GIR­MIT AND ITS AUS­TRALIAN CON­NEC­TIONS NOT JUST CSR

HAN­NAH DUD­LEY WENT AS A MIS­SION­ARY TO IN­DIA. SHE LEARNT HINDI BE­FORE SET­TING UP OR­PHAN­AGES, ED­U­CA­TION IN FIJI. AND HIGH­LIGHT­ING PLIGHT OF WOMEN

Fiji Sun - - Big Story - Utkat Naiker Han­nah Dud­ley and the Gir­mit Women Ms Hanna Dud­ley, born in 1864 in

Dr Wil­liam McGre­gor, the Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer, took con­trol of the measles epi­demic in 1875 and set up quar­an­tine ar­range­ments for the first gir­mit ship Leonidas which ar­rived at Le­vuka in 1879 with many cases of cholera. Dur­ing the tragic wreck of the gir­mit ship Syria in 1884 on Nase­lai reef he headed a ma­jor res­cue ef­fort and saved many gir­mi­tiya lives at the ship­wreck.

In this ar­ti­cle Utkat Naiker, for­mer man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Fiji’s Hous­ing Au­thor­ity and re­tired se­nior ex­ec­u­tive at the United Na­tions HABI­TAT head­quar­ters in Nairobi, Kenya, tells of the in­volve­ment of Aus­tralian cor­po­ra­tions and in­di­vid­u­als who played key roles in Fiji’s his­tory.

May 14 this year marks the 137th an­niver­sary of Gir­mit.

The Colo­nial Sugar Refin­ing Com­pany (CSR) of Syd­ney was the dom­i­nant player in Fiji’s econ­omy dur­ing and af­ter the Gir­mit pe­riod and had strong in­flu­ence on the colo­nial gov­ern­ment through­out its pres­ence in Fiji from 1882 to 1973. How­ever, there were other Aus­tralians in­volved in Fiji in in­flu­en­tial ways be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the Gir­mit and this ar­ti­cle briefly de­scribes their roles: the early traders and planters, the two Aus­tralian Gov­er­nors of Fiji, the set­tlers from Mel­bourne, the med­i­cal of­fi­cer, the lady mis­sion­ary, the big busi­ness­men, the gold miner and the re­search school.

The early Aus­tralian traders

The in­den­ture of In­di­ans to work in Fiji’s plan­ta­tions com­menced in 1879 but the Aus­tralian con­nec­tion with Fiji started from around 1805 when Aus­tralians made deals with lo­cal chiefs in Bua to har­vest stands of san­dal­wood. They shipped the san­dal­wood to Syd­ney for tran­ship­ping to Hong Kong where it was highly val­ued for its oil. When the san­dal­wood stands were ex­hausted by 1820 traders switched to col­lect­ing beche de mer (sea cu­cum­bers) for ex­port to China. In the fol­low­ing decades Aus­tralian and Amer­i­can whalers op­er­at­ing in South Pa­cific wa­ters found a shel­tered har­bour at Le­vuka. Their use of the har­bour at­tracted traders, craftsmen and planters, mostly from Aus­tralia, who pro­vided goods and ser­vices re­quired by the ship­ping ven­tures.

