A key player in Chinese emigration to British Guiana
Stabroek News
March 14, 2004

Related Links: Letters on heritage
Letters Menu Archival Menu

Dear Editor,

I have much appreciated your series History This Week and hope it will continue and perhaps be expanded.

In reference to the most recent article "History This Week No. 11/2004, Background to Chinese Immigration in nineteenth century British Guiana, By Tota C. Mangar, Thursday, March 11th 2004, I provide a selective extract which provides some background on one of the key players, John Gardiner Austin, in the effort to recruit Chinese immigrants to British Guiana.

The extract is taken from "An Old Colonial Family" a private publication(Fieldfare Publications Limited, 2002) which tells the story of the Austin family. The subject of this extract, John Gardiner Austin, was the brother of William Piercy Austin, first Bishop of British Guiana and later first Primate of the West Indies.


After emancipation of the slaves, labour on the West Indian sugar estates became very scarce and it was suggested that Chinese immigrants should be encouraged to fill the gap. Sir Cecil Clementi in his book 'The Chinese in British Guiana' tells the story of this effort which did not in the end prove successful and it was the importation of East Indian labour which eventually saved the sugar industry. Sir Cecil says:

'The combined Court of Policy voted a salary of £1,500 a year, exclusive of travelling expenses, for the payment of an officer to be employed in China for the promotion of emigration to British Guiana and in a letter dated 25th May 1858, the Governor with the approval of the Secretary of State, offered this appointment to Mr. J. G. Austin who was then on leave in England. He accepted the appointment and reached China early in 1859.'

Sir Cecil Clementi describes the four 'Seasons' which Mr. Austin spent in recruiting Chinese labour and the ships which he despatched with the numbers of emigrants in each, men always vastly in excess of women. The headquarters were in Hong Kong but John Gardiner travelled to coastal towns in China such as Amoy, in search of recruits. This was not without its dangers for he relates:

'Even in Hong Kong money had to be brought to the office under the charge of a Sepoy with a loaded musket, and I have often sat with a loaded revolver at my side to guard the dollars which were being paid out. I never cross to Hang-thai but with the greatest caution, concealing my movements as much as possible and never parting with my revolver day or night, holding it in my hand repeatedly during the whole of the latter. On one occasion two piratical junks were placed to intercept me; on another, my sub-agent was beaten and robbed of everything he possessed and a price was set upon the head of every foreigner.'

In 1862 his health broke down and he left Hong Kong in April.

In the following year John Gardiner Austin was appointed Lieutenant Governor of British Honduras, having been thanked for his services in Hong Kong by the emigration agents. Sir Cecil Clementi says:

'No one can fail to be impressed by the energy and sagacity with which Mr. Austin took full advantage of a singularly opportune moment of organising family emigration, enlisting the sympathy in his enterprise not only of missionaries and consuls, but even of the local Chinese officials.'

Yours faithfully,

Martin Wickham (a great, great grandson of John Gardiner Austin)

Ottawa, Canada