Thomas Prestwood Lucas.

Cries from Fiji and sighings from the South Seas. Crush out the British slave trade. Being a review of the social, political, and religious relations of the Fijians online

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Online LibraryThomas Prestwood LucasCries from Fiji and sighings from the South Seas. Crush out the British slave trade. Being a review of the social, political, and religious relations of the Fijians → online text (page 5 of 9)
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napping, obtained people napping, obtain men from

tVom inland tribes, inland tribes. The whites

also buy and otherwise en-
tice unsuspecting victims
by promises and bribes.

2. These were sold as slaves. 2. These are sold to the labour

vessels. If they refuse to
go on board, the coast
people club and eat them.

3. They were overcrowded in 3. By regulation, only a certain

vessels with inferior accom- number are allowed on

modation. each vessel.



4. The}' had to be chained or
otherwise watched and
guarded on the voyage.

5. Many died on the voyage.

G. They were knocked down to
the highest bidder, to do
work on plantations, or for
domestic use.

7. Many died at an early pe-

riod, on the plantations,
from grief, work, hardshijjs,
and resulting diseases.

8. Families were torn asunder ;

but. if it suited the master,
family life was encouraged,
and children brought up
on the estate.

9. As far as p'ractieal)le, it was

to tlie interest of the slave-
owner tu feed his slaves
and to treat them well —
the more healthy the slaves,
the more tlie amount of
W(jrk to be got out of

■i. The boys, as they are called,
have to be watched ; so
many allowed on deck
at a time ; the hatches
guarded at night by men
with revolvers, and other
preeautionarj' measures

5. A higli percentage, consider-

ing the time and numbers
shipped, die on the voy-

6. They used to be handed over

to ready-money buyers :
i)ut now Government ap-
points them, securing a
year's wages, nominally
so called, beforehand.

7. Many die soon after arrival

(jii the plantations. Often-
times, and especially in
Queensland, the nnn'tality
is frightfully high.

8. Family life is not encou-

raged. The boys are
shipped alone, very few
women and no children ac-
companying the men.
!). It is the policy for the
planter to feed and treat
the labour boys well.



10. If the slaves quarrelled and
fought, the master or over-
seer took the authorative,
and chastised the culprits.

11. The slaves were free to

rove over the estate ; but
were not permitted to leave
it, excepting on plantation
business and with proper

12. The service demanded from
them was manual or do-

13. The black slave was looked
down upon by the whites
as an inferior being, and
was often snubbed and
treated discourteously.

14. Oftentimes, in the capture
of slaves, blood was shed.

1.5. Oftentimes the vessels were

10. If the boys are refractory

or if they quarrel, there is
redress to be had by law ;
but oftentimes it becomes
almost imperative to use
timely physical force, and
otherwise to punish the

11. The labour boys are free;
but are practically pri-
soners in the island to
which they are shipped.

12. The services demanded are
manual and domestic.

13. The labour boy is looked
down upon. He is not
respected, and is too often
snubbed, and ordered about
with oaths and threats.

11. Often, in the obtaining of

boys, blood is shed.
15. Oftentimes the vessels have

been, and even are now,


To review tlie above —

1 & 2. Tlie recognized rule anioiiy the Lihour vessels;
is, so to speak, to pay a bounty, anil practically to
bribe or to beguile tlic unsuspecting natives into selling
their own liberty.

If they de not sell themselves, tlie chiefs are tempted


by the offer of muskets, tobacco, &c., to press young men
into tlie ser\'ice.

But with labour vessels visiting the islands, the coast
tribes soon find it to their interest to obtain slaves or
prisoners of war and to give them in exchange for the

The South Sea Islanders are in mental capacities and
development only on a par Avith the Fijian, and with the
English schoolboy. They look but to the hour. The
possession of a musket and a knife, and the promises of vast
gifts in the future, and too often of a Paradise of fabricated
luxuries lure them on their doom. People speak of this as a
bona fide engagement ! What ludicrous nonsense ! The
savage, free from labour and toil, suddenly becomes Avise
and loving, and offers for a paltry ^Jittance to carry his life
in his hands ; to work hard in the interests of the white
iman ; and to resign his liberty for a period ! Wonderful
phenomenon!. And so anxious is he, that he is ready to leave
his home and friends for a period of years, and to trust to
strangers for means of return. And if they cannot brace them-
selves up to the ordeal, the tribe, valueingtlie opportunities
given, bring chieftain and tribal influences to bear, and so
compel the young men thus to raise and improve themselves.
How discerning, these savage islanders ! Just as the
simple English country girl in London, in the liands of a
sharper, appreciates her position and tlie advantages to be
obtained, and so knowingly rushes into tlie snares
awaiting her ! The little ones went willingly ! And
so may the savages. But neither have the experience nor
intelligence to judge of tlieir doings. Tliey simply are


