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19th century Indian carved bone label or badge. Inscribed with - S. Williamson Senimora and the Bengali script -
‘Shrijut uliamson sahib, ku I senimara’, which translates into Mr. Williamson, Senimara Village.
The badge, rectangular with chamfered corners, is of bone with a distinctive grain and colour. The reverse is carved with two loops for attaching to a cord or thong.
Bengali Indian, early to mid 19th century
George Williamson was possibly the greatest figure in the development of tea growing and a member of one of Assam’s most important and influential tea growing families since the early part of the 19th century. By 1826 the whole of the Brahmaputra Valley was in British hands following the Burmese invasions of the previous 9 years. The British East India Company had been well established there since the early 1820s covering vast tracts of land with tea plantations, since trade with China was dramatically reduced in an effort to rid them of their monopoly in tea production. George Williamson Snr was well established as a tea grower in the Golaghat area of Assam, but it was his son, George Williamson Jnr who was to takeover the Assam Tea Company in 1853, becoming superintendent of the entire group of plantations he bought up at the time.
With a distinct shortage of labour in the area, plantation owners were forced to go much further afield to obtain their workers and, using the forced indenture method of procuring men and women to work for them, went into regions such as Bengal. The poor, migrant workers, unable to pay for their journey to Assam, were forced into contracts for at least three years, whilst their work paid off the travel debt to the plantation owner. These plantation workers were called ‘coolies’ and were more or less always Indian.
Senimora, or Senimara as the Bengali inscription states, is a small village in the Brahmaputra Valley where, no doubt, there was a tea plantation belonging to George Williamson. The purpose of the label is unclear, but its inscribed language infers that it was either carved by a coolie from Bengal or that it acted as a label to be understood by the Bengali coolies, implying ownership by George Williamson. ‘shrijut’ is a common title equivalent to ‘esquire’ and ‘sahib’ is for Mr or Master and often used in speaking of or addressing Europeans.