Aus­tralian planters

Dur­ing the 1860s more planters came from Aus­tralia to cul­ti­vate cot­ton for its high price caused by the dis­rup­tion to cot­ton pro­duc­tion dur­ing the Amer­i­can Civil War. The price bub­ble soon burst and by 1870 many Aus­tralians planters switched to pro­duc­ing sugar by es­tab­lish­ing plan­ta­tions in large tracts of flat land pur­chased from the lo­cal chiefs in the fer­tile val­leys of the Rewa, Ba and Si­ga­toka rivers and along the coastal ar­eas of Viti Levu, the south­ern coast of Vanua Levu and in Tave­uni. Of th­ese planters the name of phi­lan­thropist JP Bai­ley lives to this day through the Bai­ley Clinic. Planters used Fi­jian labour but this con­sid­er­ably dis­turbed the struc­tured vil­lage life. From 1862 Aus­tralian en­trepreneurs com­menced black­bird­ing - cap­tur­ing vil­lagers in Van­u­atu and Solomon Is­lands and trans­port­ing them for plan­ta­tion labour in Queens­land. Af­ter 1868 the black­bird­ers ex­panded to Fiji where there was a labour short­age but no laws reg­u­lat­ing re­cruit­ment. By 1877 a few thou­sand black­birded Pa­cific is­lan­ders were brought to Fiji where they worked un­der dif­fi­cult con­di­tions in plan­ta­tions. About half of th­ese labour­ers died dur­ing their time in Fiji. In 1874 Bri­tain in­tro­duced laws to pro­hibit this in­hu­mane trade. Thus the sup­ply of labour­ers re­duced con­sid­er­ably, caus­ing eco­nomic mis­ery to the planters. By 1871 the Planters recog­nised Ratu Cakobau as Tui Viti but con­stantly pressed him for more land and na­tive labour. John Bates Thurston, a Tave­uni co­pra planter be­came the King’s main ad­viser and re­vived the pre­vi­ously un­suc­cess­ful un­con­di­tional of­fer of Fiji to Bri­tain. Lon­don sent Com­modore Good­e­nough, se­nior Bri­tish Navy of­fi­cer in Aus­tralia, to in­ves­ti­gate. He rec­om­mended pos­i­tively. The two Aus­tralian Gov­er­nors of Fiji Sir Her­cules Robin­son the Gov­er­nor of NSW was sent by Lon­don to ne­go­ti­ate the un­con­di­tional sur­ren­der of Fiji to Bri­tain. He, to­gether with the NSW At­tor­ney Gen­eral the Hon G.L. Innes, ne­go­ti­ated the Deed of Ses­sion with the chiefs on be­half of the Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment. A pro­vi­sional gov­ern­ment of Fiji was de­clared with Sir Her­cules Robin­son as the head and La­yard, the ex-Bri­tish Con­sul as ad­min­is­tra­tor. A four-mem­ber Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil, com­pris­ing lo­cal Aus­tralian res­i­dents was set up to as­sist the ad­min­is­tra­tor, con­sist­ing of Thurston as Colo­nial Sec­re­tary and three oth­ers as Colo­nial Trea­surer, At­tor­ney Gen­eral and Sec­re­tary for Na­tive Af­fairs. The laws op­er­at­ing in New South Wales were adopted, sub­ject to lo­cal procla­ma­tions is­sued by the new Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil.

Thurston took re­spon­si­bil­ity for land mat­ters and ap­pointed an Aus­tralian land sur­veyor to head a Depart­ment of Lands and Im­mi­gra­tion which later ne­go­ti­ated with the Gov­ern­ment of Bri­tish In­dia the for­mal ar­range­ments for the im­por­ta­tion of indentured In­di­ans. An­other Aus­tralian Sur­veyor was ap­pointed as Com­mis­sioner of Lands, re­spon­si­ble for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the land clauses in the Deed of Ces­sion. He in­tro­duced

to Fiji the Tor­rens sys­tem of land reg­is­tra­tion, ini­tially de­vised in South Aus­tralia, to cre­ate free­hold ti­tles in the colony’s emerg­ing land ten­ure sys­tem, to pro­vide se­cu­rity over lands pur­chased by the planters.

The first Bri­tish gov­er­nor of Fiji Sir Arthur Gor­don ar­rived in Septem­ber 1875 and pur­sued a pol­icy of preser­va­tion of na­tive cul­ture, es­tab­lished a Coun­cil of Chiefs to as­sist in the ad­min­is­tra­tion of na­tive af­fairs and stopped the use of Fi­jian labour on the plan­ta­tions. It is es­ti­mated that be­tween 1860 and 1873 the Fi­jian pop­u­la­tion de­clined from 200,000 to 170, 000 due to the harsh work­ing con­di­tions in the plan­ta­tions. Gor­don solved the planters’ labour dilemma through the im­por­ta­tion of In­dian indentured labour.

