University of Hawai'i Press
  • Domesticating Labor:An Illicit Slave Trade to The British Straits Settlements, 1811–1845

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the EIC and the British government were only marginally concerned with abolishing slavery in its eastern territories; their attentions were securely focused on the brutal inhumanity of the Atlantic system. This essay highlights the indifference of most officials to the illegal traffic of women and girls, whom they often labeled as debtors, coming into the Straits of Malacca. The incredible gender disparity within the British Straits Settlements, created by the floods of laboring, unattached men, and lack of immigrating women, was overwhelming motivation to begin refining legal terms, and turn a blind eye to what was clearly a thriving trade in non-European slaves. This case study demonstrates that strongly held beliefs about class, gender, domesticity, and "native" sexuality fundamentally shaped what officials believed was (and was not) slavery within the Straits and how they reacted to what they encountered.

"If we live to be old we may yet see all the slaves gain their freedom and become like ourselves."

– Stamford Raffles, Singapore 18231

Representative of the East India Company (EIC) and founding Resident of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles made the above statement after learning that slave women were "herded along" the streets of the settlement and being given "rice in coconut shells and water in bamboo scoops just as one gives food to dogs."2 Technically, there should not have been any slaves in Singapore in 1823. Parliament passed the Felony Slave Trade Act in 1811 and EIC [End Page 341] officials William Farquhar and Raffles had prohibited slavery when they acquired the island of Singapore from the Sultan of Johor in 1819.3 However, as scholars of slavery have illustrated, British Parliament and the EIC were only marginally concerned with abolishing slavery in the east, and the trade in non-European slaves was even less important; their attentions were securely focused on the brutal inhumanity of the Atlantic system.4 As we will see, most officials were relatively indifferent to the illegal traffic of women and girls, whom they often labeled as debtors, coming into the Straits of Malacca. The incredible gender disparity within these colonial spaces, created by the floods of laboring, unattached, men and a lack of immigrating women was overwhelming motivation to begin refining legal terms, and turn a blind eye to what was clearly a thriving trade in non-European slaves—women and girls brought into the Straits as domestic and sexual labor for the overwhelmingly male, predominantly transient, population. It is also important to note that very real limitations to EIC authority in the region circumscribed their actions to combat the illegal slave trade officials knew existed. Nonetheless, as the case of confiscated slaves from Nias examined below demonstrates, strongly held beliefs about gender roles, domesticity, and "native" behavior fundamentally shaped what official believed was (and was not) slavery. In addition to examining conflicting gender structures and slippery conceptions of slavery, debt, and free labor at odds within the British Straits Settlements at the turn of the nineteenth century, this research exposes the pliable definitions, competing agendas, and vague legislation that have supported an inherently gendered system of global labor traffic and hobbled international antislavery efforts for the past two centuries.

Historians have established that attitudes and perceptions about race, gender, sex, and sexuality were fundamental to the British imperial project and have influenced how officials perceived and reacted on colonial frontiers.5 For early nineteenth-century Britons, [End Page 342] dominant perceptions of "civilized," and therefore productive, society consisted of two separate spheres: the public world of gainful employment, commerce, and politics for men, and the domestic sphere of home, hearth, and children for women.6 Indeed, white women held the mantel of chaste and demure domestic angel, charged with cleansing away the corrupting influences of the outside world, rejuvenating a man's spirit, and maintaining the integrity of his household.7 Ironically, "women's work" was regularly devalued and trivialized as non-essential, yet prevailing wisdom held that the domestic sphere, the realm of women, was vital to "the making of a healthy social body."8 As in Europe, the British organized colonial society according to a patriarchal hierarchy in which white males levied "supreme authority" over the household and, as Kathleen Wilson explains, "the household was the main unit of social order and indigenous reclamation."9 After all, an orderly house brings an orderly life. But, that may not have been the most important focus for local administrators in British Malaya. Their task was much more pragmatic. Rather than attempting to establish and maintain a large settler population, the EIC government and resident elite sought only to lure trade to their ports, maintain peace and order within the settlements, and protect trade relationships.

While the above strictures of domesticity were aspirational for middle class and elites in Europe, the rank and file soldiers, laborers, convicts, and seamen that made up the majority of the men in these settlements hailed primarily from the lower classes who British officials believed did not possess the restraint and good character that might be expected from the more elite government or Company officers.10 As Ann Stoler argues, European empires, used the "legitimating rhetoric of civility and its gendered construals," to organize and police their settlements, but that little has been done to examine the "class [End Page 343] tensions that competing notions of 'civility' engendered."11 In early nineteenth-century Europe, hierarchical notions of civility were entrenched in the formation of emerging class-based conflicts as the aristocracy separated itself from the laboring classes and the new middle class struggled for social position. Indeed, London's poor were regularly equated with colonial savagery and some elites even went "slumming" to catch sight of the beasts in their natural habitat.12 The middle classes aspired to be aristocratic; both groups mistrusted and reviled the poor.

Of course, not everyone arriving in the Straits were aristocratic or European and very few were looking to settle long term. Other than Malacca (1795), which was an established cosmopolitan community long before Europeans sailed into Southeast Asia, the purpose of the EIC factories of Penang (or Prince of Wales Island, 1786), Province of Wellesley (1800), and Singapore (1819) were to provide storage for British ships (Penang) and establish a free port at Singapore to challenge Dutch and Portuguese trade policies.13 The few resident Europeans were generally EIC administrators, officials, or clerks, missionaries, merchants, and sailors, many of whom would have come from European middle and working classes.14 According to Robert Montgomery Martin's Statistics of the Colonies of the British Empire, by 1833 there were only 119 "Europeans" in Singapore amongst a total population of 20,880.15 The same report tells us that we should include 553 convicts and 600 "military and their followers" to the above total.16 Colonies in the Straits relied heavily on convict, Indian indenture, and Chinese migrant labor, all of whom colonial authorities would have considered morally suspect in need of close supervision and control.17 Of course, we should assume that at least some low or working class British soldiers could have made it to the brothels and gambling houses just like anyone else staying in the port. Were they never drunk and disorderly? When discussing the peace and [End Page 344] order of the community, both the government and public's conversation regularly returned to the ways a lack of women affects the Malay and Chinese populations, but never about British, or even European men. However, as we know from Philippa Levine, it was drastically different as early as the 1860s.18

We also know the British were incredibly worried that without women, lower-class men would turn to each other for sexual release; propriety and discipline was difficult enough for those in the upper classes, but lack of self control and promiscuity was all but expected from the lower ranks. Authorities regularly discussed soldiers and sea men's need for access to women's bodies to appease this masculine necessity.19 Uncontrolled male desire and extra-marital sex, although unsightly, was a normal exercise of male privilege and British patriarchal society saw their "natural" need for sexual release "as compelling as [their] appetite for food."20 In fact, desire was foundational to the "maintenance of empire" and assisted in the demarcation of maleness from femaleness.21 For the British, the aversion toward "overt sex between males," was as Ronald Hyam described, "almost pathological" and helps explain the "high incidence" of prostitution within Britain and its colonies.22 Authorities feared homosocial environments such as naval ships, military bases, labor camps, and colonial settlements like Penang and Singapore; they fretted the men's need for sexual release would compel them to unseemly intimacies, drunkenness, and violence.23 They thought even less of Asian restraint and had long fantasized about the sexual secrets of the "Orient"; colonists around the world believed non-Westerners were as Levine describes, "morally lax and sexually unencumbered."24 British officials in the Straits would have considered a majority of the population to be wild, sexually uninhibited, violent, and in urgent need of control. [End Page 345]

Residents living in Singapore became weary of the street brawls and late-night parties indicative of uncivilized savagery, and voiced their concerns in the local paper. Echoing the concern of many residents, an editorial on the 15th of February, 1827 in the Singapore Chronicle expressed great anxiety over the "peace and good order" of the settlement, asserting that there was "too great a disparity in the numbers of the sexes in the settlements, the males being much more numerous than the females."25 The writer was certain that the disproportionate numbers of men to women would "excite rivalry for the smiles of the fair." Moreover, the writer warned that such encounters were "inimical to the peace and good order of the community."26 Not only was this resident convinced that local violence and criminal behavior of non-European men had gotten out of control, he believed the scarcity of women to be an important cause.27

