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Studies in Migration Worldwide


"Bring in Outsiders Who Will Do the Work":
Migration and British Malaya's Imperial Labor Hierarchy, 1900–1930

Tiffany Trimmer


     The worldwide process of imperial expansion, from the sixteenth through twentieth centuries, involved two distinct approaches to setting up new colonies. First, imperial rulers imported patterns of governance, social relations, and labor roles that had been developed in other parts of the empire. Second, imperial authorities made use of existing, regional power relationships to accomplish the work of imperial governance and economic development.1 The contested politics of Indian labor migration to British Malaya are best understood as a tug-of-war between these two approaches. From the perspective of importing established patterns, supporters of British rule championed an imperial labor hierarchy where British civil servants maintained unchallenged supervisory control over labor migrants moving between the Madras Presidency and the Malay Peninsula. From the perspective of on-the-ground power relationships, Indian migrants-turned-recruiters (known as kanganies) were sometimes able to subvert this veneer of British control over labor migration.2 In February 1904, a pro-imperial observer insisted upon the "instrumental" or essential role that British civil servants played in Malaya.3 But six months earlier, an actual civil servant assessing relations among planters, kanganies, and the British government had declared these groups to be in an all-out battle of wills over migrant labor.4

     In one view, British civil servants were pivotal to sustaining a migration system linking Madras and Malaya. In another view, they were no longer in control (and may never have been). Two central aspects of world history help explain the coexistence of these contrasting views: (1) labor migration's vital role in imperial expansion and (2) the power of local and regional forces to subvert or co-opt imperial authority. Alleyne Ireland, a self-styled colonial expert employed by the University of Chicago, spent the years from 1902 to 1905 publishing studies on imperial expansion and labor migration in Asia. His article on Malaya offered readers the previously mentioned view that an empire's civil servants were instrumental in the work of colonial development. Ireland envisioned a social, economic, and political organization of British rule in Malaya relying on two very distinct types of labor. Physical labor, performed by colonial subjects (often migrants), was essential for the growth of plantation economies. But administrative labor, performed by European immigrant civil servants, was (in his mind) equally essential to the imperial enterprise. Ireland advocated an exclusively, and highly idealized, vision of a top-down imperial labor hierarchy in which British authority over trans-imperial labor migrants went unchallenged. In his view, the centrality of labor migration to imperial expansion necessitated unchecked British authority over that migration. 5

     Ireland's vision of how work and life in Malaya should be organized highlights the centrality of labor migration to imperial expansion. But his vision was not an accurate reflection of British rule. To other local and regional power brokers—especially kanganies and planters—labor migration policy was too important to leave entirely in the hands of British civil servants. The fact that British authority was continually challenged by these other interest groups led to ongoing experimentation and negotiation in migration policymaking. The on-the-ground view of managing labor migration between Madras and Malaya suggests a more complicated and constrained role for imperial authority. These contentious politics of labor migration hint at how much was at stake in the process of imperial expansion. A vision of unchallenged British civil servants supervising the migration of trans-imperial laborers was a comforting idea to imperial enthusiasts. But, it ignored (perhaps willfully) the pragmatic desire of other regional players to benefit from imperial expansion.


Alleyne Ireland's February 1904 article on Indian labor migration to British Malaya appeared in the American magazine, The Outlook. In it, he confidently described the solution British colonial administrators had adopted in order to meet the labor demands of the region's sugar, rubber, and coffee planters. "If the native refuses to work," he argued, colonial administrators had three options: abandon hopes of imperial expansion, impose forced labor, or "bring in outsiders who will do the work." Ireland explained that the third option—organizing the immigration of non-native workers—had been pivotal to the development of plantations and infrastructure on the Malay Peninsula. The "bring in outsiders who will do the work" approach was championed as a straightforward, and effective, strategy of imperial governance, labor management, and capitalist development.6 Indeed, the Indian-born population of British Malaya grew steadily.7

     But half a year earlier and half a world away in Kuala Lumpur, the "Annual Report on Indian Immigration" for 1903 conveyed quite a different message.8 The report used phrases including "labor famine," "failure," and "practical cessation of the flow of indentured labor" to describe government-directed labor emigration from India to British Malaya. Written by Acting Superintendent of Indian Immigration H.W. Firmstone, the report captured the anxiety created in Malaya when the number of newly-arrived migrant laborers from the subcontinent fell ninety-five percent short of planters' and colonial officials' requests. 9

     The 1903 Labor Famine happened when British authorities in Kuala Lumpur decided to intervene in the existing labor-migration system that connected the Tamil-speaking regions of the Madras Presidency in India with the plantations of the Malay Peninsula. A patchwork of indenture and contract migrations, government-subsidized migrations, and kangany recruitment all coexisted in early-twentieth-century Malaya.10 British civil servants working in the Protector of Labor's Office (the supervisory body for Indian immigrant laborers) decided to change this. The Protector's Office attempted to cut costs by subcontracting all recruitment to a single firm, the Madura Company. But Indian labor recruiters refused to give any ground.11 The reality of bringing in the outsiders who will do the work needed to develop the Malay Peninsula was not as straightforward as Ireland had made it seem. The Labor Famine suggests that the power to control labor migration between Madras and Malaya was more contested, and diffusely spread out, than colonial officials and scholars of empire cared to admit.

     How do we reconcile these competing versions of migrant society in British Malaya? Both versions highlight the imported nature of British rule in the Straits Settlements and the Malay Peninsula. The system of colonial governance, workplace supervision, and physical labor for the production of export commodities was brought in from other areas of the British Empire—from the civil servants tasked with administering trans-imperial labor migration, to the planters and overseers, to plantation workers. Why was this the case? From the mid 1870s through the late 1930s, a series of indirect-rule arrangements with local leaders on the Peninsula (known as the Resident System) simultaneously expanded the need for additional British civil servants while largely preventing the regional labor migration of indigenous Malays. Each Malay state ruler who cut a deal with the British agreed to host to a new civil service advisor (Resident) at his court. But Malay rulers technically maintained authority over their subjects, so that the British were generally unsuccessful at recruiting Malays into plantation work.12 With the expansion of for-profit, for-export, production of sugar, rubber, and coffee, from the 1890s to the 1930s, the recruitment of physical and administrative laborers became a priority.13

"Bring In Outsiders Who Will Do The Work"—A World Historical Phenomenon

The pressing need for immigrant laborers of all kinds was definitely not unique to turn-of-the-century Malaya. Madhavi Kale has argued that for the British Empire in the nineteenth-century, government-directed labor migration from India to other parts of the empire was a type of imperial resource allocation strategy designed to further economic and geopolitical goals. This imperial mindset—formally promoting migration to regions deemed to be of economic and strategic importance—expanded and complicated the exercise of imperial authority.14 Thus the "bring in outsiders who will do the work" phenomenon suggests a kind of imperial template or strategy assumed to offer a tried-and-true fix for development and governance in imperial outposts.15

