Hello and welcome to this learning webinar about the Indian Emigration Passes to Fiji
as held in the National Library of Australia s collection and freely available online.
The National Library of Australia acknowledges Australia s First Nations Peoples,
the first Australians, as the traditional owners and custodians of this land
and gives respect to the elders past and present
and through them to all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
We also acknowledge the National Archives of Fiji as custodians of the original records
and we thank them for making this collection available to researchers around the world.
Hello, my name is Judith, I m a reference librarian here at the National Library Reader
Services Team. Joining us is my colleague, Jack. Hello everyone, I m Jack and together with Judith
we ll be taking you through this presentation today.
Today we ll be looking specifically at how to find the records for the Indian labourers who travelled
to Fiji in the period 1879 to 1916. We ll start with a brief overview of the indentured labour
system, what it was and its legacy to Fiji. Next we ll take a look at the records themselves,
what records exist, what they describe and where to find them. Last, we ll look at all
important access information, we ll talk you through how to access these records for your
research purposes with some case studies. But let s start with the historical context
for these records. When we started looking at this topic the thing that struck me the most was
that these records don t exist in a vacuum, these records with real names and real faces to history
and it is a history that can be a little bit confronting at times.
For example, later in the session we ll look at the record for Daulat who was a two-and-a-half
year old son of indentured labourers and Daulat is just one name out of 60,965 men,
women and children who travelled from India to Fiji under the indentured labourer system.
So the labourers are often known by the term girmityas
which comes from girmit. It s a borrowing from the English word agreement which was used
to designate the indentured labour system. Once we understand who these records talk
about it links us to an understanding of what they experienced, what their lives looked like
and takes them from a name in the record to a lived reality. For example a paper presented to
the Indian History Congress in 2001 gives this description of living conditions.
The coolies were accommodated in long sheds, partitioned into 10 feet by 7 feet cubicles
within which the system of indentured labour was practised on the old slave states.
Other accounts talk about the brutality of the work, the homesickness for a country and
family left beyond and the difficulty of finding a place in a deeply segregated colonial society.
All of this is crucial information for those researching family history,
colonial history and indentured labour. But we ll start, what actually is indentured labour?
So the short simplified answer is that a reliance of indentured labour can be traced back to the
abolition of slavery in the British Empire, back in the 1830s so the loss of a plentiful supply of
slaves led to a labour shortage on largescale sugar, coffee, tea, cocoa, rice and rubber
plantations. So to counteract this the powers that be tapped into existing indentured labour systems
and indebted labour systems to source workers. India as you can imagine was an extremely
convenient source for cheap labour so workers were recruited under both the indentured and
free labour system but under the indentured labour system workers were contracted to travel to the
plantations and work for a set number of years. In the case of emigration to Fiji the fixed term
was five years, the answer to overseers and estate managers and beyond the less
than luxurious conditions that we ve already mentioned workers could be criminally prosecuted
if they left the estate. They then had to pay their own way back to India after they d worked
their five years so there was a possible free passage after 10 years of industrious service.
There was meant to be a quota of women brought to the plantation
but numbers were usually far below target and we now know that women were particularly oppressed
under the system and faced incredible hardship. But despite those conditions many girmitiyas
stayed in Fiji where they developed a unique culture,
society and they played a vital role in Fijian history. The past was never forgotten however and
you ll find many girmitiyas and families continue to maintain or reconnect with their Indian roots.
So why were these records particularly important, Jack?
So these records are widely acknowledged to be so
important because they re one of the only sources that really document indentured labour in Fiji.
In fact in 2011 the combined records of Indian indentured labourers of Fiji,
Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago were placed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.
The original documents themselves are held in the National Archives of Fiji.
These were created and maintained by the British administration during the colonial period.
They document many elements surrounding the indentured labour system. Later the records
were microfilmed and given to a small number of libraries and archives around the world
to enable people to consult their collection. Family history researchers in particular made
heavy uses of these passes to trace family back to India and in many cases they were able to
reconnect with the original villagers and even family of their indentured ancestors. So in this
way the records are a unique resource that is able to connect people through time and distance.
Are there other relevant records that the Library or any other institution holds?
There are. So the National Archives in the UK hold many relevant records, not just indentured labour
in Fiji but also other colonies. The Fiji Archives also hold other material including the official
government records. Birth, death and marriage records are also held by the Fiji Registry of
Births, Deaths and Marriages. Finally the National Library of Australia also holds some relevant
records from the British administration and these are part of the Australian Joint Copying Project.
The relevant material comes from the Colonial Office series and mainly covers administrative
matters including information about ships and voyages. These are also available online.
You might like to look at our AJCP learning webinar and finding aids if
you are interested in these documents. We should also mention just keep in mind
that when you are looking through these records and searching for this content the language
used is very much of the period so some of it may be offensive from a modern perspective.
