| The First Asians in Britain |
| Asians from South Asia
(present-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) have
been in Britain for close on four centuries but their various
histories remain little researched. Many believe that the
arrival in Britain of people from the Indian subcontinent
began in the 1950s, in response to the demand for post-war
labour. In fact, the emergence of Asians in Britain stretches
back to the founding of the East India Company (EIC) in 1600.
The exploits of the EIC in India, first through trade and
later through conquest and colonisation, leading to the
establishment of the British Raj, set in motion forces that
would profoundly affect both India and Britain, altering their
historical relationship and development. Indian sailors, the
lascars, crewed Company sailing vessels and, later,
steam-powered liners; Indian servants and ayahs (nannies) were
brought over by British families returning from India;
European men, many having made their fortune in India, often
returned home with Indian wives and children. Munshis
(teachers) came to Britain to teach Oriental languages, as did
a number of Indian emissaries and other visitors.
This small but enterprising community of professionals and
working-class Indians was not a homogeneous community. There
were different religious, linguistic and ethnic groups from
the subcontinent and the diaspora in Africa and the Caribbean;
other Asians were born in Britain, some having families that
crossed the racial divide over several generations.
Drawing on recently declassified government documents,
historian and educationalist Rozina Visram, author of
Ayahs, Lascars and Princes and, most recently,
Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History, examines the
nature of Asian migration; official attitudes towards the
immigrant community; the reactions and perceptions of the
British people; and the social, cultural and political lives
of the Asians themselves.
- Establish why Indian servants were imported into Britain
and what their position was within British society.
- List the reasons for employing lascars on board East
India Company ships.
- Analyse British attitudes towards Asian immigrants and
assess their attempts at benevolence.
- Identify the various groups of Asians that came to
- Describe the life and career of Sake Dean Mahomed.
seminar is extracted from Chapter 2 of Asians in Britain:
400 Years of History, Pluto Press, 2002. Copyright
||In this groundbreaking book
Rozina Visram offers an extensively researched,
comprehensive study of Asians from the Indian
subcontinent in Britain. Spanning four centuries, it
tells the history of the Indian community in Britain
from the first recorded baptism in 1616 and the
servants, ayahs and sailors of the seventeenth century,
to the students, soldiers, professionals, MPs,
entrepreneurs and suffragettes of the nineteenth and
in Britain: 400 Years of History
Pluto Press (2002)
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