Horrors of the Coolie Trade

Source citation
"Horrors of the Coolie Trade,"  New Orleans (LA) Picayune, May 22, 1857, p. 4.
Newspaper: Publication
The Daily Picayune
Newspaper: Headline
Horrors of the Coolie Trade
Newspaper: Page(s)
Date Certainty
Stephen A. E. Acker
Transcription date
Transcriber's Comments
The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.


The British trade from Hong Kong to Havana for supplying Chinese laborers for Cuban estates is as revolting in its atrocities as the old negro slave trade in the tropics. There are the same lawless practices in kidnapping subjects, and the same brutal treatment on the passage. The trade, although a legal one, is carried on with as much remorseless cruelty, and as total a disregard of human life, as the African traffic, which is piracy under the laws of most nations, and the object of detestation by all. Some particulars of recent cases of enormous wrong have attracted the attention of the British Government, which has made an examination into the details, with a view of laying the matter before
Parliament, in order to obtain some legislation to prevent the recurrence of such dreadful scenes.

Two of the vessels of which the examination was made were the ships Duke of Portland and John Calvin, which made a voyage last season from Hong Kong to Havana. The John Calvin had on board when she started 297 Coolies, but of these only 81 were willing passengers-that is, only that number had engaged to go out on the contracts, which have made the Chinese in Cuba the most wretched of its population. It appears that the agent applied for a clearance for 302, but 221 of them refused to go. She started with 297, of whom 216 were taken away by fraud or force-cheated or kidnapped. Her clearance was for the 81 only-nineteen more than she was legally entitled to carry; and yet, 122 died at sea before she reached Havana. It appears that the ship was so crowded that there was allowed only three superficial feet for each passenger on the upper deck, and eight for each on the lower deck. The consequence of this, in filth, suffering and disease, may be readily imagined.

The Duke of Portland had on board when she started 332 Coolies, of whom 128 died before she reached Havana. Before she started there was an attempt of the Chinese to seize the vessel. The reason assigned by the captain was, that they had not got the money they were promised. They were to have had eight dollars each advanced to them, and they only got one dollar. A greater provocation may be found in the fact which he admits, that “one-third of them had been kidnapped.” Probably the proportion was greater. The British agent at Hong Kong came on board, and instead of relieving these poor creatures, who had been trapped on board and then cheated, gave his help to the crew to drive the Chinese below, and planted cannon so as to command the deck. The captain and crew kept armed watch throughout the voyage, letting only a limited number on deck at a time, for fear they should murder the crew. Sickness got in among them, deaths became frequent, and the despairing wretches, in many instances, sought relief in suicide. One of their methods of killing themselves was by refusing to eat, and the crew were compelled to force food down their throats. Disease and self destruction carried off 128 of them. There are many more shocking details of those voyages, which are but types of a whole class. They revive the descriptions of the horrors of the “middle passage” of the old negro slave trade, to put down which the civilized world has expended so many millions, and offered up so many gallant lives.

The moral sense of the British public has been dreadfully shocked by these developments of the mode in which, under the license of the British Government, the process has been going on of transporting the free labor of the East Indies to the West Indies. Thus far it has only succeeded in transferring the burdens of servitude and the harrowing oppressions of the slave traffic from the blacks to a class of whites, physically feeble, and in every respect unfitted for the climate and the tasks to which they are dragged. The effort will doubtless be strenuously made to make laws to regulate this trade, and provide for their enforcement in a better manner; an attempt which has little chance of success, since the whole traffic rests upon a basis of fraud and cupidity, which no laws can keep within any restrictions of humanity, that are in conflict with calculations of gain. Every honest government should clear itself, as soon as possible, of the guilt of conniving at or countenancing its gross immorality and revolting crimes.

How to Cite This Page: "Horrors of the Coolie Trade," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/1607.