In the early 20th century, 130 mixed-race children of British tea planters living in Darjeeling were sent to New Zealand to work. By Jane McCabe
Despite the common belief that tea planters had abandoned their children to an institution that conveniently sent them to the other side of the world, some fathers of Kalimpong Kids continued to correspond with their children after they emigrated and took an active interest in their futures. Reunions occurred too. At least five tea planters visited their children in New Zealand and several lived out their days with their offspring.
My great-grandfather, Egerton Peters, arrived shortly after his youngest daughter Alice emigrated in 1926. Soon after this he purchased a house in Dunedin where he lived for the remaining 20 years of his life with his eldest daughter, Lorna. Another was Hugh Dinning, who followed his daughters to New Zealand. Hugh purchased an elegant villa in Karori, where the three of them occasionally hosted memorable get-togethers for the Kalimpong community.
Richard Hawkins' father came to New Zealand in his old age and spent his final few years with Richard and his young family in Auckland. The Chaston sisters enjoyed a briefer reunion with their father but still he made the effort to take them on a trip around the South Island during his 1920s visit.
How do we explain this apparent change of heart, this willingness to be reunited and seen publicly with their interracial offspring? Compared to India and Britain, New Zealand was regarded as a place of freer social relations and was a safe distance from family and social contexts where a planter's interracial progeny might be the cause of negative gossip and rejection.
As the photographic record demonstrates, a father's presence was a source of immense pride for Kalimpong people. Yet, given the long period of separation and the many unanswered questions that preceded their reunions, these adult father–child relationships must surely have been somewhat strained.
Extracted from The Kalimpong Kids by Jane McCabe (Otago University Press, $35).