Sir John Bates Thurston, the other Aus­tralian who was Gov­er­nor of Fiji, was a Bri­tish Naval Of­fi­cer but be­came an Aus­tralian sheep farmer at Namoi, NSW be­fore en­ter­ing the NSW Gov­ern­ment ser­vice. He joined the Botan­i­cal ex­pe­di­tion to South Sea Is­lands but was ship­wrecked in Samoa in 1864 and for 18 months learnt much about na­tive cus­toms and the matai sys­tem. A Wes­leyan mis­sion­ary ship took him to Fiji where he set­tled as a cot­ton planter in Tave­uni. In 1869 Thurston was em­ployed by the Bri­tish Con­sul and in 1871 was ap­pointed Bri­tain’s Hon­orary Con­sul. As Premier to King Cakobau he at­tempted to set­tle the con­stant con­flicts be­tween the King and the planters who clam­oured for labour and in 1872 Thurston re­vived the King’s un­con­di­tional of­fer of Fiji to Bri­tain and drafted parts of the Deed of Ces­sion. He went to Syd­ney in 1880 to en­cour­age the CSR Com­pany to es­tab­lish in Fiji and later fa­cil­i­tated the trans­fer of large tracts of land to the Com­pany in the Nau­sori area. Thurston served as Gov­er­nor from 1888 to 1897. As Act­ing Gov­er­nor, Thurston de­clined re­quests of girmitiyas for im­proved labour con­di­tions and re­moval of the task sys­tem which was not part of the gir­mit agree­ment and in­tro­duced an Or­di­nance in 1886 pro­hibit­ing assem­bly of five or more im­mi­grants. As Gov­er­nor he was adamant in pre­serv­ing the task sys­tem ap­plied in the plan­ta­tions and pro­vided in­com­plete re­ports to Lon­don by down­play­ing the de­creas­ing level of gir­mi­tiya earn­ings and the in­creas­ing rates of child mor­tal­ity. He was re­buked by the Colo­nial Of­fice on his hard line on the task sys­tem and warned that if mat­ters did not im­prove in the work­ing con­di­tions in the plan­ta­tions the sup­ply of In­dian labour would be ter­mi­nated. He died while in of­fice in 1897 and was buried in Mel­bourne.

Mel­bourne set­tlers es­tab­lish Suva

In Vic­to­ria af­ter the end of the gold rush Mel­bour­ni­ans W.K. Ren­wick and S. Thomp­son formed the Poly­ne­sia Com­pany in 1868 to plant cot­ton in Fiji. The Com­pany of­fered to pay off King Cakobau’s debt of $40,000 to the Amer­i­cans in re­turn for land, trad­ing and bank­ing rights. The King agreed and granted a large area around Suva Har­bour and in the ar­eas ad­join­ing the Navua and Rewa Rivers. In 1870 the SS Al­ham­bra left Mel­bourne car­ry­ing 170 pas­sen­gers for Fiji of which 40 were con­nected with the Poly­ne­sia Com­pany, in­clud­ing Brew­ster and Joske. The set­tlers set up cot­ton and sugar farms in the Suva Penin­sula but had to aban­don this ven­ture due to the wet cli­matic con­di­tions and the weak­ness of the thin top­soil. Ren­wick and Thomp­son bought up land in Suva from the Com­pany in 1879 and sub­di­vided it ac­cord­ing to a lay­out pre­pared by Colonels Pratt and Ste­wart of the Royal Engi­neers. The Aus­tralians pur­chased com­mer­cial land in the flat ar­eas and res­i­den­tial land in the ad­join­ing high area which they named Toorak, af­ter the Mel­bourne sub­urb. The spot where land sales were held is marked by a plaque in a tri­an­gu­lar park at the corner of Ren­wick Road and Thom­son Street. Many of the streets in down­town Suva and Toorak are named af­ter the Mel­bour­ni­ans. Ren­wick and Thomp­son of­fered a large area to the Gov­ern­ment which could not ex­pand its op­er­a­tions in Le­vuka due to the moun­tain­ous ter­rain. The deep har­bour and the po­ten­tial for fu­ture land sub­di­vi­sion en­cour­aged the relocation of the cap­i­tal to Suva in 1882, to the area east of Gor­don St where many streets were named af­ter Bri­tish Gov­er­nors. With the es­tab­lish­ment of gov­ern­ment ad­min­is­tra­tion ser­vices, post of­fice, cus­toms and po­lice many en­trepreneurs were at­tracted to set up com­mer­cial ven­tures. Many ex-girmitiyas found em­ploy­ment in the Gov­ern­ment’s pub­lic works projects and set­tled in Vatuwaqa and Sam­ab­ula and Suva gained mu­nic­i­pal sta­tus in 1910.