     Adoption of the template for recruiting Indian colonial subjects as plantation labor was facilitated by two factors: Malaya's position within the worldwide imperial bureaucratic structure of the British Empire and the global labor diaspora known as the "Indians Overseas" phenomenon. Indians began emigrating abroad for plantation work in the 1830s, as new labor sources were needed in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean when the British Empire began its transition away from African slavery after 1834. By the 1930s, Indian migrants labored worldwide; their diaspora of two million had settled in Surinam, Trinidad, Jamaica, Nevis, South Africa, East Africa, Mauritius, Ceylon, Malaya, Burma, and Fiji.16

     In Malaya, the British decision to bring in outsiders took place within the context of larger world-historical forces at work across the eastern edge of the Indian Ocean in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. British Malaya was simultaneously a gateway at the eastern edge of the British Empire;17 a mining and plantation economy in development by European, Eurasian, and Chinese capital;18 and a point of intersection that brought networks of Indian, Chinese, and European migrants to the region between the 1870s and 1940s.19

     One way to articulate the world-historical significance of Indian and British migration to Malaya would be to contextualize it within the high-volume, and nearly-global, emigrations of the mid-nineteenth through mid-twentieth centuries. This era of massive population movements included 50 million laborers and settlers relocating throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific; 52 million emigrating to the Americas from Europe, Asia, and Africa; and 46 million settling in Manchuria and Siberia.20 To recognize that the trans-imperial labor migrations from India to Malaya occurred in an era when so many people were on the move is to give us a start down the path of fitting Malayan migrations into larger narratives.

     But I also want to suggest that there was a recurring set of factors that governed the role of labor in imperial strategies. This same system—maintaining control of border zones and strategic colonies via intensive for-profit agricultural resource development and state-directed emigration—had functioned in earlier times. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, European colonizers had sustained government-sanctioned or government-organized emigration to develop plantation complexes in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean basins. Thus, enslaved African migrants, along with indentured and convict labor and settler emigrants from Europe, should also be considered examples of the "bring in outsiders who will do the work" phenomenon.21 The practice of state-sponsored emigrations to facilitate economic and geopolitical goals is likewise relevant to discussions of the Ottoman practice of sürgün from the mid-fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries. Even earlier, Mongols exemplified the practice through relocations of soldiers, scientists, artisans, and laborers during and after the conquests in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.22

     These examples are only the beginning of a potentially much longer list. But they are included here to help us envision the "bring in outsiders who will do the work" mindset as a global template emerging from the expansion of states via long-distance migration when regional circumstances checked a governing authority's ability to accomplish its goals. The recruitment of non-native laborers to promote economic development survived the end of empires and persists in the era of nation states. Cases include the mid-twentieth-century examples of gästarbeiters in Western Europe, braceros in the United States, and Asian guestworkers in the Persian Gulf States.23

British Malaya's Idealized Imperial Labor Hierarchy: Immigrants Who Govern, Immigrants Who Labor, Natives Who Avoid Plantations

A common story about British Malaya emerges from the memoirs of early twentieth-century civil servants' memoirs, sociological studies of global migration patterns, and Anglo-Indian accounts of the "Indians Overseas." According to observers, the colony was being remade by human migration. In the colorful words of an Indian immigrant community organizer in Kuala Lumpur, "Tin and Rubber are the twin Goddesses of wealth of Malaya in pursuit of which have come the various races to the land of the peace loving Malay who, with a philosophic disdain, has stood aside and allowed them to have a free hand in the scramble for wealth and riches."24 This view echoed the observation of a British Resident-General, who wrote of regional development accomplished by "foreign coolies under the superintendence of foreign engineers." To be accurate, he should have added "and foreign colonial administrators," since he was also an English import.25

     This sense of Malaya as a region being developed by immigrants was predicated upon a belief in the "bring in outsiders who will do the work" strategy. The overlapping edge of empire, zone of capitalist development, and center of migration aspects of British Malaya shaped the colony's development. The long-distance webs of imperial policy, communication, capital, industrial technology, and human mobility linked Malaya to both the British Empire and the global economy from the late-nineteenth through the mid-twentieth-centuries.26

     From the early 1830s until the 1870s, development of export-oriented plantation or mining enterprises (tin, cloves, nutmegs, pepper) was pursued by private entrepreneurship, mostly Chinese. Some British residents of Singapore did venture into commercial agricultural production as a hedge against the uncertainties of competition with other European trading firms operating in the region. From the later 1870s onward, the Colonial Office in London began to take more of an interest in encouraging British participation in the intensive, for-profit, for-export, agricultural development of the region. Two processes were key to this change in imperial policy. First, granting Crown Colony status to the Straits Settlements in 1867 seems to have brought about a slightly enhanced interest in helping the region increase its profitability. Second was the decision of the Straits Government to intervene in political affairs in the Malay Peninsula during the 1874 Perak war. This intervention became a precedent, on which investors and imperial advocates drew when making their cases for greater British support for the development of the Malayan economy. By the 1880s, government-backed loans were being made available to planters interested in setting up coffee, sugar, tobacco, or pepper plantations in Perak. Government support for expanding plantation agriculture into neighboring states on the western coast of Malaya continued into the early twentieth century—first with sugar, then with rubber.27

     The period from the late 1890s through the1920s saw two additional developments that would shape the character of capitalist development of the planting sector in British Malaya. Corporate firms acquired and administered sugar and rubber plantations; and planters' associations arose—first for coffee planters, then for sugar planters, then for rubber planters.28 Both trends increased the pressure put on British civil servants to administer labor immigration in a manner that both kept recruitment costs low and guaranteed a steady stream of able-bodied plantation workers. Cheap labor was essential for economic development, but British imperial authority was—in practice—quite limited on the Malay Peninsula, the site of the majority of sugar, rubber, and mining operations. Local rulers signed treaties with the British Empire in exchange for protection and/or cash payments, creating the previously discussed Resident System. But the Malayan rulers retained control over their own subjects and were reticent to encourage their constituents to take up plantation work. There also seems to have been a significant disconnect between Malays on the one side and supporters of British-backed capitalist development on the other: wage-labor on foreign-owned plantations was of little interest to Malays living in a generally self-sufficient agricultural region.29

     Intensification of large-scale, for-profit, for-export plantation agriculture required intensification of government efforts to insure a steady supply of laborers to the Malay Peninsula. While laissez-faire capitalist ideologies suggested that labor would migrate to zones where employment could be had, in practice the situation was more complex. British civil servants in the Straits and Malaya encountered the need to invest significant administrative energies and financial resources into proactive management of the labor migrations linking China and India to the colony. Beginning in the 1870s for the Indian direction, and in the 1890s for the Chinese direction, British civil servants—at the request of British and Chinese planters in Malaya—began organizing government-subsidized labor immigration programs. They re-organized the inspection process for newly-arrived immigrants, and became more involved in protecting contract laborers from abuse.30

