The late Mr. Dunlop ("Travels in Central America") gives an interesting description, which, at the risk of repetition in some points, I shall give entire.
"Several vessels generally arrive at the Union from South America at the time of the periodical fairs, where nearly all the indigo (the only produce of any importance), is disposed of; formerly it reached 10,000 bales, but at present it does not at most exceed 3,000 bales of 150 lbs. each.
The indigo well known in Europe by the name of Guatemala indigo, was never cultivated in that province (in the same manner as not a grain of the Honduras cochineal is grown there), being entirely grown in the state of San Salvador, in the vicinity of San Miguel, San Vicenti, and the City of Salvador, with the exception of a small quantity of very superior quality grown in the state of Nicaragua, and a few bales in Costa Rica, which is all consumed in the State. Under the government of Spain, the produce of the state of San Salvador alone had reached 10,000 bales, and that of Nicaragua 2,000; the produce of San Salvador in 1820, two years before its independence, being 8,323 bales. But since 1822 the annual produce had gradually declined, and in 1846 it did not exceed 1,000 to 1,200 bales, nearly all the indigo estates being abandoned, partly, no doubt, from the great fall in the price of the article, but more on account of the impossibility of getting laborers to work steadily.
The plant cultivated in Central America for the manufacture of indigo, is the triennial plant, supposed to be a native of America; but there is also an indigenous perennial plant, abounding in many parts of Central America, which produces indigo of a very superior quality, but gives less than half the weight which is produced by the cultivated species. The ground for sowing the indigo seed is prepared in April,—a piece of good forest land near one of the towns being selected, a part is cut to make a rude fence, and the remainder burnt, which is easily accomplished, as everything is very dry at that season; and the ground is afterwards scratched with two sticks, fastened crosswise, to resemble somewhat the shape of a plough, and the seed scattered over it by hand. The rainy season always commences early in May, and the indigo is ready for cutting about the middle of July, taking about two and a half months to come to perfection. The growing crop somewhat resembles lucerne, and is in the best state for making indigo, when it becomes covered with a sort of greenish farina.
The crop of the first year is small, and sometimes not worth manufacturing; that of the second year is the best, and the third is also very good, if it has been carefully weeded; but many indigo fields have lasted more than ten years without being re-sown, as the seed which falls naturally springs up again, and where the land is good yields nearly as large a crop as a new sown field. When the plant is ready for manufacturing, a number of men are collected, each of whom is either provided with, or brings his own mule or horse, if he has one. Two men always go together, cut the plant, then about the height of full-grown red clover, and take it to the vats, which are large tanks made of brick and lime, holding at least 1,000 gallons, and some as much as 10,000. Into these the plant is thrown till they are nearly full, when weights are put above it to prevent its floating; and the vats filled with water till it covers the mass of the indigo plant. After remaining from twelve to twenty-four hours, according to the state of the plant, weather, and other circumstances (the time required being determined by the color which the water assumes), the herb is taken out, and the water beaten with paddles in the very small vats, and by a wheel suspended above and turned by men or horses in the larger ones, till it changes from a green color, which it has acquired ere the removal of the herb, to a fine blue, when it is allowed to stand for some hours, till the coloring matter has settled to the bottom of the tank, a process which is generally hastened by throwing in an infusion of certain herbs to facilitate its settlement, or as the natives term it curdle (cuajar) the colored water. As soon as all the color has settled, the water is drawn off, and the blue, which is of the consistency of thick mud, is taken out of the vat and spread upon cotton, or coarse woollen cloth, and dried in the sun. The color in a great measure depends upon removing the herb exactly at the proper time, and upon properly beating the water, neither too long, or too short. Unless these processes are properly performed, the indigo will not be of first-rate quality; but some estates will never produce the best indigo, whatever care may be bestowed on the manufacture.
A mansana, of 100 yards square, which is nearly two British statute acres, produces generally about 100 to 120 lbs. of indigo, the carriage and cutting of the herb costing about twenty dollars, and the cleaning of the field and all other expenses connected with it, including the manufacture of the indigo, about as much more.
The indigo of Central America is not put into moulds when drying, as that of Bengal, but is allowed to remain in the rough shape in which it dries, and without further preparation is ready for baling and exportation.
The bales are generally made up in 150 lbs. each, and the quality is classed by numbers, from 1 to 9; Nos. 1 to 3 being of the quality called cobres in Europe; Nos. 4 to 6 of that called cortes, and Nos. 7 to 9 of that called flores; Nos. 1 to 6 do not at present pay the expenses of manufacture, and are never intentionally made. No doubt, with a little more skill in the manufacture, the whole might, as in Bengal, be made of the quality called flores; but such improvements cannot be expected till a new race of people inhabit Central America. At present about one-half of the indigo produced is under No. 7, and as the cultivation is said not to pay at the present prices—and, indeed, hardly can be supposed to compete with Bengal, a country where labor is so much cheaper, and capital abundant—it is probable, that the cultivation will shortly be entirely abandoned, unless the price should again rise in Europe." In 1846, 21,933 lbs. of indigo were exported from Angostura.
The following particulars were contributed to my "Colonial Magazine," by the late Dr. Edward Binns, of Jamaica:—
The species generally cultivated is the I. tinctoria, which requires a rich moist soil and warm weather. The seed, which is at first sight not unlike coarse gunpowder, is sown three or four inches deep, in straight lines, twelve or fifteen inches apart. The shoots appear above ground in about a week; at the end of two months the plant flowers, when it is fit for cutting, which is done with a pruning knife. It must be mentioned that great care is requisite in weeding the indigo field when plants first shoot through the earth. In the State of St. Salvador, large vats made of mahogany, or other hard wood, are constructed for the reception of the plant, where it is allowed to undergo maceration and fermentation. In a short time the water becomes greenish, and emits a strong pungent smell, while carbonic acid gas is freely evolved. In about twenty-four hours it is run off into large flat vessels, and stirred about until a blue scum appears, when additional water is added, and the blue flakes sink to the bottom. The supernatant water has now acquired a yellowish tinge, when it is run off carefully, and the blue deposit or sediment put into bags to drain. It is subsequently dried in the shade, or sometimes in the sun, then placed in cotton bags and carried to the indigo fair, or forwarded to the city of Guatemala.
The East Indian mode of manufacturing the indigo differs materially, and many suppose it preferable to the Salvador. It consists in steaming the fermented mass in large pipes enclosed in huge boilers. I am inclined to believe this to be the most economical, if not the best way of manufacturing indigo. From Guatemala alone, it is computed that from 6,000 to 8,000 serons of indigo are exported annually; while San Miguel, Chalatenaugo, Tejulta, Secatecolnea, St. Vincent, Sensuntepepe, not only, it is said, produce a larger quantity, but the four last-mentioned places have the advantage as to quality. The Belize Advertiser stated, some time since, that the value of this dye from one State in 1830 produced 2,000,000 dollars, the minimum of an immense sum which has been most unjustly and unwisely wrested from the people of Jamaica, and the West India islands.
Bridges ("Annals of Jamaica," p. 584, Append.), speaking of the vast returns of an indigo plantation, says, "The labour of a single negro would often bring to his owner L30 sterling per annum clear profit,—a sum which was at the time the laborer's highest price. It continued the staple of Jamaica till an intolerable tax oppressed it, while its price was lowered by the competition of other colonies.
Its cultivation immediately declined throughout them all, but nowhere so rapidly as here. The financial error was quickly discovered,—a remedy was attempted by a bounty; but it came too late, the plantations were thrown up, and the planters, attracted by the temporary gain, abused the tardy boon, by introducing, as of their own growth, large quantities of foreign indigo." As Bridges may be said in this passage to be merely a commentator on Edwards, who has entered more largely upon the subject, I shall condense from the latter, statements connected with the manufacture and decay of this branch of industry, once the staple of Jamaica.
Edwards ("West Indies," vol. ii., p. 275, 2nd edition) reckons three kinds of indigo—the wild, Guatemala, and French. The first is the hardest, and the dye extracted from it of the best quality as regards color and grain; but one or other of the two species is commonly preferred by the planter, as yielding a greater return. Of these the French surpasses the Guatemala in quantity, but yields to it in fineness of grain and beauty of color. The indigo thrives almost on any land, though the richest soils produce the most luxuriant plants, and the longest dry weather will not kill it. The cultivation and manufacture our author thus describes:—"The land being prepared, trenches, two or three inches in depth, are made by the hoe. These are ten or twelve inches asunder. The seeds are then strewed in the trenches by the hand, and slightly covered with mould. When the plants shoot, they are carefully weeded, and kept constantly clean, until they rise high enough to cover the ground. A bushel of seed is sufficient for four or five acres. The best season for planting is March; but if the land be good, it may be sown at any time, and in three months the plants attain maturity. In seasonable situations, they have four cuttings in the year. The subsequent growths from the plants ripen in six or eight weeks; but the produce diminishes after the second cutting, so that the seeds should be sown every second year. A species of grub, or worm, which infests the plant on the second year is avoided by changing the soil; or, in other words, by a rotation of crops. The produce per acre of the first cutting is about 60 lbs. It is nearly as much in North America; but when the thermometer falls to sixty, the returns are very uncertain, that degree of heat being too low for the necessary vegetation, maceration, and fermentation. The yieldings for the subsequent cuttings somewhat diminish; but in Jamaica and St. Domingo, if the land is new, about 300 lbs. per acre of the second quality may be expected annually from all the cuttings together; and four negroes are sufficient to carry on the cultivation of five acres, besides doing other occasional work, sufficient to reimburse the expenses of their maintenance and clothing."
