Cooly (Hindostanee Kuli Day Laborer), a term applied by Europeans to laborers in the East Indies, China, and Japan. It has become familiar chiefly in a restricted sense, denoting those eastern laborers imported for work upon tropical plantations, either under contract for a term of years, as in the case of the British colonies, or by force and fraud, as in the case of Cuba and Peru. The term is not commonly applied to the free Chinese immigrants into the United States, Australia, etc. Coolies, in the restricted- sense of the term, may be divided into two classes, viz.: those from India, and those from China. - The first attempt at the employment of Indian coolies appears to have been made in British Guiana about the time of the full emancipation of the slaves in 1838. A ship load of coolies was brought over in that year from Calcutta by private enterprise, but the experiment was not successful. The immigrants suffered greatly from diseases incident to change of life and climate, particularly from the bites of the chigo and other insects, which from neglect produced ulcers affecting life and limb. The mortality became so great as to lead to public investigation of their case, which caused great excitement in England, and the British Indian government interfered to stop the emigration of coolies.
The urgent solicitations, however, of the planters of British Guiana, Trinidad, and Mauritius obtained an order in council, Jan. 15, 1842, by which the emigration of Hindoos was allowed under certain strict regulations, including the appointment of emigration agents in India and the colonies, whose duty it was to look after the welfare and rights of the coolies. The vessels that transported them were also placed under strict control as to number of passengers, provisions, etc. The passage money was advanced by way of bounty from the colonial treasury, which sometimes obtained reimbursement from the planters. This branch of cooly emigration, occurring wholly within the British dominions, is under the restraint of law both at the point of embarkation and of landing. In speaking of the regulations and working of the system in the colonies, we refer particularly to Guiana, which may be taken as representing them all. In India the emigration is now governed by the Indian acts of 1864 and 1869, which provide for a resident colonial emigration agent, by whom the recruiting agents who visit the country districts are appointed. These recruiting agents are licensed by the protector of emigrants at Calcutta, who is appointed by the government.
Each agent takes the recruits he has enlisted before the resident magistrate of the district to which he is assigned, for registration; copies of the register, stating age, sex, caste, former occupation, and the rate of wages in the colony, are given to the emigrant, and duplicates are sent to the colonial emigration agent. After registration the recruits are forwarded to the depot at Calcutta, where they are examined by the colonial agent and by surgeons, to ascertain their physical fitness. A surgeon accompanies each cooly ship, who makes return of the deaths and sickness on the passage. These regulations, while they have done much to prevent injustice and imposition upon the ignorant emigrants, are said to be frequently evaded by the recruiting agents, who misrepresent the rate of wages in the colony, the duties that will be required of the coolies, and the laws to which they will be amenable. Before embarkation the emigrants enter into a contract with the colonial agent to serve 7 1/2 hours a day for a period of five years as agricultural laborers on any estate to which they may be assigned by the governor of the colony, in return for which they are to receive a house, garden ground, and medical attendance free of expense, and the same rate of wages as may from time to time be paid to unindentured laborers on the same plantations.
After ten years' service they are entitled to a return passage. In the colony the coolies are under the control of the immigration department, which exercises a general supervisory and protective power over them during their term of service, and with respect to their indentures are governed by the consolidated immigration ordinance of 1864, as amended in 1868. Upon their arrival the immigration agent general and the health officer of the port are required carefully to inspect them, and to separate such as are not capable of agricultural labor from those who are. They are then allotted to estates by the agent general, under direction of the governor, according to the numbers applied for by the proprietors, the agent being enjoined by law not to remove children under 15 from their parents, nor to separate relatives. The coolies are then indentured for a period of five years to the proprietors to whom they have been allotted. At the expiration of this period they are in general at liberty to engage for themselves as independent laborers; but the policy of the law favors a reindenture, under the supervision of the emigrant agent general, which must be for another term of five years.
