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The fate of 130 Anglo-Indian children, educated and sent to New Zealand for a better future, is being recorded by a University of Otago PhD candidate.
The children, known as the Kalimpong Kids, were removed from their families at a young age by a Scottish Presbyterian missionary in the early 1900s.
Though all have since died, Jane McCabe, whose grandmother was one of the children, is recording their story through their descendants.
Dr John Graham set up the St Andrews Colonial Homes, at Kalimpong in the Darjeeling district of north-east India, to save the illegitimate children of European tea planters and their Indian or Nepalese mistresses – workers from the plantations.
Miss McCabe says Dr Graham felt the futures of these loved, but mixed-race, children – product of two cultures and welcome in neither – should be improved given their European blood.
His school aimed to educate the children in English, give them manual and social skills, then, when they were 15 or 16 years old, send them to the more egalitarian colonies, where a job had been found for them. Boys arrived to work on farms, and girls had contracts to work as domestic help.
Miss McCabe says family stories and records show that the relationships between the fathers and mothers of the children was mostly genuine, and only prevented from being formalised by social restrictions.
However, few of the children saw their mothers again, and some families have no details about her identity, as the children were often removed at a very young age.
Several had relationships with their fathers later in life though, including Miss McCabe’s own grandmother, Lorna Peters, who had arrived in Dunedin with five others in 1921.
Her tea planter father came to live in Dunedin and Lorna lived with him until her marriage, then he lived with her family the rest of his life.
Miss McCabe has traced some of the New Zealand families of the original Kalimpong emigrants, and her PhD will answer questions about why New Zealand was the only colony which accepted the children in large numbers until emigration stopped after thirty years in 1939.
As well as an oral history from families, her research includes access to the diary Dr Graham kept when he visited New Zealand in the 1930s and sought out every one of his former students.