     The authors whose commentaries helped to construct and reinforce the idealized, made-by-immigrants version of Malaya's development included British civil servants, planters, and social scientists of European, American, and Indian backgrounds. For these individuals, the imperial labor hierarchy connecting the Malayan colonies was explicitly segregated. In it, racial or regional identity served as a reliable predictor of the types of labor contributions an individual was likely to make, or not make.31 Several key distinctions gave form to the divisions within British Malaya's imperial labor hierarchy. First, authors attempted to draw a clear line between immigrants who did manual labor and immigrants who managed the labor of others. Second, authors distinguished between those groups living in Malaya who did, or did not, seem interested in participating in (and thus benefitting from) the capitalist development of the Malayan economy. Third, racial identity (and status as a citizen or subject of the British Empire) also shaped characterizations of which labor roles were suitable for which groups of people.

     Early twentieth-century commentators on British Malaya repeatedly emphasized two somewhat contradictory characterizations of the region. It was cosmopolitan in the sense that multiple racial or national groups—British and other European groups, U.S. nationals, Chinese, Indian, Javanese, Malay, and people of Eurasian descent—inhabited the Straits Settlements and Malay Peninsula. But, the region was simultaneously described as one where these diverse groups did not interact if contact could be avoided. Sociologist Rupert Emerson, writing for a Western audience in 1931, noted that in Singapore and Penang one could avoid seeing any Chinese if they remained within the Euro-American neighborhoods, and alternately, "one may walk for miles through the streets of Singapore and Penang without ever laying eyes on a European or hearing a European word."32 For contemporary authors, this physical-spatial division of the Straits Settlements and the plantations of the Malay Peninsula was a consequence of the racially-constructed division of labor which was credited with remaking the economy and environment of British Malaya.33

     Occupying the highest tier of this idealized imperial labor hierarchy were white Europeans, who "governed or were engaged in important business concerns."34 British immigrants, in particular, organized and collected the revenues required for construction of roads and railways, provided the engineering improvements that gave miners access to new deposits of tin, and extended the range of crops under cultivation on plantations (a process known as "scientific planting").35 British immigrants sent to Malaya as part of the "highly efficient and perfectly honest civil service," one avid imperialist argued, had multiple tasks in relation to the groups they governed. They were responsible for providing "security of life and property. . .free education and hospital treatment and medicine for all, putting an end to the recurrent scourges of smallpox and cholera, exterminating piracy, organizing public works projects, increasing the revenue generated by the colony. . . , keeping the peace and maintaining the law."36

     Within this list of labor responsibilities, the mandate to improve Malaya's economy brought British civil servants (and planters) into direct interaction with the two groups occupying lower socioeconomic positions—Chinese immigrant planters, entrepreneurs, and laborers; and Indian laborers. As a former governor of the Straits Settlements explained, British immigrants deserved credit because they had "spared no pains to persuade Malays, Chinese, and Indians to come into the country to take up land, to build houses, to start up industries, and then to bring their relatives and friends to do the same."37 British supervision of schemes to increase the number of Chinese and Indian immigrant laborers to the mines, construction sites, and plantations of Malaya was seen as an especially important administrative responsibility for three reasons. First, it provided steady work to those willing to do it, thus offering laborers better material conditions than would be available in their own communities of origin. Second, successful management of long-distance labor migration "encourage[d] the investment of capital by assuring the employer of a good labor supply." Third, confident employers and laborers with improved economic prospects were seen as more likely to contribute to the "general prosperity of the colony."38

     The labor role of planter was less frequently described. Most descriptions of the socioeconomic order in British Malaya referenced the region's emerging plantation economy, and several authors conceded that there were Chinese migrants who had managed to become "planters on a large scale." One author did, however, summarize the planter-employer's responsibilities as: "providing sufficient and proper housing [and]… sanitary arrangements, clean water, rations at market prices, access to health care," and "pay[ing] wages in cash at not less than the legal minimum rate fixed by the Government." Testimony by a rubber planter given to the Indian Immigration Committee (Kuala Lumpur) in 1925 added, "free feeding and supervision of children," and providing facilities for keeping livestock to the list of planter-employer responsibilities.39

     In addition to being planters, miners, market-gardeners, artisans, shopkeepers, contractors, financiers, and revenue farm holders," according to one turn-of-the-century summary, Chinese immigrants were also Malaya's "acrobats, barbers, book-binders, coffin-makers, charcoal sellers, doctors, fishermen, goldsmiths…etc." 40 The "indispensability" of Chinese immigrants did not however, guarantee upward mobility for all Chinese immigrants. One commentator noted that while some Chinese immigrants were destined to become the "new bourgeoisie" of Malaya, others were destined to meet their ends in pauper hospitals and nameless graves after succumbing to occupational hazards of plantation and mining labor, especially tropical diseases including beri-beri, malaria, and dysentery.41

     Here it seems important to note the "symbiotic" relationship between the British and Chinese components of Malaya's socioeconomic hierarchy. Writing about relations between the two groups, Chai Hon-Chan has argued that "while the British provided the framework of a just government, the Chinese supplied the manpower; they became the key to the country's development and thus the basis of British power and control."42 The distinction between immigrant and Straits-born Chinese also became important, as the latter were generally characterized as adding "greatly to the stability of the British Empire in Malaya."43 This symbiosis continued farther down the social scale. British public works projects such as building roads, harbors, and government offices required the manual labor of Indian immigrants; as did British and Chinese coffee, sugar, and rubber plantations.

     Recent immigrants from India (mostly Tamil-speakers from areas around the Madras Presidency) served as "laborers of all kinds" in the Straits Settlements; in the Malay Peninsula they worked on coffee, sugar, or rubber plantations. Others were employed building the Peninsula's railway system. Some British civil servants wrote of Indians as having the potential to become a "resident laboring class."44 Authors also seem to have held out for them the same prospects of upward or downward mobility described for the Chinese. "When Indians had saved a little money," one author wrote, they "become cultivators, owners of cattle, cart drivers, and follow other useful avocations." Many contemporary accounts, however, called attention to the miserable working conditions of turn-of-the-century sugar and rubber plantations, which had the potential of sending Indian immigrant laborers to their own versions of the pauper hospitals and nameless graves mentioned for the Chinese.45

     While most authors lumped immigrants from the Indian subcontinent together, the (fewer) instances where class and ethnic/regional distinctions were made allow us to add more detail about the range of occupations taken up by emigrants from the subcontinent. Beyond the plantation laborer, the "considerable…brain-power" of Tamils made them valuable "clerks, schoolmasters, and railway officials." Sikhs were employed as soldiers; Bengalis as watchmen; Madrasis as tailors or peddlers.46