For reinden-turing the cooly receives a bounty of $50. The local law of Trinidad, however, permits reindenturing only from year to year. The minimum of labor required of an able-bodied cooly by the immigration ordinance is five days' work or five tasks a week, seven hours a day if employed at out-of-door work, and ten hours a day if in buildings. For failure to perform the duties imposed upon him, and for various petty misdemeanors, he may be fined not exceeding $24, or imprisoned with hard labor not over one month. He is liable to summary arrest if found without a pass more than two miles from the plantation on which he is employed, and when his indenture has expired he must be able to produce a "certificate of industrial service," importing the completion of his term, signed by the immigration agent; otherwise, though nominally free, he is liable to arrest and detention until identified. The remedies provided for the cooly against his employers seem to be inadequate, while the practical working of the law is still more unequal, since the immigrants possess no political power, which is in the hands of a few, who are identified with the planting interest and control the magistrates.
A principal difficulty which the cooly system has labored under is the inferior quality of the immigrants in many instances. In the eagerness of the planters to obtain coolies when the business commenced, they suffered themselves to be imposed upon by the parties employed in the collection of emigrants, who occasionally sent them the refuse of the cities instead of persons accustomed to agricultural labor. The former class turned beggars and vagabonds, and caused much annoyance and trouble. The small proportion of women among them, and the bad character in general of those imported, have led to immorality among the immigrants, while the sentiment of caste preventing them from intermarrying with the blacks, and the policy of the law fostering reindentures, have tended to keep them a distinct class in the community. A term of service in the colony, however, has been found to improve the coolies, who lose the cringing and slavish demeanor which characterizes them in India. In 1870 a commission was sent out from England to Guiana to investigate the system, from which it may be expected that further ameliorations will result. The Hindoos are nearly all employed on the sugar plantations.
They are not so strong as the negroes, who do much of the heavier work, but are averse to continuous labor, nor so quick and intelligent as the Chinese. Their first savings are usually invested in a cow, or in the case of the women in silver ornaments, of which many accumulate a large amount. From the best attainable data, it appears that the average earnings of ordinary laborers (say three fourths of the whole .number) are about 28 cents for each day's work, the coolies generally working four or five days a week. Women earn from 16 to 32 cents a day, but do not work so many days a week as the men. Children from 10 to 15 years of age earn from 8 to 16 cents a day. It is estimated that during 1870 wages amounting to over $2,000,000 were paid to coolies, including Chinese. • The amount of money carried out of the colony by coolies returning to India, up to the end of 1872, is stated at over $800,000. The number of immigrant depositors in the British Guiana savings bank, June 13,1870, was 1,817, and their deposits amounted to $138,425 13. Besides Guiana, the principal localities to which Indian coolies have been taken are the islands of the Mauritius, which from its proximity to India takes the lead in the number imported, Trinidad, and Jamaica. The following table exhibits the number arriving in each colony from 1843 to 1872, the number that returned between those years, and the number remaining at the respective dates, with their sex and condition:
225,607 (Dec. 31, 1868)
46,623 (June, 30, 1869)
16,385 (Sept. 30, 1869)
All British West Indies.........
Those remaining in Mauritius constituted more than two thirds of the whole population; 122,449 were employed on sugar estates. Those remaining in Guiana (nearly one third of the population) and in Trinidad include Chinese. Some coolies have also been taken to the French island of Reunion (formerly Bourbon), which, together with Port Natal, between 1857 and 1866, received 18,363 immigrants from India.- The second branch of cooly emigration, that from China, is mostly of a very different character. The first cargo of Chinese coolies was taken in a Portuguese ship from Macao in 1847 to Peru. They were induced to embark by the representation that they were going to Java. Of the 300 that left the port only 175 were landed, who were immediately placed upon a plantation in the interior. The experiment proving satisfactory to the planters, other cargoes were procured, and soon the Cuban planters also sought the same labor. But those first shipped not having returned at the appointed time, and rumors of the fraud that had been practised upon them having spread among the Chinese, it became impossible to obtain voluntary emigrants, and other means were resorted to.
