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In 1911 some Sikhs set off for Argentina but they wrongly
came to Fiji thinking it was Argentina. Having realized their
folly, they were determined to go on to Argentina. Berkley
agreed to get “Clansman” fitted to take them on
their cross Pacific journey. He wanted a minimum of fifty
passengers. Forty six paid up the passage money (Pounds twenty
five each) but the ship was not fit enough for the long voyage
and Berkley wanted to wriggle out of the contract signed or
thumb-impressioned by the Sikhs. There are many turns and
twists of the case including the death of Berkley in June
The Sikhs lost their case and were refunded only a quarter
of their passage money by December 13,1912 and the same day
they left for Wellington, NZ on their way to Argentina. Prior
to their departure the usual Colonial Office warning was given
to them that according to the Secretary of State for India,
there was little hope for employment in Argentina. One Mr.
J. J. Davies escorted the Sikhs till Wellington. An interesting
mention by Davies says that the Sikhs had Pounds 2,700 in
gold before sailing for Buenos Aires. So this group of about
46 persons should have arrived in Argentina early 1913. In
the earlier days, the route to Argentina was from Calcutta
via Singapore. They had to spend several days and weeks in
both these port cities before they could get their passages.
This was true even for emigration to other countries. Gurdwaras
in Calcutta and Singapore came in handy for free stay and
meals. Some of these folks would find temporary jobs including
newspaper vending etc. Most of the emigrants were in small
groups of known people, which helped in bearing the hardships
together. One can well imagine the hard times the emigrants
must have had with limited funds, lack of language
skills and no exposure to the problems of long sea voyage
in difficult and in some cases possibly inhuman conditions.
The voyages were long with seasickness and food problems for
wheat eating, land locked Punjabis. Yes, there was a dream
that they were chasing where the only thing certain was uncertainty.
Early Problems and Settling Down
Just like the early immigrants to other countries, especially
white dominated countries, initial problems were colossal.
Language and totally alien culture were the main barriers.
Lack of funds added to the misery and the immigrants had to
seek any odd job that could be obtained. Those who came by
boat headed North West from Buenos Aires towards Salta about
1500 kms away.....
Article Published in The
Sikh Review - December 2004 - No. 624