Baggage on the Hooghly: Race, Asia, and the Mormons

Baggage on the Hooghly:
Race, Asia, and the Mormons

Audrey Bastian
To Siam Book Project

July 31, 2014

Thirteen Mormon elders encountered their first South Asians on the deck of the Monsoon anchored on the Hooghly River a distance from the shores of Calcutta, India in late April 1853. We’ll never know whether the elders handed their baggage over to the South Asians because while we know a bit about the exchange, we don’t know the final outcome. Perhaps then, what happened just prior to taking the baggage off the ship held more import than its actual handling. Pedestrian as handling baggage may seem, those who carried it or didn’t carry it mattered in South Asia. The racial undertones were subtle but the experience acculturated and reaffirmed the thirteen Mormon elders’ biases that would inform church headquarters in Great Salt Lake for a century….

Drawing from experts of South Asia, Mormons, and the British East India Company, I analyze each perspective uncovering an almost imperceptible competition of social hierarchies.

Little did I know it would become the most popular piece I have written to date. The analysis centers around an encounter of working class Mormons, a young British lad, and his South Asian servants on the deck of the Monsoon, anchored in the river Hooghly a rowing distance from Calcutta.

The research for Baggage on the Hooghly is part of a larger work covering the entire journey of one of the men aboard the ship.


Get students talking about race in an accessible way.

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