The process for obtaining the dye, according to the same author, was conducted through the means of two cisterns, the one elevated above the other, in the manner of steps. The higher, which was also the longer, was named the sleeper—its dimensions sixteen feet square and two and a half in depth. The second, into which the fluid was discharged, was called the battery; it was about twelve feet square, and four and a half in depth. These cisterns were of stone; but strong timber answered remarkably well. There was also a lime-vat, six feet square and four feet deep, the plug of which was at least eight inches from the bottom. This was for the purpose of permitting the lime to subside, before the lime-water was withdrawn. The plants then being ripe, or fit for cutting, were cut with reaping-hooks, or sickles, a few inches from the ground—six was the minimum—and placed by strata in the sleeper, until it was about three parts full. They were then pressed with boards, either loaded with weights or wedged down, so as to prevent the plants from floating loosely; and as much water was admitted as they would imbibe, until it covered the mass four or five inches deep. In this state it was allowed to ferment until the water had extracted the pulp. To know when this had been thoroughly effected, required extreme attention and great practical knowledge; for if the fluid were drawn off too soon, much of the pulp was left behind; and if the fermentation continued too long, the tender tops of the plants were decomposed, and the whole crop lost. When the tincture or extract was received in the battery, it was agitated or churned until the dye began to granulate, or float in little flakes upon the surface. This was accomplished at one period in Jamaica by paddles, worked by manual labor, and, in the French islands, by buckets or cylinders, worked by long poles; but subsequently—that is, at the time Edwards wrote—convenient apparatus was constructed, the levers of which were worked by a cog-wheel, kept in motion by a horse or mule. When the fluid had been churned for fifteen or twenty minutes, a small quantity was examined in a cup or plate, and if it appeared curdled or coagulated, strongly impregnated lime-water was gradually added, not only with a view to promote separation, but to prevent decomposition. Browne remarks ("Civil and Nat. Hist. of Jamaica," art. "Indigo"), the planters "must carefully distinguish the different stages of this part of the operation also, and attentively examine the appearance and color as the work advances,—for the grain passes gradually from a greenish to a fine purple, which is the proper color when the liquor is sufficiently worked,—too small a degree of agitation leaving the indigo green and coarse, while too vigorous an action brings it to be almost black." The liquor being then, as we shall suppose, properly worked, and granulation established, it was left undisturbed until the flakes settled at the bottom, when the liquor was drawn off, and the sediment (which is the indigo) placed in little bags to drain, after which it was carefully packed in small square boxes, and suffered to dry gradually in the shade.
Such is the account, nearly word for word, which Edwards gives of the mode of manufacturing indigo. I shall now quote his remarks upon the outlay and gain upon the article verbatim.—"To what has been said above of the nature of the plant suiting itself to every soil, and producing four cuttings in the year, if we add the cheapness of the buildings, apparatus, and labor, and the great value of the commodity, there will seem but little cause for wonder at the splendid accounts which are transmitted down to us concerning the great opulence of the first indigo-planters. Allowing the produce of an acre to be 300 lbs., and the produce no more than 4s. per pound, the gross profit of only twenty acres will be L1,200, produced by the labor of only sixteen negroes, and on capital in land and buildings scarce deserving consideration." Yet, notwithstanding this statement, the author informs us afterwards that he knew, in the course of eighteen years' residence in the West Indies, upwards of twenty persons who tried to re-establish indigo manufactories, but failed. This appears strange, since it is plain that what has once been done can be done again, but especially in the manufacture of an article requiring a capital so very small in proportion to the profits as almost to tempt the most cautious and the most timid man to embark in it.
I quote the following passage from the same author, for the purpose of showing the very loose manner in which statements are made on the authority of others, who are as incompetent to decide the merits of a question as the party himself chronicling their opinion. Speaking of the twenty unfortunate indigo-planters, our author thus writes:—"Many of them were men of foresight, knowledge, and property. That they failed is certain; but of the causes of their FAILURE I confess I can give no satisfactory account. I was told that disappointment trod close upon their heels at every stop. At one time the fermentation was too long continued, at another the liquor was drawn off too soon; now the pulp was not duly granulated, and now it was worked too much. To these inconveniences, for which practice would doubtless have found a remedy, were added others of a much greater magnitude—the mortality of the negroes, from the vapour of fermented liquor (an alarming circumstance, that, I am informed, both by the French and English planters, constantly attends the process), the failure of the seasons, and the ravages of the worm. These, or some of these evils, drove them at length to other pursuits, where industry might find a surer recompense."—(p. 283.)
The fallacy of much of this requires no comment, as it must strike even the most careless reader,—for if the so-called indigo-growers did not know the process of manufacturing the commodity, then it could not be surprising that they failed. Thus the cause of their failure required no comment, and no explanation. Were a ploughman taken from the field and placed at the helm of a ship, and the vessel in consequence wrecked, would any one be astonished but at the folly of those who placed him there? This was the case with the indigo-growers,—they attempted what they did not understand, and, consequently, lost their labor and their money. The mortality of the negroes employed, stated as another reason for abandoning the attempt, requires a somewhat more lengthy notice.
I can briefly say, that I have learned that in the Central States of America, deaths among indigo-laborers are not more frequent than in other branches of tropical industry; and I never heard or have read that the original growers complained of the mortality attending the progress. The truth is, that this statement is not founded on fact. There is nothing whatever in the manufacture of indigo, either in the cultivation or the granulation, or even the maceration and fermentation of the plant, which is directly or indirectly, per se, injurious to human life. I have certainly never seen the indigo plant macerated on a large scale; but I have myself steeped much of it in water, and allowed it even to rot, and found nothing in the mass differing in any marked degree from decomposed vegetable matter. It seems to me that this idea of the manufacture of indigo being especially inimical to human life, is as unfounded as the belief, even by Humboldt, up to a very recent period, that none of the Cerealia would grow in tropical climates. In conversing with an old gentleman in Jamaica, some twelve years since, who had tried the manufacture of indigo, and with every prospect of success, but abandoned it, as he confessed, for the cultivation of the sugar cane, since it was then more profitable, he suggested the solution, that as the manufacture was light work, probably aged and debilitated, in place of youthful and vigorous slaves, were too frequently employed in the process—hence the mortality. This may be correct to a certain extent; but I am also inclined to think that another cause of mortality might be found in the mode and manner in which the negro was fed and clothed, and not because aged persons were exclusively engaged in the manufacture. I believe I may state, without fear of contradiction, that the real cause of the decline and consequent abandonment of the indigo plant was the monstrous duty levied upon it by the English government. Indeed, this has been already stated in the extract from Bridges; while the cause of the failure of the attempt to renew it, over and above the reasons we have given, was the greater temptation to embark capital in sugar plantations,—the West Indies enjoying a monopoly in this article, while they had competitors in the Southern States of America in the other. I have, therefore, no hesitation in saying, that, with a trifling capital, under prudent management, indigo might be cultivated to a very great extent, and with considerable profit, even now, in Jamaica. But the adventurer is not to expect to count his gains, as the original growers did, by thousands; he must be content with hundreds, if not fifties; for at the present day every branch of industry is laden with difficulties, encumbered by taxation, and obstructed by competition. There are two objections, however, which I have not removed,—I allude to "the failure of the seasons and the ravages of the worm." Very little need be said to combat these. Seasons are mutable, and the same heaven that frowns this year on the labors of the husbandman, may smile the next; while a remedy for the "ravages of the worm" may be found in the mutation of the soil, the destruction of the grub, or the rotation of crops,—accessories to success which seem not to have entered into the vocabularies of the twenty pseudo indigo-growers, "many of them men of knowledge, foresight and property."
The following passage from Bryan Edwards will corroborate much that I have endeavored to enforce. It furnishes not only a solution which has been hinted at before, of the enigma why indigo ceased to be cultivated in Jamaica, but also an incentive to re-introduce the culture. He says (p. 444), "It is a remarkable and well-known circumstance, after the cultivation of indigo was suppressed by an exorbitant duty of near L20 the hundred-weight, Great Britain was compelled to pay her rivals and enemies L200,000 annually for this commodity, so essential to a great variety of her most important manufactures. At length, the duty being repealed, and a bounty some time after substituted in its place, the States of Georgia and South Carolina entered upon, and succeeding in the culture of this valuable plant, supplied at a far cheaper rate than the French and Spaniards (receiving too our manufactures in payment) not only the British consumption, but also enabled Great Britain to export a surplus at an advanced price to foreign markets."—It is therefore plain that the manufacture of indigo was lost to Jamaica, not from any difficulty in growing the plant, or from any loss of life attending the process of manufacturing it, but from the ruinously heavy duty of L20 the hundred-weight—and that now, when no duty exists, it might be again cultivated with great advantage.
The cultivation of indigo has been repeatedly attempted in Cuba, but never with much success; although the shrub called the Xiquilite, from which it is extracted, grows wild in several districts of the island, but more especially towards the eastern extremity. The first anileria, or manufactory of indigo, was established in 1795, under the patronage of the Ayuntamento of the Havana, who made an advance of 3,500 dollars, without interest, to the party engaging in the speculation, in order to encourage the enterprise; but the undertaking proved unsuccessful, and the same fate has befallen every subsequent attempt to introduce this branch of industry. In 1827, the whole produce amounted only to 56 arrobas. In 1837 the imports of indigo greatly exceeded the exports; the former having amounted to 121,350 lbs., and the latter to 82,890 lbs. In 1833, 5,184 lbs. reached the United Kingdom from the Havana, and in 1843, 62,675 lbs.