British officials assumed eastern cultures, like the poor, were less civilized "looser," unconcerned with Western gender proprieties; slavery and the subjugation of women, they presumed, were an endemic part of non-European societies in the region. Many saw the sale, suppression, and exploitation of these women as "evidence of their disorder."28 The "interior frontiers" of gender were volatile points of interaction and most officials during this period were reluctant to become involved in disputes over women—particularly slaves.29 As tenuously invited guests, it would have been important to affirm the notion that, "the control of women's bodies fundamentally belonged to the men of that society," to exploit and control as they saw fit.30 Many believed as Superintendent of Police in Penang, Richard Caunter, who admitted some women had, "no doubt been improperly disposed of," but maintained that their importation into the Straits, regardless of circumstance, "must be greatly for the advantage of these poor people."31 These officials were convinced that [End Page 346] women were naturally destined to serve men in a variety of domestic capacities—regardless of their station—and confident that even enslavement within the protecting arms of Her Majesty's territories was better for everyone involved. It is not surprising then, that colonial officials in the Straits either overtly promoted the migration of women and girls or overlooked the illegal importation of women all together to ensure the orderly behavior of men within the community.32

We see the clearest expression of Company officials articulating this sentiment in Governor Fullerton's March 12th address to the Straits Government in Council at Singapore in 1830.33 After receiving confirmation of the persistence of the illegal slave trade in the Straits, he announced to the Government in Council at Penang that a "clandestine" slave trade continued to operate in the Straits. He further asserted that the system of debt-slavery that all three settlements had come to depend upon operated as little more than a ruse for "pure slavery." However, Fullerton advised that the government "must not omit the mention of its [slavery] few redeeming qualities." He explained:

The emigration of females from China is not allowed; from India it is repugnant to Hindoo ideas; of indigenous Malays the proportion between the sexes is nearly equal. It is only, therefore, from females imported under the present system that the population can arise out of the progressive addition of new settlers; and it will be recollected that the female slaves imported into Penang from Pulo [sic] Nias, before the operation of slave laws, are the mothers of the whole indigenous population of the Prince of Wales' Island.34

He then reminded the council of their very limited authority and constrained abilities to enforce antislavery measures in the region. The [End Page 347] Governor assured the Council that the British were doing "all that [could] reasonably be done for the amelioration of the habits of our people, and their gradual advancement in the scale of civilization."35 While he did not agree with the slave trade and made clear that he did not endorse the practice, Governor Fullerton described the trade as an alternate emigration policy that while no longer legally available, might otherwise have solved the gender imbalance in Penang and brought greater stability to the colony.

Until the last half of the twentieth century, the bulk of scholarship about slavery and abolition mostly ignored systems in the east.36 In the past two decades several studies have moved us away from the Atlantic and offered more inclusive descriptions of the size, scope, and primary characteristics of the Indian Ocean World (IOW) slave trade and connecting networks, including Southeast Asia.37 As several works have demonstrated, slavery and personal indenture were endemic in Southeast Asian societies and it was the Europeans who categorized and assigned moral associations and values that forever transformed indigenous systems.38

In Southeast Asia, social structures depended on systems of what Anthony Reid describes as "vertical bonding" and, he argues, personal indebtedness is endemic to society.39 Here, slavery and servitude operated as part of an intricate web of social debt and obligation and [End Page 348] often functioned as way to care for the poor and destitute.40 Moreover, debt served as a primary reason for enslavement in the IOW, which further blurred the boundaries between slavery and other forms of servitude.41 This was incredibly problematic and at times made some slaves seem less destitute. In the eyes of the EIC courts during this period, debtors were not truly slaves because they at least had the option—however unlikely—of purchasing their freedom. Most urban, commercial centers during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, such as Malacca, Aceh, Banten, Patani, and Makassar, were populated with former slaves brought by the wealthy men who immigrated to the region, or as merchandise on a commercial expedition.42 Slavery was embedded within Southeast Asian culture and society, was a primary source of labor, and played an essential role in local and regional economies. Indeed, both Reid and James Warren, argue that the lives of indigenous populations were disrupted by European abolition and Warren's intricate analysis of slave markets, escape routes, and the strategies of pirates and slave traders within the Sulu archipelago provides a road map of the various ways indigenous traders circumvented colonial authority.43 Frankly, it illustrates that imperial regimes had an easier time conceiving laws than they did enforcing them.

Among the distinguishing features of the IOW slavery were the large numbers of females within the Southeast Asian networks during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.44 This was particularly true in the Straits. Because many of the women circulating within the region were from the Indonesian archipelago, this could be an interesting example of the increased autonomy and mobility of [End Page 349] Southeast Asia women so frequently discussed by scholars of the region.45 It is possible that some women came on their own volition—sold themselves to a slave trader or ship's captain to look for more lucrative opportunities in the region; but, as of yet, I have encountered no evidence of this. Some scholars have argued that these women and girls were primarily intended to supply a "marriage market," as seen elsewhere in the latter half of the nineteenth century, but others find such a benign purpose highly unlikely.46 It is certainly true that the flood of "free" male labor, convicts, and sailors that arrived in the Straits Settlements during this period created a strong demand for women to care for and support them. But, cultural prohibitions against interracial intimacies and their lack of financial security make it doubtful that large numbers of men moved abroad in search of a bride.47 It is more probable that slave traders, or some intermediary, purchased the women and brought them into the region to sell as concubines, domestic servants, or prostitutes which is what the bulk of limited slave testimonies indicate. Most (if not all) would have been expected to labor in a multitude of ways, including to satisfy sexual and domestic needs, which as Wilson describes was, "part and parcel for an enslaved woman."48

While investigating the role of gender, sexuality, and class within Britain's Southeast Asian colonies, and their effects on the application of colonial antislavery legislation, this research also offers the sorely understudied region of the British Straits Settlements and a case study. Located in the Straits of Malacca—a critical chokepoint of political and economic power in Southeast Asia for millennia—this essay highlights, as so many scholars of empire have, the tenuousness [End Page 350] of imperial rule and lack of uniformity in the application of colonial policy.49 At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the British had neither the political will nor military might to impose such an invasive and personal policy as the complete and immediate abolition of slavery in Southeast Asia. Although the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 effectively stifled Dutch expansion in the region, given the wealth and power of local Arab and Chinese merchants the British did not automatically gain hegemonic control of either local politics or regional commerce.50 The Chinese were a source of special concern for British colonial administrators in the Straits. Trade with China, according to Singapore's Resident Councilor John Crawfurd (1823–1826), was "the most extensive, intimate, and probably most ancient, of the foreign commercial relations of Indian islands."51 By 1800, there were more than 700,000 Chinese working throughout Southeast Asia.52 At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Straits of Malacca was a vital crossroads for European trade and their growing colonies were starving for labor; during this period, it was wealthy Chinese merchants who exercised the most significant control over the products and labor—including slaves—flowing between China and India.53

Several cities in the IOW functioned as nodes within a larger web of slave-trading circuits and Europeans used them to supply slave labor and expand colonial mining and agricultural projects around the [End Page 351] world.54 At the same time, they transported women who, as Kerry Ward tells us, were "coerced or agreed to work 'unofficially' as prostitutes for the Company's servants, civilians, and sojourning men."55 In fact, Ward asserts that "slaves were by far the most important category of people" in the Dutch Empire.56 Colonial trading centers such as Mauritius, Muscat, Bombay, Malacca, and (by nineteenth century) Singapore were just some of the nodes in this global slave trading network that, by the seventeenth century, had become embedded within world commodity and labor markets. By the time abolitionist message gained momentum within Europe at the end of the eighteenth century, Europeans had been trading within these ancient slave-trading networks that supplied laboring bodies to their emerging colonial centers for more than a century.57

British antislavery measures entered the IOW in the 1770s, when the Calcutta and Madras presidencies initiated a ban on the export of slaves due to a rise in the kidnapping and sale of children in India. Regulations 9 and 10, passed in 1774, prohibited the sale or trade of any individual without a written deed and not already in a state of slavery.58 By 1789, most viewed the ordinance as largely ineffectual; after significant pressure from London, the Government at Bengal reasserted the 1774 ordinance and outlawed the trading in slaves. By 1805, the governments at Madras and Bombay had all passed similar legislation.59 The initial ban did not disturb the slave trade in the Malay Peninsula until 1805, when Robert Farquhar, Lieutenant Governor of the EIC's newest Presidency, set out to abolish slavery in Penang. But it was not until May 1811, when Parliament passed the Slave Trade Felony Act [End Page 352] that the Company's government began to organize a formal structure for enforcement in both India and the Malay Peninsula.60