enticed by the sweets. But oftener than not, these-
savages, as too often happens to little children, have their
liberty yielded up for them. In one instance, as an
example, I heard of four boys being purchased from a
chief for four rifles. And only last year a vessel was dis-
missed the trade because it was discovered that the pay
was to depend on the numbers obtained.

3. If fortunate enougli to obtain as many, 150 to 200
are packed or stowed away in a schooner of 150 tons.
They are kept in large bunks, several in a bunk, and in
the pitching and tossing of the vessel, fall into rough
usage through falling on, and rolling over each other.
These vessels are often abominably dirty, unhealthy and
unseawortliy, but such before coming into port are
thoroughly cleaned and renovated — the hold is white-
washed, probably fresh paint is utilized, and a thorough
scouring is administered. A clean ship, a good meal,
often a champagne festival awaits the Government official
— and on his passing his word — tlie scheming has suc-
ceeded and the men are ready for moneyed applicants.

4. As must be easily imagined in such a nefarious
traffic, the victims have to be guarded. It is not safe to-
allow many on deck at a time. Men are ready armed to
subdue a rush, if such be attempted, or to prevent escape,,
if any seek to jump overboard and swim ashore. In pro-
perly fitted vessels, on either side of the hatchway is a
large slab of iron and wood, which can be made to fall
down and effectually stop tlie hatchways. Two men with
revolvers need always to be on the alert to insure tlie
safety of the crew. The hatchways also have to be-


specially guarded at night. In fact, how can it be other-
wise ? The \actims probably rendered more irritable by
sea sickness, rolling and ])itching, and goaded by the
defensive precautions of the crew, and after reflection filled
with remorse at leaving liome, friends, and fatherland,
would avail themselves of any opportunity which offered
for revenge or escape. It must not for a moment be sup-
posed that the labour boys are a group of happy, contented
lads, bent on a voyage of discovery and fortune-seeking.
Such ambition does not trouble the patriarchal-governed
savage. The majority of the boys are sold by others, or
are nefariously entrapped, bribed by a present bounty, and
lured by promise of future rewards. And most of them, when
on board, would most gladly flee to their own native shores.
And hence, as it is to the invested interests of the labour
hunters to retain them, there are two opposing interests.
Moral suasion would be comparatively feeble under such
circumstances. Might must maintain its rights, be those
rights ever so unjust. Where so many boys are shipped,
and from so many different villages, old feuds and fresh
quarrels often lead to squabbles and bloodshed ; and cases
have come to light where tl:e crew have had to use fire-
arms to enforce order and to secure the public safety. In
fact, looked at in all its bearings, it would not be either
safe or expedient for tlie labour crew to carry so many, slaves,
and savages, unguarded. And it has been asserted,
and no doubt is correct, that in many instances the most
refractory have had to be thrown into irons, and often, as
a precaution, on nearing their own islands. (Not much like
a free and optional service !)


One young man, wlio was in the traffic for five years,
told me for a positive fact, tliat the boys are kept almost,
or entirely, naked during the voyage ; but on coming near
the port of purchase, they are clothed, receiving a pair of
trousers, a shirt, and a hat. They are generally fed well
on yams, taro, and cocoa-nuts, with every other day an
allowance of salt beef. Only dm'ing July of this year, a
labour vessel was seized by a British man-of-war, when a
number of the boys jumped overboard and swam for the
shore. What was it that prevented their doing so before,
unless the application of force ?

