The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi/Volume II/1897

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Interview to "The Natal Advertiser" (13-1-1897)[edit]

[s.s. Courland],: January [13,][1] 1897

[REPORTER:] How do you view the proceedings of the demonstration committee[2]?

[GANDHIJI:] I certainly think the demonstration is most illadvised, especially proceeding from a number of Colonists who say they are loyal to the British Crown, and I should never have expected that the thing would go so far. They are showing a most decided spirit of disloyalty by their demonstration, and the effects of it will be felt not only throughout the Colony, but throughout the British Empire, more especially the Indian Empire.

In what way?

Whatever affects the body of Indians who come over here will most decidedly affect the Indians in India.

You mean to say that it will prejudice the Indians against this country?

Yes, and it will give the Indians a sort of feeling that will not be got rid of easily, besides creating a mutual feeling between sister Colonies against India. I don’t say that there is a great ill-feeling between Indians and the Colonists generally at the present moment. I certainly think that, from what the Colonists are doing here, people in India would infer that that would be the attitude of every other British Colony also and, so far as things have gone in that direction, they confirm that impression. So we find in South Africa, so far as we can read from the telegrams and the reports in the newspapers.

Of course, you firmly believe that Natal has no right to stop Indians coming here?

I certainly think so.

On what grounds?

On the ground that they are British subjects and, also, because the Colony of Natal has been importing one class of Indians and does not want to have another class.[3]


It is very inconsistent. It seems to be a sort of leonine partnership. They want to get all the advantages that can possibly be gained from the Indians, but do not want the Indians to have any advantage whatever.

What attitude will the Indian Government take on this question?

That I am unable to say. So far I don’t know what the feeling of the Indian Government is. The feeling cannot be apathetic towards the Indians. They are bound to sympathize, but what attitude they will take depends upon so many circumstances that it is very difficult to conjecture what it will be.

Is it probable that, if free Indians are stopped, the Indian Government will stop the indentured Indians?

I hope so;[4] but whether the Indian Government will do that is a different thing.
What I think most of is that the demonstrators have not taken any notice whatever of the Imperial aspect of the question. It is an admitted fact that the Indian Empire is the brightest jewel in the British Crown. Most of the trade of the United Kingdom is carried on with the Indian Empire, and it furnishes some of the bravest soldiers to fight the wars of Great Britain in almost all parts of the world.

“They have never been further than Egypt,” interpolated the interviewer, and Mr. Gandhi tacitly admitted the correction.

The policy of the Imperial Government has throughout been a policy of conciliation — a policy of winning over the Indians by love and not by force. Every Britisher is agreed that the glory of the British Empire depends upon the retention of the Indian Empire and on the face of this, it looks very unpatriotic of the Colonists of Natal, whose prosperity depends not a little upon the introduction of the Indians, to so vigorously protest against the introduction of free Indians. The policy of exclusion is obsolete, and Colonists should admit Indians to the franchise and, at the same time, in points in which they are not fully civilized, Colonists should help them to become more civilized. That, I certainly think, should be the policy followed throughout the Colonies, if all the parts of the British Empire are to remain in harmony.

Are Indians admitted, at present, to all parts of the British Empire?

Australia has now been endeavouring to exclude them, but the Government Bill has been thrown out by the Legislative Council, and, even if the policy were adopted in Australia, it remains to be seen whether it will be sanctioned by the Home Government. Even if the Australians were successful, I should say it would not be good for Natal to follow a bad example and one which was bound to be suicidal in the end.

What was your main object in visiting India?

My main object in returning was to see my family, my wife and children, from whom I have been separated, almost continually, for the last seven years. I told the Indians here that I should have to go to India for a short time. They thought I might be able to do something for the cause of the Indians in Natal and I thought so also. And here I may state, parenthetically, that we have not been fighting, really speaking, with regard to the position of the Indians in the Colony, but we have been simply fighting for the principle. The object of our agitation is not to swamp the Colony with Indians or to have the status of the Indian in the Colony of Natal defined, but to have the Imperial question decided once for all, namely: ‘What status will the Indians outside British India have?’ That was the principle we have been striving to determine. The Indian gentlemen interested in the cause in Durban discussed the question with me as to what my plan of action should be in India, and the plan of action was that I should simply get my travelling expenses in India paid by the Natal Congress. As soon as I arrived in India I published that pamphlet.[5]

Where did you prepare the pamphlet?

I did not prepare it in Natal. I prepared the whole of it while on the voyage home.

How did you secure the information it contains?

I was determined to make myself acquainted with all the facts about the Indians in South Africa, and with that object in view I had translations of the Transvaal laws supplied to me, and I asked friends in the Cape Colony and in other parts of South Africa to furnish me with any information they had on this question. So, I was fully acquainted with the facts before I decided to go to India. In the memorials which have been sent from the Indians of Natal to the Home Government, the Imperial view of the question has always been kept in the forefront.

Were the memorials bearing on the franchise question?

Not exclusively. They treated with the immigration and other laws the Colony has passed, as well as the Transvaal agitation.[6]

What was your object in publishing the pamphlet?

My object in publishing it was to place the entire facts regarding the position of the Indians in South Africa before the Indian public. The people here believe that India does not know exactly how many Indians were outside the country, and what their status was, and the object was to draw their attention to the subject, and it was with that view that the pamphlet was published.

But had you not an ulterior object?

The ulterior object was to have the status of the Indians decided to our satisfaction; that is to say, in terms with the Proclamation of 1858.

Do you hope to be successful?

I certainly hope that, with the help of the Indian public in India, we shall achieve the end very quickly.

What means do you propose adopting?

We desire them to go in for a constitutional agitation in India. At every meeting that has been held, resolutions have been passed authorizing the chairman to draw up memorials addressed to the Indian Government and the Home Government, drawing their attention to the position of the Indians in South Africa. These meetings have been held throughout the presidencies of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta.[7]

Have you received any encouragement from the Indian Government on the subject?

No; I had to return before I received any reply.
Mr. Gandhi continued:
It has been said that I went to India to blacken the character of the Natal Colonists. This I must emphatically deny. It will be remembered that I addressed an ‘Open Letter’[8] to the members of the Natal Parliament about two years ago, and there I gave my view of the treatment the Indians were receiving, and it was exactly that view that I placed before the Indian public. In fact, I copied an extract from that ‘Open Letter’, word for word, into my pamphlet.[9] It gave my view of the treatment the Indians were receiving before, and no exception was taken to that portion of the ‘Open Letter’ when it was published here. No one then said that I was blackening the character of the Colonists, but only when that statement was repeated in India.
How that can amount to blackening the character of the Colonists I fail to understand. At the time of discussing the ‘Open Letter’, almost all the papers said unanimously that I was absolutely impartial, and not a single statement I made was contradicted. Under these circumstances, I thought I was perfectly justified in making the extract from the ‘Open Letter’. I am aware that Reuter cabled Home a summary[10] of the pamphlet that could not be borne out by the ‘Open Letter’, and as soon as you received the pamphlet, both the Durban papers said Reuter had exaggerated its statements.[11] I can hardly be held responsible for Reuter’s statements and opinions, and I believe that the leaders of the demonstration party have not read the ‘Open Letter’ and the pamphlet; they have taken Reuter’s telegram as an accurate summary of the pamphlet, and are, therefore, proceeding on these lines. If this belief is well founded, then I say that the leaders are doing an injustice to the Colonists as well as the Indians. I will say I have not gone beyond what I did here, and my stating the case in India has not prejudiced it in any way.

In your Indian campaign what attitude did you adopt towards the indentured Indian question?

I have said most emphatically, in the pamphlets and elsewhere, that the treatment of the indentured Indians is no worse or better in Natal than they receive in other parts of the world. I have never endeavoured to show that the indentured Indians have been receiving cruel treatment. The question, generally speaking, is not a question of the ill-treatment of Indians, but of the legal disabilities that are placed on them. I have even said in the pamphlet that instances I have quoted show that the treatment that the Indians receive was owing to the prejudice against them, and what I have endeavoured to show is the connection between the prejudice and the laws passed by the Colony to restrict the freedom of the Indian.
I have said that the Indians did not approach the Indian Government, the Indian public, or the Home Government, with the view to having any redress against the prejudices of these colonists. I have said that Indians are the most hated beings in South Africa, and that they are being ill-treated; but, for all that we do not ask the Government for redress with regard to these things, but with regard to the legal disabilities that are placed upon the Indians. We protest against the legislation passed by prejudice, and redress has been asked for against them. This, then, is simply a question of toleration on the part of the Indian. The attitude taken up by the Colonists, especially by the demonstration committee, is an attitude of intolerance. It has been said in the papers that there is an organized attempt, under my leadership, to swamp the Colony with Indians.[12] This statement is absolutely false. I have as much to do with having induced these passengers to come here as I have with inducing passengers to come from Europe. No such attempt has ever been made.

I should think your agitation in India would have rather the opposite effect?

Certainly. I tried to induce some gentlemen to come who, I thought, would be able to replace me, to work for the cause and I was absolutely unsuccessful.[13] They refused to come. The number of passengers on board the Courland and Naderi has been exaggerated. There are not 800 passengers on the two ships, so far as my information goes. In all there are about 600. Of these, only 200 are for Natal, the rest are for Delagoa Bay, Mauritius, Bourbon, and the Transvaal. Now, out of these 200, about 100 are newcomers and of these new comers about 40 are ladies, and so it is a question of admitting about 60 newcomers. These 60 newcomers consist of storekeepers’ assistants, traders on their own account, and hawkers. I have nothing whatever to do with bringing passengers to any of the other ports either. A statement has appeared to the effect that there is a printing plant, 50 blacksmiths, and 30 compositors on board—all absolutely false. Such a statement is calculated to inflame the passions of the European artisans and the working people in Durban, though it has no foundation in fact. The leader of the demonstration committee, and anybody in Natal, would be perfectly justified in getting up an agitation—a constitutional agitation, remember—if there was an organized attempt to swamp the Colony with Indians, and Indians of this stamp; but, as a matter of fact, there is not a single blacksmith or compositor on board.
The statement has been made that I have been advising people on board to institute legal proceedings against the Government for unlawful detention.[14] That is another statement that has no foundation in fact. My object throughout is not to sow dissension between the two communities, but to assist at creating harmony between the two, without the Indians having to accept any degradation of their status as conferred upon them by the Proclamation of 1858, when it was stated that all subjects of Her Majesty in India would be treated on a footing of equality without distinction of race, colour, or creed; and I submit, I am justified in requesting every Colonist to tolerate the attitude, however much they have differed from it. Really speaking, there can be no objection to the Indian. The Colonial Patriotic Union[15] have put forward statements that the artisan class are concerned. I say there is no competition between Europeans and Indians.
It is true that few Indians do now and then come to Natal, but the number of those in the Colony is very greatly exaggerated, and certainly there are very few new comers. And how can there be any competition between a high-class European and an ordinary Indian artisan? I don’t mean to say that Indian artisans cannot compete successfully with the European artisans, but here, again, the Indian artisans of a high order, and of the right stamp, do not come here, and if they did come, they would not find much employment, just as if other professional men came here they would not find much to do.

What is your object in coming back?

I do not return here with the intention of making money, but of acting as a humble interpreter between the two communities. There is a great misunderstanding between the communities, and I shall endeavour to fulfil the office of interpreter so long as both the communities do not object to my presence.

Had you the approval of the Indian Congress[16]to all the statements you made and the action you took in India?

I certainly think so. I spoke in the name of the people.

Are there not some indentured Indians on board these boats?

No. There are some who come under an ordinary contract to serve merchants here as shop assistants, but none indentured. An unauthorized agency for bringing Indians under contract to render domestic service is illegal, according to the Indian Immigration Law.

Have the Indian Congress no intention of starting a newspaper in Natal?

There was an intention, not by the Indian Congress, but by a body of workers who sympathize with the Congress, of starting a paper, but that idea has to be given up, simply because I could not see any way to devote my time to that and other work. I had instructions to bring material and Indian type, but as I found it would be impossible for me to work it, I did not bring anything. Had I been able to persuade the gentlemen with whom I was negotiating to come over here, I might have brought the material, but as that fell through, I did not do so.

What steps have the Indian Congress taken with regard to this Colonial agitation?

So far as I know, the Congress have taken no steps whatever.

What is your plan of campaign?

My plan of campaign now is, if I am allowed time, to show that there is no conflict of interest between the two countries; that the attitude taken up by the Colony at present is indefensible on every ground; and to justify what I have done in the eyes of the Colonists for the sake of the case in which I am interested. Of course, we should resist the passing of any laws to restrict the freedom of Indians entering the Colony. I would naturally expect to have the full support of the Indian Government on that. There is absolutely no danger of the Colony getting swamped. The Courland, on one of her voyages, took back as many as a hundred new arrivals, and I, therefore, submit that the leaders should make sure of their facts before they put a drastic policy before the Colony. The free Indian population really remains stationary. The law of supply and demand regulates the inflow and outflow of passengers.
Mr. Gandhi requested the reporter to convey to the editor of the Advertiser his best thanks for allowing him to ventilate his views.

In taking leave of Mr. Gandhi, the reporter laid stress on the very strong feeling against him at present in Durban, and advised him, for his own sake, to be exceedingly careful in regard to disembarking, since he was determined to land.

The Natal Advertiser, 14-1-1897

1^ Although the s.s. Courland, in which Gandhiji travelled, had reached the Durban harbour on December 18, 1896, the ship was placed under extended quarantine, along with another passenger ship the Naderi, ostensibly on the ground that Bombay was infested with plague. The interview took place, Gandhiji says "on the day of the landing, as soon as the yellow flag was lowered" (vide “An Autobiography- Part III, Chapter III”.) and according to The Natal Advertiser, 14-1-1897, which said it took place "yesterday morning", it would be on 13-1-1897.
2^ Committee constituted by the Europeans to organize a demonstration at the harbour against the disembarkation of the Indian passengers
3^ The reference is to free Indians—traders and artisans—as distinguished from indentured labourers whose immigration was permitted.
4^ South African Indians had, in fact, petitioned both the Imperial and the Indian Governments to disallow further emigration if certain restrictions imposed on indentured labourers on the expiry of their indenture were not removed. Vide “Memorial to J. Chamberlain”, 11-8-1895 and “Memorial to Lord Elgin”, 11-8-1895.
5^ The Green Pamphlet
6^ The agitation against the legislation which sought to enforce the Indians to live and trade in specified locations; vide, “Petitition to Lord Ripon”, Before 5-5-1895 and “Petition to Lord Elgin”, Before 5-5-1895.
7^ The Calcutta public meeting which Gandhiji was to have addressed (vide “Letter to F. S. Taleyarkhan”, November 5, 1896.) had to be cancelled as he had to leave urgently for South Africa (vide ”Letter to The Englishman”, 13-1-1896). Perhaps, Gandhiji was alluding to a meeting of the Committee of the British India Association in Calcutta which he addressed and which decided to submit to the Secretary of State for India a memorial in regard to the position of the South African Indians.
8^ Vide “Open Letter”, Before 19-12-1894.
9^ Vide “London Diary”, 12-11-1888.
10^ Vide "Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies", 15-3-1897.
11^ ibid
12^ Vide "Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies", 15-3-1897.
13^ Vide “Letter to F. S. Taleyarkhan”, 10-10-1896, “Letter to F. S. Taleyarkhan”, 18-10-1896, and “Letter to F. S. Taleyarkhan”, 5-11-1896.
14^ Vide "Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies", 15-3-1897.
15^ An association formed by Durban Europeans in November 1896 to resist immigration of free Indians; vide "Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies", 15-3-1897.
16^ The reference is to the Natal Indian Congress

Letter to Attorney-General (20-1-1897)[edit]

January 20, 1897


I beg to thank you and the Government for the kind enquiries made about me and the kindness shown to me by the officials of Durban after the incident that happened on Wednesday last.[17]

I beg to state that I do not wish that any notice should be taken of the behaviour of some people towards me last Wednesday, which, I have no doubt, was due to misapprehension on their part as to what I did in India with reference to the Asiatic question.[18]

It is due to the Government to state that, although, under instructions from you, the Superintendent of Water Police offered to take me to town quietly at night, I proceeded to the shore with Mr. Laughton[19] on my own responsibility without informing the Water Police of my departure.

I have, etc.


Enclosure in Despatch No. 32 of 3rd March, 1897, from the Governor of Natal to the Principal Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Colonial Office Records: Petition and Despatches, 1897

17^ Shortly after he disembarked from the ship on January 13 Gandhiji had been besieged by demonstrators. He escaped being lynched by the intervention of Mrs. Alexander, the Police Superintendent’s wife, and by that officer’s resourcefulness when later the house where Gandhiji had taken shelter was also besieged. Vide “Satyagraha in South Africa” , Chapter VII and “An Autobiography- Part III, Chapter II & III”.
18^ Chamberlain had cabled Natal Government to prosecute Gandhiji’s assailants and Attorney-General Harry Escombe has sought Gandhiji’s assistance in indicting them.
19^ A European advocate of Durban who was friendly with Gandhiji

Cable to British Committee of the Indian National Congress, W. W. Hunter and Bhownaggree(28-1-1897)[edit]

[January 28, 1897][20]
(1) “INCAS”[21]


From a photostat of the office copy: S.N. 1883

20^ The cable is undated. Vide however the following item.
21^ Telegraphic address of the British Committee of the Indian National Congress in London
22^ The Naderi had actually sailed on November 28; vide "Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies", 15-3-1897.

Letter to Sir William W. Hunter (29-1-1897)[edit]

January 29, 1897


I reached Natal on the 18th December but could not land in Durban before the 13th January. The circumstances under which this delay occurred are very painful. The Indian community yesterday sent a very long telegram[24] to you narrating the events of the past 30 days. I venture to give below the circumstances that culminated in a demonstration by about 5,000 Durban men to oppose the landing of passengers on board two ships Courland and Naderi, the first named being owned by Messrs Dada Abdoolla and Co. of Durban and the second by the Persian Steam Navigation Co. (of Bombay).