In 1826 British Honduras exported 358,552 lbs.; in 1830, 2,650 serons; in 1844, 1,247 serons; and in 1845, 1,052 serons.
The indigo shrub is one of the most common bushes in Trinidad, where it grows wild on almost all the indifferent soils. In 1783, there were several plantations and manufactories of indigo established in Trinidad; these were subsequently abandoned, on account of a supposition that they were unhealthy. Prior to 1783, the colonists had a kind of simple process by which they extracted sufficient coloring matter to serve domestic consumption. This process is at present unknown, hence all the indigo used there is imported from Europe, although the plant from which it can be made vegetates in every direction.
In 1791 Hayti imported 930,016 lbs. of indigo, while in 1804 the export had dwindled to 35,400 lbs.
Indigo, as I have already stated, was once a most important crop in South Carolina, some attention has recently again been given to it by an individual or two in Louisiana, and the enterprise is said to promise success; enough might undoubtedly be raised in the United States to supply the home market. Some indigo produced at Baton Rouge was pronounced to have been equal to the best Caraccas, which sells at two dollars per pound; and the gentleman who cultivated it remarks, that one acre of ground there, well cultivated, will yield from 40 to 60 lbs.; that it requires only from July to October for cultivating it; that there is not connected with it one-third of the expense or time that is generally required for the cultivation of cotton.
I take the following from Smyth's "Tour in the United States."
"This plant is somewhat like the fern when grown, and when young is hardly distinguishable from lucern grass, its leaves in general are pinnated, and terminated by a single lobe; the flowers consist of five leaves, and are of the papilonaceous kind, the uppermost petal being longer and rounder than the rest, and lightly furrowed on the side, the lower ones are short and end in a point; in the middle of the flower is formed the style, which afterwards becomes a pod containing the seeds.
"They cultivate three sorts of indigo in Carolina, which demand the same variety of soils. First, the French or Hispaniola indigo, which striking a long tap root will only flourish in a deep rich soil, and therefore, though an excellent sort, is not so much cultivated in the maritime parts of the State, which are generally sandy, but it is produced in great perfection one hundred miles backwards; it is neglected too on another account, for it hardly bears a winter so sharp as that of Carolina. The second sort, which is the false Guatemala, or true Bahamas, bears the winter better, is a more tall and vigorous plant, is raised in greater quantities from the same compass of ground, is content with the worst soil in the country, and is therefore more cultivated than the first soil, though inferior in the quality of its dye.
"The third sort is the wild indigo, which is indigenous here; this, as it is a native of the country, answers the purposes of the planter best of all, with regard to the hardiness of the plant, the easiness of the culture, and the quantity of the produce. Of the quality there is some dispute not yet settled amongst the planters themselves; nor can they distinctly tell when they are to attribute the faults of their indigo to the nature of the plant, to the seasons, which have much influence upon it, or to some defect in the manufacture.
"The time of planting the indigo is generally after the first rains succeeding the vernal equinox; the seed is sown in small straight trenches, about eighteen or twenty inches asunder; when it is at its height, it is generally eighteen inches tall. It is fit for cutting, if all things answer well, in the beginning of July.
"Towards the end of August a second cutting is obtained, and if they have a mild autumn, there is a third cutting at Michaelmas. The indigo land must be weeded every day, the plants cleansed from worms, and the plantation attended with the greatest care and diligence. About twenty-five hands may manage a plantation of fifty acres, and complete the manufacture of the drug, besides providing their own necessary subsistence and that of the planter's family.
"Each acre yields, if the land be very good, 60 or 70 lbs. weight of indigo, at a medium the produce is 50 lbs. This however, is reckoned by many skilful planters but a very indifferent crop.
"When the plant is beginning to blossom it is fit for cutting, and when cut great care ought to be taken to bring it to the steeper without pressing or shaking it, as great part of the beauty of the indigo depends upon the fine farina, which adheres to the leaves of this plant. The apparatus for making indigo is inconsiderable and not expensive, for besides a pump, the whole consists only of vats and tubs of cypress wood, common and cheap in this country.
"The indigo, when cut, is first laid in a vat, about twelve or fourteen feet long and four feet deep, to the height of about fourteen inches, to macerate and digest; then this vessel, which is called the steeper, is filled with water; the whole having laid from about twelve to sixteen hours, according to the weather, begins to ferment, swell, rise, and grow sensibly warm. At this time spars of wood are run across, to mark the highest point of its ascent; when it falls below this mark, they judge that the fermentation has attained its due pitch, and begins to abate; this directs the manager to open a cock, and let off the water into another vat, which is called the beater; the gross matter that remains in the first vat is carried off to manure the ground, for which purpose it is excellent, and new cuttings are put in, as long as the harvest of the weed continues. When the water, strongly impregnated with the particles of indigo, has run into the second vat or beater, they attend with a sort of bottomless buckets, with long handles, to work and agitate it, when it froths, ferments, and rises above the rim of the vessel that contains it. To allay this violent fermentation, oil is thrown in as the froth rises, which instantly sinks it. When this beating has continued for twenty, thirty, or thirty-five minutes, according to the state of the weather (for in cool weather it requires the longest continued beating), a small muddy grain begins to be formed; the salts and other particles of the plant united, dissolved, and before mixed with the water, are now re-united together, and begin to granulate. To discover these particles the better, and to find when the liquor is sufficiently beaten, they take up some of it from time to time on a plate, or in a glass; when it appears in a hopeful condition, they let loose some lime water from an adjacent vessel, gently stirring the whole, which wonderfully facilitates the operation; the indigo granulates more fully, the liquor assumes a purplish color, and the whole is troubled and muddy; it is now suffered to settle; then the clearer part is permitted to run off into another succession of vessels, from whence the water is conveyed away as fast as it clears on the top, until nothing remains but a thick mud, which is put into bags of coarse linen. These are hung up and left for some time until the moisture is entirely drained off.
"To finish the drying, this mud is turned out of the bags, and worked upon boards of some porous timber, with a wooden spatula; it is frequently exposed to the morning and evening sun, but for a short time only; and then it is put into boxes or frames, which is called the curing, exposed again to the sun in the same cautious manner, until, with great labor and attention the operation is finished, and the valuable drug fitted for the market. The greatest skill and care is required in every part of the process, or there may be great danger of ruining the whole; the water must not be suffered to remain too short or too long a time, either in the steeper or beater; the beating itself must be nicely managed, so as not to exceed or fall short; and in the curing the exact medium between too much or too little drying is not easily attained. Nothing but experience can make the overseers skilful in these matters. There are two methods of trying the goodness of indigo; by fire and by water. If it swims it is good, if it sinks it is inferior, the heavier the worse; so if it wholly dissolves in water it is good. Another way of proving it, is by the fire ordeal; if it entirely burns away it is good, the adulterations remain untouched."
Indigo to the extent of 220,000 lbs. per annum is grown in Egypt. The leaves are there thrown into earthen vessels, which are buried in pits and filled with water; heat is applied, and the liquid is boiled away until the indigo becomes of a fit consistence, when it is pressed into shape and dried. Many Armenians have been invited from the East Indies to teach the fellahs the best mode of preparation, and, in consequence, nine indigo works have been established belonging to the government.
The indigo plant is found scattered like a weed abundantly over the face of the country in the district of Natal, Eastern Africa. It is said that there are no less than ten varieties of the plant commonly to be met with there. Mr. Blaine submitted, in 1848, to the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, a small specimen of this dye-stuff, which had been extracted by a rude process from a native plant, which was pronounced by good authority to be of superior quality, and worth 3s. 4d. per pound. Mr. W. Wilson, a settler at Natal, in a letter to the editor of the Natal Witness, thus speaks of the culture:—
"My attention was first forcibly drawn to the cultivation of indigo by some seed imported by Mr. Kinlock, from India. This seed, on trial, I found to grow luxuriantly; and after a few experiments I succeeded in manufacturing the dye. The success which thus attended my first attempts has encouraged me to try indigo planting on a more extensive scale. For this purpose I am allowing all the plants of this season to run to seed, and intend to plant equal quantities of Bengal and native indigo.
While my attention was engaged in these preliminary experiments, I observed that the country abounded in a variety of species of indigo, and by a series of experiments found it rich and abundant, and have since learnt that it is known and in use among the natives, and called by them Umpekumbeto.
This of course induced further inquiry, and on consulting different works I find that the Cape of Good Hope possesses more species of indigo than the whole world besides. Now I take it for granted that if Providence has placed these materials within our reach, it was evidently intended that we should, by the application of industry, appropriate them to our use. It becomes, then, a matter of necessity that indigo must thrive, this being its native soil and climate; and the experiments I have successfully made, go to support me in the opinion that the cultivation of indigo will bring an ample reward. Indeed it seems contrary to the laws of nature that it should be otherwise.
I have obtained from the 140th part of an acre the proportion of 300 lbs. of indigo per acre. That the plant will cross successfully, I have also ascertained."
Cultivation in India.—During the nine years which preceded the opening of the trade with India in 1814, the annual average produce of indigo in Bengal, for exportation, was nearly 5,600,000 lbs. But since the ports were opened, the indigo produced for exportation has increased fully a third; the exports during the sixteen years ending with 1829-30, being above 7,400,000 lbs. a year.
