The Museum of London Docklands will open a new free display called ‘Indo + Caribbean: The creation of a culture’, on May 19, 2023, in its ‘Sugar and Slavery gallery’ located in London.
The display will explore the journey of migrants from India to the Caribbean, the transition between enslaved African labour and the start of Indian indenture, the life of indentured labourers in the Caribbean, and the plight of Indo-Caribbean Londoners today, the Museum of London Docklands says in a statement.
The Museum of London Docklands has worked together with Londoners of Indo-Caribbean descent to showcase the underrepresented history of Indian indenture in the British Caribbean.
British planters in the Caribbean devised a new scheme to source cheap labour for their plantations, following the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. British planters recruited workers from India to work for three to five years. In return, they promised the Indian workers a minimal wage, transport, and some basic provisions.
British planters successfully petitioned the British government for their support. As a result, in 1838, Hesperus and Whitby, the first indenture ships, set sail.
Between 1838 and 1917, the year when the indenture ended, around 45,000 Indians traversed a long and difficult journey, taking up to five months, to the British Caribbean.
The new display will explore letters petitioning the government from planter Sir John Gladstone.
The display will also showcase the poor conditions on board and strong bonds forged between migrants as they crossed the Kala Pani or ‘dark waters’, and address the difficult conditions faced by migrants and the impact of their arrival.
Finally, the display will explore the migration of labourers to the United Kingdom, and represent the lives of London’s Indo-Caribbean community.
According to the Museum of London Docklands, the display will not only feature Gladstone’s letters, but will also show contracts, shipping company records, postcards and papers from the Parliamentary Archives that give insights into the realities of life under indenture.
People who visit the display can witness photos, jewellery, films and artwork that uncover personal stories and family memories of London’s Indo-Caribbean community.
In the statement, Makiya Davis-Bramble, one of the co-curators on the display, said understanding the history of Indian indenture in the Caribbean is essential to unpack perceptions of Caribbean heritage.
Dr Saurabh Mishra, Academic advisor to the display, said the question of indenture has been an emotionally charged issue right from its initial days, when rumours circulated about the cruel treatment meted out to Indian migrants in plantation colonies.
The display will remain open till November 19, 2023.