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13th February 2005East Indians in South Africa 1879?
By Michael Boyle
(It seems a bit awkward to have to describe the people of,perhaps, the most populace country on Earth with a predesignate,but there seems no other way.)

I've recently come across a reference that in 1879, South Africa had a population of @20,000 Indians as compared to @23,000 Europeans. I understand that most Indians arrived as indentured servants, many of whom subsequently stayed on as merchants.However in all the other books I've thus far read (including the "Red Book") they aren't even mentioned,it's as if they didn't even exist. Given Sir Bartle-Frere's affinity and attempt to enlist Indian Cavalry for his campaign against the Zulus,why were they not represented?(Surely among the 20,000 there would have been many former soldiers.)



13th February 2005Peter Ewart

I can't comment on the reason for their absence from the invasion force but their presence in Natal was certainly commented upon in contemporary missionary accounts (both regular reports and in published memoirs etc) because a number of Anglican clergy counted them as included their "parishes" or missions around Durban & Maritzburg for example. I think the Scandinavians and Amercians were also "responsible" (if that's the word) for Indians close to the coast.

Incidentally, although understanding the reason behind your term "East Indian" (or at least, I think I do) it still probably wouldn't be accurate to refer to the Indians of S Africa as East Indians, because that might confuse them with the "real" East Indians.

I'm open to correction here, but I'd always assume that we'd refer to the Indians of S Africa as Indians (or, of course, S Africans in the modern world) because East Indians come/came from the East Indies. Perhaps not so much these days, but what are today collectively Malaysia and Indonesia were once loosely termed the East Indies (as opposed to the West Indies and - prior to Columbus's discoveries - as simply THE Indies!)

I appreciate you are trying to get round the description of native Americans originally as Indians (or even Red Indians!) but the term Indians has always been enough to describe those from the sub-continent, without confusing them with those in N America for whom we might still, in some circles, lapse into the term Indians.

Obviously, in the UK a West Indian is a native of the Caribbean, a result of the mis-naming of those islands five hundred years ago. The East Indies is not a term used much so we don't hear the term "East Indian" (not sure we ever did) nowadays.

It gets more complicated doesn't it? Someone from the sub-continent or nearby might be described as "Asian" in the UK whereas that description, I understand, would be more likely to describe a Japanese in the US? Hopefully, those of Indian descent in S Africa will be happy to be known as S Africans in the rainbow nation nowadays and likewise as British in this country (until the notorious "cricket" test looms now & again!)

Hope the above's not too pedantic - I'd be interested to learn if I'm off the mark anywhere.


13th February 2005Peter Ewart
Of course, there were also plenty of Malays in SE Africa by then - were these referred to as East Indians, I wonder?!

13th February 2005Paul Cubbin
Michael - neatly side-stepping the anthropological minefield that Peter so adroitly negotiated his way through I would like to offer my own tuppence worth. I would imagine that Indian combat troops would have been more than occupied closer to home with the instability of the Northwest Frontier. Thus their lack of inclusion in military lists.
Other than that, we may be experiencing some mind boggling Victorian values. Much as I chortle with shocked delight at the 'Flashman' books, unfortunately I can't help but imagine how much of it must have been true. Perhaps the Indians weren't mentioned simply because they were servants, and not regarded as 'proper people'!! Of course, merchants from around the Indian Ocean rim must have flocked to the emerging Natal in search of an easy profit, but perhaps the areas they traded in were not generally frequented by those who wrote the histories. Obviously any town has its 'ghettos' (for want of a better word) and the docks seem to attract them more often than not. Since non-Europeans in general (and non-British in particular) were regarded as second, third and even fourth-class citizens, they were perhaps studiously ignored or even not noticed by the staunch, white skinned, pink eared, straight spined protectors of Protestantism and justice we all know and love. I know the British Empire, by virtue of its sheer size, was able to plant the seeds of what we may now regard as a multi racial society, Victorian accounts of contact with 'Johnny Foreigner' still make for cringe-worthy reading sometimes.
13th February 2005John Young

There's a very good photograph of one of the Town Guards from 1879, I think from Dundee, which was formed by Indian volunteers under European officers, on display in the Talana Museum.

John Y.
13th February 2005Michael Boyle

Thanks, I've not yet read any missionary accounts (although I'm attempting to procure two Colenso books).

