The Voyage Of The Komagata Maru : A Review and Both A Short And Long Summary

This material is very topical for two reasons: (1) The B.C. legislature has just passed a resolution that Canada should apologize for its treatment of Komagata Maru passengers. (2) Reportedly, Ottawa is getting ready to make an apology.

To be realistic, it is probable that 90% of B.C. MLA’s and Canada’s MP’s know very little, if anything, about the context of the Komagata Maru incident. For their information, we respectfully invite them to read this bulletin before any more damage is done.

In general, the Komagata Maru incident is similar to more recent immigration efforts: the hundreds of thousands of fraudulent refugee claims (particularly the Laibar Singh case) since 1989 and the Chinese Boat Incidents of 10 years ago. All were attempts by potential immigrants to use either legal technicalities, overly generous refugee claimant policies or political exhaustion to force their way into Canada.

Asking Canada to apologize for the Komagata Maru is , in reality, yet one more effort (this time by making Canadians feel guilty) to maintain or increase current senselessly-high immigration levels.

The 1914 decision to refuse entry to most Komagata Maru passengers was legitimate. No apology should be made.



Professor Hugh Johnston’s “The Voyage Of The Komagata Maru” is definitely an entertaining, well-researched read. It provides a wealth of information with which most of the contemporary media are probably unfamiliar. However, it has two very serious faults.

One is that he has a clear bias in promoting the East Indian cause. He is one of a number of academics who have delved into the immigration debate. These academics have seemingly looked for a race-based issue in Canadian history (often when it didn’t exist) and exaggerated it when it did exist. Why? The reason is not clear. Did he want to make his star more prominent amongst academics? Did he think that he could gain favour or “hero” status by championing what he believed to be the down-trodden? Or did he do this  in order to add some conflict or “glamour” to Canadian history that other national histories (such as that of the U.S. particularly) have more than their share of?

The second criticism we would make is that Johnston provides almost no context to the story he tells. For example, he dismisses in a few sentences all the economic arguments against cheap Oriental labour as if the arguments had no validity. To him, Canadian labourers do not seem to merit any sympathy or attention—even though some of his equally biased colleagues grudgingly concede that Canadian labourers were justified in complaining about Chinese and Japanese labour contractors placing low bids on jobs and thus displacing Canadians who had to be paid more.

When he does provide some context, he does it weakly. He uses one sentence to admit that unemployment was high in Canada (up to 60% in some trades) in 1914 when the Komagata Maru arrived. But he fails to connect the Indian labourer issue with the Chinese or Japanese labourer matter and he does not concede that cheap labour and high unemployment might have been justifiable reasons for denying entry then and at other times. He gives the same short shrift to the long-held concerns of labour organizations about the effects of imported cheap labour on host country workers. He ignores the fact that Ottawa had passed legislation (circa 1900) preventing American workers (such as gold seekers) coming into Canada and taking their new-found wealth home.

He pays no attention whatsoever to cultural concerns. To him, it seems Canadians had no justification for being concerned about large inflows of immigrants from an over-populated Orient. To him, that kind of inundation posed no threat to Canada’s identity then or in future.


Readers will see some of positives and negatives in our evaluation, in the short summary below and in the longer summary below the shorter one.  Here are a few major revelations:

(1) The Komagata Maru incident was preceded by the Panama Maru incident of late 1913. This incident helps to explain much of what happened in the Komagata Maru incident 7 months later. The Panama Maru had carried 56 East Indians to Canada on October 17, 1913. Most of the passengers had not lived in Canada previously, but claimed that they had. They produced money order receipts, time cards, etc. to substantiate their claims. Immigration authorities allowed 17 (those physically recognized to have been here before) to land, but they detained 39 of the 56. Not long after, passengers’ stories changed and immigration authorities were told that people in Hong Kong had provided the receipts and coached these passengers in what to say. A Board of Inquiry looked into the case and ordered the 39 to be deported, but litigious East Indians in Canada determined to make the Panama Maru case a test case. Their lawyer J.Edward Bird appeared before Justice Dennis Murphy, the author of a Royal Commission which  had investigated Chinese Immigration Fraud. He dismissed the case. Bird then went to Chief Justice Gordon Hunter, notorious for appearing drunk in court and a clear embarrassment to the government. He upheld their appeal. Even 4 of the 39 who had been ordered deported for medical reasons, escaped from detention and could not be found. Hunter’s word was final, so the remainder of the 39 were released.

For immigration authorities, the lessons in the Panama Maru case were (a) that if possible, immigration authorities should avoid use of “test cases” and the courts because of the possibility of having judges like Hunter make decisions and (b) that such immigrants should not be allowed to land because of the possibility of escape from detention. If allowed to land, they had to be supervised very carefully to prevent escape.

(2) The East Indian cases showed the strong connection between East Indian immigration and other Asian immigration. According to Professor Johnston, East Indians first arrived in Canada in 1904 because Canadian Pacific steamships had lost their steerage passenger business, long used by the Chinese. After the $500 Head Tax was imposed in 1904, Chinese arrivals dropped precipitously and the CP company looked for replacement passengers. The East Indians obliged in small numbers at first, but two thousand East Indians arrived in 1906 alone. According to Johnston, Ottawa passed two pieces of legislation to stop East Indian arrivals: (a) It required passengers to bring $200 with them, an almost impossible requirement for poor farmers. (b) It required passengers to make a continuous journey from their port of origin, an impossibility for Indians since the steamship companies had been pressured not to make such a service available. Professor Johnston neglects to say that the continuous passage legislation was first and most importantly directed against Japanese labourers, close to 8000 of whom had arrived unexpectedly in 1907 (many from Hawaii instead of Japan—without the permission of the Japanese gov’t). In other words, continuous passage legislation was primarily  intended to stop Japanese labourers from coming from Hawaii to Canada.