But, limited jurisdiction and indirect authority made applying the law difficult. In the Straits, ruled indirectly via the EIC until 1851, and acceptance of British authority by indigenous Malay rulers was partly predicated on the fact that the Company did not forcibly take these territories. Here, local leaders had, theoretically, given it to them. The treaties transferring Prince of Wales' Island (Penang), Singapore, and Malacca to the EIC were all surrounded by the pretense of law and mutual consent.61 Unlike the violent invasions from Portuguese and Dutch envoys, in Southeast Asia the British presented themselves as business partners rather than colonizers.62 Indeed, the treaty with Queda on the western Malay Peninsula demonstrates the limited power afforded to EIC officials. During the 1786 acquisition of Penang, the King of Queda insisted that provisions recognized existing slave systems and that "all slaves be returned to their masters, for they are part of their property."63 The King inserted additional language in 1791, clarifying that "all slaves running from Queda to Pulo [sic] Penang, or from Pulo [sic] Penang shall be returned to their owners."64 In this situation, the King clearly demonstrated that his business with the British did not include the authority to disrupt or interfere with this part of Malay society. Colonial records from around this same time also indicate that a group of wealthy "Malays of Arabian extraction, with large families" wanted to relocate to the island.65 Upon receiving a formal request, the Company, prior to settlement there, granted them the "right to govern their own families, slaves, and dependents with an independent power and, in all cases to be judged by the Mahomedan laws."66 Before the nineteenth century, slave owners in Southeast Asia considered their slaves an investment and the measure of an individual's prestige and wealth. It is clear that both these groups felt was it necessary to protect what they clearly viewed as important and valuable assets. [End Page 353]

As mentioned above, the port city of Malacca operated as a primary trading entrepôt connecting markets in the Indian and Pacific Oceans since at least the fifteenth century; slaves had long supplied labor (both domestic and agricultural) to the community's well-established and wealthy Malaysian, Arab, Chinese, Portuguese, and Dutch residents.67 Indigenous rulers gave itinerants captive women as wives and concubines who produced children and became part of Malacca's elite.68 In fact, a large portion of the city was built and populated by slaves imported from all over the IOW and Southeast Asia.69 During its most prosperous years, Malacca imported slaves "drawn from every nation and race."70 Chinese settlers and Indian sailors were the only free wage labor for hire in the city for many centuries.71

Nonetheless, as Seymour Drescher explains, Britain was in an "optimistic mood" at the end of the eighteenth century and had a "new sense of reforming humanity on a global scale."72 In the Straits, the fragility of British power in the region required that officials cautiously implement their new policies. For example, Farquhar did not publicize the 1811 ordinance until 1813, when he declared the import and export of slaves a felony within the Straits.73 And, as Richard Allen's research demonstrates, Britain's initial antislavery efforts to inhibit the slave trade aimed primarily at disrupting the "foreign" trade and thus, asserted less effort to enforce antislavery ordinances on non-European slavers.74 During the last years of Dutch administration in Malacca (1820–1825), colonial officials first initiated a system of registries in an attempt to clearly identify existing slave populations in the community and offer slave owners the opportunity to maintain the value of their [End Page 354] property. With the import and export of slaves now a felony offense, officials were confident that slavery would "naturally" end with the death of those entered on the registries.75 This policy of "gradual abolition," both allowed for the preservation of the slaves' monetary value and avoided the scorn of the growing abolitionists in London.76 Yet, as Superintendent of Police in Malacca, W.T. Lewis, explained to the Governor in Council in 1829, "at the time, nothing effectual was done to stop further importations."77

Penang had existing slave populations prior to the 1811 ordinance, but the numbers were relatively small and British officials eventually mimicked the accommodations and registries implemented in Malacca.78 The legal prohibition of slavery in the Straits preceded the acquisition of Singapore in 1819, which meant that neither city had the large numbers of slaves nor resistant slave owners found in Malacca.79 Theoretically, then, British colonial officials enjoyed more latitude to enforce prohibitions more rigorously in both cities. By 1826, when the EIC joined Penang and Singapore to Malacca to form the Straits Settlements, slavery was technically illegal in British Malaya. Those in need of labor had supposedly begun to rely on convicts, debtors, or free laborers to fill the demand. In fact, many began to employ "debtors," which was a system of "contracted" labor that bound them to their "employer" until their debt was paid, however long that took.80 Having been established well after the first antislavery ordinances, Singapore grew up in a rapidly changing environment in which slave debtors became the only other viable option to free labor. Before he returned to London, in 1823, Raffles established regulations for Singapore's "Slave-Debtors" as the only other option to free labor in the colony.81 Rather than resort to the apprenticeship systems like those in India, to accommodate political realities, this [End Page 355] "gradual system" temporarily took advantage of prevailing systems of debt-bondage to initiate the transition from enslaved to free labor. In reality, all that changed was the terminology. Unfree laborers were no longer called slaves, but "debtors" or "debt-slaves," and slave owners became "employers."82 Their experiences, however, changed very little as a result of these new titles.

Many scholars of slavery in the IOW have problematized the free/unfree binary as a primary identifier of a "slave" within the region.83 Colonial officials regularly misinterpreted or, in some cases misrepresented, the social structures and slaving networks they encountered. Additionally, they used British conceptions of servitude to categorize, define, and sometimes prohibit various forms of labor and indenture within their territories.84 Slaves did not represent the major market commodity as in the Atlantic. Rather, they constituted a ubiquitous part of society, colonial officials found them incredibly difficult to identify. This was even truer following the passage of the Felony Act in 1811.85 After that, illegal slave trading was a serious offense and carried a punishment of up to "fourteen years' transportation."86 Because of its serious nature, colonial administrators in the Straits adhered to narrow definitions of slavery that offered more leeway in the enforcement of the law. At the same time, this narrow interpretation allowed colonial authorities to ignore much of the slave traffic they encountered—particularly when it might benefit the colony. As the Nias case reveals, even when they encountered clear evidence of slavery and trafficking, some officials chose to ignore it. Ship owners simply had to deny that the women on their ships and in their houses were actual slaves; they simply had to call them indebted servants or concubines, since neither were illegal—and both perfectly acceptable. Rather than disrupt local [End Page 356] relationships by prosecuting wealthy merchants for a crime that was difficult to detect and carried stiff punishments, British officials reaffirmed the patriarchal order—the rights of men to women's bodies—and looked the other way by emphasizing the ambiguity of the women's status, whom they insisted could as easily have been mistresses as slaves. Envisioning female slaves as indentured women awaiting productive lives as wives or domestic servants—rather than slaves bought for cloth and sold as prostitutes—offered officials a convenient way to avoid any personal guilt or responsibility they might feel and, more importantly, a potentially damaging prosecution.

Finally, we should not forget that the EIC (until its dissolution in 1858) was first and foremost a business venture. Thus, while its objectives generally aligned with the British government, the Company ultimately aimed to forge and maintain profitable relationships with local leaders throughout its eastern territories.87 Consequently, local officials cautiously drafted ordinances that upheld "the policy of Europeans, [and] more particularly of Englishmen," but that did not interfere in matters of "national independence."88 Despite clear cases of abuse and neglect of slaves by their masters, and the legislative authority for local authorities to intervene, most officials in the IOW firmly held to Company policies of non-intervention in matters of slavery.89 Moreover, even if officials had the desire to intervene, it was not until later in the century when the "technology gap" allowed them to force their will on those they ruled. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, particularly on the edges of the Empire, Europeans had to rely on treaties and trade relationships to maintain their position in global markets.90 In fact, examination of administrative [End Page 357] correspondence and local newspapers in the Straits reveals that EIC officials were far more concerned about maintaining the rights of merchants than they were about probing too deeply into whether their cargoes were entirely free.91 As a result, early antislavery ordinances were relatively useless at stopping entrenched slave trading networks from freely flowing through the Straits.

Take, for example, an 1837 article that appeared in The Singapore Free Press—four years after Britain's Parliament passed its Slavery Abolition Act—which complained of the "horrible traffic in human beings" which persisted in the Straits Settlements.92 Signed "Humanitas," this letter read much like descriptions of the slave trade from the first years of the settlement.93 The author claimed that there was still an expansive slave trade in the region and that Singapore was an important center for it. To his dismay, this "abhorred trade" persisted in the Straits Settlements after more than twenty-five years of British efforts to end it.94 By the 1830s a chorus of frustration within both colonial correspondence and contemporary newspapers erupted around EIC officials' inability to effectively prohibit underground networks from smuggling slaves in and out of British territories. As the following case will illustrate, a slave's gender and purpose, in addition to whom they belonged, took precedent over strict enforcement of the law.

