Indian Indentured Women in Guyana

On September 3, 1903, Robert Mitchell wrote to British Guiana’s Governor about Indian indentured women to say: “The collection of emigrants for [the Clyde] has been attended with exceptional difficulty, owing to the phenomenal scarcity of women.”

Shortly thereafter, on September 15, 1903, the immigration agent-general informed the plantation managers that the government would assist in finding partners for the coolie men. They offered to import brides from the Indian villages to help with the grossly disproportionate ratio of men to women. Only six indentured servants applied and three were rejected. 

There were too many Indian indentured men and not enough indentured women. This created a dangerous environment for the women where they were mistreated and subject to violence by plantation owners, managers, and Indian men.

Unfortunately, this was not a novel occurrence. The high ratio of enslaved African men to enslaved African women was one of the key points of abolition.

John Gladstone owned more than 2,000 enslaved Africans. The British government compensated him “roughly $10 million in current dollars for his losses in Guyana alone.” 

Slavery “officially” ended in August of 1838. But Gladstone ensured that there would be no gap in labor. He heeded no lessons from the gender imbalance of slavery.

On May 31, 1838, the Whitby and Hesperus landed in Guyana with 400 men and only 14 women and 11 girls. One of the girls, Nunneedy, was killed less than a year later after being assaulted.

We honor the memories of our ancestors, and Nunneedy, 120 years from that letter. Our history can seem so long ago due to the lack of access. These documents remind us that slavery and indentured servitude existed within the last 200 years. Reparations are not far fetched.


Coolie Woman by Gaiutra Bahadur

India in the Caribbean by David Dabydeen

By Melissa 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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