Archives across Empire

After a lengthy trip from the UK via the National Library of Australia and the Australian National University Archives in Canberra, I have finally arrived in Fiji, for my research at the National Archives of Fiji in Suva – allegedly the eighth wettest capital in the world. I’ve been here two weeks now and Suva is living up to this accolade.

The National Archives here appear to be smaller than their counterpart in Mauritius, particularly with reference to papers regarding Indian indenture of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. However, there are still many interesting and relevant documents on the subject – petitions, testimonies, reports etc. Finding these is a somewhat different process to that I encountered in Mauritius, which had volumes and volumes of ‘letters/despatches sent’ or ‘letters/despatches received’ related to Indian indenture. Here in Fiji, there is a Subject Index volume where one has to search for entries that may be relevant, then order these to see if they are available. I’m really interested in how these archives in former British colonies have been collated.

Reading through the documents, you are instantly transported to the time they were written, and it’s easy to let your mind wonder across the deeply descriptive Fijian landscapes that the writers of these documents were living in. What has struck me most so far is the use of indentured labourers from different parts of the world to work in Fiji. Though India was the largest source, there were also Fijian, Polynesian, Japanese and Javanese labourers. I hope to explore this a bit further soon, so more to come…


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