Now I know the National Library has long supported researchers using this collection by providing
access in our reading rooms and through our copying, lending and reference services
however recognising the importance of the collection
and particularly its heavy use amongst the Fijian, Indian and other communities
the Library has digitised a complete collection of over 60,000 passes and other related collections
so these are now freely and fully available online from anywhere in the world.
I do remember before they were digitised we had a family of dedicated researchers who came to visit
us from interstate and they were here for must have been almost two weeks from open to close
poring through the thousands of different frames under microfilm, thousands of different passes.
One evening there was a shout of jubilation in the reading rooms when they d managed to discover
the passes they were looking for but having this material online really does simplify
access and makes it much easier for everybody to track down their indentured ancestors.
Yeah, absolutely. Hopefully a few more shouts in living rooms when they discover more records.
Before we show you how to access the digitised records we will quickly run through the different
series and what information they hold. So there are 17 separately listed items in our catalogue
as you can see here but these can be grouped into a smaller number of more important categories
so these are the General Register of Indian Immigrants, 1879 to 1916, Repatriation Registers,
Death Registers, Plantations Registers and finally the emigration passes themselves which are the
most important due to their detail and because the pass number serves as a unique identifier.
Now you did have to explain to me what we meant by unique identifier in this case, Jack.
Well it works like the number on your passport or your driver s licence number.
So like a registration number? Exactly, you ll see it popping up on
other records and even things on marriage and birth certificates. It s almost like
a shorthand way of identifying a person. The first type of record that we mentioned
was the General Register. Could you explain a little bit more about that?
Absolutely. So the General Register, it has two main parts. There s the list of ships
carrying indentured labourers and then there will be the full list of indentured labourers
within each ship. These are ordered by pass number and you ll see that the names are arranged by
male, female, boy, girl and infants. Within these the names are arranged by alphabetical order.
Early records include the name, father s name, age, sex, vessel, date of arrival, name,
cost of passage, employer and remarks. Later records contain
more information. This example from Book 9 includes columns for extension order,
re-indentures, marriage, death, return to India and others. So it s important to note that many
of these columns are incomplete and may not be comprehensive. For example repatriation or a death
may not be included here but there s still a wonderful amount of information in this register.
Great. The next one we mentioned was repatriation registers. Now these come under a variety of names
such as the Alphabetical List of Fiji Born Indians Repatriated to India, 20 December 1924 to 30,
August 1930 or Nominal Roles of Indians Repatriated to India, 1916 to 1947.
For example here is one on pages from the Nominal Roles. It s important to note that these records,
it wasn t just those who were born in India who were repatriated,
descendants of original indentured labourers are also listed
and could have been given passage. So free passage was available once certain conditions had been met
including number of years worked and time spent in Fiji. Travellers mostly returned on the same
ships that were bringing labourers out to Fiji so the information recorded typically includes name,
father s name, pass number, ship of return or ship of arrival and sometimes caste.
There are also several volumes of death registers of indentured Indian
emigrants working on plantations. These are generally organised chronologically but there
are some that are arranged by plantation instead. Details are generally fewer than
those found in other series but typically you can find pass number, the ship name,
the date of indenture, plantation, employer, date of death and the cause of death as well.
Finally we have the plantation registers. Now these are another digitised collection
that can provide essential detail about an indentured ancestor.
Not all the registers have survived unfortunately and some are very incomplete but each plantation
should have an entry with a list of indentured labourers working on the property. Details
supplied are normally the pass number, name, ship of arrival, sex, age, date of indenture, term,
pass number, relations and sometimes details related to repatriation or death. These can be
really useful to trace who your ancestors were working with and other personal connections.
So it sounds like all of these different records do have slightly different information on them
and it looks like there s some overlap but unique things in every one.
So they would be fairly interconnected and that would give us some options on how to
cross-reference them, wouldn t it? Yeah, exactly.
Alright in that case let s move on to the emigration passes themselves.
These are generally the most sought after documents for those researching your family
history. As we mentioned earlier the pass number is an important detail that was used in other
areas. The passes contain the most genealogical information from all the records and were also
more systematically recorded. If possible this is the record you should try to locate. There
are separate passes for men, women, boys, girls, infant boys and infant girls. These are split into
different sections for each ship, the men are recorded first then the women then the children
then the infants. As with the general register it is by alphabetical order within these groups.
Judith, do we have any more information about how these passes
were filled out? Did it happen in India? In Fiji? Well actually a little bit of both so these passes
were filled out before embarkation at one of the immigration depots in India. The depot s surgeon
was responsible for correctly filling out the details. The passes were then given to the Master
of Transport to compare with the ship s lists and this is where they were given a ship s number.
Once the vessel had arrived in Fiji the passes were returned to the labourers and
assigned a pass number from the General Register that we mentioned before.
