By the middle of the 19th century, there was a growing shortage of labour in the plantation system. There are some significant events, which had tremendous impacts on the labour problems. Pre as well as post emancipation events such as slave emancipation, the failure of apprenticeship and the emergence of the tenantry system among others, contributed to the planters' labour woes. It is therefore my intention in the following essay to demonstrate how these events in addition to a few others resulted in the importation of "large numbers of labourers in the period 1838 - 1900.".
Some historians argue that a "shift in social relations began with emancipation, and was emphasized in the labour problems of the period", however I disagree with this belief to some extent. While I do agree that emancipation played a very important role in the need for the importation of labour from 1838 - 1900, I believe that the true beginning of the labour problems began on January 1, 1807 with the abolition of the slave trade.
From the 17th to the 19th century, it is fair to say that African slave labour was the most popular labour force employed by the West Indian planters. The slaves were cheap and easily available, as a result the planters were prone to overwork them. This contributed to the low life expectancy of a slave, but as there was an infinite source of labour realized on the African continent, this labour force was easily replenished. That was until 1807 when the British Parliament made slave trading illegal. Now with no way to replenish the labour force, that is no way to legally obtain more slaves from Africa, the number of labourers began to decline. What contributed to the further decline of the labour force was that the planters over-worked the slaves further to compensate for the low numbers, but this only resulted in more deaths from exhaustion. This trend is evident from the slave populations taken in 1807 and 1830.