Slaves from Pulau Nias

In early June 1828, Superintendent of police Richard Caunter summoned eight "passengers" from Nias to answer questions about the circumstances of their arrival at Penang.95 They had allegedly been aboard three detained Chinese junks and, according to a complaint received from a Portuguese missionary named Reverend Boucho, were sold into slavery in the community. Correspondence from Secretary to the Government, Robert Ibbetson, ordered Caunter to investigate the complaint by Boucho, which also claimed that some Chinese nakhodas [End Page 358] (or commanders) had imported "not less than 80 captives" to the island on their junks "a few days before."96 After having located some of the "captives" in houses within the community, local authorities took four women, a girl, and three young boys to the Superintendent's office for questioning. The captives explained that they had been the last of a much larger shipment of slaves collected on the junks. They told the officer they spent "some weeks" on board before sailing from Nias about ten days before.97 While many of these slaves may have been from Nias, some were also clearly from locations the nakhodas had stopped before reaching the ports of Penang; therefore, they could have been from any one of the strings of islands within the archipelago extending from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, Siam (modern Thailand), or China.98

Having already deposed the local constable, George Godfrey, Caunter knew the junks in question belonged to influential local Chinese merchants, and that the nakhodas were believed to have "purchased or procured" more than one hundred people with blue cloth.99 Francisco, a local "Nias man of the Christian faith," presumably provided by Rev. Boucho, told Caunter that he, "questioned the Nias people" and that he had "every reason to believe what they say is true." He said they were "too young and too ignorant to fabricate stories of this kind."100 The Superintendent learned that Maj Teejah, a Siamese woman living in a nearby district, "purchased the little Nias boy, Boodee Boodee" twenty days before "for 23 dollars."101 According to testimony, the nakhodas unloaded two other boys, Lama and Dalooah, in "different Achinese ports they touched at."102 Dalooah and Rakhye, two of the young women brought to the station, were working for one of the nakhodas when police took them.

Caunter described Nahoo as "one of the most intelligent of the Nias girls" and used her statements to establish the timeline and route of their voyage. While the report does not indicate where she came from, [End Page 359] Nahoo told the Superintendent that she and "70 or 80 others" had been on board the Hoh Hoatheen for weeks, making several stops along the way, before arriving on the island.103 Nahoo, Noora, Luklye, and Jenooah were "put by the nakhoda in the house of a Chinaman, by whom they were compelled to prostitute themselves every night to different men."104 In his report to Secretary Ibbetson, on the 19th of June, the Superintendent noted that the girls all corroborated each other's stories and that "their ears and hair were cut and trimmed to improve their appearance."105 Finally, at the end of his correspondence, he noted that, "the foregoing Nias boys and girls appear quite ignorant of the nature of an oath, and consequently cannot be sworn to their information."106 Because they were not Christian, Caunter believed they could not understand the meaning of "swearing before God," and therefore their statements could not be trusted.107 They offered no comment about either the religion or reliability of the Chinese merchant's testimony. So, although Caunter trusted their testimony enough to use it for the structure and timeline of the investigation, his presumption about the witness' ability to understand the truth of their statements led him to disregard their testimony and disabled the prosecution of the case. In fact, Caunter agreed that Rev. Boucho's complaint "appear[ed] to be well founded."108 Caunter believed their testimony, but because they were women and children—and not Christian—he chose not to trust that they knew what they were saying.

On the 26th of June, Superintendent Caunter interrogated the accused nakhodas, Too Kung, Picklow Lim, and Jooey Sim, or "Yooey," who all denied, "having been at all concerned in slave-dealing."109 Kung claimed he had not even been to Paulo Nias. Lim and Sim told Caunter that they had sailed from Nias, but had taken the persons in question as debtor servants in exchange for their passage. Each of the men claimed some of the women to be their personal concubines or servants, while others, apparently, had been promised to adoptive families. Additionally, the owners of the junks, Seong Sim and Cheong Cheah, claimed they had no knowledge of slave dealing on their junks and would not have sanctioned such a venture.110 Moreover, Ticklow [End Page 360] Sim, the merchant who Nahoo, Noora, Luklye, and Jenooah all claimed had forced them to work as prostitutes, said that two of the women who were taken from his house were sent to him as domestic servants from a man named Choo; the other three were the concubines of crew members who had asked the merchant to allow them to stay there "whilst the junk was hauled on shore to careen and repair."111 He unequivocally denied having compelled any of them to prostitute themselves or that they had "ever been intended for such a life."112

Upon receiving Caunter's report, the EIC Secretary to the Governor General and legal adviser John Anderson determined the case "too hazardous for the prosecutor to proceed to trial," and dismissed it. Officials left the girls with Rev. Boucho in the local nunnery and the owners were required to pay a small fine for failing to notify proper authorities of their arrival. And while this case initiated an investigation that contributed to the Straits government's decision to place a ban on debt-slavery in 1830, it also suggests that the preservation of the Company's relationship with wealthy traders was more important than enforcing antislavery measures.113

We also know that the government in Penang did not want a public discussion about the persistence of the slave trade in the Straits. In correspondence concerning the Singapore Chronicle, Secretary to the Governor in Council John Patullo asserted that the Chronicle's articles on the subject "tended to destroy the peace, harmony, and good order of the settlement" and ordered Singapore's Resident Murchison to prevent any further discussion of the matter.114 Though well aware of the thriving slave trade that continued to exist in the Straits long after the implementation of antislavery ordinances, local law enforcement and colonial officials saw the people they encountered through a racialized, gendered, and classed lens. For the EIC, the fate of these people were not worth the potential political turmoil and economic consequences. [End Page 361]

Notions about race, gender, class, and Orientalist concepts of "native" sexuality influenced the way British colonial subjects understood and reacted to the people they encountered.115 The antislavery project was no different. EIC officials viewed slaves and/or debtors in the east as "paupers" and saw middle-class domesticity as a cure to their plight.116 They considered the "native" states they encountered as ancient and backward cultures in need of the civilizing influence of Western values and institutions. The Singapore Chronicle regularly ran articles, which described the "barbarity" of the surrounding tribes on the islands of Borneo, Sumatra, and Bali.117 For example, the May 6th 1830 circulation contained a "short account of the island of Bali" that characterized the Balinese raja as "insolent in his habits and childish in his manners."118 The article's author claimed that the despotic ruler "frequently" forced women and girls to work "as dancing girls and prostitutes" and expected them to give him their profits "as they obtain[ed] them."119 It exposes commonly held perceptions of colonial settlers about both indigenous societies and the role of women within them. The author's criticism of the insolent and "childish" behavior challenged the Balinese King's masculinity and power; meanwhile, Balinese women were portrayed as hapless, pliant creatures oblivious to the scandal of their situation. Each of these characterizations operated to provide illustration of their uncivilized status. [End Page 362]

Many presumed, as Governor Fullerton had in his address to the local Straits government, that most of the women were "so imported to become the wives of Chinese and other settlers."120 While they may have disapproved of the way they arrived, colonial officials would likely have seen the arrival of more women and girls—regardless of the circumstance—as a benefit to the overall sustainability of the settlement. After condemning the overall depravity of the trade, Fullerton reminded the government in council of its limited authority and asserted that unless a slave is being abused by their master "there can be no moral reason or call for our interference."121 Slaves or not, these women were filling a need and "belonged" to the men they were with. Unless pressed, the Company chose to look past the slaves they saw in front of them.

There officials also believed the Empire's territories were protected, safe, and civilizing spaces where even illegal slaves had, as Caunter contended in his letter to Ibbetson, at least the "hope of redemption."122 The women and girls coming into and out of the Straits, slaves or not, were (in their minds) destined for marriage, concubinage, or domestic servitude—all roles that would have been considered a "natural" position for women. They viewed the women they encountered as low-class "natives" meant to labor for low-class men.

The Empire maintained a strict patriarchal order within its colonial spaces during this period, while constructs of race and difference influenced the enforcement of colonial law.123 Although the ordinance in place served to initiate the investigation of the Nias captives in the first place, Caunter's preconceived notions of gender and domesticity shaped the way he behaved. For him, the statements of slaves (or, as he chose to believe, debtors)—particularly women and children—did not carry the same weight as those of wealthy businessmen. Their world was organized within a classed, gendered, and racialized system of multilevel, intersecting hierarchies. Here, the word of a wealthy, male merchant would have held far more weight than that of a female slave, or a debtor. When the assertions of nine poor women and children were pitted against six influential men, it is not difficult to see why Caunter claimed that he did not believe that they were slaves, or that they were [End Page 363] "ever intended as such."124 It was far more logical—and clearly more expedient—to see them as debtors and concubines than to prosecute the merchant for illegal slave trading.