That sounds like a lot of recordkeeping but are there mistakes in the passes?
Yes so one crucial point here is that the Depot Surgeon was responsible for transcribing personal
and place names so spelling mistakes and errors are common, particularly when you have a language
or cultural disconnect. There is a lack of consistency even within passes on the same ship.
So the information recorded remained almost identical over the years. This is
an example from the first arrival of indentured labourers that were on board Leonidas in 1879.
The pass number is right at the top, number one in this case. Listed below are many other fields,
for example we have a ship s name, the ship s number, the location of the depot,
the date, the depot number, the caste, father s name, age, the zilla which is
a kind of county subdivision, Pergunnah5 which was a smaller division of a zilla, the village,
occupation, name of next of kin, if married, to whom, marks and a range of signatures.
Here is an example of a pass of the Sutlej in 1916 so this was the last group of indentured
labourers to emigrate. Note the fingerprints that appear on the right-hand side of passes from the
later voyages. Some of the terminology has also changed slightly but the recorded information
is very similar. So Jack, it seems like the pass number is the most important
in terms of following the records but are any of the other numbers useful on here?
Absolutely. So some of the other numbers can also be used for tracing family members.
Let s just have a look at the depot numbers in a little bit more detail.
We ll start let s have a look at this pass, 1332. See the section where it has the name of next of
kin? It says mother of 786. As these were filled out in the depot it is important to know that the
786 in this case refers to depot number 786 and not pass number 786. Now the depot numbers can
be difficult to find as they re not in order but in most cases they will be in the same voyage.
We've done some digging beforehand and we ve found some with a depot number 786 and this is with the
pass number 13542. Checking this pass we can see that the relation is confirmed with the text,
son of 785. We can imagine the mother waiting with her son as the forms are filled out one
after the other and this explains the close depot numbers. Sometimes you ll find a whole
section of your family undertaking the same trip with these consecutive depot numbers.
So as you can see there are many types of records but the most important for tracing family
are the emigration passes so these are a rich source of genealogical information and
can provide you a direct link back to a location or family in India.
Now we ve given you the background and overview of the records, we want to show you how to access
them and use them for your research. Using a case study of a family we will show you what
indexes are available through different websites and how to use these to search the passes. Next,
how our research guide lets you browse the passes including demonstrating how to download images and
find permanent links. Then we ll show you how to access some of the other resources we mentioned
earlier before touching on using civil registration records to locate pass numbers.
So as we mentioned, particularly if you are new to this research, one of the best places to start
when researching passes is on our research guide. As well as background information
about the records, the arrangements and how we can help you, you will see some important
links so on the right-hand side you can see the link to girmit.org website and to the National
Archives of Fiji. So the Girmit website provides a searchable index of indentured labourers that was
put together using data from the National Archives of Fiji who also provide the same data as a pdf.
So if I click the link to open up the Girmit page you will see that it is a work in progress and has
not yet been finished so it means that the records indexed only run from A to M however
this is still an extremely important resource and if your ancestor s names
fall into this range it should be your first step. Let s have a look at a common name, Daulat.
So I ve gone into the D section and you can see up the top here there is a search bar.
Now I can start typing to see a full list of results or if you have doubts about the spelling
used as Judith mentioned earlier I can also scroll down until I find the relevant section.
In this case I will use a search and we ll see that there are quite a few results for the same
name. So this means that if your ancestor s name has quite a few results you may need to
search through several different passes to verify that it is the pass that you are looking for.
Let's have a look at Daulat, son of Ramcharan who came out on board The
Sangola so the pass number here is 37082. Okay, let s come back to our research guide
now that we know the pass number. On the left-hand side of the screen you can see some subheadings
and as we now know the pass number we can go straight to Access by Pass
so if you click on that and then scroll down until you find the right range.
So we re looking for 36318 to 37171. Right so click the View Online Link to go into the viewer.
So you can see the pass number noted at the top of that form.
Using the side bar at the top scroll across so we can get closer to the page number that we
re looking for or rather the pass number that we re looking for which is 37082.
Just keep going a little bit further
and once we get close we can just use the arrows to go page by page to the right pass.
So we will get there, 37082 and here we go. Here's the genealogical information
that we can now use to trace the family back to India as well.
I m just going to pause us there for a second cause we did want to talk about how to download an
image of this one. So now that we have the pass, on the left-hand side of the screen you ll see
that there is a download icon. If we click this you ll see there are several different options
and we have different formats, a jpeg and a pdf. Just note that if you do choose the jpeg
it will be a compressed file and you will need to unzip this before you can view the image.
Now the other important thing is that if you click all images here
this will include the passes for everybody that came out on board that ship. If you
re only interested in a single pass, Daulat s pass in this instance, click current and this
means that when you download you will only download this single image for this pass.
