A full version of this item will appear here shortly. Here is the prelude.
The long-overlooked backstory of Jane Fennell Swinton (1821-72) is an odd and highly original finale to my contributions to Black History Month 2023.
Cotton merchant's daughter Jane Fennell married Captain Edulph (sometime written Edulfus or
Edolphus) Swinton and sailed with him on the most infamous ‘coolie ship’. On
the Salsette 120 of
the 324 Indian indentured labourers and their children died between Calcutta and
Trinidad in 1858. Almost one a day died from starvation, dysentery, typhid, and pining.
There is also a hard-to-get facsimile edition edited by Ron Ramdin (1994).
She critiqued the damage caused by profiteers who sent unfit and
distressed people far away on ill-provisioned ships. There were too few interpreters
and no medical and nursing staff able to act as helpful intermediaries for
people who were alarmed at Western medicine and uneasy about reporting to a
Jane was not black. And she used
racist language. But this brief book is important. No other captain, or
captain’s wife, has written such a useful first-person account of life on what
were, in effect, successors to slaveships, 1834-1917.
Who knows how much Jane
contributed to the lessening of shipboard abuses? Her personal story has never been told before, and it is only
Please keep your eyes open for my forthcoming blog item about this member of an Irish Quaker dynasty. Genealogical research reveals bankruptcy. It shows that she herself was of a family of migrants. Feminist abolitionism may have been her London context. And she had informed opinions about human cargo, including Chinese ‘coolies.’
No other woman was in
such a position of expertise about race on ships. Briefly, she was as effective a campaigner as Elizabeth Fry and Caroline Chisholm.