15 Jan 2013

History of 'Kalimpong Kids' finally told

10:23 pm on 15 January 2013

The descendants of 130 mixed-race Indian children quietly settled in New Zealand say they are excited the story is finally being told.

Otago University history student Jane McCabe has uncovered evidence the illegitimate children of European tea-planters and local women in India were sent to this country as farmhands and maids in the early 1900s.

A Kalimpong group aboard the SS Janus en route to New Zealand in 1925.

A Kalimpong group aboard the SS Janus en route to New Zealand in 1925. Photo: SUPPLIED

One descendant, Invercargill train driver Gavin Mortimore, said his father did not like to talk about his past so the call from the researcher was a bolt from the blue.

Mr Mortimore says he is delighted to know his heritage. "My elder sister, myself and my younger sister had dark skin features ... and we were quite often mistaken for New Zealand Maori."

He has since found out his father Rend and aunt Jean were both "Kalimpong Kids", sent out on boats to settle before WWII as part of an immigration scheme run from St Andrews Homes in the north Indian town of Kalimpong.

Upper Hutt woman Sylvia Slater, whose parents came from Kalimpong as teenagers, says it is time the story was known properly in New Zealand and a reunion held for all of today's generation.

She knew some parts of her parents' history already, but the research has already filled in many gaps and inspired her son to visit Kalimpong for himself.

Mr Mortimore sees parallels with mixed-race Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait children in Australia, now known as the stolen generation because of policies taking them from their families over almost a century. But Ms Slater says most Kalimpong Kids were sent to the school by their parents to be educated.

And Anne Beckett, whose parents were also both from Kalimpong, says the research is giving her an even larger family.

"Its wonderful because I didn't realise how many people actually came across with the immigration scheme and there's a connection there that we never really knew about."