trade with human beings, as if they were so many horses or working oxen, Look at the Lady Mc Naughten. This sort of trade is an occupation which insensibly deteriorates the human mind. The hard hearted it converts into cruel tyrants the humane into a state of insensibility. Butchers and drovers are noted for their insensibility to the sufferings of sheep, oxen, and horses. Yet they can hold this Insensibility in communion with tenderness towards their wives, children, and relatives We know from history, that the Slave drivers In the West-Indies, who with their dreadful whips, and exquisite skill in using them, could strike a woman with her-child at her back less than a week old, on any part, and lay open a muscle to the bone, were not deficient in tenderness towards Own Offspring. Such is the’ human mind. Our settlers after little practice and by the time they get their hands will be able to ride through their sheep walks and view the shivering Indians skeletons without a pang, if the law should permit their oppressing them, while at their own houses they may be patterns of conjugal and parental affection. Such we say is human mind. Man can be brought to do anything and everything that is contradictory in principle.
3.The clothing, bedding, and lodging. we think it will appear palpable to all a humane persons, that this Colony, especially when you cross the Cow pasture and a Nepean Rivers, will be felt by Indians to be as cold, as England is by us. Consequently, the ‘ two Lascar caps, two dhoties, and two jackets, OR blankets,” t will not be sufficient for an Indian following his flock on the extensive Downs of a Maneroo, where strong frosts set in as early as March, and continue as late as October; and where snow and sleet and piercing cold winds are more common than in many parts of England. In short, our Council must ordain, that the clothing of our tawny brethren, shall be fully equal to that of our Convicts, to say the least. We, from experience, know, that the clothing of our Convicts is, at this present t time, insufficient by pair of duck trousers. in January, and by a woollen waistcoat, or Guernsey frock. In May, we have mentioned this twice before -but such has been the opportunity by our tones, to, Governor Bourke on account of his early management of the convict population; we hope he will attend to our suggestion.
- The number of hours of labour, and the time allowed for meals should be all fixed by an ordinance, to prevent oppression on the part of the masters of these apprentices. We should recommend an interval of two hours rest during the middle of the day, between the months of November and March; the extra hour of rest to be added to the labouring hours, either of the morning or evening. The heat in. summer in the middle of the day, in this Colony, distresses the strongest men.
- WAGES.: Whatever money wages be agreed for with reference to these Indian labourers maintaining their children, or their returning to their ‘native country, must be secured to them by positive statute, and by the most summary process.
- Whipping is a punishment agreeable to the- law of England. .If this mode f punishment be applied .to our tawny friends, let it be applied for the .same offences as it is in England, but for no other. ‘
The offence of idleness will be a common accusation against these strangers for What we robust and masculine Europeans call industry, the Indians will consider as hard labour ; and what we Call trifling with their work, they will consider as sufficiently hard. To regulate this part of the Indian Emigrant’s duty, will be a most difficult task. There must be Commissioners for the Indians” appointed in every district, if not to ‘advocate their cause, at least to see that an undue severity be not exercised in keeping them at work. The Spaniards, by urging, the natives of Cuba and Peru to labour, caused millions of them to perish.
- To see that the masters of these Indian “Apprentices” fulfil their agreement, in sending them back to their native land, on the expiration of their term as of service (should they desire it, which we hope will not occur with the majority) will be the duty of the Indian Commissioners.:
- The term of their service. – A limit must be set to the term of service of the ignorant strangers, who will otherwise be the dupes of the agents of the Colony and be inveigled to sign agreements to serve, not five years only, but ten, and twenty, and thirty. For cupidity has no conscience; and under the artful name of “Apprentice, virtual slavery may, through this medium, be established in the Colony.’ Having, now hastily considered some of the principal- circumstances attending the Introduction into New South Wale of Indian Apprentices,”, we shall. Conclude by observing, that we trust our Council will adopt as a basis of their regulations a liberal and human e policy.