5-7. Many die. The Fiji Government report of this year
says : " The number of Polynesian immigrants introduced
from the first day of January, 1878, to the last day of
December, 1881, into the colony is 7,137. There died out
of this number, during the above period, 1,270 souls, who
had been passed by the medical inspector as fit for inden-
ture. The death-rate on shipboard in 1878 was set down
at 9-3 per centum : and this, most probably, was under
the mark ; so given for purposes of policy on the part of
interested parties. In 1879 the rate was again high, ten
dying in one ship while at sea, and 56 in the hospital after
landing. The rate was somewhat lower in 1882 and 1883.
In Suva hospital, containing 26 beds, the death-rate in
1882 was 235-53 per mille. Out of an estimate of 5,979
men, 603 deaths occurred, or 108*06 per mille. In five
plantations, employing 554 men, 264 died. And further
statistics show that where few men are allotted, the death-
rate is considerably lower than on the large estates ; thus
proving that on these large estates many are lost who, if


they had liad tlio care and attention n'iven to the few, by
small planters and others, would have recovered. On the
Colonial Sugar Company's three Rewa plantations,
employing some 471, some 240, or over r)0 per cent., died.
And it is for to develop this sugar industry that Polyne-
sian labour has been imported. The boys from some
districts, notably New Britain and other parts, die off in
very large numbers. The percentage is largely dependent
on the native habitat of the boys, on the character of such
habitat, on the former manner of life, on the varieties of
food used, on the habits generally, on the climatic influ-
ences, on the moral sensibilities. It is also influenced by
the character and hardships of the work imposed, by the
treatment of overseers and others, and by the chai'acter
and influence of individuals with whom the labourers come
to be associated.

One gentleman, partner in one of the large companies,
assured nie that he could not account for the heavy death-
rate. Referring to the comparing the labour traffic to the
slave-trade, he quoted as instance of what might be mag-
nified into brutality, the treatment of the sick. Many of
the attacked, under fits of desperation, or during the deli-
rium of fever, become very violent, and have to be bound
by force. Such, he remarked, might be construed into
slave-trade oppression, whereas it is for the poor fellows'
own good, and for the safety of all t!ie plantation hands.

Another gentleman, and one disinterested in the traffic,
explained as one reason of a high death rate in some plan-
tations, the failure of the overseer to discriminate between
illness and sulkiness. And hence, too often the sick boys


are kept at work, or out in the field too lono-. And thus,
when really admitted for medical treatment, tlie case is
hopelessly incurable. Another reason is probably the
fear of the Government to allow fires at night. The
Fijians are most sensitive to the cold, and very often sleep
with their backs to a big fire. Natives from islands nearer
the Equator must feel the lowered temperature of the
niglits, and doubtless not being allowed to keep fires
through the night, and not being clothed, get cliills, and
thus lay the foundation of various diseases.

Change of food, eating unripe fruit, and probably the free
drinking of water when hot, are causes which induce dysen-
tery, a disease too often fatal. But again, the medical aid
is sadly defective and inadequate. Ten medical men are
provided by Government for all the Fijis. Tliese are
mostly young men of little experience, and who have a
small salary for a heavy amount of work. There is no
keen competition for success and fame. It does not pay
to give each case the most careful daily attention. And
further, the villages and plantations are too distant from
each other to admit of jiroj^er attention. While I was in
Fiji, the hooping cough was very prevalent. At one large
township, the doctor arrived after a few day's notification. A
mixture was ordered, but tlie Fijians had no faith in the
doctor or the physic. He was too distant in manner, and
had failed too often in practice to secure their respect or
trust. Hence they had recourse to their own remedies, but
being a new disease, it baffled them, and the children died
by scores. One day I heard a most strange noise in the
middle of the river, and on looking, perceived that it was



made by children, who came up to tlie surface (they were
diving and swimming) to cough. The doctor's visit over,
.and liis duty performed, he left for a township further on.
And this besides his regular plantation work. And so the
■ comparatively unattended children died by hundreds. It
may be urged, as arguments of the gentlemen before
alluded to prove, that the labour boys have to suffer through
force of circumstances. But where is the right to make
them suffer these things. What is tlie reason — the in-
ducement — the first cause which brings about all these
circumstances which lead to all tliis suffering. Far better
answered one gentleman, "to be in a civilized country than
killing and eating each other." So argued the old slave
liolders and traffickers. '' Far better to be in Ch'-istian
homesteads than in heathen darkness." But is the remedy
any better than the disease ? And what power or
authority does the white man claim for applying the
remedy ! Is it not simply a matter of amassing wealth,
through these poor savages, by caprice, force and cunning!
How far would one of these professed humanitarians move
in the matter if it were not for personal profit ? Who are
•these savages, and of what use in the world, lazy dogs and
<;umberers of the ground ?

