Something happened aboard the Kate Kellock in late 1873. But what?
I started my explorations with a short news article in the 15 February 1874 edition of the Algemeen Handelsblad (delpher.nl) about a disturbance aboard the Kate Kellock in late 1873. Now, a few months later, I’ve found myself down a rabbit hole of my own making….
There are at least four accounts of unrest aboard the Kate Kellock in December 1873. One from the ship’s Master, George H. A. Bevan, as written in the Ship’s Log currently housed in the UK National Archives. One from Edmund Fremantle, a Royal Navy officer called upon to convene an inquiry, as published in his memoirs. One from Dr. Bepin Behari Dutt, the Surgeon Superintendent aboard the ship, as articulated in documents held in the National Archives of India and cited by Anil Persaud. And one included in the Dutch colonial archives, as referenced by Rajinder Bhagwanbali.
Four accounts. Some overlap. But still, several distinct stories:
The Surgeon Superintendent incited the emigrants to mutiny by “telling them that [the Master] had no power or command over them” (Bevan)
The emigrants believed that “their throats would be cut and that they would be thrown overboard” once they arrived in Suriname (Fremantle; also in Bevan)
The Third Officer, one John Evans, seduced two women emigrants (“Bnef van de gouverneur van Suriname aan de minister van koloniën,” Dutch National Archives, referenced in Bhagwanbali)
Crew members “were pelting [emigrants] with bones” on Christmas Eve (“Conduct of Dr. Bepin Behari Dutt, Surgeon Superintendent of the ship “Kate Kellock,” bound with emigrants from Calcutta to Surinam,” National Archives of India, quoted in Persaud)
The Surgeon Superintendent misappropriated ship stores, causing drunkenness among crew and emigrants (Bevan).
But which story is true?
Will we ever know?
Do ‘the facts’ actually matter?
Or is this range of stories more interesting for what it might reveal about the complexity of colonial encounters in the intimate spaces of emigrant ships?
In the end, the Surgeon Superintendent, Bepin Behari Dutt, an Edinburgh-trained doctor born in Calcutta, was expelled from the ship and sent back to the UK, and from that point on, all Surgeon Superintendents travelling on emigrant ships were to be European.
Today, over 140 years later, only the avalanche of paperwork – now housed in archives in three different countries – remains.
Bevan, George H.A. “Official Log Book #1” Catalogue Reference: BT 99/1016
National Archives, UK.
Bhagwanbali, Rajinder. “Contracten voor Suriname: Arbeidsmigratie vanuit Brits Indië onder het indentured-labour stelsel, 1873-1916,” PhD thesis. Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen, 1996.
Fremantle, Edmund. The Navy As I Have Known It, 1849-1899. London: Cassell & Co., 1904.
Klerk, C.J.M de. De Immigratie der Hindostanen in Suriname by C.J.M de Klerk, Amsterdam: Urbi et ORbi, 1953.
Persaud, Anil. “The problem of origin: the politics of indigeneity in post- 1830′ British Guiana.” PhD thesis. Jawaharlal Nehru University, 2007.
© Sonja Boon, 2016
sboon @ mun.ca