Leonidas (ship)

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The Leonidas (Named after king Leonidas I of Sparta) was a labour transport ship (schooner) that played an important role in the history of Fiji. She had been earlier used to carry indentured labourers to the West Indies, having transported 580 Indian indentured labourers to St Lucia in 1878. Captained by McLachlan, the ship departed from Calcutta, India on 3 March 1879 and arrived at Levuka, Fiji, on 14 May that year. [1] The indentured labourers who disembarked were the first of over 61,000 to arrive from the Indian Sub-continent over the following 37 years, forming the nucleus of the Fiji Indian community that now numbers close to forty percent of Fiji's population.

Leonidas I king of Sparta

Leonidas I was a warrior king of the Greek city-state of Sparta, and the 17th of the Agiad line; a dynasty which claimed descent from the mythological demigod Heracles. He was the husband of Gorgo, the daughter of Cleomenes I of Sparta. Leonidas had a notable participation in the Second Persian War, where he led the allied Greek forces to a last stand at the Battle of Thermopylae while attempting to defend the pass from the invading Persian army.

Sparta city-state in ancient Greece

Sparta was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece. In antiquity the city-state was known as Lacedaemon, while the name Sparta referred to its main settlement on the banks of the Eurotas River in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. Around 650 BC, it rose to become the dominant military land-power in ancient Greece.

History of Fiji

The majority of Fiji's islands were formed through volcanic activity starting around 150 million years ago. Today, some geothermic activity still occurs on the islands of Vanua Levu and Taveuni. Fiji has been inhabited since the second millennium BC and was settled first by Austronesians and later by Melanesians, with some Polynesian influences. Europeans visited Fiji from the 17th century, and, after a brief period as an independent kingdom, the British established the Colony of Fiji in 1874. Fiji was a Crown colony until 1970, when it gained independence as the Dominion of Fiji. A republic was declared in 1987, following a series of coups d'état-.


Cholera and Smallpox aboard the ship

A total of 498 passengers made up of 273 men, 146 women and 79 children, less than twelve years of age, had embarked on the ship in Calcutta. While only three days out to sea there was an outbreak of cholera and smallpox abroad the ship. Despite efforts by the Surgeon Superintendent to isolate the infected passengers, 17 died before the ship arrived in Levuka, after a journey of 72 days. Since there was no quarantine facility in Levuka, it was decided to anchor the ship some distance from Levuka on the leeward side. While attempting to reach the selected anchorage point, the ship went aground on a reef. The gravity of the situation was all too vivid in the minds of the Government officials as only four years earlier a measles epidemic had wiped out 40,000 Fijians. Fortunately at high tide the ship floated off the reef and was safely anchored.

Cholera Bacterial infection of the small intestine

Cholera is an infection of the small intestine by some strains of the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Symptoms may range from none, to mild, to severe. The classic symptom is large amounts of watery diarrhea that lasts a few days. Vomiting and muscle cramps may also occur. Diarrhea can be so severe that it leads within hours to severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. This may result in sunken eyes, cold skin, decreased skin elasticity, and wrinkling of the hands and feet. Dehydration can cause the skin to turn bluish. Symptoms start two hours to five days after exposure.

Smallpox infectious disease that has been eradicated

Smallpox was an infectious disease caused by one of two virus variants, Variola major and Variola minor. The last naturally occurring case was diagnosed in October 1977 and the World Health Organization (WHO) certified the global eradication of the disease in 1980. The risk of death following contracting the disease was about 30%, with higher rates among babies. Often those who survived had extensive scarring of their skin and some were left blind.

Measles Viral disease affecting humans

Measles is a highly contagious infectious disease caused by the measles virus. Symptoms usually develop 10–12 days after exposure to an infected person and last 7–10 days. Initial symptoms typically include fever, often greater than 40 °C (104 °F), cough, runny nose, and inflamed eyes. Small white spots known as Koplik's spots may form inside the mouth two or three days after the start of symptoms. A red, flat rash which usually starts on the face and then spreads to the rest of the body typically begins three to five days after the start of symptoms. Common complications include diarrhea, middle ear infection (7%), and pneumonia (6%). Less commonly seizures, blindness, or inflammation of the brain may occur. Other names include morbilli, rubeola, red measles, and English measles. Both rubella, which is sometimes called "German measles", and roseola are different diseases caused by unrelated viruses.

Quarantine at Sea

The Chief Medical Officer of the Colony, Dr McGregor, devised an ingenious method of effectively preventing the infection reaching the shore, during the process of sending stores, letters, etc., to the ship. A stage was erected on the outer reef using trestles of hardwood, with a moving platform. Stores necessary to the ship were placed on this platform at low tide and taken off by the ships boat. All letters were placed in a carbolic acid bottle, and were fumigated before delivery. At high tide this was cleaned by the sea.

Temporary Quarantine Station

Yanuca Lailai was chosen as a quarantine station but houses on it could accommodate only 350 people. Within days extra bures (Fijian houses) were constructed and the ship's passengers transferred to the island. Armed guards were placed in the narrow passage between Levuka and Yanuca Lailai, to prevent contact with the new arrivals. On several occasions warning shots had to be fired to prevent seamen trying to return to the Leonidas after dropping off their passengers. Fifteen more of the new arrivals died on the island due to dysentery, diarrhoea and typhoid, leaving only 463 survivors, before they were released from the island on 9 August 1879.

Yanuca Lailai is a 72-acre (0.29 km2), volcanic rock, limestone island located between the islands of Ovalau and Moturiki in Fiji. The coastline has mangrove trees, volcanic rock cliffs and beaches, and the interior abounds in jungle.

Dysentery inflammation of the intestine causing diarrhea with blood

Dysentery is an inflammatory disease of the intestine, especially of the colon, which always results in severe diarrhea and abdominal pains. Other symptoms may include fever and a feeling of incomplete defecation. The disease is caused by several types of infectious pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and parasites.

Early voyages of Leonidas

See also

The Indian indenture system was a system of indentured servitude, by which 2 million Indians were transported to labour in European colonies, as a substitute for slave labour, following the abolition of the trade in the early 19th century. The system expanded after the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 in the British Empire in 1833, and in the French Colonies in 1848, and continued until the 1920s. This resulted in the development of a large Indian diaspora in the Caribbean, Natal, Réunion, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Myanmar, to Fiji, as well as the growth of Indo-Caribbean and Indo-African populations.

Between 1879 and 1916, a total of 42 ships made 87 voyages, carrying Indian indentured labourers to Fiji. Initially the ships brought labourers from Calcutta, but from 1903 all ships except two also brought labourers from Madras and Mumbai. A total of 60,965 passengers left India but only 60,553 arrived in Fiji. A total of 45,439 boarded ships in Calcutta and 15,114 in Madras. Sailing ships took, on average, seventy-three days for the trip while steamers took 30 days. The shipping companies associated with the labour trade were Nourse Line and British-India Steam Navigation Company.

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  1. "Historical Timeline". Archived from the original on 13 September 2009.
  2. Daily Southern Cross, Port of Melbourne, 8 September 1866 http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=DSC18660908.2.5.1
  3. Daily Southern Cross, Bay of Islands Shipping, 5 December 1870, http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=DSC18701205.2.4.4