The lesson in the Asian labourer cases was that Canada did not need the unlimited number of labourers that impoverished Asian countries could send. For decades, labour organizations had pressured the Canadian gov’t to restrict labourer entry. Canada had responded with Head Taxes on the Chinese and with requests to the Japanese gov’t to limit its labourer immigrants. The measures taken against the East Indians were similar.

(3) The East Indians (Sikhs in particular) have long argued that because the Komagata Maru passengers were British citizens, they should have been allowed into Canada. In 1914, the Sikhs’ lawyer (J. Edward Bird) presented the same argument, but the judges told him that Section 95 of the BNA Act gave Canada, not Britain, control of immigration. In particular, Section 3 of the Immigration Act allowed Canada to deny entry to potential immigrants such as the insane, diseased, crippled, criminal, and vagrant (impoverished). Such people could belong to any nationality, so Canada obviously had the right to deny entry to British subjects who belonged to these groups. Why could Canada not apply the same rule to other classes of British subjects?

There is much more valuable information in Hugh Johnston’s book.




General Background on the Major Characters and the Time:

On The Komagata Maru (KM) :

Gurdit Singh was the 57 year-old businessman and Indian patriot who had chartered the KM. He was an Indian nationalist who belonged to the Ghadr (Mutiny) Party which was anxious to get independence for India. He was naive in the sense that he thought British citizenship took priority over the interests of British Columbians and other Canadians. He was litigious and over-confident, having successfully used the British legal system in Asian colonies. He thought he could force Britain and Canada to do what he wanted.

Komagata Maru Passengers: Almost all of the 376 Komagata Maru passengers were single male sojourners (temporary workers), mostly illiterate farmers from India. Almost all were Sikhs, but there were a few Muslims and Hindus. Most had mortgaged their land to pay for their trip. Like many of the Chinese and Japanese, their primary reason for coming to Canada was to make money and then leave. According to Johnston, the wages they could earn here were 10 to 15 X what they could make in India. (Other sources say the figure was 50X.)

Captain Yamamoto was the Japanese captain of the KM which had Japanese owners and a Japanese crew.

In Vancouver:

William Charles Hopkinson, 34, was a secret-service officer who simultaneously worked for the Indian, Canadian and the U.S. gov’ts. His job was to spy on Indians in North America and to alert the British colonial gov’t in India to any suspicious revolutionary activities. He had been born in northern India and spoke a few native languages. He was a skilled negotiator.

Malcolm Reid, Chief Immigration Officer, was one of many political immigration appointees. He was the Vancouver official in charge of dealing with the KM. He was strongly influenced by Conservative MP H.H. Stevens who had appointed him and who did not want to see the KM passengers land. Reid did all he could to frustrate Indian efforts. His foil was the lawyer for the East Indians, J. Edward Bird.


The East Indians, previously landed in British Columbia, were mostly Sikhs, but there were some Hindus also. Among the more prominent were the following : (1) Taraknath Das, a revolutionary who had opened a school in New Westminster for Sikh emigrants, but who was forced to close it on Hopkinson’s advice to Canada; (2) Husain Rahim, a 48 year-old activist who managed to avoid deportation (The deportation was advised by Hopkinson.) on a technicality. He operated a real estate company and had a low opinion of the Canadian gov’t and press; (3) Bhag Singh, a priest at the Vancouver gurdwara who had tried and failed to bring his wife and children to Canada; (4) Teja Singh, a moderate who had negotiated unsuccessfully to have some Sikhs bring wives and children to Canada.

There were two groups among the East Indians. One was part of the overseas revolutionary Indian independence movement. Another was a subservient, politically inactive group (sometimes referred to as British “war dogs” because of their service in the British military), most of whom were primarily interested in making quick money and returning to India.

CHAPTER 2 (Some repetition of an earlier point in the Review)

Hopkinson was determined not to allow East Indians to expand their position in North America as an overseas revolutionary group demanding independence for India. Immigration authorities were determined not to repeat the Panama Maru incident of October, 1913. At that time, 56 Sikhs had arrived in Vancouver all claiming that they had been in Canada previously and were returning. (Professor Johnston is not clear about the port that the Panama Maru left from.)

They produced mail order receipts and other evidence to prove their statements. It turned out that most were fraudulent entrants and that they had never been here. Lying should have been sufficient grounds to deny entry, but thanks to a judge’s “technical interpretation of a few key-words, an interpretation that most of (his) brethren on the bench would not have accepted”, the fraudulent entrants were allowed to stay. Another 4, who had been declared medically unfit and who should have been deported, escaped custody. In the end, all 56 remained in Canada. As a stop-gap, Ottawa issued an order “prohibiting the landing at any B.C. port of entry of any artisan or labourer, skilled or unskilled, up to March 31 (1914) “.

Some Sikhs interpreted the court’s decision to mean that Canada could not stop Indian immigration. Others believed that Indians should come as quickly as possible before the opening was permanently closed. A California court ruling on Dec. 5, 1913 (11 days after the B.C. judge’s ruling) prohibiting Indian immigration to the U.S. “made the news from Canada doubly important”.


This was the climate that Gurdit Singh entered in Hong Kong. When he heard men talking about what was happening in North America, he became determined to help. He quickly chartered the Komagata Maru and began looking for passengers.

