In 1816, the Indian-born Sydney merchant and landowner, William Browne, brought a group of Indian servants into the New South Wales colony to work for him. Three years later the colonial governor Lachlan Macquarie would hold a magisterial inquiry into the alleged mistreatment of these workers, and the workers were then sent back to India. This episode in Australian history is regarded as one of the very earliest of the fleeting and failed attempts to experiment with indentured Indian labour. In this paper, I draw upon the 1819 testimonies of Browne’s workers – reproduced as evidence for an 1828 British inquiry into slavery under the East India Company – to focus on the key role played by women, including Browne’s wife Sophia. Approaching the story from the perspective of women’s labour illuminates the often overlooked importance of carework in colonialism. This paper is part of an ARC Discovery project, Ayahs and Amahs: Transcolonial Servants in Australia and Britain 1780-1945, led by Victoria Haskins, with Claire Lowrie and Swapna Banerjee.


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