Every now and then, a research project leads into you territories that you hadn’t expected. I suddenly found myself researching eighteenth-century Swiss Calvinism on my journey towards my doctoral thesis (and later, to this book). A few years later, I followed an eighteenth-century onanist from his letter to his hometown, a process that shifted my understanding of the role of place in archival research. That onanist has a starring role in Chapter 5 of my newest book.

And now, I’ve found myself off the coast of Chile, off Cape Horn, near Noir Island….

54˚29’S 73˚02’W
Noir Island, Tierra del Fuego Archipelago
On 18 June 1878, the Kate Kellock, carrying wheat, flour, 26 crew members, the captain’s wife and child, and teak, wrecked off the coast of Chile while on its way from San Francisco to London. An investigation held the following year found that while the Captain, one Charles Ricker, was guilty of “grave acts of misconduct” (which included leaving the direction of the failing ship to the second mate and going off to pray with his wife), he was not responsible for the ultimate wreck of the ship, which was “due entirely to the extreme severity of the weather, and to the ship having been pooped when the first officer was in command.” No lives were lost.

But the Kate Kellock’s story begins much earlier.

The Kate Kellock was built in 1865 by a firm in Sunderland for the Liverpool-based C.W. Kellock & Co., a ship-broking company. An iron ship, it weighed 1175 tons and would ply the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific, transporting goods and people between the UK, North America, India and Australia.

54°54′16″ N 1°22′55″ W
Sunderland, United Kingdom

C.W. Kellock & Co., which still exists today, was originally founded in 1820 as Daniel Tonge & Son by a master mariner and shipowner named Daniel Tonge. Several permutations later, Charles Walford Kellock assumed the helm, and, in late 1864, C.W. Kellock & Co. was officially born.

Given this timing, it seems as though the Kate Kellock, one of only a few ships that were part of C.W. Kellock & Co.’s own fleet, was one of the first ships built to fly under the new company flag. Further it also seems likely that this ship, built in Sunderland, was named after Kellock’s wife, Catherine Wignall (the daughter of a clergyman in Bamber Bridge, a town near Preston that was then a centre of the cotton trade), a perfect name for a flagship vessel.

By 1869 at least, the ship was sailing the Australia route, with Captain George Bevan at the helm.

37˚48’49” S 144˚57’47”E
Melbourne, Australia
In its 27 September 1869 issue, the Nieuw Rotterdamsche Courant lists the departure of the Kate Kellock from London to Melbourne, a 27-day trip. According to the Melbourne newspaper, The Argus, the Kate Kellock arrived in Melbourne sometime around late October 1869, at which point the Captain, a man named George Bevan, took out a small ad in the newspaper to absolve himself of any responsibility for the actions of his crew: “CAPTAIN BEVAN, of the ship KATE KELLOCK, hereby notifies that he will not be responsible for any debts contracted by his crew during their stay in port” (The Argus, 26 October 1869).

Melbourne was booming. Declared a city by Queen Victoria in 1847, it shortly thereafter – in 1851 – was named capital of the new Colony of Victoria. The Australian gold rush brought more wealth and more people. In 1852 alone, 370,000 immigrants arrived on Australian shores, hailing from many different parts of the world, among them the USA, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Hungary, and China. Soon, Melbourne was the largest city in Australia. Newspaper ads show a range of ships advertising for passengers, each offering sumptuous cabins and the most modern comforts.

The Kate Kellock was in port for just over two months. Another advertisement, published in the Christmas Day edition of The Argus makes it known that the ship will sail in a few days and invites prospective passengers to tour its accommodations: “This fine vessel present a most favourable opportunity to passengers and shippers. The accommodation for saloon passengers is very superior, and inspection is invited. For freight or passage money apply to BRIGHT BROTHERS and Co. Flinders-lane, agents.” (The Argus, 25 December 1869).

The Kate Kellock joins my own research project in 1873, when it docks in Calcutta to pick up indentured labourers, among them, my great-great grandmother, bound for Paramaribo.

23˚ 34’ N 88˚22’E
Calcutta, India

More than 450 indentured labourers and children boarded the Kate Kellock in the Fall of 1873. Bound for Dutch sugar plantations in Suriname, they’d all signed five-year contracts promising them good working conditions, fair wages, medical care, accommodation, and, if they wanted it, return passage to India. The Dutch, who had finally abolished slavery in 1863, were desperate for cheap labour. After negotiating a contract with the British, the first ship, the Lalla Rookh, arrived in Surinamese waters in 1873.

The journey took three long months, the length perhaps exacerbated by a curious disturbance in Ascension reported in the Dutch newspaper, Algemeen Handelsblad.

7°56′S 14°25′W
Ascension Island

The Kate Kellock arrived at Ascension Island just after Christmas, 1873. The island lies approximately halfway between Africa and South America and has, because of this location, served as a strategic naval site. It was likely – together with the islands of St. Helena and Tristan de Cunha – a logical stop over for transatlantic boat trips such as that undertaken by the Kate Kellock.