Before leaving Hong Kong, Gurdit Singh was warned by Claud Severn, the British Colonial Secretary, that permission to leave Hong Kong did not mean permission to enter Canada. Singh boasted to Severn that he planned to get 4 ships to take 25,000 East Indians to either Canada or Brazil to get employment. Hong Kong Governor F.W.May suspected Canada would not want to see the KM but Canadian authorities did not reply to his telegrams on time, so he gave permission for the KM to leave Hong Kong. Later in Japan, in response to Japanese hosts who encouraged Singh, his passengers and other Indians to rebel against Britain, and who said Japan would support them, Singh boasted that 10,000 Indian troops would rebel if the KM were stopped from landing.


On arriving in Vancouver harbour in late May of 1914, the KM passengers immediately discovered that they were going to have problems. Gurdit Singh soon learned that he was obligated to pay $15,000 in fees by June 11 to the KM’s owners. He began to grow disillusioned about the encouragement that East Indians had given him and his passengers to come to Canada. Early on, Singh even offered to leave with his son on June 11 on another ship. However, Rahim and others in Vancouver now entered the fight. They helped by collecting over $5000 and pledging another $66,000 to help Singh and the passengers pay the bills owed for the ship. Immigration Officer Reid began processing passengers, allowing 20 of them (who said they had been in Canada previously) to land. He would deal with the passengers who had medical problems next, but he would do so slowly. His strategy was to encourage the rest to return to India.

CHAPTERS 5 and 6 (Some repetition here also)

A test case goes ahead. Two passengers are chosen, but Munshi Singh, one of the Sikh labourers, is used. The Board of Inquiry rejects his case on the grounds that he has no evidence to prove that (a) he is a labourer, (b) that he tried to buy a through ticket from Calcutta, etc. Bird appeals to the courts. When he appears, he is not well prepared and gets flustered. His arguments (particularly that British subjects cannot be refused) are refuted on the grounds that Canada’s Immigration Act gives Canada clear control of its immigration and that Section 3 allows Canada to refuse entry to the insane, diseased, crippled, criminal, and vagrant (impoverished). (British subjects as well as those from all other groups are presumably included), so why can it not apply the same rule to other classes of British subjects? The gov’t lawyers are more experienced and better prepared. The court says Munshi Singh cannot be granted entry. What applies to Munshi Singh applies to all the other passengers. Gurdit Singh is discouraged by the verdicts.


At this stage, a big question rose: Who is to pay for the return trip to Hong Kong? Gurdit Singh and Rahim (one of the on-shore East Indian leaders) suggested allowing the KM to dock to unload coal cargo and to take on lumber cargo, but Reid was suspicious that the East Indians would try to escape. He also feared for his life. Plots had been reported about hit-men being hired. A scheme to acquire weapons and bring them back to the KM is discovered.

Reid knew he had to settle one big issue: a Board of inquiry had to be held before a deportation. Reid boarded the KM with the intention of holding one there, but the passengers refused to participate. Reid cited their refusal as a reason why no Board of Inquiry  was held and ordered deportation. The next problem was that the KM passengers refused to allow the Japanese crew to start the ship’s engines. A police attempt to board the KM in order to force the Captain to start the KM is repulsed by the passengers who throw coal and other objects at the police.


With the help of Okanagan Conservative MP Martin Burrell, a tense situation is defused: provisions are sent to the KM, a request to re-imburse on-shore Sikhs for previous provisions and other expenses is to be sympathetically considered. The ship leaves on July 23, 1914, escorted by the Rainbow,a Canadian warship. Ironically, Hong Kong Governor May wires to request that the KM be sent to Calcutta because it is unlikely that the passengers can find employment in HK. The Canadian gov’t says that since the ship left from HK, it must return there.


Before leaving Vancouver, the Sikhs had decided that when they reached Asia, they would buy the Komagata Maru from its Japanese owners, sail to Calcutta and make a complete return voyage to Vancouver, thus satisfying Canadian law. However, the British gov’t wanted all the Sikhs to return to the Panjab (Johnston’s spelling) and had arranged for a train to take them there. Gurdit Singh, for several reasons, refused to go. By this time, about 100 passengers had left the main group. There were about 250 remaining. As dusk settled in, an argument broke out and a riot ensued. About 20 people were killed. A manhunt followed for those who had escaped. Gurdit Singh evaded arrest.


A 6-week inquiry was conducted into the riot. Indian leaders sided with the gov’t in the hope of winning independence. Gurdit Singh received much of the blame for the riot, having been accused of distributing pistols and ammunition to members of the group. He remained in hiding for over 7 years.


Gurdit Singh tried to enlist the support of major figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru. He received some favourable attention from Nehru, but a minimal amount from Gandhi who told him to give himself up. When Singh finally surrendered, he was released after a few months. However, because of a seditious speech he gave after his release, he was re-arrested and sentenced to 5 years in prison. He published “Voyage of the Komagata Maru” in 1928. He remained active in Indian politics for many years and succeeded in getting a KM memorial erected in 1952. Two years later, he died in India at the age of 95.


