Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/506

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
488
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

a Royal commission of inquiry in 1870. The appointment of the commission followed a series of charges made by a certain Mr. Des Voeux, a magistrate in the colony, in a letter to Earl Granville, at that time Secretary of State for the Colonies.

The commission visited the colony and conducted a most searching inquiry. Hundreds of witnesses were examined, and the commissioners visited several estates, without giving any warning of their intentions, and questioned many of the coolies as to their treatment. Mr. Des Voeux entirely failed to substantiate his charges; and Sir Clinton Murdoch, the chairman of the emigration board—a permanent department of the Colonial Office—in referring to the report of the commission in a blue book issued in 1872, said: "It may, I think, be considered that the report of the commissioners is generally satisfactory, both as regards the magistracy, the planters, and the immigrants. Many defects in the system and mode of working it are no doubt pointed out, but they are defects caused by errors of judgment, by insufficiency of the law, or by want of foresight, not by intentional neglect or indifference to the well-being of the people, still less by oppression or cruelty. The vindication of the magistracy and of the medical officers appears to be complete, and the fair dealing and kindness of the managers toward the immigrants is acknowledged."

The laws have been amended, the Government inspection has been made more complete, and to-day it is impossible that any abuse of power on the part of the planters can pass unnoticed.

To give an instance of the effectiveness of the Government supervision—each estate is compelled by law to keep pay lists according to a form specified by the immigration department, in which the name of each indentured immigrant must be entered with a record of each separate day's work during the five years of the indenture. Thus, if the pay list shows that in a certain week a man worked only two days out of the legal five, it must also show the reason why he did not work on the other three days. It may have been that the man was in the hospital, in which case the letter "H" must appear opposite his name for those days; or he may have been granted leave of absence, when the letter "L" would account for him. These pay lists are inspected by a Government officer twice a month, and any faults disclosed by the examination become the subject of a severe reprimand from the agent general, followed in the case of persistent neglect by the cutting off of the supply of coolies.

So minute are the records of the immigration department that were an application made to the agent general for information regarding some particular indentured coolie, that official could without difficulty supply the name of the man's father and mother, his caste,