- Race, Tea and Colonial Resettlement: Imperial Families, Interrupted by Jane McCabe
Race, Tea and Colonial Resettlement: Imperial Families, Interrupted joins the growing bodies of literature on mixed-race children in India and childhood migration schemes throughout the British Empire. Jane McCabe tracks the development and decline of Dr. John Graham's plan to resettle the mixed-race children of tea planters and native women from his residential school in Kalimpong, in the foothills of the Himalayas, to New Zealand. Through resettlement, Graham intended these children to forget the Indian side of their heritage and avoid the stigma attached to mixed-race ancestry in India. This is a familiar story, related in varying forms by Satadru Sen and Satoshi Mizutani, among others. But McCabe's account is one with a difference—she is descended from one of these mixed-race migrants. Through her connections with the families of other descendants of the St. Andrew's Colonial Homes, she has been able to locate a wealth of detail about the lives of the Kalimpong migrants and the generational effects of migration, family separation, and forgetting on their children and grandchildren. McCabe focuses closely on six families she was able to track in present-day New Zealand and threads their stories throughout her narrative.
Of the thousands of children enrolled at the St. Andrew's Colonial Homes in Kalimpong from its founding in 1901, 130 were sent to New Zealand as part of Graham's resettlement scheme between 1908 and 1938. While the schools drew children from across India, those selected for resettlement were exclusively the offspring of tea planters and their native companions. The existence of these native families was an open secret, and they were integrated into the life of the tea plantation and planters' communities, if not the larger world of British Indian society.
McCabe offers tantalizing glimpses of the children's relationships with their mothers. Though identifying information about the children's mothers is almost entirely missing from the institution's records, the correspondence that does remain suggests that mothers were dedicated to their children and endeavored to communicate with them while at the homes and after they had migrated. Mothers' concerns were not taken into account when children were enrolled in the Graham schools. Worry over the limited possibilities open to the mixedrace adults induced fathers to send their offspring to be educated in the [End Page 1425] institutional environment of the Graham schools, hoping their children would later have the chance to migrate as teenagers and start afresh as European settlers in New Zealand.
The bulk of the text deals with the realities of resettlement in New Zealand. Resettlement experiences were divided by gender, with most of the girls taking up positions as household help while many of the boys became agricultural laborers. Boys were more likely to undertake casual labor, moving on from one job to the next in search of improved conditions and pay. Regardless of gender, Graham school migrants found themselves on a downwardly mobile path, going from cossetted plantation babyhoods to institutionalized schools to ultimately joining the working classes in New Zealand as laborers, servants, and carers.
Graham chose New Zealand as a settlement site because he was convinced that the colony was more open to mixed families than Australia or India and the darker-skinned migrants would have little trouble fitting into a hybrid society. This did not always prove to be the case, and settlers found themselves subject to discrimination in the form of depressed wages and segregated services. Changing immigration quotas for mixed-race migrants likewise limited possibilities for the Kalimpong migrants. New immigration legislation passed in 1920 made settling immigrants who appeared Asian more difficult and a complete stop to immigration between 1929 and 1937 split families, stranding siblings on different continents. In spite of these setbacks, the migrants McCabe features seem to have settled contentedly after a few years of struggle.
It is here that McCabe's source base influences her analysis—she draws her accounts of the Kalimpong settlers' New Zealand...