Monday, July 2, 2012

Indian Migrants to Natal 1860

The most significant event of the 1860s in the Colony was the arrival of a ship called the S.S. Truro on 16 November 1860, heralding a new era. The Truro, a wooden paddle steamer rigged with sail, brought 343  migrants from their homes in India, pioneers in a process which would continue until after the first decade of the 20th century and bring more than 150,000 people to the shores of Natal.

Social, economic and political effects would be far-reaching. These events and their consequences have generated a large body of literature to which there are regular additions and anyone reading this blog can do a Google search on the terms ‘indentured Indians’ or ‘Indian migrants Natal’ to pursue a study of the topic. The Indian diaspora was a global phenomenon and Natal’s involvement should be seen in that context, from an academic point of view.

If you’re a family historian, the focus changes. It becomes individualized: less anonymous, intensely personal. Descendants of the Indian migrants increasingly want to know about their ancestors and about their origins. Acquiring such information is not easy. More about that aspect in future posts.

Indian migrants at Natal
Meanwhile, we could try to imagine the leap of faith required by the migrants to leave everything that was familiar to them and embark on a long sea voyage towards an unknown country, where they would begin an indenture contract of five years.

The Truro was followed shortly by the Belvedere (quarantined in the roadstead due to cholera on board) and the Lord George Bentinck, bringing the total migrant arrivals in the year 1860 to nearly a thousand.

Passengers were taken off the vessels by lighter and delivered to barracks at the Point from where their employers would collect them. Their journey was far from over.

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