The true story of the ‘Fatel Rozack’

The Voyage From Calcutta

In his address at the Maha Sabha function, he touched on two areas of East Indian indentureship in T&T – the status of the immigrants who arrived here in 1845 and the ship that brought them here. Dr Moore’s contention is that the first Indian immigrants who came to T&T were free men, not indentured labourers.

As for the the Fatel Rozack1, the ship that brought those first immigrants to T&T, Dr Moore said there is much misinformation about this vessel.

The following is an extract from Dr Moore’s address about the Fatel Rozack and its link with T&T’s history:

I would like to talk about matters surrounding the first voyage to Trinidad in 1845. There is a large pool of information available to researchers and students…the port from which the emigrants embarked, the name of the Surgeon-Superintendent in charge of the welfare of the emigrants during the voyage, the number and gender of the emigrants who came thither, the date they departed Calcutta, the length of the journey, what happened on the way, the island where the ship stopped briefly for fresh supplies, where the ship anchored in Trinidad, what date it arrived in the island and the Agent-General present there to greet the labourers.

As for the Fatel Rozack itself, you can find out the country and city where, and in what year, it was built, for whom it was built, in what part of the world the owner resided, the wood that was used for its construction, its tonnage, the class of ship to which it belonged, and its real name.

This is truly a huge mass of information for researchers to mine, for history teachers to include in their courses, for speakers to compose speeches during Heritage Month, and even for individuals to find justifications for their behaviour. On this last point, what I have in mind, for example, are the reasons a representative of Anjuman Sunnat ul Jamaat Association (ASJA) gave for celebrating Arrival Day for the first time on May 30, 2005. His points were that:

– the name of the ship that brought the immigrants was ’Thanks to Allah;’

– its owner was a Muslim;

– and among the immigrants who disembarked were ’a small number of adherents of the noble religion and way of life Islam represents.’

But this mass of information is not as informative as it appears to be. If you consult it with an inquiring mind, you will find a mountain of misinformation and contradictory statements about the first Indian arrival. All I can do here is to indicate briefly some of the more glaring inaccuracies.

It is generally known that the first immigrants embarked at Calcutta. Yet in his 1992 Nobel Lecture, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott stated positively that they came from the port of Madras. Never mind that no ships left Madras for Trinidad during the 1844-1845 immigration season. Once a person of Walcott’s stature had made that pronouncement, the damage was done. Now the authors of dozens of learned articles, especially in the field of literature, cite Walcott as the authority for their assertion that the first immigrants embarked at Madras. And if you think that this Madras faux pas cannot be surpassed, you are wrong. In an article titled Composite Culture in Trinidad’ published in Composite Culture in Multicultural Society, Bipan Chandra and Sucheta Mahajan (eds.), Marion O’Callaghan wrote this: ’In May 1845, the ’Fatel Rozack’ arrived from Calcutta with 225 immigrants from Madras.’ Since no emigrants left the port of Madras in the 1844-1845 immigration season, how the Madrasi managed the long journey to Calcutta is a conundrum yet to be solved.

Confusion reigns concerning the number of immigrants who left Calcutta in 1845. Donald Wood puts the figure at 231. According to him, 225 landed in Trinidad and six died on the way. Governor McLeod said that 227 landed – 182 men, 22 women, 15 boys, six girls, two infants – and three died on the way. That gives us a figure of 230 emigrants that embarked at Calcutta. The authors of the Indian Centenary Review, 1845-1945, list the total arrived as 213. Their list of arrivals was reproduced by Dr Bridget Brereton in The Book of Trinidad. Dr Frank Korom inspected that list and claimed that he counted 211 souls there. He then added to that the six immigrants who Donald Wood said died at sea to arrive at a total of 217 persons who left from Calcutta. The account of Thomas Caird, the Emigration Agent at Calcutta who sent the immigrants thither, deepens the confusion. He said he sent 237 emigrants to Trinidad, 187 males, 22 females, 16 boys, six girls and six infants. If, for the sake of argument, he is right and Governor McLeod is also right about the number of arrivals, then 10 people must have perished at sea. Clearly, all of these figures could not be right.

As to the date on which the Fatel Rozack docked at Port of Spain harbour, scholars who are recognised authorities on various aspects of Trinidad’s history have gotten it wrong. Gertrude Carmichael gives the date as May 3, 1845; and so do Donald Wood, Ralph R Premdas, Fr Anthony de Verteuil, Colin Clarke, Kim Johnson, Frank Korom, Ray Kiely, and RK Vasil, among others. Olga Mavrogordato, on the other hand, has broken ranks with these luminaries. She gives the date of arrival as May 10, 1845. With so many scholars pronouncing May 3, 1845 as the date of the first Indian arrival, we must be pardoned for wondering whether the government got it wrong when it declared the May 30 as a public holiday to mark the occasion.

It seems to me that the repetition of the same erroneous date by author after author arises from a failure of these scholars to engage in what Sir Karl Popper calls criticism, i.e., the questioning of data, the challenging of assumptions, the testing of hypotheses, etc, activities that lead to knowledge that is corrective and cumulative. Instead, criticism seems to take the form of a relay race in which the baton of information is handed down unchanged from one runner to the next.