About the beginning of August last,[25] the Tongaat Sugar Co. applied to the Immigration Trust Board for eleven Indian artisans to be brought under indenture.[26] This gave rise to an organized agitation by the European artisans against the Indians generally. Well-attended meetings of European artisans were held in Durban and Maritzburg and other towns to protest against the introduction of Indian artisans by the Sugar Co. who, yielding to the voice of the artisans, withdrew their application. But the agitation continued. The leaders assumed certain facts and allowed the agitation to develop into one against the Indians wholesale almost without discrimination. Angry correspondence condemning the Indians, mostly under noms de plume, went on. While this was going on, statements appeared in the Press to the effect that the Indians had organized an attempt to flood the Colony with free Indians. About this time appeared also Reuter’s telegram[26] regarding my pamphlet which enraged the Colonists. The telegram said that I had stated that Indians were robbed, assaulted, etc. When, however, the papers received copies of the pamphlet, they acknowledged that I had stated nothing that was not stated in Natal before and that was not acknowledged to be correct. But the general populace, who formed their opinion of the pamphlet from Reuter’s summary, continued to retain their bitter feelings. Then came the wires regarding the Bombay and Madras meetings. These, while not inaccurate, were read together with Reuter’s summary and made the feelings more bitter.

In the mean while, steamers continued to bring a large number of Indians. The arrivals were prominently reported and exaggerated. The almost equal returns by the same steamers passed unnoticed. And the artisans were led to believe without any ground that these steamers brought mostly Indian artisans. This gave rise to the formation of anti-Indian associations[27] at whose meetings resolutions were passed asking the Natal Government to stop the influx of free Indians, to prevent Indians from owning landed property, etc. These associations are not much countenanced by the commercial people but are composed chiefly of artisans and a few professional men.

At the time this was going on, two ships Courland and Naderi, bound for Natal and containing Indian passengers, were reported to be on the water. I was a passenger on board the Courland. I was to have gone by one of the British Indian boats, but the telegram from Durban, asking me to return at once, necessitated my taking passage by the Courland. As soon as the news became public property, the papers and the Durban Town Council urged that Bombay should be declared an infected port. The steamers reached Natal on the 18th and were placed under quarantine for 23 days from the day of leaving Bombay. Proclamation declaring Bombay an infected port was dated the 18th December and published in a Gazette Extraordinary on the 19th, that is, one day after the steamers’ arrival. The medical officer, who imposed five day, quarantine, making 23 days from the time of departure of the steamers from Bombay, was dismissed and another appointed in his stead. He boarded the steamers after the expiry of the first quarantine and imposed 12 days’ quarantine from that day. The Government had appointed a Committee to report as to how the two ships were to be treated and the reports said that 12 days’ quarantine after fumigation, etc., would be necessary. The medical officer gave instructions with regard to fumigation and disinfection during the time. These were carried out. Six days after this, an officer was placed on each ship to watch fumigation, etc. And after that, the medical officer came again and imposed a quarantine of 12 days from that day. Thus, even if the Committee’s report were justified, 11 clear days were wasted before the 12 days’ quarantine began.

While the ships were thus lying in the outer anchorage, a local butcher, Mr. Harry Sparks, Captain, Natal Mounted Rifles of the Volunteer Force, published a notice under his signature calling “every man in Durban to attend a public meeting to be held on the 4th January for the purpose of arranging a demonstration to proceed to the Point, and protest against the landing of Asiatics.”[28] This meeting was very largely attended and held in the Durban Town Hall. It was, however, a compliment that the more sober portion of the community held aloof from active participation in the movement. It is also worthy of notice that the associations before referred to did not take part in the movement. Dr. Mackenzie, one of the members of the Committee alluded to above, and Captain of the Naval Carbineers and Mr. J. S. Wylie, a local solicitor and Captain of the Durban Light Infantry, were the chief movers. Inflammatory speeches were made at the meeting. It was resolved that the Government should be called upon to return the passengers on the two ships to India at the Colony’s expense and “that every man at this meeting agrees and binds himself, with a view to assisting the Government to carry out the foregoing resolution, to do all his country may require of him and with that view will, if necessary, attend at the Point at any time when required.” The meeting also suggested that the quarantine should be further extended and that a special session be called, if necessary, to extend it, thus, in my humble opinion, showing clearly that the previous quarantine was meant to vex the Indians into returning to India.

The Government, in their telegraphic reply to the resolutions, said that they had no power “apart from such as may be conferred by the quarantine laws to prevent the landing in the Colony of any class of Her Majesty’s subjects” and deprecated action suggested by the second resolution quoted above. There-upon another meeting was held in the Town Hall. Mr. Wylie moved a resolution, which was carried, to the effect that a special session should be called to extend quarantine. The following are the significant passages of his speech:

The Committee said if the Government did nothing, Durban would have to do it herself and go in force to the Point and see what could be done. They capped that by remarking “we presume that you, as representing the Government and good authority of this Colony, would have to bring force to oppose us.” Mr. Escombe, the Attorney-General and Minister of Defence, said, “We will do nothing of the sort. We are with you and we are going to do nothing of the sort to oppose you. But, if you put us in such a position, we may have to go to the Governor of the Colony and ask him to take over the reins of this Colony as we can no longer conduct the Government. You will have to find some other persons.

The second resolution was that, “We proceed by demonstration to the Point on the arrival of the Indians but each man binds himself to conform to the orders of his leaders.” The speakers inflamed the hearers particularly against me. A document that was issued for signatures was thus headed: “List of names of members (trade or profession mentioned) who are willing to proceed to the Point and resist by force, if necessary, the landing of Asiatics and to obey any orders which may be given by the leaders.” The next stage in the movement was for the Demonstration Committee to send an ultimatum to the Captain of the Courland, saying that passengers should return to India at the Colony’s expense and that, if they did not do so, their landing would be resisted by thousands of Durban men. This was practically ignored.

While the movement was thus progressing, the Agents communicated with the Government and asked for protection of passengers. No reply was vouchsafed until the day on which the ships were brought in, on the 13th instant. Not much remains to be added to the telegram, of which a copy is enclosed herewith. As to the assault on me, it was due to the misrepresentations that appeared about me in the papers. The assault itself was the work of irresponsible persons and by itself need not be noticed at all. Of course, I narrowly escaped being lynched. The papers agree in saying that I did nothing that another in my place would not have done. I may also state that, after the assault, I was treated kindly by the Government officials and afforded protection.

The Government now intend to introduce, in March next, laws restricting the influx of the Indians. Town Councils have been asking the Government for widest powers to enable them to prevent Indians from taking out licences to trade, owning landed property, etc. What the outcome will be it is difficult to say. Our only hope lies in you and the gentlemen working in London in our behalf. In any case, it is time some declaration was made as to the policy of the Home Government with regard to the Indians going outside India. The continuation of assisted immigration to Natal under the circumstances seems to be a great anomaly. There is absolutely no danger of the Asiatics swamping the Colony. There is no competition between Indian and European artisans. It may almost be said that for every Indian coming to Natal one returns to India. The whole of this matter will be fully dealt with in a memorial to Mr. Chamberlain that is in course of preparation. This letter has been sent in the mean while to furnish you with a brief summary of the past events. We are aware that your time is otherwise well occupied. But, however reluctant we may be to trouble you with our sorrows, we find no escape from the course if we are to get justice.

Thanking you on behalf of the Indian community in Natal,

I remain,

Your obedient servant,


From a photostat of the office copy: S.N. 1967

23^ The source does not mention the addressee, but from Hunter’s acknowledgment in his letter of February 22, 1897 (S.N. 2074), it is clear that he had received it. Presumably similar letters were sent to the British Committee of the Indian National Congress and Sir Mancherji Bhownaggree.
24^ Vide the preceding item.
25^ Cf. however "Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies", 15-3-1897, where the date given is April 7.
26^ Vide also "Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies", 15-3-1897.
27^ For an extract from this, vide “Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies", 15-3-1897.
28^ The European Protection Association and the Colonial Patriotic Union; vide “Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies", 15-3-1897.
29^ Vide also “Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies", 15-3-1897.

Letter to the British Agent (29-1-1897)[edit]



January 29, 1897



Many Indians, intending to proceed to the Transvaal via Charlestown find difficulty in crossing the border. Some days ago, the official on the border allowed Indians possessing £25 to proceed to their destination in the Transvaal. Now it is said the official on the border would not allow the Indians to cross the border under any circumstances, though some may have been able to do so. May I venture to ask if you will be good enough to ascertain, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Indian subjects, under what circumstances they will be allowed to cross the border.

I have, etc.,


The Pretoria Archives and the Colonial Office Records, South Africa, General, 1897

Letter to "The Natal Mercury" (2-2-1897)[edit]


February 2, 1897

THE EDITOR, The Natal Mercury


I venture to offer a few remarks on the Indian famine, regarding which appeal for funds has been made to the British Colonies. It is not perhaps generally known that India is the poorest country in the world, in spite of the fabulous accounts of the riches of her Rajas and Maharajas. The highest Indian authorities state that “the remaining fifth (i.e., of the population of British India), or 40,000,000, go through life on insufficient food”. This is the normal condition of British India. Famines, as a rule, recur in India every four years. It must not be difficult to imagine what the condition of the people would be at such a time in that poverty-stricken country. Children are snatched from their mothers, wives from their husbands. Whole tracts are devastated, and this in spite of the precautions taken by a most benevolent Government. Of the famines of recent times, that of 1877- 78 was the most severe. The famine commissioners thus report as to the death-rate:

It has been estimated, and, in our opinion, on substantial grounds, that the mortality which occurred in the Provinces under British administration, during the period of famine and drought extending over the years 1877 and 1878, amounted, in a population of 197,000,000 to 52,50,000 in excess of the deaths that would have occurred had the seasons been ordinarily healthy.

The total expenditure during the crisis was over £11,000,000. The present famine bids fair to beat the record in point of severity. The distress has already become acute. The worst time has yet to come, when summer sets in. This is the first time, I believe, that the British Colonies have been appealed to from India, and it is to be hoped the response will be generous. The Central Famine Committee at Calcutta must have exhausted all the resources before deciding to appeal to the Colonies. And it will be a great pity if the response is not adequate to the urgency of the appeal.

It is true that the outlook is not particularly cheerful even in South Africa, but it will be admitted that there can be no comparison between the distress in India and that in South Africa. And even if there should be a call on the purse of the Natal magnates on behalf of the South African poor, I venture to trust that that would not deter them from dipping their hands deep into their purses on behalf of millions of their fellow-subjects in India, who are on the verge of starvation. Whether it be in the United Kingdom or in the Colonies, I am sure British philanthropy will assert itself, as it has on previous occasions, on behalf of suffering humanity, no matter where and how often.

I am, etc.,


The Natal Mercury, 4-2-1897

30^ This appeared under the title "The Indian Famine"

Appeal for Funds (3-2-1897)[edit]

[February 3, 1897][31]


While we are having our meals daily, hundreds of thousands are dying of hunger in India. The dark shadow of famine has caused a gloom over our dear country. The people of India have applied to all under the British flag to send help to the starving millions there. It is, perhaps, not known to all of us that, without famine, 40,000,000 in India do not know what it is to have their hunger satisfied from year’s end to year’s end. Imagine, then, what must be the condition of our brethren in India during these distressing times. Under such circumstances, it is the duty of every Indian, who is able to get sufficient to feed himself, to part with something for the sake of the dying. It will not do for us to say, ‘I gave something only yesterday towards this fund or that.’ You would not say so if you saw a man dying at your door of hunger; you would give all you may have to satisfy the hunger of that dying man. In the present case, the only difference is that millions are dying of hunger far away from you in a place which is your Motherland, from which you derive your status whatever it may be, and with whose welfare yours is indissolubly bound up. It would not also do to say that what you may give will be of no use to the ocean of sufferers in India. This is a mistake. If all were to argue that way, there will be no help for them. It is the drops that make the ocean. It is, therefore, the duty of every one of us to give the utmost we can towards the Relief Fund.

If you are not in affluent circumstances, it should be a duty to deny yourself something—some luxury, some jewellery, anything that is not absolutely necessary for you.

The funds will be in the hands of a Committee. The names of all who give 10s. or more will be published in newspapers in India and everyone will get a receipt, signed by Mr. M. K. Gandhi for the Famine Relief Committee, countersigned by the person or persons receiving the contributions. The Committee consists of Messrs Dada Abdoolla and Co., Messrs Mahomed Cassim Camroodeen and Co., Messrs Azam Gulam Hussain and Co., Mr. Mohanlal Ray, Mr. Syed Mahomed, Rev. Simon Velaman, Mr. Adamji Miyakhan, Mr. Parsee Rustomji, Mr. Peermahomed Dawoodji, Mr. Moosa Hajee Cassim, Messrs Dawood Mahomed and Co., Mr. Dunn, Mr. Royappan, Mr Lawrence, Mr. Godfrey, Mr. Osman Ahmed, Mr. Joshua, Mr. Gabriel, Mr. Hajee Abdoola, Mr. Hasam Sumar, Mr. Peeran Mahomed, Mr. Mogararia, Mr. Gandhi and others.

It is expected that the Indians in the Colony will furnish at least £1,000 for the sufferers, though there is no reason why the funds should not amount to £2,000 and more. It will all depend upon your generosity and sympathy for your brethren in India. No money should be given without a receipt in English and Tamil, signed by Mr. M. K. Gandhi and countersigned by the receiver.

The Natal Advertiser, 4-2-1897

30^ The appeal, which was published in the source under the title "The Black Famine in India", was issued by the Committee formed at a meeting of Indians on February 3, to make collections from various centres in Natal. It was translated into the several languages spoken by Indians in Natal as is shown by copies available at the Sabarmati Sangrahalaya.

Letter to J. B. Robinson (4-2-1897)[edit]

February 4, 1897



We, as representing the Indian community in Natal, beg respectfully to approach you, as a Leader of the British community in Johannesburg, on a matter which, we are confident, has your entire sympathy and support.

The present famine in India beats all previous records, and the alarming condition to which people have been reduced by starvation and consequent evils is unparalleled in the annals of Indian famines. The acute suffering is so widespread the authorities as well as the public have called forth the utmost resources of Indian charity. Relief Fund Committees have been formed in all parts of India, but they are found to be entirely and absolutely inadequate to stem the rising tide of distress. The population is being rapidly decimated in spite of the efforts of those that are working heart and soul for the poor, suffering masses of humanity. The Government and the people of India cannot cope with the horrors of the calamity in an effective way, and no wonder the English public has stretched its ever-ready helping hand. The Press in England has taken up the matter in right earnest, and as you are aware, a Mansion House[32] Fund has been opened. It is stated that even foreign powers have promised help.

Probably, this is the first time in the history of Indian famines that the Colonies have been asked to open relief funds, and we have no doubt every loyal British subject will gladly avail himself of the opportunity of offering what material assistance be can to lessen the horrible suffering of his tens of millions of starving fellow-subjects. Realizing his responsibility and recognizing his duty, our Mayor has already started a fund in response to Calcutta cablegram from the Chief Justice of Bengal on behalf of Central Committee there.[33] Indians in all parts of the world have been moving actively in the matter, and in Durban alone, by yesterday, they subscribed about £700, two firms contributing over £100 each and one £75 and there are good grounds for the hope that the collection might amount to about £1,500.

We have taken the liberty to approach you, Sir, because we are confident you will sympathize with our aims and objects; we, therefore, venture to request you to start a relief fund. There is no doubt, with your immense influence and energy, you are in position to help materially the public of India in their endeavours to relieve the suffering millions from the terrible consequences of the prevailing famine, and we feel sure that Johannesburg, with its immense riches, can do much more in this direction than all other parts of South Africa put together.

We may be permitted to state here that we have appealed to the Indians in different parts of South Africa to do all they can in this matter.

Hoping that this will receive your immediate attention and with apologies for encroaching upon your precious time,

We remain,


Your obedient servants

From the office copy: S.N. 1996

31^ The signatories to this letter were the members of the Committee named in the foregoing appeal.
32^ The official residence of the Mayor of London. The fund in the end amounted to £550,000. — Encyclopedia Britannica, 1965
33^ Vide "Letter to Francis W. Maclean", 7-5-1897.

To the Clergymen of Durban (6-2-1897)[edit]

February 6, 1897

TO. . .

I venture to write to you; about the Indian Famine Fund opened by the Mayor of Durban. I beg to draw your attention to the remark made by the Mayor in the Town Council yesterday to the effect that only one European had so far subscribed.

I need hardly describe the suffering of the millions in India who may have to die simply from want of sufficient nutriment.

I beg to refer you to my letter[34] in the Mercury of the 3rd instant which would give you some idea of the volume of distress that is threatening India at the present time.

I venture to think that references to the matter and appeals to the audiences for funds from the pulpit to[morrow?][35] will go a great way towards exciting the generous sympathy of the public on behalf of the suffering millions in India.

I beg to remain,

Your obedient servant,


From a photostat of the office copy: S.N. 3643

34^ Gandhiji is evidently referring to his letter of February 2 which appeared in that newspaper on February 4; vide “Letter to The Natal Mercury”, 2-2-1897.
35^ February 7 was a Sunday.

Letter to A. M. Cameron (15-2-1897)[edit]

February 15, 1897




In thank you for your kind letter of the 10th instant and your valuable suggestion. I am very glad that you will be able to spare a few days for coming down to Durban. I enclose herewith a cheque for £3. If you wish to travel first class you may do so and your further expenses will be paid.