     One additional Indian immigrant occupation not explicitly described by most authors was that of labor recruiter (also an essential role for Chinese immigrants). It is likely that British authors neglected this essential occupation because to acknowledge it would conflict with the idealized role of British civil servants as administrators of labor. Yet Indian authors saw a utility in emphasizing the contributions made by native Indian labor recruiters who helped to facilitate the emigration of plantation workers across the Bay of Bengal. Known as kanganies, these Tamil-speaking former plantation workers returned seasonally to their home communities on the subcontinent to recruit additional workers, expecting to make a profit by doing so. Individual kanganies worked on behalf of specific plantations and planters; the relationship between kangani and planter generally stretched back to the recruiter's earlier years as an indentured or contract laborer. Planters or their representatives generally advanced their kanganies passage money for the number of immigrants they expected to recruit, plus a service fee per immigrant.47

     Kanganies were most often described by Indian authors in a negative light. One author labeled them "nefarious" and lamented the "tyranny" by which kanganies manipulated new emigrants, causing them to become excessively indebted to their employers. When American authors wrote about kanganies, they tended to echo this sentiment. One author argued that the dominance of these labor recruiters over new Indian laborers tended to make the latter "too ambitionless," thereby inhibiting their prospects for socioeconomic mobility.48

     Arab, Armenian, and Greek merchants, along with Javanese gardeners, also appeared in some idealized, and labor-based, descriptions of colonial Malaya.49 Yet authors had a more difficult time categorizing indigenous Malays by their labor roles, largely because of their insistence that Malays "always shunned the plantations and mines." Existing at the fringes of this social organization, Malays were cast as the "rice growers and planters of cocoanuts and fruit trees" who remained "in their houses by the river-side or near the towns."50 Commentators generally viewed Malays with a mix of romanticized idealism and paternal reproach—their disinterest in being part of the "economic revolution" going on around them was alternately attributed to their contentment with subsistence rice farming or their inability to display the more "aggressive" economic rationality of Chinese and Indian immigrants.51 The typical Malay, Alleyne Ireland contended, "sits on a wooden bench in the shade and watches the Chinaman and the Tamil build roads and railways, work the mines, cultivate the soil, raise cattle and pay the taxes."52 A quote from a British observer took the argument further, insisting that Malays "look on with nonchalance while the alien robs them of their birthright."53

     Such perceptions of the Malay as missing out on opportunities for economic development were tied to the ways that early-twentieth-century descriptions of the region very explicitly sought to highlight the rapid development of the colony's plantation and mining sectors. Those who did not seem eager to contribute to Britain's gateway to the East were harder to integrate into its idealized imperial labor hierarchy. The possibility that Malays may have had other seasonal labor obligations to their own families and communities seems not to have occurred to observers. Nor did these writers seem to consider that avoiding plantation work might offer Malays a strategy for resisting British colonial authority, either at the individual level or under the direction of Malay rulers seeking to limit British power.54

British Malaya's Contested Imperial Labor Hierarchy: The "Labor Famine" of 1903

The above version of Malaya's idealized imperial labor hierarchy implies a top-down organization. That is, those who governed or provided capital were not challenged by those in lower strata who were associated with physical labor, colonial status, or non-European origins. But H.W. Firmstone's use of the words "famine" and "failure" to characterize the labor recruitment situation dramatically undermined that idealized version of migrant life in Malaya.55 The 1903 Annual Report suggests that, in certain circumstances, trans-imperial connections between Indians in Malaya and those on the subcontinent (especially Madras) were effective leverage against the authority of British civil servants and the European and Eurasian planter class.

     The initial agreement between the British colonial government and the Madura Company defines the recruiting firm as the "sole agent" responsible for organizing labor migration from the Madras Presidency to the Malay Peninsula and the Straits Settlements. A subsequent revision, later in the year, affirmed that Madura's duty was to "foster labour emigration from India and render loyal assistance to the Protector of Labour."56 The 1903 Annual Report is somewhat vague on how Madura came to win its labor recruiting contact. The Company had existed for about twenty years when it won the contract. But its headquarters were in Calcutta rather than Madras, raising the question of how effectively it could recruit migrants in a different part of the subcontinent. This did not appear to bother Protector of Labor, T.H. Hill, who characterized the Madura Company as having "well known integrity" and doing "excellent work."57

     In early-twentieth-century Malaya, planters relied on an existing patchwork of migration schemes (indentured, contract, government-assisted, kangany-organized, and even occasional self-paid migrations) to meet labor demands. By contrast, the deal between the Protector of Labor and the Madura Company sought to centralize labor recruitment, minimizing the number of people involved. Under the new arrangement, sugar planters on the Malay Peninsula would forward a request to the Protector of Labor's office for the number of Indian immigrants they wished to employ in the upcoming year. The Protector's Office was to forward these recruitment quotas to Madura representatives. Madura employees would then be responsible for recruiting and arranging the transportation of the requisite number of prospective immigrants from the Madras emigration depot at Negapatam to the Malayan immigration depot at Port Swettenham, and then on to the actual plantations in Malaya.58 This long-distance recruitment process contracted out to the Madura Company was similar to the journeys taken by kanganies in search of prospective migrants. It became clear to those with an existing stake in transimperial labor recruitment that they were being pushed out.59

     The decision to subcontract migrant-labor recruitment to the Madura Company seems to have been driven by a British civil-servant mindset of cost-cutting and increasing efficiency. Firmstone identified a combination of problematic factors: the existence of multiple recruiting networks among planters coupled with a scarcity of willing labor migrants as planters sought to expand sugar and rubber production. These, he argued, ultimately led the government in Kuala Lumpur to settle on the subcontracting scheme. If "the element of competition" among planters seeking to hire newly-arrived migrants could be prevented, Firmstone explained, the Protector of Labor's Office was confident that "employers would be able to obtain what they wanted at considerably cheaper rates."60

     Yet this assumption ignored the wider range of interest groups associated with the organization of labor migration between Madras and Malaya. E. W. F. Gilman, one of Firmstone's colleagues, commented on the "bitter hostility" and "ill feeling" he witnessed among seasoned recruiters (including kanganies), who were no longer supposed to be recruiting migrant laborers for Malaya once the contract with the Madura Company took effect in May of 1903.61 Attempts to streamline the number of people who could participate in bringing in outsiders from Madras was apparently provoking a backlash. As previously noted, the Madura Company missed its labor recruitment quota by about 95%. The Protector of Labor asked for 2500 recruits, but as of December 1903, only 124 migrants had arrived from Madras.62 One reason the Madura Company proved unable to fulfill its contractual obligations to the Protector of Labor and the planters of Malaya was that the Calcutta-headquartered firm did not seem to have the necessary local connections in the emigration centers of the Madras Presidency.