In Vancouver, deadly infighting (2 murders and a bombing) erupted in 1914— after the KM had left—between East Indian informants and other East Indians. It culminated in a major shooting incident at the Vancouver gurdwara in late 1914, in which 7 people were wounded and two killed. A Sikh immigration informant, who was alleged to be responsible for much of the shooting, said he had done it in self-defence. It was believed that he needed the testimony of W.C. Hopkinson (to whom he had provided much evidence) to support his contention that his life had been threatened and he was defending himself. Allegedly, the East Indians had arranged to have Hopkinson assassinated before the Sikh informant’s trial in order to ensure the informant was convicted. Surprisingly, he was acquitted without that evidence. Because Mewa Singh had committed the killing in front of witnesses and had confessed to the act, he was found guilty and hanged. According to Professor Hugh Johnston, up until 1980, when this book was published, Mewa Singh’s death was still commemorated in gurdwaras in Canada and the U.S. and his picture still hangs in the Vancouver Sikh temple.




(1) The Major Characters:

A. On The Komagata Maru:

1. Gurdit Singh, the 57 year old businessman and Indian patriot who had chartered the KM. He was an Indian nationalist who belonged to the Ghadr (Mutiny) Party which was anxious to get independence for India. He was naive in the sense that he thought British citizenship took priority over the interests of British Columbians and other Canadians. He was overly confident, thinking that he could force Britain and Canada to do what he wanted. He had been litigious, using the courts to get what he wanted; he thought that if Canadian authorities did not comply with his wishes, that he could force the courts to rule in his favour.

2. Most of the 376 passengers were single male sojourners (temporary workers) who were illiterate farmers in India. They had mortgaged their land to pay for their trip. Like many of the Chinese and Japanese, their primary reason for coming to Canada was to make money and then leave. According to Johnston, the wages they could earn here were 10 to 15 X what they could make in India.

3. Captain Yamamoto was the Japanese commander of the KM which had Japanese owners and a Japanese crew.

B. In Vancouver:

1. William Charles Hopkinson, 34, was an intelligence officer who simultaneously worked for the Indian gov’t, Canada and the U.S. His job was to spy on Indians in North America and to alert the British colonial gov’t to any suspicious revolutionary activities. He had been born in northern India and spoke a few native languages. He was a skilled negotiator.

2. Malcolm Reid, –, was in Johnston’s words a political hack who unfortunately was in charge of dealing with the KM. He took his orders from H.H. Stevens who did not want to see the KM passengers land. Reid did all he could to sabotage Indian efforts.

3. East Indians in British Columbia: The first had arrived in 1904. Ironically, they had been recruited by CP Steamships to replace the Chinese who had stopped coming because of the new $500 Head Tax. In 1906, 2000 had arrived. British Columbians thought that an invasion was occurring. By 1914, about 6000 East Indians had landed in B.C., but some had left for the U.S.

(2) Immigration authorities were determined not to repeat the Panama Maru incident of October, 1913. At that time, 56 Sikhs had arrived in Vancouver all claiming that they had been in Canada previously and were returning. They produced tax receipts and other evidence to prove their statements. It turned out that most were fraudulent entrants and that they had never been here. Thanks to an erratic judge, the fraudulent entrants were allowed to stay.  Even 4 who were declared medically unfit escaped custody. In the end, all 56 remained in Canada.


(1) At the same time as revolutionary societies developed in India, the same groups formed overseas. A parallel intelligence organization

(2) William Charles Hopkinson was part of the British intelligence network. He was employed simultaneously by the Indian gov’t, the Canadian gov’t, and the American gov’t. Born in northern India, he learned the Indian languages. In 1903-04, he became Inspector of police in Calcutta and came to Vancouver in 1907-08. Hopkinson was here to control the Indians.

(3) Most of the Indians were Punjabi Sikhs who had mortgaged their land (at 10 to 12%, according to Johnston) to raise the fare ($65) to Vancouver in the expectation of earning wages 10 to 15 X higher than anything they could earn in India. They made $1.50 to $2.00 a day, lived frugally and saved most of what they earned. They did not bank their money, but invested in real estate, accumulating $3000 to $5000 since arriving in Canada. Their objective was to go back to India where even $200 would be a fortune. Most were single, but some had wives in India.

(4) The first arrived in 1904, just after the $500 Head Tax was imposed. The CP Steamships had lost their Chinese customers and wanted steerage replacement traffic. By the autumn of 1906, East Indian arrivals were regarded as an invasion by British Columbians. A ship called The Tartar brought 696 in November of 1906. Two thousand had arrived in the last half of 1906. Some 300 left for Seattle or San Francisco , but all but 50 of the remainder had found employment.

(5) Labour organizations objected, but Laurier’s gov’t ignored the complaints until the 1907 Vancouver Riot. The gov’t of India did not want to limit emigration to Canada, for fear of arousing animosity in India, but they did not question Canada’s right to close the door. In 1908, Canada required all Asian immigrants to have $200 on arrival and to travel continuously from port of origin. By pressuring steamship companies not to sell continuous tickets from Indian ports and not to provide a through service, Canada brought Sikh immigration to an abrupt halt. By 1908, 6000 Indians had landed in Canada, but some had left for the U.S. Those who remained had great difficulty finding work or shelter because of an economic slump. By 1913, there were 3x as many Sikhs in the U.S. as in Canada. U.S. Immigration authorities were under pressure to restrict Indian immigration “because of the unfavourable attitude of the people of the Pacific Coast states”.  (NOTE: Johnston gives little sympathy to the economic argument that was used in both the U.S. and Canada.)

