*Tracing Your Roots > South Asian > Migration Records
* Asians via the Colonies to Britain 
Indentured labourers were taken from India to colonies such as:

  • Mauritius
  • The West Indies
  • British Guiana
  • Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
  • Southeast Asia
  • East Africa
They worked on the plantations, railways and in the civil service. Some of them were soldiers and saw service overseas.

The Patidars (the Patel clan) originally from the Kaira District in Gujarat, emigrated to East and South Africa in 1900 due to famine in the district of Kaira. A once prosperous district, Kaira suffered desperately as a third of its population perished in less than two years.

Some helpless villagers in the Gujarat relinquished their children to missionaries to survive, as indicated in Sherwood Eddy's India Awakening (New York: Missionary education movement of the United States and Canada, 1911):

"Repeatedly parents have offered me their children for sale at a rupee each or about four cents. And they love them as we love our children. Children are now being offered for sale as low as four cents each, for a measure of grain."
The enormous Indian famine at the turn of the century probably left several million dead. Some regarded it as a fulfilment of H.M. Hyndman's forecast of 1886:

"I am firmly convinced that in India we are working up to a hideous economical catastrophe, beside which the great Irish Famine of 1847 will seem mere child's play."
Just as the Irish famine produced significant migration, the great Indian famines of the 19th and early 20th century created massive pressure for movements of peoples.

The National Archives holds the Colonial Office correspondence sent by the governors of these colonies to the Colonial Office in London. The records of the Land Board and Emigration Department, National Archives series (PRO) CO384 and (PRO) CO386 with registers in (PRO) CO428 includes correspondence relating to settlement in the West Indies. However, they are mainly policy papers. It does not give the passenger list or information about the indentured labourers.

The Surgeon's Superintendent was appointed on each emigrant ship, which was transporting labourers, and this figure was responsible for the welfare of the seamen and passengers on board. ('Coolies' is the term for labourers used in many of the records.)

The reports sometimes give the details of the births and deaths of Indians on the ships. Only first names of the Indian labourers have been noted in these records.

For example, the National Archives document (PRO) CO384/110 (1875-76) includes the certificates of the Surgeon's Superintendent for the ships Pandora, Rohilla and Middlesex .

Their voyage from Calcutta to the West Indies gives a list of deaths and births that occurred on these ships. Also the medical officer's report gives the number and name, of the emigrants together with details of

  • Sex
  • Age
  • Disease they had suffered
  • Date of their death
Another example is the (PRO) CO384/102 National Archives document, which has correspondence on 'coolie' immigration in Grenada and Trinidad.

Under Grenada correspondence, it shows a return of the Indian immigrants in this colony, showing their location in the several districts and their increase and decrease during the year 1873.

Under Trinidad correspondence are listed male and female Indian immigrants who have taken ten acres of land allotment in lieu of their return passage to India. Details are given of:

  • First name
  • Registered number
  • Extent of land
  • District in Trinidad
Also included is the schedule of 'coolie' murders between 1 October 1872 and 30 September 1873, giving the:

  • Date of trial
  • Names of accused
  • Summary of charges and acquittals
  • Convictions and sentences
There were seven cases in that period.

Under Jamaica a nominal returns of deaths on board the ship Loclomond from Calcutta to Jamaica 1874 are recorded. It gives:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Disease
  • Date
  • Remarks
Another example is the National Archives record (PRO) CO384/103, which is despatches from British Guiana in 1874 includes certificates of the Surgeon Superintendent for the following ships:

  • Buckinghamshire: Voyage from Calcutta, 27 June 1873
  • Golden Fleece: Voyage from Calcutta to St Helena, 30 November 1873
  • Hereford: Voyage from Calcutta to St Helena, 9 December 1873
  • Mofufsilite: Voyage from Calcutta to Cape of Good Hope, 16 December 1873
  • Sir H G Lawrence: Voyage from Calcutta, August 1873
  • Hydrabad: Voyage from Calcutta, 1874
  • Pandora: Voyage from Calcutta May, 1873
  • Dinapore: Voyage from Calcutta to St Helena, February 1874
  • Clyde: Voyage from Calcutta to St Helena
  • Corona: Voyage from Wampoa, China, February 1874
  • Surrey: Voyage from Calcutta to St Helena, March 1874
  • Nera: Voyage from Calcutta to St Helena, May 1874
  • Gainsborough: Voyage from Calcutta to St Helena and Nevis, October 1873
  • Rohilla: Voyage from Calcutta to St Helena, May 1874
  • Atlanta: Voyage from Calcutta to St Helena
  • Sussex: Voyage from Calcutta, 1874
  • Clarence: Voyage from Calcutta, 1874
  • India: Voyage from Calcutta, 1874
  • Fortashire: Voyage from Calcutta, 1874
  • Artist: Voyage from Calcutta, 1874
Surgeon's certificates of the above ships include lists of births that give the:

  • Name and sex of the child
  • Date of birth and remarks
The hospital list gives name and details of sickness. The list of deaths gives the:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Number of days of sickness
  • Date of death
It also includes a consolidated return of immigrants under the indenture of service to reside on a plantation in a colony, for the half-year ending 30 June 1873. It gives the name of plantation and the number of indentured labourers from Madras, Calcutta, China and Africa. It is a good statistical return for 1873.

Emigration agents were appointed in India to recruit labourers. It is possible that the records created by these agents, if they have survived, may be found in the state archives of India. In India, the ports of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras were the main platforms used to transport the labourers to colonies. For the addresses of some state and regional archives in India link here.

Also contact the national archives of the relevant colonies for the records created by the immigration agents. Further details of how to trace South Asian ancestors who lived in the West Indies can be found in the tracing Caribbean roots section of this gallery.

The National Archives holds the Uganda Resettlement Board minutes and papers in (PRO) HO289 (1972-76), Commonwealth immigration files in (PRO) HO344 (1949-79) and racial disadvantage files in (PRO) HO376 (1963-81). Although these are mainly administrative papers, they may include some case files on Asians as well.

Creators: Abi Husainy