Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Standoff

On May 26 and June 9, 1914, examiners allowed 34 "return men" - previous immigrants returning from visits home - to come ashore from the anchored Komotaga Maru. The Board of Trade asked for assurance on May 28 that the remaining Sikhs aboard the ship would be excluded. Ottawa had given assurances that these British subjects would not be discriminated against and an examination of a single applicant took three days. Perhaps the examiners were torn between the orders from above and the displeasures of the locals.

The examinations continued. All applicants were rejected. The Sikhs of Vancouver raised $70,000 to fight each case in court by June 1. On June 3, immigration officers were removed from the ship from protection. The passengers were held incommunicado.

That same day, Gurdit Singh refused to pay 8,000 yen due the owners of the Komotago Maru until he and his men were landed. On June 4, the Sikhs appealed to King George V personally. They refused to allow Immigration Superintendent Malcom J. Bird aboard, and the patrol launches arrested two Vancouver Japanese and two local Sikhs trying to board the ship.

For three weeks this standoff continued. The immigrants were starving, yet they refused to allow immigration patrol launches to put stores aboard. On June 25, a test case was brought before Mr. Justice Murphy, who upheld the ban. So the case taken before the full Court of Appeal and the decision was upheld in a ruling delivered on July 5. The city's East Indians then withdrew their support of the immigrants.

The following day, the immigrants attempted to kidnap an immigration officer and hold him captive in exchange for food and water. This attempt failed. On July 18, the Japanese master and crew tried to set sail and the Sikhs took over the ship. They locked the master in the cabin and threatened to slit the throat of any stokers trying to get up steam. Immigration authorities tried to board the vessel but was repelled.

Now the police were brought in. July 19, 150 city police under Chief M. B. McLennan (read about this brave officer here) and 50 special police under Captain Warden, attempted to board the Komogata Maru with the intention of provisioning her for the return voyage.

A grappling hook was thrown aboard the vessel and police with a firehose prevented the Sikhs from casting it off. The police then tried to board but were held off with a barrage of coal, bricks and old iron. Eleven policemen were seriously injured and even though all were armed, they obeyed orders not to fire on the Sikhs. 

The next step was to call for the aid of military authorities.

Assistance came immediately. In Victoria, the dismantled cruiser Rainbow was re-gunned and supplied with a crew of sailors and Garrison Artillery gunners; in Vancouver, 100 men of the Irish Fusiliers and 40 each of the Rifles and the Seaforths were called out. The Komogata Maru was overwhelmed by the troops on the wharf and the Rainbow beside her and the immigrants surrendered. The day was July 23, 1914. The ship hoisted anchor and sailed away.

Eleven days later, Canada was at war and the Komogata Maru was forgotten. But for the immigrants returning home, their journey was far from over. I wrote about this sad piece of history in a 2012 entry.

July 6 marked the fifth anniversary of the Vancouver Vagabond. What a fun five years it has been, filled with discovery, meeting new people and gaining a new respect for the city I live in. The blog has reached over 200,000 page views and I want to thank all my readers for taking the time to share this passion with me. Here's to another five years!

I also thank Alan Morley and the book Vancouver, From Milltown to Metropolis for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill

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