Dogs they are — clogs, and Tiothing more 1

No soul to love, no spirit to adore .'

But fit for slaves, as slaves they were at first ;

No mind to ken, though kickea, and cuffed, and cursed /

Depravity ! Well may the angels weep.

And sons of men in dust and ashes keep :

While He, who counts the sparrows as they fall,

In vengeance waits to hear each feeble call.


8. Ill tlio old slave trade, one redeeming feature, and
whieli n\illy led to the eventual elevation and improvement
of the iiegTO race, was the permitted, and, to a degree,
protected, family life. But in Polynesian labour traffic,,
family life is destroyed. During one period of immigra-
tion, as calculated, 1 S women were imported to between
five and six thousand men ; and the full average propor-
tion Avas a little over 9 per cent., as women to men. This,
of course, is damaging to the races, and damaging to the
niorals. And thus, under this heading, the old slave trade
was really less baneful than the labour traffic. It may be
urged, in palliation, that the men chosen are mostly
young, and that at the end of three years, they are free to
return. But they are often induced to repeat the term of
service, and so to pass the flower of their existence away
from their kindred, and alone.

9. 1^0 doubt, many stay a second term of service
because they are well fed and fairly well treated. Many
also fear the return voyage, and their reception in their
native land. If landed away from their own villages, they
are often killed and eaten, and as they are not always
adepts at remembering the way by sea to their own parts,
or as it may not suit captains to lengthen the voyage, this
sometimes happens, and it is certainly not inviting to be
returned to a stranger village as provender. Again, doubt-
less, many remain because they do not like the warlike life
they have to lead at home, and because, on the whole, they
really prefer life as labour boys. At one house, where-
I was staying, was a boy of this class. He was naturally
thoufi-htful. He was a native of the Solomon Islands. He


was a usoFul and quiet servant, rarely needing to be told a'
second time. One day he was sent with me to assist in.
collecting. As soon as I had succeeded in showing what
and how to collect, he displayed great acumen and dili-
gence, and found a large number and variety of specimens.
He could not stand chaff — the Fijians and other Poly-
nesians, chaffed him as they passed, I presume on his
position as labour boy. He showed great agitation at
times, and, at last, put down his load and gave chase to
three or four Fijian youths who had impudently saluted him.
On I the next Sunday, he was one of fifteen Solomon
Islanders who had a hand to hand fight, the cause
of the quarrel being over a woman. The police stepped
in, and gave this poor fellow two months' imprison-
ment. Speaking some time before about a native
meke or dance, he stated his views ; that such was folly
and waste of time ; that it needed long practice to prepare^
and did no good when given. And this man a heathen,
and, before captured by the labour vessel, a great warrior.
And to avoid the troubles of warfare, and the follies or
waste of time, as he styled it, over other heathen customs,
he re-engaged for a second term of service. His mate and
special friend, who had also engaged for a second period,
was even more quiet and docile, not having such a hasty
temper. Both of these boys only needed the elevating
influences of the gospel of Christianity to make them
thorouglily good, useful members of society, and to civili-
zation. But although, on the whole, labour boys are well-
treated, the term must be qualified. A farmer treats his
horses, and cattle, and dogs well if he feed them well, leave nO'


scars on the liide, and do not work them to deatli. But many
may be the blows dealt to the horse — many tlie kicks
applied to the doy. Tet, on the whole, they are treated
Avell. And so the Polynesians and Fijians may, in like
manner, and doubtless are, on the whole, well treated.