Dr Wil­liam McGre­gor and Syria

Dr Wil­liam McGre­gor, the Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer, took con­trol of the measles epi­demic in 1875 and set up quar­an­tine ar­range­ments for the first gir­mit ship Leonidas which ar­rived at Le­vuka in 1879 with many cases of cholera. He later set up a quar­an­tine sta­tion at Nuku­lau is­land for all sub­se­quent gir­mit ships. Dur­ing the tragic wreck of the gir­mit ship Syria in 1884 on Nase­lai reef he headed a ma­jor res­cue ef­fort and saved many gir­mi­tiya lives at the ship­wreck. There were 497 per­sons on the ship and 56 died, in­clud­ing 31 men, 15 women, and 10 chil­dren. Dr. McGre­gor rose to be­come Colo­nial Sec­re­tary of Fiji and from 1909-14 was Gov­er­nor of Queens­land where he was in­flu­en­tial in es­tab­lish­ing the Univer­sity of Queens­land. The up­mar­ket sub­urb of McGre­gor be­side Gar­den City, a ma­jor re­gional cen­tre at south­ern Bris­bane, is named af­ter him.

Dr Wil­liam McGre­gor, the Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer, took con­trol of the measles epi­demic in 1875 and set up quar­an­tine ar­range­ments for the first gir­mit ship Leonidas which ar­rived at Le­vuka in 1879 with many cases of cholera. Dur­ing the tragic wreck of the gir­mit ship Syria in 1884 on Nase­lai reef he headed a ma­jor res­cue ef­fort and saved many gir­mi­tiya lives at the ship­wreck.

Mor­peth, NSW, served as a teacher be­fore join­ing the Bri­tish Methodist Mis­sion­ary So­ci­ety as a mis­sion sis­ter in In­dia where she learnt Hindi. In 1897 the Aus­tralian Methodist Mis­sion sent her to Fiji where she was im­me­di­ately struck by the so­cial fall­out from the Gir­mit. She in­flu­enced the Church to build an or­phan­age for chil­dren of the girmitiyas at Davuilevu in 1904. As the Gov­ern­ment had no pro­grams for ed­u­ca­tion of the chil­dren of the gir­mit she es­tab­lished the first school for In­dian chil­dren in Suva on her ve­ran­dah. She taught Hindi and English to 40 chil­dren and also held night classes for adult ex-girmitiyas. The Methodist Church erected two bure school build­ings at Davuilevu near Nau­sori, and a wooden church in 1901 at the site of the present Dud­ley High School in Suva. Trav­el­ling into the Rewa Val­ley heart­land she wit­nessed the real plight of the In­dian indentured women work­ing in the CSR plan­ta­tions. Women had to be in the field be­fore sun­rise to com­plete their daily task set at im­pos­si­bly high lev­els. There was harsh, sadis­tic phys­i­cal pun­ish­ment and with­hold­ing of pay for non­com­ple­tion of tasks in time. The pay for work was less than the daily rate stip­u­lated in the Agree­ment. They lived in the labour lines where each room was oc­cu­pied by three per­sons lead­ing to over­crowd­ing, and there was no fur­ni­ture or pri­vacy. Rent for the ac­com­mo­da­tion was de­ducted from the weekly wage. Han­nah Dud­ley came to fully ap­pre­ci­ate the level of ex­ploita­tion of fel­low hu­man be­ings, which was a shock to her Chris­tian be­liefs. She wrote ar­ti­cles in the lo­cal pa­per and sent letters to Lon­don where they were widely pub­lished in church bul­letins. This in­for­ma­tion mo­bilised pub­lic opin­ion in Eng­land against the in­den­ture sys­tem and sup­ple­mented the in­for­ma­tion as­sem­bled by the Gov­ern­ment of Bri­tish In­dia which ter­mi­nated the In­den­ture sys­tem in 1916.