Even when confronted with what seems to be a clear case of illegal slave trafficking, officials were not always able to (or chose not to) discern the difference between slaves, debtors, and free laborers. Antislavery ordinances were not universally embraced by colonial authorities and, in this case, convicting these wealthy men of an offence they themselves did not necessarily agree was criminal would have likely caused an unwelcome controversy, which officials had already suggested was "too hazardous for the prosecutor to proceed to trial."125 The case ultimately fizzled away and the owners of the junks only paid fines for their neglect to report the "debtors" to the magistrate right away.126

It seems quite clear that officials also chose to overlook key elements of the Nias testimony: the girls told Caunter that Picklow had "put them in the house of a Chinaman" who forced them "every night to prostitute themselves to different men."127 Though Caunter believed Nahoo's story enough to use her statements to establish timelines and routes, the fact that they were deemed unable to swear to it made it convenient for officials to disregard the assertions that they had been illegally trafficked and sold as slaves, and easier to accept the stories of the merchants and nakhodas. If the Superintendent knew the slaves' statements were inadmissible at the beginning, authorities would not even have had to go through the effort of investigating and trying to prosecute. But they did proceed, and were quickly confronted with conflicting, potentially incendiary, stories. While officials never explicitly said so, it is possible that the compelling nature of the women's stories were the reason officials were able to keep custody of the slaves—who the nakhodas claimed were debtors—without resistance. If they truly were their wives, servants, or concubines it is hard to believe they would not have asked for their return.

But colonial officials did not claim to be appalled after learning that the girls had been forced into prostitution. According to official correspondence and parliamentary records, slavery "for the purpose of prostitution" represented the basest form of the trade; EIC officials repeatedly professed that the elimination of it should be the primary [End Page 364] focus of antislavery legislation.128 No doubt, perceptions of indigenous sexuality would have dulled the sense of outrage. They would certainly have felt differently had the women been white Europeans. Some studies have indicated that British colonial officials did very little to prohibit the illegal traffic in women and girls they encountered in various regions around the Empire.129 Local authorities understood women and girls were being trafficked into their districts, and that prostitution was a problem, but as we already know, the British considered the profession a necessary and convenient civilizing force for large groups of uncivilized men.130 Caunter admitted the nakhodas had likely purchased the women but was apparently not convinced they had been forced to work as prostitutes. Perhaps he believed them so savage that they did not understand the difference between the domestic and sexual obligations expected of a wife or concubine from those of a prostituted slave.

Governor Fullerton and Superintendent Caunter's actions made it clear that they saw the importation of these women as an acceptable price to pay for the "gradual advancement" of the settlement's civilization, and also that they chose to ignore evidence of slavery to avoid legal conflict.131 At the same time, even if they truly believed these women were concubines, as part of the patriarchal order and "sexual contract" between British men and their male colonial subjects, officials would have been reluctant to interfere with these men's access to women's labor or bodies.132 Certainly, if Caunter believed the women were in fact concubines, he would have thought the women obligated to stay with the nakhodas. The confiscation of these women would have been a transgression of both the Company's policy of "non interference" and of this contract, but a far more acceptable compromise in order to avoid a potentially damaging public legal proceeding. At the same time, whether or not these women were truly slaves or debtors was likely a question of semantics. For these officials, being a slave in HM Empire was a step up the evolutionary ladder! In fact, Caunter even asserted to Ibbetson that, "they are certainly, in [End Page 365] general, benefited by the change."133 This, despite the fact that Noora had testified and the others corroborated that she, Luklye, Tenaaloo, and Naha were all slaves and had been forced to work as prostitutes.134

To be fair, Caunter admitted to Ibbetson that "some of the females brought here have no doubt been improperly disposed of," but he maintained that their importation, regardless of the circumstance, was to their advantage.135 He and other colonial officials conveniently ignored the reality that not all of the women imported into the colonies could be, as Secretary Anderson described to the EIC government in Council, "comfortably settled" as the "wives of opulent Chinese merchants."136 We know from Indrani Chatterjee that "in the face of abolition, the simple reduction of the complex and different grades of slavery into 'marriage' relations, […] absolved the Company of any responsibility to legally end slave-concubinage."137 A quick glance at official correspondence and newspaper discourse proves that officials understood the majority of men in Singapore were seamen, migrant laborers, or simply too poor to afford marrying or setting up a household and, as we have learned, the majority of slave traffic in the Straits was of women and girls.138 Officials overlooked the felonious importation of these women because they were an unintended but convenient resolution to concerns over the lack of women in the settlements, and they offered domestic and sexual labor for the laboring masses when those services were at a premium.

The likelihood that authorities disregarded antislavery ordinances in the Straits to facilitate the importation of women into their colonies increases when considered in light of the concern local colonists expressed over the tremendous disparity in numbers of women and men. According to a census published in the Singapore Chronicle, on July 15, 1830 there were 12,213 men and 4,121 females on the island. Only three years later, another census recorded 15,161 men and just 5,797 women; 4,262 of them were Chinese, Malay, or "natives" of the [End Page 366] western Indian coasts of Coromandel.139 By 1841, there were still only 7,729 women compared to 26,240 men.140 Over those same five years, the Singapore Chronicle frequently published articles from residents complaining about violence, drunkenness, and other criminal behavior on the island.141 Locals believed that the conspicuous absence of women and locals was causing turmoil. An underground slave trade in women and girls offered the promise of a civilizing force that brought domestic stability. It was simply easier for colonial officials to disregard the fact that many, if not most, of these women and girls did not arrive to be the wives of wealthy Malay, Arab, or Chinese merchants, but in fact performed a wide variety of necessary but invisible tasks—including domestic and sexual labor—to the great benefit of their colonies.

At the same time, as Fullerton alleged, these were the potential mothers for the settlement's future indigenous population, which would also become the next generation of laborers. It is very likely that the local administrators perceived the imported women and girls as a sad but potentially stabilizing force. While the story of their liberation would have appeased abolitionists in London, the reality was that officials viewed their lives as little more than collateral damage in a project aimed at domesticating both those laborers who immigrated permanently to the settlement, and to the many sojourners who were just passing through. Neither the EIC nor the British government demonstrated any interest in compromising lucrative trade relationships or aggravating temperamental political arrangements to change the fate of poor Asian women who officials believed were ultimately getting a step up in life.


In 1845, an article in The Singapore Free Press titled "Slave Trade in the Indian Archipelago" reminded its readers that slavery and the slave trade still existed in the British Straits Settlements.142 The piece focused on the plight of a widow, another young woman, and her child [End Page 367] and described the extent of the local trade. The author asserted that an "active system of kidnapping and slave-dealing prevails in the Island of Bally [Bali]" and inferred that women from this island comprised a large portion of those trafficked into the Settlements.143 After describing the system of indigenous and Chinese slaving, the author blamed Dutch authorities for their lack of effort to stop slavery in their colonies and pointed a finger at the French buying "young and handsome" women from Malay Rajas.144 The article insisted that the British must demand the Rajas within their influence prohibit slavery in their territories so that the Chinese and Bugis slave dealers would no longer find a market, and made it clear that efforts to abolish the slave trade to that point had been largely reactionary and useless.

The antislavery project officially began in the British Straits Settlements with the Slave Trade Act in 1807. Though the Company still used slaves during the first twenty years of the settlement for agriculture and construction, by 1820 the EIC Board of Control expected local officials to emancipate all Company slaves and eliminate the institution within its eastern territories. As a transitional measure, the governments of Malacca and Penang developed registries to accommodate the property rights of the few existing slave-owning families that had immigrated with their slaves.145 Otherwise, those seeking labor needed to engage free laborers or debtors, whose contracts were regulated by the local magistrate. By 1826—aside from a few who remained on the registries—slavery was illegal throughout the Straits. However, the EIC considered the wealthy Chinese, Arab, and Malays a formidable presence in these settlements; we know from the statements of Governor Fullerton and Rear Admiral Gage that the British understood the limits to their power in the region. It seems quite clear that non-European slave trades were simply not a priority for colonial officials, who were more concerned with curtailing European slavers and maintaining amicable trade relationships in the region. Eventually, abolitionism and antislavery legislation became a useful tool that created a pretense to monitor and regulate those who the British perceived as key competitors in the region; in this case, it was usually the Chinese. Nonetheless, in spite of a string of antislavery ordinances, [End Page 368] the trade continued through the first half of the nineteenth century and beyond.

As the 1827 Singapore Chronicle article described, some colonists were alarmed at the increasingly lawless and violent environment in Singapore. There were too many men and not enough women, and this disproportion seemed to threaten the peace and order of the community. The importation of young women and girls emerged as an obvious solution. At the same time, the ambiguity of debt and bondage in Southeast Asia, combined with orientalist perceptions of uncivilized, hypersexual Asian women, freed officials from guilt and gave them leeway to label them women as slaves or debtors. Either way, they were sure that those brought into the Empire's territory were better off because of their proximity to Britain's civilizing influence. British notions of gender constructed women as both subservient to men and as managers of domestic spaces. So while there is no explicit evidence that officials consciously facilitated an illicit traffic of women and girls into their male dominated settlements, it seems clear that they were willing to "turn a blind eye" to it in order to ensure the peace and stability of the colony.146 Ultimately, in spite of a professed effort to abolish the slave trade throughout the Empire, even as late as 1845, thirty-four years after the Slave Trade Felony Act, the trade persisted. Indeed, the trade remained an issue even after these colonies gained their independence from the Empire more than a century later.147 [End Page 369]

Shawna Herzog
Washington State University


1. Abdulla Munshi, The Hikayat Abdullah: An Annotated Translation, trans. A. H. Hill (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), 85.