     While the planters may have wanted the cheapest labor arrangements, what the kanganies and previously-employed recruiting firms wanted was to keep their own migration-related business ventures alive. Gilman was reporting to the Protector's Office from the Madras port of Negatapam, in the wake of the Madura Company's recruitment contract. His account highlights the reaction of kangani labor recruiters with socioeconomic connections in Madras and Malaya. They saw their stake in the organization of southeastern Indian labor migration being usurped by the Protector of Labor and the migration-managing British civil servants he represented. Gilman cast the struggle as a battle of wills among the Madura Company, prior labor recruiters, and planters. The unanswered question for him was, "who can hold out the longest, the employer or the old recruiting agent?" Gilman feared that recruiters would retaliate against planters and the Protector of Labor's Office by encouraging prospective migrants to go to Natal or Mauritius instead, an apparent recognition of the multi-directional "Indians Overseas" global labor diaspora.63

     The power of transregional labor recruiters—their ability to increase the costs associated with the recruitment of migrant labor—was of primary concern to the British colonial administrators in Kuala Lumpur and the representatives of the Malayan planters' associations. Firmstone's focus on eliminating competition and creating a cheaper system of migrant recruitment responded to their concerns. Yet the kanganies held power—preexisting local and site-specific knowledge of the sending and receiving societies linked to trans-Indian ocean labor migration, plus useful socioeconomic ties at both ends of their migrant networks. These kangany strengths helped cause the failure of the Madura Company's attempts to organize labor migration between Madras and Malaya. This explains Gilman's fear that the old recruiters would win the battle of wills and that the size of the Indian immigrant labor force would shrink at a time when British civil servants and planters were aggressively trying to expand Malaya's plantation economy.

     Gilman's fear—that the Protector of Labor's Office and the Madura Company would not be able to proactively manage Indian labor immigration—needs to be set within the context of the ups and downs of the prior two decades of migration. According to the 1903 Annual Report, yearly immigration totals ranged from a low of 11,000 to a high of 37,000 between 1883 and 1903. Immigration peaked at 37,000 in 1900, but in the following years there was a significant decline in the number of new recruits willing to work on the plantations of the Malay Peninsula or on colonial public works projects. Arriving migrants dropped to 27,000 thousand in 1901 and 19,000 thousand for 1902. Overall, it appears that Indian migration was actually beginning to pick up again as of 1903.64 But the perception of planters and civil servants seems to have been that too few migrant laborers were arriving, too slowly, and too much under the whims of kangany recruiters. Hence the turn to subcontracting with Madura and the ultimate perception of a "Labor Famine."

     When pressed for a reason why their recruiters had failed to find enough prospective laborers to emigrate to Malaya, Madura Company officials cited an "attitude of jealousy and hostility [the other firms] assumed towards" them. But, just as significantly, the company also called attention to the willingness of local planters to continue secretly dealing with kangany recruiters in the Straits and Malaya, despite the attempts of colonial authorities to dissuade them. When the Madura Company failed to deliver, sugar planters went back to the previously existing relationships with their own kanganies to bring in new recruits.65 In some cases, planters' associations went even farther afield in their search for migrant laborers. Two months after the Madura Company began officially recruiting, a sugar planters' representative lobbied the Protector of Labor's Office for permission to bring in migrant laborers from the Dutch colony of Java; he ultimately found 487 Javanese willing to make the journey to Malaya. The same representative even managed to find 94 prospective migrants in the Madura Company's own home base of Calcutta.66

Conclusion: Outsiders Who Couldn't Do the Work and Trans-Imperial Advocates Who Couldn't Be Excluded?

Sugar planters' willingness to return to prior recruiting strategies, including sending their own kanganies to recruit migrant laborers, highlights the centrality of labor migration to imperial development goals. Trans-imperial labor recruitment was too integral to Malaya's future to be left entirely up to the Protector of Labor's Office and their subcontractor the Madura Company. Bringing in Indian migrants from the other side of the Bay of Bengal involved a range of pre-existing recruitment relationships that were not easily transferred to outsiders, even if they had government backing. The 1903 Labor Famine demonstrates that control over trans-imperial labor migrants could not be unilaterally or exclusively exercised by British colonial administrators or the Madura Company. To repurpose Alleyne Ireland's 1904 maxim, it seems that the Protector of Labor's cost-cutting outsiders could not compete against the kangany insiders doing the work of recruiting Indian labor migrants. Their pre-existing socioeconomic connections on both sides of the Indian Ocean could be used to exert influence over subsequent groups of Indian immigrants in ways that directly subverted British colonial goals for the economic development of Malaya.

     When early-twentieth-century commentators wrote about the imperial, economic, and demographic transformation underway in British Malaya, they cast the region as a cosmopolitan zone being remade via imported labor of the managerial and physical kinds. Within their idealized imperial labor hierarchy, they imagined racially distinct and segregated immigrant groups making distinct types of labor contributions. There was to be manual labor in mining operations and on plantations; administrative governance; and capitalist development of the region's financial sector, infrastructure, and natural environment. Of particular importance in defining British labor roles within this hierarchy was the distinction between immigrants who did manual labor and immigrant civil servants who managed the labor of others. Yet as the 1903 Labor Famine battle shows, in that struggle among civil servants, appointed government contractors, planters, and kangany labor recruiters, British civil servant preeminence in matters of migration was continually challenged. When British policies failed, planters and kanganies created workarounds that fell back on prior regional recruiting relationships. Such behavior further isolated Madura, and further undermined the veneer of British managerial authority and efficiency.

     This ongoing experimentation (and repeated alteration of migrant recruiting practices) among British civil servants, planters, kanganies and other recruiters was not unique to 1903–1904. Relatively frequent revisions to Indian immigration policy were a hallmark of British rule in India, the Malay Peninsula, and the Straits Settlements. From the 1880s onward, officials in Bengal, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur experimented frequently. They tried government subsidies to assist emigration, loosened or tightened the rules for indentured emigration, repeatedly revisited minimum wage rates for sugar and rubber plantations, and investigated migrants' transportation, living, and working conditions. In the wake of the 1903 Labor Famine, this process of adjustment and alteration continued. The sugar planters, who had proven willing to circumvent the Protector of Labor's relationship with the Madura Company, continued to do so. In the shorter term, these labor-recruiting pressures intensified as rubber plantations expanded from 1904 to 1910 and increasingly became competitors for the migrant laborers sought by sugar planters. Competition between these two groups of planters gradually subsided after 1910. Sugar production—and its requisite demand for migrant laborers—declined in comparison to rubber production, which came to play a preeminent role in the colonial economy from the 1910s to the 1940s.67

