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.