2. Sir Stamford Raffles is generally credited with the acquisition of Singapore for the EIC from the Temenggong of Johor in 1819. He is often recognized for the establishment and success of Singapore as a British entrepôt. However, as Trocki reminds us, Bugis, Malay, and Chinese traders played a critical role in the accumulation of Singapore's wealth and power, and Raffle's legacy is far less heroic that the dominant narrative would have us believe; Carl Trocki, Prince of Pirates: The Temenggongs and the Development of Johor and Singapore, 1784–1885 (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1979), 6–10; Anthony Reid, Charting the Shape of Early Modern Southeast Asia (Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm Books, 1999), 240–245; Carl Trocki, Singapore: Wealth, Power and the Culture of Control (London: Routledge, 2006), 9.

3. Trocki, Prince of Pirates, 107–109.

4. Seymour Drescher, Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 268.

5. Claire Midgley, ed., Gender and Imperialism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998), 7–8; Tony Ballantyne and Antoinette Burton, Bodies in Contact: Rethinking Colonial Encounters in World History (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), 8–9;JeanGelman-Taylor, The Social World of Batavia (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 2004), 78–114; Catherine Hall, Civilising Subjects: Colony and Metropole in the English Imagination, 1830–1867 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 84–170; Philippa Levine, Gender and Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 136–137;Reid, Charting the Shape of Early Modern Southeast Asia, 189;Campbell, The Structure of Slavery in Indian Africa and Asia, x–xiii.

6. Jennifer Morgan, "Male Travelers, Female Bodies, and the Gendering of Racial Ideology," in Bodies in Contact: Rethinking Colonial Encounters in World History, eds. Tony Ballantyne and Antoinette Burton (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 61; Catherine Hall, "Of Gender and Empire: Reflections on the Nineteenth Century," in Gender and Empire, ed. Philippa Levine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 56–57; Hall, Civilising Subjects, 84–170; Colley, Britons, 238–239; Carol Pateman, The Sexual Contract (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), 10–11.

7. Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707–1837 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), 262–273.

8. Hall, "Of Gender and Empire: Reflections on the Nineteenth Century," 47.

9. Kathleen Wilson, "Gender, Empire, and Modernity," in Gender and Empire, ed. Philippa Levine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 25.

10. Seth Koven, Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 18–21, 103–112.

11. Ann Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault's History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), 99.

12. Koven,Slumming, 26, 37, 39.

13. Barbara Watson-Andaya and Leonard Andaya, A History of Malaysia (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2001), 111–117.

14. Philippa Levine, Prostitution, Race, and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire (New York: Routledge, 2003), 45–46.

15. Robert Montgomery Martin, Statistics of the Colonies of the British Empire: From the Official Records of the Colonial Office (London: W.H. Allen and Company, 1839), 410.

16. Robert Montgomery Martin, Statistics of the Colonies of the British Empire: From the Official Records of the Colonial Office (London: W.H. Allen and Company, 1839), 410.

17. Levine, Prostitution, Race, and Politics, 35.

18. Levine, Prostitution, Race, and Politics, 49.

19. Stark, Female Tars, 13–17; Levine, Prostitution, Race, and Politics, 292–293.

20. Levine, Prostitution, Race, and Politics, 196–197; Anna Clark, The Struggle for the Breeches (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995), 66–68; Judith Walkowitz, Prostitution in Victorian Society: Women, Class, and the State (New York, NY: Cambridge, 1980), 43; Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (New York, NY: Routledge, 1995), 79–80.

21. Levine, Prostitution, Race, and Politics, 197.

22. Ronald Hyam, Empire and Sexuality: The British Experience (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990), 56–57, 59.

23. Suzanne J. Stark, Female Tars: Women Aboard Ship in the Age of Sail (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1996), 13–17; Levine, Prostitution, Race and Politics, 292–293; Adele Perry, On the Edge of Empire: Gender, Race, and the Making of British Columbia, 1849–1871 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002), 36–47.

24. Levine, "Sexuality, Gender, and Empire," in Gender and Empire, ed. Philippa Levine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 135–137.

25. The Singapore Chronicle, 15 February 1827.

26. The Singapore Chronicle, 15 February 1827.

27. The Singapore Chronicle, 1 March 1827; The Singapore Chronicle, 23 June 1831.

28. Philippa Levine, "'A Multitude of Unchaste Women:' Prostitution in the British Empire," Journal of Women's History 15, no. 4 (2004): 159; Levine, "Sexuality, Gender, and Empire," in Gender and Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 150–151; Koven, Slumming, 72–73.

29. Ann Stoler, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002), 75–76.

30. Ann Stoler, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002), 75–76.

31. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/9.

32. Philippa Levine, "Sexuality, Gender and Empire," in Gender and Empire, ed. Philippa Levine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 137.

33. William Evans, Slave Trade (East India): Copies or Abstracts of All Correspondence Between the Directors of the East India Company and the Company's Government in India, Since the 1st Day of June 1827, on the Subject of Slavery in the Territories Under the Company's Rule: Also Communications Relating to the Subject of Slavery in the Island of Ceylon (London: Great Britain Foreign Office, 1838), 238–239.

34. William Evans, Slave Trade (East India): Copies or Abstracts of All Correspondence Between the Directors of the East India Company and the Company's Government in India, Since the 1st Day of June 1827, on the Subject of Slavery in the Territories Under the Company's Rule: Also Communications Relating to the Subject of Slavery in the Island of Ceylon (London: Great Britain Foreign Office, 1838), 238–239.

35. William Evans, Slave Trade (East India): Copies or Abstracts of All Correspondence Between the Directors of the East India Company and the Company's Government in India, Since the 1st Day of June 1827, on the Subject of Slavery in the Territories Under the Company's Rule: Also Communications Relating to the Subject of Slavery in the Island of Ceylon (London: Great Britain Foreign Office, 1838), 238–239.

36. Some important works focusing on the trans-Atlantic system are: Gwyn Campbell, Suzanne Miers, and Joseph Calder Miller, Women and Slavery: The Modern Atlantic (Ohio University Press, 2007); David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolutions 1770–1823 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975); David Brion Davis, InHuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Seymour Drescher, Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery (Cambridge University Press, 2009); Stanley L. Engerman, Slavery: Oxford Reader (Oxford University Press, 2001).

37. Gwyn Campbell, The Structure of Slavery in Indian Ocean, Africa and Asia (London, Frank Cass, 2004), 83–129; Anthony Reid, Charting the Shape of Early Modern Southeast Asia (Bangkok: Silkworm Books, 1999), 181–212;Alain Testart, "The Extent and Significance of Debt Slavery," Revue française de sociologie Annual English Selection 43 (2002): 173–204; Markus Vink, "'The World's Oldest Trade': Dutch Slavery and Slave Trade in the Indian Ocean in the Seventeenth Century," Journal of World History 14,no. 2 (2003): 131–177; B.D. Hopkins, "Race, Sex and Slavery: 'Forced Labour' in Central Asia and Afghanistan in the Early 19th Century," Modern Asian Studies 42,no. 4 (2008): 629–671.

38. Anthony Reid, Slavery, Bondage, and Dependency in Southeast Asia (New York: St. Martins, 1983), 25–30.

39. Reid, "Decline of Slavery in Indonesia," 65.

40. Bruno Lasker, Human Bondage in Southeast Asia (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1950), 30; Markus Vink, "'The World's Oldest Trade': Dutch Slavery and Slave Trade in the Indian Ocean in the Seventeenth Century," Journal of World History 14, no. 2 (2003): 136–138.

41. Reid and Brewster, Slavery, Bondage, and Dependency, 10.

42. Reid and Brewster, Slavery, Bondage, and Dependency, 69.

43. Anthony Reid, Slavery, Bondage, and Dependency in Southeast Asia (New York: St. Martins, 1983), 25–30; James Francis Warren, The Sulu Zone, 1768–1898: The Dynamics of External Trade, Slavery, and Ethnicity in the Transformation of Southeast Asian Maritime State (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1981), 198–199.