     It is not surprising, then, that British authorities would continue to face pressure to alter existing migration patterns between Madras and Malaya. In 1907, the Resident-General of the Federated Malay States visited Bengal. During this visit, members of the Indian colonial legislature pressed him to provide better safeguards against the exploitation of Indian migrant laborers going to work in Malaya. This trans-imperial political pressure from Indian colonial politicians underscores how badly imperial enthusiasts like Ireland had misread the politics of labor migration in Malaya. The status of the Malaya-based Indian immigrants was seen as a negotiable political issue, rather than something left exclusively to the employees of the Protector of Labor's Office. The continuation of trans-imperial labor migration was central to British imperial development goals; this gave Indian colonial politicians an ongoing kind of leverage against British rule in Bengal as well as Malaya. This led the Resident-General to usher in a new phase of migration policy experimentation and adjustment. Upon his return to Malaya, he proposed creating two new regulatory organizations: the Tamil Immigration Fund and the Indian Immigration Committee. These two new institutions were intended to help the Protector of Labor's office to regain control of the costs, conditions, and scope of Indian labor immigration. The Fund, financed by planter contributions, was intended to help prospective migrants in Madras who could not afford to pay their own passage to Malaya.68

     The Committee was intended to bring together the diverse set of interest groups who ultimately needed to work together if future "famines" and "failures" of Indian immigration policy were to be avoided. Its structure reflected both the idealized vision of British civil servant authority over migration matters and the growing realization that regional and trans-imperial power brokers could not be ignored. British civil servants held the key positions of authority: the Protector of Labor for the Federated Malay States was the chairman; one of his regional deputies served as vice-chairman.69 The Health Inspector and the Director of Public Works (the largest employer of Indian immigrants outside of plantations) were also permanent members. Further, representatives of the Singapore business community (the financiers and go-betweens of the plantation sector) and representatives from planters' associations also had seats on the Committee. In addition, there were two representatives from the Straits Settlement Indian community.70 The creation of the Committee was an attempt to avoid a return to a prior era of kangany-planter attempts to subvert British authority. It can also be understood as a tacit admission by the Resident-General and the Protector of Labor that their prior approach to labor recruitment policy had contributed to such subversion.

     All of the above-mentioned members of the Committee could be characterized as having directly local concerns relating to the circumstances in which Indian migrants arrived, worked, and lived in British Malaya. But by the mid 1920s, a broader trans-imperial set of influences forced the Committee to share some of its decision-making authority. The Indian colonial legislature, whose protests had initially prompted the Resident-General's experiment with a new Fund and Committee, won a new kind of concession. The legislature's Standing Committee on Emigration consistently advocated for better working conditions and wages for migrants living in the Indians Overseas global labor diaspora. By 1925, it managed to have one of its representatives designated as a "person of interest" in Committee Affairs. In at least one instance, this trans-imperial advocate investigated sanitation conditions and wage rates on rubber plantations across the Peninsula, in an attempt to convince planters to pay Indian immigrant workers better.71

     In some ways, the creation of the Indian Immigration Committee can be seen as an attempt by British civil servants to re-impose a more centralized order over trans-imperial labor migration between Madras and Malaya. The initial pressure to create the Committee, however, came from the Indian subcontinent. Further, some of the Committee's decision-making authority was ultimately shared with a representative from the subcontinent. Such realities reinforce the messier version of migration management hinted at by the 1903 Labor Famine. This reality of a more diffuse and decentralized set of power brokers attempting to speak for Indian labor migrants points to an unintended—but significant—consequence of the "bring in outsiders who will do the work" phenomenon. It was not just plantation laborers who were migrating. Competing political and financial interests also expanded along the same routes that laborers followed in the early twentieth century. Bringing in trans-imperial migrants to do the work of physically and administratively developing British Malaya, consequently, diversified the set of players competing to influence, profit from, or speak for these migrants.

Tiffany Trimmer is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where she teaches courses on migration, empire, and the social history of everyday commodities. She is currently working on a series of articles on how the "bring in outsiders who will do the work" phenomenon shaped colonial relationships within the British Empire. Her next research project is a global-local study of how human migration has connected Wisconsin to World History. She can be contacted at


1 Lauren Benton, Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History 14001900 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Tony Ballantyne and Antoinette Burton, "Introduction," and "Postscript: Bodies, Genders, Empires: Reimagining World Histories," in Bodies in Contact: Rethinking Colonial Encounters in World History eds. Ballantyne and Burton (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005), 3, 416–17. I use the words template and patterns in a way similar to the argument about "imperial repertoires" made by Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper in Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 3.

2 My concept of an imperial labor hierarchy has been shaped by the past two decades of scholarship on imperial social formations and geographies of power. See Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial Masculinity: The "Manly Englishman" and the "Effeminate Bengali" in the Late Nineteenth Century (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), 2, 22; Antoinette Burton, At the Heart of Empire: Indians and the Colonial Encounter in Late-Victorian Britain (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 13, 15; Benton, Law and Colonial Cultures,7; Ballantyne and Burton, "Introduction," and "Postscript: Bodies, Genders, Empires: Reimagining World Histories," in Bodies in Contact, eds. Ballantyne and Burton, 3, 416–17.

3 Alleyne Ireland, "Studies in Colonial Administration VI – The Federated Malay States," The Outlook (February 27, 1904), 503.

4 Colonial Office Records (Great Britain), Series 273 (Malaya): Straits Settlement Government Gazettes (Singapore) [Hereafter SSGG], no. 42 (July 15, 1904), "Letter from Acting Assistant Superintendent of Indian Immigrants E.W. F. Gilman, 14th September 1903," 148, paragraph 17.

5 Ireland's series, "The Far Eastern Tropics: Studies in Colonial Administration," appeared in 11 installments of The Outlook between November 22, 1902 and March 25, 1905. Also see his The Far Eastern Tropics: Studies in the Administration of Tropical Dependencies: Hong Kong, British North Borneo, Sarawak, Burma, the Federated Malay States, The Straits Settlements, French Indo-China, Java, The Philippine Islands (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1905). All subsequent citations for his "Studies in Colonial Administration" refer to the February 27, 1904 article on the Federated Malay States.

6 Ireland, "Studies in Colonial Administration," 505. Ireland held the title "Colonial Commissioner of the University of University of Chicago" from 1901 until at least 1905.

7 By 1931, the population of the Malay Peninsula and the Straits Settlements included approximately 627,000 Indians and 18,000 Europeans. On the Indian population, see Lanka Sundaram, Indians Overseas: A Study in Economic Sociology (Delhi: G.A. Natesan,1933), 19; on Europeans, see John G. Butcher, The British in Malaya, 18801941: The Social History of a European Community in Colonial South-East Asia (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1979), 27. For a sense of the Eurasian population in the Federated Malay States of Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, and Pahang in the early 1900s, see Arnold Wright and Thomas H. Reid, The Malay Peninsula: A Record of British Progress in the Middle East (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1912), 321–322.