I am,

Yours truly,


From a photostat of the office copy: S.N. 3645

36^ The addressee was then the Natal correspondent of The Times of India (vide "Letter to F. S. Taleyarkhan", 17-12-1897) and Gandhiji had invited him over for consultations about a journal to be started to further the cause of the South African Indians. It was, however, only in 1903 that Indian Opinion came out.
37^ A community village about 20 miles from Pietermaritzburg

Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies (15-3-1897)[edit]

Letter to R. C. Alexander (24-3-1897)[edit]

March 24, 1897



We, the undersigned, representing the Indian community in the Colony, herewith beg to present a gold watch with a suitable inscription in grateful recognition of the excellent manner in which you and your police preserved order on the 13th day of January, 1897, and were instrumental in saving the life of one whom we delight to love.

We are aware that what you did was, in your opinion, nothing more than your duty; but we believe that it would be very ungrateful on our part if we did not, in some way, humbly record our appreciation of your valuable work during that exceptional time. Moreover, for the same reason, we send herewith the sum of £10 for distribution among those of your Force who assisted on the occasion.[38]

We remain, etc.

From a photostat of a copy: S.N. 2149

38^ From the letters of acknowledgment from the addressee and his wife (S.N. 1938 and 1939) it seems Gandhiji had himself written to thank them for their intervention on his behalf. However, these letters are not available.

Letter to Mrs. Alexander (24-3-1897)[edit]

March 24, 1897


We, the undersigned, representing the Indian community in this Colony, herewith send you an humble present in the shape of a gold watch, chain and locket with a suitable inscription, as a token of our appreciation of the way in which you defended one whom we delight to love, on the 13th day of January, 1897, during the anti-Indian Demonstration crisis at no small personal risk to yourself. We are sure that nothing that we can offer will be an adequate return for your act which will ever be a pattern of true womanhood. We remain, etc.

From a photostat of a copy: S.N. 2150

Petition to Natal Legislative Assembly (26-3-1897)[edit]


March 26, 1897




That your Petitioners hereby venture to lay before this Honourable House the feeling of the Indian community with reference to the Quarantine, Trade Licences, Immigration and Uncovenanted Indians Protection Bills[40] that are now, or soon will be, before this Honourable House for consideration. Your Petitioners understand that the first three Bills hereinabove referred to are meant, directly or indirectly, to restrict the immigration of Her Majesty’s Indian subjects into the Colony. Strange as it may appear there is no mention of the persons whom they are meant to affect.[41] With the greatest deference, your Petitioners venture to submit that such a mode of procedure is un-British and, therefore, it should not receive countenance in a Colony which is supposed to be the most British in South Africa. If it is proved to the satisfaction of this Honourable House that the presence of the Indian in the Colony is an evil and there is an alarming influx of Indians into the Colony, your Petitioners submit that it will be better in the interests of all parties concerned that a Bill directly aiming at the evil be passed.

But your Petitioners respectfully submit that it can be easily shown that the presence of the Indian in the Colony, instead of being an evil, is of benefit to it and that there is no alarming influx of Indians into the Colony.

It is an admitted fact that the Indians, whom the Bills are calculated to keep away from the Colony, are”sober and industrious”. Such is the opinion pronounced by the highest authorities in the land as well as by those who are their bitterest opponents. And your Petitioners submit that such a class of people cannot but be an economical benefit wherever they may go, more especially in newly-opened-up countries like Natal. Your Petitioners further urge that the returns published by the Acting Protector of Immigrants[42] show that while 1,964 Indians arrived in the Colony between August and January last, 1,298 left it during the same period. Your Petitioners feel sure that this Honourable House would not consider this increase to be such as to justify the introduction of the Bills under discussion. Nor will this Honourable House, your Petitioners trust, ignore the fact that most, if not all, of the 666 Indians must have proceeded to the Transvaal. Your Petitioners, however, do not wish to say that the statements made above should be accepted without verification. But your Petitioners submit that the statements furnish a prima facie case for enquiry.

Your Petitioners fear that the Bills are a present to the popular prejudice. It is, therefore, respectfully submitted that before considering the Bills this Honourable House should ascertain beyond doubt whether the evil does or does not exist.

Your Petitioners humbly suggest that a census of the free Indian population, and a searching enquiry in the question of the presence of the Indian being an evil, are absolutely essential to enable this Honourable House to arrive at a right conclusion with regard to the Bills. Nor is this a matter that would take so long a time as to render any legislation after the enquiry ineffectual.

An examination of the Bills without reference to their veiled object and premature character, your Petitioners submit, shows that they are unjust and arbitrary measures.

As to the Quarantine Bill, your Petitioners assure this Honourable House that in criticizing it they have no wish to oppose anything, no matter how hard it may be, that may be necessary in the interestsof the health of the community. Your Petitioners would welcome and, so far as it may be in their power, cooperate with the authorities in carrying out, any measures of quarantine adopted to guard the Colony against the introduction of infectious disease into it. Your Petitioners, however, venture to submit that the present Bill is simply a part of the anti-Indian policy, and against it as such your Petitioners feel it their duty to enter their respectful protest. Your Petitioners venture to think that such a measure in a British Colony would give an opportunity to those Powers, which are jealous of the British power and trade, to justify the vexatious quarantine rules that they are adopting.

As to the Trading Licences Bill, your Petitioners welcome it so far as it is meant to teach the communities residing in the Colony to keep their premises in a good sanitary condition and to provide proper accommodation for their clerks and servants. But your Petitioners most earnestly though respectfully protest against the discretion being given to the Licensing Officer to refuse or grant a licence “at his own will” and, more especially, against the clause which gives the final power to the Colonial Secretary or the Town Councils or Town Boards, as the case may be. These clauses, your Petitioners are afraid, show most clearly that the Bill is to operate against the Indian community alone. To deny a subject the right to appeal to the highest tribunal of justice against the decisions of persons or bodies who are not unoften guided and carried away by popular feelings or prejudice would be deemed to be an arbitrary measure in any part of the civilized world; in the British Dominions, an insult to the British name and its Constitution which is rightly termed the purest in the world. Nothing, your Petitioners submit, can be more disastrous to the stability of British Rule and the feeling of security that the meanest of Her Majesty’s subjects enjoy, than anything that takes away the right of the subject to ventilate his grievance, supposed or real, before the highest tribunals of justice in the British Dominions, which have, under the severest trials, vindicated their fame for absolute impartiality. Your Petitioners, therefore, humbly submit that, no matter what this Honourable House decides with regard to the Bills, it will unanimously reject the clause under consideration.

The clause[43] in the Immigration Restriction Bill, with regard to the form to be filled in European characters makes it a class Bill and the requirement is, in your Petitioners’ humble opinion, unjust to the Indian community. In the interests of the present Indian population, your Petitioners submit that the clause requires amending. For most of the well-to-do Indians draw upon India for domestic servants who retire at the end of a certain number of years and are replaced by others. That process does not add to the number of Indians in the Colony and yet is beneficial to the Indians. Such servants could not possibly know English or any other European language. They do not come into competition with the Europeans in any way whatever. Your Petitioners, therefore, submit that for this, if for no other reason, the clause should be altered so as not to affect the Indians of that class. The £25 clause is also objectionable on the same principle.[44] Your Petitioners submit that the interests of the present Indian population of the Colony should, in such matters at any rate, be sympathetically considered.

As to the Bill for the protection of Uncovenanted Indians,[45] your Petitioners are deeply thankful to the Government for their good intentions, especially because the bill owes its origin to a certain correspondence between the Government and certain members of the Indian community with reference to the matter. But the effect of the favour done by the Government will be absolutely neutralized by the 5th clause[46] which exempts those who may arrest free Indians, not having the pass mentioned in the 2nd clause, from liability to action for damages for wrongful arrest. It was only when an officer showed over-zeal in making arrests that the trouble arose.[47] Your Petitioners think that simple instructions to officials to carry out the clause 31 of Law 25 of 1891 would have been sufficient. The Bill, on the other hand, gives a license to the police to arrest Indians being without passes with impunity. Your Petitioners may mention that the mere taking out of the pass does not render the holder free from vexation. To carry it on the person is not always possible. Instances are on record when Indians, having left their houses without passes for a short time, have been arrested through the over-zeal of officers. Your Petitioners submit that the Bill, therefore, instead of protecting the Indian community, will, because of the clause 5 thereof, render them liable to indignity oftener than usual. Your Petitioners therefore, trust that this Honourable House would so alter or amend the measure as to be a real benefit to the Indian community as it is no doubt intended to be.

In conclusion, your Petitioners may be allowed to repeat that their main objection to the first three Bills is that the evil which they are intended to check does not exist and, therefore, pray that before considering those Bills this Honourable House would order that a census may be taken of the free Indian population of the Colony, an estimate of the annual increase during a certain number of years be taken, and an enquiry be instituted to ascertain whether the presence of the Indian population is detrimental to the interests of the Colony at large.

And that the clause 5 of the Bill for the Protection of Uncovenanted Indians may be expunged therefrom or this House may grant such other relief as it may think fit.

And for this act of mercy and justice, your Petitioners, as in duty bound, shall for ever pray, etc., etc., etc.


Pietermaritzburg Archives, Reference NPP, Volume 656, Petition 6

39^ The Natal Mercury, 29-3-1897, published the text of the petition with a few introductory lines and some minor verbal alterations.
40^ For provisions of these enactments, vide “Petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 2-7-1897, Appendix A- D.
41^ Indians were not specifically mentioned in three of the four measures despite the fact that they were implicitly meant to affect the Indians; only the Uncovenanted Indians Protection Bill referred to the Indians by name.
42^ Vide “Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 15-3-1897.
43^ Section 3(a);vide “Petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 2-7-1897, Appendix B; and for the from, Schedule B, “Petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 2-7-1897, Appendix B.
44^ The financial qualification in Section 3(b) was later substituted by a clause concerning "paupers"; vide "Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies", 15-3-1897 and “Petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 2-7-1897, Appendix B.
45^ Vide Petition to Natal Legislative Council” 26-3-1897 and “Petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 2-7-1897; and for the text of the Bill as adopted vide “Petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 2-7-1897, Appendix-D.
46^ The provisions referred to are contained in clause 4 of the Act; vide “Petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 2-7-1897, Appendix-D.
47^ The reference is, evidently, to the case of the Indian lady who was awarded damages for wrongful arrest; vide “The Grievances of the British Indians in South Africa: An Appeal to the Indian Public”, 14-8-1896.

Letter to Natal Colonial Secretary (26-3-1897)[edit]

March 26, 1897



I have the honour to draw your attention to a despatch of His Excellency the Governor, addressed to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies,[48] printed in today’s Mercury, wherein he states as follows:

I learn that Mr. Gandhi in coming ashore at so inopportune a moment, when ill-advised persons were angry at the peaceful issue of the demonstration and before passions had had time to cool, acted on advice which he now admits to have been bad.[49]

As I have always considered, and still consider, the advice upon which I acted was excellent, I would be glad if His Excellency would inform me upon what foundation he made the above statement.[50]

I have the honour to be, etc.,


The Natal Mercury, 8-4-1897

48^ The despatch contained the following reference to the incident of January 13, 1897: "Mr. Gandhi, a Parsee [sic] lawyer, who has been prominent in the agitation which took place amongst the Indians against the recent franchise legislation, and is the author of a pamphlet on the subject of the Indians in South Africa, some statements in which have been much resented here, landed not at the regular landing place, but within the limits of the Borough of Durban, and was recognized by some disorderly persons who mobbed him and ill-treated him." Then followed the paragraph quoted by Gandhiji which concluded with the words: "and accepts the responsibility of his action in the matter." (The Natal Mercury, 26-3-1897)
49^ The actual advice tendered by Mr. Laughton, legal adviser to the shipping company, who later escorted Gandhiji to the shore, was that: "I do not think there is any fear of anyone hurting you. Everything is quiet now. The whites have all dispersed. But in any case I am convinced that you ought not to enter the city stealthily." Vide “An Autobiography-Part III”, Chapter III.
50^ For the addressee's reply, vide “Letter to the Natal Governor”, 6-4-1897.

Petition to Natal Legislative Council (26-3-1897)[edit]

March 26, 1897[51][52]




That your Petitioners humbly venture to approach the Honourable House with regard to the Bill for Protection of Uncovenanted Indians now before you for consideration. Your Petitioners are deeply thankful for the good intentions of the Government in introducing the Bill, especially as it seems to be a result of certain correspondence that passed between the Government and certain members of the Indian community. But your memorialists are afraid that the good effect of the Bill will be absolutely neutralized by the clause thereof which renders any officer, who may arrest an Indian for being without a pass, exempt from any liability for an action for damages for wrongful arrest. It was only when an officer showed over-zeal in putting Section 31 of Law 25 of 1891 in operation that any trouble or inconvenience arose. Simple instructions, therefore, to the Police Officers to be considerate in enforcing the Law might, in your Petitioners’ humble opinion, have minimized the inconvenience. Under the present Bill, the inconvenience will, it is feared, increase, because the mere taking out of the pass under it does not free the holder from liability to arrest. It has to be carried on the person, a thing that is not always easy to do. Instances are on record when Indians not far from their homes have been arrested for being without a pass and put to a great deal of annoyance. Such cases, if the fifth clause of the Bill is to remain, are likely to happen oftener than before. And since the Bill has been introduced in the interests of the Indian community, your Petitioners submit that the feelings of that community should receive some consideration. Your Petitioners, therefore, humbly pray that the fifth clause of the Bill be expunged therefrom, or that this House may grant such other relief as may be considered fit and proper. And for this act of justice and mercy, your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, etc., etc., etc.,

Colonial Office Records: No. 181, Vol. 42; also Archives at Pietermaritzburg, NPP Volume 656, Petition 6; also minutes of the proceedings of the Natal Legislative Council, 30th March, 1897

51^ As will be seen, the text of this petition is virtually identical with that portion of the petition to the Assembly dated March 26, which related to the Bill for the Protection of Uncovenanted Indians; vide “Petition to Natal Legislative Assembly”, 26-3-1897.
52^ This is the date the petition bore (S.N. 2364) though it was presented on March 30.

Circular Letter (27-3-1897)[edit]

March 27, 1897[54]


We the undersigned, representing the Indian community in Natal, hereby request the favour of your giving attention to the memorial herewith enclosed, addressed to the Right Honourable Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, which deals with the now all-absorbing Indian question in Natal. It is our sincere hope that the importance of the subject will fully compensate for its length and that, therefore, it will not deter you from perusing the memorial.

The Indian question in this Colony has reached the critical point. It affects not only Her Majesty’s Indian subjects residing in the Colony, but the whole population of India. It is preeminently Imperial in its aspect. “May they or may they not,” as The Times puts it, “go freely from one British possession to another, and claim the rights of British subjects in allied States?” European Natal says they shall not, so far as she is concerned. The memorial discloses a sad tale of oppression because of this attitude of Natal.

There is shortly to be a Conference of Premiers of the British Colonies, in London, where the question how far, if at all, the Colonies will be allowed to legislate to the prejudice of the Indians without such legislation applying to the Europeans, is to be discussed by Mr. Chamberlain with the Premiers. It, therefore, becomes necessary for us to lay before you briefly our position in Natal. The following are some of the legal disabilities the Indians at present labour under in the Colony:

1. The Indians, unlike Europeans, cannot be out after 9 p.m., unless, practically, they can produce a pass.
2. Any Indian is liable to arrest at any time of the day unless he can show a pass to the effect that he is a free Indian. (The complaint herein is particularly against the manner in which the law is applied.)
3. Indians, unlike Europeans, when driving cattle must be provided with certain passes.
4. A bye-law in Durban provides for the registration of native servants and Indian servants who are described as “others belonging to the uncivilized races of Asia”.
5. An indentured Indian, when he becomes free, must either return to India, his passage being paid for him, or pay an annual poll-tax of £3 as the price of permission to live as a somewhat free man in the Colony. (The London Times describes this condition as one “perilously near to slavery”.)
6. Indians, unlike Europeans, in order to be entitled to the Franchise must prove that they belong to a country “possessing elective representative institutions founded on the Parliamentary Franchise,”[55] or, must receive an order of exemption from the Governor-in-Council. (This law was passed last year after the Indians had been in possession of the Franchise right under the General Franchise law of the Colony till then, and that law requires that the candidate voter being an adult male, and not being a native of South Africa, must possess immovable property worth £50, or must be paying an annual rental of £10.)
7. The Government High Schools are closed against Indian students, no matter what their abilities, character and standing.

The following is the statement of legislation to be passed during the present session of the local Parliament:

1. The Governor is to receive the power to refuse to allow any person coming from an infected port to land at all in the Colony, even though such person may have trans-shipped at some other port.[56] (The Premier, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said that it would enable the Natal Government to arrest the immigration of free Indians to the Colony.)
2. The Town Councils and the Town Boards are to be empowered to refuse or grant trading licences at their discretion,[57] their decisions not being subject to review by the highest tribunal of justice in the land. (The Premier, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said that such power was to be given so that the trading licences may be withheld from the Indians.)
3. Immigrants are to be required to fulfil certain conditions, e.g., to have property worth £25,[58] to be able to fill in a form in some European language, the unwritten understanding, according to the Premier, being that these conditions are not to be enforced against the Europeans. (The Government have stated that these measures would be temporary and that, after the Conference hereinbefore referred to, they may be able to bring in such Bills as would apply to Indians or Asiatics exclusively and thus admit of more drastic restrictions and dispense with mental reservations and partial operation.)
4. A pass system is to be established in order to protect free Indians from the unpleasantness of an arrest, and officers arresting Indians without passes are to be exempt from liability to answer any claim for wrongful arrest.[59]

The following proposals for further anti-Indian legislation have been laid before the Natal Government:

1. The Indians should not own landed property.
2. Town Councils should be empowered to compel Indians to reside in prescribed locations.

According to the present Premier, Indians in Natal must for ever be and remain “hewers of wood and drawers of water” and that “they must not form part of the South African nation which is going to be built up”. We may state that the prosperity of Natal is admitted to depend mainly upon indentured labour from India, and yet it is Natal which denies freedom to the Indian settler.

