Between 1863 and 1904, over 62,000 Pacific island people sent as slaves or indentured labour to Queensland

Between 1863 and 1904, over 62,000 people from the Melanesian archipelagos provided the colony of Queensland with indentured labour for its emerging agricultural industries. A Sydney parliamentarian and merchant, Captain Robert Towns, first arranged for a sandalwood trader operating from Tanna, Henry Ross Lewin, to recruit islanders from the Loyalty and New Hebrides Groups in 1863. They were employed at Towns cotton plantation on the Logan River; and cotton growing, with the sheep, cattle, pearl shelling, fisheries and domestic service industries became significant employers of island labour over the next 15 years. However, the sugar plantations on the river plains around Brisbane, Maryborough, Bundaberg, Mackay, Bowen and Cairns led the demand for indentured labour over the next 40 years. From 1880, when Melanesians were restricted to employment in tropical and semi-tropical agriculture, island labour was effectively concentrated in the cane-fields.
y Reid Mortensen


92 Muslims arrived from India on the sailing ship “Leonidas” to Levuka: Sunni Buddha Khan leads azzan

The first azzan – call to prayer – in Fjii was credited to Buddha Khan, one of the 92 Muslims who arrived from India with the first boatload of indentured laborers destined for the sugarcane farms of the then new British colony. After disembarking from the sailing ship “Leonidas” at Levuka, Khan gathered the Muslims among the 498 passengers and they thanked Allah for a safe passage. Continue reading

1878: Gordon bans planter use of Fijian labour: imports indentured labourers from India

Governor Gordon decided in 1878 to import indentured labourers from India to work on the sugarcane fields that had taken the place of the cotton plantations. Continue reading

May 1879: Leonidas quaratined at Nasova; smallpox

Copy of the correspondence which took place between Mr Des Voeux, Administrator of Fiji, and the Secretary of State for the Colonies, relative to the detention of the coolie ship Leonidas at Nasova in May 1879. Continue reading

May 14, 1879: Leonidas docked in Levuka carrying 522 indentured Indian workers from Calcutta

Leonidas with Captain McLachlan on board, sailing from Calcutta (now called Kolkata) on March 3 (1879). The ship Leonidas arrived in Levuka, and the First group of indentured labourers had arrived from Calcutta. Continue reading

1870: Fijian or pidgin Fijian evolves as plantation language in Queensland and Fiji

Fijian began to dominate as a trade language after 1870. After the arrival of large numbers of Pacific Islanders, there were two contenders for the plantation language in Fiji: Melanesian Pidgin English (MPE) and Fijian. Fijian was already used on plantations with Fijian laborers before the importation of Pacific Islanders, and it was known by the European planters and overseers. But MPE was the language of the labor trade, used for recruiting for Fiji, and was known by many of the laborers. Continue reading

1876: Anglican Church service at Levuka, a congregation of planters and short-term Solomons indentured labour

Miss Gordon-Cumming, who was with the first Governor of Fiji, Sir Arthur Gordon (afterwards Lord Stanmore), says in her letters: “At present our parson, Mr. Floyd, is in New Zealand (1876), so all the Governor’s staff take it in turns to [officiate, two in the morning and two in the evening. They appear in surplices and take their part well. Last Sunday morning Mr. Le Hunte read prayers and Captain Havelock* [* Afterwards Sir George Le Hunte and Sir Henry Havelock.] one of Robertson’s sermons. Yesterday morning Captain Havelock read prayers and Mr. Maudslay preached a Kingsley. In the evening Mr. Eyre read and Mr. Le Hunte preached; but I forget his subject, for such a thunderstorm of rain came down on the zinc roof that even his voice was drowned. Mr. Floyd has one of Bishop Patteson’s native clergy to assist him in a mission to the foreign labour.

‘Foreign labour does seem to be a hopeless field’;.But the foreign labour does seem to be a hopeless field. They are brought here from a multitude of isles, all talking different languages, and only remain three years in the group, so that the very small numbers that can be reached, even of those who find situations in Levuka, can scarcely be expected to learn much before they have to be sent back to their own isles as ‘time expired labour.’ Still the little church does fill in the afternoons with a strange motley congregation, and doubtless some seeds are carried back to the distant isles, which may bear fruit in due season.”

Solomons people fear return to home islands: The “foreign labour” referred to was from the Solomon Islands. When the system was altered many of them remained rather than be clubbed on their home beaches when they returned. The work that Mr. Floyd so courageously tackled received an impetus when Bishop John Selwyn paid a visit in 1880 and inspired the Chief justice, who, with a party of young men, conducted classes for the Solomons”.