(6) The Sikhs built temples in 1908 and 1912 in Vancouver and Victoria respectively. Most were illiterate in their own languages, spoke little English and stayed amongst themselves. But they also gathered in public downtown and “kept alive public prejudice against them”. (P.6)
They feared deportation from Canada, turned down offers to go to the Honduras in 1908, and resented their own Indian gov’t (This statement by Johnston does not make sense) which they believed ignored them while Japan looked after its immigrants. The Sikhs in 1908 made up only 12% of the Punjab population, but they were preferred over the Hindus and Muslims because of their military skill and because Sikh leaders openly supported British rule. The Sikhs mixed with Indians who advocated revolution in India. One of Hopkinson’e first acts was to arrange for the closing of a school organized by Taraknath Das at Millside, New Westminster. Later, T.D.’s revolutionary newspaper which was sent to India from B.C. was intercepted—probably at the advice of Hopkinson who regularly attended their meetings with a stenographer.

(7) Husain Rahaim (formerly Chagan Kairaj Varma, a 48 year-old from Porbandar State in Gujarat) replaced Guran Ditta Kumar as one of the leading dissidents in B.C. Rahaim won a legal victory over Hopkinson on a procedural technicality and simultaneously raised himself in other Indian eyes. Rahaim was a real estate agent and an activist. He believed Indians would not be protected overseas until they secured self-gov’t at home. The evidence against Kumar and Das (in contact with leading Indian revolutionaries in Europe–Mrs. B.R. Cama in Geneva)  was strong. The evidence against Rahaim was from the company he kept. One leader, Professor Har Dayal of Pal Alto, California, was a former editor of Bande Mataram, a newspaper that advocated killing Englishmen. Rahaim, Dayal, Das and Rahaim had difficulty communicating with the Sikhs who were generally loyal to the British.

(8) Teja Singh was a moderate leader from 1908 to 1912, but after his efforts to get the wives and children of 2 Sikh priests to stay in Canada failed, he left Canada and returned to India. The radicals struggled to get support from most of the Indians because the latter were in Canada primarily to make money and then leave. (P.14)


(1) Har Dayal became very active in late 1913. The Hindu Association was the base from which members were drawn into the Ghadr (Mutiny) Party and the more select Yugantar (New Era) Ashram. Har Dayal’s “Ghadr”, a revolutionary newspaper was distributed all along the west coast of N.A. and was read aloud in the temples in Vancouver. Listeners were encouraged to send it in envelopes to India.

(2) Bhagwan Singh, whom Hopkinson had allowed entry to Canada under the name Natha Singh, had been an activist in his home state and in Hong Kong from which he had been ordered deported. He was a powerful speaker but was arrested, and ordered deported again. The Panama Maru brought 56 Indians on October 17, 1913. All carried tax receipts, money order receipts, time cards, deeds, agreements for sale, etc. All these were not their own, but immigration authorities did not want to lose cases in the courts. Hopkinson allowed 17 of the 56 to land, but he rejected the others who had changed their stories. One had even admitted that he had been told to repeat a story made up by an Indian in Hong Kong. A Board of Inquiry looked into the remaining 39 and ordered them deported. The furore over Bhagwan Singh and the passengers on the Panama Maru kept Hopkinson in Canada rather than allowing him to make a trip to California. Rahim and Bhag Singh hired J.Edward Bird to make a test case out of Bhagwan Singh and the 39 passengers on the Panama Maru. Justice Murphy  denied Bird’s argument, but Justice Gordon Hunter accepted it. Hunter was known for presiding drunk in court and was an embarrassment to the gov’t, but his authority was supreme in this case. Even 4 of the 39 (who had been ordered deported for medical reasons) remained by escaping detention. Bhagwan Singh was put on a ship by force by Malcolm Reid (described by Johnston as a political hack). Reid was H.H. Stevens’ right hand man. Stevens is described equally contemptuously. Singhwas sent off despite court orders (writs) to set him free. Interestingly, Stevens had been asked by a clergyman if he would have admitted Christ wearing a turban.

(3) As a stop gap, the federal cabinet issued an order prohibiting the landing at any B.C. port of entry of any artisan or labourer up to March 31, 1914. All of these events had happened at a time of high unemployment among B.C. workers and aroused much anger among the unemployed.

(4) Local Sikhs discussed disloyal Sikhs who had run to Hopkinson to report Sikhs like Baghwan Singh who had made inflammatory speeches about revolution in India. Bela Singh, Baboo Singh and Ganga Ram were all named as targets along with Hopkinson and Reid. (P.22)

(5) Many Sikhs wrote home urging others to come ASAP—before other measures were taken to block their entry. The Sikhs looked upon Canada as a last port because the U.S., Australia and N.Z. had all closed their ports to Sikhs.


(1) Gurdit Singh was 55 in 1913, born into a farming family, a self-taught literate man and a self-made business man who had a reputation for being litigious. He was living in Singapore in December, 1913, but traveled to Hong Kong to sue his partner, Mool Singh who, he said, had run off with $1200. He supported the Ghadr and spoke at the Gurdwara in Hong Kong. A number of unemployed men heard him and asked him to help them find a way to get to Canada. Singh saw this as an opportunity to win recognition for his patriotism. The new orders, PC 23 and 24, were issued on January 7. Singh knew the orders by mid-February. On Feb 13, he advertised a trip from Calcutta to Vancouver and then went about finding a ship. Finally, he found one. With the help of Daljit Singh as a ticket seller ($210 per fare), he raised $10,000 HK, almost enough for 1 month’s charter fee, but he was reported to the police for selling tickets without having a ship and arrested. He proved he had a ship, but the incident scared off potential travelers who were fearful of conflict with authorities. This fear left with only 195 passengers.

(2) Gurdit Singh took over the Komagata Maru on March 25 and began using his own money to ready it for travel. He said it would leave on March 28, but the Hong Kong Governor, F.W. May, foresaw problems and telegraphed to Canada to see if the ship would be allowed to land there. Canada did not respond immediately, so May signed the papers to allow the ship to leave–although he later received a telegram saying the ship would not be allowed to land.

