HC Deb 09 March 1882 vol 267 cc452-4

asked the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether, considering the important and difficult questions regarding the treatment of the Indian Coolies in the French Colony of Reunion which have occurred for several years past, and are now pending, Her Majesty's Government is represented in Reunion by an officer who has special qualifications for dealing with these Coolie questions, including a knowledge of the language and habits of the Coolies; and, whether the British Consul was responsible for the protection of the British subjects despatched from Reunion, in the Coolie ship "Francis," which put into the Seychelles in October last leaky, overloaded, and without hospital accommodation?


Sir, Mr. Annesley, Her Majesty's Consul at Réunion, was appointed in 1878, and should be familiar with the habits of the Coolies. It is not known whether he personally has a knowledge of Hindostani; but there is, at least, one interpreter attached to the Consulate for the especial benefit of Indian immigrants. The immigration of Coolies to Reunion is, for the time being, virtually stopped by the Indian Government pending a more satisfactory understanding than at present exists with the French Government as to their treatment. As regards the second portion of the hon. Member's Question, Consul Annesley reported, on the 27th of September last, that he had visited the ship Francis previous to her departure, and added— I inspected and questioned these immigrants individually before their embarkation, and, in reply to all my inquiries, they declared that they had no complaints to make, and they appeared well satisfied to leave this Colony. Consul Annesley makes no reference in his despatch to the ship being overloaded or wanting hospital accommodation, and was, of course, not qualified to pronounce any opinion as to the seaworthiness of the vessel.


asked the Secretary of State for India, If he has ascertained the circumstances of the Coolie ship "Francis," from Reunion, which put into the Seychelles in October last in distress; and, whether it is true that in an unsafe vessel of three hundred and fifty tons were packed four hundred and ten human beings; that there was no hospital, insufficient and improper food, and very little medicine; and that the people were landed in the Seychelles in a state of great suffering and destitution; that another vessel, the "St. Jaques," sent for them, also proved insufficient, and that further delay, suffering, and mortality, were occasioned?


Sir, I have received full information as to the circumstances of the voyage of the Francis with Coolies from Reunion, which vessel put into the Seychelles in distress. The Francis is of 330 tons, and when she sailed from Reunion had on board about 410 souls, including her crew and Indian return Coolies officially entered as representing 367 statute adults. The customary official inspections of the vessel were held at Reunion, and reported to the British Consul there, who made the usual inspection of the Coolies before embarkation. In the Reports of these inspections there was nothing which indicated that more Coolies than the French law allowed were despatched. The ship, when eight days out, sprung a leak, and had to put into the Seychelles, where the Coolies were landed on the 10th. Meanwhile, three deaths had occurred on board, and five more happened on shore. The emigrants complained to the British Chief Commissioner of the Seychelles that the food, space, and medical attendance on board the Francis had been insufficient and bad; and some of them looked ill and in an unsatisfactory condition. They seem to have been neglected by the French, who were in charge of them on first landing at the Seychelles, and much sickness prevailed among them. After attention had been called to their condition, however, all care seems to have been taken of them; and about five weeks after reaching the Seychelles they all—except 67 of them—again embarked on board the St. Jaques, a vessel of 390 tons, sent by the Reunion Government to take on the Coolies ex Francis, which ship was unable to continue her voyage. The St. Jaques reached India in due course, and the Indian Government have reported well of the treatment of the Coolies on board of her. The 67 Coolies detained were prevented by the Chief Commissioner from embarking on the St. Jaques, that officer considering that, according to the terms of the Coolie Convention of 1861 with France, there was not room for them in the St. Jaques. Eventually, shortly after the sailing of the St. Jaques, the 67 who had been detained were despatched to India by the Mauritius Government in a ship chartered for the purpose. Various questions, suggested by the case of these Coolies who sailed from Reunion in the Francis, are still under consideration in the Indian Office, the Colonial Office, and the Foreign Office.