Such is, moreover, the position of the Indians, more or less, throughout South Africa. If the Indians are to be denied freedom of intercourse with the British Dominions and allied States, there will be an end to Indian enterprise. Just when, as The Times says, Indians, setting aside their long-cherished prejudices, are beginning to show an inclination to emigrate for purposes of trade, etc., the Colonies are endeavouring to shut them out. If this is allowed by the Home Government, and, therefore, by the Imperial Parliament, it will, in our humble opinion, be a grave infringement of the gracious Proclamation of 1858, and would deal a death-blow to Imperial federation, unless the Indian Empire is outside its pale. We venture to think that the above facts by themselves are sufficient to induce you to extend your unreserved support to our cause.

We remain,
Your obedient servants,


From a photostat of the printed copy: S.N. 2159

53^ Printed copies of this, under the title "The Position of Indians in Natal" were evidently sent to a number of public men in England along with a copy of the Memorial to the Secretary of State for the Colonies on March 15.
54^ The letter was actually despatched after the Memorial it forwarded had been submitted to the Natal Governor on April 6.
55^ Vide ”Memorial to Natal Legislative Assembly”, 27-4-1896 and Memorial to J. Chamberlain”, 22-5-1896.
56^ Quarantine Law; vide "Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies", 15-3-1897.
57^ Vide “Petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 2-7-1897, Appendix D.
58^ The provision regarding the property qualification was later replaced by a clause, Section 3(b), which disqualified "paupers"; vide “Petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 2-7-1897, Appendix B.
59^ Vide “Petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 2-7-1897, Appendix D.

Letter to F. S. Taleyarkhan (27-3-1897)[edit]


March 27, 1897


I thank you for your two letters, the last of which was received this week. I am sorry I am unable to write a long letter for want of time. The Indian question almost wholly occupies my attention. The memorial to Mr. Chamberlain on the recent events will be ready next week.[60] I shall then send you a few copies. It will give you all the necessary information.

The Natal Parliament is sitting now and has three anti-Indian Bills before it. As soon as the result is known, I shall write to you with reference to your kind proposal for the propaganda in London. It is a question whether it would be advisable, in the present state of public feeling, for you to land in Natal as a public man. Such a man’s life in Natal is, at present, in danger. I am certainly glad that you did not accompany me. The quarantine regulations, too, have been specially framed to prevent any more Indians from coming.

I am,

Yours sincerely,

From the original. Courtesy: R. F. S. Taleyarkhan

60^ This was forwarded to the Governor for onward transmission on April 6; vide “Petition to the Natal Governor”, 6-4-1897.

Letter to Secretary for Zululand (1-4-1897)[edit]


April 1, 1897



May I ask whether the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies has sent any reply to the memorial with regard to the Nondweni and Eshowe Townships Regulations[61].

I have, etc.,


India Office Library: Judicial and Public files, 1897, Vol. 467, No. 2536/19177

61^ Preventing Indians from owning or acquiring property in the Nondwani and Eshowe Townships; vide “Memorial to J. Chamberlain”, 11-3-1896.

Circular Letter (2-4-1897)[edit]

April 2, 1897


I beg to send a copy of the memorial to Mr. Chamberlain with regard to the recent anti-Indian Demonstration. The approaching Conference of the Colonial Premiers in London, to discuss this among other questions, renders it absolutely necessary that the Indian side of the question should be represented as strongly as possible. I know that the famine and plague absorb the attention of public men in India. But, since this question is now awaiting final decision, I venture to think it should receive the fullest attention of the public men. Emigration is one of the antidotes against famine. And the Colonies are now endeavouring to stop it. Under the circumstances, I submit that the matter deserves the most earnest and immediate attention of the public men in India.

You will be pleased to learn that the Indian community have subscribed over £1,130 to the Indian Famine Fund.

I remain,

Yours obediently,

From a photostat of the cyclostyled original: S.N. 2210

62^ The source has this under the title “To public Men in India.” It is not ascertainable to which of the public men it was sent.

Letter to F. S. Taleyarkhan (On or After 2-4-1897)[edit]

DURBAN, [On or after April 2, 1897][63]


I am sending you the petition today and other papers. There is hardly time to write more. The question has assumed such a serious phase that the whole of India should rise up against the disabilities that are being placed upon the Indians. Now is the time or it will be never. And the decision of the question with regard to Natal will be applicable to all the Colonies. Why could not the public associations inundate the India Office with memorials protesting against the illtreatment?

The opinion is unanimous. To secure justice action alone is necessary.

Yours sincerely,
State immigration, at any rate, may be stopped, if nothing more can be done.

M. K. G.

From the original. Courtesy: R.F.S. Taleyarkhan

63^  The letter was written on the reverse of the circular letter dated April 2, 1897; vide the preceding item.

Petition to Natal Governor (6-4-1897)[edit]

April 6, 1897



I beg most respectfully to forward herewith to your Excellency a memorial[64] regarding the recent Anti-Indian ‘Demonstration’ addressed to Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for the Colonies, and signed by myself and others.

I humbly request Your Excellency to send it to Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for the Colonies, with Your Excellency’s favourable remarks.

I beg to enclose, herewith, also two copies of the original petition referred to above.

I have, etc.,

Colonial Office Records: Petitions and Despatches, 1897

64^ Dated March 15; vide “Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 15-3-1897.

Letter to Natal Colonial Secretary (6-4-1897)[edit]

April 6, 1897



I have the honour to acknowledge your letter of 31st ultimo,[65] wherein you inform me that information cannot be given to me as to the authority on which the paragraph in the Governor’s despatch referred to by me was written, but that a copy of my letter and of your reply will be forwarded by His Excellency for the information of the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

In reply, I venture to think that, if the information has been derived from any statement made by me, I should be informed thereof. I cannot but most respectfully express my concern that His Excellency should have forwarded to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State such information with reference to me as to its accuracy.

I am sending a copy of this correspondence to the Press.

I have the honour, etc.,

The Natal Mercury, 8-4-1897

65^ For Gandhiji's letter to which this was the reply, vide “Letter to Natal Colonial Secretary”, 26-3-1897.

Letter to Secretary for Zululand (7-4-1897)[edit]

April 7, 1897



I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 6th instant, informing me that His Excellency the Governor has received instructions from the Secretary of State for the Colonies to issue certain amended Regulations with reference to the sale of Erven in Zululand.

I have, etc.,

India Office Library: Judicial and Public Files, 1897, Vol. 467, No. 2536/19177

Letter to "The Natal Mercury" (13-4-1897)[edit]

April 13, 1897

THE EDITOR, The Natal Mercury[66]


As this will be my first contribution after my return from India, on the Indian question, and a great deal has been said about me, much as I would like to avoid it, it seems to be necessary that I should say a few words on the matter. The following charges have been laid against me:

(1) That I blackened the character of the Colonists in India, and made many mis-statements;[67]
(2) that there is an organization under me to swamp the Colony with Indians;[68]
(3) that I incited the passengers on board the Courland and Naderi to bring an action against the Government for damages for illegal detention;[69]
(4) that I have political ambition, and the work I am doing is done in order to fill my pocket.

As for the first charge, I believe I need not say anything since you have absolved me from it.[70] I venture, however, to deny formally that I ever did anything to merit it. As to the second, I repeat what I have said elsewhere: that I have no connection with any organization, nor, so far as I know, is there any organization to swamp the Colony with Indians. As to the third, I have denied and again deny most emphatically that I incited a single passenger to bring an action for damages against the Government. As to the fourth, I may state that I have no political ambition whatever. Those who know me personally know well in what direction my ambition lies. I do not aspire to any Parliamentary honours whatever, and, though three opportunities passed by, I deliberately refrained from getting myself placed on the Voters’ List. I receive no remuneration for the public work that I am doing. If the European Colonists can believe me, I beg to assure them that I am here not to sow dissensions between the two communities, but to endeavour to bring about an honourable reconciliation between them. In my humble opinion, much of the ill feeling that exists between the two communities is due to misunderstanding of each other’s feelings and actions. My office, therefore, is that of an humble interpreter between them. I have been taught to believe that Britain and India can remain together for any length of time only if there is a common fellow feeling between the two peoples. The greatest minds in the British Isles and India are striving to meet that ideal. I am but humbly following in their footsteps, and feel that the present action of the Europeans in Natal is calculated to retard, if not altogether to frustrate, its realization. I feel, further, that such action is not based on good grounds, but rests on popular prejudice and preconceived notions. Such being the case, I venture to trust that, however much the European Colonists may differ from the above opinion, they would be gracious enough to show a spirit of toleration thereof. There are several Bills[71] before the Natal Parliament prejudicially affecting the interests of the Indians. They are not supposed to represent final legislation with regard to the Indians, but the Honourable the Prime Minister has stated that more stringent measures may be adopted after the forthcoming Conference of the Colonial Premiers has taken place. This is a gloomy outlook for the Indians, and if, in order to avert it, they put forth all the legitimate resources at their disposal, I venture to think that they should not be blamed. It seems that everything is being hurried on as if there was any danger of thousands of Indians of all sorts and conditions pouring into Natal.[72] I submit that there is no such danger and the late quarantine would serve as an effective check, if there was any. The suggestion that there should be an inquiry as to whether the Indian is an evil or a benefit to the Colony has been pooh-poohed and an opinion expressed that he who has eyes can see how the Indians are ousting the Europeans in every direction. With deference, I beg to differ. The thousands of free Indians, apart from the indentured, who have developed the large estates in Natal and given them a value, and turned them from jungles into productive soil, I am sure you will not call an evil to the Colony. They have not ousted any Europeans; on the contrary, they have brought them prosperity and considerably increased the general wealth of the Colony. Will the Europeans—can they? —perform the work done by those Indians? Have not the Indians very much helped to make this the Garden Colony of South Africa? When there were no free Indians, a cauliflower sold at half a crown; now, even the poorest can buy it. Is this a curse? Has the working man been injured in any way thereby? The Indian traders are said to “have eaten into the very vitals of the Colony”. Is it so? They have made it possible for the European firms to extend their business in the way they have done. And these firms, because of this extension, can find employment for hundreds of European clerks and book keepers. The Indian traders act as middlemen. They begin where the Europeans leave. It is not to be denied that they can live cheaper than Europeans; but that is a benefit to the Colony. They buy wholesale from European stores, and can sell with a trifling addition to the wholesale prices, and are thus a benefit to the poor Europeans. It might be said in answer to this that the work now done by the Indian storekeepers could be done by Europeans. This is a fallacy. The very Europeans who are now wholesale dealers would be retail dealers but for the presence of the Indian storekeepers, except in isolated instances. The Indian storekeepers have, therefore, raised the Europeans a stage higher. It has, further, been said that, in time to come, Indians may usurp the wholesale trade also from the Europeans. This supposition is not borne out by facts, because the wholesale prices in Indian and European stores are, if not exactly, almost the same, thus showing the competition in the wholesale lines cannot by any means be said to be unfair. The cheaper living of the Indian is not an important factor in determining the wholesale price, because the cheaper living of the one is counterbalanced by the more methodical business habits and the mercantile “home connections” of the other. It is objected, on the one hand, that the Indians buy landed property in Natal and, on the other, that their money does not circulate in the Colony but goes to India, because “they wear no boots, no European-made clothing, and send their earnings to India”, thus constituting a terrible drain on the Colony. These two objections completely answer each other. Assuming that the Indians wear no boots and European-made clothing, they do not send the money thus saved to India, but invest it in buying landed property. What, therefore, they earn with one hand in the Colony they spend with the other. All, then, that the Indians send to India can only be a portion of the interest in the shape of rents received from such property. The purchase of landed property by the Indians is a double benefit. It increase the value of land, and gives work to the European builders, carpenters, and other artisans. It is a mere chimera to say that European workmen have anything whatever to fear from the Indian community. There is absolutely no competition between the European artisans and the Indian, of whom there are very few, and the few are indifferent workmen. A project to import Indian artisans to construct an Indian building in Durban failed. No good Indian artisans would come to the Colony. I do not know of many Indian buildings which have been constructed by Indian artisans. There is a natural division of work in the Colony, without any community encroaching upon the work of the other.

If there is any reason whatever in the views put forward above, I beg to submit that legislative interference is unjustifiable. The law of supply and demand will naturally regulate the supply of free Indians. After all, if the Indian is really a canker, the more dignified course, since it has been admitted that the Indians can thrive because of the European support, will be that such support should be withdrawn. The Indians, then, may fret awhile, but cannot legitimately complain. But it should appear unfair to anybody that legislation should interfere with the supported on the complaint of the supporters. All, however, I venture to claim on the strength of the above argument is that there is sufficient in it to justify the inquiry hereinbefore suggested. No doubt there would be the other side of the question. If there was an inquiry, both sides could thoroughly be thrashed out and an unbiased judgment obtained. Then there would be some good material for our legislators to go on with and for Mr. Chamberlain to guide him. The opinion pronounced 10 years ago by a Commission of Inquiry, consisting of Sir Walter Wragg and other Commissioners, is that the free Indian is a benefit to the Colony.[73] That is the only reliable material at present before the legislators, unless it is proved that the conditions during the last 10 years have so far changed as to prevent them from accepting that opinion. These, however, are local considerations. Why should not Imperial considerations also guide the Colonist? And if they should, then, in the eye of the law, the Indian is to have the same rights as all other British subjects. India benefits hundreds of thousands of Europeans; India makes the British Empire; India gives an unrivalled prestige to England; India has often fought for England. Is it fair that European subjects of that Empire in this Colony, who themselves derive a considerable benefit from Indian labour, should object to the free Indians earning an honest livelihood in it? You have said that the Indians want social equality with the Europeans; I confess I do not quite understand the phrase; but I know that the Indians have never asked Mr. Chamberlain to regulate the social relations between the two communities; and so long as the manners, customs, habits, and religions of the two communities differ, there will, naturally, be a social distinction. What the Indians fail to understand is, why that difference should come in the way of the two living cordially and harmoniously in any part of the world without the Indians having to accept a degradation of their status in the eye of the law. If the sanitary habits of the Indian are not quite what they ought to be, the Sanitary Department can, by strict vigilance, effect the needed improvement. If Indians have not got decent-looking stores, licensing authorities can soon turn them into decent-looking ones. These things can only be done when European Colonist, as Christians, look upon the Indians as brethren, or, as British subjects, look upon them as fellow-subjects. Then, instead of cursing and swearing at the Indians as now, they would help them to remove any defects that there may be in them, and thus raise them and themselves also in the estimation of the world.

I appeal to the Demonstration Committee[74], who are supposed more particularly to represent the working men. They now know that the Courland and Naderi did not bring 800 passengers for Natal, and that, in what they did bring, [there] was not a single Indian artisan.[75] there is no attempt on the part of the Indians “to put the Europeans in the kitchen, and to become masters themselves’.[76] The European working man can have no complaint against the Indian. Under the circumstances, in my humble opinion, it behoves them to reconsider their position and direct the energy at their disposal in such channels that all sections of Her Majesty’s subjects in the Colony may live in harmony and peace, instead of under a state of excitement and friction. Information has appeared in the papers that a gentleman is shortly to proceed to England on behalf of the Indians and the evidence against the Colony is being collected. In order that there may be no misunderstanding about the matter, I may state that, in view of the approaching Conference, a gentleman is going to London on behalf of the Indian community in South Africa, to place the Indian side of the question before their sympathizers and the general public, as also, if necessary, Mr. Chamberlain.[77] He is to receive no remuneration for his services but passage and expenses. The statement that evidence is being collected against the Colony is very ugly and, unless it were true, could only be made by a person writing under an assumed name. The gentleman in question will certainly be put in possession of all the information about the Indian question in South Africa, but that appears in the papers already published. The Indians never have wished, and do not now wish, to make out a charge of brutality or general bodily ill-treatment by the Europeans towards them. Nor do they wish to make out that the treatment of the indentured Indians in Natal is worse than elsewhere. Therefore, if collecting evidence against the Colony is meant to convey some such impression, it is a groundless statement.

Your, etc.,

The Natal Mercury, 16-4-1897

66^ This appeared under the title "The Indian Question".
67^ The reference is to alleged mis-statements in the Green Pamphlet.
68^ Vide “Letter to The Natal Mercury”, 13-11-1897.
69^ Vide “Interview to The Natal Advertiser”, 13-1-1897, and “Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 15-3-1897.
70^ Vide “Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 15-3-1897, Appendix-Y.
71^ The Quarantine, Dealers' Licences, Immigration Restriction and Protection of Uncovenanted Indians Bills
72^ Speaking in Parliament on March 27, the Natal Premier had referred to a systematic plan to overrun the country with free Indian immigrants.
73^ For the findings of the Indian Immigrants Commission, vide “Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 15-3-1897, also “The Indian Franchise”, 16-12-1895, Part VI.
74^ Vide “Interview to The Natal Advertiser”, 13-1-1897.
75^ ibid
76^ Vide “Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 15-3-1897.
77^ The reference is to Mansukhlal Hiralal Nazar, who did valuable work in England to inform public opinion about the problem of the South African Indians.

Letter to Francis W. Maclean (7-5-1897)[edit]




As soon as your telegram addressed to the Mayor of Durban asking for subscriptions to Famine Fund was published in the papers the Indian Community in Durban deemed it their duty to open a Subscription List, and circulars in English, Gujarati, Hindi and Tamil were forthwith issued,[78] copies of which we venture to enclose herewith. When, however, His lordship the Mayor of Durban opened the General Subscription, we decided to send the collections to the general list.

The collections have been made by special workers from all parts of the Colony of Natal and in some cases, even outside Natal. The total collections up to date in the hands of the Mayor amount to £1,535-1-9, of which over £1,194 have been received from the Indians.

We herewith enclose a list of subscribers to the extent of 10/- upward and venture to suggest that the list should be published in the chief Indian dailies.

We are grateful for the telegram of thanks received through the Mayor of Durban. Our feeling is that we have done nothing more than our duty. We only feel that we could not do more. We have the honour to remain,


From a photostat of a copy: S.N. 2317

78^ Vide “Appeal for Funds”, 3-2-1897.

