Monthly Archives: April 2013

Indian Lascars in Glasgow

One way of exploring Glasgow’s relationship with empire and status as ‘Second City of Empire’ is by looking at various men and women from the colonies of the British Empire who visited or settled in the port city of Glasgow. One major way that men and women came to Glasgow was through the ships carrying imperial trade and the ships bringing back British colonial officials. ‘Lascars’ (Indian seamen) often worked on these ships – below deck – and often either ‘jumped ship’ or made it be known that they were settling in the UK.

Indian lascars had been arriving in Britain since at least the 18th century and soon became notable presences portside. Major works on lascars include books written by Rozina Visram and Laura Tabili. Other books that look at Scotland’s relationship with lascars include ones written by Bashir Maan and one edited by Thomas C. Smout. For anyone interested in narrative stories about Indian lascars more generally, Amitav Ghosh’s current Ibis Trilogy includes stories about some lascars in the Indian Ocean.

Lascar, built by Scotts Bowling in 1939 in Yard no. 353. The ship to its left is unknown but is believe to have been built in Glasgow. From the Bill Lind Collection. From Flickr

Lascar, built by Scotts Bowling in 1939 in Yard no. 353.
The ship to its left is unknown but is believe to have been built in Glasgow.
From the Bill Lind Collection.
From Flickr

There is plenty of other research going on about lascars and Glasgow, including their involvement (or not) in the 1919 Port Riots. The Glasgow Indian Union was set up in 1911 and took up a number of issues relating to Indians in Glasgow, including the discrimination against lascars after the 1925 Special Restriction (Coloured Seamen) Order of 1925 that required seamen to report regularly, and be classified as ‘aliens’, if they did not have documentary proof of their nationality. The recent Stephen Poliakoff drama on BBC2 called Dancing on the Edge showed how a black Jazz band had to go through certain constraints in 1930s London because of this order.

Many lascars gave up their jobs on the ships to open up cafes and curry-houses, or become ‘peddlers’. Are there any descendants of that early South Asian settler population living in Glasgow today? It would be great to get more stories and comments on this for the blog.


Business Records and the Intrepid Historian

*Guest Post from Emma Anthony, Business Archives Cataloguer, University of Glasgow Archive Services

Glasgow was built by merchants who made their fortune throughout the globe, so the records of Glasgow businesses are an excellent place to start in any exploration of Glasgow and Empire.

As the holders of the Scottish Business Archive, University of Glasgow Archive Services is a rich source of business records, dating as far back as the 18th century, and covering industries such as textiles, shipbuilding, sugar manufacture, and engineering, all of which can provide fascinating insights into Glasgow’s relationship with the empire.

Putiacherra tea pickers from the James Finlay & Co collection

Putiacherra tea pickers from the James Finlay & Co collection

However, record keeping can vary wildly from company to company, and the administrative outputs of each organisation can be vast.  This can make business records fiendishly tricky to navigate, but there are a few key record groups which are a good place to start.

Staff records

Look out particularly for correspondence between overseas employees/agents and head office, which can contain information regarding staff experience.

An excellent example of this is the managers and assistants letter books of James Finlay & Co, textile manufacturers and tea planters.

Managers and assistants letter books from the James Finlay & Co collection

These span from 1902 until the 1980s, containing summaries of the correspondence between head office in Glasgow and the Superintendents of each tea estate regarding British (and later Indian) employees overseas, tracing their career, their progress, and their character.

Their health is also frequently commented upon – particularly the stresses and strains of working in an environment so different from home, and the individual’s ability to cope and adapt.

Staff records can also include records created for or by employees, such as staff publications.  They can tell us about staff attitudes, activities, and conditions.  James Finlay & Co and Stoddard Templeton, to name a few, both have publications generated by and for employees.


Minutes can inform the reader of key decisions regarding when trading started within a particular country, what the response has been, and how successful the endeavour.  A company can have several committees each generating their own minutes – Coats PLC, for example, has minutes of directors, as well as minutes of cotton buying, manufacturing,  raw materials, and textile committees.

Generally, minutes of directors meetings are the best place to start, since it is here that the most important key decisions made by the company are recorded, but minutes of subsidiary committees can be rich in information regarding where and how companies were trading and acquiring their raw materials.

Trade mark records

These can tell us something about the company’s competition, where they were trading, and how they appealed to different audiences around the globe.  The United Turkey Red collection is particularly insightful in this respect, with labels designed for each of the different export markets.

Label from the United Turkey Red collection

Label from the United Turkey Red collection

In the beginning of the nineteenth century, the labels were black and white, and designed to appeal to as many audiences as possible.  These evolved into colourful labels bearing the manufacturer’s name, serving as a brand trademark and building up a strong loyalty among customers.

Label from the United Turkey Red collection

Label from the United Turkey Red collection

By the end of the nineteenth century, Hindu themes dominated Indian tickets, as this was most attractive to the predominantly Hindu local market.


Photographs can often tell us a lot about the conditions employees worked in, the audience for the product, and how the product was sold.

Burra Bazaar, Calcutta, from the United Turkey Red collection

Burra Bazaar, Calcutta, from the United Turkey Red collection

Finding traces of the empire in business records can be difficult, but incredibly rewarding.  These are just a handful of samples from the University of Glasgow’s rich and diverse business collections – if you would like to know more, you can contact the Duty Archivist.

Emma Anthony,

Business Archives Cataloguer

University of Glasgow Archive Services

Scotland and “imperial” sport

If cricket is the ultimate sporting symbol of the ‘British’ empire, is it also the ultimate example of the dominance of the ‘English’ in this empire?  England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the West Indies are the main cricketing nations but the new affiliates include Ireland, Canada, Kenya and Scotland these days (not forgetting the Netherlands and Afghanistan of course) who were all once colonies of the British Empire. Various historians have written about how the English exported cricket to its empire and how cricket became a symbol of imperialism and nationalism. Wales are included within the ‘England’ cricket team. Northern Ireland’s cricket has never taken off – they played once in the 1998 Commonwealth Games (according to Wikipedia). So with Glasgow’s forthcoming hosting of the Commonwealth Games in 2014 is this the time for a further revival in Scottish cricket?

Well Scotland do have a cricket team as stated. In 1994 they joined the ICC and played in the 1999 and 2007 World Cups (they didn’t qualify in 2003 or 2011). They will be hosting Pakistan for two ODIs in May 2013 in Edinburgh and playing Australia in Edinburgh for an ODI in September after the Ashes and also a test match with the Australia A team in June as the Australians warm up for the Ashes (see cricinfo for more Scotland cricket fixtures this summer). Scotland have actually had a cricket team since 1865 (see the CricketEurope site), they played Australia and South Africa in the 19th century, the West Indies in 1906 and India in 1911, so why have they never reached the international success of other members of the British Empire? And why have they only come to the international stage since the 1990s? Can any of their ‘outsider’ status within the imperial game be attributed to Scotland’s position within the British Isles and Empire?

Ryan Watson plays through backward point again...

Ryan Watson plays through backward point against India at Glasgow’s Titwood ground on 16 August 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well cricket is not featuring in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow although it might feature again in the 2018 games in Australia, so it’s not going to get more attention next summer. As noted there are some high-profile teams coming to Scotland this summer though. And Glasgow University is holding a conference in May 2013 on C. L. R. James and his seminal book on cricket (and race and empire and nationalism and class and many other things!), Beyond a Boundary. Mike Brearley, the former England test captain, among a range of writers, fans and academics will be speaking over 9-11 May. Link to Beyond a Boundary Conference Website. What would James have said about Scotland’s role within the cricketing hierarchy and cricketing Commonwealth?