The consumption in the United Kingdom has averaged, during the last ten years, about 2,500,000 lbs. a year.
In 1839-40 the export of indigo from Madras amounted to 1,333,808 lbs. A small quantity is also exported from the French settlement of Pondicherry. In 1837 the export from Manila amounted to about 250,000 lbs. The export from Batavia in 1841 amounted to 913,693 lbs., and the production in 1843 was double that amount. The annual exports of indigo, from all parts of Asia and the Indian Archipelago, were taken by M'Culloch, in 1840, to be 12,440,000 lbs. The imports are about 20,000 chests of Bengal, and 8,000 from Madras annually, of which 9,000 or 10,000 are used for home consumption, and the rest re-exported.
The total crop of indigo in the Bengal Presidency has ranged, for the last twenty years, at from 100,000 to 172,000 factory maunds; the highest crop was in 1845. The factory maund of indigo in India is about 78 lbs.
In the delta of the Ganges, where the best and largest quantity of indigo is produced, the plant lasts only for a single season, being destroyed by the periodical inundation; but in the dry central and western provinces, one or two ratoon crops are obtained.
The culture of indigo is very precarious, not only in so far as respects the growth of the plant from year to year, but also as regards the quantity and quality of the drug which the same amount of plant will afford in the same season.
The fixed capital required, as I have already shown, in the manufacture of indigo, consists simply of a few vats of common masonry for steeping the plant, and precipitating the coloring matter; a boiling and drying house, and a dwelling for the planter. Thus a factory of ten pair of vats, capable of producing, at an average, 12,500 lbs. of indigo, worth on the spot L2,500, will not cost above L1,500 sterling. The buildings and machinery necessary to produce an equal value in sugar and rum, would probably cost about L4,000.
The indigo of Bengal is divided into two classes, called, in commercial language, Bengal and Oude; the first being the produce of the southern provinces of Bengal and Bahar, and the last that of the northern provinces, and of Benares. The first class is in point of quality much superior to the other. The inferiority of the Oude indigo is thought to be more the result of soil and climate, than of any difference in the skill with which the manufacture is conducted. The indigo of Madras, which is superior to that of Manila, is about equal to ordinary Bengal indigo. The produce of Java is superior to these.
Large quantities of indigo, of a very fine quality, are grown in Scinde. I have to acknowledge the receipt, from the Indian Government, of an interesting collection of documents on the culture and manufacture of indigo in Upper Scinde. The papers are chiefly from the pen of Mr. Wood, Deputy Collector of Sukkur, though there are several others, perhaps of much value, from various other of the revenue officers of Scinde.
Mr. Wood is of opinion that Scinde is much better suited than Bengal for the production of this dye-stuff—the alluvial soil on the banks of the Indus is equal in richness to that on those of the Ganges, and the climate seems equally well suited for the growth of the plant. But in two years out of three, the crops of the Bengal planter are injured by excessive inundations, while the work of gathering and manipulation is necessarily performed, during the rainy season, under the greatest imaginable disadvantages. In Scinde, on the other hand, the inundation of the river is produced almost solely from the melting of the snows in the Himalayas, and it is not liable to those excessive fluctuations in amount, or that suddenness in appearance peculiar to inundations chiefly arising from falls of rain. The Granges sometimes rises ten feet in four-and-twenty hours, and at some part of its course its depth is at times forty feet greater during a flood than in fair weather, while the Indus rarely rises above a foot a day, its extreme flood never exceeding fifteen feet, the limits and amount of the inundation being singularly uniform over a succession of years. Moreover, as rain hardly ever falls in Scinde, and when it does so only continues over a few days, and extends to the amount of three or four inches, no danger or inconvenience from this need be apprehended. Mr. Wood mentions that hemp may be grown in profusion on the indigo grounds, and that were the production of the dye once introduced, it would bring hundreds of thousands of acres now barren into cultivation, and secure the growth or manufacture of a vast variety of other commodities for which the country is eminently fitted. An experimental factory might, it is believed, be set up for from two to three thousand pounds, but this appears to be an amount of adventure from which the Government shrinks.
The districts of Kishnagar, Jessore, and Moorshedabad, in Bengal, ranging from 88 to 90 degs. E. latitude, and 221/2 to 24 degs. N. longitude, produce the finest indigo. That from the districts about Burdwan and Benares is of a coarser or harsher grain. Tirhoot, in latitude 26 degs., yields a tolerably good article. The portion of Bengal most propitious to the cultivation of indigo, lies between the river Hooghly and the main stream of the Ganges.
In the East Indies, after having ploughed the ground in October, November, and the beginning of December, they sow the seed in the last half of March and the beginning of April, while the soil, being neither too hot nor too dry, is most propitious to its germination. A light mould answers best; and sunshine, with occasional light showers, are most favorable to its growth. Twelve pounds of seed are sufficient for sowing an acre of land. The plants grow rapidly, and will bear to be cut for the first time at the beginning of July; nay, in some districts so early as the middle of June. The indications of maturity are the bursting forth of the flower buds, and the expansion of the blossoms; at which period the plant abounds most in the dyeing principle. Another indication is taken from the leaves, which, if they break across when doubled flat, denote a state of maturity. But this character is somewhat fallacious, and depends upon the poverty or richness of the soil. When much rain falls, the plants grow too rapidly, and do not sufficiently elaborate the blue pigment. Bright sunshine is most advantageous to its production.
The first cropping of the plants is the best; after two months a second is made; after another interval a third, and even a fourth; but each of these is of diminished value.
Culture in India.—For the following excellent account of the modes of culture, and practice, &c., in Bengal, and other parts of India, I am indebted to Mr. G. W. Johnson, one of the correspondents of my "Colonial Magazine." Mr. Johnson, besides his own Indian experience, has consulted all the best authorities, and the opinions of contributors to the leading periodicals of Calcutta on this important subject:—
When America became known to Europeans, its indigo became to them a principal object of cultivation, and against their skill the native Hindostanee had nothing to oppose, but the cheapness of his simple process of manufacture. The profit and extent of the trade soon induced Europeans to brave the perils of distance and climate to cultivate the plant in Hindostan; but these obstacles, added to the superior article manufactured by the French and Spaniards in the West Indies, would long have held its produce in India in subordination, if the anarchy and wars incident to the French Revolution, especially when they reached St. Domingo, had not almost annihilated the trade from the West, and consequently proportionally fostered that in the East. The indigo produce of St. Domingo was nearly as large as that of all the other West India islands together. From the time that the negroes revolted in that island, the cultivation of indigo has increased in Hindostan, until it has become one of its principal exports, and the quality of the article manufactured is not inferior to that of any other part of the world.
The most general mode of obtaining the necessary supply of weed, as it is called by the planter, is as follows:—The land attached to the factory is parcelled out among the ryots or farmers, who contract to devote a certain portion of their farm to the cultivation of indigo, and to deliver it, for a fixed price per bundle, at the factory; a sum of money, usually equal to half the probable produce, has to be advanced to the ryot by the planter, to enable him to accomplish the cultivation, and to subsist upon until the crop is ready for cutting.
If, as is generally the case, sufficient land is not attached to the factory to supply it with plant, the owner obtains what he requires by inducing the ryots in his vicinity to cultivate it upon a part of their land. Yet it is with them far from a favorite object of cultivation; and, indeed, if it were not for the money advanced to each ryot by the planter, to provide seed, &c., and which gives him a little ready money, bearing no interest, it is doubtful whether he would engage in the cultivation at all. Even this advance of money does not induce him to appropriate it to any but the worst part of his farm, nor to bestow upon it more than the smallest possible amount of labor. The reasons for this neglect are valid, for the grain crops are more profitable to the ryot, and indigo is one of the most precarious of India's vegetable products.
In Bengal the usual terms of contract between the manufacturer and the ryot are, that the latter, receiving at the time a certain advance of money, perhaps one rupee (2s.) per biggah, with promise of a similar sum at a more advanced period of the season, undertakes to have a certain quantity of land suitably and seasonably prepared for sowing, to attend and receive seed whenever occasion requires, and to deliver the crop, when called upon, at the factory, at a specified price per bundle or 100 bundles. The particular conditions of these contracts vary generally in Bengal; they amount to advancing the ryot two rupees for every biggah of land, furnishing him with seed at about one-third its cost, on an engagement from him to return whatever his lands may produce (which, as has been said, is generally none at all), at the price charged, and receiving the plant from him at six, seven, eight, or sometimes nine bundles for a rupee—much oftener the former than the latter rates. A ryot cultivating alluvial lands, and having no seed, can hardly ever repay his advances; but it does not follow that he has been a loser, for he, perhaps, could not value his time, labor, and rent altogether at half the amount; and as long as this system is kept within moderate bounds, it answers much better than private cultivation to the manufacturer, and has many contingent advantages to the cultivator.
