From bondage to Freedom – Proudly South African Today

Arrival of Indians in Boats

In Natal, the arrival of the Indentured Indian in 1860 marked the beginnings of an organized scheme whereby approximately 152,184 Indians arrived to seek gainful employment in a fledgling sugar industry. While many worked on the sugar fields, others worked on the wattle and tea plantations and in the coal-mines . Some came as domestic servants as Dhobis, waiters and house-servants and were able to command a respectable salary of 20 shillings per month.

Southward Bound Postmaster-General Collins chartered two ships to pioneer the introduction of Indentured labourers and their families to our shores the Belvedere out of Calcutta, and the Truro from Madras. Each carried 342 passengers, and were the first of 384 vessels destined to ply this route during the coming half century. The Belvedere was first to embark, leaving Calcutta on 4 October 1860 and followed by the Truro exiting Madras a week later. No records exist, but its highly unlikely that any fanfare accompanied their departure, Indentured emigration having already slipped from the front pages of India’s newspapers. With the Belvedere’s journey from the subcontinent s far-east corner somewhat longer than the Truro’s the latter claimed historic honours when it made anchorage off Port Natal-Durban on 16 November, with the Belvedere arriving ten days later on the 26 November.

If their departure went unheralded, nothing resembling the equivalent of a ticker-tape reception greeted our pioneering Indian settlers either. Under the less than jubilant banner headline The Coolies Here , The Natal Mercury reported that the planters pet project has been realized, and described the swarthy hordes pouring out of the boat’s hold as a queer, comical, foreign-looking and very Oriental- like crowd . The newspaper at least dispelled one popular notion – that the new arrivals were all illiterate and uncouth accurately reporting that the complement included bankers, carpenters, accountants and mechanics in its number. Of the Truro’s 342 passengers, 190 were adult males (over 16 years of age), 80 adult females, 36 boys (aged 15 and under) and 36 girls. Christian Indians accounted for 95 of these, while Muslims totalled 23 and Hindus 163. The remaining Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Pharsis and Sufis were not classified. The Belvedere’s same number of passengers comprised 206 adult men, 62 adult women, 49 boys and 25 girls. No Christian Indians were aboard, but she carried 17 more Muslims than the Truro.

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