I met with an accident here about three weeks ago, which confined me to the
house, from which I am now recovering, and hope in a few days to be able to
return to Edinburgh; this will account to you for using my son's pen
for writing in place of my own.
I observe by a letter which he received a few days ago from Mr. Arbuthnot, that he was sending a considerable number of a certain class of Bengalees, to be employed as labourers, to the Mauritius.
You will probably be aware that we are very particularly situated with our Negro apprentices in the West Indies, and that it is a matter of doubt and uncertainty how far they may be induced to continue their services on the plantations after their apprenticeship expires in 1840. This to us is a subject of great moment and deep interest in the colonies of Demerara and Jamaica. We are therefore most desirous to obtain and introduce labourers from other quarters, and particularly from climates something similar in their nature. Our plantation labour in the field is very light; much of it, particularly in Demerara, is done by task-work, which for the day is usually completed by two o'clock in the afternoon, giving to the people all the rest of the day to themselves. They are furnished with comfortable dwellings and abundance of food; plantations, the produce of the colony, being the most common, and preferred generally by them; but they have also occasionally rice, Indian corn, meal, ship's biscuits, and a regular supply of salt cod-fish, as well as the power of fishing for themselves in the trenches. They have likewise an annual allowance of clothing sufficient and suitable for the climate; there are schools on each estate for the education of the children, and the instruction of their parents in the knowledge of religious duties. Their houses are comfortable, and it may be fairly said they pass their time agreeably and happily. Marriages are encouraged, and when improper conduct on the part of the people takes place, there are public stipendiary magistrates who take cognizance of such, and judge between them and their employers. They have regular medical attendance whenever they are indisposed, at the expense of their employers. I have been particular in describing the present situation and occupation of our people, to which I ought to add, that their employment in the field is clearing the land with the hoe, and, where required, planting fresh canes. In the works a portion are occupied in making sugar, and in the distilleries, in which they relieve each other, which makes their labour light. It is of great importance to us to endeavour to provide a portion of other labourers, whom we might use as a set-off, and, when the time for it comes, make us, as far as it is possible, independent of our negro population; and it has occurred to us that a moderate number of Bengalees, such as you were sending to the Isle of France, might be very suitable for our purpose; and on this subject I am now desirous to obtain all the information you can possibly give me. The number I should think of taking and sending by one vessel direct from Calcutta to Demerara would be about 100; they ought to be young, active, able-bodied people. It would be desirable that a portion of them, at least one-half, should be married, and their wives disposed to work in the field as well as they themselves. We should require to bind them for a period not less than five years or more than seven years. They would be provided with comfortable dwellings, food, and medical assistance; they would also, if required, be provided with clothing, or wages to provide themselves, which, for the able-bodied, would not exceed four dollars per month, and in that proportion for females and their children as they grow up; a free passage would be given to them to Demerara, where they would be divided, and 20 to 30 placed on one plantation. I do not know whether the class referred to are likely to be of a particular caste, and under the influence of certain religious feelings, and also restricted to any particular kind of food; if so, we must endeavor to provide for them accordingly. You will particularly oblige me by giving me, on receipt, all the information you possibly can on this interesting subject; for, should it be of an encouraging character, I should immediately engage for one of our ships to go to Calcutta, and take a limited number to Demerara, and from thence return here. On all other subjects I refer you to letters from the house; and always am,
Dear Sirs, yours truly,
Since writing so far it has occurred to me, that in bringing Lascars from India security is required that they shall be returned to the country. I do not know whether this would extend to any particular caste being brought to the West Indies, or whether it is applicable in the instance you have mentioned of those sent to the Mauritius. Several importations from the Madeiras and Azores have taken place into Demerara, and so far with good effects on the minds of the blacks.