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Landing in Br Guiana

By Ravi Dev

After spending four or more months crossing the Indian and Atlantic Oceans – including the treacherous waters dubbed “Pagli Samundar” (Mad Sea) below South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, where the two oceans collide – the indentureds would get their first glimpse of British Guiana: the Lighthouse in Kingston, Georgetown, built in 1830.
After the ship docked at the wharf at the southern end of Water Street, the indentureds were inspected by the Immigration Agent General (IAG) and his staff before disembarking. The IAG had the responsibility to, upon the arrival of an immigrant ship, ascertain whether certain rules and regulations regarding the voyage had been observed. The immigrants were then marched up Water Street to the stares of the Creole townspeople, right past the lighthouse, to the “Coolie Depot” on the isolated Atlantic shore, next to where the Marriott now stands.
The building now houses NCERD, and should be designated a National Monument in honour of the 239,000 that passed through from India and the 75,808 that did so on their way back… Those immigrants who came on their own accord could proceed as they saw fit.
At the depot, where the office of the Immigration Agent General and his staff was located, the impetus was to assign and dispatch the immigrants to plantations that had “ordered” them ASAP, since, after forty-eight hours, the plantations had to pay for rations used. It was accepted that families were not to be separated, but sometimes marriages claimed after meeting in the depot in Calcutta were not recognised.
It became customary for resident indentureds to visit the depot when a new shipment arrived: they would check for persons they knew from their villages back in India. On a personal note, one of the brothers of my great-grandfather Rambishun, who arrived on the Allan Shah in 1888, came to Guyana on an immigrant ship to seek him out. But upon discovering that Rambishun had married a Guyana-born woman, he returned to India without making contact. The immigrants were transported to their assigned plantations generally via trains, ferries, or carriages.
The name “Crosby” has come down the ages as an ally of the immigrants, and was used long after Indentureship was abolished. He was James Crosby, a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge and a Barrister-at-law of Middle Temple, who had been a Stipendiary Magistrate in the colony. He was appointed Immigration Agent General in 1858 with, and acted as, Stipendiary Magistrate in these matters. After many pitched battles with the authorities, including the Governor, on behalf of the indentures who brought their complaints to him, he died in 1880.

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