44. The following works explain the gender dynamics of slavery in Southeast Asia: Reid, Charting the Shape of Early Modern Southeast Asia, 181–212; Reid, "The Decline of Slavery in Nineteenth-Century Indonesia," 64–80; Barbara Andaya, Other Past: Women, Gender and History in Early Modern Southeast Asia (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i, 2000), 174–194, 1;Warren, The Sulu Zone, 1768–1898, 215–251; Eric Tagliacozzo, "Ambiguous Commodities, Unstable Frontiers: The Case of Burma, Siam, and Imperial Britain, 1800–1900," Comparative Studies in Society and History 46 (2004): 354–377.

45. Reid, Charting the Shape of Early Modern Southeast Asia, 189; Campbell, The Structure of Slavery in Indian Ocean Africa and Asia, x–xiii; Lockard, Southeast Asia, 32, 71.

46. Carl Trocki, "Opium as a Commodity in the Chinese Nanyang Trade," in Chinese Circulations: Capital, Commodities, and Networks in Southeast Asia, eds. Eric Tagliacozzo and Wen-Chin Chang (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 88–94; Levine, Prostitution, Race, and Politics, 25; James Warren, Pirates, Prostitutes & Pullers: Explorations in the Ethnoand Social History of Southeast Asia (Crawley: Western Australia University Press, 2008), 148–150.

47. European expansion and the rise in local slave trades, see: Reid, Charting the Shape of Early Modern Southeast Asia, 212–215; James Francis Warren, The Sulu Zone, 1768–1898: The Dynamics of External Trade, Slavery, and Ethnicity in the Transformation of a Southeast Asian Maritime State (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1981), 198. For convict labor, see: Anand Yang, "Indian Convict Workers in Southeast Asia in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries," Journal of World History 14, no. 2 (2003): 179–208; Clare Anderson, Subaltern Lives: Biographies of Colonialism in the Indian Ocean World, 1790–1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Con Costello, Botany Bay: The Story of the Convicts Transported from Ireland to Australia, 1791–1853 (Cork: Mercier Press, 1987).

48. Wilson, "Empire, Gender, and Modernity," 30.

49. IOW in slavery discourse: Reid, Charting the Shape of Early Modern Southeast Asia, 181–212; Campbell, The Structure of Slavery in Indian Ocean Africa and Asia (London, Frank Cass, 2004), vii; the Straits of Malacca in world history: Himanshu Pragha Ray and EdwardA. Alpers, eds., Cross Currents and Community Network: The History of the Indian Ocean World (Oxford University Press, 2007), 286–306; Craig Lockard, Southeast Asia in World History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 44–65; Barbara Watson-Andaya and Leonard Andaya, A History of Malaysia (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2001), 114–123; Carl Trocki, Singapore: Wealth, Power and the Culture of Control (London: Routledge, 2006), 7–33; Trocki, Prince of Pirates: The Temenggongs and the Development of Johor and Singapore, 1784–1885 (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1979), 4; Eric Tagliacozzo, Secret Trades, Porous Borders: Smuggling and States Along a Southeast Asian Frontier, 1865–1915 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), 29–69.

50. Lockard, Southeast Asia in World History, 44–65; Andaya, A History of Malaysia, 37–57; Trocki, Singapore, 15–33.

51. John Crawfurd, History of the Indian Archipelago: Containing an Account of the Manners, Arts, Languages, Religions, Institutions, and Commerce of Its Inhabitants (London: A. Constable and Co., 1820), 155.

52. Jamie Mackie, "Introduction," in Sojourners and Settlers: Histories of Southeast Asia and the Chinese, ed. Anthony Reid (Asian Studies Association of Australia: Allen & Unwin, 1996), xxiii.

53. Lockard, Southeast Asia in World History, 98.

54. Richard Allen, "Satisfying the 'Want for Labouring People': European Slave Trading in the Indian Ocean, 1500–1850," Journal of World History 21, no. 1 (2010): 45–73.

55. Kerry Ward, Networks of Empire: Forced Migration in the Dutch East India Company (Cambridge University Press, 2009), 19, 125.

56. Ward, Networks of Empire, 81.

57. As Gwyn Campbell argues, "a lively traffic in 'people-as-property'" has persisted in the Indian Ocean World (IOW) since "well before the Common Era." Gwyn Campbell, ed., The Structure of Slavery in Indian Ocean Africa and Asia (Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 2004), ix–x; Andrea Major, Slavery, Abolitionism, and Empire in India, 1772–1843 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2012), 41. For more on the Abolitionist movement, see: Christopher Brown and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture, Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Robin Blackburn, Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776–1848 (London: Verso, 1988); Seymour Drescher, Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

58. Major, Slavery, Abolitionism and Empire in India, 52–53.

59. Major, Slavery, Abolitionism and Empire in India, 54.

60. Slavery in India: Return to an Address of The Honorable House of Commons, dated 13th of April 1826, June 1827, 99.

61. Donald B. Freeman, The Straits of Malacca: Gateway or Gauntlet?, (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2003), 125–126; John Hobhouse, Returns: Slavery (East Indies) (London: Great Britain Foreign Office, 1838), 107–112; Watson-Andaya and Andaya, A History of Malaysia, 114.

62. Trocki, Singapore, 9.

63. Slavery in India, 420–421.

64. Hobhouse, Returns: Slavery (East Indies), 107.

65. Hobhouse, Returns: Slavery (East Indies), 107.

66. Hobhouse, Returns: Slavery (East Indies), 107.

67. Andaya, A History of Malaysia, 160–161; Anthony Reid, "The Decline of Slavery in Nineteenth Century Indonesia," in Breaking the Chains: Slavery, Bondage, and Emancipation in Modern Africa and Asia, ed. Martin A. Klein (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993), 67–69; Evans, Slave Trade (East India), 249–253.

68. Andaya, A History of Malaysia, 160–161; Anthony Reid, "The Decline of Slavery in Nineteenth Century Indonesia," in Breaking the Chains: Slavery, Bondage, and Emancipation in Modern Africa and Asia, ed. Martin A. Klein (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993), 67–69; Evans, Slave Trade (East India), 249–253.

69. Reid, "The Decline of Slavery in Nineteenth-Century Indonesia," 68–69.

70. Anthony Reid and Jennifer Brewster, Slavery, Bondage, and Dependency in Southeast Asia (New York: St. Martin, 1983), 10.

71. Reid, "The Decline of Slavery in Nineteenth-Century Indonesia," 67.

72. Seymour Drescher, "The Shocking Birth of British Abolitionism," Slavery & Abolition 33, no. 4 (2012): 585.

73. Hobhouse, Returns: Slavery (East Indies), 108; Major, Slavery, Abolition, and Empire in India, 174–175.

74. Richard Allen, "Suppressing a Nefarious Traffic: Britain and the Abolition of Slave Trading in India and the Western Indian Ocean, 1770–1830," The William and Mary Quarterly 66, no. 4 (2009): 873–894.

75. Hobhouse, Returns: Slavery (East Indies), 109.

76. Reid and Brewster, Slavery, Bondage, and Dependency in Southeast Asia, 25–30. The EIC often counseled its officers to exercise their own discretion and many of the officers chose to take the course of "gradual abolition" to avoid conflict. Evans, Slave Trade (East India), 9, 40, 180, 150, 235–236, 256, 261–263, 352, 588.

77. Evans, Slave Trade (East India), 246.

78. Evans, Slave Trade (East India), 285–300. Before becoming an international entrepôt, Singapore was a small vacation island for the Temenggong of Johor with a small fishing village; see Trocki, Prince of Pirates, 1–6. Considering the above assertion from Reid, Vink, and Testart that slavery, indenture, and bondage were elemental parts of society in the IOW and, in particular Southeast Asia, it is very likely that there were local slaves living on the island before the British came to develop their factory, though unlikely that there was any sort of market or organized trade of slaves until after they established their factory in 1819.

79. Trocki, Prince of Pirates, 107–109.

80. Trocki, Prince of Pirates, 107–109, 107, 112; Slavery in India, 420–421.

81. "Extract from Sir Stamford Raffles' Regulation No. 5 of 1823: Slave-Debtors," CO/273/79/99-100; "Slavery in Ceylon," 575–600.

82. "Extract from Sir Stamford Raffles' Regulation No. 5 of 1823: Slave-Debtors," CO/273/79/99-100; Evans, Slave Trade (East India), 575–600.

83. Bruno Lasker, Human Bondage in Southeast Asia (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1950), 30; Reid and Brewster, Slavery, Bondage, and Dependency in Southeast Asia, 1–10; Indrani Chatterjee, Gender, Slavery, and Law in Colonial India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 17–27.