The traders organized bands for the purpose of kidnapping coolies, and ships called lorchas, equipped as men-of-war and carrying the Portuguese Hag, were sent up the bays and rivers, capturing whole cargoes. Under the influence of cupidity, parents sold their sons, banditti their prisoners, and fugitives from justice bargained themselves away. The traffic carried civil war into the province of Quangtung; rival clans and families took up arms against each other and sold their prisoners to the traders; while the Chinese mandarins and village elders not only connived at these practices, but even for a small fee aided the capture. The example of Macao was soon followed by other ports, and in 1853 Hong Kong, Swatow, Canton, Amoy, Whampoa, Camsingmoon, and smaller places were engaged in the traffic. To the enormity of their capture was added the barbarous treatment of the coolies on the passage and after arrival at the destination. Crowded to excess upon the ships and poorly fed, they died by hundreds on the voyage, while on the plantations they were overtasked, whipped, and practically reduced to slavery. Mutinies both upon the plantations and on shipboard have been frequent, and great numbers have committed suicide.
In 1854, the enormities of the cooly traders coming to the ears of the British government, measures were taken to suppress the traffic at Hong Kong, and soon after British and German vessels were forbidden by their respective governments to engage in the trade. By the regulations at present in force at Hong Kong, which are carefully observed, every emigrant is questioned by the authorities to ascertain if he goes voluntarily. If he chooses to remain, he is permitted to do so upon payment of any advances that may have been made to him and any expenses that may have been incurred in his behalf. A heavy fine is imposed upon persons detaining a cooly against his will, and no one under 25 years of age is allowed to emigrate without the consent of his parents or guardians. The captain of every vessel carrying Chinese passengers is obliged before sailing to make a report of the size of his ship, the accommodations for passengers, the quantity and kind of provisions on board, and the route he intends to pursue; and he is required to carry a surgeon and a supply of medicine.
Ship masters or agents must guarantee to the cooly all his legal privileges in the country to which he is taken, and the owners or agents of the vessel are placed under bonds to deliver the coolies at the port for which they are shipped. A register is kept of the name and occupation of every emigrant. The measures taken by the principal European powers, however, did not suppress the cooly trade, but merely restricted it to certain ports, and caused it to disguise itself under the name of the "contract system." These contracts bound the cooly to pay a certain sum per month, or to work a certain time, as a consideration for his passage money. But being unable to read the agreement, the coolies were imposed upon, and made to sign a contract for eight or ten years' labor, in cases where the passage money only amounted to $50. In fact the papers were usually signed in blank, and left to be filled out at the whim of the trader. It soon became evident that this system was a mere cover for the barbarities of the traffic before openly perpetrated, and in 1862 an act of congress was passed which confiscated any American vessel engaged in the transportation of Chinese coolies "to any foreign country, port, or place whatever, to be disposed of or sold, or transferred for any term of years, or for any time whatever, as servants or apprentices, or to be held to service or labor;" and citizens of the United States were forbidden, under penalty of fine and imprisonment, to engage in any manner in such transportation.
Previous to 1866 some Chinese coolies were received in the British West Indies, but the convention of that year, in which the Chinese government stipulated that the coolies should be entitled to a back passage at the expiration of five years' service, practically put an end to the emigration to those colonies, since the planters would not accede to the terms. These coolies brought from Hong Kong were protected by the regulations at that port, and in the colony are governed by the same law as the Indian immigrants. The number arriving to the close of 1866 in British Guiana was 12,631; Trinidad, 2,645; all the British West Indies, 16,222. The cooly emigration from Hong Kong from 1861 to 1866 was as follows: To British West Indies, 4,207; Bombay, 2,307; Dutch West Indies, 1,318; Tahiti, 1,035; Honolulu, 789; total, 9,656. The cooly traffic is now, and in its worst form has long been, almost wholly confined to Macao. The ships employed are French, Peruvian, San Salvadorian, Portuguese, and Spanish, and the great markets are Cuba and Peru. In these countries the system seems to have been little if at all ameliorated.
The first attempt to regulate the employment of the coolies in Cuba by law was made in the royal order of March 22, 1854, by which they were permitted to become domiciled in the island after the expiration of their term of service, and to obtain papers of citizenship, by complying with the laws for the time being in force on the subject. The greater number availed themselves of the privilege. A new ordinance, however, was issued July 7, 1860, by which it was made an essential condition and special clause to be inserted in every contract, that at the end of his term the cooly should make a new contract of the same character, placing himself under a master or guardian; otherwise he was obliged to leave the island within two months at his own expense. Detailed instructions for the application of this ordinance were made public Dec. 31, 1868; and on April 27, 1871, a royal decree was issued suspending immigration and authorizing the government to cause all Chinese whose terms of service had expired, and who had not renewed their contract, to leave the island at the public expense. This decree, which appears to have been dictated by the participation of the coolies in the insurrection, was not carried into effect.
