As 225 Indentured Indians departed from Calcutta on the Fath al Razack on 16th February 1845, the voyage to Trinidad began. The ship then sailed down the Hoogly River for about 100 miles until it reached Saugor Island at the mouth of the Ganges. While aboard the Indians experienced various ailments such as seasickness, diarrhoea, and bronchitis. There were deaths due to diseases and some to depression. Several Indians committed suicide by jumping overboard while some believed they could swim back to India. The living conditions on board were dangerous and stifling as the Indians slept below deck in the ‘Coolie deck’.
This area was divided into three sections with single men being located at the front of the ship, married couples with families in the centre, and single women at the back. Below deck was dark and in the 1880s the ‘coolie deck’ was coated with coal tar. This prevented moisture from coming in and was easier to clean (Laurence, 1994). The sleeping arrangements were cramped and the Indians usually shared only one or two toilets. For the duration of the indentureship system mortality on voyages fluctuated due to cholera which was spread through the use of contaminated water from the Hoogly River. In spite of the numerous medical checks of the emigrants before they left India, there were still outbreaks of contagious diseases/ ailments on board such as dysentery, measles, mumps and diarrhoea.
Stay tuned for more information with the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago, as we carry you through the voyage from Calcutta to Trinidad to mark the 175th Anniversary since the beginning of the East Indian Indentureship.
Laurence, K. O. (1994). A Question of Labour: Indentured Immigration into Trinidad and British Guiana 1875–1917. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers.
Quentrall-Thomas, Diane. (1995). In Celebration of 150 years of the Indian Contribution to Trinidad and Tobago. Historical Publications