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Friday, February 18, 2022

Meermin slave mutiny !! - clemency of British

History written by supporters would glorify Tigers & Jackals – not only as powerful but as kind and merciful too .. .. .. British East India came to India as traders, raised their relationship with Kings, made the Nation a colony and treated Kings as vassals – and domineered major part of the world – traded not only species but ‘humans’ as well – treating people as slaves. 

Meermin was an 18th-century Dutch cargo ship of the hoeker type, one of many built and owned by the Dutch East India Company. She was laid down in 1759 and fitted out as a slave ship before her maiden voyage in 1761, and her career was cut short by a mutiny of her cargo !  They had been sold to Dutch East India Company officials on Madagascar, to be used as company slaves in its Cape Colony in southern Africa. Half her crew lost their lives in the mutiny; the mutineers deliberately allowed the ship to drift aground off Struisbaai, now in South Africa, in March 1766, and she broke up in situ.

The Malagasy are an Austronesian ethnic group native to the island country of Madagascar. Traditionally the population have been divided by subgroups (tribes or ethnicities).  

Between 1658 and 1799 the Dutch East India Company bought and transported approximately 63,000 enslaved people to its Cape Colony in southern Africa, now part of South Africa. In Dutch, the company's name was Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie: abbreviated as  VOC, the company's initials were used in a monogram which appeared on company materials as a logo.  Meermin was a 480-ton square rigged ship with three masts, built in 1759 in the Dutch port of Amsterdam for the VOC's African trade. From Dec 1765 she was working the coastline of Madagascar, under Captain Gerrit Muller and a crew of 56, taking Malagasy men, women and children to be enslaved in the Cape Colony. Carrying about 140 Malagasy, she set sail from "Betisboka Bay" on the north-western coast of Madagascar. 

The Meermin slave mutiny took place in February 1766 and lasted for three weeks. Thus Meermin’s  final voyage was cut short by the mutiny of the Malagasy captives onboard, who had been sold to Dutch East India Company officials on Madagascar to be enslaved by the company in its Cape Colony in southern Africa. During the mutiny half the ship's crew and almost 30 Malagasy captives lost their lives.

Meermin set sail from Madagascar on 20 January 1766, heading to the Cape Colony. Two days into the trip, Johann Godfried Krause, the ship's chief merchant, persuaded the captain, Gerrit Cristoffel Muller, to release the Malagasy slaves from their shackles and thus avoid attrition by death and disease in their overcrowded living conditions. The Malagasy were put to working the ship and entertaining the crew. In mid-February, Krause ordered the Malagasy to clean some Madagascan weapons, which they used to seize the ship in an attempt to regain their freedom; Krause was among the first of the crew to be killed, and Muller was stabbed three times but survived.

The crew negotiated a truce, under the terms of which the Malagasy undertook to spare the lives of the surviving crew members. In exchange it was agreed that Meermin would return to Madagascar, where the Malagasy would be released. Gambling on the Malagasy's ignorance of navigation, the wounded Muller instead ordered his crew to head for the coast of southern Africa. After making landfall at Struisbaai in the Cape Colony, which the Malagasy were assured was their homeland, 50 to 70 of them went ashore. Their intention was to signal to the others still on board Meermin if it was safe for them to follow, but the shore party soon found themselves confronted by a militia of farmers formed in response to Meermin's arrival; the farmers had understood that as the ship was flying no flags, it was in distress.

Meermin's crew, now led by Krause's assistant Olof Leij, managed to communicate with the militia on shore by means of messages in bottles, and persuaded them to light the signal fires for which the Malagasy still on board were waiting. On seeing the fires, the Malagasy cut the ship's anchor cable and allowed the ship to drift towards the shore, after which she ran aground on an offshore sandbank. The Malagasy could then see the militia on the shore preparing to come to the ship's assistance, and realised that their situation was hopeless; they surrendered and were once again enslaved. Muller, the ship's mate Daniel Carel Gulik and Krause's assistant Olof Leij were tried in the Dutch East India Company's Council of Justice; all three were fired from the company, while Muller and Gulik were also stripped of their rank and wages. The enslaved Malagasy were not tried, but the two surviving leaders of the mutiny, named in Dutch East India Company records as Massavana and Koesaaij,  were sent to Robben Island for observation, where Massavana died three years later; Koesaaij survived there for another 20 years.  

                      Johann Krause was probably the most experienced merchant trading in Madagascar, to  avoid the loss of profit caused by enslaved Malagasy dying while at sea, Krause convinced Captain Muller, who was in his first command and was unwell at the time, to unshackle some of them and make them work on deck.  Disease was spreading among the Malagasy in the unsanitary conditions below deck, and the ship's surgeon had reported that, while there were no suitable medicines on board, disease was spreading to the crew.  VOC regulations did permit them to be released onto the deck from time to time, under careful supervision; the chief concern was that they might jump overboard to escape, rather than that they might mutiny, despite a mutiny by the slaves occurring on the VOC ship Drie Heuvelen in 1753.  

Though a pact was arrived on the ship between the crew and its captors, who had once been chained and enslaved – the owners betrayed, took them to a different shore, the vessel was grounded and  people got killed.  

On 30 October 1766 the VOC's Council of Justice found Captain Muller and the surviving ship's mate, Daniel Carel Gulik, guilty of culpable negligence and sentenced them to demotion and dismissal from the company; they lost their rank and their pay was docked. They were also ordered to pay the costs of the case and were sent home to Amsterdam, having to work their passage; Muller was banned from the Cape Colony and was banned for life from working for the VOC.   Other rulings made in this case represented a "huge step in the recognition of oppressed people [such as slaves] as free-thinking individuals".  The VOC's normal punishment for a slave who attacked an owner or overseer was "death by impalement", but none of the Malagasy were tried.  For lack of sufficient evidence it was decided that the remaining mutiny leaders Massavana and Koesaaij should be "put on [Robben Island] until further instructions".  The purpose of this was for observation of their behaviour, in the hope that Massavana and Koesaaij might shed further light on how the mutiny had arisen.  Massavana died on Robben Island after 3 years ; Koesaaij survived there for another 20 years.

The most merciful Britishers who traded slaves, enchained people, treated humans cruelly, colonized lands, grabbed wealth, brought in laws stating that those kingdoms without heirs would become their domain, crushed people uprising, went on to rule the World for couple of hundred years .. ..

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
18th Feb 2022. 

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