The Whitby and Hesperus: The First Indian Indentured Servant Ships to Guyana


This article is about the Whitby and Hesperus ships, the first ships that brought Indian indentured laborers to Guyana.


In 1838, the Whitby and Hesperus ships would forever change the course of the Indian disapora involved in the indentured servitude system.

On January 13, 1838, the Whitby left India for Guyana with the first set of Indian indentured servants.

After slavery was abolished, the British planters sought workers to replace the enslaved Africans. John Gladstone, a West-Demerara sugar plantation owner, sought permission from the British to import Indians to work for a period of 5 years under the indentured servitude system. The British granted his request.

Gladstone and other sugar plantation owners then arranged to import 414 Indians to Guyana. The Indians originated from Chota Nagpur, Burdwan, and Bancoorah (near Calcutta). Those from Chota Nagpur were referred to as “hill coolies.” “Coolie” was a corruption of the tamil word “kuli,” which meant laborer.

The British plantation owners chartered two ships to transport the first set of Indians to Guyana.

First, the Whitby set sail on January 13, 1838. Of the 249 indentured (233 men, 5 women, and 6 children) on this ship, five passed away. They voyaged 112 days and arrived in Guyana on May 5, 1838.

Second, the Hesperus left Calcutta on January 29, 1838 and also arrived in Guyana on the night of May 5, 1838. Of the 165 passengers, 13 died, leaving 135 men, 6 women, and 11 children.

After slavery was abolished, the British planters sought workers to replace the enslaved Africans. John Gladstone, a West-Demerara sugar plantation owner, received permission from the British to import Indians to work for a period of 5 years under the indentured servitude system.

The Whitby set sail on January 13, 1838. The Hesperus left India on January 29, 1838. They both arrived in Guyana on May 5, 1838, with the Hesperus arriving late at night. There were approximately 400 men, but only 14 women and 11 girls.

So what happened after they landed?

Tragically, the females were assaulted and murdered in alarming numbers. The violence was primarily caused by the disproportionate rate of women to men on the ships.

An unfortunate instance involves one of those 11 girls. Her name was Nunneedy. Nunneedy was just 8 years old when she died a few months after arriving in Guyana. She was assaulted and “died in consequence of her person being violated by some man unknown.” The local governor offered a reward for Nunneedy's assailant but no one was named or caught. In 1839, the magistrate visited Plantation Belle Vue, where Nunneedy was killed. He only spoke with two Indian women and the case, accordingly, was not solved.

The conditions were so inhumane for the first set of indentured servants, also known as the "Gladstone Coolies," that the British implemented a 5 year moratorium on the transport of Indian indentured servants. When indentured servitude resumed, the ships were required to have a minimum quota of women to men.

For the next 79 years, nearly 239,000 Indians journeyed to Guyana and nearly 148,000 Indians went to Trinidad as indentured servants. The majority of these workers would never return to India.

The Indian indentured servants who emigrated to the Caribbean, the formerly enslaved Africans, and the other Caribbean populations, would go on to form a distinctly unique culture.

Thankful for all Guyanese and Trinidadian ancestors from India. And the ancestors from Africa from which we all derived– but that’s a (surprisingly under-shared) story for a different day.

Main References

Coolie Woman

The Guyana Story

https://scalar.lafayette.edu/indoguyanesewomenpoets/media/whitby-and-hesperus

https://www.thingsguyana.com/whitby-the-way-east-indian-came-to-british-guiana/

#education #indianarrivalday #indiansurvivalday #guyananice 

This article was about the Whitby and Hesperus ships, the first ships that brought Indian indentured laborers to Guyana.

By Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq. | This content is copyright of West Indian Diplomacy, LLC and may not be reproduced without permission.

She runs West Indian Diplomacy, a Caribbean blog aimed at promoting West Indian history and business in the global marketplace. Melissa has been an attorney for over 10 years. She currently focuses on trademark registration, trademark searches, and office actions. She also has extensive legal experience in the areas of trademarks, copyrights, contracts, and business formations. She owns her own Trademark Law Firm that is virtually based out of Fort Lauderdale.


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    1 comment

    • Deo Lachman says:

      Thank you for your article. I am trying to find where my grandparents came from, where they left from, in India. They left India for Guyana between 1838-1900. Trying to find my roots/ancestry. Do you have any advice on where to start?
      Thanks

      Reply