I decided on 'East Indian' only because that is the term often used in works by many American authors to establish the difference between American, Carribean and actual and who seem complacent enough to lump the East Indies in with India. (I suppose they could have as easily decided on 'middle' Indian!) I am marginally more comfortable with 'East' Indian than with the normal conversationally awkward 'India Indian'.Thankfully once the designation is clear the point becomes moot.(Pity the Indians weren't consulted before bandying about all the misnomers!)


I do expect that the buisiness on the North-West frontier would have precluded Sir Bartle-Frere's ability to enlist Indian cavalry however I find it curious that given his long history in India and his seeming appreciation of Indian martial skills that little effort seems to have been made to avail himself of the local talent.

Great effort had, after all, been put toward raising and arming (more or less) vast numbers of native troops in spite of the colonial fear of their rising. I doubt if that same fear extended to the Indians. Of course many of 20,000 would have still been indentured and thus not worth risking. Perhaps given the conviction that the upcoming war would be short and sweet it was simply thought unnecessary.


Any idea if they were raised prior to or after Jan 22?


13th February 2005Peter Ewart

I'm amazed at that. I had no idea it was a routine term in the US to describe Indians as East Indians, even though I appreciate it's an attempt to avoid confusion with the former name for native Americans. To me, it would still seem much easier to call them Indians and leave it at that, especially given that as each year goes by the term would be less and less associated with native Americans. Are West Indians referred to as West Indians? (Even though the Caribbean is east of most of of the US?) Still, getting off the subject there.

In India the Indian cavalry regiments were British trained, loyal etc. The Indians who were brought to, or who fetched up in, southern and eastern Africa were not necessarily of the same background anyway (someone might be able to help more specifically there) as those who were recruited for the British/Indian army in India.

I'd certainly be very surprised if any or many of the 20,000 in S Africa around 1879 had ever served as soldiers. Had Frere or Chelmsford had any idea of recruiting from Indians, the necessary training to anywhere near the standard of the Indian cavalry regiments would have taken time, and time was not what Chelmsford had in the few weeks/months in which he planned the invasion. And might the procurement of sufficient horses have presented difficulties?

I'm sure I've got some descriptions of the contemporary Indian population somewhere & I'll try to dig some out.

It would be only a few years, of course, before their number included someone who saw the role of Indians in S Africa rather differently - Gandhi.

13th February 2005Michael Boyle
Aye,and a Sgt.Major to boot, I seem to recall!
13th February 2005John Young

I believe post-Isandlwana. If memory serves me they are shown armed with Enfield or Snider-Enfield rifles.

John Y.
14th February 2005Keith Smith

There is another, although secondary, relationship of the AZ War with the Indian population of Natal. Major Shapland Graves was appointed as Protector of Immigrants and in that post was responsible for welfare of Indians who had been indented to work the sugar plantations. Graves was appointed to command of the 2nd Regiment Natal Native Contingent in late 1878 but as a result of his poorly managed return from Eshowe after Isandlwana, he was dropped and returned to his original post.
14th February 2005Michael Boyle

It's less a description than a geographical predesignate to get everyone on the same page. For most in the US the actual East Indies (as opposed to 'east' India) would have fallen off the map completely if not for Krakatoa, but for most of us that area of the world is simply the far east.Although for us, geographically,I suppose it is the 'far west' ( 'west' and 'mid-west' are already taken,however near west is available for anyone who wants to confuse us further!)

Don't forget that some of our confusion lies in "The Honourable East India Company".

Yes even to those of us on the East Coast it is the West Indies, thankfully no one ever thought to re-designate them as the South Indies!

As you can see there is a rather steep learning curve for children in the Americas (both Northern and Southern hemi-spheres).(Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and thunk Columbus upside the head and say "What the heck are you thinking?! Do these people look like Indians to you?!!"Of course he probably never saw a real Indian and deeply held illusions die hard.)

I see your point about the Indians already in SA.Given the Indian caste system I suppose it would be unlikely that a former soldier would indent himself in the first place much less stay on as a merchant afterward. (Although I don't suppose that all the former Indian soldiers would have come from the warrior caste.)


Thanks, it would then seem that even the Indians were drawn into the post-Isandlwana hysteria. I wonder if this could have been the start of their eventual involvement in the SA military?


Did Major Graves leave any of his thoughts and experiences to posterity?



