The indentured archipelago: experiences of Indian indentured labour in Mauritius and Fiji, 1871-1916

Durgahee, Reshaad (2017) The indentured archipelago: experiences of Indian indentured labour in Mauritius and Fiji, 1871-1916. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Between 1829 and 1917, over 1.3 million men, women and children travelled from India to the sugar colonies of the British, French, Dutch and Danish empires as indentured labourers. They worked on sugar plantations deprived of labour following the abolition of slavery. I propose that two conceptual innovations can help us understand the historical geographies of indenture and of imperialism more broadly. The first is that the indenture system created an indentured archipelago encompassing colonies not geographically located together but which had a shared experienced of indenture. This thesis focuses on two colonies of the indentured archipelago between 1871 and 1916, Mauritius and Fiji. Mauritius was the first British colony to begin recruiting Indian indentured labourers (over 450,000) and Fiji the last (over 60,000). The second conceptual innovation is that of subaltern careering, which examines the hitherto unexplored re-migration amongst Indian indentured labourers between sugar colonies and the wider colonial world. This phenomenon challenges the spatiality of empire and brings to the fore questions of subaltern agency. Analysing the lived spaces of Indian indentured labourers in Mauritius and Fiji and their movements within the indentured archipelago, avoids the colonial compartmentalisation of the Indian indenture experience that has characterised scholarship to date. In doing so, this thesis radically alters the accepted geography of the Indian indenture system.

The thesis considers a period that begins with the appointment of Arthur Hamilton-Gordon as Governor of Mauritius in 1871 and concludes with the end of indentured transportation to Fiji in 1916. Gordon’s transfer from Mauritius to become Governor of Fiji in 1875 connected the two colonies. In Fiji he initiated the use of Indian indentured labour to support the colony’s burgeoning sugar industry. He oversaw the start of an era of connection between Mauritius and Fiji as colonial officials, ordinances, ideas and practices and indentured labourers themselves travelled between the two. In focusing on two colonies, the thesis enables a broader understanding of the varied experiences of indenture. The thesis re-orders the way in which historical geography has engaged with movements through empire by focusing on trans-oceanic subaltern mobility. The archipelagic framework used, inverts the notion of core-periphery and places Mauritius and Fiji, seemingly peripheral parts of empire, firmly at the core of the late 19th and early 20th century Indo-Pacific.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Legg, Stephen
Heffernan, Mike
Keywords: Historical Geography; Indenture; Mauritius; Fiji
Subjects: D History - General and Old World > DT Africa
D History - General and Old World > DU Oceania (South Seas)
H Social sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Geography
Item ID: 44058
Depositing User: Durgahee, Reshaad
Date Deposited: 14 Dec 2017 04:40
Last Modified: 07 May 2020 14:30

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