(3) Gurdit Singh had a revealing conversation with Claud Severn, the Colonial Secretary regarding Singh’s plans. Singh said he wanted to help his countrymen and fellow Sikhs. He said he had no political purpose. He planned to get four ships which would leave India and carry a total of 25,000 Indians. When Severn asked what Singh would do if Canada did not allow him to land, Singh said he would fight to the Supreme Court. If unable to go to Canada, he would go to Brazil. In the papers he signed, Severn made it very clear that permission to leave Hong Kong did not mean permission to land in Canada.The H.K. police made sure the passengers knew that. They went to the dock and informed them. The passengers named their ship the Guru Nanak Jahaz and trooped down to the port with their holy book, the Granth Sahib.

(4) When interviewed by an American reporter in Shanghai, Gurdit Singh was confident, saying that the trip would test the justice of the British. In Shanghai, 73 more people boarded the ship. Singh scraped together enough money from passengers to pay the bills. He also got favours from the ship owners. All of the people on the ship were shocked by the behaviour of the Japanese women they observed because the Japanese women were much more open than Punjabi women. Some men visited the brothels and picked up venereal disease. The Japanese encouraged a rebellion in India and said they would help. Singh boasted that 10,000 Indian troops would rebel if the KM were opposed any more. In Yokohama, 14 more passengers boarded bringing the total to 376 passengers: 24 Muslims, 12 Hindus and 340 Sikhs.

(5) Bhagwan Singh Jakh, who had been forcibly deported from Canada and who was now in Yokohama, ominously predicted that Canada would not allow the KM to land. Gurdit Singh replied: “This journey is absolutely according to the terms of the Canadian gov’t., so no power on earth can stop us in Vancouver.” (P.34)


(1) Bird, the Sikhs’ lawyer, advised that the KM go to Port Alberni because it was the only B.C. port not named in the federal order. However,  because the KM did not have telegraph equipment and because of rough seas, the KM sailed on past. It stopped at William’s Head for a quarantine check. Reid and Hopkinson, who had followed the ship’s journey from Nanaimo to William’s Head, discovered that the KM was chartered through to Vancouver and decided to head to Vancouver to do their work there.

(2) At William’s Head, Singh had already declared that the passengers were British citizens, that they had a right to visit any part of the Empire,  that they were determined to make this a test case, and that if they were refused, that might determine whether we would have peace in the British Empire. It was May 23, 1914.

(3) Malcolm Reid had been told by Gardner Johnson, a local shipping broker, that his job was to collect $15,000 in gold for the balance of the charter money and coal by June 11. The owner had the right to take the ship back whether or not the passengers had landed. (P.38) Gurdit Singh demanded, as a merchant, to be allowed onshore and Bird, the Sikhs’ lawyer, demanded to speak with the passengers, but Reid and others ignored them. Medical officers also stalled for time by making inspections much longer.

(4) Gov’t lawyers wanted to avoid the issuance of a writ which would guarantee landings for the passengers. They offered 3 test cases, but the Sikhs on shore refused. At a large meeting of Indians, Balwant Singh gave the main address. He spoke of a changing mood in India, a return to 1857, a new unity against the English, the inevitability of revolution if Indians did not get home rule soon, the exclusion laws in other dominions, and the weakness of the Indian gov’t. He called on his audience for funds for the KM. A total of $5000 was on the table and another $66,000 pledged.

(5) Reid began with 20 passengers who had been in Canada before, landing 13 of them automatically and stalling with the rest. Gurdit Singh was already disappointed and had bitter words for the Vancouver Sikhs who had encouraged him to come. He offered to return to India on June 11 on the Empress of Russia and to pay for passengers’ expenses until then and after. Reid advised Ottawa that this would be dangerous and hinted that riots might occur. Reid’s tactic was to delay until Gurdit Singh and the others gave up. On June 9, Gurdit Singh let the rest of the returning Indians off the ship. 355 passengers remained. Reid had to go to the next group, the physically unfit. He had 88 in this group. He would go through them slowly, biding for time.

(6) The KM passengers claim they had no food and put in an exorbitant order, but Reid and the others scoffed at them. This game went on for a while, but it finally ended. The author, Hugh Johnston, refers to Reid as a coward. Captain Yamamoto hears from Kobe that he is to leave on June 11 if the $15,000 is not paid.


(1) Reid continued to stall, ignoring the complaints of Bird and others that something be done. Rahim and Bhag Singh raised $18,000 in cash contributions ($1000 from Sikhs in California) and became the new charterers of the KM. They now plotted a way to end the dispute. A meeting was held, attended by 400 Indians and 125 Whites from the socialist party.

(2) H.H. Stevens had returned from Ottawa. His office gave orders to the Immigration office in Vancouver and appointed all the staff there.
The author Hugh Johnston says that Stevens claimed that people in Ottawa “did not understand what was going on, a common British Columbia complaint”. (P.50) Stevens interviewed Raghunath Singh, the doctor, and asked him about what was occurring on the ship. Ragunathe Singh was not sympathetic to Gurdit Singh and the others. Stevens and Reid did not want to use the courts for test cases because Stevens, in particular, did not trust judges (probably because of what had occurred with the Panama Maru).It was now a month since the KM had arrived in port.

(3) The Immigration office in Ottawa and the PM wanted to go ahead with a test case.The two candidates would be Munshi Singh (Hoshiarpur) and Narain Singh (Lahore).


