sidebar Contacts Home About Silsila Productions Projects Press & Media Links Contacts Mission Statement

The Lascar Project

Silsila Productions has been awarded Heritage Lottery Funding to develop and deliver the Lascar Heritage Project. The Lascar Project Worker is Abdul Rahman and he is contactable at abdul@silsilaproductions.co.uk.

The Lascar Teaching Resource and Radio Play


The Lascar is a teaching resource that includes a short radio play on an audio CD with an accompanying activity pack, produced on a CD ROM. The teaching pack explores the heritage of the Lascars. The pack was commissioned by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Silsila Productions’ The Lascar Seamen History Project.

To download The Lascar Teaching Resource click HERE
teaching pack

The pack offers an alternative approach to information sharing about the Lascars and explores their heritage and contribution to the East End History. The short drama radio play “THE LASCAR” is a story relevant to the life of a Lascar on a merchant ship. The story engages listeners, taking them on a journey through events in history that are sadly underrepresented in the history books.

The radio play was written by Shahida Rahman and directed Pablo Robertson. Shahida also wrote the novel Lascar, her descendant is a Lascar who settled in London. As with many Lascars, he was refused a return passage, while others were abandoned by their employers and some jumped ship in the hope of starting a new life. These Lascars were the first to settle in East London in places such as Commercial Road and Whitechapel Road.

The teaching activities have been written by Mehera Islam and Rabina Khan and edited by Jan Andersen. Also included are contributions from young participants from The Lascar Seamen History Project within the context of the activities.

These activities incorporate issues of preconceived ideas, relationships between people, diversity and identity, questioning attitudes and opening new forms of debate.

Background to Project

Indians form the largest ethnic minority in the UK today. While a quick glance at the data indicates that this is a result of the migration of Indian males to the UK after World War II, this view masks the reality that there was already a sizeable Indian population in Great Britain in the 16th and 17th centuries, and that the numbers grew steadily over the years until the present. Although the word Lascar is presently outmoded, it points to a rich and unique aspect of world history.

Translated directly, the word means sailor from Eastern India or other countries east of the Cape of Good Hope, (initially East Indies.) East Africans, Arabs, East Indians, South Asians and Malays and Chinese were all Lascars. It comes from the Persian word, Lashkar meaning ‘military camp’ or ‘army.’ However, the term bears a wider applicability and was regularly used in reference to non-Europeans who served on British sea vessels. Lascars were recruited for work aboard British ships from Asia, Middle East and Africa.  The majority were Muslim but there were a large number of Christian, Catholic and Hindu Lascars.

lascar illustration1

The Lascars, who were instrumental in the expansion of the British Raj during the 19th and 20th centuries, were employed on ships ferrying cargos back to Britain, with some 3,000 Lascars visiting Britain annually. Calcutta became the Indian terminus of the P&O line in 1842. In 1856, Calcutta became the headquarters of the British India Steam Navigation Company (BINSC). Bengali Lascars, who were from Chittagong and Sylhet in East Bengal (now Bangladesh), entered into the British Merchant Navy working on steamships in large numbers.

lascar illustration2

These Bengali Lascars began arriving in London on the P&O Mail Clan Line Steamers, British India Steamship Company vessels and passenger ships. Between 1830 and 1903, approximately 40,000 foreign seamen sailed with British merchant and war ships, the majority spending some time in British ports, either in transit or discharged.

Unfortunately, however, the majority of the Lascars, uneducated and unwanted, eked out existences as street sweepers, pedlars and even beggars in London's dockland areas of Shadwell, Wapping and Poplar. Some missionaries referred to the growing Lascar population as The Asiatic in England and The East in The West. These Lascars, also known as 'forgotten seamen' were the first to settle in East London in places such as Commercial Road and Whitechapel Road in the late 19th century and early 20th century. By 1932 in had been estimated that approximately 7,000 South Asians lived in Britain.

For over 350 years, Lascars played a very important role, ensuring goods from India and Africa  reached British ports safely in times of peace and war.

Shahida Rahman
Shahida is a writer and author of the novel 'The Lascar', if you would like more information on Lascars please visit www.shahidarahman.co.uk

Lascar - The Forgotten Bengali Seaman

The Lascar Project has recruited 15 young participants to trail the history of the Lascar and their contribution in the East End. Through workshops and discussions these young historians explored various Lascar sites.

Workshop 1
15th October 2009
What is a Lascar
Location - Idea Store, Whitechapel

workshop image3

A two hour long workshop that aimed at looking into what a Lascar is and their everyday lives. The workshop took place at the Idea Store in Whitechapel, East London. The core of the workshop was based on internet research to collate as much information as possible.

workshop image1
The project participants were aged between 16 - 25 years old, from mixed ethnic groups. The participants had access to laptops and the internet with worksheets.

workshop image2

Workshop 2 & 3
12th January 2010
History Trail of East Indian Dock Road
Location - Museum of Docklands

workshop 3

From the first workshop participants had already taken part in the research of the East India Dock Road. The trail around the East India Dock was to ensure that participants were more involved in the history of the Lascars and gave them the opportunity to visualize how a Lascar with very little English would be welcomed into the United Kingdom. As many Lascar had landed at the East India Dock, the participants believed they wanted to stay nearby, hoping that one day they would be able to depart from the same port.

workshop 3

What the historians thought of the project so far;

"I really enjoyed myself" Lee McKenzie

"My ancestors were Lascars. This project educated me on how my ancestors came over in UK and the struggle they went through." Farzana Ria Haider

"An interesting workshop and an interesting project" Julie Watts

"Schools do not cover all history. Everywhere in my roots there was a Lascar. Interesting topic it was learning about the Lascars" Mohammed Islam

Workshop 4

Objective
The Aim of Workshop 4 was to create an awareness of the Lascar era. Lascars were sailors from East Asia, particularly from India and the west Bengal (now Bangladesh) regions. The sailors on board of an British vessels during the reign of British Empire. They were usually faced with the task of transporting goods across the sea; the main ports were Kolkata (Calcutta) India to East India Dock in London and various other ports in the United Kingdom.