The traders from Syd­ney and Queens­land

The ma­jor sugar mill towns of Nau­sori, Labasa, Ba and Lau­toka were com­menced by the traders from Syd­ney and Queens­land. Close to each of the sugar mills the nu­cleus of a fu­ture ur­ban cen­tre took shape with the es­tab­lish­ment of the Aus­tralian com­mer­cial houses of the Bank of New South Wales (now West­pac) and ei­ther one or both of Mor­ris Hed­strom Ltd and Burns Philp South Seas Co Ltd. They were fol­lowed by a string of ho­tels, owned by North­ern Ho­tels Ltd, an­other Aus­tralian con­cern. Mor­ris Hed­strom Ltd, es­tab­lished as a trad­ing shop in Le­vuka by Percy Mor­ris and May­nard Hed­strom in 1878, opened a branch in Suva af­ter 1882 and set up near each CSR Com­pany mill. In the1920s it merged with other ma­jor im­porters Henry Marks & Co and Walter Horne. It also set up in non-mill towns of Tavua, Nadi and Si­ga­toka. James Burns and Robert Philips were en­ter­pris­ing store­keep­ers in Townsville and Cairns that sup­plied gold min­ing camps in North Queens­land. James Burns came to Fiji to man­age the op­er­a­tions of the Aus­tralian Steam Nav­i­ga­tion Com­pany (AUSN) and bought out the Le­vuka store­keeper and ship owner Rob­bie Kadd & Co. The com­pany Burns Philip & Co (South Seas) Pty Ltd was reg­is­tered in Fiji in 1920 and be­came ac­tive in im­port­ing, whole­sal­ing and re­tail­ing, plan­ta­tions, ship­ping, mo­tor car sup­plies, in­sur­ance, man­u­fac­tur­ing and in­dus­try and later into ho­tels and tourism. Wil­liam Ran­dolph Car­pen­ter founded W.R. Car­pen­ter & Co Ltd in Syd­ney in 1914 and moved to Fiji to man­age Rob­bie Kaad and Co Ltd. He ac­quired a con­trol­ling in­ter­est in Brown and Joske Ltd in Suva in 1936 and bought out Mor­ris Hed­strom Ltd in 1956. Car­pen­ters di­ver­si­fied and with par­tic­i­pa­tion by Aus­tralian com­mer­cial con­cerns, cre­ated a cen­tral role in the non-sugar re­lated eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of Fiji. Its achieve­ments in­clude trad­ing sta­tions, a co­conut oil mill, light man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­tries, brew­ing, ship­ping ser­vices, car sales and in­sur­ance. Many items of build­ing ma­te­ri­als used for Fiji’s de­vel­op­ment were ei­ther im­ported from Aus­tralia or pro­duced in Fiji by sub­sidiaries of Car­pen­ters and BP.

Gold­miner from Queens­land

A Queens­lan­der named Ted Theodore brought Aus­tralian cap­i­tal and min­ing ex­per­tise in 1934 to es­tab­lish the Emperor Gold Mines at Vatuk­oula and a wharf at Va­tia, some 18 kilo­me­tres away. Theodore had been a prom­i­nent min­ing en­tre­pre­neur in North Queens­land where a town has been named af­ter him. He was Premier of Queens­land (1919-1925), a mem­ber of the Fed­eral House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives (1927-31) and Fed­eral Trea­surer (192930) un­der Prime Min­is­ter James Scullin. Af­ter po­lit­i­cal changes he went into busi­ness and with James Packer and ven­tured into gold min­ing in Fiji. ANU The Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity (ANU) in Can­berra es­tab­lished the Re­search School of Asian and Pa­cific Stud­ies in 1946. Among the ANU re­searchers on gir­mit re­lated sub­jects are Adrian Mayer, Ken Gil­lion, Michael Moy­nagh, Ahmed Ali and Brij Lal. Re­searchers on other sub­jects re­lated to Fiji’s de­vel­op­ment in­clude Gerard Ward and Jim Whitelaw. Ma­jor ad­vi­sory re­ports to the Fiji Gov­ern­ment were pre­pared by Pro­fes­sor Spate in 1959 and Dr. Fisk in 1970 on Fiji’s na­tional de­vel­op­ment but, like the Burns Com­mis­sion en­quiry of 1959, most of the rec­om­men­da­tions that re­quired think­ing out­side the box, were left alone, lead­ing to the up­heavals of 1987 to 2006.

A crowd at the 2015 Gir­mit cel­e­bra­tion.

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