84. Chatterjee, Gender, Slavery, and Law in Colonial India, 5–29; Reid, Charting the Shape of Early Modern Southeast Asia, 182–183; Barbara Watson Andaya, "From Temporary Wife to Prostitute: Sexuality and Economic Change in Early Modern Southeast Asia," Journal of Women's History 9, no. 4 (1998): 11–34, 12–13.

85. Major, Slavery, Abolitionism and Empire in India, 172; Alessandro Stanziani, "Debt, Labour and Bondage: English Servants Versus Indentured Immigrants in Mauritius from the Late Eighteenth to the Early Twentieth Century," in Bonded Labour and Debt in the Indian Ocean World, eds. Gwyn Campbell and Alessandro Stanziani (London: Pickering and Chatto Ltd., 2013), 75–77.

86. Major, Slavery, Abolitionism, and Empire in India, 171.

87. These works all discuss the complex relationship between the EIC and the British Government throughout the Company's tenure as both a global trading giant and representative of Her Majesty's crown: Roy Tirthankar, The East India Company: The World's Most Powerful Corporation (New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2012), 1–4; H. Bowen, The Worlds of the East India Company (Rochester, NY: D.S. Brewer, 2002), 19–32, 169–181, 201–221; Hoh-Cheung Mui, The Management of Monopoly: A Study of the English East India Company's Conduct of Its Tea Trade, 1784–1833 (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1984), 23–43.

88. Slavery in India, 445; Evans, Slave Trade (East India), 4. For the delicacy of antislavery policy in EIC's Parliamentary reports and correspondence, see: Slavery in India, 13, 436, 440,445, 449; Evans, Slave Trade (East India), 20, 28, 32, 37, 56.

89. Slavery in India, 445; Evans, Slave Trade (East India), 56.

90. Daniel R. Headrick, Power over Peoples: Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present (Princeton University Press, 2012), 257–291; Headrick, Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 83–95. Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 10.

91. The following are descriptions of local slave systems and the difficulties authorities had identifying and legislating prohibitions of slavery in their eastern territories: Slavery inIndia, 13–21, 419–423; Evans, Slave Trade (East India), 7–35, 233–235, 251–261; Hobhouse, Returns: Slavery (East Indies), 4–6, 109, 188–201.

92. "To the Editor of the Singapore Free Press," The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 19 January 1837, 2.

93. Munshi, The Hikayat Abdullah, 150–151.

94. "To the Editor of the Singapore Free Press," 2.

95. "Slave Trade," The British Library, London, India Office of Records (Henceforth IOR), IOR/F4/1130/30195/11–13.

96. "Slave Trade," The British Library, London, India Office of Records (Henceforth IOR), IOR/F4/1130/30195/11–13, 10.

97. "Slave Trade," The British Library, London, India Office of Records (Henceforth IOR), IOR/F4/1130/30195/11–13, 20.

98. This is where both primary and secondary literature asserts that although some camefrom as far as Africa, the majority of slaves during this period came from China or the multitude of islands within the Straits of Malacca and Southeast Asia: Evans, Slave Trade(East India), 20–21; Hobhouse, Returns: Slavery (East Indies), 107–109; Allen, "Satisfying the ‘Want for Labouring People,'" 44–45; Allen, "Suppressing a Nefarious Traffic," 874–875; Reid and Brewster, Slavery, Bondage & Dependency in Southeast Asia, 11–24.

99. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/22.

100. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/22.

101. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/22, 24.

102. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/22, 27.

103. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/22, 24.

104. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/22, 26.

105. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/22.

106. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/22, 28.

107. Evans, Slave Trade (East India), 227.

108. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/7.

109. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/7, 28–32.

110. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/7, 31–33.

111. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/7, 31.

112. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/7, 32.

113. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/7.

114. "To the Editor of the Singapore Free Press," The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 19 January 1837, 2; "To anyone who has perused the account of Nias," TheSingapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 19 January 1837, 3. According to Francis Seow, The Singapore Free Press formed in 1830 in response to government censorship from the India Office, p. 7. It generated an intense competition that resulted in the closure of The SingaporeChronicle, which was the first newspaper published in Singapore in 1824, 6. Francis T. Seow, The Media Enthralled: Singapore Revisited (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998), 6–8.

115. These ideas of gendered, orientalist perspectives used by British colonizers are thoroughly discussed in both modern British and imperialism scholarship. The following discourse describes European formation and maintenance of sexual, social, cultural, political, and economic distinctions between the colonized, indigenous Other, and themselves: Edward W. Said, Orientalism: Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1978); Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1983). These works discuss the construction and zealous maintenance of racialized, gendered hierarchies as part of its colonial projects: Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire, 97–136; Stoler, "Making Empire Respectable: The Politics of Race and Sexual Morality in 20th-Century Colonial Cultures," American Ethnologist 16, no. 4 (1989): 634–660; Nupur Chaudhuri and Margaret Strobel, eds., Western Women and Imperialism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 1–34; Midgley, Gender and Imperialism, 1–20; Gelman-Taylor, The Social World of Batavia, 78–114.

116. Hobhouse, Returns: Slavery (East Indies), 189; Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor: A Cyclopaedia of the Condition and Earnings of Those That Will Work, Those That Cannot Work, and Those That Will Not Work (London: G. Woodfall and Son, 1851), 43.

117. The following editions of The Singapore Chronicle and Commercial Register contained long editorials describing the despotism and barbarity of local chiefs on the surrounding islands: p. 29 August 1829; 5 November 1829; 15 May 1830; 30 June 1830.

118. "A short account of the island of Bali: Particularly of Bali Baliling," Supplement to the Singapore Chronicle and Commercial Register, May 6, 1830.

119. "A short account of the island of Bali: Particularly of Bali Baliling," Supplement to the Singapore Chronicle and Commercial Register, May 6, 1830.

120. Evans, Slave Trade (East India), 239.

121. Evans, Slave Trade (East India), 239.

122. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/15.

123. Himani Bannerji, "Age of Consent and Hegemonic Social Reform," in Gender andImperialism, ed. Clare Midgley (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992), 21.

124. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/14.

125. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/14, 16.

126. Evans, Slave Trade (East India), 234.

127. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/26.

128. This opinion is expressed in a variety of ways, from a multitude of officials, see:Slavery in India, 435, 440, 453; Evans, Slave Trade (East India), 4, 68; Hobhouse, Returns:Slavery (East Indies), 87–89, 99, 154, 109 and in that same publication a "Copy of the Report From the Indian Law Commissioners," also addresses the issue of using slaves for the purpose of prostitution, 208–209.

129. Chatterjee, Gender, Slavery and Law in Colonial India, 218–219; Levine, Gender andEmpire, 136.

130. Levine, "A Multitude of Unchaste Women," 159.

131. Hobhouse, Returns: Slavery (East Indies), 109.

132. Carol Pateman, The Sexual Contract (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), 6.

133. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/8.

134. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/16; Evans, Slave Trade (East India), 237–238.

135. "Slave Trade," IOR/F4/1130/30195/9.

136. This is what John Anderson told the Council in his article in Quarterly Review thatthe editor of The Singapore Chronicle took such offense to, 26 April 1827.

137. Chatterjee, Gender, Slavery, and Law in Colonial India, 21.

138. Evans, Slave Trade (East India), 239. The following articles in the Singapore Chronicleoffer examples of local demographics and populations discussed: Singapore Chronicle, 1March 1827; Singapore Chronicle, 26 February 1829; 15 November 1829; Singapore Chronicle,

139. Singapore Chronicle, 15 July 1830; "Comparative Statement of the Census Taken onthe 1st of January," Singapore Chronicle, 7 February 1833.

140. "Census of Singapore taken in the month of December 1840," The Singapore FreePress and Mercantile Advertiser, 21 January 1841, 3.

141. Singapore Chronicle, 10 September 1830; Singapore Chronicle, 3 February 1831;Singapore Chronicle, 23 June 1831; Singapore Chronicle, 1 March 1832; Singapore Chronicle, 17

142. "Slave Trade in the Indian Archipelago," The Singapore Free Press and MercantileAdvertiser, 8 November 1845, 2.

143. "Slave Trade in the Indian Archipelago," The Singapore Free Press and MercantileAdvertiser, 8 November 1845, 2.

144. "Slave Trade in the Indian Archipelago," The Singapore Free Press and MercantileAdvertiser, 8 November 1845, 2.

145. "Slave Trade in the Indian Archipelago," The Singapore Free Press and MercantileAdvertiser, 8 November 1845, 246.

146. Levine, Prostitution, Race, and Politics, 126.

147. Jin Hui Ong, "Singapore," in Prostitution: An International Handbook on Trends, Problems, and Policies, ed. Nanette Davis (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993), 245.

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