One of the most substantial pieces of research on the Fatel Rozack was undertaken in 1994. Hitherto no one knew where the ship was built, in what year it was built, who was its owner and where he resided, etc. It was felt that, with the 150th anniversary of Indian arrival fast approaching, the discovery of such information would be a great boon to the nation. So scholars fanned out across the globe in search of it. And, ’after almost a year of intensive research,’ like Jason of the Argonauts, they returned home with the Golden Fleece.

Dr Brinsley Samaroo was one of those scholars and he summarised their findings in an April 1995 paper titled

The First Ship: The Fath Al Razack. This is what they found, and what is now commonly known throughout the globe, thanks to the World Wide Web:

(1) The Fatel Rozack was built in 1844;

(2) It was built in the city of Aprenade in Denmark;

(3) It was built for a wealthy Muslim trader named Ibrahim bin Yousseff who resided at Bombay;

(4) The shipwright christened the ship Cecrops;

(5) When it was delivered to Ibrahim bin Yousseff in Bombay, he renamed it Fath al Razack.

(6) Fath al Razack is the real name of the ship and the expression means ’Victory of Allah the Provider,’ Razack being an attribute of Allah.

(7) The ship was a caravel.

With these findings in hand, the researchers then sourced the ship’s actual specifications and made ’speculative drawings based on Danish ships of that period, enabling us to proceed with what we believe is the most authentic version of the Fatel Rozack produced to commemorate Indian Arrival Day.’ That replica, known as The Ship in a Bottle, was produced in 1995 by Carib Glassworks.

What we have here is indeed an extensive piece of research, and scholars all over the world have been only too happy to salute it and pass on its findings in the relay manner I described earlier. But it pains me to tell you that these findings have not contributed one jot, one iota, to an understanding of the history of the Fatel Rozack. Impressive as this research sounds, it truly constitutes a blunder of Himalayan proportion.

You see, there is no such city as Aprenade. The Cecrops was built in Denmark in the city of Aabenraa in 1845, not 1844. It was not built for Ibrahim bin Yousseff. It was built for Jorgen Bruun, a Danish merchant. The ship was his second Cecrops. The first Cecrops was built in 1829 and was sold some years later to a buyer in Sacramento, California.

The second Cecrops was a frigate, not a caravel. (Caravels were a thing of the past by the 18th century.). The Cecrops built in 1845 traded to the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. It conducted business between Denmark and that area from 1845 to 1861. And during that period all of its captains were Danes: Jacobi S Wildfang, Jacob Moller, Jp Schmidt, Joachim Nielsen, HP Brodersen, JP Boysen, Jacob Davidsen. This Cecrops never entered the waters of the West Indies. Sometime during 1861 and 1862 the Cecrops lost its rigging in a storm in the Persian Gulf and was then sold to Ibrahim bin Yousseff. After making the ship seaworthy again, Ibrahim bin Yousseff registered it under the name Futtel Razac in 1863. It follows that Ibrahim bin Yousseff and his ship had no connection whatsoever with Trinidad.

On the other hand, The Fatel Rozack which brought Indians here in 1845 was not built in 1844. While that is certain, it is not as yet known when it was constructed; but we know that it was taking immigrants to Mauritius from Calcutta in 1843. I have a log of that voyage. It was certainly not a caravel.

I know that because I have a picture of the Fatel Rozack. The captain was not a Dane, but the same Englishman, Cubit S Rundle, who piloted the ship to Trinidad in 1845. The owner of the ship was a Mogul merchant who resided in Calcutta. His name was Abdool Rozack Dugman. The ship was named for him and so ’Rozack’ is not, in this context, an attribute of Allah.

I would like to end my talk by putting forward some reasons why you should not call the first ship Fath al Razack:

(1) You will not find Fath al Razack as the name of the ship written anywhere. Fath al Razack is an etymological fancy and not an historical fact.

(2) When Cubitt Rundle was in Trinidad he referred to himself as commander of the Fatel Rozack in a brief report he handed in to Governor MacLeod on the condition of the Indian immigrants on the estates.

(3) Records of the ship in the Mahatma Gandhi Institute in Mauritius list it as Fatel Rozack.

(4) In 1854 the Fatel Rozack was given the number 6503 in the book titled The Universal Code of Signals for the Mercantile Marine of All Nations.

(5) In 1857, the French published its own international code. In the Télégraphie Nautique, the Fatel Rozack was given the number 4678.

(6) During the Second Burmese War of 1852, the British had hired several merchant ships as supply vessels to ships of the Royal Navy engaged in that theatre of war. One of those merchant ships was the Fatel Rozack and it was officially listed as such.

Dr Moore plans to publish his findings regarding the Fatel Rozack in a book.

  1. Fatel Razack (Fath Al Razack, Victory of Allah the Provider, Arabic: قتح الرزاق‎‎) was the first ship to bring indentured labourers from India to Trinidad. The ship was built in Aprenade for a trader named Ibrahim Bin Yussef, an Indian Muslim merchant in Bombay. It was constructed from teak and had a carrying capacity of 415 tons.[1] When the British decided they were going to bring Indians to Trinidad in 1845, most of the traditional British ship owners did not wish to be involved. The confusion as to the proper name possibly stems from the name “Futtle Razak”, which was on the ship’s manifest.

    The ship was originally named Cecrops, but upon delivery it was renamed to Fath Al Razack. The ship left Calcutta on 16 February 1845 and landed in the Gulf of Paria on 30 May 1845, with 227 immigrants. (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

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