Session 4
Abdul Miah is a Play that tells a story about a Lascar which last for 30 minutes.  Abdul Miah who plays a seamen on board of British vessel tells the participants his experience as a Bangladeshi sailor. The purpose of the play is to give the participant true feeling and witness how a Lascar would spend his days and nights on a British ship. What the role as seaman involved.  Abdul Miah Play was performed in the warehouse of the world gallery which is located inside the Museum of Docklands West India Quay.

Result
The play was amazing. Samra who played Abdul Miah gave detailed description of his life as a seaman on the British vessel. He explained in 1873 when he was just 16 years old he had left everyone behind in Bangladesh to work as a seaman. Abdul worked in the engine room where he would spent hour long in hot steamy room. Some days he was unfortunate that he cannot see night or daylight. Abdul then goes to explain when he arrived in the ports of London. He was stranger no one to welcome him. Unsure as in what he should be doing or where he should be going. He spent many days near by the port waiting for a return journey back to Bangladesh. But Abdul met fellow seamen where they would help each other out and stay share rooms in lodges. Some would work for British families to earn more money and some did not have a opportunity to go back home. Abdul Had high hopes, hoping that working for the British Raj would better himself for better future for his family in Bangladesh. 

The participants enjoyed the play. It gave them a true understanding as into why many Bangladeshi sailors wanted to work on the British Vessels. The participants have got a true picture now what it may have been like to work a Vessel over 50 years ago.

Workshop 5

Objective
The Aim of Workshop 5 was to create an awareness of the Lascar era. Lascars were sailors from East Asia, particularly from India and the west Bengal (now Bangladesh) regions. The sailors on board of an British vessels during the reign of British Empire. They were usually faced with the task of transporting goods across the sea; the main ports were Kolkata (Calcutta) India to East India Dock in London and various other ports in the United Kingdom.

Session
Vestry Museum holds Archives and Local Studies Library holds manuscript and printed sources relating to the Lascar history.  The core of the workshop is to get the participants to read through some the archives that are related to the Lascars. This will give participants good understanding of what the Lascar have done when arriving into the United Kingdom

Result
The participants were amazed by what they had learnt on the day. Vestry museum had held loads of case studies that had related to the Lascar. After collating the information from various archives the group discussed their findings on the various different archives. The group was fascinated to learn that many of the Bangladeshi sailors worked for the rich British in UK as servants. Some sailors were treated fairly and some were abused.  An interesting archive that the whole group enjoyed was the Robert Lindsay who was a resident collector for the East India Company. Robert had employed a Lascar Syed Ullah to work in his house as a cook. Syed Ullah never did return back home. Some archives involved Lascars caught stealing and sentenced.

Our young historians learnt the following;

Participant

Learning Outcome

Yannick Dada

Yannick found it interesting to learn that after arriving in the UK. The Lascars were stranded and had no other option but to steal to feed themselves.

Sidikur Rahman

Skidur enjoyed reading through all the archives. He now understands what role the british had played in the lascars lifes.

Lee Mckenzie

Lee also found this workshop interesting.

Farzana Ria Haider

Many of Farzana ancestors worked as a Lascar although she was not a aware of how live was as a Lascar. This workshop gave her an understanding of what her ancestors may have went through.

Mohammed Islam

Mohammed Islam learnt a lot about lascar from the workshop he learnt that expatriates that came over in the UK over 50 years ago life was a lot difficult and different.

Metin Buldu

The workshop educated Metin about lascars life in the United Kingdom and has learnt a lot from the workshop.

Laura McMenas

Laura found it interesting to learn about the Lascar. She found it amazing to learn that some of the lascars were forced to work in the rich English houses.

Julie Watts

Julie is a University student currently studying BA in History. Although Julie is studying History she had very little understanding on Lascar. Now Julie believes that she learnt a lot from the workshop.

Charlotte Clarke

The workshop educated Charlotte about Lascar and has learnt a lot from the workshop.  Charlotte learnt that once the Lascars were in the UK they were not treated well. Such names like “Asiatics and East in the West”.

Zakir Abbas

Zakir learn that the Lascars traveled from India on the Clive Of India Company and landed at East India Dock Road where there was a port.  Many did not know the English language and found it hard to communicate with the host country.  Zakir also learnt that the the name lascar was also used to refer to Indian servants, typically engaged by British military officers.

Mehedi Abbas

Mehedi understood that the Lascars worked on docks and were paid low wages, they sent money home for their families.  Many of the Lascars who were men had poor housing and tried hard to live with the white working class people.  Some Lascars married British women from working class backgrounds and spent their lives living in the East End of London.

Jaber Khan

Jaber found that the Lascars formed a group on Commercial Road and later this group evolved into the East Pakistan Welfare Group.  Many year later the group then became The Bangladesh Welfare Association helping new families from Bangladesh to settle down in the East End of London and other part of Britain.

Nasif Bin-Shafiq

Nasif learnt that the word Lascar meant.  Lascar was once the name used to describe a sailor or militiaman from the Indian subcontinent or other countries east of the Cape of Good Hope employed on European ships from the 16th century until the beginning of the 20th century.  The word came from the Persian Lashkar, meaning military camp or army, and, al-asker the Arabic word for a guard or soldier.