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The Journey of Girmit

Escape from despair to build a land of opportunity

THE SS Sutlej reached Suva Harbour on the evening of November 2, 1916, some 25 days after clearing the port of Madras. It had on board 875 Indian indentured immigrants, 297 of whom had boarded the ship at Calcutta on 2 October. The following day at 10:30 am, CSR barges ferried the immigrants to the Nukulau Depot where after mandatory medical inspection and immigration checks, the immigrants would be allocated to plantations across the country according to the orders for labour placed the previous year.

The ship had encountered rough weather early in its voyage, the Surgeon Superintendent reported, but it had escaped ‘little serious sickness’ that had blighted some of the earlier voyages, notably that of the The Journey of Girmit Escape from despair to build a land of opportunity Fultala in 1906 when an outbreak of cholera had claimed 61 lives. Mercifully, such tragic losses were rare.

The Sutlej was the last immigrant ship to bring indentured labourers to Fiji, the last of the 87 which, from 1879 onwards, had brought some 60,965 immigrants to the newly acquired British colony. The ships have such magical names: Rhone, Avon, Sangola, Danube, Elbe, Pericles and Leonidas.

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THE last Indian immigrant ship, SS Sutlej, carrying 875 indentured men, women and children, entered