The Lascar Research Project - An introduction

April 2022

This is a new, collaborative project funded by the Arts & Humanities research council, with the aim to explore the untold stories of South Asian sailors (otherwise known as lascars) working in the UK during the British Empire.
This research project is run by Aqsa Arif, interdisciplinary artist, Malini Chakrabarty filmmaker/artist and Kulsum Shabbir, writer/journalist. We are working in collaboration with OSCH to help uncover the hidden histories of the Lascars and the legacies they left behind. In this project, we will focus on combining our collaborative research into a short experimental documentary film. Through our individual research we will explore our own creative outcomes that will feed into the bigger film, creating illustrations, poetry and blog posts.

Lascars – an introduction

So, who are the Lascars? Lascars were Britain’s colonial sailors. The East India Company first began to employ Indian sailors in the seventeenth century to fill the manpower gap on ships returning from India, as many sailors either deserted their ships in India or died on their way there. Then, when British sailors were needed for the Royal Navy during wartime, merchant ships became reliant on the labor of Lascars. By 1914, lascars made up almost a quarter of the total number of mariners manning British registered ships. However, the terms and conditions of lascar employment were always discriminatory. They were employed on ‘Asiatic Articles’ as opposed to ‘European Articles’, which changed the conditions of their employment. They received less payment, living space, food, and fresh water allowance than their fellow white sailors. The shipping industry made large savings by employing lascars rather than European sailors, as they could get away with paying them less, and therefore increasing their profits.

The object

Glasgow Museums, through discussion with Bangladesh Association Glasgow, has identified an object related to the Lascar’s that they hope to research and respond to.

The object (above) identified by Glasgow museums is a plaque from 1890, inscribed with English and Bangla.

Our goal as researchers is to provide an insight into this object and explore the individual stories and narratives tied to it.

Our goals

As researchers, our goals for the next month are to visit locations such as the Tall Ship and The Moving Image Archive to gain further insight into the life of a lascar, and also collect some potential footage. Using this research and footage, we will begin pre-production for our short film/documentary!

We will also explore some poetry/prose, recipes, and illustrations which will be showcased in future blog posts and on the Kelvingrove Instagram page @glasgowkelvingrove.

Recommended reading

If you’re looking to learn more about Lascars in the meantime, here are some resources we recommend!

Our migration story – reading time: 8 mins

Photographic collage featuring lascars – reading time: 3 mins

Advertisement for P&O and British India Lines steamliners – reading time: 2 mins

Lascar sailors – reading time: 10 mins

Seafarers of WW1 – reading time: 5 mins

The Hinds family – reading time: 5 mins

Image of SS Khiva – reading time: 2 mins