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.
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.