But hang on, what if we only want to link back to this record rather than download the whole thing?
Absolutely so you also have the option to use it like if I click on a sight icon now
you ll see that we have the work and image options again. The work once again will be for the whole
shipload and will include all the passes and it will take you to the beginning of that sequence.
If we choose image you ll see that this image identifier will take us directly
to this pass every time and this is a stable permanent link that you can use in your records
that you ll always come back to this record. That's fantastic. So looking at the pass
it s mentioned here that his father is listed as next of kin and that Daulat is only two-and-a-half
years old so could we assume in that case that he came out with a family member?
I think it s a pretty good assumption and it s possibly the father as this is who
has been listed by the Depot Surgeon. Let s return to the research guide and have a
look at how we would search. We ve assumed that the ship and the date are the same
and so we can click through the records until we find possible matches.
But if we wanted to go through more quickly we could always use the General Register
that we talked about earlier so you ll find a link to the General Register in the Other
Further Resources tab. If you follow the link through to the Viewer once we find the resource,
just over there, click through into the Viewer
and when browsing the collection you're looking for the appropriate date range
so we re looking for The Sangola that departed in February 1908 so the date range for that would be
Collection Book 7. Once that loads just up the top here you can see it s listed as arriving in March.
So we now need to look through to see where the relevant section starts.
Again you can use that top taskbar to scroll through
and we re looking for The Sangola, February 1908.
We should have him here
and here we are. We ve found a pass number 36580.
Wonderful so that was a great tip, Judith, cause this way we didn t need to
click through every individual pass, we could just go through the register.
Let s go back to our research guide and we ll select Access by Pass Number again to find this
pass, just here. Once again it s pass number 36580 so we ll go back to the research guide,
Access by Pass Number so same voyage that we were looking at before, here we are.
So we need to click through until we find 36580. Alright, almost there.
Here we are, we ve found it. Okay so let s compare the details with Daulat s pass.
It looks like we have a match, we ve got the same caste, the same district,
the same thana and the same village. Yeah, what s really interesting here as
well is that there s a wife listed with the depot number as well so this is another great piece of
information that can lead you to another search. We won t go through the whole process again,
as you can see it takes a little bit of clicking through but we do recommend that
it would be easier to go back to the General Register at this point to find the pass number.
We have done the research beforehand and we found that it s pass number 37048.
Alternatively if you think the spelling might be inaccurate you could also browse through
the passes looking for a depot number. These are unfortunately not listed in the General Register.
Let s just note the ships did make many voyages and so you may need
to look through quite a number of ships if all you have is the ship name and no date.
Let s go back to our research guide and have a look at the Access by Ship for a little bit
more information so we ve got Access by Ships Name. Imagine that we were looking for someone
and we only know that they came aboard The Ganges. If we look at the relevant section
here you ll see that it made seven trips so this could involve quite a lengthy search if you had
no other information. It is possible but if there are other documents what might help
this is where you try and take a shortcut. We talked about the number appearing on
some other documents earlier, could these be helpful locating the passes?
Oh absolutely so an approach that can provide breakthrough information in some cases uses
the Fijian civil registration records so these are marriages or birth certificates.
So if a girmitya was married according to the ordinances of the Colony of Fiji
a number of details had to be included with the registered number such as the pass number, the
name of ship, plantation where they were assigned and sometimes the pass number you will also find
on the birth certificates if a child s born to girmityas. So as you mentioned before the pass
numbers was a shorthand way of identifying the parents. Please note that to get a copy of these
certificates you will need to contact the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages back in Fiji.
We have a link to the Registry on the research guide itself just up here.
This brings us to the end of the presentation today about using the Indian Emigration Passes
to Fiji. We ve covered the background to the indentured labour system.
How the records are arranged and what information they have.
Then we showed you how you can access these resources online.
The case study we presented should have provided a
good indication of the nuts and bolts of using this collection
and how you can trace your family through them. Of course if you get stuck and need some tips
or advice don t hesitate to reach out to us through our Ask a Librarian service.
We hope you ve enjoyed the presentation and have come away with some new information.
Family history research is often full of frustrating dead-ends or missing information, especially when records relating to an ancestor moving from one country to another are concerned. The National Library of Australia has a rich array of records and resources to help you in your search.
In collaboration with the National Archives of Fiji, the National Library of Australia makes available over 60,000 individual records issued to Indian who were to come to Fiji as indentured labourers in the period of 1879-1916.
The original passes, held in 344 volumes, are kept by the National Archives of Fiji. They have been digitised and made freely available online through the National Library of Australia.
In 2011 these records, combined with records of Indian Indentured Labourers of Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, were placed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.
Join Reference Librarians Jack and Judith as they explore this vast collection and ways you can access it.
The Library acknowledges the National Archives of Fiji as custodians of the original collection material.