On May 4, 1871, the Don Juan departed from Macau, destined for Callao, Peru. The Peruvian ship carried 650 Chinese coolies from their homes to their destination across the world, but the ship did not get very far. Only two days after departure, pirates, disguised as coolies, rallied their peers around the cause for freedom and justice.
On the Don Juan, coolies set bunk frames and any spare lumber on fire, attempting to distract the crew and with hopes of later extinguishing the fire. While the crew successfully foiled the attempted mutiny and locked all the coolies below the deck, they were unable to contain the spreading fire. Suffocating and burning to death, the trapped coolies and their screams could be heard by the escaping crew. Only fifty coolies managed to escape as the flames melted the hatches that prevented the coolies from fleeing. The crew then fired upon coolies that escaped into the water and even demanded money to allow the coolies safety in the smaller boats that would bring them to shore. A witness awaiting rescue reported he “saw blood ooze out from the sides of the vessel,” exemplifying the gruesome sight as the coolies burned and melted under the intense heat.
1. Meagher, Arnold Joseph. The Introduction of Chinese Laborers to Latin America: The" Coolie Trade", 1847-1874. University of California, Davis., 1975. 196.
2. "The Later Slave Trade." New York Times (1857-1922): 4. Jul 02 1871. ProQuest. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.