Letter to A. M. Cameron (10-5-1897)[edit]


May 10, 1897


I had your two kind letters. Owing to my wife being in childbed and pressure of office work I regret to say I was unable to reply to your first letter earlier.

Yes, Mr. Ray has gone. When we heard that the conference of the Premiers was going to discuss this question in London we decided to send somebody. Mr. Ray volunteered. He gets no fees. His passage and expenses will be paid by the Congress.

After the recent work in India1 it is difficult to induce the people to believe that much more can be done at present in India. Much of what appears in the papers with regard to the proposed Indian Press[79] is true and I thought of you in connection therewith before the receipt of your kind letter. If it becomes an established fact I shall correspond with you further on the matter. Any hints you can offer will be valued.

I am,
Yours truly,


A copy of the memorial re Demonstration was forwarded to you on Saturday.


From a photostat of the original: C.W. 1080. Courtesy: Maharaja Prabirendra Mohan Tagore

79^ Gandhiji was evidently referring to his own work there in 1896.

Letter to the British Agent (18-5-1897)[edit]

PRETORIA, May 18, 1897[80]



With reference to the interview you were good enough to grant with reference to the British Indians in this Republic, whereat I ventured to submit that, in the event of a test case being brought by the Indian community here as to the interpretation of the Law No. 3 of 1885[81] , the expenses should be paid by Her Majesty’s Government, I have to request you on behalf of the deputation to telegraph to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies as to whether Her Majesty’s Government would defray the cost of the conduct of the case. The following are the grounds for such request:

1. The test case has been rendered necessary owing to the award of the Chief Justice of the Free State and the arbitration was agreed to by Her Majesty’s Government without reference to the feeling on the matter of the Indian community in the Transvaal whose interests were at stake, and in spite of their respectful protest as well against the choice of the arbitrator. (Blue book C. 7911 of 1895, p. 35, paragraph 3.)
2. The Telegraphic despatches published in the above Blue book, pp. 34 (No. 9) and 46 (Enclosure in No. 12), show that Her Majesty’s Government contemplated bringing a test case. While the case will be entered in the name of a member of the Indian community, it is, I submit, reasonable to infer that the cost will be defrayed by Her Majesty’s Government.
3. The British Indians have already incurred heavy expenses in their struggle against degradation and disabilities sought to be placed upon them in the Transvaal in spite of the protection afforded to them against such degradation and disabilities by the 14th Article of the Convention of 1884, and, comparatively speaking, their pecuniary position is not such as to bear any strain put upon their purse. I venture to hope that in your telegram you would mention a summary of the grounds on which the request as to the costs is based.[82]

Personally and on behalf of the deputation you were kind enough to receive today, I beg once more to tender my thanks for the courteous manner in which you received us and the patient, sympathetic hearing you granted us.

On behalf of the deputation,
I have, etc.,

Colonial Office Records: South Africa, General, 1897

80^ There was a mistake in the year in the printed copy of the document available in the Colonial Office Records. Subsequently it was established that the letter belonged to 1897.
81^ Vide “Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 15-3-1897, Appendix-A.
82^ The addressee had this forwarded to the Colonial Secretary on May 25. The Imperial Government, however, did not accede to the request.

Address to Queen Victoria (Before 21-5-1897)[edit]

[Before May 21, 1897][83][84]

In token of our joy at the approaching completion of the 60th year of your glorious and beneficent reign, we are proud to think that we are your subjects, the more so as we know that the peace we enjoy in India, and the confidence of security of life and prosperity which enables us to venture abroad, are due to that position. We can but reecho the sentiments of loyalty and devotion which are finding expression among all your subjects and in all parts of your vast dominions on which the sun never sets. That the God Almighty may spare you in health and vigour for a long time to come to reign over us, is our devout wish and prayer.

The Natal Mercury, 3-6-1897

83^ The address, inscribed on a silver shield, and bearing 21 signatures including that of Gandhiji, who had drafted it was presented to the Natal Governor for being conveyed to Queen Victoria, whose Diamond Jubilee was being celebrated on June 22. A similar address was also sent to the Queen by the Indians of the Transvaal.
84^ Vide the following item, which would suggest that the address had already been drafted before May 21.

Letter to Adamji Miyakhan (21-5-1897)[edit]

May 21, 1897


I hope you have made the necessary arrangements for the address to Her Majesty the Queen.[86] If it has not been already printed or engraved, please put in the following superscription. Please attend to this immediately.

“To Her Majesty Victoria by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom and Ireland, Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India, Most Gracious Sovereign and Empress We. . . . . . . . . . . . . .” Below this should also appear “Durban, May ........... 1897.”

I do not understand why there are no letters at all from Messrs Joseph and Lawrence. I may leave this place on Wednesday.

Yours sincerely,


From a photostat of the Gujarati: S.N. 3677

85^ Honorary Secrtary of the Natal Indian Congress from June 1896, when Gandhiji had to leave for India, to June 1897
86^ Vide the preceding item.

Letter to Natal Colonial Secretary (2-6-1897)[edit]

June 2, 1897



As it is the intention of the representatives of the Indian community in Natal to address a petition to the Rt. Honourable the Colonial Secretary with reference to the Indian Bills[87] of the last session, the last batch of which was published in yesterday’s Gazette, I have to request you to hold over sending the Despatch[88] with reference to them to the Colonial Secretary till the receipt of the petition which

now is in the course of preparation.

I have the honour to remain,
Your obedient servant,

Pietermaritzburg Archives: Ref. C.S.O. 3789/97

87^ The reference is to the Quarantine, Immigration Restriction, Dealers' Licences and Uncovenanted Indians Protection Bills.
88^ The Despatch had, however, already been sent; vide “Petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 2-7-1897.

Cable to Chamberlain, Hunter and Others (9-6-1897)[edit]

June 9, 1897




From a photostat of an office copy: S.N. 2381

Letter to "The Natal Mercury" (24-6-1897)[edit]

June 24, 1897

The Natal Mercury


I notice there are some inaccuracies and omissions in the report published in your today’s issue with reference to the opening of the Diamond Jubilee Library in Grey Street.[90]

The report about the origin of the Diamond Jubilee Library was read not by me, but the honorary librarian, Mr. Bryan Gabriel, who played the principal part in bringing it about. Mr. J. S. Done, of the Railway Indian School, is the Chairman of the Library Committee. It would seem from the report that His Worship the Mayor attached the blame for the regrettable absence of Indians from the procession to that community. I do not think he said or could mean anything of the kind. I happen to know that, no matter who is to blame for the omission, the Indian community is not.

I am, etc.,


The Natal Mercury, 25-6-1897

89^ This appeared in the source under the title "Indians and the Diamond Jubilee".
90^ The library, formally opened by resident magistrate J. P. Waller, represented the joint efforts of the Natal Indian Education Association and the Natal Indian Congress. Initially there were two hundred books, all gifts.

Letter to "The Natal Mercury" (25-6-1897)[edit]

June 25, 1897 [91]


The Natal Mercury


Many sympathizers and friends of the Indian community in Durban have expressed their resentment to the heads of that community that they did not receive the invitation to attend the opening ceremony of the Diamond Jubilee Library. I beg to state that the responsibility for omissions rests with me, though, I trust, the circumstances under which the invitations were issued would be deemed sufficient excuse for any omissions. It was not before 5 o’clock in the evening on Monday last that the invitations could be issued. The list of names was hurriedly drawn up. There was no time to show it to all the leading members. The committee, however, feel deeply grateful to such gentlemen for their anxiety to grace the occasion by their presence. The committee have also directed me to thank those gentlemen who received the cards but were unable to attend the ceremony owing to previous engagements or having received the cards too late to be present. It seems that some invitation cards did not reach their destination.

I am, etc.,

The Natal Mercury, 28-6-1897

91^ This appeared in the source under the title "Indian Jubilee Library".

Petition to Secretary of State for the Colonies (2-7-1897)[edit]

July 2, 1897




That your Petitioners hereby respectfully venture to approach you with reference to four Indian Bills passed by the Honourable the Legislative Assembly and the Honourable the Legislative Council of the Colony of Natal and which, having received the Governor’s assent, have been gazetted as Acts. These Bills were, in the order in which they were passed respectively: the Quarantine Bill, the Immigration Restriction Bill, the Trade Licences Bill, and the Bill to protect the Uncovenanted Indians from liability to arrest.

Your Petitioners alluded to the first three Bills[92] in their last memorial and said therein that, if these Bills passed the Natal Legislatures, they might have to approach you again with special reference thereto. It has now become your Petitioners’ unfortunate duty so to do, and they confidently trust they would be excused for the trouble they have to give you, seeing that the question underlying these Bills touches the very existence of the Indian community in Natal.

As soon as the last two of these Bills were gazetted as Acts, your petitioners wrote to the Honourable the Colonial Secretary[93] praying that the despatch of the Bills to Her Majesty’s Government should be postponed till the receipt hereof; a reply from the Honourable the Colonial Secretary was received to the effect that the Bills had already been forwarded. Thereupon, the following humble telegram[94] was sent to you:

Indian Bills mentioned last memorial Gazetted Acts. We humbly request deferring consideration. Memorial preparing.

Copies of the four Bills mentioned are appended hereto, and marked A, B, C and D respectively.

Your petitioners ventured to approach both the Houses of the local Parliament with reference to these Bills,[95] without avail. Copy of the petition to the Honourable the Legislative Assembly is annexed herewith and marked E[96]. It endeavours to show that restrictive legislation for Indians is not warranted by the circumstances and, therefore, that before embarking upon such legislation a census should be ordered to be taken of the total Indian population of the Colony and inquiry instituted as to whether the presence of the Indian in the Colony is a benefit or an evil to the Colony.

The Quarantine Bill gives the power to the Governor not only to return any ship coming from infected ports without allowing her to land her passengers and cargo, but also prevent any person coming, in the first instance, from an infected port from landing in Natal, even though such person may have transshipped into some other boat on his way to Natal. Your petitioners can have no objection against any Quarantine Law, no matter how severe, so long as it is meant as a protection against the introduction of infectious diseases. But the present Bill is merely a part of the anti-Indian policy of the Natal Government. As has been pointed out in the anti-Indian Demonstration Memorial, the Natal Government made a promise to the Demonstration Committee that a Bill to extend the Governor’s powers of imposing quarantine was under consideration.[97] The present Bill has been looked upon as one of the Indian Bills of the session; thus, says The Natal Mercury, 24th February 1897, with reference to the Quarantine and other Indian Bills:

The first three Bills published in the Gazette this week are in fulfilment of the promise of the Government that measures to deal with the question of Indian immigration would be introduced during the forthcoming session of

Parliament. None of the Bills specifically relates to Asiatics and, therefore, [they] do not come under the suspensory conditions attached to such measures. They have been drafted to apply to all and sundry and certainly no fault can be found with their comprehensive character. It may be frankly admitted that the Bills are more or less of an objectionable character, but desperate diseases require desperate remedies. It is to be regretted that such measures are necessary, but that they are necessary is beyond dispute, and however disagreeable it may be to pass such legislation, it has been an imperative duty and must be undertaken. The Bill to amend the laws relating to quarantine may be fairly termed an extraordinary measure of precaution taken in the face of plague-stricken countries. Something more than the ordinary measures are necessary if we are to secure immunity from dread diseases. The same paper, in answering the objections to the Immigration Restriction Bill, says again in a leading article dated 30th March, 1897:

It has been urged by those people who consider the Bill (i.e., the Immigration Restriction Bill) objectionable because it is not straightforward, that a Bill should be passed against Asiatics in particular, that we should enter upon the “long constitutional fight”, and, in the mean time, we should protect ourselves with the Quarantine Act; the inconsistency of such a course is very apparent. It would imply that we were much too high-minded to be dishonest with regard to the Immigration Bill, but we had not the slightest objection to take a mean advantage of the provisions of the Quarantine Bill. To prevent the landing of Indian immigrants in Natal, on the ground that they came from a country infected with dangerous infectious disease within a thousand miles of the district they come from, is just as disingenuous as the operations under the Immigration Restriction Bill.

It is, then, because the Quarantine Bill is intended indirectly to prevent Indian immigration to Natal that your Petitioners deem it necessary to enter their respectful protest against it. For, why should an Indian, trans-shipping into a German liner at Zanzibar bound for Natal, be prevented from landing there while other passengers may do so without difficulty? If an Indian is likely to bring an infectious disease into the Colony, so are the other passengers who have come into contact with him.

The Immigration Restriction Bill provides, among other things, that any person who is a pauper and is likely to become a public charge, and cannot write out an application to the Colonial Secretary according to the form given as a schedule to the Bill, shall be treated as a prohibited immigrant. Thus, an Indian, who is learned in any of the Indian languages, but does not know any European language, cannot land in Natal even though it be temporarily. Such an Indian may go to the Transvaal, a foreign territory, but may not set his foot on the Natal soil, Even in the Orange Free State, any Indian may remain for two months without having to undergo any ceremony, but he may not do so in the British Colony of Natal. This is, therefore, going further than either of the above independent States. If an Indian Prince wanted to travel round the world and came upon Natal, he would not be allowed to land there unless special permission was accorded to him. Ships on their way to Mauritius, having Indian passengers, have been calling here after the Immigration Law came into operation, and the Indian passengers are not even allowed to land and have exercise or fresh air while the ships are at anchor. By order of the Immigration Department they are kept under strict supervision, and their luggage is stored away in the hold lest they should evade the supervision and land. In other words, British subjects, because they happen to be Indians, are practically treated as prisoners on the British soil.

It has been authoritatively stated that no Government would dream of applying the Law to the Europeans in the same manner as the Indians. In dealing with the clause 3, sub-clause (b) now modified, the Honourable the Prime Minister said as follows, on the second reading of the Bill:

As to immigrants being in possession of twenty-five pounds, when those words were introduced it never occurred to him that it would be applied to the Europeans. It could be so applied if the Government were foolish enough. The object, however, was to deal with the Asiatics. Some people said they liked an honest straightforward course. When a ship was heading against a wind, she had to tack, and by and by she accomplished her goal. When a man met difficulties, he fought against them, and, if he could not knock them over, he went round them instead of breaking his head against a brick wall.

The want of straightforwardness about the Bill has appealed to almost everyone in the Colony. The Farmers’ Conference at Maritzburg, the capital of the Colony, a meeting held in the Durban Town Hall for the purpose of giving the members of the Borough an opportunity to express their opinion on the Bills, and other meetings protested against it on the ground that it was un-British; several members of the Parliament also expressed themselves strongly against it. Mr. Binns, the leader of the unformed opposition in the House of Assembly, said:

They ought to guard against taking a purely local view of so serious a question. The Bill was not straight. It did not go straight to the point, and nothing could be more appropriate than the remark that was made in the petition read that afternoon, that it was un-British. Nobody liked the Bill. There was not a man in all Natal that liked the Bill, and the Premier certainly

did not like it. He might think that there was a necessity for it, and that the Bill should assume the form it has done. But if there was one thing clear in his speech, it was that he did not like the Bill.

Mr. Maydon, another member of the Assembly, ventured to strongly express the opinion, and he believed the majority of the Colonists of Natal agreed with him, that rather than accept this measure, they would continue to wallow in the mire of the Asiatic immersion.

Mr. Symons, another member, said:

They could not remove the Indians in our midst, nor withdraw the privileges they possess as British subjects. Would any Englishman that called himself a statesman produce such a Bill, and expect it to pass? The Bill was a monstrous Bill. Such a Bill was a disgrace to a British Colony; why not call it an Asiatic Restriction Bill? They did not talk of tacking in these days of steamship, but went straight ahead.

Thus, seeing that there is no unanimity of opinion about the Bill, your Petitioners submit that their modest prayer that a census should be taken of the Indian population, and an enquiry made as to the allegation that the presence of Indians is an evil to the Colony, might have been complied with before passing such a drastic measure. Your Petitioners submit that there was absolutely no justification for the measure. It has not been proved that the number of the Indians is more rapidly increasing than the number of Europeans. On the other hand, the last report shows that, while there might have been an increase of 666 Indians during the last six months ending January,[98] the increase in the number of the Europeans was close upon 2,000. Further, the class of the Indians whom the Bill is intended to prevent from coming number about 5,000 in the Colony as against 50,000 Europeans. Also, the deliberate opinion of the Commission that sat ten years ago in Natal under the Chairmanship of Sir Walter Wragg, the first Puisne Judge, stands on record, namely:

We are content to place on record our strong opinion based on much observation that the presence of these traders has been beneficial to the whole Colony and it would be unwise if not unjust to legislate to their prejudice.

This is the only authoritative opinion that the local legislatures could be guided by. In the teeth of these facts, your petitioners yet venture to trust that Her Majesty’s Government would order that the inquiry of the nature above indicated be instituted before arriving at a decision as to the necessity of legislation restrictive of the freedom of the British Indians in Natal; that is, if Her Majesty’s Government decide that, in spite of the Proclamation of 1858, a British Colony can legislate to the prejudice of British Indians, and if Her Majesty’s Government come to the conclusion that the Proclamation does not confer any such privileges as are contended for herein, and, if they are satisfied that the number of Indians in Natal is increasing at an alarming rate, and that the presence of the Indians is an evil to the Colony, it would be far more satisfactory that a Bill specially applicable to the Indians should be introduced.

With the greatest deference, it does seem strange that, while the Transvaal Government have been compelled to withdraw their Aliens Law[99] , the Natal Government have passed an Immigration Act which is far more severe than the Transvaal one.