In Tirhoot similar engagements are entered into with the ryots, who are there called Assamees. These engagements with Assamees are generally made in the month of September, on a written instrument called a noviskaun, by which they agree for a certain quantity of land, for five years, to be cultivated with indigo plant, and for which they are to be paid at the rate of six rupees per biggah, for every full field of plant measured by a luggie or measuring-rod. The luggie, it must be observed, varies in size throughout the district. In the southern and eastern divisions of Tirhoot and Sarun it is eight-and-a-half to ten feet long; and in the northern and western from twelve to fourteen feet. The Assamee receives, on the day of making his bundobust, or settlement, three rupees advance on each biggah he contracts for, another rupee per biggah when the crop is fit to weed, and the remaining two rupees at the ensuing settlement of accounts. Exclusive of the price of his maul or plant, the Assamee is entitled to receive two or three rupees per biggah (as may be agreed on) for gurkee, or lands that have failed, as a remuneration for his trouble, and to enable him to pay his rent. The foregoing are the principal stipulations of the noviskaun, but the Assamee further engages to give you such land as you may select, prepare it according to instructions from the factory, sow and weed as often as he is required, cut the plant and load the hackeries at his own cost, and in every other respect conform to the orders of the planter or his aumlah (managing man). The Assamee is not charged for seed, the cartage of his plants, or for the cost of drilling. I should mention that a penalty is attached to the non-fulfilment of the Assamees engagements, commonly called hurjah, viz., twelve rupees for every biggah short of his agreement, and this for every year that the noviskaun has to run. This is, however, seldom recoverable, for if you sue the Assamee in court and obtain a decree (a most expensive and dilatory process), he can in most instances easily evade it by a fictitious transfer of his property to other hands.
The planter generally finds it his interest to get the Zemindar of the village in which he proposes cultivating, to join in the noviskaun, as a further security; or he engages with a jytedar, or head Assamee, having several others subordinate to him, and for whose conduct he is responsible. But a still better system is lately gaining ground in this district, I mean that of taking villages in ticka, or farm, by far the best and cheapest plan that has ever been resorted to for the cultivation of indigo.
When the planter cultivates the ground himself, it is called in Tirhoot Zerant cultivation. Zerants, or Neiz, are taken on a pottah or lease for five years, at the average rent of three rupees per biggah. The heavy cost attending this cultivation has occasioned its decrease in most factories in Tirhoot and particularly since the fall in prices. About a third, I believe, was the proportion it formerly bore to the whole cultivation of the district, but of late such factories only have retained it as cannot procure sufficient good land under the Assamewar system; but now that the plan of taking villages in farm is becoming more and more prevalent here, it is very likely that Zerants will be entirely abandoned. From all the information I have been able to collect, the cost of a biggah of Zerant (ten feet luggie) may be estimated at sixteen rupees; that of Assamewar is generally twenty-five per cent. less, both exclusive of interest, agents' charges, and private expenses.
It can only be the reluctance of the ryot to cultivate indigo that induces a manufacturer to grow it himself, for it has been found an expensive plan, profitable only when the dye is at its highest rate, and even then scarcely furnishing an adequate return. They not only could not cultivate so cheaply as the native laboring husbandman, but ordinarily had to engage extensive tracts of land, much of which was not suitable for their purpose, or, perhaps, for any other, and consequently, although the average rate of rent was even low on the whole, it constituted a very heavy charge on the portion from which they obtained their return.
In Oude there are three systems of obtaining a supply of the plant, viz., Kush Kurreea, Bighowty, and Nij; but the latter is a mere trifle in proportion to the others, and is, therefore, not worth mentioning. On the Bighowty system, which prevails chiefly in the Meerut and Mooradabad districts, the planter advances for a biggah of Jumowah (irrigated sowings) nine rupees, and for a biggah of Assaroo (rain sowings) five rupees four annas. The next year's plant, or khoonti, becomes his on an additional payment of eight annas per biggah. He also supplies the seed at the rate of six seers per biggah, being almost double the quantity made use of in Bengal, but which is necessary to make up for the destruction of the plant the year following by the frost, white ants, hot winds, grass cutters, and, I may add, the village cattle, which are let loose to graze on the khoonte during the latter period, when not a blade of grass or vegetation is to be seen anywhere left.
The Bighowty system is a sadly ruinous one, as, independently of the attempts to assimilate Assaroo, at five rupees four annas, with Jumowah, at nine rupees per biggah, which is very easily effected if the planter is not very vigilant, he is obliged to maintain an extensive and imposing establishment of servants, not only to enforce the sowings, weeding, and cutting, but also to look after his khoonte, and protect it from being destroyed by bullocks and grass cutters, or from being ploughed up clandestinely by the Zemindars themselves.
The Kush Kurreea system again has its evils, as the planter never gets plant for the full amount of his advances, and hence often leads to his ruin.
Soils.—Indigo delights in a fresh soil; new lands, of similar staple to others before cultivated, always surpass them in the amount and quality of their produce. Hence arises the superior productiveness of the lands annually overflowed by the Ganges, the earthy and saline deposits from which in effect renovate the soil. The further we recede from the influence of the inundation, the less adapted is the soil for the cultivation of indigo. The staple of the soil ought to be silicious, fertile, and deep. Mr. Ballard, writing on the indigo soils of Tirhoot, says that high "soomba," or light soils, are generally preferred, being from their nature and level less exposed to the risk of rain or river inundation; but they are difficult to procure, and, moreover, require particular care in the preparation. Next in estimation is "doruss," a nearly equal mixture of light earth and clay; a soil more retentive of moisture in a dry season than any other. "Muttyaur," or heavy clay soils, are generally avoided, although in certain seasons, with mild showers of rain, they have been known to answer. The safest selection I should conceive to be an equal portion of soomba and doruss. In a country, however, interspersed with jheels and nullahs, it is difficult to form a cultivation without a considerable mixture of low lands, more or less, according to the situation of the Assamee's fields. Great care should be taken, at all events, to guard against oosur lands, or such as abound with saltpetre; these can be most easily detected in the dry months. Puchkatak, that is, lands slightly touched with oosur, have been known to answer, as partaking more of the nature of doruss soil; but the crop is generally thin, although strong and branchy.
There is another description of land that should be cautiously avoided. It goes by the name of jaung, and is a light soil, with a substratum of sand from six to twelve inches below the surface. The plant generally looks very fine in such fields till it gets a foot high, when the root touching the sand, and having no moisture to sustain it, either dies away altogether, or becomes so stunted and impoverished as to yield little or nothing in the cutting. Of the daub or dearab (alluvial) land, says Mr. Ballard, there is scarcely any in the district except what falls to the lot of my own factories, being situated on the banks of the Ganges and Great Gunduck. Of bungur, a stiff reddish clay soil, there is little in Tirhoot; it pervades the western provinces, and is best adapted for Assaroo sowings, which do not succeed in Tirhoot.
Preparation of the soil.—The root of the indigo plant being fusiform, and extending to about a foot in length, requires the soil to be loosened thoroughly to that depth at least. Experience teaches that the fineness of the tilth to which the soil is reduced previously to the seed being committed to it, is one very influential operation for the obtaining a productive crop. Yet in some districts of Bengal, particularly about Furudpore, the sowing is performed without any previous ploughing. This is where the river, when receded, has left the soil and deposit so deep, that about October, or a little later, the seed being forcibly discharged from the sower's hand, buries itself, and requires no after covering by means of the rake or harrow.
In Tirhoot they are indefatigable in this first step of the cultivation. Mr. Ballard says, that the preparation of indigo lands should commence in September, as soon as the cessation of the rains will permit; and as we do not rely on rain for our sowings (as is the custom in Bengal and elsewhere, and irrigation is never resorted to, from the heavy expense attending it), our principal aim is to preserve as much moisture in the fields as possible. They should receive, for this purpose, not less than eight ploughings, besides a thorough turning up with the spade, after the fourth ploughing, to clear the field from stubble, grass and weeds. It is absolutely indispensable to get all this done on our light soils, especially before the end of October, and have the land carefully harrowed down, so as to prevent the moisture escaping.
Should there be heavy rains between the interval of preparing and sowing, it will be necessary to turn the fields up with either one or two ploughings, and harrow them down as before. If only a slight shower, running the harrow over them will be sufficient to break the crust formed on the surface, and which, if allowed to remain, would quickly exhaust the moisture. This, with the occasional use of the weeding-hook, is all that the lands will require till the time of sowing.—("Transactions of the Agri.-Hort. Society of Calcutta," vol. ii., p. 22.)
Sowing.—The time when the seed is committed to the soil varies in different parts of India, and, even in the same place, admits of being performed at two different seasons. The periods of sowing in Bengal are first immediately after the rains, from about the latter end of October. The rivers are then rapidly retiring within their beds, and as soon as the soft deposit of the year has drained itself into a consistency, though not solid enough to keep a man from sinking up to his knees in it, they begin to scatter the seed broadcast. This is continued until the ground has become too hard for the seed to bury itself; the plough is then used to loosen the crust, and the sowing continued to about the middle, or even the end of November, from which period the weather is considered too cold, until February. These autumnal sowings are called October sowings, from the month in which they generally commence. Much of the plant perishes during the months of December and January, and more again in the spring, unless there are early and moderate showers. The crop that remains is not so productive ordinarily in the vat, as that obtained from spring sowings, and some think the quality of the produce inferior. But there is no expense of cultivation, and the liabilities of the crop to failure are such a discouragement to cost and labor in rearing it, that the October sowing is followed by most planters who can obtain suitable land. The second period of sowing is the spring, with the first rains of March, or even the end of February. The land having been measured and placed under its slight course of tillage during the two or three preceding mouths, is sown broadcast as soon as the ground has been well moistened, or even in prospect of approaching rain. The quantity of seed used for this autumn sowing is generally more than what is considered requisite for spring sowing; six seers at the former and four at the latter season per biggah, in Bengal, is the quantity usually allowed.