A meeting of planters was held at Havana Sept. 16,1871, under the presidency of the political governor, to consider the subject of Chinese immigration, in connection with the order of April 27. The governor, in his report to the administrative council of the province, shows that the ordinance of 1860, the object of which appears to have been to retain in the island a body of acclimated agricultural laborers, has not worked well, because the coolies after their term of service escaped to the mountains, or evaded the law by obtaining surreptitiously the necessary police documents, or contracting with fictitious masters. On the other hand, if the ordinance were strictly enforced, he thinks the Chinese would rather emigrate to the United States than contract for a further term. He considers that the good of Chinese immigration overbalances the evil; that it alone can develop the agricultural resources of the island and repair the waste of the rebellion; and that the coolies should be domiciled on the expiration of their term of service, and should have the right to acquire property under certain restrictions. He advises that, when the state of the island permits, the existing restrictions upon immigration should cease.
These views appear to be much more enlarged and liberal than those generally entertained by the planters. In the latter part of 1872 the violation of the contracts with coolies in Cuba, in preventing them from leaving the island at the expiration of their term of service and compelling them to enter into new indentures, was made by the United States the subject of diplomatic representation to Spain. - Peru in 1856 issued a decree prohibiting the traffic "in the violent and cruel manner hitherto prevalent," and regulating the transportation and employment of coolies; but it has been systematically violated, even if not repealed. A recent proof at once of the ill treatment and mismanagement of the coolies, and of the desperate character of those imported, may be found in the riot that occurred in 1870 on the extensive cotton estates of Galpon and Pati-vilca, about 180 m. N. of Lima, which spread until it embraced 2,000 coolies, and cost the lives of 40 whites and 300 Chinese. In 1869 and 1871 petitions from the coolies in Peru, complaining of the imposition practised to induce them to emigrate, and of the cruelties suffered by them in that country, and asking for the appointment of a Chinese resident at Lima to protect their interests, were forwarded to Prince Kung through the United States ministers at Lima and Peking. The Chinese government in response issued a decree that no merchants of non-treaty powers should be allowed to open an office for hiring laborers, and prohibiting all natives from engaging themselves to such, or going to Macao for that purpose.
An order was also issued suspending all emigration to Peru, and the representatives of foreign nations were requested not to permit their flag to be used in the transportation; the governor of Macao being at the same time directed to put a stop to the emigration from that port. When the news of these measures reached Peru, public attention was attracted, and fears were expressed that the importation of coolies would be entirely cut off. It was finally resolved to send an embassy to China, which sailed in the early part of 1873, for the purpose of negotiating general treaties of amity, commerce, and navigation, but with the special object of regulating a»d establishing the principles on which the immigration of Chinese shall hereafter be conducted, the Peruvian government being willing to extend,to them all the guarantees given in the treaties with other Christian nations. The cooly importation in Peru has recently been monopolized by a company formed to carry on the trade; but in 1870 an association of planters, with a capital of $1,000,000, was organized for the purpose of importing their own laborers, with a view to a reduction of the cost.
There has long been a large company at Havana engaged exclusively in the importation of coolies, and in 1871 an association of rich planters, with a capital of $1,000,000, was formed in that city to import them for use on their own plantations. The present shipments from Macao consist of prisoners taken in the clan fights, of villagers or fishermen kidnapped by the lorchas, and of those who have sold themselves to pay their gambling debts. There are established cooly brokers in the city, who have a depot or private jail in which the coolies are kept until a cargo is obtained, when they are sold to the highest bidder, bringing from $10 to $27 apiece. They are all forced to sign a contract to serve eight years, for $4 a month and two suits of clothes a year; in Cuba these contracts usually bring about $400 each. In Peru coolies are sold for $350 to $450 apiece, and cost $60 to $80 each delivered at Callao. In Cuba they are mostly employed on sugar plantations; in Peru they are taken to the plantations in the interior, and are also employed on the Chincha and other guano islands. In both countries the mortality is great.