Your Petitioners would now crave leave to give extracts from the Press, showing how the Immigration Restriction Act is viewed by the Press:

Section 4 defines the penalties to which any prohibited immigrant, making his way into the Colony in disregard of the Act, is liable, viz., deportation and (or) six months’ imprisonment. Now, we think most people will agree with us that, however necessary it may be for the Colony, for its own benefit, to impose restrictions on immigration, it is not a crime for any person to endeavour to come into the country. It is morally certain, too, that the class of persons to whom the Bill applies will, as a rule, be totally ignorant of the fact that, by entering the Colony, they are breaking any of its laws. Such a law is in a different position from the ordinary laws of the country, since it applies to people who have no opportunity of making themselves acquainted with its laws. It is, moreover, the duty of the officials appointed, therefore, to see that no prohibited immigrants are landed, and under these circumstances we think deportation is sufficient, and penal laws should be eliminated. A similar criticism applies to Section 5, which provides for a deposit of £100 as a sort of guarantee, to be forfeited should the immigrants eventually prove to come under the category of “prohibited immigrants”. We see no justice whatever in annexing this deposit. If he is treated as a prohibited immigrant and compelled to leave the Colony, his money should be returned. The clause imposing heavy penalties on shipmasters is only sure to provoke criticism. It virtually imposes upon the captains of vessels the duty, before leaving the port of departure, of a minute examination into the circumstances and position of every one of their passengers. This may be necessary for the effectual operation of the law, but it nevertheless inflicts a great hardship upon the masters.
The Bill, it will be observed, applies to persons entering the Colony by land and sea. We are of opinion that it would be much less obnoxious and more easily enforced if it applied to immigrants by sea only. There is very little reason to fear any considerable influx of Asiatics by land, and the only other persons are travellers from one South African State to another, who should be as free from restriction as possible, and natives, the greater part of whom would be excluded by the educational tests, possibly to the detriment of our labour supply.—The Natal Advertiser, 24-2-’97.
Would it not be a reasonable position to take up to say “If you won’t have the one class, you shan’t have the other?” That this attitude is not an unlikely one is apparent from the tone of the Indian Press. We published, a few days ago, an article from The Times of India which practically calls upon Natal to choose between unrestricted immigration or none at all. That may be only a local view, but we think we are not far wrong in saying that it is just the sort of answer we should give if the cases were reversed. It is not an unfair argument to say that if the Colony finds it necessary for its own benefit to exclude a certain class of Indian immigrants it cannot complain if the Indian Government refuses to allow it to import, also for its own benefit, another class of Indian immigrants. —The Natal Advertiser, 5-4-’97.
We question whether any Act so drastic in its tendency, and so wide in its scope, has been adopted by any British Colony, and it is no honour to a Colony, which professes such devotion to progress and freedom as ours, to be the first to inscribe such a measure on its statute-book.—The Natal Advertiser, 26-2-’97.
It may be fairly argued that, having regard to its purpose, it is dishonest and hypocritical in principle, because its real object is not its ostensible object. It professes to be a measure to restrict immigration generally, when everybody knows that in reality it is intended to stop Asiatic immigration.— The Natal Advertiser, 26-2’97.
Let us try to get what we want by an honest, fair, and aboveboard measure, which does not seek to hide the real issues under a cloud of vague, unworkable and un-English restrictions. Until we can do this, there is ample scope for the energies of Government, and the Colonial municipalities in carrying out local regulations which will do a good deal towards minimizing the evil complained of.—The Natal Advertiser, 12-3-’97.
The Natal Immigration Law represents one of the most contemptible tricks to which a Government and legislature could be party.—The Star, 20-5-’97.
The session of 1897 will be known hereafter as having given birth to that most objectionable law, which in some respects is even worse than the enactment[100] passed by the Transvaal Volksraad last year with a similar object.
It is within the knowledge of everyone that Mr. Chamberlain protested against the law, and that it was promptly repealed by the Volksraad. But it is certain that, if the law is good for Natal, it can scarcely be bad for the Transvaal.—The Transvaal Advertiser, 22-5-’97.
The new Natal law is more than a violation of this general principle. It is, in addition, a dishonest law, if the contention produced in favour of passing it is to be recognized. While its terms are of universal applicability, the Government openly admitted in the Legislature that it would only be applied to certain classes. Such a mode of securing class legislation is pernicious in the extreme. Class legislation is generally wrong or undesirable; but when a class law is passed in a shape that does not show it is meant for only one section of the community, its inherent faults become greatly intensified. It is further an act of cowardice on the part of any Parliament to shirk the consequences that may ensue from the candid adoption of a class measure by resorting to the pretence that a law is not meant to be a class one at all. The avowed object of this Natal Immigration Restriction law is to deal with the influx of free Indians; not, be it well marked, with all Indians. Indentured ‘coolies’ are to be included in the same category of persons exempt from the operations of this law as, say, the Prince of Wales. Yet, as a matter of fact, the indentured coolies brought to Natal largely consist of the very lowest class of natives to be picked out of the gutters of Calcutta and Bombay. Man for man, the free Indian coming to Natal at his own expense is likely to be of a better stamp than the destitute coolie shipped across at other people’s expense. But this indentured fellow-countryman of the lowest caste is to be admitted because he is a bondsman. Yet, in five years’ time, the semi-slave thus allowed in can, if he chooses, demand his freedom and settle in Natal as a free Indian.—The Star, 10-5-’97.
The Natal Law cannot with any sense of fairness and justice be countenanced by Mr. Chamberlain after the attitude he has taken up towards a much less offensive enactment passed in his State, which is very much less within his ‘sphere of influence’ than Natal.—The Star, 7-5-’97

The Dealers’ Licences Bill[101] is, if possible, the worst of all. It not only requires that traders should keep their books in English, but gives absolute power to the licensing authorities to refuse to issue or renew licence without the right to the aggrieved party to appeal to the highest tribunal of justice. It is thus subversive of one of the most cherished principles of the British Constitution. Your Petitioners cannot better express their objections to the Bill than in the words of Mr. Tatham, a member of the Legislative Assembly:

He had no hesitation in saying that this Bill would establish a monopoly in favour of existing traders. Members who had discussed the Bill discussed from the point of view of the trader apart from the point of view of the consumer. One of the most disastrous courses which legislation could take was a course which had for its object the restraint of trade, and so far was this principle recognized that, by the common law of England, a private contract entered into between two persons was invalid if that contract could be shown to be prejudicial to the community by placing restraint on trade. It was recognized as a principle of trade all the world over that there was nothing like competition, not only for those engaged in the competition but also for consumers. The effect of a Bill of this sort would simply enhance the profits of traders at the expense of the consumers. He dealt with this Bill not from the point of view of its effect as an Asiatic repression Bill, but from the point of view upon which it was presented to the House. The Bill included all sections of the community, whether Europeans or Asiatics, and it contained provisions of an alarming character. It was provided that licences would be issued by one individual, and licences already in existence were liable to be taken away by that individual. That applied to country districts. How did it apply in towns and municipalities? Let him take Durban as an example. The Town Council might consist of a majority of persons who studied their own interests before the interests of the community, and might refuse licences to trade in that borough. The Premier would say that these people were subject to the control of the popular vote, but how was the popular vote to be brought into operation when it was a case of one individual against the whole body.

Even the Honourable the Prime Minister found it very difficult to justify the Bill, and was not eager that it should pass. He said:

They asked that powers be given to each municipality, in excess of its present powers, to control the issuing of licences, and there need be no hesitation in saying what their object was. It was to prevent persons who competed with Europeans from getting licences to trade, as Europeans were required to do. This was the intention of the Bill, and, if that intention were accepted, then, of course, the second reading would pass, and then they would have to deal with details. It would not be possible to pass this Bill without appearing to take away a part of the liberty of the subject, because the subject now had a right to a licence as a matter of course, and if this Bill were passed into law, the subject would no longer have the right. He would only have that right if the licensing authority thought fit to grant it. This Bill interferes with the course of law, because the Bill would be defeated in its objects if the courts had jurisdiction. The Town Councils would be responsible to their constituents, and there would be no appeal from their decisions, as regards the granting of licences, to a court of law. The objection had been taken to this Bill that it would not allow the law to have its natural course. The answer was if they should be granted, then they would not pass this Bill; but under this measure the licensing authorities only would have this discretion. (Hear, hear.) He thought it right to emphasize the fact that the courts of law would have no jurisdiction over trade licences under this Bill. This jurisdiction would be exercised by the licensing authorities. If the Assembly thought that the Bill should go through the second reading then there would be a discussion on details in Committee. He submitted the Bill to the Assembly, and wished to point out that the main object of it was to affect those persons dealt with under the Immigration Bill. Ships would not bring these people if they knew they could not be landed, and the people would not come here to trade if they knew they could not get licences.

Mr. Symons “opposed this Bill. He looked upon the measure as most un-English and oppressive.”

It would be noticed that even hawkers, who move about with a few pounds worth of goods from place to place, would be expected to keep their books in English. As a matter of fact, they do not keep any books at all. The objection to the aggrieved party going to the highest tribunal of justice in the land seems to be based on the ground that the Licensing Officer will not be able to justify the use of his discretionary power in a court of law.

The question also arises as to what would be done with reference to renewals of licences. Are the merchants, with hundreds and thousands of pounds worth of goods, to be called upon to shut up their businesses if the Licensing Officer thought it fit to order so? It suggested itself to Mr. Smythe, a member of the Assembly, who moved that an year’s time should be given to persons in possession of licences, and drew the House’s attention to the fact that even the Free State gave the traders reasonable time before compelling them to close their businesses. But, unfortunately, the motion was lost.

The Natal Advertiser, 5-4-’97. thus expresses itself on the Bill:

It is a matter for regret that so many members, who boldly protested against the violation of British traditions embodied in the Immigration Bill, should have swallowed, without a grimace, the much more serious infringement of the liberty of the subject involved in the Licences Bill. With the object of the Bill we are in thorough accord; and we do not either attach very much weight to the fears of some of the members as to the large powers granted to corporations. A very much graver danger is the negation of appeal to the courts of justice. It is only this, in fact, which could make the powers granted under the Bill dangerous. It would have been easy to frame a measure which would safeguard the interests to be protected quite as effectively as this one, without resorting to the crude and unstatesmanlike expedient of depriving persons of their right to appeal to a court of law. No urgency could justify such a provision. The Premier’s argument that “there would be no discretion if the discretion was to be in the Supreme Court or any other court; they could not give discretion to a licensing authority and allow the discretion to be exercised by somebody else,” is unworthy of himself and his audience. Licensing authorities under the existing law have discretion, but that does not exclude the ultimate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Moreover the argument is destroyed by the provision in the Bill itself which allows appeal to the Colonial Secretary. So that it actually does give discretion to a licensing authority, and then allow the discretion to be exercised by some-body else.

Your Petitioners have not attempted to discuss the details of the above Bills at length, since, in their humble opinion, the principle of the Bills is so utterly opposed to the spirit of the British Constitution, as also of the Proclamation of 1858, that it seems useless to discuss the details.

This is clear, however, that if the Bills are not disallowed, Natal would have gone much further than the Transvaal in oppressing the Indians. The Indians in virtue of the Immigration Law cannot enter Natal, except a few who are able to read and write English, though they may go to the Transvaal without any hindrance. The hawkers may not get licences to hawk in Natal, though they can get them as of right in the Transvaal. Under such circumstances, your Petitioners venture to trust that, if nothing else is done, Indian immigration to Natal would be stopped, and a great anomaly, i.e., the fact that Natal gets all the advantage of the presence of the Indian in the Colony while she would give none, removed.

The Bill to protect Uncovenanted Indians from liability to arrest[102] is not in answer to the anti-Indian clamour in the Colony, but has its origin in a certain correspondence that passed between the Government and some Indians. Indians that are not under indenture are sometimes arrested under the indentured Indians Immigration Law, as being deserters from their estates. To avoid this inconvenience, some Indians approached the Government with a view to get it minimized. The Government were good enough to issue a Proclamation authorizing the Protector of Immigrants to issue certificates to free Indians, certifying that the bearers were not indentured Indians. It was, however, meant to be a temporary measure, and the present Bill is intended to replace it. Your Petitioners recognize the good intentions of the Government in introducing the Bill; but your Petitioners are afraid that, owing to the clause 3[103], rendering the Police, arresting any Indians for being without a pass, free from liability for wrongful arrest, takes away all the good that the Bill is no doubt intended to do, and makes it an engine of oppression. The taking out of passes is not compulsory, and it is admitted that only the poorer Indians would take advantage of the pass clause. Before; too, much trouble only arose through the overzeal of officers in making arrests. Now, the 3rd clause gives almost a license to arrest with impunity any Indian they choose. Your Petitioners further draw your attention to the argument against the Bill as set forth in the memorial to the Honourable the Legislative Assembly herein before referred to (Appendix E), and venture to hope that the Bill will be disallowed. Instructions to the Police to use caution when making arrests under the Indenture law would have met the difficulty.

In conclusion, your Petitioners pray that the above Bills be disallowed, in virtue of the power reserved to the Crown under the Constitution Act to disallow any Act within two years after its promulgation, or the enquiry of the nature above indicated be ordered before Her Majesty’s Government refuse to disallow the above Acts or any part of them, that a definite pronouncement as to the status of the British Indians outside India be made, and that, should it not be deemed feasible to disallow the above Acts, the indentured immigration to Natal be stopped, or grant such other relief as Her Majesty’s Government may think fit.

And for this act of justice and mercy, your Petitioners, as in duty bound, shall for ever pray, etc., etc.


92^ Of March 15; vide “Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 15-3-1897.
93^ Vide “Letter to Natal Colonial Secretary”, 2-6-1897.
94^ Vide “Cable to Chamberlain, Hunter and Others”, 9-6-1897.
95^ ibid .
96^ This is not reproduced as an appendix to the petition; for the text of the petition to the Natal Legislative Assembly, vide “Petition to Natal Legislative Assembly”, 26-3-1897.
97^ Vide “Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 15-3-1897.
98^ Vide “Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 15-3-1897.
99^ Vide “Letter to Dadabhai Naoroji and Others”, Before 18-9-1897.
100^ The Transvaal Aliens Act
101^ For the text of the Bill, vide “Petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 2-7-1897, Appendix-C.
102^ For the text of this Bill, vide “Petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 2-7-1897, Appendix-D.
103^ This clause was put as clause 4 in the Act; vide “Petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 2-7-1897, Appendix-D.

APPENDIX A - Act to Amend the Laws Relating to Quarantine[edit]

No. 1, 1897: ACT

BE IT ENACTED by the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly of Natal, as follows:

1. Whenever any place has been proclaimed, under Law 4, 1882, as an infected place, the Governor-in-Council may, by a further Proclamation, order that no person shall be landed from any ship coming from such place.

2. Any such order shall also extend to a ship having on board passengers who have come from a proclaimed place, notwithstanding that they may have embarked at some other place, or that the ship has not touched at the proclaimed place.

3. Any such order as aforesaid shall be in force until revoked by a further Proclamation.

4. Any person who shall land in contravention of this Act, shall, if practicable, be at once returned to the ship in which he came to Natal, and the master of such ship shall be bound to receive such person on board, and to convey him from the Colony at the expense of the owners of the ship.

5. The master and owners of any vessel from which any persons shall be landed in contravention of this Act shall be liable to a penalty of not less than one hundred pounds sterling for each person so landed, and the vessel may be made executable by a decree of the Supreme Court in satisfaction of any such penalty, and the vessel may be refused a clearance outwards until such penalty has been paid and until provision has been made by the master for the conveyance out of the Colony of each person who may have been so landed.

6. This Act and Laws 3 of 1858 and 4 of 1882 shall be read together as one Act.

APPENDIX B Act to Place Certain Restrictions on Immigration[edit]

No. 1, 1897

WHEREAS it is desirable to place certain restrictions on Immigration:

BE IT THEREFORE ENACTED by the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly of Natal, as follows:

1. This Act may be known as “The Immigration Restriction Act, 1897”.
2. This Act shall not apply to:
(a) Any person possessed of a certificate in the form set out in the Schedule A to this Act annexed, and signed by the Colonial Secretary, or the Agent-General of Natal, or any officer appointed by the Natal Government for the purposes of this Act whether in or out of Natal.
(b) Any person of a class for whose immigration into Natal provision is made by law or by a scheme approved by Government.
(c) Any person specially exempted from the operation of this Act by a writing under the hand of the Colonial Secretary.
(d) Her Majesty’s land and sea forces.
(e) The officers and crew of any ship of war of any Government.
(f) Any person duly accredited to Natal by or under the authority of the Imperial or any other Government.

3. The immigration into Natal, by land or sea, of any person of any of the classes defined in the following sub-sections, hereafter called “prohibited immigrant”, is prohibited, namely:

(a) Any person who, when asked to do so by an officer appointed under this Act, shall fail to himself write out and sign, in the character of any language of Europe, an application to the Colonial Secretary in the form set out in Schedule B of this Act.
(b) Any person being a pauper, or likely to become a public charge.
(c) Any idiot or insane person.
(d) Any person suffering from a loathsome or a dangerous contagious disease.
(e) Any person who, not having received a free pardon, has within two years been convicted of a felony or other infamous crimes or misdemeanour involving moral turpitude and not being a mere political offence.
(f) Any prostitute and any person living on the prostitution of others.

4. Any prohibited immigrant making his way into, or being found within Natal, in disregard of the provisions of this Act, shall be deemed to have contravened this Act and shall be liable, in addition to any other penalty, to be removed from the Colony, and upon conviction may be sentenced to imprisonment not exceeding six months without hard labour. Provided that such imprisonment shall cease for the purpose of deportation of the offender, or if he shall find two approved sureties each in the sum of fifty pounds sterling, that he will leave the Colony within one month.

5. Any person appearing to be a prohibited immigrant within the meaning of Section 3 of this Act and not coming within the meaning of any of the Sub-sections (c), (d), (e), (f) of the said Section 3 shall be allowed to enter Natal upon the following conditions:

(a) He shall, before landing, deposit with an officer appointed under this Act the sum of one hundred pounds sterling.
(b) If such person shall, within one week after entering Natal, obtain from the Colonial Secretary, or a Magistrate a certificate that he does not come within the prohibition of this Act, the deposit of one hundred pounds sterling shall be returned.
(c) If such person shall fail to obtain such certificate within one week, the deposit of one hundred pounds sterling may be forfeited, and he may be treated as a prohibited immigrant:

Provided that, in the case of any person entering Natal under this section, no liability shall attach to the vessel or to the owners of the vessel in which he may have arrived at any port of the Colony.