(1) Munshi Singh testified, but his testimony was weak because his cross-examiners put the burden of proof for his statements on him. The Board hearing the case recommended that he be deported. Bird prepared to take the matter to a court of appeal.

(2) Telegrams were sent to the G.G. in Ottawa and back to India. At meetings in India, people pointed out that Canada was not dealing with just the KM passengers, but with 330 Million Indians, the population of India at that time. Another big question was : Why were the Japanese and Chinese being allowed to enter Canada, but not Indian subjects of His Majesty’s Empire?

(3) On June 29 and 30, Bird took the case to the B.C. Court of Appeal. Bird used the argument that the BNA Act did not give Canada the right to exclude British subjects. Canada had the right to exclude aliens, but there had been no case involving a British subject’s right of entry. The judges asked if Canada could keep out British subject murderers. Mr Justice Martin pointed out that Section 3 of the Immigration Act prohibited the insane, diseased, crippled, criminal, and vagrant from entering. “Canada could refuse entry to these people even if they were British subjects”, he observed. If one class of British subjects could be stopped, why not another? Bird was flustered and declared that “it should be held illegal to ‘Impose in Canada a penalty for belonging to a British race’. The author Hugh Johnston comments at this point in his book that this was “an absurd statement because nowhere in the act were British subjects singled out”. (P.59)

(3) The next day, Bird tried to show that the Immigration Act “impinged on Magna Charta because it provided for detention and deportation without judgement by peers”. He argued that civil rights lay within provincial jurisdiction and he claimed that deportation deprived Munshi Singh of his civil rights and that the Federal Act authorizing deportation was “ultra vires”. (Pp.59-60)

(4) For the government’s side, Ritchie was much better prepared. He argued that “Section 95 of the BNA Act gave Canada the power to regulate immigration; immigration meant immigration from all parts of the world. ; if it had not been intended to give Canada control over British immigration, then the term alien immigration would have been used; that was the expression employed in imperial statutes. If there was any question of Canada’s power to restrict the rights of British subjects by reason of their race, one had only to take the example of the native Indian: it had been done with them.  Canada had restricted the rights of British subjects such as Native Indians. Magna Charta was not affected. The Immigration Act was the law of the land and the immigration officers had acted within that law.”

(5) While the judges deliberated, some Nanaimo Sikhs went to Vancouver to talk to passengers on the KM. They approached the KM on a launch. Five  passengers they were talking to were allowed to board the launch to talk, but when the launch wanted them to return to the KM, the KM refused to take them back.

(6) On Monday, Bird went to the KM to announce the judges verdict: No to Munshi Singh’s appeal. Reid threatened the Captain and finally the 5 KM passengers were allowed to return to the KM.


(1) Big question: Who was to pay for the return trip to Hong Kong? Gurdit Singh and Rahain suggested allowing the KM to dock to unload cargo and to take on lumber cargo, but Reid was suspicious that the East Indians would try to escape. He also feared for his life. Plots had been reported about hit-men. Other schemes that the East Indians had  acquired weapons were reported.

(2) Big issue: A Board of Inquiry had to be held before anyone was deported. Reid took a group including two female stenographers aboard the KM on July 9 to hold the inquiry, but he received a hostile reception. No one would testify and he was accused of trying to starve the passengers. Hopkinson helped to defuse the situation and Reid and the others were allowed to leave the ship. On July 10, court papers were prepared citing the passengers’ refusal to appear for examination. Ottawa told Reid to tell the KM to sail 250 km. from Vancouver to a point beyond Canada’s 5 km limit. There, the ship would be loaded with provisions.

(3) However, the ship did not leave. Reid suspected Captain Yamamoto was helping Gurdit Singh. Hopkinson then discovered that four Sikhs had crossed the border into the U.S. on the pretence of visiting a friend. They had acquired guns and ammunition. One (Mewa Singh) had been arrested in the woods and the other three had been arrested for carrying weapons across the border at Sumas. Canadian immigration officials were convinced that the weapons were destined for the KM.

(4) Reid and others try to push Captain Yamamoto to start the KM, but Yamamoto felt intimidated. Six thousand dollars worth of provisions, a thirty day supply, were delivered to the pier. Immigration officers and police boarded the Sea Lion and proceeded to the KM. When they arrived, they shone a spotlight on the ship, but the passengers would not let them on board. The KM sat 15 feet higher in the water and the passengers threw coal and other objects down at the people on the Sea Lion which was then forced to retreat to the cheers of the passengers.


(1) H.H. Stevens wired for the the PM to send the Rainbow (one of 2 Canadian navy ships) . Borden was frustrated by the delays and the work of the Vancouver people. He pondered a change to the immigration Act which would allow summary removal in future, but he also sought the help of a better negotiator, Martin Burrell, an MP from the Okanagan.

(2) The Rainbow arrived and prepared to go alongside the KM, lower 3 gangplanks and board it. The on-shore charterer refused to give permission for the KM to leave. The passengers sang a war song and prepared to defend the KM to the death. The commander of the Rainbow predicted that 100 people would be killed in an assault, so Burrell decided that concessions would have to be made to avert deaths. Burrell agreed to send all the requested provisions to the KM and to deal sympathetically with the refund of the shore committee’s money. The shore committee agreed to approve the departure. Provisions and other supplies were then loaded. They asked to say good-bye to friends aboard the KM and were granted permission to do so in groups of 10 for 5 minutes. Two (Rahim and Mitt Singh) board the KM!!

