Migration of Indians to the Colonies

When the slave trade was abolished in 1833, the plantation owners around the world (mainly sugar), found themselves without sufficient labour to meet the growing demand for their products.

So began the ‘indenture’ system for supplying labour from India to various colonies of European powers around the world.

This practise began in 1833 and ended in 1920.

    • The indenture system sent people to work for an alloted time, usually five years after which time they could ask to be shipped home.
    • The migrants were supposed to have their rights looked after by a protectorate, to prevent abuse of any kind but it was a far from full proof system.
    • Before very long a ban on the system was sought by reformers and in 1839, overseas manual labour was prohibited.
    • Planters and capitalists worked hard to get the ban overthrown as they saw the outcome of such a ban result in the collapse of their industries.
    • Eventually in 1842, the Indian government once again permitted emigration.

There were many attempts to stamp out abuses of the system, conditions on ships on outward journeys were scrutinised but unfortunately once at their destination, rules and regulations meted out by the plantation owners were draconian to say the least and on return voyages conditions were poor, resulting in the deaths of a lot of returnee migrants.

    • Plantation owners were desperate to extend the length of the indenture and tried to encourage more women migrants in the home that workers would settle with their families, some were even given land to entice them to stay.

The migration of so many migrants, the  colonial British Indian indentured labour system, transported over one million people, nearly half of them going to Mauritius. Such mass migration impacted on the indigenous population and as part of a shared memory archive, the Trinidad and Tobago archives have collected data to preserve the history of these times.

See the National Archives guide to Indian Indentured labour to help you find resources that may help you with your own history.

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