In 1870 and 1871 several cases of barbarity on cooly ships occurred, which were made the subject of representation to the governor of Macao by the United States consul at Hong Kong. The only restriction upon the traffic at the former port appears to have been the prohibition of the transportation of coolies in vessels belonging to nations not having treaties with China nor employing cooly labor. A return passage was in 1873 secured to the cooly in the contract of service, and toward the end of that year the traffic was prohibited by proclamation. In May, 1871, Chief Justice Smale, of the supreme court of Hong Kong, in the case of a cooly charged with piracy for having participated in the mutiny on the French ship Nou-velle Penelope, Oct. 4, 1870, in which part of the crew were murdered, declared the cooly traffic, as carried on from Macao, to be the slave trade, and therefore itself piracy, and the rising of coolies to obtain their liberty to be justifiable. - The table given on the following page, compiled from the recent work of Mr. Russell H. Conwell ("Why the Chinese emigrate," etc, Boston, 1871), gives the most complete and accurate statistics attainable of the cooly traffic, from 1847 to 1870. Very few if any of the large number transported have returned to China. In 1869 there were 34,420 coolies in Cuba, and it is estimated that there are about 50,000 in Peru. According to the report of the political governor mentioned above, the number of Chinese arriving in Cuba from June 3, 1847, when the first cargo was received, to Oct. 10, 1871, was 109,029, costing $37,081,280, or $1,545,053 a year.
Since the breaking out of the insurrection the importation has fallen off, only 2,715 coolies having arrived at Havana during 1870-'71, while in 1866 15,517 were shipped to that port from Macao. During the year ending Sept. 30,1871, 9,201 Chinese were imported into Callao, and entered at the custom house at the value of $3,680,400; in 1872 over 13,000 were imported. About 7 per cent. of those embarked die before reaching Callao. According to Peruvian reports, from 1860 to 1872, 192 vessels with 80,354 coolies, were despatched from Macao to Peru, of whom 3,227 perished from shipwreck, and about 5 per cent, from sickness and suicide. In addition to the British West Indies, a few coolies, not included in the table, have been taken to the lesser Philippine islands and some other localities. In 1872 the government of Costa Pica gave permission for the introduction of Chinese coolies into that country, and the first cargo arrived at Punta Arenas Jan. 30, 1873, consisting of 654 coolies, 31 having died on the voyage. (For free Chinese emigration, see China.) - Under this head may be mentioned the employment, within a few years, of South sea islanders as laborers upon cotton and sugar plantations in Queensland, and in the Feejee and Samoa or Navigator's islands, and Tahiti. They are taken chiefly from Savage island, the Gilbert group, Banks islands, and some others.
The procuring and employment of these islanders was early regulated by local law in Queensland. A colonial agent is sent with each ship, and a strict investigation is made upon its arrival. The laborers seem to be well treated, and in general to have been properly obtained; many after the expiration of their term of service have gone home, and returned to work again in the colony. Those employed in the Feejee islands and Tahiti, however, are treated with great cruelty, and are obtained by force and fraud, vessels being fitted out to kidnap the islanders, or purchase the prisoners taken in the tribal wars of the natives. After the establishment of the Feejeean government of 1871, it promised to take measures to regulate the traffic, but these promises appear not to have been fulfilled. The vessels employed in procuring the islanders are mostly British. In the early part of 1872 an act of parliament was passed "for the prevention and punishment of criminal outrages upon natives of the islands in the Pacific ocean," and several cruisers were sent to enforce it.
Early in 1873 three vessels were seized by virtue of this act, while engaged in kidnapping Polynesians.
PORT OF SHIPMENT.
NUMBER OF COOLIES SHIPPED.
Canton and vicinity..............
Peru and other S. Amer. countries
" " " "
" " " "
Canton, Amoy, and Hong Kong..
" " " "
Whampoa and Camsingmoon.......
Total Peru etc......................
Indian archipelago and Australia..
Macao and ports about Canton....
Hong Kong and Whampoa.......