544 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 77 PART 4 JULY 2019
hama and Kobe. Hong Kong did not want the passengers back. Ultimately
and after much tension, the ship proceeded to India.
Between the Komagata Maru’s departure from Vancouver harbour and its
arrival in India in September 1914 (with most of its passengers), World War I
had commenced. Likely unfounded rumours circulated of German complicity
in the episode, including because the agent in Hong Kong who had been
involved in chartering the ship for Gurdit Singh was of German origin. The
British were also suspicious of any threats to their rule in India and viewed
the incomers as potentially dangerous militants. The British had recently
enacted the Ingress to India Ordinance giving them additional powers.
The ship was directed to Budge Budge, south of Calcutta. The British
wanted the passengers to board a special train to Punjab and refused to
allow some to go to Calcutta as they wished. When most refused to board
the train, 20 or so passengers and several non-passengers were killed, with
more injured. The event is variously depicted as a riot or a massacre. Gurdit
Singh later described a hail of bullets soon after a soldier had “kindly” but
ominously whisked Balwant, the young son who had accompanied Singh on
the Komagata Maru’s journey, out of the way.
Gurdit Singh escaped the event, apparently urged by fellow passengers
to do so in order to tell their story, and lived for several years as a fugitive
before—he claimed with Gandhi’s encouragement—turning himself in. He
served five years in prison, it appears first in connection with a breach of
the Ingress to India Ordinance and then for sedition. He died in 1954.
Back in Vancouver, Bird continued his extraordinary career. Among his later
cases was R. v. Sankey, leading to the acquittal of a First Nations man of a
murder for which he had for some time been on death row at Oakalla.12 In
his practice, Bird employed the second woman called to the bar of the
province (Edith Patterson, called in 1918 and later a juvenile court judge)
and sought to assist Chinese Canadians to work in the legal profession and
be admitted to the bar (though that result did not occur for many years). He
was on the RCMP watch list for political agitators after World War I. He was
the uncle of a later Chief Justice of British Columbia, the Honourable H.I.
Bird, Q.C.,13 who was the father of John I. Bird, Q.C. (of Owen Bird). After
Joseph Edward Bird’s death in 1948, he was described in the Advocate as
having been “very prominent for many years as an active lawyer” and in his
years as such “energetic, capable and forceful”.14
The events surrounding the Komagata Maru’s journey to Vancouver have
been commemorated in various ways, including with a monument near the