The Newsletter: an Australian Paper for Australian People (Sydney, NSW : 1900 – 1918)
Saturday 26 June 1909
Fiji, a Seething-bed of Immorality and Grime.
Indian Women Imported by the Government for Use as pigs. What White Australia Escapes.
Some of the particulars of doings behind the scenes or in the hidden daily life in Fiji, as furnished us by reliable correspondents, point to a state of things which is a shame and a disgrace to Christianity and a frightful satire in what is described as the good Government of Fiji Islands. The conditions of imported coloured labour life will, as recounted here, be beyond belief or realisation in Australia, where even the most abandoned aboriginal camps are held under some sort of moral control.
The facts, too, as related, will tend to show what a frightful scourge is being prepared for Fiji in the future, and what a huge pestilential evil was prevented in Australia when a dead set was made against the wholesale importation of black labour for work in the cane fields.
In Fiji, where coloured labour is imported as we introduced immigrants by the shipload in the old days, arrangements are made with the assistance and connivance of the Government for the introduction of labour to work the cane fields — the ships bringing 300 and 400 a time from India. Lest there- should be a rumpus these vessels never touch an Australian port, so the evil flood of India’s scum has flowed with unbroken regularity to Fiji.
The ratio of the importation is 25 to 30 women to every one hundred men, and every woman becomes the carnal property of the divided bunches of men. These women were thought to be wives of the men, or were imported to act as cook or in some domestic capacity; but this is absolutely in correct.
Men alone are the cooks and the women work in the fields exactly as the men do. The sole purpose of the introduction of the women in the ratio mentioned is plainly that they may be the common property of the men, as was inhumanely attempted in the early convict days of Australia; and all over the cane fields the unfortunate women. Many of them mere girls fulfil the horrible mission assigned to them.
There is no real attempt to disguise the motive of the importation on the meaning of the approval of the Government to the shameful traffic. And the whole business is understood may be gathered from the outrageous conditions the imported labourers are allowed to live.
As many as ten men and one woman live in the one hut; or they are divided in larger proportions. The frequent hacking or murdering of the women alone, a disgrace to the Government, arises from the jealous quarrels over the wretched creatures. If a coloured man decides to marry a woman, trouble immediately arises, and the unfortunate creature is killed outright or maimed. Notwithstanding the so called marriage, the wretched wo man is still, claimed by the rest of the gang. Bloodshed follows. The murders are astonishingly frequent, but all such occurrences are not prominently placarded to the world.
What makes the situation more barbarous is that these wives are in many cases girls under 12 and 13, and many of them are mothers at those ages. The importations in big batches are arrangements effected with the connivance of the Government to provide, cheap labour for the sugar company, who cannot, we believe, ‘ know of the real State of things on the islands. The evil done to the native Fijians, apart altogether from their coloured Indian brethren, from another part of the Empire, is that the Government trick the original holders out of as much arable land as they possibly can ; and the Fijian finds that the real all-powerful .’ Government of Fiji is not the British Government, but the sugar company, whose labour demands dominate every phase of life in the group.
From what we gather, a pestilential future faces Fiji, and it looks as if the Australian Government will need to act, and ask the intervention of the British Government to remove an evil so near to our shores. That there are forces at work in the Southern Hemisphere to-day which create for gain such huge racial dangers and such terrible immorality, all towards good evidence of the fact that the White Australia policy was not inaugurated a clay too soon.
And as to the Churches — what of them? Steeped in the foulest vices, with unfortunate girl-women subjected to treatment not accorded, to even beasts of the field, they are hordes of whom the Australian Churches appear to concern themselves but little. What a mockery of Christianity it all is — this frightful human body and soul abomination at our doors in Fiji. It has often been proclaimed that the Fijians had been won from heathenism and cannibalism, but in the darkest days Fiji was never as black as now, when it basks in the light reflected from Christian gold.