c1860s Incredible Archive of Depositions by Chinese Coolie Labourers Discussing their Treatment on the Coolie Ships12072A
On offer is an archive of six depositions by Chinese coolie labourers, taken after their disembarkment from a coolie ship that transported them from Macau to Havana, Cuba to serve out their eight year service contract.
The Chinese coolie trade, a system of indentured labor that targeted young, poor Chinese men, operated from 1847-1874. The coolie trade took place, in large part, between the shipping port in Macao (now a part of China, then under Portuguese rule) and Havana, Cuba (then under Spanish control). Coolies were transported from China on ships, many of which had formerly been used as African slave ships (Yun & Laremont, 2001). The coolie ships often had slave names (eg Africano, Mauritius) or ironic names (Dreams, Hope, Live Yankees, Wandering Jew) (Yun & Laremont, 2001, p. 110). Many did not survive the journey, with “approximately 16,400 Chinese coolies [dying] on European and American coolie ships to Cuba during a 26-year period” (Yun & Laremont, 2001, p. 111-112). This accounted for a mortality rate of 12-30%, though, on some voyages, the death rate reached 50% (as in the case of the Portuguese ship Cors in its 1857 sailing). These deaths were caused by violence, rebellions,thirst, suffocation and sickness (Yun & Laremont, 2001). To learn more about the Chinese coolie trade and its importance in world history, click here to read our in-depth research blog on the topic.
Given what we know about the deplorable conditions of coolie trade ship transport, it is believed that these depositions were highly coerced and manipulated to show the ship in a positive light. Each of the depositions provides almost identical “reports” from the coolies, and it is documented that the coolies came to Cuba “voluntarily and without any violence”, that the ship was “capable, clean and ventilated [with] abundant water, healthy food, doctors and medicines”. The coolies also state that “the mortality…suffered during navigation…consisted solely of the natural and common disease that they…suffered…not due to mistreatment”. These testimonies are in sharp contrast to later testimonies by Chinese coolies about the deplorable conditions of their recruitment, travel and later servitude. All of the depositions are signed by four Spanish men: Miguel Dacal, Marcelino Eurabray, Bernardo Solis and Luis Aldecoa. Most are signed in Chinese by the coolie being “interviewed”. These depositions are from the following Chinese coolies: Yang Ling Chang, Chong Chip (age 24 of Chi Misio), Tong -Yang (age 28 of Lui-Chan), Hon Tang (age 28 of Iam-Hoy) Tan Pan (age 23 of Lin Chao), and Tao Kong (age 30 of Lui Chao) and most are signed in Chinese.
These depositions provide a fascinating perspective on the relationship between Chinese indentured labourers and those who controlled their lives and words at their final destinations after their gruelling voyages from Macau.
The depositions measure approx 8.5x12.5 inches. They are on three separate leaves with a coolie testimony on the recto and verso of each, for a total of six full pages of manuscript content. Evidence on the left edge that the leaves were removed from a larger document with age toning, some ink bleed-through, and some minor tears that do not impact readability. Legible. Spanish language. Overall G.
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