14th February 2005Peter Ewart

The following papers may provide an insight into early Indian life in Natal:

Huttenbuck, RA. Indians in S Africa 1860-1914. (English Historical Review 81, 1966)

Ferguson-Davie, CJ. The early history of Indians in Natal. (S African Institute of Race Relations, Jo'burg 1977)

Vahed, GH. A "public health nuisance": the Victoria Street early morning squatters market, 1910-1934." (S African History Journal 40, 1999).

Freund, W. Insiders & Outsiders: the Indian working class in Durban, 1910-1990 (Univ Natal Press, PMB 1994).

I hasten to add I have read none of them, but each is cited in an interesting article by Christopher Merrett in "Natalia" (No 32, 2002) with which you may already be familiar. His article, "Sport & Race in Colonial Natal", has also recently appeared in the Journal of the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians (No 128, Winter 2004) where I picked it up (being a multi-faceted anorak!)

In more general works, Frank Welsh (A History of S Africa (Harper Collins, 1998, 2000) provides a good introduction and overview of their part in Natalian life. Because they were permitted to remain once their contract had expired - and because the Indian government insisted on a portion of the emigres being female - an Indian community was very quickly established. I'd recommend Welsh's 620-page history, incidentally.

The position of the Indians in 19th century Natal society (roughly speaking, usually above the blacks but below the whites, to put it rather crudely) was never without tensions locally. Some of these are well illustrated in a recent book "Blacks in Whites - A Century of Cricket Struggles in Kwa-Zulu Natal" (Ashwin Desai et al). It is as much a commentary on their social and racial struggles as on their cricketing ambitions, and this and another recent publication (Andre Odendaal's "The Story of an African Game") are a powerful antidote to the long-held belief that the African (rather than just the Indian) had no interest in cricket and was new to the game. I can hardly think of anything more topical in SA at the moment than the continuing row over this positive discrimination during the Transformation period. (I won't volunteer my own views but I can certainly see both sides of the argument).

With regard to the mission field in Zuuland/Natal, the three prominent early Americans (who were established before the British) Adams, Champion & Grout all left accounts of their work, the latter two through diaries and memoirs. (Copies seem to be widely available worldwide).

There is unlimited material on Colenso. I'd recommend Jeff Guy's "The Heretic" (UNP, PMB 1983) as the best, although strangely not that many copies are about, even though it is still inexpensive. Norman Etherington's account of the whole scene (all missions, European & American) up to 1880 (Preachers, Peasants & Politics in SE Africa, 1835-80, RHS, London 1978) is not difficult to get hold of and is probably the best overall account of the lack of success experienced by most missions before the 1880s. It is also a healthy antidote to the large number of inevitably positive contemporary 19th century publications, although even the best of these present both sides of the picture.

Etherington makes the point that primary sources in this field are important for more than the usual obvious reasons, in that the missionary societies edited and censored many letters and reports from the field before publishing them in their organs, so much so that he believes the published journals are almost worthless. The scope of missionary publications (quite apart from the huge archive collections of the societies themselves) is enormous.

You'd probably appreciate the relevance to Zululand, however, of AW Lee's "Once Dark Country" or his "Charles Johnson of Zululand." Difficult to pick out the best from so many available but "Soldiers of the Cross in Zululand" (E & H Wigram) or "A Lady's Life & Travels in Zululand & the Transvaal" (Bp Wilkinson's wife) or "Life Among the Zulu Kaffirs" (Rev Robert Robertson's wife) are my favourite three among the best Victorian publications on the Anglican mission field. Rare books, very informative and beautiful too!

Happy reading!

15th February 2005Michael Boyle

Thanks,you've got my work cut out for me!

( Why do I feel that during a discourse on unmanned deep-sea exploration you would be able to somehow work in a reference to cricket?)
(Actually I may start with that book,up to this point my only exposure to cricket was the bat employed by my grade school principal!)


15th February 2005Peter Ewart

What, me? Surely not!

Well, one could do worse than give a little attention to the worldwide growth of cricket during Victorian times as a parallel (or should that be a corollary?) of the expansion of the British Empire.

Some of the game's greatest proponents in Victorian times were British officers and some of the army's most celebrated names were very keen cricketers - not to mention the diplomats, governors & administrators (and, in a couple of famous cases, missionaries). There cannot be the slightest doubt that many of these soldiers, administrators and diplomats considered the HQ of the Empire to be Lord's rather than say, Westminster, Buckingham Palace or the War Office. A good many of them will have played there for their public school. It was Lord Harris who introduced the game to the Parsees and today the sub-continent is, in practice, the centre of influence for the future development of the world game.