But according to the papers, this wasn’t just a stopover. It seems that there was some trouble on board:

Aan boord van het schip Kate Kellock, alhier den 28sten Dec. aangekomen en van Calcutta naar Suriname bestemd, onstond oproer, ten gevolge waarvan een gewapended sloep van H.M. schip Baracouta aan boord gezonden werd. Ten gevolge van een gerechtelijk onderzoek, den volgenden dag gehouden, verliet de dokter het schip, om met de mail naar Engeland te vertrekken en vervolgde de Kate Kellock 1 Januari de reis naar Suriname.

Aboard the ship Kate Kellock, on the 28th of Dec. arrived from Calcutta and destined for Suriname, arose an insurgency, which led the armed men from the sloop Baracouta being sent aboard. As a result of a judicial inquiry, held the next day, the doctor left the ship to depart for England with the mail and the Kate Kellock left on 1 January for its trip to Suriname. (Algemeen Handelsblad 15 February 1874.

Without further information, we can’t know what transpired aboard the ship. The word “oproer” has numerous meanings in Dutch: insurgency, insurrection, rebellion, mutiny…. Was this a struggle between the contracted workers and the crew? Was the situation due to problematic behavior on the part of the ship’s doctor, who left the boat and returned to England? Did something happen between the crew members and the captain?

In any event, all was quiet for the rest of the journey and the Kate Kellock finally arrived in port in Paramaribo in the late afternoon of January 18, 1874.

According to the Suriname: koloniaal nieuws- en advertentieblad:

19 January. Op gisteren namiddag arriveerde alhier het Eng. Schip Kate Kellock, van Calcutta, met 462 koelie-immigranten. Gedurende de reis hebben 9 sterfgevallen en 6 geboorten plaats gevonden.

Arrived yesterday, in the late afternoon, the English ship, Kate Kellock, from Calcutta, with 462 coolie-immigrants. During the journey there were 9 deaths and 6 births. (Suriname: koloniaal nieuws- en advertentieblad 20 January 1874

5˚52’N 55˚10’W
Paramaribo, Suriname
Within a few days of their arrival, the new immigrants – all taken to the so-called “coelie-depot” (more photos here, here, and here) –  had been checked by doctors and cleared for arrival by the immigration department. J.F.A. Cateau van Rozevelt, the immigration agent, announced in the newspaper that all immigrants will be brought to their plantations and invited plantation owners to ensure that “all necessary vessels for disembarkation are ready at the landing sites.” (Surinaamsche Courant en Gouvernement’s Advertentie Blad, 22 January 1874.

By the 30th of January 1874, the Kate Kellock was ready to set sail again, carrying 10,800 bales of linseed. Another English ship – the Constantia – was also cleared for departure, carrying 82 175 kg. Sugar, 19 641 kg Cocoa, 5405 liters Molasses and 24 vats of salted limes to Boston. After three weeks on the water, the Kate Kellock arrived in New York on 20 February 1874.

By December 1878, just six months after the wreck of the Kate Kellock, the first five-year indenture contracts were coming to an end. According to the Governor of Suriname, C..A. van Stypesteyn, 466 labourers who had completed their contracts returned to the “land of their birth” on the English ship, Philosopher. Another 33 from Plantation de Resolutie left Suriname at their own cost for Trinidad (Suriname: koloniale nieuws- en advertentieblad, 3 June 1879. Three months later, on 22 February 1879, Charles Walford Kellock passed away, at the age of 64 (Liverpool Mercury, 25 February 1879).

By 1878, the East Indian community in Suriname was well established, and numbered over 3200. Some had extended their contracts, signing on for a second five-year period. Others had taken up smallholding. Others, still, like my great-great grandmother, entered into longterm relationships and made homes and grew families in Paramaribo.

The Kate Kellock is but one small chapter of the decades-long traffic of indentured labourers between India, China, Java, and the West Indies. Ships like the Kate Kellock transported not only goods for market, but also human labour. Between 1873 and 1916, sixty-four ships brought some 34 000 labourers from India to Suriname. In addition to this, ships like the Kate Kellock transported colonists between their far-flung homes and the motherland.

47°33’37.9404”N  52°42’46.1880” W
St. John’s, Canada
My work here is, of course, only a partial charting of coordinates, and I’ll need to spend some time in the Maritime History Archive here at Memorial University to explore it further. But the exercise has still been useful. The Kate Kellock, with its iron hull and its luxurious saloons, offers one material evocation of Lisa Lowe’s “intimacy of four continents,” at once revealing the vastness of an oceanic horizon that seems to stretch forever, and the inextricable boundedness of people, goods, and economies, and the transnational social and cultural connections that result.

Baba and Mai Memorial for Hindustani immigrants to Suriname. Paramaribo, Suriname

Baba and Mai Memorial for Hindustani immigrants to Suriname. Paramaribo, Suriname

© Sonja Boon, 2015


4 thoughts on “coordinates

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