6. Any person who shall satisfy an officer appointed under this Act that he has been formerly domiciled in Natal, and that he does not come within the meaning of any of the sub-sections (c), (d), (e), (f) of Section 3 of this Act, shall not be regarded as a prohibited immigrant.

7. The wife and any minor child of a person not being a prohibited immigrant shall be free from any prohibition imposed by this Act.

8. The master and owners of any vessel from which any prohibited immigrant may be landed shall be jointly and severally liable to a penalty of not less than one hundred pounds sterling, and such penalty may be increased up to five thousand pounds sterling by sums of one hundred pounds sterling each for every five prohibited immigrants after the first five, and the vessel may be made executable by a decree of the Supreme Court in satisfaction of any such penalty, and the vessel may be refused a clearance outwards until such penalty has been paid, and until provision has been made by the master to the satisfaction of an officer appointed under this Act for the conveyance out of the Colony of each prohibited immigrant who may have been so landed.

9. A prohibited immigrant shall not be entitled to a licence to carry on any trade or calling, nor shall he be entitled to acquire land in leasehold, freehold, or otherwise, or to exercise the franchise, or to be enrolled as a burgess of any borough or on the roll of any township; and any licence or franchise right which may have been acquired in contravention of this Act shall be void.

10. Any officer thereto authorized by Government may make a contract with the master, owner, or agent of any vessel for the conveyance of any prohibited immigrant found in Natal to a port in or near to such immigrant’s country of birth, and any such immigrant with his personal effects may be placed by a police officer on board such vessel, and shall in such case, if destitute, be supplied with a sufficient sum of money to enable him to live for one month according to his circumstances in life after disembarking from such vessel.

11. Any person who shall in any way wilfully assist any prohibited immigrant to contravene the provisions of this Act shall be deemed to have contravened this Act.

12. Any person who shall wilfully assist the entry into Natal of any prohibited immigrant of the class (f) in Section 3 of this Act shall be deemed to have contravened this Act, and shall upon conviction be liable to be imprisoned with hard labour for any period not exceeding twelve months.

13. Any person who shall be wilfully instrumental in bringing into Natal an idiot or insane person without a written or printed authority, signed by the Colonial Secretary, shall be deemed to have contravened this Act, and in addition to any other penalty shall be liable for the cost of the maintenance of such idiot or insane person whilst in the Colony.

14. Any police officer or other officer appointed therefor under this Act, may, subject to the provisions of Section 5, prevent any prohibited immigrant from entering Natal by sea or land.

15. The Governor may from time to time appoint, and at pleasure remove, officers for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of this Act, and may define the duties of such officers, and such officers shall carry out the instructions from time to time given to them by the Ministerial head of their department.

16. The Governor-in-Council may, from time to time make, amend, and repeal rules and regulations for the better carrying out of the provisions of this Act.

17. The penalty for any contravention of this Act, or of any rule or regulation passed thereunder, where no higher penalty is expressly imposed, shall not exceed a fine of fifty pounds sterling, or imprisonment, with or without hard labour, until payment of such fine or in addition to such fine, but not exceeding in any case three months.

18. All contraventions of this Act or of rules or regulations thereunder and suits for penalties or other moneys not exceeding one hundred pounds sterling shall be cognizable by Magistrates.


Colony of Natal,

This is to certify that . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . aged . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . by trade or calling a. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . is a fit and proper person to be received as an Immigrant in Natal.

Dated at . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . this . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . day of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .





I claim to be exempt from the operation of Act No. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ., 1897. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . My full name is . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . My place of abode for the past twelve months has been. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . My business or calling is. . . . . . . . . I was born at . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . in the year . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Yours, etc.,

Given at Government House, Natal, this Fifth day of May, 1897.
By command of His Excellency the Governor,

APPENDIX C Act to Amend the Laws Relating to Licences to Wholesale and Retail Dealers[edit]


No. 18, 1897

WHEREAS it is expedient to regulate and control the issue of Licences to wholesale and retail dealers not being Licences under Act No. 38 of 1896.

BE IT THEREFORE ENACTED by the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly of Natal, as follows:

1. The Annual Licences mentioned in Sub-section (a) of Section 71 of Law No. 19, 1872, shall include Licences to wholesale dealers.

2. For the purposes of this Act the expression “retail dealers” and “retail Licences” shall be deemed to apply to retail dealers and retail Licences of every description, not being Licences under Act 38 of 1896, including hawkers and Licences to hawkers.

3. Any Town Council or Town Board may, from time to time, appoint an Officer to issue the Annual Licences (not being Licences under Act No. 38, 1896), required in the Borough or Township by wholesale or retail dealers.

4. Any person appointed to issue Licences for wholesale or retail dealers under Law No. 38, 1884, or any like Stamp Act, or under this Act, shall be deemed to be a “Licensing Officer” within the meaning of this Act.

5. A Licensing Officer shall have a discretion to issue or refuse a wholesale or retail Licence not being a licence under Act No. 38, 1896, and a decision come to by a Licensing Officer as to the issue or refusal of a Licence shall not be liable to review, reversal, or alteration, by any Court of Law or otherwise than is in the next section provided.

6. There shall be a right of appeal by the applicant, or any other person having an interest in the question, from the decision of the Licensing Officer to the Town Council or the Town Board, if the Licence is sought for in a Borough or Township or to the Licensing Board of the Division appointed under the Liquor Act, 1896, if the Licence is sought for elsewhere than in the Borough or Township; and the Town Council, Town Board, or Licensing Board, as the case may be, may direct that the Licence, the subject of appeal, shall be issued or cancelled.

7. No Licence shall be issued to any person who, when thereto required, fails to show to the satisfaction of the Licensing Officer to the Town council, Town Board, or Licensing Board, as the case may be, that he is able to fulfil the conditions of the Insolvency Law 47, 1887, Section 180, Sub-section (a), as regards the keeping of such books of account in the English language as are usual and proper in the business to be carried on.

8. No Licence shall be issued in respect of premises which are unfit for the intended trade, or unprovided with proper and sufficient sanitary arrangements, or not affording sufficient and suitable accommodation for salesmen, clerks, and servants, apart from the stores or rooms in which goods and wares may be kept in cases where premises are used for both purposes.

9. Any person who shall carry on any wholesale or retail trade or business without a Licence, or who shall allow Licensed premises to be in a condition which would disentitle him to a Licence, shall be deemed to have contravened this Act, and shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding twenty pounds sterling for each offence, to be recovered in the Court of the Magistrate by the Clerk of the Peace, or if the contravention is within a Borough or Township, by an officer appointed by the Town Council or Town Board.

10. All penalties recovered under the foregoing section in respect of a business or premises within a statutory Borough or Township shall be paid to the funds of such Borough or Township.

11. Rules may be passed by the Governor-in-Council to regulate the mode of obtaining Licences and to regulate appeals from the Licensing Officer to the Board or Council having appellate jurisdiction.

Given at Government House, Natal, this Twenty-ninth day of May, 1897.

By command of His Excellency the Governor,


APPENDIX D Act to Protect Uncovenanted Indians from Arrest in Mistake for Absconding Indentured Indian Servants[edit]



BE IT ENACTED by the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly of Natal, as follows:

1. Any Indian who has not been liable to service under indenture in terms of Law No. 25, 1893, or any Act amending the same, may, on application through the Magistrate of his Division to the Protector of Indian Immigrants, or to the Protector of Indian Immigrants direct, obtain a pass in the form provided in the Schedule to this Act, on satisfying the Magistrate, or the Protector of Indian Immigrants, with the information required for the purposes of such pass, and upon providing a shilling stamp to be affixed to the pass.

2. The possession and production of a pass under this Act shall be prima facie evidence of the status of the bearer of such pass, and of his exemption from liability to arrest under Section No. 31 of Law No. 25, 1891.

3. No such pass shall be of force after the year in which it was issued, unless in each succeeding year it is endorsed by the Protector of Immigrants to whom it may be sent for that purpose through the Magistrate.

4. If the Protector of Indian Immigrants, or any Magistrate, or Justice of the Peace, or any Police Constable, shall stop or arrest any Indian not carrying a pass granted under this Act, the Indian so stopped or arrested shall not be entitled to make any claim for wrongful arrest or detention merely on the ground that he was not an indentured Indian.

5. Any person who obtains a pass by false representations, or who allows any fraudulent use to be made of his pass, shall be guilty of an offence against “The Fraudulent Passes Act, 1895”.



Counterpart of Pass Pass
Magisterial Division of . . . . . . . . . .
Name . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Name of Indian holding this Pass. . . .
Sex . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sex . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Native of. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Native of (Country and Village) . . . . .
Father’s Name . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Father’s Name . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Mother’s Name . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Mother’s Name . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Caste. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Caste . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Age . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Age . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Complexion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Complexion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Marks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Marks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
If married, to whom . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . If married, to whom . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Status . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Status . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Residence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Residence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Employment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Employment or means of subsistence.
Date . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dated at . . . . . . . . this . . . . . . day of . . . . . . . . . . .189


Given at Government House, Natal, this Twenty-ninth day of May, 1897.
By command of His Excellency the Governor,

From a photostat of the printed copy: S.N. 2430-35

Petition to the Natal Governor (2-7-1897)[edit]

July 2, 1897



I herewith beg to send the petition[104] to Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for the Colonies, on behalf of the Indian community, with reference to the Immigration Restriction, Dealers’ Licences, Quarantine and Indian Protection Acts, in triplicate, and humbly request Your Excellency to forward same with such remarks as Your Excellency may think fit to make.


From a photostat of a copy: S.N. 2429

103^ Vide the preceding item.

Circular Letter (10-7-1897)[edit]


July 10, 1897


I beg to draw your attention to a copy sent to you of the Indian Petition to Mr. Chamberlain regarding the anti-Indian Bills of the last session of the Natal Parliament. The Bills have received the Governor’s assent and are Acts in operation. The crown has the power to disallow any Acts of the Colonial Legislatures within two years after their passage, and it is on the strength of this proviso that the petitioners rely for Mr. Chamberlain’s intervention.

The Bills, in my humble opinion, have only to be read in order to be condemned. Comment thereon seems superfluous. Unless there is a powerful public opinion against the disabilities that are being heaped upon the Indians in Natal our days are numbered. Natal beats both the Republics1 in its studied persecution of the Indians, and it is Natal that can least do without Indians. She must have them under indenture. She won’t have them as free men. Would not the Home and the Indian Government stop this unfair arrangement and stop indentured emigration to Natal? We have but to request you to redouble your efforts on our behalf and we may yet hope to get justice!

I am,
Your obedient servant,

From a photostat of the office copy: S.N. 2448

104^ Vide the preceding item.

Letter to Town Clerk (3-9-1897)[edit]


September 3, 1897



Mr. V. Lawrence is a clerk in my office. He has often to go out in the evening either to attend meetings or to give Tamil lessons which do not terminate before 9 p.m. He was twice or thrice interfered with by the Police and asked to produce a pass. I brought the matter to the notice of the Superintendent of Police who advised that in order to save inconvenience I should apply for the mayor’s pass of exemption for Mr. Lawrence. Being of opinion that the by-law No. 106 section P. does not apply to Mr. Lawrence I was loath to take that step. Mr. Lawrence however was again asked to produce a pass three days ago, though after he had explained where he had gone to, he was allowed to go. In order to save such inconvenience though I still retain the opinion that the Law does not apply to Mr. Lawrence, I think a pass of exemption is necessary for Mr. Lawrence.

I therefore beg to apply for such a pass for him.

I remain,
Your obedient servant,

Durban Town Council Records: Vol. 134, No. 23446

105^ The original letter found in the official records carries a marginal note reading: Recommended-Sgd. R. C. Alexander, Superintendent of Police.

Exceptions in "Regina V. Pitamber and Others"(13-9-1897)[edit]

September 13, 1897[106]

Case resumed from 11th inst.: Messrs Anderson, Smith and Gandhi present for defendants.
Prosecution addresses the court.

Mr. Gandhi replies and takes following exceptions:

FIRST: summary trial without consent.
SECOND: no authority to prosecute from prosecutor produced.
THIRD: all accused tried together.
FOURTH: there is no proof that the accused are prohibited immigrants.
FIFTH: no allegation that they are paupers or that they do not know English.
SIXTH: no proof as to when they entered Natal.

Mr. Attorney Smith points out that the men were in Natal before passing of the Act. I allow the first exception. Accused discharged.


Colonial Office Records: South Africa General, 1897

106^ Petambar and a number of other Natal Indians returning from temporary business visits to the Transvaal had been arrested under the Immigration Restriction Act. Vide also "Letter to The Natal Mercury", 13-11-1897. The trial, held at Dundee, lasted several days. This is an extract from the report by the Court clerk of the proceedings on September 13.

Letter to Dadabhai Naoroji and Others (Before 18-9-1897)[edit]

[Before September 18, 1897][107][108]


We are aware that the troubles in Poona as well as in parts of India[109] occupy very largely the attention of the public men interested in Indian affairs and, were it not for the gravity of the situation as regards Indians in Natal, we would not have trespassed upon your time and attention.

The Natal Government Gazette publishes this week the address of Mr. Chamberlain to the Colonial Premiers who had assembled in London during the Diamond Jubilee season. The following[110] appears in the address with reference to the legislation in regard to the immigration of Indians to this Colony and other parts of the British Empire.

In spite of Mr. Chamberlain’s eloquent tribute to the loyalty of the Indians to the British Crown as well as their civilization, the conclusion is irresistible that the Right Hon’ble gentleman has completely given up the India cause and yielded to the anti-Asiatic clamour of the different Colonies. He has indeed granted that the traditions of the British Empire “make no distinction in favour of or against race or colour,” but, in the same breath, he accepts the position taken up by the Colonies w ith regard to the Indians and almost unreservedly approves of the Natal Immigration Restriction Act, Petition regarding which, with copy of the Act, was forwarded to you some months ago.[111]

Mr. Chamberlain cannot be unaware of the fact that the Natal Act was passed with the deliberate intention of applying it almost exclusively to the Indians. The extracts quoted in the petition amply prove this. It was also stated by the Right Hon’ble Mr. Escombe, the Premier of the Colony of Natal, at the time of introducing the immigration Bill, that it was because the desired end, namely, the stopping of free Indian immigration, could not be obtained by direct means he had to resort to indirect means.

The measure was almost unanimously pronounced to be un- British and dishonest. It was in fact a stab in the dark. And Mr. Chamberlain, much to our disappointment, sets the seal of his approval on such a measure. We do not know now where we are and what we are to do. The Act has already begun to tell upon us. Only a few days ago, seventy-one Indians, who had their rooms in Natal but had gone over to the Transvaal to dispose of their goods and had returned to Natal, were arrested some time after their return and kept in prison for six days for being prohibited immigrants while their trial was going on.[112] They were discharged on technical exceptions but, had it been otherwise, the trial might have gone on for some days more and it might have cost them several hundreds of pounds before they could have got the right to remain on a British soil. As it was, it cost them not a little during the seven days’ trial. Such cases are bound to happen from time to time. And then, only those who have been formerly domiciled in Natal could come.

Mr. Chamberlain says that a man may be an undesirable immigrant “because he is dirty or he is immoral or he is a pauper or he has some other objection which can be defined in an Act of Parliament.” Indians whom the Natal Act debars from coming to Natal are, as Mr. Chamberlain has himself admitted in his despatch to the Transvaal Government, neither immoral nor dirty. They are certainly not paupers. The weakest point in the Natal Act is that it makes special provision for the admission of those that are perhaps likely to be immoral or dirty because they are drawn from the lowest strata of society, namely, the indentured Indians. Immediately after the Act was passed, the Indian Immigration Board sanctioned an indent for 4,000 indentured Indians—probably the largest indent yet on record on a single occasion. How could Mr. Chamberlain ignore these facts we do not know. We still venture to maintain, as we have maintained all along, that the agitation against the Indians is due to colour and trade jealousy. We have courted an impartial inquiry and, if it is granted, we have no doubt the result will be that the presence of the Indian in Natal will be found to have been beneficial to the Colony. The commissioners, who sat in Natal about 12 years ago to enquire into certain Indian matters, have recorded that the presence of the Indian has been a blessing to the Colony.

Really speaking, Mr. Chamberlain has practically granted that an Indian so soon as he leaves India, ceases to be a British subject, with the awful result that we have to witness, from day to day, the painful spectacle of Indian British subjects deported from or debarred from entering Natal, a British soil, to or to be driven to the Transvaal or Delagoa Bay, both foreign territories.

The Transvaal Alien Act was, comparatively speaking, a boon. An Indian taking a passport from Natal, Delagoa Bay or India, or an Indian getting previous employment in the Transvaal, could enter it while the Alien Law was in force. Moreover, it was not specially applied to the Indians. Therefore, any Indian who was not absolutely a pauper could enter the Transvaal, yet the Transvaal Law, because it told severely upon the Uitlanders, was repealed owing to the pressure from Downing Street. The same pressure, unfortunately for us, though we are British subjects, is not available on the British soil. The Natal Act debars any Indian from entering Natal who cannot read and write any of the European languages, unless he has been formerly domiciled in the Colony. Therefore, the Mahomedan community would not be allowed to bring to Natal a Moulvi nor the Hindu community a Shastri, no matter how learned each may be in his own department, because, forsooth, he does not know English. An Indian merchant who has been domiciled in Natal may come back to the Colony, but he dare not bring any new servants with him. The inability to import new Indian servants and assistants is a very grave inconvenience to the Indian community.

