1866 Cuban Police Investigation with Sworn Testimonies of 20 Chinese Coolies Who Sailed to Havana Aboard the German Ship Ammerland

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On offer is a unique string- bound manuscript folio containing a complete Cuban police investigation into the deaths of Chinese coolies aboard the German ship Ammerland on its voyage from Macao to Havana. 

The document contains a summary of the case, the introduction of the witnesses and translators involved, 20 testimonies by Chinese coolies which are signed by the Chinese men being questioned and those conducting the interviews, as well as concluding pages summarizing the findings of the investigation.

The case relates to the German ship Ammerland. She departed Macao on January 5, 1866 with 225 Chinese men on board, and arrived in Havana on May 17, 1866, with 201 living passengers. This was a loss rate of 10.67% for this sailing. Interestingly, this police investigation folio states that there was only a 6% loss rate for the sailing. 

The Cuban police investigated the on-board deaths. The first two pages introduce the case. There is a seal on the first page that reads “Capitania del Partido de Puentes Grandes”. The ship owners, the Zangroniz family,  nominated two witnesses to follow the investigation into their ship’s loss rate. These were Dn. Francsco Cerdu and Don Valentiin de la Cabada. Both of their signatures are present in the document. There were also two interpreters appointed of the same “class” (race) as the Chinese men. They were Luis Aldecoa and Francisco Achon. Their signatures are also present. 

The following pages include testimonies of 20 of the asiaticos (Asian people) transcribed in Spanish with signatures from both the Spanish investigators and the Chinese man being questioned. 

The first Chinese witness is identified as being a non-Christian. He was Lam-pon-lim from the town of Sancho, age 30. Lam-pon-lim states he came as a colonist brought by the  Zangroniz y Compania de la Habana. He was there to fulfill a contract. He claims the ship he came on was “capable”, “ventilated”, and “there was water”, “healthy food in abundance”, a “doctor and medicine” and that he does not believe the mortality on board was caused by this good treatment. 

The rest of the testimonies are in a similar vein with only slight changes to the wording. For example, the fourth witness, Yong Tong, a native of Sennen and age 18, makes similar statements to Lam-pon-lim, but adds that his treatment was “very good”. 

Given what we know about the deplorable conditions of coolie trade ship transport, it is believed that these testimonies were highly coerced and manipulated to show the ship in a positive light. 

The final two pages of the folio state that the mortality on board the Ammerland was not due to mistreatment of passengers, rather to pre-existing illnesses of the men on board. The summary reiterates the supposed “good” conditions on board. 

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

This folio is genuinely remarkable. While we and others hold multiple examples of individual depositions from Chinese coolies, it is exceptionally rare to find a complete example of a police investigation into one specific ship, including the additional notes about the investigation and investigators. This piece would make an absolutely sensational addition to any academic research collection. 

ABOUT THE AMMERLAND: The Ammerland sailed for the Zangroniz (Zangronis) family, a well-known family who participated in trafficking of human beings even before the Chinese coolie trade began. The Zangroniz y Compania trafficking business sent a  total of 26 ships carrying coolies from Macao to Havana, mostly using French ships, with a few exceptions, including the German Ammerland. 

The depositions measure approx 8.5x12.5 inches. There are 16 pages in the folio with manuscript writing on 27 pages (writing on font and back of most pages). One diagonal corner (2 inch triangle) missing from the final blank page. Age toning, some ink bleed-through, and fraying to the edges of the paper that do not impact readability. Legible. Spanish language. Overall G. 


Asome, J. (2020). Coolie ships of the Chinese diaspora (1846-1874). Proverse Hong Kong. 

Sparks, R. J. (2020). On the frontlines of slave trade abolition: British consuls combat state capture in Cuba and Mozambique. Atlantic Studies, 17(3), 327-347.

Yun, L. & Laremont, R. R. (2001). Chinese Coolies and African Slaves in Cuba, 1847-74. Journal of Asian American Studies, 4(2), 99–122. https://doi.org/10.1353/jaas.2001.0022

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