(3) A brief crisis arose when Bhag Singh, in detention in the U.S., telegrammed Reid and stated that he would not give his permission (as a co-charterer) for the KM to leave. The matter was compounded when the passengers demanded eggs and sheep. The demand for eggs was met and early the next day, the ship left, escorted by the Rainbow and other vessels. As the KM left, Governor F.W. May of Hong Kong requested that the KM not be sent to Hong Kong, but to Calcutta, because there was no employment for the KM passengers in HK. Canada replied that since the ship had left Hong Kong, it had to return there.  


(1) World War 1 took the KM off the headlines in Canada, but the war gave the Ghadr Party an incentive to use it to push a weakened Britain for Indian independence. At a stop in Yokohama, two hundred pistols and 2000 rounds of ammunition were smuggled aboard the KM with the help of the Third Engineer. Gurdit Singh asked to have the Indian gov’t pay for the passengers’ return to India. Singh and the other NA Sikhs had decided to buy the KM and to take the ship from Calcutta back to Vancouver. Revolutionaries were recruited in NA to fight in India. Hopkinson was active in providing names to Viceroy Harding in India.

(2) Germany was sinking British ships off India. The Indian gov’t decided to unload the KM passengers at Budge Budge near Calcutta and send them by train to the Punjab. Gurdit Singh refused to take the train, claiming that it was on the wrong side of the river to be able to go to the Punjab. Singh also wanted to conduct business in Calcutta and wanted  passengers to have the opportunity to look for work in Calcutta. In a confusing incident that occurred around dusk, Supt. Eastwood had tried to grab a bamboo stick or “more likely, to get Gurdit Singh. He had taken a few steps when the crowd had closed in on him and he had been knocked to the ground. At that moment, the firing had begun.”  More followed and many people were shot in the subsequent riot. The Sikhs fled.


(1) Of the 250 passengers left in the group, 170 remained at large while the others had been captured or been killed. The Sikh leadership in the (Panjab) Punjab sided with the British !! An inquiry was set up to look at the incident. It lasted 6 weeks in which about 1000 pages of testimony were recorded. A few passengers said that Gurdit Singh had distributed pistols to his friends in the group before the riot.  Gurdit Singh received much of the blame for the riot and the problems the passengers faced. The passengers received little sympathy. Indian leaders, including Ghandi,  stood behind the British gov’t, in the hope that independence would be granted to India after the war.

(2) Hopkinson’s work provided the names of all returning Sikhs and emasculated the revolutionary effort. A rebellion did occur, but it was suppressed. About 3200 emigrants returned to India.


(1) Gurdit Singh spent over 7 years in hiding in India. He worked at many different things and often fled places to avoid capture. When he first tried to get the attention of Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi refused to give him any time. He had similar, but less rude encounters with Nehru and Nehru’s supporters, but no great amount of help. When Gandhi finally did meet him, Gandhi told him to give himself up, but Singh felt he had important things to do before he did that. When he finally surrendered, he was held for 4 months and released. When he returned to the Panjab, he gave an inflammatory speech in which he said that India had not been rewarded for helping the British in WWI and that he had suffered financially because of the government. He was re-arrested for his speech and jailed for 5 years.

(2) Gurdit Singh made a futile effort to sue the gov’t and in 1928 published his “Voyage Of The Komagata Maru”. He was active in Indian politics for many years. He said he had followed Gandhi’s creed of non-violence since 1920. He never admitted that he had anything to do with the weapons aboard the KM. The KM pre-occupied him until the end of his life. He succeeded in getting a memorial erected to the KM passengers in 1952. He died in 1954 at the age of 95.


(1) Hopkinson continued to gather information from his Sikh spies. He sent reports to the Indian gov’t on many Sikhs who left Vancouver to engage in revolution in India. Hopkinson’s work undoubtedly resulted in Vancouver Sikhs killing a number of informers in their group. It  also must have been connected to a dramatic “Wild East” shooting at the Sikh gurdwara in Vancouver on October 5, 1914 in which nine people were shot. The main shooter was Bela Singh, a paid informer of Hopkinson. He had been singled out as a target by the Sikhs, Now, he would need the testimony of Hopkinson to testify that he had shot in self-defence. However, the Sikhs were already arranging  for Hopkinson’s permanent absence as a witness. On October 21, Mewa Singh, a Sikh who had been involved in smuggling guns across the U.S-Canada border for the Komagata Maru, approached Hopkinson in the provincial courthouse in Vancouver and shot Hopkinson many times. According to the author Hugh Johnston, “Civic and federal officials organized one of the greatest funeral processions the city had ever seen”. Mewa Singh was found guilty and sentenced to hanging. Mewa Singh’s hanging was commemorated in 1916 by 500 Sikhs (there were only 1000 Sikhs left at that time, most having returned to India). According to Johnston, Mewa Singh’s death has been commemorated since then in gurdwaras in Canada and the U.S.  

(2) Bela Singh was acquitted. Several months later, someone tried to shoot him, but killed his walking companion instead. A month after, someone dynamited a house in which his friends were staying. A few days later, Bela Singh was arrested for assault and sent to prison for a year. He continued to provide Reid with information, but returned to India in 1916 where he took up a similar role. He died in an attack in which he was chopped to pieces.

(3) The Ghadr Party declined because of emigration and legal prosecution. PM Borden allowed wives of Sikhs to come to Canada (180 came), but by 1941, there were no more than 1500 East Indians in Canada. Following Indian independence in 1947, the B.C. legislature extended the franchise to East Indians. As of 1980, according to Johnston, Mewa Singh’s picture hangs prominently in the Vancouver Sikh temple.