8 "Annual Report on Indian Immigration" (1903), reprinted in SSGG, no. 42 (July 15, 1904), 134, paragraphs 6, 56, 64, 68.

9 Ibid., paragraph 68. Ostensibly, the British authorities wanted to recruit as many as 10,000 migrant laborers from India for the plantations of the Malay Peninsula and for their own public works projects. But they appear to have given a much lower figure of 2,500 people to the recruiting firm (the Madura Company) that they would later blame for causing the "labor famine." Only 124 migrants were recruited through March 21, 1904, hence the 95% decrease. If the time horizon is extended through July 1904, the estimated decrease in arriving immigrants from India drops to about 90%. (The ninety-percent decrease figure is derived from "Return Showing the Applications of the Register of the Superintendent of Indian Immigrants for the Indentured Indian Labourers," in SSGG, no 39 (July 22, 1904), 1550 (Penang, 11 July, 1904); and series under the same title for August 1904 in SSGG, no. 50, (Sept 16, 1904), item no 1015, 1881; and SSGG, no. 54 (October 14, 1904), item no. 1126.)

10 On the complex set of coexisting labor-migration schemes connecting Madras and Malaya, see Chai Hon-Chan, The Development of British Malaya, 18961909 (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1964), 130–139.

11 On Madura's role as sole recruiter for the Government of the Straits Settlement and Malay, see "Appendix C: Agreement with the Madura Company (August 1903)," in SSGG, no. 42 (July 15, 1904), 141, paragraph 4. On recruiter resistance to Madura's new authority, see ibid., 137, paragraph 63; and "Letter from Acting Assistant Superintendent of Indian Immigrants E.W. F. Gilman, 14th September 1903," in ibid., 148, paragraphs 16–18.

12 Nine Resident positions were created between 1879 and 1914. On the Resident System, see Barbara Watson Andaya and Leonard Y. Andaya, A History of Malaysia (Hong Kong: Macmillan Press, 1992), 172–175. On the limited number of Malays who worked on foreign-owned plantations and their rationale see Chai, British Malaya, 98–102.

13 Planters and their supervisory staff should also be included here. Ireland noted instances of British planters in Malaya or their supervisory staff tracing their roots to Guiana or Ceylon. See Ireland, Far Eastern Tropics, 140.

14 Madhavi Khale, Fragments of Empire: Capital, Slavery, & Indentured Labor in the British Caribbean (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), 4–5. I. M. Cumpston similarly characterized a British imperial mindset bent on bringing together "land, labor, and capital." See his Indians Overseas in British Territories, 18341854 (London: Oxford University Press, 1953), 1.

15 On the relationships among Indian labor recruitment systems in the Caribbean, Ceylon, and Malaya, see Panchanan Saha, Indians in British Overseas Colonies (Kolkata: K. P. Bagchi and Co., 2003), 197–228.

16 On the Indians Overseas global labor diaspora, see Sundaram, Indians Overseas; and Saha, Indians in British Overseas Colonies.

17 Wright and Reid, The Malay Peninsula, 217–236; Sir Frank Swettenham, British Malaya: An Account of the Origin and Progress of British Influence in Malaya, 3rd ed. (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1948), 70, 102–103.

18 For an historiographical overview of the emergence of the mining and plantation sectors of the Malayan economy, see these pivotal works: Chai, British Malaya; Wong Lin Ken, The Malayan Tin Industry to 1914 with Special Reference to the States of Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Pahang (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1965); James C. Jackson, Planters and Speculators: Chinese and European Agricultural Enterprise in Malaya, 17861921 (Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 1968); J. H. Drabble, Rubber in Malaya, 18761922: The Genesis of an Industry (Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 1973); Ravindra K. Jain, South Indians on the Plantation Frontier in Malaya (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970); Lim Teck Ghee, Peasants and Their Agricultural Economy in Colonial Malaya, 18741941 (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1977); Palanisamy Ramasamy, Plantation Labour, Unions, Capital, and the State in Peninsular Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1994).

19 On volume of Asian migration to the Straits and Malay Peninsula, see Adam McKeown, "Global Migration, 1846–1940," Journal of World History 15 no. 2 (2004), 158. On the recruitment of Indian labor migrants as a development strategy for the British Empire see Saha, Indians in British Overseas Colonies, 9–11, 54–56. For British immigration, see Butcher, The British in Malaya, 27.

20 McKeown, "Global Migration, 1846–1940," 156, 158.

21 Patrick Manning, Migration in World History (New York: Routledge, 2005), 135. On European emigrations to the Americas, Southern Africa, and Australia from the 1600s to the 1800s, see Dirk Hoerder, Cultures in Contact: World Migrations in the Second Millennium (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 216–233.

22 On sürgün, see Hoerder, Cultures in Contact, 111; on the Mongols, see Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (New York: Broadway Books, 2004).

23 Hoerder, Cultures in Contact, 519–532, 546–550.

24 K.A. Neelakhanda Aiyer, Indian Problems in Malaya (Kuala Lumpur: Indian Office, 1938), 1.

25 The Resident-General's 1902 Annual Report is quoted in Ireland, "Colonial Administration," 505.

26 On empire as webs of interactions linking parts of the world, see Tony Ballantyne, Orientalism and Race: Aryanism in the British Empire (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002) 14–15; Ballantyne and Burton, "Introduction," and "Postscript" in Bodies, Genders, Empires, 3, 417.

27 Jackson, Planters and Speculators, 90–92.

28 Ibid, 90–92, 206, 261 and Chai, British Malaya, 134–139.

29 For a discussion of potential reasons why Malays were able to avoid work on foreign-owned plantations, see Chai, British Malaya, 98–102 and John Tully, The Devil's Milk: A Social History of Rubber (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011), 230–231.

30 Chai, British Malaysia, 119–127, 130–135.

31Although this article focuses on authors who wrote up to the 1930s, this model of racialized/regionalized labor contributions continued to appear through the 1960s. See, for example, Chai, British Malaya, and Jackson, Planters and Speculators.

32 Rupert Emerson, Malaysia: A Study in Direct and Indirect Rule (Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 1964 [first published 1931]), 21.

33 For a recent characterization of Malayan plantations as being "enclosed cultural worlds," that kept Tamil-speaking laborers from the Indian subcontinent isolated from other immigrant and indigenous groups, see Sunil S. Amrith, "Tamil Diasporas across the Bay of Bengal," American Historical Review, 114 no. 3 (2009), 559.

34 Étienne Dennery, Asia's Teeming Millions: And Its Problems for the West, trans. John Peile (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1970 [first published 1931]), 166. Also see W. David McIntyre, "Malaya from the 1850s to the 1870s and its Historians, 1950–1970: From Strategy to Sociology," in Southeast Asian History and Historiography: Essays Presented to D. G. E. Hall, eds. C. D. Cowan and O. W. Wolters (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976), 262.