Some cultivators commence the autumn sowing as early as at the close of September, or as soon as the low lands are in a state to permit the operation after the inundation has subsided. This seed time may be said to continue until the end of December, and the crops from these sowings often yield an average produce, if the lands are not very low and wet. If they are, the sowing had better be delayed until January, or even February, for the crops from these latter sowings are usually the most productive, and the dye obtained from them the finest. The object for thus delaying the sowing is, that the young plants may have a more genial season for vegetation. Those who prefer sowing earlier, and yet are aware of the importance of saving the young plants as much as possible from the comparative low temperature of the season, sow some other crop with their indigo. Til, the country linseed, is good for this purpose in high lying soils. But I never knew an intermixture of crops that was not attended by inconveniences and injuries more than was compensated by the advantages gained.
The success of sowings during March and April is very doubtful. It depends entirely upon the occurrence of rain, which in those months is proverbially uncertain. If the season should be sufficiently wet, the sowing may be performed in May; but a June sowing is very rarely remunerating. The rains setting in during the latter part of this month so promote the growth of weeds, that the young plants are choked and generally destroyed. The exceptions only occur in high lands, in unusually propitious seasons, and ought never to be relied upon except when the earlier sowings have failed. To protract the manufacturing season, some planters begin sowing upon low lying lands in the hot season, for the chance of a crop at the commencement of the rains; and they sow at the close of the rains with the hope of, as it were, stealing another in the next year. In the western provinces sowing necessarily occurs in the dry weather, usually in March and April, though occasionally either a little earlier or later.
In Tirhoot the sowings commence about the latter end of February or the beginning of March, if by that time there is sufficient warmth in the atmosphere to ensure a healthy vegetation. Light soils are sown on one close ploughing; heavy soils on two, with from four to eight seers of seed, in proportion to the size of the biggah. After strewing the seed, the field should be harrowed down by two turns of the harrow, and then again by two turns more after the third day. In case of rain before the plant appears (which it ought to do on the sixth or seventh day), if a slight shower, the harrow should be used again; if very heavy, it were best to turn up the ground and re-sow. If rain fall after the appearance of the plant, and before it has got past four leaves, and attained sufficient strength to resist the hard crust before alluded to, immediate recourse must be had to drilling. In fact, the closest attention is required to watch the state of the young crop for a month at least after the sowings; if it yield the least, or assume a sickly appearance, drills are the only resource. These, if applied in time, in all March, for instance, or before the middle of April at latest, are generally successful, not only in restoring plants, but recovering such as may have become sickly from want or excess of moisture, or any other cause. In dry seasons they have been known to give a crop when broadcast sowings have failed. Each drill, with a good pair of bullocks, should do five biggahs a day. They are regulated to throw from three to four seers per biggah, but the quantity can be increased or diminished at pleasure. The natives do not employ them in their grain sowings, but commonly adopt a contrivance with their own plough for sowing in furrows, whenever their fields are deficient in moisture. The drill employed in Tirhoot resembles considerably the implement known by that name in England. It is found not only to effect a great saving of seed, ten seers being there sown broad-cost on a biggah of 57,600 feet square, and only seven seers by this drill; but also materially to improve the quality and regularity of the growth of the plant. Experience has demonstrated, that the more lateral room the plants have, the more abundant is their produce of leaves, in which the coloring matter chiefly resides. The seed employed should always be as new as possible, for though, if carefully preserved, it vegetates when one year old, and even when nearly two years old has produced a moderate crop, yet this has been under circumstances of an unusually favorable season and soil. The plants from old seed rarely attain a height of more than a foot before they wither and die. As frauds are very likely to be practised by giving old seed the glossiness and general appearance of new, great circumspection should be shown by the planter, who does not grow his own, in obtaining seed from known parties.
Planters in the lower provinces are induced to use up-country seed, because, coming from a colder climate, it vegetates, and the plants ripen rapidly, so as to be harvested more certainly before the annual inundation, but they employ one-fourth more. Three seers per Bengal biggah are sufficient, if it is "Dassee" seed; but four is not too much if it is up-country seed. A Bengal biggah is only a third of the size of that of Tirhoot. If the weather is dry, the seed very often does not germinate until the occurrence of rain, and it has been known in a dry, light soil, to remain in the ground without injury for six weeks. If seasonable showers occur, the plants make their appearance in four days, or even less; and they must be watched, in order that they may be weeded on the earliest day that they are sufficiently established to allow the operation to be safely performed. In dry weather, it must not be done while they are very young, otherwise many of the seedlings will have their roots disturbed, and perish from the drought. However, not more than a fortnight should be allowed to pass, after the seedlings have appeared, before the weeds are carefully removed, and this clearing should be frequently repeated until the plants so overshadow the ground that they of themselves keep back the advance of the weeds. The first weeding is best performed immediately after a shower of rain.
Irrigation is rarely adopted for the indigo crops in the lower provinces of Bengal, unless they happen to be grown in some situation very favorable to the operation, such as the bank of a river. It is much more attended to in the western provinces, and in Oude, the water being obtained from wells, which are dug in nearly every cultivated plot. In Oude, Mr. Ballard says that a biggah of land employs three persons to irrigate it, and occupies never less than six days. The ryot, or cultivator, requires for the work a pair of bullocks, which cost him at least 32s., a bucket made of a white bullock hide, at 2s., and a rope for 2s. more, both of which do not last him above a year. He never pays less than 8s. for the rent of a biggah of land near a well.
In Bengal the plant requires three months to attain its highest state of perfection for manufacturing, but is often cut, from necessity, within half that time; for the approach of the river compels the premature removal of the crop, unless, indeed, its growth has been so retarded that it would not pay the expense of working. Most indigo factories have consequently to begin in June, or early in July, whenever they may have effected their spring sowings, and the labors of the season are commonly terminated by the middle or end of August.
When the plants begin to flower is considered the best time for cutting them, and this is just what the botanist would have suggested, because then the proper sap of all plants is most abundant, and most rich in their several peculiar secretions. A vividly green, abundant and healthy foliage, downy at the back, is the surest intimation of the plants being rich in indigo. Plants that are ready for cutting in July and August, are usually the most productive.
In the western provinces from sixteen to twenty maunds of plant is considered a good produce per biggah. In the upper provinces the produce of the best crop, which is sown directly the rains commence, is not more then ten maunds per biggah. The factory maund is equal to about seventy-eight pounds. One thousand maunds of plant are considered as producing quite an average quantity of indigo if this amounts to four maunds. Adopting another mode of estimate, Mr. Ballard says, that in Bengal an average crop may he considered to be from ten to twelve bundles, over an extensive cultivation, in a good season, from each Bengal biggah; the sheaf or bundle being measured by a six-feet cord or chain. Speaking of the produce in Tirhoot, the same gentleman says the "luggie," or measuring rod, varies throughout the district. The common Tirhoot biggah, is, I believe, equal to two-and-a-half or three Bengal biggahs (about an English acre). Its produce varies according to the size of the luggie, the fertility of the soil, and accidents of season; eight to ten hackery loads, however, is generally considered a good average return. South and east of Tirhoot, one hundred maunds from six hundred biggahs, including "khoonti," or a second cutting, is reckoned a successful result. In another part of the district, including Sarun, where the "luggie" is larger, the average produce is about one-third better. As we measure our plant on the ground (he adds), the bundle system is unknown here; but, I believe, forty-five or fifty Tirhoot hackery loads of plants (estimated to yield a maund of dry indigo), will be found equal to two hundred Bengal bundles.—("Trans. Agri. Hort. Soc., vol. ii. p. 23.")
In Oude the jamowah, or crop sown in May, yields on an average twenty maunds, or say thirteen bundles, per biggah (160 feet square). The "assaroo," or rain sowings, producing a very inferior plant, the average return is not more than three maunds, or two bundles. The "khoonti," or crop of the next year from the same plants, averages fifteen maunds, or ten bundles per biggah.
In Central and Western India, the plants are allowed to produce the second and even the third year, according to some statements; but in Bengal the same stocks are rarely suffered to yield a second crop: being nearly all on lands that are under water in the height of the inundation, the stock is rotted in the ground. Mr. Ballard, speaking of the duration of the plant, says that, as for three years' plant and "khoonti," it is a mere chimera, like the many others with which the planters have hitherto deluded themselves, and which it only requires a little reflection to overthrow. A biggah may be cut here and there, on an extensive cultivation, but it can never be relied upon as forming a part of the cultivation.
The uncertainty of the indigo crop has been already noticed, and is, indeed, as proverbial as that from the hop plant in England. In Bengal the crop is particularly subject to be destroyed by the annual inundation of the river, if it occurs earlier than usual. A storm of wind, accompanied by rain and hail, as completely ruins the crop as if devoured by the locust; neither from this latter scourge is the crop exempt.
This proneness to injury extends throughout its growth. The seedlings are liable to be destroyed by an insect closely resembling the turnip-fly, as well as by the frog. Caterpillars feed upon the leaves of older plants, and the white ant destroys them by consuming their roots. To these destructive visitations are to be added the more than ordinary liability of the plant to injury, not merely from atmospheric commotions, but even from apparently less inimical visitations. Thus not only do storms of wind, heavy rains, and hail, destroy the indigo planter's prospects, but even sunshine, if it pours out fervently after showers of rain, is apt, as it is properly termed, to scorch the plants; and if it occurs during the first month of their growth, is most injurious to their future advance. The reason of this effect appears to be the violent change from a state of imbibing to a rapid transpiration of moisture. No human invention or foresight can preserve the crop from the atmospheric visitations. To destroy and drive away the little coleopterous insects which attack the seedlings, it would be a successful method to spread dry grass, &c., over the surface intended to be cultivated, and to burn the litter immediately before the sowing. The heat and smoke produced has been found perfectly efficacious against the turnip-fly in England. To destroy the caterpillar, slacked lime dusted over the leaves, while the dew is upon them, is an effectual application. The white ants may be driven away or destroyed by frequent hoeings, which is the best preventive of the scorching, for hoeing preserves the soil in an equable and fitting state of moisture.