Even if the Immigration Act is to remain on the statute-book of Natal for ever and Mr. Chamberlain refuses to disallow it, the clause with regard to the European languages needs to be modified so as to admit all those who can read and write their own language and are otherwise eligible as immigrants under the Act. We are sure that this is the least that might be granted to us. And we would beseech you to exert your influence in bringing about that change, if nothing else. Mr. Chamberlain’s address portends, perhaps, that he would not disallow the other anti-Asiatic Acts also, to which the petition herein mentioned refers. If that be so, it is practically a notice to the free Indians in Natal to quit the Colony, for that will be the effect of the Dealers’ Licences Act, if it is enforced rigorously as it is likely to be now that the Colonists know that they would get almost anything from Mr. Chamberlain for the asking of it-only if what is required to be done is done by indirect, and, shall we say, unfair methods. It breaks our hearts to think that Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for the Colonies should approve of any unfair method, but that is the unanimous opinion of the Europeans and the Indians. Even the Europeans who are the bitterest opponents of the free immigration of Indians, though they do not mind it, think and admit, that the above methods of restricting free Indian immigration are unfair.

We are powerless. We leave the case in your hands. Our only hope lies in your again bestirring yourself with redoubled vigour in our favour. And we feel sure that you would do it, for our cause is absolutely just.


From a photostat of a handwritten draft bearing corrections in Gandhiji’s hand: S.N. 2509

107^  This was printed under the title "Mr. Chamberlain's Address to Premiers" and sent to a number of public men, not identified in the source, in India and England besides Dadabhai Naoroji and William Wedderburn.
108^ The source gives no date. Vide however the following item where Gandhiji mentions this letter having been written.
109^ The troubles related to famine, the plague and plague administration.
110^ The copy available does not furnish the quotation referred to. For the relevant portion of Chamberlain's speech, vide “Letter to Dadabhai Naoroji and Others”, before 18-9-1897, Appendix.
111^  Vide “Petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 2-7-1897 and however "Circular Letter", 27-3-1897.
112^ Vide the preceding item.

APPENDIX - Extracts from Chamberlains Address[edit]

One other question I have to mention, and only one; that is, I wish to direct your attention to certain legislation which is in process of consideration, or which has been passed by some of the Colonies, in regard to the immigration of aliens, and particularly of Asiatics.

I have seen these Bills, and they differ in some respects one from the other, but there is no one of them, except the Bill which comes to us from Natal, to which we can look with satisfaction. I wish to say that Her Majesty’s Government thoroughly appreciate the objects and the needs of the Colonies in dealing with this matter. We quite sympathize with the determination of the white inhabitants of these Colonies which are in comparatively close proximity to millions and hundreds of millions of Asiatics that there shall not be an influx of people alien in civilization, alien in religion, alien in customs, whose influx, moreover, would most seriously interfere with the existing rights of the labour population. An immigration of that kind must, I quite understand, in the interest of the Colonies be prevented at all hazards, and we shall not offer any opposition to the proposals intended with that object, but we ask you also to bear in mind the traditions of the Empire, which make no distinction in favour of, or against, race or colour; and to exclude, by reason of their colour, or by reason of their race, all Her Majesty’s Indian subjects, or even all Asiatics, would be an act so offensive to those peoples that it would be most painful, I am quite certain, to Her Majesty to have to sanction it. Consider what has been brought to your notice during your visit to this country. The United Kingdom owns, as its greatest and brightest dependency, that enormous Empire of India, with 300,000,000 of subjects, who are as loyal to the Crown as you are yourselves, and among them there are hundreds and thousands of men who are every whit as civilized as we are ourselves, who are, if that is anything, better born in the sense that they have older traditions and older families, who are men of wealth, men of cultivation, men of distinguished valour, men who have brought whole armies and placed them at the service of the Queen, and have, in times of great difficulty and trouble, such, for instance, as on the occasion of the Indian Mutiny saved the Empire by their loyalty. I say, you, who have seen all this, cannot be willing to put upon these men a slight, which, I think, is absolutely unnecessary for your purpose, and which would be calculated to provoke ill-feeling, discontent, irritation, and would be most unpalatable to the feeling not only of Her Majesty the Queen but of all her people.

What I venture to think you have to deal with is the character of the immigration. It is not because a man is of a different colour from ourselves that he is necessarily an undesirable immigrant, but it is because he is dirty, or he is immoral, or he is a pauper or he has some other objection which can be defined in an Act of Parliament, and by which the exclusion can be managed with regard to all those whom you really desire to exclude. Well, gentlemen, this is a matter, I am sure, for friendly consultation between us. As I have said, the Colony of Natal has arrived at an arrangement which is absolutely satisfactory to them, I believe, and remember they have, if possible, an even greater interest than you, because they are closer to the immigration which has already begun there on a very large scale, and they have adopted legislation which they believe will give them all that they want, and to which the objection they have taken does not apply, which does not come in conflict with this objection which I am sure you share with us; and I hope, therefore, that during your visit, it may be possible for us to arrange a form of words which will avoid hurting the feelings of any of Her Majesty’s subjects, while at the same time it would amply protect the Australian Colonies against any invasion of the class to which they would justly object.

Colonial Office Records: Parliamentary Papers, 1897, Vol. 2, No. 15

Letter to Dadabhai Naoroji (18-9-1897)[edit]


September 18, 1897



I have the honour to enclose herewith a letter[113] addressed to you by the representatives of the Indian community of Natal with reference to Mr. Chamberlain’s address to the Colonial Premiers. The newspaper cutting enclosed[114] was seen after the letter was in print. It gives great force to the argument contained in the letter. Mr. Chamberlain’s address has naturally created surprise amongst both the communities, European as well as Indian. I venture to trust that your powerful influence will be exerted in order to bring about the changes in the Immigration Act referred to in the letter if nothing more can be done. The kind of Indians referred to in the letter whom the Act at present debars from entering into Natal, while absolutely necessary for the regular conduct of Indian houses already established, cannot in any way interfere with Europeans if they were allowed to enter the Colony.

Copy of Immigration petition[114] is sent under separate cover.

I am,
Your obedient servant,

From a photostat of the handwritten original: G.N. 2255

113^ Vide the preceding item.
114^ Not available. Presumably this was a Press report of the Conference.
115^ Vide “Petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 2-7-1897.

Letter to William Wedderburn (18-9-1897)[edit]


September 18, 1897



I have the honour to enclose herewith a letter[115] addressed to you by the representatives of the Indian community of Natal and a newspaper cutting bearing on the point. I venture to trust that your powerful influence will be exerted in order to bring about the changes in the Natal Act referred to in the letter, if nothing more can be done. Copy of Immigration petition is sent under separate cover.

I have the honour to remain,


Your obedient servant,

From a photostat of an office copy: G.N. 2281

115^ Vide “Letter to Dadabhai Naoroji and Others”, before 18-9-1897.

Letter to "The Natal Mercury" (13-11-1897)[edit]


November 13, 1897

The Natal Mercury


It appears that some people are bent upon keeping up the ill feeling against the Indian community in Natal, and, unfortunately, the newspaper writers have allowed themselves to be duped. Some weeks ago, a correspondent of yours, evidently an irresponsible person, stated that the Indians who were tried in Dundee under the Immigration Act were new arrivals from India, and had surreptitiously entered the Colony. Then appeared the correspondence between the Government and the Demonstration Committee on the subject,[117] leading the public to believe that there was an attempt on a large scale to evade the Immigration Act. You based a leader on these and other similar statements that appeared in the papers, accepting them as correct, and further informing the public that these men had secured certificates of domicile at Durban. A telegram was flashed from Delagoa Bay telling the public that 1,000 free Indians had landed at Delagoa Bay, and that they were on their way to Natal. A telegram appears in today’s issue of the Mercury to the effect that the Government have issued instructions to the police to keep a look-out for Asiatics from the direction of Delagoa Bay. This is all dramatic, and would be highly amusing if it were not calculated to inflame the passion of the European community. The “Man in the Moon” puts the finishing touch to all this by giving a paragraph in his weekly columns. His is the unkindest cut of all, especially because his paragraphs are not only eagerly devoured by the public but they carry weight. So far as I know, this is the second time that he has lost his power of distinguishing between fact and fiction with respect to the Indian question. If it were allowed to the Indians to use strong language on sufficient provocation, there is more than enough of that in the “Man’s” paragraph on the subject in question in today’s columns to justify the use of such language. But it cannot be. I must simply content myself with placing the facts, as I know them at firsthand, before the public.

I had the privilege, with two brother lawyers, of defending the Dundee Indians, and I deny most emphatically that any of the Indians charged were new arrivals from India. Proofs to that effect are still in possession of the Immigration Officer at Dundee. It is possible to establish conclusively that all those Indians came to South Africa, or rather to Natal, before the passing of the Immigration Act. Their licences, other documents and records in the steamship offices, cannot lie. As soon as the correspondence between the Government and the Demonstration Committee appeared in the papers, I offered to bring most of the men before a competent Court and to prove their innocence; that is to say, to prove that they were all formerly domiciled in Natal, and that, therefore, they had a perfect right to enter the Colony. One of the men is at present in Durban, and he can be brought before the Magistrate at any time the Government likes.

It is not true to say that these men got their certificates at Durban. Some of them, after their discharge on technical grounds, applied to the Magistrate at Dundee for certificates of domicile. The application was refused. The papers were sent to me, and I went to the Government for the certificates, but failed. Most of the men have now gone to the Transvaal without such certificates. It is true that three Dundee men got their certificates at Durban. Proofs on which the certificates were granted consisted of affidavits which are filed on record. But there is a world of difference between Dundee men getting certificates at Durban, and those who get them contrary to the provisions of the law. A man from Umzimkulu, and men from other districts outside Durban, got such certificates at Durban. The question was fully argued before Mr. Walter before such certificates were ordered to be issued.

There is absolutely no foundation for the fear that the Indians who land at Delagoa Bay enter the Colony in defiance of the law. I will not take it upon myself to say that not one new arrival has attempted to cross the border at Charlestown, but, so far as I know, not one has yet successfully escaped the eagle eye of Sergt. Allan, at Charlestown. Before the Act came into operation, and at the time the Demonstration Committee came into being, it was publicly stated, on behalf of the Indian community, that most of the Indians who landed at Durban from month to month were passengers for the Transvaal. It was particularly stated—and the statement remains to this day without contradiction—that out of the 600 passengers on board the Courland and Naderi, less than 100 were new arrivals for Natal. The position is not changed now, and I venture to say that, out of the 1,000 passengers alleged to have landed at Delagoa Bay, most of them are passengers for the Transvaal. It is that country which has the capacity to absorb a large number of new-comers of various nationalities, and so long as the Transvaal continues to absorb Indians, and the Government is good enough to let them come, you will find Indians coming to Delagoa Bay in large numbers. I do not say that none of them want to come to Natal. Some of them have inquired about the conditions on which they could come, and, on being told that they could not satisfy them, have remained in the Transvaal. They are certainly not angels, and a few may try to evade the Act, and may enter the Colony if there is no supervision.

My point is that there is no wholesale attempt to defy the law.

There is no organization, no advice to set the law at defiance and come by the back door, such as the “Man in the Moon” conjures up in his fertile imagination. With due respect, his appeal to the Demonstration Committee, advice to the officers and insinuations are painful in the extreme, because unnecessary, and not warranted by facts. One would have thought that he, of all men, holding a very responsible position, would take the greatest care before giving currency to fiction as if it were fact. Mischief once started may not be averted.

The Indian shipowners in Durban, on the Act coming into operation, received a letter requesting them to co-operate with the Government in enforcing it, and I happen to know that they wrote in reply saying while they disapproved of the Act they would loyally abide by it and aid the Government, so far as it lay in their power, as long as the Act remained on the statute-book. And I am not aware that any responsible Indian has departed from the attitude taken up by the shipowners in question. Indeed, whenever occasion has arisen, whether in or out of the Congress Hall, the leaders of the Indian community have endeavoured to impress upon the Indians the necessity of not evading the Act. How could it be otherwise? If the Act is to be ever removed, it can only be by persuasion and by the Indian community showing a clean record. The policy of evasion is on the face of it suicidal, and the past record of the Indian community is not, I venture to submit, such as to justify the belief that the community is likely to commit a suicidal act. After this, is it necessary to assure the “Man in the Moon” that the Indians have no wish to play with the Colony, if only because they cannot afford to do it?

Let, there, however, be a full public inquiry, and if an organization to defy the law is proved to exist, smash it by all means. But, on the other hand, if there be no such organization or “wholesale invasion”, let it be publicly acknowledged, so that causes of friction may be removed. The Government can do it, but you also can do likewise. Newspapers before this have sent special correspondents to make inquiries into public matters, and if you really believe that the Indians, as a community, are attempting to evade the Act, you will render a public service, and lay the Indian community under deep obligation, by instituting a preliminary inquiry, with a view to enable the Government to undertake a public inquiry, or to force their hands if they are unwilling to make any inquiry at all. At any rate the Indians court such an inquiry.

As the matter is very important, I venture to ask your contemporaries to copy this letter.

I am, etc.,

The Natal Mercury, 15-11-1897

116^ This appeared under the title "Indian Invasion".
117^ Vide “Memorial to Secretary of State for the Colonies”, 15-3-1897.

Letter to Natal Colonial Secretary (13-11-1897)[edit]


November 13, 1897



I venture to enclose herewith a cutting from the Mercury. Reports have for some time been appearing in the papers that the Indians are attempting to defy the Immigration Act by entering, or trying to enter, the Colony via Delagoa Bay and Charlestown. It was not, till today, thought necessary to take any notice of the reports; but the cutting puts the matter in a more serious light and is likely to inflame the passions of the European community. I therefore venture, on behalf of the leading Indians in Natal, to suggest that the Government be pleased to contradict the report. I am to say that there is no organization in Natal or elsewhere for the purpose of setting the Act at defiance, and that the responsible Indians in Natal have, ever since the passing of the Act, loyally abided by it, and have impressed upon others the necessity of so doing. If, however, the Government think otherwise, I am to ask for a public inquiry into the matter.

I have the honour, etc.,

The Natal Mercury, 20-11-1897

Letter to "The Natal Mercury" (15-11-1897)[edit]

November 15, 1897

The Natal Mercury


Perhaps in justice you will allow me to say a few words on your remarks in your today’s issue on my letter2 regarding the alleged organization to evade the Immigration Act. I am afraid my letter has been misread. I have not therein dealt with the treatment of the Indians in Natal. I have, in order to avoid the needless alarm, simply denied the statement that has appeared in the papers to the effect that the Indians who recently landed in Delagoa Bay were on their way to Natal, and such other statements. I do not dispute the right of the Europeans to be on the “qui vive, to see that the law of the last Session is not evaded”.

On the contrary, I say that the responsible Indians intend to loyally abide by the Act so long as it remains on the statute-book, and to help the authorities so far as they can.

What I do respectfully object to is the circulation of false rumours and assumptions based thereon which are likely to create uneasiness, and disturb the equanimity of the European mind. The inquiry I have suggested, with due deference to your opinion, is clearly necessary. There are two contradictory statements before the public. The one is that there is an attempt at wholesale evasion of the Immigration Act, backed, in the opinion of the “Man in the Moon”, by an organization; on the other hand, there is a total denial of the statement. Which story are the public to believe? Would it not be better in the interest of all concerned if there was an authoritative statement as to which story is worthy of credence?

As to what I said in India, you have justified me. You were good enough to say, when the matter was before the public, that from an Indian standpoint I had said nothing to which exception could be taken. And I am yet prepared to substantiate every statement I made there. If I had no faith in the strong sense of justice of the British Government1 ; I would not be here. As I have said before elsewhere, I repeat here that British love of justice and fair play are the sheetanchor of the Indians’ hope.

I am, etc.,

The Natal Mercury, 17-11-1897

118^ This appeared under the title "Indian Invasion".
119^ Vide “Letter to The Natal Mercury”, 13-11-1897.
120^ The reference is to the Imperial and the Natal Governments.

Letter to Natal Colonial Secretary (18-11-1897)[edit]

November 18, 1897



I have the honour to acknowledge your letter of the 16th inst., informing me that the Government has never stated, nor has it reason to believe, that there exists in Natal an organization for the purpose of setting the Immigration Restriction Act at defiance. I am to thank the Government for the letter, and to say that, if attempts to evade the Act are brought to the notice of the Indian community, everything that could be done will be done by the representatives of the Indian community in Natal to prevent their recurrence. I take the liberty to send copies of this correspondence to the Press for publication.

I have, etc.,

The Natal Mercury, 20-11-1897

Letter to "The Natal Mercury" (19-11-1897)[edit]

November 19, 1897


The Natal Mercury


I beg to enclose herewith for publication copies of the correspondence[122] between the Government and myself with reference to the reports which have appeared in the papers regarding alleged attempts of Indians to come into the Colony by way of Delagoa Bay.

I am, etc.,

The Natal Mercury, 20-11-1897

121^ This appeared under the title "Indians and the Immigration Act".
122^ For Gandhiji's letters to the Natal Colonial Secretary, vide “Letter to Natal Colonial Secretary”, 13-11-1897 and 18-11-1897.

Letter to F. S. Taleyarkhan (17-12-1897)[edit]


December 17, 1897


This will introduce to you Mr. Alex Cameron[123] sometime correspondent of The Times of India in Natal. During the time he was here, he tried to do everything he could for the cause of the Indians in South Africa. He is now proceeding to India to take part in the attempts of the Indians to remove the misunderstanding created about them owing to the recent events and any assistance that may be rendered to him will be greatly valued.

I am,
Yours truly,
BAR-AT-LAW, J. P., & C.

From the original Courtesy: R. F. S. Taleyarkhan

123^  Vide “Letter to A. M. Cameron”.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before 1926. It is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less, including India, its source country, since 1 January 2009, sixty years after Gandhi's death, pursuant to s. 22, Copyright Act, 1957 of India. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.