1866 Complete Criminal Investigation with Sworn Testimonies of 13 Chinese Coolies Who Sailed to Havana Aboard the French Ship Amaril Trehouart, Featuring Discussion of Opium Aboard the Ship

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On offer is a string-bound 22 page police investigation into the deaths of 33 Chinese people aboard the French coolie ship Amaril Trehouart, which sailed from Macao to Havana, arriving in March of 1866.

The Amaril was a French vessel that made two crossings during the Chinese coolie trade. This document relates to its November 29, 1865 departure, run by Captain P. Cotte, on which 313 Chinese people boarded and 280 arrived alive in Havana on March 15, 1866. This reflected a 10.5% death rate on this voyage. The Amaril was owned and operated by the Campbell brothers, who made this shipment in collaboration with the Carbaga brothers. 

This document is dated March 16, 1866, the day after the vessel arrived in Havana. The first page is stamped Sur Comisaria de Policia del Quinto Distrito (South Police Station of the Fifth District). It introduces the ship and the investigation and presents the order to interrogate the 13 newly arrived Chinese from the Amaril. 

The second page, which discusses the investigation, is stamped by the Cuban police. This investigation is criminal in nature, looking into any violence against Chinese passengers. 

The Chinese people that are questioned in the investigation are being kept in a Depository, where they will be kept until their contracts are sold to a plantation owners. 

The next several folio pages are transcriptions of the questions and answers given to and by each of the 13 interviewed Chinese coolies. The information covered in each interrogation include the name and origin of the person, their reason for coming to the Island (always an 8 year primitive contract), whether there was food given, and more. 

In all cases the coolies reported that food was abundant. However, one coolie (folio p. 4) reports that they water they drank made them sick. It is also reported that they were given “opio” (opium) to smoke. There is also a report that the sick were separated from the “good” (healthy) people.

In the manuscript conclusion at the end of the report, it is reported that 30 colonos perished, they ate cold food and no opium to smoke. 

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

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. 

20 pages folio plus 2 pages octavo. String bound, age toning, frayed edges, normal wear for age. Overall G. 

Asome, John. Coolie Ships of the Chinese Diaspora (1846-1874) (p. 252). Proverse Hong Kong. Kindle Edition.

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