Guyanese Slaves: From India to the Caribbean

The West Indies is home to a large and vibrant South Asian population descended from indentured labourers who worked the plantations after the abolition of slavery. The arrival of the first, from Bengal in 1838, is recorded in the journal of a young doctor who accompanied them, as Brigid Wells describes.

On June 23rd, 1837, a 330-ton ship called the Hesperus slipped out of Liverpool with only two passengers: the newly-married Mr and Mrs Wilmot. Fortunately, they were much absorbed in each other, because their only regular company for 14 weeks was the ship’s surgeon, 22-year-old Theophilus Richmond, who on the first leg of the voyage had very little to do. He amused himself by writing a diary of the voyage for his mother and sister Charlotte to read when he got home. He expected to be away for at least a year: the Hesperus was eventually bound for Demerara on the South American mainland via Mauritius and Calcutta. She had been chartered by Sir John Gladstone, the father of the future prime minister, and his partner John Moss to collect and transport an Indian workforce to replace the slaves on their sugar plantations in British Guiana (modern-day Guyana).

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