The great supply of seed for Bengal cultivation is obtained from the western provinces, and forms an article of trade of no inconsiderable magnitude. The stubble in the low lands of Bengal is generally submerged before it has time to throw out fresh shoots, on which the blossom and subsequent seed-pod are formed. There are, however, some high tracts reserved for that purpose, and on these the plant is found well in flower in September, and the seed fit to gather in November or early in December.
Two methods are pursued to extract the indigo from the plant; the first effects it by fermentation of the fresh leaves and stems; the second, by maceration of the dried leaves; the latter process being most advantageous. They are thus described by Dr. Ure, in his "Dictionary of Arts and Manufactures:"—
1. From the recent leaves.—In the indigo factories of Bengal, there are two large stone-built cisterns, the bottom of the first being nearly upon a level with the top of the second, in order to allow the liquid contents to be run out of the one into the other. The uppermost is called the fermenting vat, or the steeper; its area is twenty feet square, and its depth three feet; the lowermost, called the beater or beating vat, is as broad as the other, but one-third longer. The cuttings of the plant, as they come from the field, are stratified in the steeper, till this be filled within five or six inches of its brim. In order that the plant, during its fermentation, may not swell and rise out of the vat, beams of wood and twigs of bamboo are braced tight over the surface of the plants, after which water is pumped upon them till it stands within three or four inches of the edge of the vessel. An active fermentation speedily commences, which is completed within fourteen or fifteen hours; a little longer or shorter, according to the temperature of the air, the prevailing winds, the quality of the water, and the ripeness of the plants. Nine or ten hours after the immersion of the plant, the condition of the vat must be examined; frothy bubbles appear, which rise like little pyramids, are at first of a white colour, but soon become grey, blue, and then deep purple red. The fermentation is at this time violent, the fluid is in constant commotion, apparently boiling, innumerable bubbles mount to the surface, and a copper colored dense scum covers the whole. As long as the liquor is agitated, the fermentation must not be disturbed, but when it becomes more tranquil, the liquor is to be drawn off into the lower cistern. It is of the utmost consequence not to push the fermentation too far, because the quality of the whole indigo is deteriorated; but rather to cut it short, in which case there is, indeed, a loss of weight, but the article is better. The liquor possesses now a glistening yellow color, which, when the indigo precipitates, changes to green. The average temperature of the liquor is commonly 85 deg. Fahr.; its specific gravity at the surface is 1.0015; and at the bottom 1.003.
As soon as the liquor has been run into the lower cistern, ten men are set to work to beat it with oars, or shovels four feet long, called busquets. Paddle wheels have also been employed for the same purpose. Meanwhile two other laborers clear away the compressing beams and bamboos from the surface of the upper vat, remove the exhausted plant, set it to dry for fuel, clean out the vessel, and stratify fresh plants in it. The fermented plant appears still green, but it has lost three-fourths of its bulk in the process, or from twelve to fourteen per cent. of its weight, chiefly water and extractive matter.
The liquor in the lower vat must be strongly beaten for an hour and a half, when the indigo begins to agglomerate in flocks, and to precipitate. This is the moment for judging whether there has been any error committed in the fermentation, which must be corrected by the operation of beating. If the fermentation has been defective, much froth rises in the beating, which must be allayed with a little oil, and then a reddish tinge appears. If large round granulations are formed, the beating is continued, in order to see if they will grow smaller. If they become as small as fine sand, and if the water clears up, the indigo is allowed quietly to subside. Should the vat have been over-fermented, a thick fat-looking crust covers the liquor, which does not disappear by the introduction of a flask of oil. In such a case the beating must be moderated. Whenever the granulations become round, and begin to subside, and the liquor clears up, the beating must be discontinued. The froth or scum diffuses itself spontaneously into separate minute particles, that move about the surface of the liquor, which are marks of an excessive fermentation. On the other hand, a rightly fermented vat is easy to work; the froth, though abundant, vanishes whenever the granulations make their appearance. The color of the liquor, when drawn out of the steeper into the beater, is bright green; but as soon as the agglomerations of the indigo commence, it assumes the color of Madeira wine; and speedily afterwards, in the course of beating, a small round grain is formed, which, on separating, makes the water transparent, and falls down, when all the turbidity and froth vanish.
The object of the beating is three-fold; first, it tends to disengage a great quantity of carbonic acid present in the liquor; secondly, to give the newly-developed indigo its requisite dose of oxygen by the most extensive exposure of its particles to the atmosphere; thirdly, to agglomerate the indigo in distinct flocks or granulations. In order to hasten the precipitation, lime water is occasionally added to the fermented liquor in the progress of beating, but it is not indispensable, and has been supposed capable of deteriorating the indigo. In the front of the beater a beam is fixed upright, in which three or more holes are pierced, a few inches in diameter. These are closed with plugs during the beating, but two or three hours after it, as the indigo subsides, the upper plug is withdrawn to run off the supernatant liquor, and then the lower plugs in succession. The state of this liquor being examined, affords an indication of the success of both the processes. When the whole liquor is run off, a laborer enters the vat, sweeps all the precipitate into one corner, and enters the thinner part into a spout which leads into a cistern, alongside of a boiler, twenty feet long, three feet wide, and three feet deep. When all this liquor is once collected, it is pumped through a bag, for retaining the impurities, into the boiler, and heated to ebullition. The froth soon subsides, and shows an oily looking film on the liquor. The indigo is by this process not only freed from the yellow extractive matter, but is enriched in the intensity of its color, and increased in weight. From the boiler the mixture is run, after two or three hours, into a general receiver called the dripping vat, or table, which, for a factory of twelve pairs of preparation vats, is twenty feet long, ten feet wide, and three feet deep, having a false bottom two feet under the top edge. This cistern stands in a basin of masonry (made water-tight with Chunam, hydraulic cement), the bottom of which slopes to one end, in order to facilitate the drainage. A thick woollen web is stretched along the bottom of the inner vessel, to act as a filter. As long as the liquor passes through turbid, it is pumped back into the receiver; whenever it runs clear, the receiver is covered with another piece of cloth to exclude the dust, and allowed to drain at its leisure. Next morning the drained magma is put into a strong bag, and squeezed in a press. The indigo is then carefully taken out of the bag, and cut with a brass wire into bits, about three inches cube, which are dried in an airy house, upon shelves of wicker work. During the drying a whitish effloresence comes upon the pieces, which must be carefully removed with a brush. In some places, particularly on the coast of Coromandel, the dried indigo lumps are allowed to effloresce in a cask for some time, and when they become hard they are wiped and packed for exportation.
2. Indigo from dried leaves.—The ripe plant being cropped, is to be dried in sunshine from nine o'clock in the morning till four in the afternoon, during two days, and threshed to separate the stems from the leaves, which are then stored up in magazines till a sufficient quantity he collected for manufacturing operations. The newly dried leaves must be free from spots, and friable between the fingers. When kept dry, the leaves undergo, in the course of four weeks, a material change, their beautiful green tint turning into a pale blue-grey, previous to which the leaves afford no indigo by maceration in water, but subsequently a large quantity. Afterwards the product becomes less considerable.
The following process is pursued to extract indigo from the dried leaves:—They are infused in the steeping vat with six times their bulk of water, and allowed to macerate for two hours, with continual stirring, till all the floating leaves sink. The fine green liquor is then drawn off into the beater vat, for if it stood longer in the steeper, some of the indigo would settle among the leaves and be lost. Hot water, as employed by some manufacturers, is not necessary. The process with dry leaves possesses this advantage, that a provision of the plant may be made at the most suitable times, independently of the vicissitudes of the weather, and the indigo may be uniformly made; and, moreover, that the fermentation of the fresh leaves, often capricious in its course, is superseded by a much shorter period of simple maceration.
PRODUCTION OF INDIGO IN INDIA.
1840 120,000 1841 162,318 1842 79,000 1843 143,207 1844 127,862 1845 127,862 1846 101,328 1847 110,000 1848 126,565 1849 126,000
Average of the ten years 126,744 maunds.
The yield from the different districts in 1849, was nearly as follows:—
maunds. Bengal 84,500 Tirhoot 24,500 Benares 9,500 Oude 6,500 ————- 125,000
In 1790 the general object of cultivation in Mauritius was indigo, of which from four to five crops a year were procured. One person sent to Europe 30,000 lbs., in 1789, of very superior quality.
CEYLON.—Indigo, though indigenous in Ceylon, is still imported from the adjoining continent, but its growth in this island would be subject to none of the vicissitudes of climate, that in the course of a single night have devastated the most extensive plantations in Bengal, and annihilated the hopes and calculations of the planter at a time when they had attained all the luxuriance of approaching maturity.