35 Swettenham, British Malaya, 301–302; Chai, British Malaya, 102.

36 Ireland, "Colonial Administration," 506.

37 Swettenham, British Malaya, 302.

38 Ireland, "Colonial Administration," 124.

39 Ibid. See also "Mr. A. Douglas' Evidence" (Klang District Planters Association), in "Official Verbatim Report of the Meeting of the Indian Immigration Committee to enquire into the standard rates of wages to be fixed for the Klang, Kuala Selangor and Kuala Langat Districts, held in the Federal Council Chamber on Monday, the 5th October, 1925, at 11 am," Public Records Office (Great Britain), Colonial Office Series 534 (Malaya): "Position of Indian Labour in Malaya: Meetings of the Indian Immigration Committee" (Straits Settlements), 32. Hereafter CO 534.

40 Swettenham, British Malaya, 302. The reference to "revenue farms" likely means opium production: see Carl Trocki, Opium and Empire: Chinese Society in Colonial Singapore, 18001910 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 71–74. On distinctions between European capitalists and the Chinese "industrialist class" in Malaya, see Aiyer, Indian Problems in Malaya, 7–8. On acrobats, etc., see Chai, British Malaysia, 107. For a photographic version of the "diversity of Chinese occupations" argument, see Mrs. Reginald Sanderson, "The Population of Malaya," in Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya: Its History, People, Commerce, Industries, and Resources, eds. Arnold Wright and H. A. Cartwright (Singapore: Graham Bash, 1989 [first published 1908]), 124.

41 Chai, British Malaysia, 102–103.

42 Ibid., 102–104.

43 Sanderson, "The Population of Malaya," 122.

44 Ibid., 135. For details on railroad laborers, see Amarjit Kaur, "Working on the Railway: Indian Workers in Malaya, 1880–1957" in The Underside of Malaysian History: Pullers, Prostitutes, Plantation Workers, eds. Peter J. Rimmer and Lisa M. Allen (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1990), 99–128.

45 Swettenham, British Malaya, 302. Indian immigrants were also as the people who "pay the taxes"—see Ireland, "Colonial Administration," 122. On the idea of Indians becoming a resident laboring class, see Chai, British Malaysia, 132.

46 Sanderson, "The Population of Malaya," 127.

47 David Chanderbali, Indian Indenture in the Straits Settlements (Leeds: Peepal Tree Press, 2008), 116–119; Chai, British Malaysia, 130.

48 Sundaram, Indians Overseas, 66; Donald R. Taft and Richard Robbins, International Migrations: The Immigrant in the Modern World (New York: Ronald Press, 1955), 324.

49 Sanderson, "The Population of Malaya," 125.

50 Aiyer, Indian Problems in Malaya, 1, 5, 9. On the reticence of Malays to work for British or Chinese planters, see Swettenham, British Malaya, 302; and Dennery, Asia's Teeming Millions, 166. By the 1940s, descriptions of this imperial labor hierarchy included "such occupations as police, overseers and similar supervisory positions" among the jobs of Malays. See Major G. St. J. Orde Browne, Labour Conditions in Ceylon, Mauritius, and Malaya (London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1943), 91.

51 Chai, British Malaysia, 101.

52 Ireland, "Colonial Administration," 505.

53 Sanderson, "The Population of Malaya," 124.

54 Kaur, "Working on the Railway," 107; Tully The Devil's Milk, 230–231.

55 SSGG, no. 42, (July 15, 1904), 134, paragraphs 56, 64, and 68. For the broader context of the 1903 Labor Famine, as well as arguments about endemic labor shortages in late nineteenth-early twentieth-century Malaya, see Chai, British Malaysia, 133–137. Kaur also addresses recurring labor shortages in "Working on the Railway," 102–105. Usage of the word "famine" by colonial civil servants and planters needs to be further explored, especially given the actual famines on the Indian subcontinent and in China and Brazil in the 1890s and early 1900s. See Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World (London: Verso Press, 2002). I am indebted to Amilcar Challú for pointing out the coexistence of these two "famines."

56 "Appendix C: Agreement with the Madura Company (August 1903)," SSGG, no. 42 (July 15, 1904), 141, paragraph 1; "Appendix D (Revised Agreement with the Madura Company)" in ibid., 142, III. Although the Madura Company began working for the Protector of Labor's Office in May, it appears the actual contract was not signed until August. In the wake of the Labor Famine, a revised agreement was created in December.

57 SSGG, no. 42 (July 15, 1904), 134, paragraphs 57 and 67.

58 The planters' associations that were involved in the decision to subcontract with Madura Company included the Penang Sugar Industry Association, the United Planters Association, and the Perak Sugar Cultivation Company. Ibid., 134, paragraph 54.

59 As an example of kangany costs and responsibilities, see the line-item deductions listed in the recruiter's budget, "Appendix C: Agreement with the Madura Co," which contains categories for maintenance, transport, depot expenses, tin sets, medical fees, clothing, and embarkation costs for individual laborers. Ibid., 142. On British administrative mechanisms for the organization of Indian immigration between Madras and Malaya, see Sinnappah Arasaratnam, Indians in Malaysia and Singapore, revised ed. (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1979) 10–15; and Kaur, "Working on the Railway," 104–105.

60 Ibid., 137, paragraph 54.

61 "Letter from Acting Assistant Superintendent of Indian Immigrants E. W. F. Gilman, 14th September 1903," in CO ibid., 148, paragraph 16 and 149, paragraph 26.

62 Ibid., 134, paragraph 68.

63 Ibid., paragraph 17.

64 "Appendix A: Chart Showing the Course of Immigration and Emigration for Twenty Years" in ibid., 140.

65 Ibid., 138, paragraph 63. For more on this, see "Letter from Acting Assistant Superintendent of Indian Immigrants E. W. F. Gilman, 14th September 1903," in Ibid., 148, paragraph 16–18.

66 Ibid., 134, paragraph 73–77.

67 Chai, British Malaysia, 127–139.

68 On the Indian Immigration Committee (IIC), see Arasaratnam, Indians in Malaysia and Singapore, 18–20; Kaur, "Working on the Railway," 104–105; Kaur, Wage Labour in Southeast Asia since 1840: Globalisation, the International Division of Labour and Labour Transformations (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 79; and Usha Mahajani, The Role of Indian Minorities in Burma and Malaya (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1973), 121–122.

69 Although this job title had technically been changed to Controller of Labor in the intervening decades.

70 The two Indian community representatives were M. Cumarasami and P. K. Nambyar. Nambyar was a member of the Straits Settlement Council and founder of the Penang Indian Association. See CO 534.

71 For explanation of Rao Sahib Arulanandam Pillai's presence at the Indian Immigration Committee's meetings in 1925, see ibid.

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