According to the Argus issue of July 5th, 1884, the
Agent- General of Fiji says : — " Assaults on the persons
of Polynesians are very numerous, and should be firmly
•discountenanced, especially in cases of new immigrants,
with whom apparent idleness or stupidity may frequently
be the result of weakness or disease. I have little doubt,
from my experience of Polynesians, that death, in
the case of more than one immigi'ant, has been greatly
accelerated by assaults ; though it would be most difficult
to produce sufficient evidence to secure a conviction for
manslaughter, the effects j^roduced being exliibited rather
in the form of mental despondency than actual bodily
injury." Thei-e is law^ for tlie Polynesian ; yet, since there is
so much formality as too often to deter a white man from
having resort thereto, how is it any wonder that the diffi-
culties deter savages, and especially savages who do not
comprehend or understand its meaning or provisions. But
with this drawback, in 1882 forty-eight complaints were
lodged against employers, resulting in 38 convictions. And
these, by savages against nominal Christians and civilized
men ! As stated before, one of my first sights in Fiji, onland-
ing was to see a Government official kick a Fijian. The
official had on light, 'soft boots, and so left no mark for tlie
law to lay hold of him. But tliere is a form of insult
which the Polynesian feels more severely than physical


torture, and tliat is cold and indifferent treatment, satire,
and calumny. And here the law, speaking generally,
cannot interfere. A master may treat his labom* boy as a
dog, and treat him well physically, but yet treat him badly
in a moral sense. And speaking generally, the master does
not seek to elevate his men, either by bringing them under
the influences of Christianity, elementary education, or
otherwise. All he wants is the largest amount of manual
labour out of them ; and, too often, he not only sets an
example of selfishness, but also of gross immorality.

10. Often, on board ship, the boys of tribes at vari-
ance, or even boys of the same tribe or township quarrel ;
■and at times force has to be used to quell the disturb-
ance. And, on the plantations, disputes must naturally
frequently arise. The quarrelling parties oftentimes fall back
on their old tactics, and threaten to use knives or other
instruments to hand. One overseer told me he had had to
put down such disturbances by force, and by threatening
firearms. One man he had to cow by felling him to the
ground. In 1882 the masters brought forward 97 com-
plaints against Polynesians, and the convictions were 57.
But a single thought will show" to the reflective mind the
little likelihood, excepting in severe cases, of the masters
troubling to appeal to tlie law. A cuff or gentle kick is
often practically the more efficacious, and how can the
offender appeal against this when he himself was tlie
aggressor. Thus, there is a vast amount of the inner life
of this sad traffic which is hid len from the world.

11. Not only are the lal)our buys detained, and kept
practically prisoners until the expiration of their term of


service, but tliey are under continuous Government super-
vision ; and, at -the expiration of their term, are not free
to live as tliey like. They must be subjected to a vast
amount of red-tapeisni — again agree to a further term of
indenture, or be shi])})ed back to their islands. And even
the Fijians, wlio, as Britisli subjects, are by national tradi-
tion and rights free, cannot leave the islands of their own
free will and accord. If they want to leave, they must get
a European, with property, to be bound for tlieni in the
sum of £50 or £l()(i for a period of six or twelve months,
when, if they wisli a prolonged term, tliey must return to
Fiji and go through the same official overhauling as
before. Now, we can understand the fear of Government
lest ill-principled men should take these simple-minded
away people for selfish motives only. And we could under-
stand a wise Government seeing it a duty to stop any
such emigration, if [or tlie purpose of slavery or rapine.
But when a family who has treated a native well is will-
ing, by the desire of tliat native, to take him as a servant
to Sydney or other Australian colonies, why make him
and treat him as a slave. In Sydney, and in Australia
generally, there is the protection of the law, and more
righteously than in Fiji. What, then, is there to fear in
allowing the native, of his own accord, visiting distant

12. The services demanded of the labour boys are-
manual and domestic. Field labour is scarce — domestic
servants cannot be obtained ; and, if at all, at a high
figure. And so these poor savages, so called, are required


rand pressed into service by tlie more powerful and knowing

13. Many planters, and others employing native labor,
will openly avow that these men are no higher than dogs ;
and, as before stated, believing, or feigning to believe
such, they treat tliem discourteously, and often badly.
" See," say these men, "there is no gratitude in the black-
fellow. He is a liar, thief, hypocrite, cheat, and villain."
And, if true, then thankful, truthful, honest, straightfor-
ward, and respectable civilized white man could not resjiect
such. But are these sweeping declamations true ? And
is civilized man thankful, truthful, straiglitforward, and

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Online LibraryThomas Prestwood LucasCries from Fiji and sighings from the South Seas. Crush out the British slave trade. Being a review of the social, political, and religious relations of the Fijians → online text (page 5 of 9)