However, more relevant is the fact that the public school ethos imbued these men (the Coghills, Melvills & Bromheads etc) with values which they aspired to in order to bring renown to their school and regiment - and the one activity which personified this at the time was cricket and the way in which it was played and encouraged.

It seems that cricket was played during the siege of Eshowe & was certainly played in the camps during the breaking up of the columns after Ulundi. It is impossible to ignore the influence of cricket on the development of the Empire, whether in the colonies, dependencies or dominions, and whether in civilian or military circles.

Yes, I certainly could have worked in the reference you suggested above. Probably I would have alluded to the drowning in the North Sea at Christmas, 1930, of the recent former captain of the England cricket team, JWHT Douglas, and would assume he had overlooked the "unmanned" requirement of your question.

15th February 2005Paul Cubbin
Rugby (the best) - 80 minutes
Football - 90 minutes
Cricket - 3 days
15th February 2005Michael Boyle

You make quite the compelling case,I'm looking forward to familiarizing myself with it's various aspects.

(Actually I do recall being present at a cricket match on St.Bart's and having a lovely lass try to explain the fine points to me. Alas my attention was drawn to other fine points and I can't recall a single word she said!)



16th February 2005Peter Ewart

Cricketing literature is replete with utterly vain attempts to explain the finer points (or even the rudiments) of the game to your countrymen. Indeed the oft-repeated stories have become rather hackneyed.

I once tried to explain what was going on to a youngish Canadian, just a mile or so from here. All the necessary & hallowed attributes were present - the village green, the mansion on the boundary, the thatched pavilion, the flitting youths in their white flannels, the gnarled ancients watching from the boundary bench, even the Tudor pub on the corner with its inviting warm beer. (Well, warm to my Canadian friend). And when the shadows were long and the sun was setting behind the crafty old leg-spinner, introduced to administer the "coup de grace", I turned to my Canadian friend and, in true Neville Cardus fashion, enquired whether it felt as if he'd arrived in paradise. "Huh?" (A Martian could have appreciated it better).

So God-speed to your familiarisation with our national game, Michael. Paul Getty managed it & became its most famous modern benefactor, receiving an honorary knighthood. If you understand cricket, you'll begin to understand the English. You'll much more easily grasp the rudiments of fringe activities like rugby (although I still don't) because it resembles your own gentler version of the game, the one where they wear the rather fetching protective padding. And baseball is also fairly well understood outside the US, although over here is usually left to our younger schoolgirls, who call it rounders, before moving on to tougher games. :) :) :) :) (just a precaution or two there!)

Much more to the point, there were many good white and black cricketers - as well as some cricket equipment - on the field at Isandlwana that day, but I've laboured that point in the past & won't repeat it here, nor dwell again on Newbolt's cricketing lad at the Battle of Abu Klea.



:) :) :) :) (Just to be on the safe side!)

16th February 2005John Young

Don't forget Fred Marshall, in you list of cricketers. Having just purchased an 1862 photograph of him whilst a Captain in the 2nd Life Guards, I can see why he was chosen to lead the visit to Isandlwana - he was sent to look for the missing 1st/24th cricket kit!

I'll scan you a copy when my home computer is back up and running.

John Y.
17th February 2005Peter Ewart

In which case, he failed in his task and we're left none the wiser! But did it belong to the 1/24th after all? If Bradstreet was a devotee, as you have pointed out to me in the past, perhaps the gear came from Newcastle and belonged to the colonists? Urgent research is required in the archives of Newcastle CC to ascertain whether the club suddenly found itself short of equipment for the 79/80 season!

The colonists (and not just the Natalians) certainly took to the noble game rapidly, or rather exported it with them. Last night I came across a photo of the 1st Xl of St Andrew's College, Grahamstown, for 1867 in my copy of the school's published history. Years before this it was being played in Cape Town & being taught to the sons of African chiefs in the missions & native colleges.

But all this doesn't find that missing pad!

18th February 2005Derek C
On the subject of cricket players...... I have a copy of "Major Greville V.C." by Senator Munnik (1911). I confess to not having read it yet, but wasn't Maj. Greville a cricket player during the Boer war. I know this book is a novel, so I'm not in a rush to read it.