Bell installed to honour lives of those who died on SS Belvedere

The bell installed at the 1860 Heritage Centre in honour of the indentured Indian workers who perished on board the SS Belvedere.

A bell has been installed at the 1860 Heritage Centre in honour of the several lives lost on board the SS Belvedere – the second ship to bring indentured Indians to South Africa.

The Belvedere left Calcutta, India, 163 years ago on October 4, carrying 342 indentured workers but many did not make the journey, perishing in the Indian Ocean either from committing suicide, being thrown overboard, or dying on board due to illness or ill-treatment.

The installation of the bell took place this week – on Wednesday October 4 – to commemorate this.

Selvan Naidoo, from the 1860 Heritage Centre, said the Belvedere warranted a deeper gaze in highlighting human commodification, abuse and violence in the machinations that administered the colonial system of indenture.

“Records show that 14.2%, twenty-nine, of the 342 passenger list perished in the Indian ocean well before landing in South Africa on 26 November 1860.

“Further misery followed when the passengers landed in Natal, with 10 passengers dying even before being assigned to a plantation. The exhausted passengers, having spent 84 days at sea, arrived 10 days after the first indentured ship, the Truro arrived from Madras (Chennai), also carrying 342 passengers.

“The Belvedere’s passengers were held at a poorly prepared makeshift quarantine site where standing water and cramped living conditions at the camp site invited death. Sadly, over the next eight years, a further 18 of the original ship’s list died, equating to an incredible 58 deaths from the Belvedere’s original manifest when it first left Calcutta in 1860,” said Mr Naidoo.

He said in the early years of what was described by shipping companies as the “Coolie System” of transporting indentured workers from India, travelling conditions on the ships transporting workers from India were deplorable.

“The voyages were long, with the dangers of abuse and of disease breaking out on many voyages.

“Hundreds of years since the ‘coolie trade’ was eventually halted, the fortunes amassed by those that oiled from the system of indenture, have never been made to account for chasing profit at the expense of the human cargo they transported to colonial plantations across the world,” said Mr Naidoo.

He said the bell was a tribute to “those souls who left on board the Belvedere on October 4 1860”.

“We honour the names of those who passed on before they could arrive at their final destination,” said Mr Naidoo.