The district of Tangalle, in the southern province, is the best adapted to the culture and manufacture of indigo for various reasons, such as the abundance of the indigenous varieties of the plant, the similarity of the climate to that of the coast of Coromandel, where the best indigo is produced; facility of transport by water to either of the ports of export, Galle or Colombo, during the south-east, or to Trincomalee by the south-west monsoon; every necessary material is at hand for building a first rate indigo factory, including drying yards, leaf godowns (stores), steeping vats and presses, except roof and floor tiles—which may be obtained in any quantity from Colombo, during the south-west monsoon, at a moderate rate, compared with their cost at home.
In 1817 an offer was made to the Grovernment to introduce the cultivation of indigo, on condition of a free grant of the land required for the purpose and freedom from taxation for thirty years, after which the usual tax was to be levied; and in case the cultivation were abandoned, the land was to revert to the Crown. But whether from the disturbed state of the colony at the time or from incredulity on the part of the Government, as to the capability of the colony in this respect, the application was unheeded. A subsequent proposal, emanating from a Swedish gentleman of great ability, skill and enterprise, was defeated by his death, although a company was on the point of formation to carry out the scheme. It would not be difficult, says Mr. Barrett, to select 500,000 acres, the property of the Crown, which at a comparatively small expenditure might be brought into a proper state of cultivation for the reception of indigo seed; for very little would be required to be done beyond clearing the land of weeds, burning the grass, and then lightly ploughing and levelling the ground; and whenever manure might be requisite, the fecula of the leaf affords one of the richest that could be employed. Ceylon produces two other plants from which a very valuable blue dye may be obtained by a similar process to that of making indigo. The Singhalese head men of the Tangalle district have long been anxious for the establishment of an indigo plantation there, and would readily take shares in a company established for that purpose. Indigo would seem to have been exported by the Dutch from Ceylon so late as 1794. The wild varieties of indigo which grow on the sea-shore are used by the dobies (washermen).
Indigo grows in a wild state in Siam, and all the dye used in the country is manufactured from these plants. The extensive low grounds are admirably suited for the cultivation of this plant.
A large quantity is raised in Manila, but I have no full details of the cultivation in the Philippines. However, in the first six months of 1843, 1,039 piculs of indigo were shipped to Europe, and about 650 to other quarters—equal in all to about 226,000 lbs. in the half year. In the year 1847 the exports of indigo were 30,631 arrobas, equal to about 7,658 cwt.; in 1850 the total exports from Manila were 4,225 quintals.
JAVA.—The cultivation of indigo was introduced into Java in the time of the company. It was so much neglected during the administration of Governor Daendels, that the exportation ceased. It however revived subsequently, and in 1823 the exports were close upon 17,000 lbs. In 1826 it had risen to 46,000 lbs. In the single province of Westbaglen, about 60 square miles in extent, 86 indigo factories were established in the course of seven or eight years. In 1839, the exports of this dye-stuff from Java were 588,764 kilogrammes, valued at 71/2 million francs.
It has been found by experience that a good soil is essentially necessary for the plant, and the indigo transplanted from elevated grounds to the rice fields succeeds better and yields more coloring matter than when raised direct on the spot from the seed. The residencies of Cheribon, Baglen and Madura, are those in which the crop succeeds best. From being so exhausting a crop, and finding it prejudicial to their rice grounds, they are gradually abandoning indigo culture in Java, and about two-thirds of the indigo plantations have within the, last year or two been replaced with sugar.
The value of the Java indigo is set down at 250 rupees (L25) per maund. If this be the average price, and it cannot be manufactured lower, Bengal has little to fear from Javanese competition. The product of indigo rose from 276 maunds in 1825, to 28,000 in 1842, and the quantity sold by the Dutch Trading Company in the last-named year was 10,500 chests, of about the same dimensions as those usually exported from Calcutta.
Some further statistics of the culture in Java are shown in the following returns of the quantity exported:—
lbs. 1830 22,063 1835 535,753 1839 595,818 1841 913,693 1843 1,890,429 1851 769,580 1852 838,288
The produce in 1848 was 1,151,368 lbs.
1840. 1841. Residencies in which this culture is introduced 9 10 Number of factories 728 728 Families occupied with this culture 197,085 192,159 Extent of fields where the cutting has been made in bahas of 71 decametres 40,844 38,829 Quantity of bahus planted before the gathering 317 538 Quantity of indigo crop in pounds 2,032,097 1,663,427 " average pounds per bahu 493/4 43
The extent of fields destined for the crop of 1842 was 37,970 bahus, and the amount of the crop was calculated by approximation at 1,862,000.
The gradual increase of the export in the eighteen years ending 1842, is shown as follows:—
Maunds. 1825 76 1826 126 1827 109 1828 310 1829 600 1830 480 1831 563 1832 2,213 1833 2,861 1834 3,310 1835 7,023 1836 5,365 1837 10,822 1838 9,788 1839 15,680 1840 27,946 1841 24,044 1842 28,000
Total imports of indigo into the United Kingdom, and quantity retained for home consumption:—
Imports. Home consumption. cwts. cwts. 1848 59,127 9,032 1849 81,449 12,270 1850 70,482 16,374 1851 89,994 27,947 1852 83,565 16,381
IMPORTS OF INDIGO. Mexico and the ports East Indies. of South America. lbs. lbs. 1831 6,996,062 ——— 1832 6,196,080 66,363 1833 6,315,529 125,264 1834 3,595,697 64,638 1835 3,861,853 88,306 1836 7,218,991 198,003 1837 5,706,896 365,091 1838 6,578,352 142,739 1839 4,651,542 363,148 1840 6,940,192 124,766 1841 7,451,653 247,031 1842 8,931,112 155,003 1843 6,319,294 130,836
Entered for home consumption about two millions and a half pounds annually. (" Parl. Returns No. 656, September 1843, and 426, September 1844.")
The consumption of indigo in Europe and North America in round numbers, estimated from authentic sources, is thus set down by Mr. Macculloch in 1849:—
chests. In Great Britain for home consumption 9,820 " France total for ditto 10,400 " American ports from London and Liverpool 2,500 " " Calcutta 700 " " Holland, &c 400 Other European countries export from London and Liverpool. 21,530 " " Holland 4,270 " " Calcutta 120 " " France 300 ————— 50,040
This substance, which is so extensively used in dyeing red, is the product of the long slender roots of the Rubia tinctorum, a plant of which there are several varieties. Our principal supplies of this important article of commerce are obtained from Holland, Belgium, France, Turkey, Spain, and the Balearic Isles, the Italian States, India, and Ceylon.
The plant is generally raised from seed, and requires three years to come to maturity. It is, however, often pulled in eighteen months without injury to the quality; the quantity only is smaller. A rich soil is necessary for its successful cultivation, and when the soil is impregnated with alkaline matter, the root acquires a red color; in other cases it is yellow. The latter is preferred in England, from the long habit of using Dutch madder, which is of this color, but in France the red sells at two francs per cwt. higher, being used for the Turkey-red dye. Madder does not deteriorate by keeping, provided it be kept dry. It contains three volatile coloring matters, madder purple, orange, and red. The latter is in the form of crystals, having a fine orange red color, and called Alizaine. This is the substance which yields the Turkey-red dye. The chay root is employed in the East Indies as a substitute for madder, and so is the root of Morinda citrifolia, under the name of Sooranjee.
Turkey madder roots realise about 30s. per cwt. About 1,100 tons are annually shipped from Naples, worth about L30 per ton.
Madder has become an article of great request, on account of the fine scarlet color produced from its roots, and is so essential to dyers and calico printers that without it they cannot carry on their manufactures. It is cultivated extensively in Holland, from whence it is imported in large quantities into both England and France, though it is cultivated to some extent in both countries. It has also been raised as a soiling crop, but the coloring matter is of so penetrating and subtile a character, that the flesh, milk, and even the bones of animals fed upon it are said to be tinged to a considerable degree with it. The soils best adapted, and which should be selected for its cultivation, are dry, fertile, and deep sandy loams; the roots are long and fibrous, and descend to a depth of from two to three feet. It may be propagated by seed, which, by some, is thought the best method, but the more usual mode is by the division of, and transplanting, the roots. The ground should be thoroughly and deeply pulverised, clean, and well-manured for the preceding crop, that the manure may be thoroughly rotted and incorporated with the soil: in April or May the suckers will be fit for taking from the older plantations—those of two or three years producing the best. The sets should have roots four or five inches long. Mark out rows two feet apart, with a line, and set the plant with a dibble, one foot apart in the rows. The roots should be dipped in a puddle of fine rich earth and water, beaten to the consistence of cream, previous to planting; let the crown of the plant be clearly over ground, and secure the earth well around the root, to keep out drought. The plantation requires nothing more but to be kept perfectly clean and well-hoed during the summer months; and after the top decays in the autumn, to be earthed up by the plough for the winter, each year, till the plants are three years old, when they are of the proper size and age for lifting, which must be done by trenching the land two feet deep—several hands accompanying the digger to pick out the roots, which must be thoroughly cleaned and dried on a kiln till they are so brittle as to break across, when they are fit to be packed in bags, and sold to the dye-stuff manufacturers who grind and reduce them to powder for use. The produce is variable; usually from eight to twenty cwt. per acre, but as much as 3,000 to 6,000 lbs. is frequently obtained. The forage amounts to about 15,000 lbs. the first year, and 7,500 lbs. the second year. In a new and good soil manure may be dispensed with for the first crop. Some cultivators interline and grow other crops between the rows, but the best cultivators state that such a practice is objectionable. The breadth of land under this crop in England is much reduced, in consequence of the reduction in price from the competition of the Dutch growers.